Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Watch our for false prophets (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Matthew 7:15-23
  • Matthew 24:1-14

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

On one of my mission trips into the outback of New South Wales, a pastor-friend tagged along for the experience.  Fortunately, shearing was on, so to a large extent, the shearing quarters were relatively clean and rid of spiders and snakes.

We took a shower, and I heard him say, “Man, o man, o man!”  I thought he just appreciated the hot water.  “If you should see the electrical connects above my head!”, he exclaimed.  “If any inspector saw this, he will close down the whole joint!”

Russel had been a trained and certified electrical engineer before entering the ministry. 

Our farmer friend got his electric supply going, but he was oblivious to the danger of his connections. It takes someone with knowledge to see the risks.

Some self-appointed prophets don’t have neither the knowledge nor the insight, to understand the danger of their teachings.  Others are plainly and deliberately on a mission to cause destruction, but the gullible Christian is easily trapped by good-sounding words, even sugar-coated Bible verses used to support their teachings. Of course, it makes the job of God-called, approved and appointed ministers very hard.  When the gullible Christian defends the position of the unskilled preacher by pointing to the glowing globe of ministry, true ministers of the Word warn against the connections.  And he himself then inevitably gets labelled as a false prophet because he stands in the way of those who preach so freely, seemingly with so much success.  But be warned,  Benny Hinn says, “Anyone who is attacking me is attacking the very presence of God!

Don’t fall for pragmatism.  Don’t be trapped by the argument that “it must be right because it works.”  Pragmatism looks at what it visible, often disregarding the truth (like the dangerous electrical connections of our farmer).  The fact that some preachers draw large numbers to their services does not necessarily mean it is right.  Large numbers in pubs do not make the pub the best place to hang out.  Overpopulated hospitals do not make a hospital the place of desire; overcrowded prisons are not a sign that the authorities are doing something right.

My friend, the Word of this morning warn against false prophets.  The words of our text come from the mouth of Christ.  

“Watch out that no one misleads you. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. (Matthew 24:4 11, NKJV)

A turning point

What was the background for these words of our Lord? 

All of Matthew 23 was aimed at the false teachings of the Pharisees.  Harsh words were in the mouth of Jesus Christ when He addressed them:  

Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, (Matthew 23:33–34, NKJV)

The end of chapter 23 ends with these words: 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Matthew 23:37–39, NKJV)

Chapter 24 continues with a jaw-dropping act of our Saviour:  Jesus left the temple.”  His disciples knew there was more behind Jesus just leaving the temple that day:  He would never return.  Somewhat embarrassed they then pointed to the beautiful stonework and architecture of the temple.  But Jesus answered: 

“Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)

What a shocking statement.  Did Jesus not once clear the temple out of zeal for the house of God?  He did, but He then also said: 

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

John clarified this statement after Jesus was raised from the dead:  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:21) 

Jesus was about to be crucified; He would leave them to proclaim his good news. 

The disciples followed Jesus to the Mount of Olives and asked Him in private:

“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NKJV)

They wanted a sign, and Jesus did give them a sign.  What was it?  Look out for false prophets!  The prime concern for the church living up to the end of times should be to watch out for false prophets.  

Marks of a false prophet

Self-appointed

Let’s just back-track into Matthew 23:34.  Our Lord says He sends prophets and wise men and teachers.  They are the men who make fools of the diviners and overthrows the learning of the wise, turning it into nonsense.  The words of God’s prophets, according to Isaiah 44:25-26, are carried by God, who fulfils the predictions of his messengers. Jeremiah 7:25 states the same principle. 

On the other hand, self-appointed, false prophets twist the truth of God’s Word and so deceive God’s people.  Jeremiah 8:8 says, 

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. (Jeremiah 8:8, ESV)

Of these false prophets God says:  

They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect Him to fulfil their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?” (Ezekiel 13:6–7)

A false prophet speaks when God does not speak.  Of them our God says:  

Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:32, ESV)

The Lord told me

How many times have I heard preachers use this phrase, “the Lord told me”; this apparently gives them license to say whatever they like, or to interpret the Word as they see fit.  Where does this phrase come from?  Can I take you on a bit of a journey?  

It originates in the New Thought philosophy, which was inspired by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby in the mid-nineteenth century.  He studied mesmerism, which he believed is the power behind mind-over-matter.  He believed that to know the truth about life is the remedy for all ills. This is, according to Quimby, the truth Jesus came to declare; and Quimby claimed to practice the same great truth.  In 1862, Mary Baker Eddy received treatment from Quimby and was cured quickly.  She went on to become the founder of the Christian Science movement.

Another disciple of Quimby was E.W. Kenyon who became the father of “positive confession” theology.  He, in turn, influenced the theology of Kennith Hagin, who is considered to be the Father of the Word/Faith Movement.  On August 8, 1934, he says he was raised from his deathbed by a revelation of “faith in God’s Word” after reading Mark 11:24.  This verse reads, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:23–24, ESV).  Hagin, a charismatic Pentecostal preacher, was ordained as a minister of the Assemblies of God.  He founded the Rhema Bible Training College (the Rhema FM radio has no direct connection with Kennith Hagin).   He once said, “Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth. That is the principle of faith. You can have what you say.  Hagin had a problem with the message of the cross, “When you preach the cross, you’re preaching death, and you leave people in death. 

Hagin later joined his ministry efforts with Oral Roberts, a strong representative of the “seed-faith” idea.  This teaches that the things received by faith start with a seed:  investment of money in faith will necessarily produce financial gain.  Benny Hinn said, “Sow a big seed, when you confess it, you are activating the supernatural forces of God.  Because, “When you don’t give money, it shows that you have the devil’s nature.”  The whole idea is probably to support his ministry.

This movement (sometimes referred to as Word of Faith movement) also teaches that Christians can access the power of faith or fear through speech. A “positive confession” (a so-called “prophetic word”) of God’s promise stirs the power of resurrection which raised Christ from the dead and brings that promise to fulfilment.  This movement rejects poverty, suffering, and defeat as necessary to a godly life and glorifying Jesus Christ. It teaches that the salvation won by Jesus included health and prosperity for believers. Hagin said, “God is glorified through healing and deliverance, not through sickness and suffering.  Robert Hilton joins in, “Being poor is a sin.  Therefore, “Do not say ‘Lord if it be thy will’”; that is a sign of unbelief.  Fred Price affirms by saying, “God has displeasure in poverty. 

Where do you find any of this in the Bible, or is a “revelation knowledge”?

Preachers claim to have “revelation knowledge” (i.e. special revelations from God:  God told me…”) This “revelation knowledge” is often placed alongside, and sometimes above Scripture. Some believe they can use words to manipulate the “faith-force”, and as such, actually create what they believe the Scriptures or the “revelation” promise.  

A local minister in Hervey Bay also used this phrase the other day:  We just need to speak into it!  Poor me was in the dark, I must admit.

The Word of Faith movement urges believers to speak what they desire, in agreement with the promises and provisions of the Bible, as an affirmation of God’s plans and purposes. Kenneth Copeland states: “God did not create the world out of nothing, He used the Force of His Faith.” He goes on to say, “Jesus existed only as an image in the heart of God until such time as the prophets of the Old Testament could positively confess Jesus into existence through their constant prophecies.  All of God’s attributes and abilities were invested in Adam.  Therefore:  God and Adam looked exactly alike.  When Adam fell in sin, “God could not intervene since He had made Adam the god of the earth. God was left on the outside looking in. 

The phrase “God told me” is common amongst Word of Faith preachers.  It places members of their congregations in an untenable situation to differ from them.  It is tied to the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy described in 1 Corinthians 12 as if they are the same thing, and as if it always means a “positive revelation”.  Joyce Meyer once declared:

“Do you know something? A large majority of the church really doesn’t even know. Honestly and truly they really don’t even know. Well you are going to know when this night is over.”

Copeland comes to this conclusion:  When we use the spiritual laws that God has set up, God must obey what we request.” Why?  His colleague Paul Crouch answers, “God draws no distinction between Himself and us.  God opens up the union of the very godhead (Trinity), and brings us into it.” We are actually little gods.  Kenneth Hagin has asserted, “man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He [God] made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He [man] lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ”. Copeland adds, “God’s reason for creating Adam was His desire to reproduce Himself…He was not a little like God. He was not almost like God. He was not subordinate to God even”.

