Thursday, January 29, 2015

Light Shines in the Darkness

During the trial of our Lord just before His crucifixion, He made the statement, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, in order that I might bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37 my translation). In this series of articles we will begin to explore this idea of truth.
             When God the Son became flesh and was born as a babe in Bethlehem, something astounding happened. Life and Light came into the world. No doubt people thought that they know what life was, and no doubt they thought they knew what light was, but they were mistaken. John describes the incarnation in this way, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it” (John 1:4-5 my translation).  Likewise Isaiah, in prophesying of the coming Messiah said, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Do you notice how Isaiah describes the people? They walk in darkness and dwell in the land of the shadow of death. That pretty well sums up this world; darkness and death. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of their former state, “And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). The world would know nothing about what life really is, apart from the revelation of the Son of God. We tend to think that we have things figured out. We may need help from time to time, but all in all we generally feel that we have a pretty good grasp on reality. The Son of God came with a different message. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not grasp it.” The thing about darkness is that we can’t see the reality of the situation. When light shines in the darkness, the truth is made known. This is the state of the world. As hard as it might be for us to accept it, we are (naturally speaking) in total darkness when it comes to the truth, but as hard as it might be for us to accept that, we must go one step further and realize that when the light shines, we are not even able to grasp it. This is my translation of John 1:5. The word “grasp,” like its Greek counterpart, can convey at least two meanings. We sometimes use the word in a intellectual sense. Thus, the darkness cannot (naturally) comprehend the truth that the light reveals. The word “grasp” can also be used in a physical sense to conquer or overcome. Thus, the darkness, though it might seek to squelch the truth that the light reveals, is powerless to do so. Both of these uses can be seen in examples recorded in John’s gospel. We see that though Christ reveals on many occasions the truth, those who walk in darkness seem unable to comprehend. We also see that ultimately the powers of darkness seek to “put out” the Light of the world, but in the end it is demonstrated that they are powerless to stop the Light.
Where does this leave us? I believe we have answered one very important and foundational question regarding truth; namely, “Where does truth come from?” No matter what we in our pride might convince ourselves of, if we want to find the truth we cannot look inward. We cannot even look to this world. Darkness is incapable of producing light. This principle can be seen all the way back at the beginning of creation. The Earth was formless and dark. Light came from the Word of God. In the words of the Light of the world Himself, “If the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). We must abandon this idea that we are capable judges of truth. There is perhaps no lie of Satan so insidious as the lie that there is no greater truth than that which your heart tells you. The truth is that our hearts are so filled with darkness that we have a natural aversion to the light even when it does shine in. The Son of God has come to bear witness to the truth. The true light which shines on every man, has come into the world!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Foundations of Truth

During the Lord's trial before Pilate He made what I consider to be a deeply profound and incredibly important declaration. He said, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:37). This appears to give us insight into the foundation of the incarnation, the gospel and the very reason God sent His Son into the world. "To bear witness of the truth," He said. In what way does truth, and the need to know the truth, lie at the heart of everything that Christ accomplished on earth? In what way did He bear witness of the truth? What did our Lord have to say about truth? Or perhaps we ought to ask the question that Pilate asked in response to the Lord's declaration, "What is truth?"
My hope is to explore these questions and any others that may come up as we seek to inspect the foundations of truth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Meetings of the Church

Having discussed some of the principles of fellowship and unity and order and submission in the church, it should be obvious that none of these things can be put into practice unless we meet together as a church. But how important is it that we meet together? Is it important that we come to all of the meetings of the church? What should our attitude be toward the meetings of the church? Let us begin by looking at a passage of Scripture. In Acts 2:42 we read that the early disciples “Continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles, in the fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.” They committed themselves to all four of these specific gatherings. Why did the early believers feel that it was so important for them to be committed and steadfast in the meetings? To properly understand this we must first look at the broader context of these early days of the church. We have already noticed that there are two foundational stones for the church upon which everything is built. Let us see how these might lead to the conviction that we see here toward meeting together. Our first stone is the Lordship of Christ and His position as head of the church; the second is the truth of our unity in the body of Christ. Let me suggest that if we have a proper grasp of these two things our attitude toward the meeting of the church will be exactly what it should be. Let us consider the principle of the unity of the body. There would be serious problems in a physical body if certain body parts suddenly became apathetic about when or how often they wanted to be with the other parts of the body. It may be that we don’t have the same devotion and commitment to meeting together as the early church did because we don’t really think of ourselves as being part of a body, but rather as part of an organization or club where attendance is a matter of convenience.
