Posts Tagged 'Be’s of the Bible'

Be’s of the Bible, Part 7

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There are many “be’s” in the Bible, and so far we’ve covered six of them:

• Be Holy, because God is holy, 1 Peter1:15, 16
• Be Perfect, or mature, 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still, and let God be God, Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober, keep your eyes open, 1 Peter 5:8
• Be faithful, even in hard times, Revelation 2:10
• Be clean, or pure, Isaiah 52:11

Each of these “be’s” is a direct command.  None of them are suggestions. They are not casual statements but imperative directives from the Lord. They represent what God wants us to be or to become. Our lives as believers would be so much easier if we would only live as God wants us to. So many blessings hinge on our obedience to these “be’s” and others, because there are many, many more “be’s” in the Bible. Our final “be” is found in Ephesians 5:18 –

Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him. (Ephesians 5:18. TLB)

Of all the “be’s” we’ve looked at in this series, this is arguably the key one. This “be” might be the most essential, because when the Holy Spirit pervades your whole being, you will be in the presence of the Lord continuously and He will give you the strength and the desire to “be” all the things He wants you to be.

Let’s take a look at the context of this final “be” in Paul’s great letter to the Ephesians.

Historical/Spiritual Contexts

As you know, there were no chapter divisions or verses in the original manuscripts of the Bible. Usually it’s best to ignore them, especially the chapter divisions. In Ephesians, while there may not be chapter divisions, there are definite “sections” that contain topics or themes Paul wanted to cover. Our “be” verse, 5:18, is part of a section that begins back at 4:17, which begins this way –

Let me say this, then, speaking for the Lord: Live no longer as the unsaved do, for they are blinded and confused. Their closed hearts are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds against him, and they cannot understand his ways. (Ephesians 4:17, 18 TLB)

So at the beginning of this section, Paul wanted to make sure his readers understood that what he was about to tell them came from the Lord; they weren’t his ideas. Christ Himself was the authority behind the things he was going to write. Paul was no mere moralizer here, he wrote his letter, and especially this section, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was the Lord’s spokesman. This is important to take note of because some of what the apostle wrote might have been a little hard for some of these Ephesian church members to swallow. But this is why the great doctrine of inspiration is so vitally important!

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone. (2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 TLB)

The Ephesians were urged by Paul to stop living like Gentiles, which the Living Bible refers to as “the unsaved.” The church at Ephesus was full of both Jews and Gentiles but was surrounded by a heathen, pagan, Gentile population. So this advice was timely for this congregation but also prescient. It’s definitely applicable to the church as it exists today. The Ephesians were not to walk as Gentiles – that is, their lives should not have been conformed to the standards of the pagan world around them, but should have been marked by the new life they received in Christ. We’re not in Ephesus, and we’re some 2,000 years removed from when Paul wrote this letter, but we’re in essentially the same situation as the Ephesians were. We’re in a church that is surrounded by a godless, corrupt, morally confused culture and there’s always the temptation for us in the church to adopt the characteristics of the world around us instead of manifesting the characteristics of Christ. This was a big concern of Paul’s and he wrote about to another church –

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you. (Romans 12:2. TLB)

The problem with copying the ways of the world (the ways of the Ephesian Gentiles), is that you are copying the ways of people who are “blinded” and “confused”; people who, as the Greek suggests, are full of pride yet devoid of purpose; people who are living aimless lives, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing of lasting value. These “unsaved people” in Ephesus may have been smart and intelligent people. We all know non-Christians whose minds are full of highly developed thoughts; who have acquired great amounts of knowledge, but they are spiritually ignorant. And that’s the problem. Because the unsaved don’t know God, they don’t acknowledge Him and they have no spiritual understanding. That’s dangerous because we are spiritual beings and we live the life God wants us to live by the Spirit. Those who live apart from God are in a state of utter spiritual darkness. So much so, in fact, they can’t comprehend the evidence for God all around them.