Last week I warned against the teachings of one of the prominent prophets in the Word of Faith Movement.  Some of you afterwards asked me to give more clarity.  

Mrs Joyce Meyers declared confidently:  

“All I was ever taught to say was I a poor miserable sinner. I am not poor, I am not miserable, and I am not a sinner. That is a lie from the pit of hell. That is what I were and if I still was then Jesus died in vain. I am going to tell you something folks I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore and the religious world thinks that is heresy and they want to hang you for it. But the Bible says that I am righteous and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time.”

Although Mrs Meyers holds three doctorate degrees, she somehow missed the instruction of the Bible on not allowing women in the ministry of the Word (1Timothy 2:12-14).  

What does Mrs Meyers teach about the atonement of Christ?  I quote:

“The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really that is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.”

“There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth I am presenting. You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.”

Here’s her theology of Christ’s atonement:

“During that time he entered hell where you and I deserved to go because of our sin. He paid the price there. No plan was too extreme. Jesus paid on the cross and in hell.”

“Well here comes Jesus into hell. Now I don’t know what hell looks like but God gave me a few ideas. It is hot, fire hot but at the same time it is cold and clammy. That is kind of different isn’t it? Fire hot, but cold and clammy.”

The Devil thought he had it, the devil thought he had won. Oh they were having the biggest party that has ever been had. They had my Jesus on the floor and they were standing on his back jumping up and down laughing and he had become sin. Don’t you think that God was pacing wanting to put a stop to what was going on. All the hosts of hell were up on him, up on him, up on him. The angels are in agony, all the creation is groaning. All the hosts of hell was up on him, up on him, they got on him. They got him down in the floor and got on him and they were laughing and mocking, ‘haha you trusted God and look where you ended up. You thought he would save you and get you off that cross – he didn’t haha.’”

“Sunday morning here comes the sun. Sunday morning God gets himself together. Justice has been met somehow everything has been taken care of and oh God gets his voice together and he hummers up three words and they go roaring through the universe and entering the gates of hell. He said it is enough. It is enough.”

“God rose up from his throne and said to the demon powers tormenting the sinless Son of God let him go. Then the resurrection power of the almighty God went through hell and filled Jesus. He was resurrected from the dead the first born again man.”

This is heresy!  And yet, people support her ministry.  It is projected that her ministry has an income of just under $100,000,000 per annum.  Anyone who buys a book or a recording of Joyce Meyers supports her heresy.  

Don’t be gullible.  Watch out for false prophets.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rec D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 March 2019

 

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Undivided loyalty to Christ, our King (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Daniel 7:1-14;
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

It was without fail that, before we set off in our old Chrysler—this was long before the days of seatbelts—that Mom, ever-caring for her little brood of children—would look back over the rest of the front seat and asked,  “Have you locked the doors?”  And in one chorus we would reply, “Why?”  Mom’s trump card was, “Because the devil can just open the doors!”

In my little mind I wondered if pressing down the door lock the can really keep the devil from us; wouldn’t he be able to unlock and open the door!

Mom’s warning helped us to understand that the devil is an ever-present pest, and he doesn’t mean any good for us.  But we can sometimes be more aware of the destructive intent of the evil one than we are aware of the authority of Christ over Satan.

So, when we approach Revelation 13 let’s not be overcome by the dread of his destructive persecution of the church of Christ; instead, let us persistently fix our eyes on our Saviour.  Let the words of Revelation 12:10-11guide us:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down… (Revelation 12:10, ESV)

The title of this short series us therefore not something like “Persecution by the Beast out of the Sea.”  No, for Christians it is always about Christ.  It is not about the power of Satan, it is about how Christians should respond to him in the light of the victory of Jesus Christ.

Persecution always has, and will always be part of the Christian life

The Book of Revelation is not only about what will happen sometime just before the return of Christ.  It writes about the events that have always been part of the Church of Christ—and surely tells about how all of history will come to an end before the last and final judgement.  It is indeed within the bounds of the understanding of the Scriptures to believe that the attack on the Church will become intensified, accelerated and global towards the end of time.  Dr Stephen Nichols uses words like systemic and rapid change which leads to confusion.  Isolated and localised past attacks against the Church are becoming global, orchestrated, and intense. We live in this world.  But are we the first?  No, surely not.

Emperor worship

The churches in the time of John received his letters when Roman emperors began to require worship of their person as divine beings. Christians in Rome were required to recognise Nero’s deity. Persecution emerged because Christians refused to worship the ungodly king. This already happened in the time of Daniel when the whole world was ordered to bow and worship before the massive statue of the king.  

In John’s time, the only escape was to deny being a Christian, bow and conform to the demands of the Emperor.  By the end of the first century A.D., all of the seven cities addressed in Revelation’s letters had temples dedicated to the deity of Caesar.

Trade Guilds

Something else happened simultaneously. There were different trade guilds which held control over certain trades with the effect that only people who belonged to them could buy or sell their goods.  (Trade and labour unions can quickly become something similar). These guilds were influential and generally vied for recognition of the Emperor.  In some ways, these two powers, the political and economic forces, promoted a worldview opposite to the Bible.  After all, the patron gods of the guilds together with the imperial god of Rome were made out to be responsible for the social and economic blessings that the culture enjoyed. Refusal to show gratefulness to these gods was undesired citizenship.  

Religious alliance

There was another problem for Christians.  According to Roman law, religions were considered illegal outside their country, with Judaism enjoying some exemption of Emperor worship.  Initially, Christians were viewed as an arm of Judaism and had the same privilege, but in about 70 A.D. the Jews dissociated itself from Christianity, at least partly because Christians claimed that Jerusalem’s destruction was punishment for the Jews’ crucifixion of Jesus. After this, Christians were exposed to full political, social and economic persecution.  

Some Christians, however, compromised their faith in Christ with the idea that they can still be counted as Jews, or publicly attend Emperor worship, or join the trade guilds, while they privately worshipped Christ.

Others understood true undivided loyalty to Christ as their King in both private and public worship; they were heavily persecuted, and some even died because of their service to Christ alone.  

Why persecution?

Revelation 13 gives us insight into what is happening behind the curtains.  If we don’t understand this, we are bound to fall prey to the attacks of Satan.  And there is more at stake than this life; we may forfeit our eternal life.

The anti-trinity

Revelation 13:1 talks about the dragon on the shore of the sea.  What does this mean?  Well, the dragon is Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent who leads the world astray (12:9).  The sea represents the spiritual storehouse of evil, where wicked spirits are confined under God’s sovereignty.  Little wonder then that 21:1 refers to the new and earth without the sea.  

The beast out of the sea is governed by the dragon.  He is the second entity of the anti-Trinity.   The second beast (verses 11-18) is the third entity; he is the false prophet and anti-Christ (more about him next week).

The Beast out of the Sea and his “ten horns” are based on Daniel’s vision. This Beast is the ultimate evil force behind the earthly kingdoms of the world.  The number of seven heads and ten horns emphasises the completeness of oppressive power and its global effect.  The dragon, Satan, has crowns on his heads, as we read in 12:3, but now the beast has them on his horns, which means that the dragon executes his plan through the beast. 

In all of this Satan puts himself forward as if he has the authority and dominion like Christ.  He and his undertakers are a fake trinity.  Both Christ and the beast (1) have swords, (2) have followers who have their names written on their foreheads, (3) have horns, (4) are slain, (5) rise to new life and are given new authority, (6) have jurisdiction over “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation”, and (6) receive universal worship.

In Daniel 7:3–8 the lion, bear, leopard, and terrifying beast represent four successive world empires, but here in Revelation 13:1–2 these four images are combined in one beast, highlighting the extreme fierceness of this beast. 

Early Christians might have understood this beast to be the political power of Rome, and they would not be wrong.  But for the Church through the ages, it represented every oppressive form of political power.  Today we have godless regimes across the world, even by the United Nations with its program of world dominion.  It can surely point to global political oppression, with godless governments banding together with a unified program of political dominance.  We have already seen the push for the demolishing of national boundaries, the abolition of passports, and the call for a global government, with the so-called aim of preventing individual nations from causing unrest driven by patriotism, or even the drive for war against global warming.  

