Posts Tagged 'discipleship'

Jesus: Man of Action, Part 1

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The second Gospel is anonymous, but it is almost certain that its author was John Mark from Jerusalem, cousin of Barnabas, and very close associate of Peter and Paul. Since the beginning of the second century, Mark’s authorship of the Gospel bearing his name hasn’t really been challenged.

Mark probably wrote his Gospel around 65 AD, shortly after the death of Peter during the days of Nero’s persecution but before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. However, there are those who believe that Mark’s Gospel was written much earlier, perhaps in the 50’s AD. That’s possible. What this speculation proves is that Bible scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Mark was written earlier than most of the rest of the New Testament.

The Gospels present, in abbreviated form, the life and times of one Jesus Christ, of Nazareth. Mark didn’t state the purpose for his, but John gave this reason for his Gospel and we may be sure that Mark’s reason is essentially the same:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 TNIV)

Mark wasn’t an apostle. Through the eye witness testimony of Peter and others who worked with and traveled with Jesus, John Mark caught a vision of Jesus as Messiah. But his vision of Jesus was slightly different from that of the other Gospel writers. Mark’s Jesus is strong and robust. He’s seen as a man of action, who moved swiftly and deftly from one place to another. This Son of God is seen engaging Satan and the demons of Hell and coming forth victorious. Mark also wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was also the Suffering Messiah, that He suffered even as they were suffering under the thumb of Rome.

Paul thought Mark was failure; a disappointment, but this young man got busy and told the story of Jesus in breathless fashion. He wrote using the historical present in the imperfect tense, as if the events of Jesus’ life were occuring right now. He often used the words euthus, meaning “at once” or “immediately” and kai, meaning “and” or “also” to demonstrate that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Man, was a man on the move.

Jesus: the picture of obedience

It was in God’s mind for a long time that John the Baptist would be the one to introduce the world to Jesus, the Messiah. The title of the Gospel is verse 1:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah… (Mark 1:1 TNIV)

Jesus, the Messiah, is the best news any lost sinner could ever hear! “Jesus” was probably the most common Jewish name at this time. It’s equivalent to “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh saves.”
The “beginning” of the Gospel about this Jesus the Messiah actually began way, way back in the history of Israel, and Mark indicates this:

…as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2, 3 TNIV)

John the Baptist was the “voice of one calling in the wilderness.” His job was to “clear the way” for Jesus; to tell anybody who would listen to prepare themselves for the Lord’s coming.  When royalty traveled in those days, state workers went on ahead of the royal procession to smooth out the road and announce the immanent arrival of the king. This was John’s job.

Another thing John was to do was to baptize our Lord as a way of beginning His earthly ministry. John had already been busy baptizing all kinds of people, and in due time, Jesus presented Himself for baptism.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9 – 11 TNIV)

Even though Jesus was sinless, and didn’t need to be baptized, He chose to be. The question is, Why? Jesus Christ considered Himself to be a man and He made it a point to everything – everything – God expected any man to do.   And not only that, Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, completely identified Himself with the sinful people He came to save. If they needed to be baptized, then He did to.

The other Members of the Trinity – the Father and the Holy Spirit – were all involved in Jesus’ baptism. Verse 11 is an important theological verse that testifies to the reality of the Trinity.

The TNIV says that the heavens were “torn open” when Jesus came up out of the water. The Greek word Mark used is schizomenous, an apocalyptic word. It must have been a sight to behold! In Isaiah 64:1, we read this prayer of anguish:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! (TNIV)

Well, it took a while, but that prayer was fully answered in the experience of Jesus.

Our Lord exemplified obedience in being baptized by John. But He also showed us what obedience means in relation to temptation to sin. Unlike the other accounts in Matthew and Luke, Mark records only the barest details of this incident.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12 – 13 TNIV)

There’s that phrase Mark will use time and again, “at once.” Jesus never stands still in this Gospel. The energy of the Holy Spirit is also in evidence; He was the one who “drove” (literally) our Lord into the wilderness. Going alone into the wilderness was for a purpose: To face Satan.