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively; God has put this knowledge in their hearts. Since earliest times men have seen the earth and sky and all God made, and have known of his existence and great eternal power. So they will have no excuse when they stand before God at Judgment Day. Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:19 – 22. TLB)

That’s the Lord’s estimation of those who don’t know Him. So why would we as Christians think it’s a good idea to copy what they’re doing? Why would we want to bring their ideas and lifestyles into the church of Jesus Christ? That’s Paul’s point here, and it’s a negative one.

But then we get to the first couple of verses of chapter 5 –

Follow God’s example in everything you do just as a much loved child imitates his father. Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him. (Ephesians 5:1, 2. TLB)

That brings us to the positive side of Paul’s admonition. It’s never enough to stop ungodly behavior, it must be replaced by godly behavior. The first sentence, “follow God’s example in everything you do,” brings to mind another “be” –

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48. TLB)

The Greek of verse 1 is preferable to the Living Bible’s “Follow God’s example,” because it reads “be imitators.” Interestingly enough, this is the only time in the whole New Testament were we are told be imitators of God. Some people may think imitating God is an unreasonable ambition, yet it really isn’t. Christians are born again as God’s children. We are partakers of His divine nature. We are objects of His love and compassion. Surely we ought to be manifesting a “family likeness!”

In particular in the matter of loving one another, we should do what Jesus did. This wasn’t the first time Paul admonished people to love each other. It was a common refrain for the apostle because loving other people doesn’t come easy for most of us because it’s not natural. It’s preferable to ignore people we don’t know than it is to love them. Christian love is all about action, not thinking. It’s not necessarily Biblical to run around declaring your love for strangers, but it is Biblical to do good things for them. That’s what Biblical love is. That’s the love that God has for sinners –

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8. TNI)

God didn’t just say that he loved us, He demonstrated that love in a way that would mean something to us. That’s how we are to live. The love God demonstrated and the love we should demonstrate is agape love – the self-giving love that asks for nothing in return and that wishes only good to whom is is given. Agape love is not a love that is native in man. God puts it there by His Spirit.

While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

No one knows what love is except in the self-revelation of God. It is only the concrete action and suffering of Jesus Christ which will make it possible to understand what love is.

Bonhoeffer is right. Only Christians are capable of understanding, experiencing, and manifesting true love. Those outside the church can’t because, as we already learned, the unsaved are incapable of grasping spiritual truths and realities. So, the love they experience and give is a pale, shallow version of the love Christians experience and give.

This is yet another good reason to NOT walk like the world but rather imitate God! Imagine if all Christians actually took Paul’s admonition seriously. No believer would want to wander back into the world! And sinners would be clamoring to get what we’ve got!

The Spirit makes it possible

The temptation for Christians to be worldly is great. Worldliness has been a problem that has plagued the church for 2,000 years. It’s not easy to live righteous, holy, and obedient lives. The Christian can’t let life just happen to him. Like an earlier “be,” “be sober,” we need to live life with our eyes wide open.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16. TNIV)

In order to live wisely, we need what James referred to as “wisdom from above.” We need God’s wisdom. In fact, wisdom is a derivative of faith in God, all we have to do is pray and ask God for it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 TNIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17. TNIV)

That kind of wisdom doesn’t come from a college education or from the latest self-help book and course. It comes from the Lord and it’s for the Christian, all he has to do is ask for it. As we live wisely, we will “make the most of every opportunity.” Without knowing the context of this verse, we’re left asking, “Opportunity for what?” Paul had been writing about imitating God and not the unsaved, especially in terms of our our behavior and how we treat one another. The wise Christian, then, looks for ways to: (1) live righteously – he isn’t caught of guard, wondering what’s right or wrong; he knows because he’s looking for ways to live like Jesus did; (2) love each other with God’s love. Paul acknowledges that they days are evil – love and righteousness are in short supply and what people desperately need is an accurate representation of Jesus Christ, both inside the church and outside.