Satanic evil historically expressed itself through the kingdoms of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Sodom, and Rome. This evil will continue to display itself in future political regimes of the world and can manifest itself as well in global economic, social, and religious structures on earth. It seems the time will come that even migration will gain one nothing.

We learn from John about the anti-Christ.  

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18, ESV)

Another verse:  

and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3, ESV)

Our confidence living in a world where the antichrist is already at work is that he received a fatal wound. Our Lord, who came to earth to rescue us 

“… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV) 

Therefore, whenever believers withstand persecution, deception and compromise, the devil and his agents are defeated.  Though Satan and the beasts are repeatedly mentioned as having “authority” in Revelation 13, they have no authority over the saints and no authority but what God gives them.  The power he has to make war against God’s people was “given to him” (Revelation 13:7).  He has a limited time, forty-two months.  Only God, not the devil, sets times and seasons. If left to himself, the devil would never want to limit his work against God’s kingdom to a mere “three and a half years”, which is symbolically a short time measured against God’s power to control all times.  

Deception

The dragon is so convincing in camouflaging his defeat as an apparent victory that “the whole earth marvelled after the beast.” Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life and not protected by God’s seal (7:1–4) fall for the beast’s claims and give him allegiance.  

And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4, ESV)

World leaders have, and will, try to magnify themselves above God.  They will promise peace and prosperity to all who give in to their schemes.  Just think about it:  pay your taxes, don’t question the expense, and what you receive is a clean environment with fresh air and clean water free of all pesticides, a good health system, an education system which will bring freedom to millions, equality between all people and peoples including the sexes, a good retirement plan and even more rain as they will fix global warming.  The beast carries out the dragon’s will to “flood” the church with deception.

All along he blasphemes God’s name, speaking out and mocking God through self-deification. They mock Christians and bring accusations against those who have God’s name written on them.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand that there is a war going on? It’s aimed God, Christ, his church, and at every individual Christian.  How will be able to stand?

It brings me back to the devil who presumably had the power to open the car door.  Are we going to trust God protect us through the journey, or are our eyes going to be fixed on the door, and in the process live in fear?

There is a way.  It is not a way around persecution for the sake of Christ; it might be through terrible persecution.  It surely is not the way of compromise—please, keep your faith pure and serve Christ with undivided loyalty.  What is that way through all of this?  The victory of Jesus Christ, our King. If your name is written in the Book of Life in the blood of the Lamb, Christ will take care of you, whatever comes your way.  Verse 10 gives us a picture of the worst case scenario.  

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he must; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10, ESV)

Whatever the case, never forfeit your divine rights by bowing to the wishes of the world and him who desires your defeat.  May Christ help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 March 2019

 

Undivided loyalty to Christ, the King (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 17-22
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

They tell of the event when an umpire made a questionable judgment during a footy match. It sent the crowd into an uproar. The line judge was asked for his opinion.  Then just for a brief moment, there was total silence.  In that little window of quietness someone yelled out, “He wants to know how the rules work because he doesn’t know it himself!” 

Can you imagine the confusion on any sports field between the players if there were no rules!  More than that, can you picture the situation on the stands if there were no rules!  We have vivid pictures in our minds of soccer fans being stampeded and even killed in support rage.

God and his law

We don’t read the Ten Commandments every Sunday as we did this morning, be we surely should pay more attention to it.  In God’s Kingdom, there is just no room for people to follow their own minds and make their own laws.  We heard in the children’s address about the need to walk by the Law and to think according to the law.  

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, ESV)

Because God is the one and only God, there is only one law to live by. “For the Lord, your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)  He poured out his love on his people, holding back nothing to save them.  

…it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… (Deuteronomy 7:8–9, ESV)

Moses repeatedly called the people to obey God with an undivided heart.  He used the phrase “Hear now…” in 4:1, 6:4, and 9:1, and in between he repeats phrases like “remember” and “keep”.

The book of Deuteronomy is a section of sermons of Moses which he preached to the people after their forty years of wanderings through the wilderness, but before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  He reflects on lessons of the past and prepares them to occupy their God-given inheritance.  

He stressed the importance of undivided loyalty to God by observing his laws.  One major point of his sermons was his warning not to mix with the heathens and so become like them.  

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— (Deuteronomy 6:13–14, ESV)

The gift of an inheritance 

You know how one can read the same pages of Scripture for years and still miss things.  In my study last week my mind caught specific threads running through the Scriptures, but previously I just couldn’t make the connections.  To be honest, it is not so obvious, and one needs to cross-referenced through the pages to get it.

In Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says:  

The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. (Deuteronomy 7:22, ESV)

Just a few verses further he mentions the silver and gold of the idols and calls them “a testable thing”.

On the surface, the “wild beasts” and the “detestable thing” may just mean what it actually says, but John in Revelation draws from these pictures of the Old Testament.  He leans very heavily on the visions of the “wild beasts” in Daniel who also makes mention of the “detestable thing” of which we read about in Revelation 13.  One commentator thinks that the “wild beasts” can indeed serve as a figure of the demonic which perverts the divine image of man into something sub-human.  

John, as one of the apostles of Christ, wrote the Apocalypse to prepare Christians for an era of unprecedented persecution.  Christ sends his church into the world to spread the good news about his victory over sin and death, and he also prepared them for the abuse they would face. The apostle John received the word of the Apocalypse from Christ Himself (Revelation 1:10), all the while being persecuted himself (Revelation 1:9), to encourage the Christians during the persecution, but also the warn them to serve the Lord with undivided loyalty.   

John uses known elements of the Old Testament in his book.  To all seven of the congregations he wrote to he uses the phrase very similar to the one Moses used to warn the people against the mixing of pure obedience to the Lord.  Moses repeated “Hear Israel”, and John uses “he who has an ear, let him hear” to the six churches in Asia Minor.  He also uses the phrase “he who overcomes” repeatedly, meaning “he who resists” the evil and not give in.  When it comes to Chapter 13 as we read it this morning, he repeats “he who has an ear” in verse 9.  In verse 18 he uses a phrase which connects back to both hearing and overcoming:  This calls for wisdom and insight.

A fierce battle

The connection between Moses in Deuteronomy is more than just accidental.  Moses prepared God’s people to cross the Jordan with the Word of God in their hands and minds, facing fierce resistance in a land filled with idols, false gods, and demons —  wild beasts”.  For them to overcome and settle the land as God promised they had to serve God with undivided loyalty; compromise with any god other than their Covenant God would lead to disaster.  

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4:25–26, ESV)

But they had God’s promise of his absolute love and compassion, his unfailing love to go ahead of them, to destroy the wild beasts before them, and live with them.  Their inheritance was free, a gift of grace, they just needed to take hold of it by faith and obedience to their God.  

…you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV)

The same applies to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will receive a Promised Land one day, but in the meantime, we need to “occupy” the mission field of the world with undivided loyalty to Christ and his Word.  From this Word we shall not take away anything, to it we cannot add; we need to pay absolute obedience to it — it is the only warranty for success.  We are engaged in a fierce battle with the “wild beasts” — not only symbols of resistance but the real deal:  the devil!

I apologise for not really getting into chapter 13 of Revelation today as announced.  But know this: the church of Christ is the target of Satan who seeks to destroy her.  We know that he employs all he can, both political structures and false prophets to try to seduce God’s people away from the truth by all possible means.

Satan hates Christ and his church

Let’s just get the framework which Chapter 12 gives us.  It tells the story of God’s people of the Old Testament from whom the Messiah would be born.  The picture is of a pregnant woman, about to give birth.  But as she was about to give birth an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns appeared.  It was a mighty beast who had much power.  The dragon (verse 9 identifies him as the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan who leads the whole world astray) wanted to kill the child, Jesus Christ, as soon as he was born.  We learn for this scene that the actual war was aimed at Christ, who brought salvation and had authority over him.   

However, as soon as the child was born, he was taken into a place of safety under the guard of God, and Satan was hurled down.  Satan has no authority against the blood of Christ, and Christians loved Him more than their lives.  This is undivided loyalty.  