If we look more closely at the context of the passage mentioned above we will see that the purpose for gathering together is always focused on encouraging and taking care of others, not ourselves. We see in Acts 2 that the believers met together daily from house to house. These daily meetings may have been for nothing more than fellowship, but it shows how well they understood how a body functions. We also read in this chapter that they did not hold anything to be their own, but were happy to share what they had with those in need. Well that sounds just like a body. A hand doesn’t say things like, “Those are my fingers; you need to get your own.” Members of a body don’t worry about personal possessions. Now you might say that these things are just not practicable today. “We don’t even have time to attend all the regular meetings much less meet in people’s homes every day. Life just runs at a faster pace today then it did back then.” The writer to the Hebrews warns against the tendency to forsake our commitment to gathering, “And let us consider one another to stimulate unto love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some, but encouraging one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). If we cannot even practice the foundational elements of the church, then what hope do we have of truly being used by God to accomplish His purpose. God is gracious and uses us in spite of our weakness, but how much more could we accomplish if we would return to the foundational principles of the church and allow God to build us up from there.
May God help us to understand what it means to be members with one another of the body of Christ. As God teaches us these things I pray that we will continue steadfastly in our commitment to one another not only in meeting together but in our love and care for one another, just as if we were members of the same body (which we are).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Submission to God's Authority Structure

Submission to God’s authority structure has always been a difficult issue for created beings. The only place where we see a perfect example of it is within the Godhead. God the Son has always been obedient to the Father and perfectly submitted to His will (John 8:28-29). Likewise God the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son and speaks only those things which He has received (John 16:13-14). There is no envy or striving for mastery within the Godhead. There is perfect equality, yet perfect submission to the divine authority structure. The highest of angelic beings could not submit to the authority structure placed on him (Isa 14:12-13), nor could the first man and woman (Gen 3:5-6). We would do well to remember two things as it pertains to the church. Authority structure is important to God, and it is not in our power to submit to it. If we are to be fully submitted to God’s perfect order (for perfect it certainly is), then we must look to the Godhead to supply our lack. First and foremost (as we have seen) it is vitally important that we submit to Christ as our Head, but we must also recognize the other structures of authority that God has placed in the church. We have already looked at God’s provision of overseers, and we see that we are to submit to them (Heb 13:17). Note that this command comes from God even though He knows full well that our overseers are imperfect. There is another authority structure that God has placed in the church that we have not yet explored. That (which we will now undertake) is the issue of the differing roles of men and women.