And that brings us to seventh and final “be” in this current series:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18. TNIV)

This is not a verse about abstaining from alcohol and it’s not a verse about being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is the most practical verse for living righteous lives because it tells us how: we live righteous lives, imitating God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian doesn’t look to the things of the world to meet his needs, because, like getting drunk to feel good or forget about your problems, the things of the world never deliver what they promise. The wisdom of the world always comes up short. The Christian needs more. He needs what the Spirit can give him. That’s why this “be” is so essential, “be filled with the Spirit.” The present tense of the imperative verb tells us that being filled with the Spirit ought to be our continuous state – a continuous obligation. Nowhere in the Bible are believers commanded to be baptized in the Spirit or indwelt by the Spirit. Both of those things are done for us by God as part of our salvation experience and when we desire a deeper walk with Christ. Yet, here, we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit.” What does this mean? Christians are always in possession of the Holy Spirit simply by virtue of their faith in Christ. So what is Paul getting at? Simply this: To “be filled with the Spirit” is to allow the Spirit to control you and to influence how you live all the time. Alcohol, and anything of the world, may help you temporarily; may energize you for a while, but all the things of the world will let you down and lead you in the wrong direction. That’s why you need to be continuously filled with and led by the Spirit.

“Be filled with Spirit” is not a suggestion; it’s a command that will make living the Christian life not only possible but a positive experience for you and those around you.

Be’s of the Bible, Part 6

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There are many “be’s” in the Bible. When the Lord uses a “be,” it’s important to pay attention to what He’s saying. As God uses “be” in the Bible, He’s never making a suggestion; He’s issuing a command. We’re looking at a number of the “Be’s in Scripture,” and so far, here are the ones we’ve covered:

• Be Holy (because God is holy), 1 Peter 1:15, 16
• Be Perfect (or be mature), 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still (and let God work), Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober (and be alert, keeping your eyes open), 1 Peter 5:8
• Be Faithful (no matter what), Revelation 2:10

Our sixth “Be” is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

A verse like that demands some context because it’s impossible to know what’s going on behind it or what prompted it. So let’s consider some context, both historical and spiritually.

Context: Historical and spiritual

There is an old saying that goes like this:

God helps those who help themselves.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t Winston Churchill who coined that phrase, although he probably did say it. It was Benjamin Franklin and, as far as the phrase goes, it’s partly true and partly false. A lot of people over on the Reformed side of the church get incensed when they hear somebody say, “God helps those who help themselves.” As far as Reformers are concerned, God instigates everything in the lives of people; people don’t do anything to merit the movement of God’s hand. They’re not altogether wrong about that. In terms of salvation, man does absolutely nothing to earn it or get it. Sinful man doesn’t wake up and decide today is the day to get saved. Salvation isn’t a matter of sinful man seeking God. It’s God going to the endth degree to draw sinful man to himself. And even when a sinful person appears to respond to God’s drawing power, it’s really God working in that person’s heart and soul, enabling him to respond.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TNIV)

So, we nod in the direction of the Reformers. They’re right when they that “God helps those who help themselves” is wrong when it comes to salvation. But after salvation, all bets are off. On that, the other side of the church is right. Once a person is saved, many – though admittedly not all – of God’s promises and blessings hinge on His people doing something to merit them. It’s hard to get by a verse like this –

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 TNIV)

Make no mistake about it: God is always ready to give to His people exactly what they need and what He has promised to them. But God wants His people to – at the very least – ask and stretch out their hands to receive. Christians who are so doubtful or apathetic receive nothing from the Lord directly and their Christian experience is disappointing and frustrating.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 TNIV)

The words and phrases “fight” and “take hold” are not passive phrases! And living the Christian life is not supposed to be a passive existence. This is something a great many Christians don’t understand; they live passively, expecting God to do everything for them. Now, sometimes God in His sovereignty answers prayers and meets needs before we ask. But as a general rule, Christians are meant to ask, seek, or do something to receive what God has promised.

It’s always been this way, by the way; it’s the pattern revealed to us from the early pages of the Old Testament. God made an amazing covenant with Abraham, but Abraham had to step out in faith and start walking. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, He required of them to “rise up, and go forth,” and to make a perilous journey across a trackless desert. When God wanted to deliver His people from Babylon, only those who were willing to work for it, left all they had, faced peril and uncertainty, make a long and dangerous journey, received their deliverance.