Many Bible students wonder about the temptation of Jesus. Being the Son of God, they wonder, could He really have given in? Was it ever even possible for Jesus to sin? In verse 13, to be “tempted by Satan” means that Jesus was essentially put to the test. But Jesus was being tempted to do far more than just sin. He was being tempted to step aside from His Father’s will; to leave His appointed path (C.E.B. Cranfield). A lot was at stake in this test. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of God’s plan of redemption hung in the balance. Dr McGee put it best when he wrote:

Jesus was not tempted to see if He would fall. He was tempted to show that He could not fall!

In Satan’s mind, the temptation was for the sole purpose of making Jesus fall. He tempts Christians today for the same reason. God allows temptation to come to us for the purpose of strengthening us, not to make us fall. It’s important to remember that the same Holy Spirit who gave our Lord the ability to resist temptation is available to us today. And while it may be true that temptation is a lifetime battle, as we experience each victory along the way, we are made stronger and able to do something positive for the Kingdom of God.

In complete obedience to His Father, Jesus strenuously fought Satan’s temptation and won.  But the obedience continued. Mark shows how intense the earthly ministry of our Lord was. Jesus is seen moving quickly from place to place, healing all kinds of people and casting out demons. People are looking for Him. Jesus is the man of the hour; a man in demand. And yet, was He really? The crowds came and were amazed by the miracles, but very few stayed around to believe the Gospel. This is a significant verse that deserves a moment’s attention:

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38 TNIV)

The people were thrilled with the miracles, but verse 38 tells us what Jesus thought was His most important job: to preach. That was why He came.

Verse 39 serves as a kind of summary”

So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:39 TNIV)

In complete obedience to His Heavenly Father, our Lord began His ministry, faced down the enemy, and performed that which He was sent to do.

Jesus calls for discipleship

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:16 – 20 TNIV)

In between verses 15 and 16, there is an indeterminate period of time. That’s not a big deal, but what is a big deal is the context that connects the two verses. Repenting and believing (verse 15) is followed immediately by leaving and following (verse 16). That’s essentially what discipleship is all about: leaving your world behind to follow Jesus. A disciple is simply one who learns from a master or teacher.

Mark records the calling of two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew then James and John. An interesting point to bring up is that Peter and Andrew were originally John the Baptist’s disciples.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). (John 1:40, 41 TNIV)

These two brothers had been following Jesus before He called them to commit to discipleship. The call in Mark’s Gospel was the call to continuous discipleship. This a serious call; it’s the call that goes out to all believers. And while Andrew and Peter immediately left their business to follow Jesus, many believers today don’t; they insist on following our Lord from a distance. It’s not easy being a disciple. It calls for dedication and consecration; a commitment to follow, learn from, and submit to the Lord, continuously. It something that happens all day, everyday.

The TNIV tells us that Jesus was going to teach His new disciples of how “fish for people.” These guys were hardened fishermen. They had spent a long time out on the open waters and were good at catching fish. They had skill and they had patience. They could read the weather and the waves. But now they would need to acquire new skills if they would be disciples. The real purpose of discipleship is seen in the reason why Jesus called these men. He would teach them how to “fish for people.” He would make them into “fishers of men.” As one noted Bible scholar wrote:

Christ calls men, not so much for what they are, as for what He is able to make them become.

And Christ wants His followers to become disciples so that would be able to go out and make other disciples.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is the Man of action; the running Man. He came with work to do and nothing will stop Him. Jesus is seen as strong and capable. He is seen as the perfect Son and the perfect Man. Jesus is also seen as demanding. He demands complete loyalty and dedication from those who would follow Him.