First of all it is important to understand that in this as in all things, God’s prescribed order is perfectly given for the good of the church. In today’s society it is unpopular to suggest that men and women are different and have different roles. It is clear, however, from Scripture that this is the case, and that God created us this way so that we might complement one another. When we understand this we can learn to joyfully submit to the unique roles that God has given us. This could be a topic for a whole series of articles, but we will focus at this time on the impact it has on the church. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul is talking about the impact that we have on the world, and he begins to highlight the different roles that men and women have in this work. First of all men are encouraged to be active in public prayer, but women are encouraged concerning their apparel and their godly living. He does not say that women can never pray publicly, or that men should not exemplify godly living, but it does illustrate the different types of ministry that God has equipped men and women for. He goes on to show how these differences manifest themselves in the church. Women are told that they are to learn in silence, they are not to teach, and they are not to have a position of authority over a man. Sometimes these commands are viewed as punishments, but they are not. Paul goes on to mention Adam and Eve because it is important to get the point that the reason for these things goes all the way back to creation. In other words we need to understand that God created man and woman with different roles, and different strengths and weaknesses. The woman was designed by the all-wise Creator to be a suitable helper for the man. We will always find the most satisfaction and fulfillment in life (whether in the family or in the church or anywhere) when we submit to God’s order and purpose for our lives. Unfortunately it is the tendency of men and women (and even angels apparently) to want something for which we were never intended. Some women seem to have the attitude that God is withholding some good thing from them, and they look for every loophole to get around it. On the other hand, some men seem to wish that they had the woman’s part. They are quite unwilling to take up the mantle of public prayer and teaching and worship. There is sometimes an attitude of trying to see how little we can do and still be in obedience to God’s order. Let us rather strive to excel in the role that God has given us. This is by no means an exhaustive dealing on the roles of men and women. It is simply my desire to encourage you to study this topic on your own, and when you study it I hope that you will have an attitude of submission to God’s order, and that you will seek to excel in the life and ministry for which God has created you and equipped you.
There is one more topic that I would like to address that relates to this. That is the topic of head coverings. The teaching on this comes from 1 Corinthians 11. Once again I will not take to time to expound the passage in depth; I would simply like to offer a few thoughts for your consideration and further study. First of all we will note at the beginning of this passage that this is an issue of headship, and God’s created order, so it falls right into the topic of this article. Secondly I would like to draw your attention to the purpose of the head covering. As you study through the passage I’m sure you will notice that there is a question of glory at stake. The covering is given as a means of veiling the glory of man and of woman so that Christ can receive all the glory. The head covering of course only does this in a symbolic fashion, but that does not make it any less important. We would do well to remember that God cares about more than just the symbol; He cares about the attitude of the heart, but that doesn’t mean that we are off the hook as far as the symbol goes. We will also notice that the head covering is given as a symbol of authority for the angels. We have already seen that the angels have historically had problems with God’s authority structure. What a great privilege the ladies have of being an object lesson to them concerning the church’s submission to Christ! For that matter, what a great privilege it is to be an instrument in giving glory to God by covering the glory of man and woman! When we understand God’s order and are willing to submit to it, we will not only find fulfillment, but we will find blessing and honor.
Throughout our study of the church this theme will reiterate itself; Christ’s plan for the church is always the best. If we can learn this principle and learn to submit to Him as our head, I believe the church will find new life. We will find that Christ can use us to accomplish great things in the world because we are finally willing to let Him do it according to His will. The issue of men and women is only one part of this principle, but I think it is an important indicator of our willingness to submit to Him in all things.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Work and Qualifications of Elders

We have seen that two very important foundational elements of the church are the headship of Christ and the unity of the body. These two principles impact everything that the church does. It should especially have an impact on our relationships with one another. We have already discussed how it should impact our fellowship with one another, and we have also touched on a part of the authority structure that God has given for us in the provision of elders in the church. Let us now look a little more closely at the role and qualifications of these elders/overseers. First it might be instructive to look at the names that the Bible uses to describe them. The term elder means just that, an older person. Sometimes it is used in reference to the forefathers of Israel. The use of this word implies that these individuals have experience and wisdom. The word translated, overseer, is actually rather versatile. The root meaning seems to involve the idea of looking into, or inspecting. Sometimes it is translated, visitation, in the sense of visiting a sick person to see how they are doing. Thus from these two words we might get an idea both of the qualifications, and of the activities of an elder/overseer. We should be able to expand on both of these categories, however, by looking at other Scriptures.