But Satan is more than ever determined to undermine the work of Christ.  He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. He knows he has no authority over Christ and focusses his destruction on the church.  What he just cannot understand is that God’s people, those whose names are written in the Book of Life (13:8) live under the protection of Christ.  What he is aware of, is that not everyone in the church is indeed a faithful follower of Christ.  Satan is enraged and makes war against the offspring of the woman, which is the church, those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17).

Conclusion

My friend, do you get the picture?  If you belong to Christ, if your name is written in the Book of Life, if you are under that protection of the blood of Christ, you are the target of Satan who will try whatever he can, he will employ all the forces he can to drag you away.

Therefore the warning of the Word of God:  serve Christ with undivided loyalty, have his Word in your heart, in your mind, let it reign your thoughts and your decisions.  The battle is fierce and if you don’t stand firm, you will not endure.  But don’t be afraid.  Your Saviour gave you this command:  

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

Lord-willing, next week we will concentrate on the beast out of the sea, and then, the beast out of the earth.

Amen. 

Biblical eldership (3) “Who?”

Bible Readings

  • Exodus 18:13-23;
  • 1Timothy 3:1-7

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters, family in Christ,

For some reason, I love the “Air Crash Investigation” programs.  About all episodes begin with a simulation of the crash.  The pilot is barking out commands to his off-sider, the sirens are loud, in the background, there is this annoying repetition of the alarm systems.  Then there is a mighty explosion, followed darkness.  This is followed by real footage of the wreckage covered in smoke, usually with ambulances, the right lights of emergency vehicles, and the pieces of the once beautiful aircraft strewn all over the place.

Everyone watching these programs wonders why on earth they would ever fly again!

The investigation usually, first of all, focusses on the pilot:  what did he do wrong, or where could he have understood the signals better.  

Who wants to board a plane with a half-trained pilot!

Unfortunately, many Christians are careless when it comes to the calling of a minister or the election of elders to be their spiritual pilots.

The seriousness of well-equipped elders

When Paul makes a list of the gifts to the church, about every time, he puts church leaders first.  He does so in the chapters mainly concerned with spiritual gifts.  

And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28, NIV)

This is not accidental, and we should not miss his point.  When he continues his argument about the importance of gifts in chapter 14,  he states,

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV)

He continues in verse 3 and 12: 

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, excel in those that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 12, NIV)

“Prophecy” in these verses must not be confused with the gift of tongues, which is last on the list of gifts—Paul makes it clear that prophecy is more important than the gift of tongues.  Prophecy is, in the normal scheme of things, nothing more than declaring the Word of God and to glorify his Name.  After the canon of the Bible was closed, only in very rear circumstances is prophecy something which will happen in future. The phenomenon of people speaking in tongues to predict the future does not line up with the Scriptures; prophecy and speaking in tongues is not the same thing!  Real discernment is needed to determine the difference between that sort of prophecy and fortune-telling.

Now, back to eldership.  Why is it so important?  It is paramount to understand that God calls people to preach the Word, and others to keep guard over the pure preaching of the Word, and also to shepherd the flock to live according to the Word.  All other gifts become less critical when we grasp this truth.

This means that eldership is significant.  It says that you must make sure that you elect elders who meet the qualifications of Scriptures, or they will be like half-washed pilots in control of the plane in which you are a passenger—not really because no-one in God’s Kingdom is a passenger.  We are more like an army where everyone is engaged in battle, with the elders acting as the training officers.

Well-equipped elders

When it comes to the “who” of eldership we don’t call the shots; members of the church cannot determine what they think elders must do, and what sort of lives they should live.  It is the prerogative of God; it concerns his church bought in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ.  

When Moses had to elect elders back in Exodus 18, he had to select men with specific spiritual values:  capable menmen who fear God, trustworthy, who hate dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21, NIV). 

When Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to appoint elders for leadership and feeder-ship of the congregations, he essentially lists the same attributes as mandatory for elders.  

Our text says to be an elder is to fulfil a noble task.  What is noble about it? Does is mean elders are of particular bloodline, more or less untouchable, high above the rest of the congregation?  The Bible is more concerned about the respectability, of the calling of elders than it is about the people who hold the office. Elders need to meet qualifications to adorn their calling and fulfil the task they are called to do.  These qualifications were not set by the apostle, but by God.  After all, elders are caring for God’s people.

It seems one can divide the qualifications for eldership in two major categories:  their moral character, and their testimony. 

The elder’s moral character

Above reproach  

An elder should be someone who cannot be attacked (even by non-Christians) because of his ethical conduct.  This does not mean that an elder must be sinless; it does mean that he has set his mind at serving the Lord with all his heart.  Titus 2:8 uses a similar idea which is translated as “that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.  In this regard, an elder must have a good track record.  Verse 7 states:  In terms of his good character, he must have a good reputation even with outsiders.  Unbelievers might not share the same beliefs as elders, but they will have respect for them because they are trustworthy, respectable men of their word, men who practice what they preach. They are not two-faced hypocrites.

He must be a man who honours his marriage

The statement “a man of one wife” does not mean that an elder must be married.  Unmarried men can surely serve as elders.  But when they are married, two aspects must stand out:  

  • An elder is a man of one wife.  This does not mean that a divorced man can never serve as an elder; what it surely implies is that if his infidelity in a previous marriage led to the breakdown of that marriage, and he subsequently married the wife with whom adultery was committed, such a person cannot serve as an elder.  Such a man is surely not above reproach.  
  • The second aspect of the elder’s marriage is equally important: he must manage his family well.  This includes disciplined children who know to respect their parents. The point is this: if an elder fails to be a successful godly example to his family, how can the congregation expect that he will be able to lead them to show reverence for God, and bow before the authority of the Bible?  

Do you want a godly elder who can lead you in your Christian walk right into eternity?  See if he is a godly father and husband.

Temperate, respectable

An elder is a man whose conduct is free from any form of excesses, particularly in moral and spiritual matters. It might suffice to say an elder is a sensible and dignified Christian.  He has a mind that is earnest and sound, he is well-ordered and free from confusion, hence “orderly” and well-behaved.  

This takes us to understand the opposites mentioned in the paragraph:  an elder cannot be a drunkard, a violent man, quarrelsome or someone who loves money.  He is not someone who is known who can fly off the handle quickly;  he is not someone who picks a fight or gets involved in a battle of words just to win an argument or to have the first and the last say.  An elder is not greedy; too many widows can witness to the greed of church leaders who cheated them out of property and money.  The opposite should be true of an elder:  he is called to willingly part with his cash when needed—not putting his own family in jeopardy—to help the truly destitute.  

Hospitable

An elder is a friend of strangers.  His house is open to those in need.  This might become more pressing in times of Christians losing their jobs because they profess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In tough economic times, the elder is the one who welcomes in the destitute to give them shelter.

The elder’s testimony of the Word of God

An apt teacher

An elder is a true prophet to the people of God.

Not all elders need to be able to preach, but all elders must have sufficient knowledge of the main aspects of the teachings of the Bible to guide the people of God in their spiritual walk.  Historically it was the task of the elder to teach the young people of the congregation to prepare them to make public profession of faith.  Elders teach from house to house when they read the Scriptures, pray for those in their care, encourage the sick, the lonely and those who mourn.  An elder must be able to apply the Scriptures when a member of the flock goes astray; he must be able to refute false teachings.  It speaks for itself that an elder must love and study of the Word of God.  

An elder is a true prophet to his own family.

It calls for sincere love and dedication of a father to be the prophet of his family and to make it his priority to lead them to salvation in the Lord, but it is also an unspeakable privilege.  It calls for much prayer, teaching in the Scriptures, a good example, love, and dedication.  Sadly, it is right here at this point that many who end up in eldership failed before they begin.

Not an immature Christian

It now speaks for itself that an elder cannot be a new Christian.  Before he can be able to teach, he must himself grow in the knowledge of the Word; he must mature in his walk with God to the testimony of the congregation before he can take on the spiritual leadership role.

An elder is a male who loves Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour

Much is said about the equality of male and female roles in our society.  We don’t have enough time to go into all the arguments, but it does not need an in-depth study of the Bible to come to the conclusion that leadership in both family and church family is ordained of God.  We in the Presbyterian Church of Australia subscribe to the complementary understanding of God-given tasks between males and females.  One is not higher or greater than the other;  we have different roles which complement our service under the Headship of Christ.  Eldership is according to the Bible a role for men.