And that spiritual context brings us to the historical context behind Isaiah 52, the book and chapter in which our sixth “be” is found.

The nation of Israel began as a promise God made to Abraham. In the course of time, Abraham’s descendants, Jacob’s family, went down to Egypt – as a family, not as a nation – around 1876 BC. But, they didn’t stay just a family for long. Settling in the land of Goshen, Jacob’s family grew and grew and overflowed the borders of Goshen. They grew into a nation that posed a threat to their hosts, the Egyptians, and in response, the Egyptians enslaved them. In 1446 BC, the Lord gloriously freed Jacob’s descendants, now known as Hebrews. In 722 BC, the Assyrians took ten of the twelve tribes of Israel captive to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1 – 6) and in 586 BC, the remaining two tribes were taken captive by the Babylonians, successors to the Assyrians. For a variety of reasons but mostly because of the idolatry, God used the Assyrians and later the Babylonians to judge His people . God gave them the Promised Land, and He took it away from them. This judgment shouldn’t have come as a surprise to either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern Kingdom of Judah because for centuries the Lord had sent His messengers, the prophets, to warn them to “shape up” of they’d be forced to “ship out,” either to Assyria or Babylon.

Isaiah was just such a messenger. In chapter 52, Isaiah is addressing exiles living in Babylon.  Jerusalem had been devastated and most its inhabitants had been deported to Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar steam-rolled into Judah, he would eventually take the majority of the inhabitants of the southern kingdom. Just how many? The prophet Jeremiah helps us out with that –

This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews; in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem; in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all. (Jeremiah 52:28 – 30 TNIV)

But not all were taken. Isaiah lived before these events took place, but He wrote to his fellows in Babylon prophetic words of encouragement, encouraging them to remain faithful to their faith even while surrounded by heathens and pagans and false gods of every sort. The temptation must have been intense, especially given the fact that many of these Jews were already discouraged and frustrating, thinking God had abandoned them.

God’s message

The call.

Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. (Isaiah 52:1, 2 TNIV)

It was not a good time for these Jews living in exile. Conditions weren’t the greatest and the pall of hopelessness had settled over these exiles. What they needed to know was that all was not lost. They did have a future – Jerusalem had a future, even as it lay in ruins at the moment. Blessing would come the city and it would be glorious once again.

When will this happen? Well, it sort of happened when many of the Hebrews returned from exile under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But it won’t fully come to pass until Jesus Christ returns, at which time He will restore not only Jerusalem, but the whole physical universe, which right now is “groaning” under the weight of man’s sin. When our Lord returns He will redeem our bodies and all creation will be redeemed and set right.

The condition.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “At first my people went down to Egypt to live; lately, Assyria has oppressed them. “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, “declares the Lord. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:3 – 5 TNIV)

This is the Lord, not Isaiah, talking about Israel’s history. This really is quite a stunning soliloquy when you read the phrases and think about what God is saying. These were God’s people taken captive and kept in exile – God’s possession – and since He received nothing from those who took His people, He will give nothing in return. God will take from the enemy what belongs to Him: His people and Jerusalem.

Of course, God is talking about His people in exile; He’s trying to encourage them; to buck them up. Just because they are in exile didn’t mean He’d given up on them or given them away. They were still His holy possession. And that ownership of His people – the Jews – continues down to this very day. In a sense, they are still in exile. And they will be until the Lord returns.

The promise.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed. ” Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” (Isaiah 52:3, 6 TNIV)

Again, God owes no nation anything. It is true that He used Assyria and Babylon as His instruments of judgment, but He is sovereign – He is over all nations whether they know it or not. The Babylonian exiles brought no glory to Him from those nations, therefore when His purpose was fulfilled, He would take them back, giving nothing in return. It’s His right to do that.

The messengers.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. (Isaiah 52:7, 8 TNIV)

Here is God’s estimation and characterization of true evangelists. God hadn’t forgotten His people and even in Babylon in exile, He still sent prophets to encourage them.

And that gets us to our sixth “be.”