We will first examine the qualifications of overseers as presented in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In this passage 16 qualifications are given. The following is an expanded translation of this passage:
“Faithful is the saying, If anyone aspires to oversight, he craves (desires) a good work. Therefore it is necessary for the overseer to be irreproachable (blameless, having nothing to warrant censure), a one woman man, sober (not under the influence of anything intoxicating), sober-minded (deliberate and careful in thinking), orderly (having a life harmoniously ordered), hospitable (a lover of strangers), able-to-teach, not given-to-wine, not an assaulter (striker), not greedy-for-dishonest-gain, but equitable (gentle, one who carefully considers a case with fairness), not-a-brawler (contentious), not a lover of money, leading (as by example) his own house well, having children in subjection with all honorableness, but if one does not know how to lead (as by example) his own house, how will he take-care (involving forethought and provision) of the assembly of God? Not a newly-planted [believer] that he might not, being puffed up, fall into the condemnation of the devil, but it is also necessary for him to have a good testimony from those who are outside that he might not fall into reproach and a snare of the devil.”
These qualifications are fairly self-explanatory, I would just like to note that they are largely outward manifestations, but indicative of inner character traits. No doubt it is important to have these outward characteristics as handles by which to judge a man’s readiness to serve as an elder, this does not mean, however, that we should not also look at the inner characteristics. For example a man may have only one wife, but if he is not being truly committed and faithful to her then surely he does not meet the qualification of “a one woman man.” Likewise there might be a man who has been saved for years, but has not gained the experience and wisdom that he ought to have.
Let us look now to the work of elders. One clue that we can pick out of the above passage is that they are to take care of the assembly of God. It is interesting to note that this same word, “Take-care” is used of the so-called good Samaritan and what he did for the wounded traveler. Note the completeness, forethought and personal sacrifice exemplified in that story. Other passages indicate the care which the elders have for the believers is more spiritual than physical. Hebrews 13:17, for example, says that they watch for our souls. Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 5:2 to feed the flock of God seems to be talking about spiritual feeding from the Word of God more so than physical food. We also see an example in Acts 6 that is helpful. Although neither elders nor overseers are specifically mentioned here it is clear that the apostles are in a position of leadership, and therefore the application is strong. When it is clear that something needs to be done about the provision of physical needs, the apostles are careful not to allow those things to distract from the spiritual things which they indicate are their priorities. The physical needs are certainly important as well, so they appoint others to take care of those needs. I would not take from this passage that elders should not do anything for people’s physical needs, but it does indicate that there is wisdom in letting the elders look primarily to the spiritual needs, and having others tend to the physical (I will write more about these others at a later date). One of the best insights into the work of overseers in found in Acts 20 where Paul gives some parting exhortations to the elders at Ephesus. They are exhorted to be on the lookout for false teachers (grievous wolves). He teaches them a lesson about salary (or the lack thereof) in verses 33-35. Paul also tells them to remember how he did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears for three years! (verse 31) That is quite an example of what it means to be invested in the lives of other believers. It’s a good example for all believers. Caring for the spiritual needs of the church requires commitment, foresight, and much personal sacrifice. I thank the Lord for those who are willing to take on this responsibility. It truly is a good work. We also ought to remember that it is the responsibility of all believers to care for one another and invest in one another’s lives.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No Other Name

Let us now lay another stone on the foundation of Christ’s headship and the unity of the body in the Spirit. It is closely tied to the principle of fellowship; it has to do with the names by which we call ourselves. This principle is laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 1-3. I will include some highlights from the passage, but I encourage all my readers to study the entire passage for themselves.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by those who are of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that each one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1:10-13)
The attitude of the Corinthians that is represented to us here is directly opposed to both of the foundational principles that are mentioned above. First of all when we call ourselves by the name of anyone other than Christ we are elevating that person to a position that only Christ deserves. That is why Paul asks the rhetorical question in verse 13, “Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” He is objecting to them putting him on the same level as Christ (whether they were doing that consciously or not). Secondly their attitude was an affront to the unity of the Spirit because they were dividing that which Christ unified (at great cost)! You might have noticed in my quotation of the passage that the word “I” is in bold four times. That is to reflect the emphasis on that word in the original language. These people were saying in essence, “I, in distinction from you, am of _____.” Thus even those who were claiming only the name of Christ were in error because they were by their attitude and actions dividing themselves from other believers. That is why Paul asks that other rhetorical question, “Is Christ divided?” Paul goes on to expound in the next two chapters these important principles of Christ’s headship and unity. In short the message is this: We are just fellow-laborers doing what God has given us to do. All power and wisdom and glory belong to Christ.