Conclusion

It speaks for itself that capable elders can only be elected by members who are circumspect in their walk in the Lord. Watch over yourself; be diligent and prayerful to elect capable pilots to guide you to arrive safely at your spiritual destination.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 February 2019

 

Biblical Eldership (1) – “Why?”

Bible Readings

  • Deuteronomy 1:9-18
  • Numbers 11:10-30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

We will have eldership election in the near future. We have already announced this to you.  But before we get to the actual meeting to elect elders, we will listen to what the Scriptures teach about eldership. There will be three sermons, following three questions about Biblical eldership.

  • The “why?” about eldership
  • The “what?” about eldership
  • The “who?” about eldership

Principles of Church government

Let’s begin at the beginning, where all Christian denominations should start. 

The supreme rule for practice and doctrine

We need to hold the Scriptures as our supreme standard for life and worship.  What we believe about church government, should be in agreement with the Scriptures. So, all men in church government must, first of all, believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is infallible, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant.  If anyone has a different view on the Scriptures, such a person should not be trusted to become an elder of the church of Christ.

Christ, the Head of the Church

The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head of the Church.  The Bible says in a few places:

And He [God] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23, NKJV)

… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, NKJV)

and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10, NKJV)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

… holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Colossians 2:19, NKJV)

Presbyterians hold these principles as precious and authoritative:  Christ is our only Mediator, He is our High Priest, and like a father, He cares for his church.  We have therefore an aversion to any earthly office other than what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.  We, therefore, have no human as head of the church. Not even as a representative.  We also have no priest, and we call no one our priest because in Christ the priesthood has come to an end.  The Bible also warns against calling anyone “father”: 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9, NKJV)

What we have is the Holy Spirit who guides us by his Word to understand the Scriptures and order all temporal things of church government.  We seek our rule from the Bible, and we submit to its authority.  The Bible teaches us that Christ is our Head, and that is enough for us.

General forms of church government

Papists

Papists believe that the pope is Christ’s representative on earth and that he is the head of all churches and Christians on earth.  Under him there are all manner of offices, including priests, bishops, deacons, canons, arch-deacons, and what not! The pope can declare what is sinful, forgive sin and make infallible proclamations, and even add doctrines not found in the Scriptures.  We reject this notion as fundamentally in contrast and opposition to the teachings of the Scripture.

Episcopal

Episcopal churches understand the Scriptures to teach that every congregation should only have one bishop, in which the oversight of that church rests.  They do believe that there should be a hierarchy from top to bottom, with an archbishop having leadership over a group of churches.  He appoints bishops, who appoints others under him.  The system gets fairly tricky for Presbyterians because we find it difficult to see where canons, archdeacons, vicars, and other office holders come from.  The Anglican Church and some branches of the Methodist Church are episcopal denominations.

Congregational

Congregational denominations do not have any hierarchy.  Their church government is mostly a free arrangement of leadership chosen “demographically”, which means the majority of members decide who will be leaders, and congregational meetings have the authority to hire and sack leaders, and even determine the general teachings of a denomination.  A congregation in a congregational system usually opt to join a broader group of churches (like the COC movement) but can walk away when the majority decides so.  Most charismatic churches follow this form of church government.

Independent

Some other independent churches is a sort of a mix between episcopal and congregational.  These congregation usually starts with leaders in a strong conviction of certain aspects of Bible teaching or a clash of leadership personalities.  These leaders then, in the end, become the de facto bishops, and in many cases, everyone who disagrees with the leadership has to leave.  These leaders are their own authority, and they are not accountable to any structure.  Many of these leaders claim direct revelation from God in the form of visions or something similar in addition to the already declared will of God in the Scriptures.  

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

Presbyterians and reformed denominations fall in a different category.  Christ is our Head, the Bible is our rule, leaders/elders are chosen by communicant members of the congregation, and perform their duties under the authority of the Scriptures.   What their decisions must be in agreement with is the Scriptures, the agreed confessional creeds and the general rules of the denomination. 

Our system has checks and balances.  Elders are accountable to a wider group of elders, the presbytery.  Members have the right to approach this court if they think that elders have contravened the Scriptures, the Confession or the general rules of the denomination.  There is other courts too:  the General Assembly, and the General Assembly of Australia, and these are also bound by the Word of God and the rules accepted by the denomination as a whole.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means elder, or overseer.  Presbyterian” in our name refers therefore to the form of church government we adhere to.

The “Why” of eldership?

Our understanding of eldership finds its roots in the Old Testament.  Our Scripture readings this morning takes to those beginnings.

God appointed Moses to be the leader to take his people out of slavery of Egypt to the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As assistant Moses had his brother Aaron, who later became the first High Priest.

The people were numerous, they were divided into their clans and had their clan leaders.

People are sinful 

Rebellion against Moses and Aaron was common practice.  They always wanted to go back to slavery, because the journey through the desert just seemed too hard.  They doubted God and rebelled against his law.  And then, there was this constant towing away from the declared command of the Lord to not mix with the people the came in contact with along the way.  And, of course, there were the constant disagreements and sometimes heated disputes between people, with one party always believing they were done in.

There is a need for discipline and good order 

This, of course, spells general church life in the 21st century too.  Our sinful nature drags us away from God’s declared will for our lives.  We begin to love the world more than we love God.  The world easily dictates to us how we should live, and we can readily start to doubt the faithfulness of God.  Our relationships one with the other can sometimes be volatile, and we need mediation and godly outcomes.  In short, discipline and good order need to be maintained for the glory of God.  We need elders!

One leader is not enough!

Moses was a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.  It all got too much for Moses.  His father-in-law gave him good advice:  

“The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. (Exodus 18:17–18, NKJV)

Moses found himself face-down in the presence of the Lord.  What he understood very well was that the people he had to lead did not belong to him, but were God’s people. He could not deal with the people other than what God wanted him to do. In fairly harsh words he prayed to God,  This is too much for me. 

If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favour in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:15, NKJV)

He has come to the end of his line. How does he provide for the people?  How can he care for the people?  Should not God care for his own people?  

Although God did provide the water, the manna and the quail, other aspects of care God provided through elders whom He enabled for the task.  Although God could directly care for them, He appointed leaders. 

Shared but Divided responsibility and accountability

To maintain discipline and order within the camp, God appointed 70 elders to work closely with Moses.  Moses remained the intercessor between God, between the leaders and the people, but from that day on, the men upon whom God poured out his Spirit to set and enable them for their task them apart for service would be a help for Moses.  

I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (Numbers 11:17, NKJV)

What seemed impossible for Moses becomes possible through the provision and enablement of God.  Where would the meat come from?  Where would the men come from? 

“The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ (Numbers 11:21, NKJV)

How did God answer? 

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” (Numbers 11:23, NKJV)

God first sent his Spirit to rest upon the seventy men, and He gave them the ability to prophesy—which through the Scriptures was always a sign to the rest of people of God’s authentic appointment—and then He provided the quail.  

This is how elders do their work.  They are appointed by God; they need to care for the people because they are God’s own people; they need to continually keep their eyes focused on God for whom nothing is too hard.  Elders share in the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the people, they are called to maintain spiritual discipline and good order. When the people of God slide back to the slavery of sin, the elders encourage, teach and admonish.  And in all, it is their task to lead God’s people to live to the glory of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Why do we need elders?  

We are sinful and rebellious, and we need spiritual direction and care.

Elders share in the burden of this care.  It is not good for one person to take the full load.  It is not the plan of God for his church.

May our Lord give us clear guidance as we pray for men to fill the vacancies of elders in our congregation.  We need to make sure that the men we elect are indeed spiritually mature, displaying a sure conviction that they called to the office.  Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 February 2019

Perfect knowledge, perfect joy, perfect peace

Scripture readings

  • Ezekiel 36:24-29
  • John 16:12-33

Introduction

Herman Lange, a German Christian was to be executed by the Nazis during WWII. In his cell on the night, before he was to be killed, Lange wrote a note about two feelings which occupied his mind: “I am, first, in a joyous mood, and second filled with great anticipation.” Then he made this beautiful affirmation: “In Christ, I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in Him more firmly than ever.” Finally, he urged his parents to read the New Testament for comfort: “Look where you will, everywhere you will find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can befall a child of God? Of what should I be afraid? On the contrary, rejoice!