Our Great Salvation, 6

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Saved by Losing, Matthew 16:25

For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again. (TLB)

Paradoxical words, indeed! But this wasn’t the first time Jesus said them:

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it. (Matthew 10:39 TLB)

This verse forms part of one of the most significant sayings of Jesus that begins with verse 24:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Jesus had been discussing His impending death with His disciples:

From then on Jesus began to speak plainly to his disciples about going to Jerusalem, and what would happen to him there—that he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, that he would be killed, and that three days later he would be raised to life again. (Matthew 16:21 TLB)

The thrust of Jesus’ words must have caught His followers off-guard. Not only must Christ face the Cross, but so must His disciples. If ever a teaching deals a death-blow to the “casual Christian” notion, it’s this section in Matthew. According to Jesus, there is no such thing as a “casual Christian.” If a person wants to follow Jesus—to take on His Name—they must do some pretty radical things. The servant is not above his master, and if Jesus, the Master, gave His all for us, then we must give our all TO Him and FOR Him. And the thing is, it’s not an option! Living your life means you must first lose it, because if you lose it for the sake of Christ, you’ll find it. That’s the essence of discipleship.

Let’s take a closer look at our Lord’s teaching on discipleship and see if we are ready to be His disciples.

Self-denial is the key

Even though Jesus is talking to His disciples here, the teaching is really for anybody the least bit interested in following Jesus:

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Someone wrote: “Self denial are the words written over the gateway to the kingdom of God.” It’s a highly unpopular topic in our narcissistic society that tells us “we” are the most important person in our lives and that our needs are more important than anybody else’s. Apparently this was problem 2,000 years ago, too.

Verse 24 is actually spoken in rabbinical language, which makes sense since Jesus was a rabbi. A “disciple” is a “learner,” somebody who follows after another, learning from them. Traditionally, the disciple of a rabbi would leave home, his family and friends, and literally follow his rabbi.

Following Jesus, though, requires the ultimate in self-denial: one must literally disown one’s self. The Jews disowned the Messiah, but His followers must disown themselves. This act of self-denial is the highest form of humility. It involves seeing yourself as God sees you: a sinner in need of saving; a redeemed sinner in need of His constant care, provision, and direction. For the self-sufficient type, seeing yourself dependent on anybody is huge pill to swallow. It means admitting that you don’t have all the answers; that you don’t have all the resources; that you need Someone bigger than yourself to look after you.

Not only must believers assume that attitude, they must also “take up His cross.” That’s a difficult phrase to get a handle on, but essentially it means roughly what Paul wrote elsewhere:

Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin… (Romans 6:6 TLB)

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 TLB)

Taking up your cross” was supposed to have occurred the moment you claimed Christ as Savior, but it is also refers to a continuing characteristic of a disciple of Christ. It means being “dead to sin” in the sense that sin has no claim on you because, well, you’re dead to it. But it also means being “dead to yourself,” meaning you no longer live for yourself—you no longer live the way you may want to live; doing the things you may want to do. Now, you live for Christ; you do the things that He wants you to do.

The great disciple, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once made this important observation:

Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.

Deny,” “take up,” and finally, “follow” Christ. That last word, “follow” is written in the present tense, meaning a continuous action. Yes, following Jesus is something Christians are supposed to be doing all the time, everyday of the week, not just on Sunday in church. Following Jesus is to be the lifelong ambition of all who call themselves “Christians.”

Letting go means hanging on

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NIV)

Jesus’ logic is sure and unrelenting. If you want to follow Him, He insists on total commitment. This is something a lot of us have trouble with. But Jesus will not yield and concede ground to the “casusal Christian” on this point. If you can’t give Him your all, don’t waste your time with giving Him some.

Our Lord demands that the person following Him have the same commitment to Him that He has to them. Jesus has shown us how much He loves us and how much He is committed to us by suffering and dying for our sins. He gave His life for us! And this is what He expects from us. He is looking for people who would risk everything to be counted as one of His disciples.

Jesus really nails it with verse 26, driving His point straight through our hearts. Being good followers of Jesus is up to us. It is not something God will make happen in us. But Jesus makes it clear that “eternal life” is the reward for the good disciple. This reward is like the carrot dangling in front of the horse. It’s a motivation for the Christian: would you rather be in possession of all the so-called good things of this temporary life or would you rather be in possession of eternal life, which never goes away. The awful thing, though, is that the “things of this world,” temporary though they may be, have the capacity to rob you of the gift of eternal life. To this, Jesus says, “What good are all the things of this world if they can do that?” Well, the answer is they are not good at all; they are highly dangerous to the Christian. Many a believer has become a sloppy disciple because he became more interested in living for himself than living for Christ. And before you ask, you CANNOT do both at the same time.