Things would get better for these exiles. In the short term, they would be permitted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild it. But the final fulfillment – the final restoration – of Jerusalem won’t happen until the Lord returns.

But God’s stern warning to these exiles echoes down through history because it is just as relevant to believers today as it was to those Jews back then. Think about it: They were surrounded by pagans; Babylonian society was prosperous and enticing; many of these Jews eventually settled in among the heathens, even intermarrying with them. To those exiles, and to God’s exiles today comes the word –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

It is the responsibility of all believers, but especially those in positions of leadership within the Body of Christ, to avoid all impurity – to not even touch things the Lord considers unclean. “Be pure” is an admonition that sounds almost old fashioned. The notion of “purity” has become passé or even maudlin. But God demands it of His people. God wants His people pure and the easiest way to be pure is to simply avoid impurity. Don’t go near things that are impure. You may want to, and the shiny objects of impurity may get your attention from time to time, but if you want to be obedient to the Lord and if you want to blessed by Him and have His promises come to pass in your life, you won’t go near impurity.

Be’s of the Bible, Part 5

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Many times in Scripture, we are told to “be” something. In our study of some “Be’s” of the Bible, we’ve covered four so far. The four we’ve looked at include:

• Be holy (because God is holy), 1 Peter 1:15, 16
• Be perfect (this one is really, “Be mature”), 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be still (and let God do the work), Psalm 46:10
• Be sober (stay clear headed, keep your eyes open), 1 Peter 5:8

All the “be’s” are imperative; they are things God wants us to do or become. Consider them to be commands from your Commander. We’d all be better off if we paid attention to the all the “be’s” of the Bible because, obviously, God knows what’s best for us.

Our fifth “be” is found in Revelation 2:10, and is part of John’s letter to the congregation in Smyrna –

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (NIV)

What is a Smyrna?

No, it’s not a disease. Smyrna is a place that no longer exists. Along with six other destinations, the church located at Smyrna received a letter from John containing either good news or bad news from Jesus Christ concerning the particular church to whom the letter was addressed. These seven churches in chapters two and three of Revelation are significant. First of all, they were real places that existed at this point in time. We’re familiar with two of them – Ephesus and Laodicea – because they are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. But all seven were real churches, filled with real Christians with the same problems and strengths our churches have today.

So we might say that while John wrote specifically to these seven churches, they actually represent all churches of that time and those of every century since. Just as, for example, Paul wrote letters to a church in Thessalonica, what was written in those letters could be applied to many other churches because all churches, everywhere and at any time, have the same problems.

One other chilling point. Each of the seven letters opens like this:

“To the angel of the church in…”

The “angel” is really just the pastor. So each letter is addressed to the pastor. I say that’s chilling because that means that the Lord sees the condition of a local church as the pastor’s responsibility (or fault!). Good or bad, it’s on the pastor.

You may not have heard of Smyrna, but maybe you’ve heard of Izmir. That’s what Smyrna is today. Izmir today is the third most populous city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. The letter written to Smyrna was written after the one written to Ephesus, perhaps because they were located in very close proximity, about thirty miles apart. It was a large, metropolitan commercial center known for its many fine wines. It was, as it is today, a beautiful city, filled with stunning architecture. Back then, there were all kinds of temples built to accommodate the worshippers of all kinds of gods, including a huge temple erected in honor of Emperor Tiberias.

Unfortunately, Smyrna had a dark underbelly courtesy of the many apostate Jews there. They were social agitators, often the instigators in the persecution of Christians. In fact, the word “Smyrna” means “bitter,” and is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “myrrh.” Living in Smyrna was a bitter experience for many Christians.

Smyrna was also a major center in the worship of government; specifically, of Caesar. This came from an attitude of appreciation to Rome for their benevolence, and later it evolved into a kind of patriotic religion. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning; worship of Caesar was wholly voluntary, but it soon because compulsory. Of course, no Christian could ever worship any god, be it Caesar or any other one, save the One true God.

So the Christians were getting it from all sides in Smyrna; there was bitterness aplenty. No wonder our Lord wanted to speak to them personally. If ever a church needed to hear from it’s Head, it was the church in Smyrna.