A non-Christian said,  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” “God has no religion”. But his deathbed he uttered his last words, “My days are numbered. For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness…” His name was Mahatma Gandhi. 

Jesus was approaching his last moment before they apprehended Him, and handed Him over to be crucified.  On his mind was his ministry from his Father to reveal Him to those would continue the work of global evangelism after He returned to his Father. He prayed, 

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4, NKJV)

When He announced his departure to his disciples, they were filled with grief.  On the one hand, they were called to be fishers of men, but their rabbi was leaving them. On the other hand, since they began to follow Christ, they learned to love Him and be close to Him.  His words were the words of life. But now his announced his departure. They would miss Him. 

How would they survive without Him?  Where would they get the same level teaching from when they needed answers and guidance?  And then Christ said this:  

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7, NKJV)

Perfect knowledge

Christ did not expect of his church to tackle the wise and the philosophies of this world on their own.  He promised to give them a Helper.  

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8, NKJV)

The work of the church would have vaporised towards the end of the first century were it not for the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  He is the One convicts the world of sin, those who do not believe in Christ.  He is the One who convicts sinners of righteousness, because of Christ’s complete redemption, because there is no righteousness in man, and no other can or will be able to do what Christ has done; He is now at the right hand of his Father.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes clear to unbelievers that the prince of this world is condemned and of powerless against the judgement of the Father; no one who comes to the Father by any other means will ever be saved (John 16:8-11).

Paul writes about the work of the Spirit:  

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9–10, NKJV)

With these words, Jesus Christ comforted his disciples.  And it should be our comfort too.  We must speak the words of Christ, we must declare his grace to this world, however, we in some sense will only be onlookers as the Spirit does the conviction, the preaching of the righteousness of Christ, and as He convicts people of their sin.   

Is it no so that the Holy Spirit will teach us all sorts of ecstatic gifts so we can prophesy, speak in tongues and do miracles?  We need to understand these things in its context as Paul wrote it to the Corinthian church.  We cannot now dwell on all the issues, but here are a few principles:  

  • The Spirit gives gifts as He determines, not as individual members desire it. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
  • The gifts of the Spirit are always for the common good of the whole body of believers; if they serve no purpose for the upbuilding of the church, they are not needed. (1Corinthians 12:7)
  • There are gifts which are more important than others.  Paul prioritises the gifts beginning with the apostles, then the prophets (or preachers), then others, and then at the bottom of the list the speaking of different tongues (1Corinthians 12:28)
  • Not all believers will or can speak in tongues, or do miraculous deeds, or heal others (1Corinthians 12:29)
  • But all believers must love one another as Christ loved them (1Corinthians 13) and all believers must tell of the wondrous deeds of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-21)

It is for this last universal task of evangelism we all must be involved in we need the Holy Spirit.  Why? 

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–14, NKJV)

The Spirit inspired Paul to write:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, ESV)

The Holy Spirit has no new agenda other than that of the Father and Son.  His work is to continue the work of Christ.  He is the One who teaches the church of Christ the will of the Father and all about Christ.  

The ultimate work of the Holy Spirit was the inspiration of the Scriptures.  Of these we read:  

…the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NKJV)

This is the point.  Everything we need to know about salvation, everything we need to preach, everything we need for comfort, everything we need to defend ourselves with against the attacks of all the wise and learned of the world, is written in the Bible.  Who reads and studies the Bible as the World of God has perfect knowledge.  The remarkable aspect of it all is that while we present this Gospel to the world and to every lost sinner, the Holy Spirit does the rest.  We are like the sower in the parable of Jesus who sows wherever he can, but then rest and sleep, leaving it all in God’s hands.

Perfect joy

We touched in this last week.  Let’s just recap.  Christ taught his followers a crucial lesson:  his death and resurrection, together with the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Word, give incomparable joy. 

Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:22, NKJV)

David knew something about this:  

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. (Psalm 16:5–6, NKJV)

In another Psalm:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NKJV)

What is the source of our joy?  

  • First of all—Christ completed which the work the Father gave Him:  He taught his disciples, He revealed the Father to them, He took their sins on them and paid the penalty of sin, He rose again to overcome death, and He ascended into heaven to intercede and prepare a home for those whom He was sent to rescue.
  • Second, His work of teaching is complete.  John 16:23 is an interesting one: 

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23, NKJV)

The first “ask” is to inquire or to want to know more.  The second ask is the same as prayer.  Our joy is connected to the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us and in that sense, we do not need to inquire outside of what He teaches in the Bible.  It is only by diligent study that we will get all the answers we need to equip us for service.

The second “ask” is prayer.  What we need to be successful as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lies in diligent and faithful prayer.  In the Name of Christ who is our complete salvation and all-sufficient Saviour, we approach God to ask Him to give according to our needs.

The joy of the church of Jesus Christ is anchored in these things.  What more do we need?  Are we robbed of our joy if we don’t get the Lear Jet we are praying for?  If this is your expectation, then surely you will be disappointed.  But if it is Jesus Christ and the fullness of his grace you desire, you will never be disappointed.  Your cup will overflow with joy.

Perfect peace

Just one last thought.  Our chapter also speaks of peace.  Our Lord  said to the small band of disciples moments before He was arrested: 

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)

What peace is perfect peace?  I have overcome the world.  The Greek tense is the perfect tense which describes an action brought to its conclusion in such a way that its results stand firm. In other words, when Jesus says He has overcome the world, it is complete, and nothing can change that fact.  

In Revelation, we read,

“Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome [is victorious] to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear the words of Christ:  

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4, NKJV)

Does it give you peace to hear Christ’s promise:  

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. (Revelation 3:12, NKJV)

Conclusion

So, my friends, because you can trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, because you can ask God in the Name of Jesus Christ, and because Christ has overcome the world, then it should be true of all of us:

And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! wrath, because he [Satan] knows that he has a short time. (Revelation 12:11–12, NKJV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 February 2019

 

Christ makes us his friends, and the world hates us for it

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 9:7-20
  • John 15:9-16:4

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

My mother was one of the fairest people I knew.  Like a hen, she would protect her chicks.  Don’t get into Mom’s bad books by spreading stories about her children. As kids, we knew she would always defend us, and it gave us a sense of security.  But in her fairness, Mom demanded that we always act like kids who bore the Schwartz name. We had to show respect and obedience. But, even on the odd occasion where we were apparently in the wrong, we were never left on our own.  Mom would be between us and those we were accountable to, stating her case for fairness, but asking for lenient discipline.  

Chapters 13-16 of the Gospel of John recorded the last and private teaching of our Lord when He addressed his disciples.  They were about to be scattered (16:31), they had a mission:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8, NIV)

What would the need to remember and take along in their mission to fishers of men?  When times get tough, what did Jesus give them to hang on to?

I have loved you

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9, NIV)

This an extraordinary statement. When our grandson wanted to express how much he loved his mother, he said, “l love you more than all the Holden Commodores in the world.” But really, we do not love comparatively.  When Jesus expressed his love towards his disciples, He used an unmatched comparison.  He loves us with the same love as the eternal Father loved his eternal Son.  This is mind-boggling. How do we know what Jesus says is true?  Just go a bit further in the chapter.  

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12–13, NIV)

In chapter 10  Jesus Christ declared his love:  

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)

But the reason why both the Father and the Son love the world is not that the world is so lovely and lovingly. As we saw last week, when Jesus came into the world to dwell amongst us, this place was dark.  God’s own did not receive him.  Why not?  They were spiritually blind, and by nature they hated God.  And yet, He loved them as the Father loved them.  We know the verse:  

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. (John 3:16, NIV)

So, when his disciples would face persecution and hardship in their fruit-bearing mission, when they were stuck in jails, when they lost kindred and possessions, they could hold on to what Jesus impressed on their minds the last night they spent together, “As the Father loved Me, so I have loved you.   

What carries the church through persecution and hardship?  When all of this world is lost, when health has departed, when loved ones have lost their memory, when we bury those we hold dear above all else, when we lose our names and reputations for the glory of Christ, what is left?  What keeps us going?  I have loved you!  Paul writes:  

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39, NIV)

Remain in my love

Our Lord gave his disciples this command:  Remain in my love.  It can be tempting to despair and walk away from Christ’s love when the going gets tuff.  He may seem distant, and we don’t see his love in our trials.  Jesus knew all of this, and that’s precisely why He added the command, “Remain in my love”.  