That great troubadour for the Lord, Keith Green, wrote these powerful lyrics:

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed!

The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century finds itself, not asleep in the light, but comatose in the light! The words of Jesus have never been more urgently needed because we have a generation of Christians who do not understand the value of their own soul. Spurgeon knew well the worth of his soul:

Nothing can be compared with eternal life. The soul’s value cannot be estimated by ordinary reckonings. Worlds on worlds were a poor price. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Barter is out of the question. His soul is so a man’s soul inheritance that if he has lost it, he has lost all.

Today’s Christians have no concept of this. We barely have a concept of what the soul is, let alone its worth.

If we want to care for our souls; if we are concerned about our eternal destination, we must let go of our lives here. That doesn’t mean we live recklessly or fail to plan for the future. But it does mean that keep an eye on eternal values and not get all caught up on the temporal.

Another motivation

Eternal life is seen by Jesus as a good motivator for being a sold-out disciple. That’s what we may call a “positive motivator.” But there is a “negative motivator” for those not moved by that positive one:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27 NIV)

This verse means exactly what it says, so don’t read more into it. Entrance into or exclusion from Heaven depends wholly on the grace of God. Salvation is wholly by grace, through faith. You cannot earn salvation in any way, and that is not what this verse is saying.

Verse 27 teaches that there will be degrees of punishment and degrees glory or reward, and each will be based upon two considerations:

(1) How much knowledge an individual posses.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

(2) How faithful an individual has been. A person’s faithfulness is manifested by how he has lived his life—what he has “done” with the knowledge of God he possesses. You can measure a person’s faithfulness to God; it will be apparent if you look at how he lives his life and the things he has done.

That’s definitely “negative motivation!” And yet, in a sense, it is also positive at the same time. If you let go of your life, you will get it back and then some. There are rewards waiting for the one who practices good discipleship.

The cross is the emblem—the symbol—of our faith. Some people like to wear a cross around their neck, others as cuff links or lapel pins. The jewelry of the cross doesn’t do anybody any good. The cross must be emblazoned on our hearts if it is to mean anything. The world is worth nothing to the person whose soul is lost and no price can redeem the lost soul.

The Lord is calling us to a deeper, more committed walk with Him. It’s not easy, and most of us won’t be very consistent. But if we want to please the One who holds our souls in the balance, we must put forth the effort. Every day.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12 NIV)

Mission: Possible

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Matthew 10

Matthew 10 is one of those chapters that cults have latched onto in terms of how they carry on their missionary activity.  But context is everything.  The instructions that Jesus gives in this chapter are not for the Christian, the Mormon, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were given to 12 men, the Apostles.  If we keep this context in mind, Jesus’ instructions here will make all the sense in the world.

Our Lord had preached His famous “Sermon on the Mount/Plain,” and given His followers the “ethic of the Kingdom.”  Following the sermon, Jesus came down from the mountain and He performed a dozen miracles.  With this chapter, He commissions the twelve apostles to go to the nation of Israel to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.

1.  Instructions for the mission, Matthew 10:1—15

Empowered by Christ, verses 1—4

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of sickness and disease.  (TLB)

Here Jesus does something very important.  He gathered His twelve disciples—His 12 handpicked workers—to Himself, making them “ambassadors” of the Kingdom, carrying with them as they travel His authority.   The authority of Jesus is also the power of Jesus.  So these men, from this moment onward, had been changed; they had been clothed in supernatural power—the same essential power that Jesus had just exercised in the miracles He performed.   This authority or power was their “credential” as it were.  It served to prove the veracity of the words they preached.

An interesting point here actually began back in 9:38—

So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.   (TLB)

What prompted Jesus to say this to His disciples was the mass of people following them.  They were needy and they were lost and they had no one to show them the way.  We can almost sense an anguish in Jesus as He looked over that crowd and said,

The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few… (Matthew 9:37a  TLB)

At this point the workers were truly few!  Only Jesus, and for a while  John the Baptist, was engaged in the work of the Kingdom.  Here’s the interesting part:  the very men Jesus had just charged to pray that the Lord would send out workers to meet the needs of the lost have, with 10:1 become the very answer to the prayer they were to pray!   What a powerful lesson on prayer: be careful what you pray for because you yourself might end up being called to be the answer to that prayer.  Duncan Campbell said:

How easy it is to live more or less in the enjoyment of God’s free grace, and yet not realize that we are called to fulfill a divinely appointed purpose.