The letter

John sent these seven letters to the pastors of seven churches. The letters contained the revelation John had of future events, but also personal words from the Lord unique to each church. The first letter was sent to Ephesus, capital of the province of Asia and the place John called home before and after his exile on the island of Patmos.

The second letter went to Smyrna, a neighboring city. It began like this –

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (Revelation 2:8 NIV)

The greeting from Jesus probably meant a lot more to the Christians in Smyrna than it does to Christians today. This church was under relentless persecution and many of its members would become martyrs. To these, our Lord referred to Himself as the One who died yet lives, assuring them of the motivating hope of resurrection. During His earthly ministry, our Lord told His disciples this –

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NIV)

Motivational? Yes! Many Christians today have it backwards; they fear what people might do to them if they take a stand for Christ instead of fearing what Christ thinks of them when they compromise their testimony. It’s a measure of how worldly you are if you’re like that.

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26 NIV)

Believe me, you don’t want the Lord to be ashamed of you!

John’s letter continues –

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NIV)

That’s Jesus talking, not John, and those first two words can be cut both ways: “I know.” Yes, the Lord knows – He knows the good and the bad about you and your church. He knows how you’ve compromised your faith for your comfort, and He knows how you’ve suffered on account of your faith. For these precious believers in Smyrna facing the very real prospect of martyrdom, what a comfort it must have been to be reassured that Jesus knows. He knew all about their “afflictions and poverty.” Apparently their afflictions (or tribulations) caused their poverty. This suggests that not everybody in the congregation was poor to start with; they became poor because of their affiliation with Jesus Christ. This was not unheard of in the early church –

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (Hebrews 10:34, 35 NIV)

In all probability, the Jewish and pagan mobs were pillaging the property of the Christians and it’s entirely probable that many of these Christians lost their livelihood on account of their faith and were cut off from their families. These believers had it bad.

The Greek word translated “afflictions” is a funny looking one: thlipsis, and it’s a very intense word meaning things like, “pressed” or “squeezed.” It’s a graphic description of how these believers felt: like grapes in a winepress, squeezed until every ounce of juice was squeezed out of them. The pressure exerted against these believers and this church must have been awful. Yet it didn’t shut down and its members didn’t disperse.

From all appearances, this was a church overcome with poverty, yet by our Lord’s own estimation, it was rich! They had become materially poor, yet spiritually rich. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but this combination is seen over and over in the New Testament.

All of this persecution found its source primarily in the Jews who were living in Smyrna. The thing about these Jews was they while they may have been Jews by race and religion, their actions demonstrated that these people were not true sons of Abraham. Paul knew all about people like this –

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. (Romans 2:28, 29 NIV)

It’s not an accident or a clever turn of phrase that these Jewish persecutors were described as being from “the synagogue of Satan.” Their treatment of God’s people showed with whom they had aligned themselves. How evil were these Jews? The story of the martyrdom of Polycarp illustrates the fact of the blackness of their hearts. Polycarp, disciple of John, was a harmless preacher and teacher of the Gospel, yet he was so hated by the Jews of Smyrna that, even though it was the Sabbath, they collected enough word to burn this man of peace alive.

A word of encouragement

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)

That’s the background of our fifth “Be” of the Bible, “be faithful.” But before we get to that, our Lord issues a mild admonition: “do not be afraid.” These amazing believers were hanging tough to be sure, but obviously  some were becoming fearful, and our Lord certainly doesn’t sugar-coat their prospects: things were about to get a whole lot worse. Our Lord wasn’t trying to scare these people but to fortify them! Keep it in perspective: their future (and ours) is in the hands of “the first and the last,” the one who was dead and became alive. If Jesus can do that, He is surely able to carry believers through death to life.