How does one remain in his love? You take Him on his word. 

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:10, NIV)

Christ had all reason to walk away from the love of his Father. People scorned Him, they hated Him, the devil tempted Him in the desert, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him.  Yet, He says: “just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10, NIV)

You will have complete joy

When we put the love and the word of Christ first in our lives, when we understand the love God has for us in his Son, when we understand that Christ endured all the scorn and hatred to save us, then, even in the face of hardship, we will have joy.  The world can not add to this joy, and worldly joy cannot compete with this inward and unspeakable joy, because the joy we have in Christ is all we need.  

… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2–3, NIV)

Jesus prepared his disciples, 

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22, NIV)

This verse most probably was the context of the short time between the death and resurrection of Christ. But ultimately it points to time between the ascension of our Lord into heaven, and his return when He comes to takes his won with Him to be in the presence of the Father.  Even though we do not have Christ in Person with us, our joy in Him nothing can take away.  Many martyrs of the faith sang hymns of joy when they burned on the stake.  Steven, while they stone him to death “… full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:55–56, NIV)

Love one another

One way to love Christ is to take Him on his word and completely trust Him.  But there’s another aspect we should not forget, we must love one another as part of the same family as Christ loves us.  Christian love is comparative love.  What’s the comparison?  As I love you.  This is a big ask.  You look at your fellow Christian and what do you see?  Someone whom Christ loves, someone who has become part of the family of Christ on the same basis as you have: drawn by undeserved love.  

Do we love your brother and sister?   How much and to what degree?  As Christ loves us? As Christ gave up everything for us, so we need to set our brothers and sisters in Him on the same level.  As Mom would say, “You touch my children, and you touch me.  You touch my fellow brother or sister in the Lord, and you touch me.  We are of the same family.  This is a different love the world wants to sell us.  It is not the warm fuzzy feeling I get when someone does something nice to me. What drives my love for my fellow Christian is the love which Christ had for me when He laid down his life to save me.  When my brother weeps, I weep; when my sister is hurting because of the name of Christ, I am hurting.  Together we carried the yoke of Christ.  

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NIV)

Friends of Christ have the world as their enemy

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)

What happened when we started to follow Christ?  We became part of God’s family.  In Him, we are brothers and sisters.  In Christ we were taken out of the world, we received a new citizenship, we received a new mind and heart, we are born from above, and we received new marching orders.  

The world has no attraction for us anymore.  If we love Christ the way He loves us, our lives are driven for his glory.  When Jesus interceded for his disciples at his Father’s throne, He prayed:  

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (John 17:15–16, NIV)

How is it that we could become friends of Christ?  

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:15–16, NIV)

You see the order here?  You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” For what reason?  “You so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”  How is it possible to bear fruit in this world?  Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” What is our authority?  I have called you friends”.  Friends, not in the sense of being buddies of Christ, but friends because we are not enemy anymore.  So now, we go out in the word with a few things written on our minds:

  • Jesus loves us as the Father loves us.  
  • Jesus laid down his life for us.
  • No-one can rob us of our joy, because nothing in the world can add to our joy.
  • We have fellow soldiers, saved by grace, family in Christ, and our love towards one another is as strong as Christ’s love for us.
  • We have the words of Christ to reach a lost world
  • We did not choose ourselves—we were appointed by Christ
  • The fruit we bear will have eternal consequences, not because of us, but because of Him who sent us
  • We are no strangers to Christ anymore, by grace He has wiped out the enmity between us and God.

So we have the world at our feet!  They are just waiting for us to speak the word. Not so!  

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:19, NIV)

Here’s an excellent test to see if we really love Christ.  Does the world love us?  Do they like the things we say and do?  When John the Baptist preached the word of God, he ended up in jail, and later he was beheaded.  Steven died a martyr.  So did about all the apostles and many others who followed Christ.  James writes, 

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NIV)

There is an eternal choice?  Would you follow Christ and inherit eternity because He calls you his friend, or would you rather be in step with the world and forfeit your soul?  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 January 2019

 

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

Spiritual growth in Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:9-16
  • Philippians 1:3-11

Introduction

Who present today would like a 10-page book on 3 easy steps to spiritual maturity? You may go to sleep tonight as a babe, then wake up tomorrow with full knowledge of God’s Word, able to discern the most excellent things in life. But, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. In fact, Christian growth can be likened to our ageing. As we grow older, we acquire knowledge and learn how to discern right from wrong, good from bad. Yes, this takes time. But Christian maturity goes beyond this, and will often take long bouts of persevering against the world. 

In Philippians1:6, we observe a vital verse concerning sanctification, the process of our spiritual growth. It says, 

“that He (God) who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. 

God is the one who created us as His new creatures. Who had, “begun a good work in you…”, and it is God who brings it to completion. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us along this journey of our spiritual growth, ‘until the day of Jesus Christ’.

This spiritual maturity, according to Philippians 1:9-11, involves a more in-depth knowledge interlaced with wisdom, a life that is lived according to God’s Word, producing righteous fruit, and most importantly having the Spirit of Christ instructing our renewed heart.

NO Easy Steps to Christian Maturity

Christians today, are not growing up to spiritual maturity. We have become people who look for the easy way up. People who only spend a few minutes in ‘self-centred’ prayer. A few moments reading a passage in the Bible. There is no contemplation, no meditation, and no application. Finishing just in time for our favourite television program, or that book we just can’t put down, and we waste several hours just idly sitting there. Now I’m not saying television or books are evil, but the devil uses things such as these to keep our attention away from what is essential, away from studying the Bible, thereby robbing us of our joy in Christ.

What Happed…?

One of the main events that happened in the reformation 500 years ago was the translation of the Holy Bible into the common language of the people. Now the man on the street could study, and apply God’s word to his life, he could grow up spiritually. We, on the other hand, have several translations on our bookshelves but rarely open them. We really have become lazy in our dedication to knowing God Word.

We read in v9, “That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. This love must be a continual overflowing love that is built on knowledge, but this isn’t just common knowledge. It is an ever-deepening knowledge of God in His word, of the world and of ourselves. And especially important is understanding how to put that knowledge to practical use. Commentator Steven Lawson says, 

“Rightly exercising Christian love requires God-given insight into people and situations. It necessitates the practical wisdom that only God can impart.”. 

Love that continually overflows is nurtured by seeing God in Holy Scripture, knowing how the world operates, and proper knowledge of ourselves, our own failings, and weaknesses. 

We find the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:12, 

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 

Here the first ‘know’ is the common meaning of the word know. I know the Prime Minister. But the second ‘know’ is the same word used in Philippians 1:9. It refers to an over knowledge and is conveying to the reader a fuller or an informed, knowledge. Just having a partial knowledge isn’t going to do it. Real knowledge understands how we are to live in this world, in a biblical, godly manner. 

The Bible Clears the Path Ahead

Having real knowledge helps us to have “all discernment”, and our path ahead will be clearer. What Paul is saying is that we are to develop a depth of insight, or be discriminating, in all areas of life. 

The first point of call is, and always should be, the Word of God. No worldly activity, no matter how godly it seems, should take precedence over it. God’s holy word alone is our ultimate authority for being discerning. In other words; God’s Word is the standard of how we grow to maturity in Christ, how we live. God has used many Christ centred people, both past and present, to illuminate His Word for us and we would be wise to use all of that which God has given. Ultimately, though, the Spirit of God is our teacher, and we need to be asking Him to illuminate His word, for correct understanding. 

Then we must live the God centred life. If we are to be God’s light and pure salt in this world, then we really need to be out there living in it, but we cannot allow it to influence how we live as God’s people. Just as James puts emphasis on the knowing and doing, we too must wisely live in this world acting on what the Bible teaches.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As our “love continues to abound in knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9) we will be able to (v. 10) “approve the things that are excellent”. When we have the knowledge of God’s word, the world we live in, and sober judgement of ourselves, we will be able to approve, or ‘test for purity’, the things that are excellent. Paul is praying that we will be able to make a distinction between what is good and what is better. 