Go!, verses 5—7

Jesus sent them out with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep.  Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  (TLB)

Jesus was pretty clear:  don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  The mission of the twelve was solely to take the message of the Kingdom to Israel.   This was the mission of the twelve disciples for that point in time; it is not our mission and that particular mission changed substantially later on.  Our mission, and the early church’s mission is found in Acts 1:8—

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.

At this early juncture of Christ’s ministry, His concern—His compassion—was for His people, the “lost sheep of Israel,” exemplified by the crowd that had been following Him around.

Their message was to be a simple one:  the Kingdom of God is near.  In other words, the Kingdom was literally in their midst, in the Person of its King.  One day, the King will build a literal Kingdom, even as as it is being built spiritually now.   It was not the job of the disciples, and it is not the job of the church, to build the Kingdom; that’s the King’s job.  Their job, and ours today, is to the tell everybody that will listen that the Kingdom is coming.  In that sense, our mission insofar as its message is concerned, it the same as the mission of the twelve.

Guidelines given, verses 8—15

The guidelines given to the disciples, however, were for them, they are not necessarily for us.  And, honestly, some of them don’t make a lot of sense, like not taking any money or even clothes.  Obviously, these instructions for the moment; they were, in fact, temporary.  We read this over in Luke 22:

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you were without money, duffle bag, or extra clothing, how did you get along?”

“Fine,” they replied.

“But now,” he said, “take a duffle bag if you have one and your money. And if you don’t have a sword, better sell your clothes and buy one!”  (Luke 22:35, 36  TLB)

Times change and God’s way of doing things changes, too.  By the time of Paul, it was expected that Christians would support Christian ministries, like churches:

In the same way the Lord has given orders that those who preach the Gospel should be supported by those who accept it.  (1 Corinthians 9:14  TLB)

So, the strict guidelines given here were temporary because the upcoming missionary trip would be short.  There would be no need for tons of luggage and so on.

2.  Opposition to the mission, Matthew 10:16—25

Jesus made it clear to His disciples that eventually they would encounter persecution.  This prediction of persecution, it appears, was not only for the upcoming missionary tour, but it would be something they would have to deal with whenever they doing the work of the Kingdom.  The book of Acts certainly proves that Jesus knew what He was talking about.

Should Christians expect persecution for the sake of the Gospel?  Certainly the world, generally speaking, is at odds with the message of Scripture.  That’s not to say that we should run around looking for or eagerly anticipating persecution!  We should, however, be prepared for it if it should overtake us.

These two verses need to be considered briefly because they are often misunderstood:

When you are arrested, don’t worry about what to say at your trial, for you will be given the right words at the right time.  For it won’t be you doing the talking—it will be the Spirit of your heavenly Father speaking through you!   (Matthew 10:19, 20  TLB)

These are very comforting verses, to be sure, but they by no means suggest that we should never seek to deftly defend ourselves or prepare carefully the sermons we preach!   Christians need to be prepared to defend the Gospel and they need to “work smart.”

Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way.  (1 Peter 3:15  TLB)

The coming of Jesus and the entrance of the Kingdom of God into our realm did not bring peace and unity!  But this was something Jesus knew would happen:

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, rather, a sword.  I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s worst enemies will be right in his own home!  (Mattew 10:34—36  TLB)

Satan will not give up his kingdom without a fight!  That’s why Jesus said what He said.  And that’s why Jesus promised His followers would experience what He did and what He would:

A student is not greater than his teacher. A servant is not above his master.  The student shares his teacher’s fate. The servant shares his master’s!   (Matthew 24, 25a  TLB)

In other words, why would we, students and servants of Jesus, expect to fare better than He did?  The promise, though, is that through it all, we will have strength and power to endure.