That phrase, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you,” may bother you a little. It shouldn’t. This refers to the testing of their faith. Yes, the Devil is the one who is inspiring these persecutions, but the Lord will allow them to accomplish HIS purpose in the lives of these Christians. So Job well understood –

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 28:10 NIV)

This word of encouragement goes beyond the expected for these believers encouraged to keep on keeping on even to the point of death. In other words: Never give up! Never give the Devil a quarter.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

The good news is that for those believers who will remain faithful no matter what, a great reward is waiting them: The victor’s crown. Now, that’s not the crown a king wears. There’s only ONE king and that’s not you. The Greek word for “crown” is stephanos, the “victor’s crown.” It’s really the “crown of life,” as in “eternal life.” Yes, eternal life depends on believers remaining faithful right up until the bitter end. It’s not how you began the race that counts, it’s how you end it.

Be’s of the Bible, Part 4

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Here we are, up to our fourth of seven “Be’s” of Scripture. The first three “Be’s” we looked at include:

  • Be Holy (because God is holy);
  • Be Perfect (or, “be mature”)
  • Be Still (and let God do the work)

In these three, and in fact in all seven “Be’s,” the Lord is issuing a command to His people. These “Be’s” are not suggestions; they represent something God wants us to become, or a way to behave or a way to think. But these commands are not onerous or burdensome; they are for our own good, and the longer we put off “being” the way God wants us to be, the harder life will be for us. God knows what’s best for us, yet He graciously allows us to decide when to obey any of the particular “Be’s” He gives. What a blessing a free will is! All we need to do is smarten up and learn how to use that free will for God’s glory. With His help through the Holy Spirit, we will as we become the kind of people He wants us to become.

Our fourth “Be” sounds like it was written by a teetotaler, but it wasn’t and it has absolutely nothing to do with abstaining from your favorite adult beverage.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

There are actually two “Be’s” there, but we’ll concentrate on the first one: “Be sober.” Let’s look at this admonition in the context of Peter’s first letter.

Peter, the man and the writer

We love Peter. Of all the characters in Scripture, most of us feel drawn to Peter because he seems to be so…human. He had such great successes and a few terrible failures. Sounds like a lot of people we know. Maybe even us! Peter was the kind of guy who had an opinion about anything and everything, and he wasn’t afraid to express it whenever he got the chance. Sometimes he was right, often he was wrong, but he never stopped. Some people might think of Peter as being a bit rash. Maybe. But with a guy like Peter, you always knew what was going on in his head and more importantly, in his heart.

But he was courageous, full of energy, overflowing with self-confidence, and he was full of hope. Sometimes he was fickle, weak, cowardly, a little unstable. Yet he became a towering figure in the early church and he’s often linked to another slightly unstable man, Paul. You couldn’t find two men more opposite in their temperaments, but both men were absolutely indispensable in the formation of the early Church.

Peter was a family man – a good son in law! – and fisherman by trade. Apparently he was a very successful fisherman because he owned a home in Capernaum that was large enough to accommodate his family and the Lord and even other disciples.

The religious leaders of his day believed Peter and Jesus’ disciples to have been uneducated and untrained. But really they were highly intuitive laymen who knew their Scriptures.

Andrew was his brother, and we’re not sure if Peter was older or younger. Peter’s full name was Simon Peter and was one of our Lord’s “inner circle,” along with James and John. For some reason, these three man were closer to Jesus than the other disciples and were witnesses to some things the others only heard about.  For example:

Peter, James, and John witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In fact, the only other people to see this miracle were her parents.

These three men also were the only witnesses to the event that took place of the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

The third event witnessed by this trio of disciples took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that Peter saw a side of His Lord nobody save James and John ever saw: the sheer agony of Jesus as He prayed to His Father concerning the trials about to befall Him.

These three events undoubtedly were seared into Peter’s mind and surely affected his ministry and his letters and gave him a perspective and insight into the spirit world we should pay attention to.

Advice to the church

The future of the church hung in the balance. She was being attacked from without by various persecutors and from within there were the constant threats of false teaching and false teachers. In chapter five of his first letter, Peter, just like Paul, gave some advice to certain people, and the first person in his cross-hairs was the Pastor.

To pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1 – 4 TNIV)

In the original Greek, the word for “elders” is presbuteroi, which seems to set these individuals apart as senior leaders of a congregation. In my opinion, the terms “elder” here, and “overseer” or “shepherd” elsewhere all refer to the same person. All three terms are used by Paul interchangeably in Acts 20:17, 28.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:17, 28 TNIV)

Peter begins his advice to pastors by making sure they knew that he was one of them, and that he had seen things they hadn’t. As a member of Christ’s inner circle, Peter saw things and heard things they hadn’t, so they should pay attention to him. His advice: “shepherd the flock!” Or we could put it this way: “Do everything for your congregation that a shepherd would do for his flock.” This isn’t new advice, in fact, it’s exactly what Jesus told Peter to do!

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 TNIV)

Not an unimportant word in John 21:15 is “my.” Any congregation is the Lord’s. It’s “the Church of God.” It’s God’s flock that any pastor has been given charge over. And Jesus loves His flock; it is extremely precious in His sight. That’s why nobody should view the pastorate as a career or as merely a job. Nobody should “choose” to become a pastor; it’s not a position to be coveted. If anything, it’s a position to be feared because the pastor has been tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of people who belong to Jesus Christ.

The job of the pastor, like the shepherd, is full of joy, and peace, but also anxiety and fear. Sometimes a shepherd has to poke and prod his sheep to stay on the safe path. Sometimes the pastor’s job is unpleasant and full of problems and heartbreak.

The pastor isn’t a dictator, although he could be. His life is on constant display for all to see. And contrary to what Bible colleges and seminaries would have you believe, nobody “learns” how to be a pastor. His example is the Great Shepherd Himself.

And unlike any other believer, the pastor will have to stand before the Lord to defend his faithfulness in ministry and give an account for all his actions with the flock under his care. As some might say, “That sucks.” Yeah, maybe it does, but a glorious future awaits the elder who, to the best of his ability, faithfully feeds Christ’s flock under his care.

To the congregation

But it’s not just the pastor who’s on the hook for living right and behaving right. The survival of the Church also depends on the behavior of the congregation.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5 – 7 TNIV)

Just as the “elders” of the Church will have to give an account of all their actions, in fact, all believers will have to stand before God to give an account before God. So all believers need to practice willful subjection and submission toward each other by respecting and honoring each other. This mutual submission, by the way, isn’t normal and is therefore difficult. This kind of lifestyle is ONLY possible when people are full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

To help his readers understand the kind of life he’s writing about, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34, showing how much God admires the virtue of humility. Saved or not, if people practiced a little more humility, we’d all be better off. But it’s not easy to live this way; not easy at all! So there’s a promise attached to those who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, manage to pull it off: They will be exalted at the proper time, which is God’s time by the way, not man’s. You should remember something else, most Christians won’t experience this “exaltation” in this this life, but in the life to come.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27 TNIV)

Far from exaltation, the peaceful lives of most Christians are threatened by anxiety and fear. Yes, life is full of stress and problems. Peter reminds us that true peace comes when we learn to give God our anxieties.

And this brings us to our fourth “Be.”

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

The Christian should never, ever be careless in how they live. Christians need to live deliberately.We need to be self-controlled and alert at all times. Peter uses two incisive aorist imperatives: Be sober! Watch! Peter condemns anxiety or worry, but says Christians need to be watchful and clear-headed. Believers need to be self-controlled; to not be ruled by their feelings or emotions; not to be inconsistent or flighty in their attitudes toward their faith.

Peter knew all about this because he got caught one time –

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:31 – 46, verses 31, 32, 45, 46 cited TNIV)

So while Jesus promised to pray for Peter, Peter had a responsibility too! To stay awake! To keep his eyes open. So he’s just passing along to his friends what Jesus tried to teach him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Believers need to be clear-headed and always on the alert because our enemy, the devil, is relentless. He can’t touch those kept by the power of God, but he’s on the prowl, looking for any lost sheep that may have wandered from the fold. He’s looking for the believer restless in his faith; one who has become spiritually lazy; one for whom the things of God have become boring. Satan looks for the believers flirting with the world, and given the chance at the right time, he’ll destroy them. Hence the call to be wide awake and on guard.


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