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:2-5).
“For when one says, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men? What is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, nor he that waters, but God that gives the increase” (3:4-7).

Now I suggest two direct applications to ourselves today. First, we must be careful not to elevate any man or woman above their proper, God-given place. We are all brothers and sisters and fellow-laborers. There may be some godly man or woman whether living or dead for whom we have great respect, or that person may have greatly influenced our thinking, or led us to the Lord, but we must be careful to jealously guard our Lord’s rightful place as Head. Secondly, we must not use any name for ourselves in a way that separates us from other believers. To provide an example, the word ‘assembly’ began to be used many years ago by a group of believers for the very reason that it could rightly be applied to any genuine group of believers, and thus did not separate them from anyone in the body of Christ. Today, however, the word is used rather more to differentiate believers from believers. This usage of the word is just as much a violation of the principles we have been studying as those who call themselves by some denominational name. It is not always convenient in this age of 1001 denominations to insist that we are just believers in Christ and take no other name, but we must each one take heed how we build on the foundation of the church which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Last time we talked about how we have all been united as one body in Christ; the way in which that unity practically works itself out in our day to day lives might be called fellowship. The basic meaning of the word fellowship is to share, or have in common, thus as members of one body there are certainly many things that we share one with another. The Bible talks about how we share (fellowship) in the work of the gospel (Phil 1:5), and in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 10:16 Here the word is translated “communion”). There is also a sense in which we share our material resources (Rom 12:13 translated “distributing”). There are many practical ways in which we can have fellowship with one another. To do a complete word study look up the word koinoneo (verb form; Strongs number: 2841) and the word koinonia (noun form; Strong’s number 2842).
For right now I would like discuss what the basis of our fellowship is (that is to say, the basis upon which we receive one another as brothers and sisters). Throughout the history of the church many believers have used many different criteria to determine whether or to what extent they will receive other believers into fellowship. Usually these things are based on certain things that we may or may not have in common. These things might be doctrinal, material, cultural or any number of things. Let us consider what John has to say about the basis of fellowship. In 1 John 1:3 we read, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also might have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” This would indicate to us that our fellowship with one another is based on our fellowship with the Father and the Son. Indeed when considering what we share or have in common, what could be more important than our position in Christ? On the other hand when we consider the differences that we have, and the things that might divide us, what are they compared to that which unifies us? This topic is further expounded for us in John’s other epistles. In 2 John we are given an example of people with whom we are not to have fellowship, and what is the reason that he gives for breaking fellowship with them? They do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, and thus they have no fellowship with the Father and the Son (verse 9). Thus he says, “Do not receive them.” In 3 John we are given an example of those with whom we are to have fellowship, and again what reason is given? They went forth for His name’s sake (verse 7). Thus he says, “We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.”
Sometimes we are tempted to make distinctions among ourselves that only do harm to the unity of the body of Christ. When we say things like, “Is he/she in fellowship in an ‘assembly’?” we might be asking the wrong question. Perhaps we ought to ask, “Is he/she in fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ?” That is the real issue of fellowship, and we don’t need to make it any more complicated than that.
Let us now turn our attention to the more practical matters of fellowship. What does it look like day in and day out? In this respect, I think we need to be careful not to think of fellowship as some official designation (i.e. is someone in fellowship or out of fellowship). Fellowship is a much more active thing than that. It is possible for someone to be on a “fellowship list,” but not to be actively fellowshipping (partaking, sharing) with his or her brothers and sisters in the Lord. We need to ask ourselves, “To what extent am I really involved in the lives of my fellow Christians? Am I sharing with them in the work that God has given us to do? (Phil 1:5) Do I share in their sorrows and joys? (Rom 12:15) Is my time and my resources at their disposal? (1 John 3:17)” If you want to take a good look at what active fellowship looks like, read through the first 6 chapters of the book of Acts.