3.  Encouragement, Matthew 10:26—39

Whom to fear, verses 26—31

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill only your bodies—but can’t touch your souls! Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (verse 28  TLB)

As Christians, we so often get things backwards.  We fear the wrong people!  We fear those who are in opposition to our message of the Kingdom when, in fact, we ought to be fearing God!  So should Christians be afraid of God? What Jesus is getting at is this:  We often give far too much weight to the threats of those who oppose us.  They may be able to hurt us temporarily, but there is One with much greater power.  God, whose power is infinite, is the One we ought to fear!  If you’re going to be afraid, be afraid of the right Person!

It was John Knox who exclaimed,

Live in Christ!  The flesh  need not fear death.

Mutual loyalty, verses 32, 33

If anyone publicly acknowledges me as his friend, I will openly acknowledge him as my friend before my Father in heaven.  But if anyone publicly denies me, I will openly deny him before my Father in heaven.  (TLB)

It makes all the sense in the world that if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior then we should have no problem acknowledging that fact before others, especially as it relates to our testimony and witness.  And Jesus declares that confession works both ways:  if we confess Him, He confesses us.  Of course, confession is also a double-edged sword that slices both ways.  Negatively, if we deny Christ before people, we run the risk of being denied by Christ ourselves.

On the subject of Christian loyalty, Vance Havner wrote:

A wife who is 85% faithful to her husband isn’t faithful at all.  There is no such thing as part-time loyalty to Jesus Christ.

A divine mission, verses 34—39

If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.  “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it.”  (verses 38, 39  TLB)

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this section of Matthew’s Gospel is simple and to the point:

Those who have a saving interest in Christ must be willing to part with all for Him—leave all to follow Him.  Whatever stands in opposition to Christ or in competition with Him for our love and service, we must cheerfully quit it, though ever so dear to us.

Jesus demands complete loyalty from those who claim to love Him and want to serve Him.  There are a lot of people who want the “trappings of Christianity.”  People like this enjoy Christian fellowship and camaraderie.  They might enjoy being around true Christians because they see in us the “something” missing in their life—the joy, peace, contentment, the “whatever” that comes from knowing your sins have been forgiven.  Sadly, until they want Jesus more than the “something” missing, they aren’t really saved at all.  It takes a lot of work to serve the Lord; it takes a lot of effort to enjoy the blessings of the Lord.  It takes all we have.

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 2

Jesus calling some disciples to follow Him.

Living As Christ’s Disciple, 1 John 2:329

Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ takes work—mental work. The lazy Christian is one who falls for every new teaching no matter how far from Biblical truth it is. Those of us who been involved in church ministry recognize this to be a big problem. How many of us have wondered, “Why is it easier to believe this or that false teaching but not the truth?” But as prevalent a problem as this may be, it’s not a new one. It’s as old as the church.

The apostle John gives us some guidelines for how to live faithfully as Christ’s disciple. More than guidelines, these are like tests to see if you possess eternal life. Mixed in with these tests, John alludes to the false teachings his readers were flirting with. The tests are moral, social, and doctrinal in nature, which involve the whole person and their behavior, beliefs, and attitudes.

1. Obey Christ’s commands, 1 John 2:311

a. Knowing God, vs. 36

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says,I know him,but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, Gods love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

The first test is a simple one, given in verse 3. Two things are made clear: we can know Jesus and we can know that we know Him. The popular heresy of John’s day taught that only a select few special people could know God through special knowledge. But John indicates that we can know God and know that we know.

While the Gnostic false teaching that John was confronting taught about “knowing” God, for the Christian, “knowing” God involves more than an intellectual understanding of spiritual things. For us, knowledge of God is inseparable from the experience of righteous living. In other words, a person may run around all day claiming to know God, but if their lives don’t measure up to God’s teaching about righteousness, they’re either a liar or delusional.