Knowing good from evil is relatively easy, but knowing what is better from good can be a lot harder to determine. Knowing whether or not to touch a poisonous snake is easy. But knowing which ministry to put your finances and effort into can more difficult. We shall discern, better from good, when we know the Word of God. John MacArthur, a well-known preacher, puts it this way; 

“Christian character at its highest level comes from a divinely implanted and ever-growing love. That both leads to and is directed by, a rich understanding of and faithful obedience to the divine truth revealed in Scripture.”

Above Reproach

Why does God want His Children to have this knowledge and discernment? If we continue, v. 10 gives us the answer, “that you may be sincere and without offence”. Here is the result of living out the abounding love in knowledge and all discernment. 

‘Sincere’ comes from a Greek word which means, ‘to test by sunlight’. In Ancient Near Eastern markets there was thick, easy to make, pottery and then there was fine pottery, a lot harder to make, but it broke easily. What some merchants would do was glue the broken pottery back together with wax, then pretty it up with paint. The buyer became aware of the problem when the impure pot got too hot, the heat of the sun or near fire, the wax would melt, and the pot was ruined. But we are called to be pure vessels, without flaws, and able to stand ‘the sunlight test’.

‘Without offence’ comes from a term that means blameless. Other than unbelief, there is probably no greater sin that Jesus condemned more than hypocrisy. Especially the religious kind, like that which was shown in the Pharisees and scribes in passages such as Matthew 7:5; 15:7; Luke 12:56; 13:15. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about the office of elders. Elder, he demands, must be above reproach, this is the same thing he is praying for in our current passage. Colossians says in 1:10, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him”.

Are We There Yet?

We know that Paul isn’t writing just to the early Church at Philippi but to all believers in all times. How do we know this? We know this because of the clause that follows in v10; “till the day of Christ”. The day of Christ is referring to the end of time, when Christ, as the Judge will separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will receive eternal punishment, but the sheep will receive eternal life. 

The need for spiritual growth must be a focus of every believer. We need to remember that abounding love, which is both sincere and non-offensive, involves both the mind and heart for proper godly growth. 

Is There Fruit Yet?

Flowing on then, is a life that produces righteous fruit, v11 “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ”. In the Christian life, there are two types of righteousness. The first is that of the righteous life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which is credited to our account when we are reborn. 

The second meaning of righteousness in the Bible is the right acts that we do and stems from wisely acting on a proper understanding of God’s Word.  James 2 asks: How does someone who confesses faith in Christ demonstrate that faith? If you profess faith in Christ, it will be seen in the way you act. James 2:26 is a massive wake-up for us. If you do NOT possess what you confess, you’re dead.

We are saved from our previous sinful lives to display God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These verses tell us that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. The ‘fruit’ produced by a righteous life has its source in the Word of God, which is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Meaning of Life / Where is God?

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is; 

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Christian love that continues to grow and grow and overflow into everyday life comes from God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Spirit. Our sanctification will only stagnate if we are not placing God at the centre of our heart. A regular study of God’s Word together, with meditating on it, and apply it is our daily act of worship, Romans 12:1-2. 

Conclusion 

In Australia today many Christians have allowed the world to dictate to them what they should believe on many things. These Christians confess Christ as their King, but by allowing the world to dictate their beliefs, they are acting like the impure pots filled with wax. When it heats up, they fall apart. We must be like the pure pots, sincere and without offence.

Let me leave you with 3 questions:

  1. How are you abounding in knowledge and all discernment? 
  2. Are you able to test and approve what is excellent in light of God’s Word? 
  3. How are you equipped to live to the praise and glory of God?

The reformers had a motto; Reformed and Reforming. They knew that the process of holiness is a lifetime’s work, it requires prayer, dedication, and spiritual effort. And, it will continue until the day of Christ Jesus. 

May we be continually reforming to God’s standards, by abounding in love “still more and more in knowledge and all discernment”. So we may be sincere and without offence, producing righteous fruit in Christ, and above all, giving praise and glory to God.

Sermon preached by Mr Ken Mobbs on Sunday 18 November 2019

Participating in the sufferings of Christ

Scripture Reading

  • 1Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, honour those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it was expanded to remember those who served in subsequent conflicts. It is a beautiful place, with monuments to courage and devotion, but the highlight of the shrine is a hall containing a carved stone that simply reads: “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The architects designed the room so that every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m light from the sun passes over the stone, stopping briefly to spotlight the word “Love”. It is a moving tribute to those who gave their lives. 

However, more than honouring the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, the words on that stone carry a far greater meaning. Jesus spoke them the night before He would die on the cross. His death was not for freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the penalty of sin. His death was not to give us a better life, but to give us eternal life. As we remember those who died for their country, may we never forget to praise and honour the Christ who died in the place of a  dying world. For there is truly “no greater love than this than Jesus lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) (Taken from: Our Daily Bread, ANZAC Centenary Edition, Day 2)

Discipleship

There is, however, another love the Bible speaks about.  Our Lord made it very clear.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NKJV)

How does this love look like?  Are there any sacrifices attached to it?  Let’s look at one verse.  

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV)

When Jesus Christ called his disciples, He started them to become fishers of men.  One of the first discipleship training events is recorded as the Sermon on the Mount. Read the verse carefully, and you will notice that Jesus might have included some bystanders when He taught that time, but it seems as if He directly spoke to the new followers.  

Six times in a row our Lord used the word “blessed”.  A way to translate it is “happy”, and by extension “privileged”. Up to the last, we might think that becoming a follower of Christ is really something special.  But listen to this: 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)

In the Upper Room our Lord drove the nail a bit deeper: 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 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 keep yours also. (John 15:18–20, NKJV)

Just hours before their Saviour would be nailed to the cross, He said, 

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, NKJV)

They were there when Christ was arrested, they saw their Master being whipped, they saw his legs gave under the weight of the cross as He carried it to Calvary’s Hill.  They heard Him cry in agony as the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and his feet.  And then there was the cry, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

It does not surprise us to find the disciples behind closed doors out of fear for the Jews, even till the third after that Friday.  Perhaps they would be next because they associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

Would it be that at that point, if we were part of the disciple group, that we would bale out? But then, what about the all-encompassing love we should have for our Saviour?  What about the price of discipleship?  If I bale out now, I will betray my Saviour.  If I now turn away from Him who loved me and gave his life for me, how would I face eternity without Him?  

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

The Spirit brings to my mind the words of Christ.  

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9, NKJV)

Other verses ring in my ear:

You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18–20, NKJV)

But there is also this promise:  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, NKJV)

What did David say when he faced death over and over again?  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. (Psalm 27:1–3, NKJV)

There is a cloud of witnesses to spur us on by their example of discipleship.  

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:35–40, NKJV)

Where do I stand?  About that sort of treatment for the sake of the Name of Christ I know nothing—yet! What took them through?  What made them follow till the end?  They believed God and trusted his promises.  The loved Him with all their hearts, all their minds, all their might and all their soul.  

The Apostles rejoiced when they were flogged after they refused to be silent about their Lord and Saviour because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

Sufferings for Christians are nothing abnormal

And wherever the followers of Christ were scattered a pattern developed:  suffering and opposition.  

That’s why Peter wrote that Christians should not be surprised at the painful trials and sufferings.  Rather, we would rejoice.  Why? When trials come our way, our being ‘in-Christ’ proves to be true!  We are hated because Christ is hated.  If they love us, it’s because we are loveable, but not by Christ.  James writes: 

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NKJV)

Peter writes: 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in [because of] that name. (1 Peter 4:16, ESV)

Conclusion

The Bible is clear about it:  the world hates Christ, and they will hate us too.  They will one stand in judgement before the throne of God for treading the blood of Christ underfoot and for the way they treated his church.

We might not yet have endured all the hardship the Bible is preparing us for, but the mere fact that we today pray for the persecuted church is proof that there are real, present struggles and battles which have and are claiming life and belongings.  Some fellow believers were killed just last week. Thousands are imprisoned, and many more are fleeing to who-knows-where.

My friend, we need to now put our faith to the test and become spiritually competent and worthy of the name of Jesus Christ.  We have to, time is running out.  Entrust your life in the hands of Him who has overcome, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 November 2018