So the first test is the test of conduct. This doesn’t mean that everybody who appears to be living a righteous life is a Christian. Many people live according to Biblical principles simply because those principles lead to a good quality of life. Jesus understood this well:

Not everyone who says to me,Lord, Lord,will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

What John is getting at is that our greatest desire should be set upon the moral teachings of the Gospel and living them as best we can. Keeping the teachings of Scripture—God’s commands—is the same as walking in the light.

b. Loving others, vs. 711

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (vs. 10, 11)

John had just taught that moral obedience is a test of a relationship with God. Here is another test; the social test—a loving attitude. The Gnostics were a cold, arrogant, exclusive, unloving, and legalistic people. Christians, on the other hand, should be none of those things. No wonder John gave this test to his readers!

The command for believers to “love one another” is both an old and a new command. This command is a very old one, having been given from “the beginning.” We wonder, though, what John meant by that: the beginning of what? The beginning of time? Or since the giving of the Mosaic Law? Or since the founding of the Church?

The first two theories have merit, but it seem likely John has in mind since the beginning of the Church. Jesus taught His followers to love each other, which was really a fresh teaching of the Law of Moses. This command, then, though old, is not obsolete or worn out, just ancient, but absolutely essential for living. The command to love each other should never be forgotten, but should always be fresh and new in the sense that we commit ourselves to it often. It’s too easy for our Christian love to become formal and duty-bound. Blind obedience should never replace spontaneous love. When that happens, the command to “love one another” becomes as worn out as a sock with a hole in the heel. Indeed, obedience must never become a substitute for love, just an evidence of it.

Verses 7 to 11 describe a person in the church who is, hopefully, in the minority! The word “hates” in verses 9 and 11 is written in the present tense, suggesting a continuous way of life. A person cannot, at the same time, live in hate and walk in the light. It’s an impossibility.

When we “love our brother,” two things happen. First, we are “living in the light.” That is, we are living in the sphere of God’s light, which shines on us. We are true believers.

Second, when we “love our brother,” there is “nothing in us to make him stumble.” The sense of that phrase is literally, “there is no stumbling block in us.” When we are walking in His light, we have nothing in our lives to stumble over or anything in us to cause others to stumble.

2. Don’t love the world, 1 John 2:12—17

a. Truth for all ages, vs. 12—15

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (vs. 15)

John has some words of encouragement for his readers. This is the overriding admonition for believers of all ages and maturity. John groups his readers into “children,” “fathers,” and “young men.” Since women are not mentioned we may assume women are perfect (I write that as a husband of one).

“Dear children” (verse 12) is John’s favorite term of endearment for all congregations as a whole. So to all believers, of all ages and standings, this assurance is given: “Your sins have been forgiven.” And what an assurance that is! Everything begins with forgiveness. Once confessed, our sins may be forgiven and we are then able to enter into fellowship with both God and the Body of Christ.

“Fathers” refers to the senior members of the congregation, those who had some authority within the church. These would be mature believers, both in years and faith.

“Young men” who are “strong” adds a new dimension of thought concerning believers. These have “overcome,” suggesting those who have experienced victory in Christ. This ought to be state of all believers, who are ever in conflict with evil, yet always victorious because Christ has overcome death, hell, and the grave. The Psalmist has a good piece of advice for this group:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

In verse 13 there is kind of play on words not apparent in the English. Back in verse 12, the Greek for “children” is teknia. But here it is paidia, emphasizing not age but a relationship—a subordinate relationship of one who needs to sit under authority and instruction. Here is the position all believers should strive for:

I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (vs. 13b)

What John is saying is this: his readers have to know God personally because they sat under the teachings and instruction of godly men.

All members of the church, then, from the oldest to the youngest, both in the faith and in chronology of years, must not love the world or live as worldly people. It’s a bit ironic that the apostle of love, who writes all about how we ought love, gives a stern piece of advice NOT to love something: the world. As much as we ought to love the Body of Christ, we ought to NOT love the world outside of that Body.

b. Flesh, eyes, and the pride of life, vs. 16, 17

For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

John’s mood seems to swing from that of an old man giving words of assurance to a stern old man giving a serious warning. The tense of these verses is not the perfect but the present imperative: he is giving a command! The command is back in verse 15: Do NOT love the world. What love for the world or worldliness involves is now spelled out for us: (1) the cravings of the sinful men; (2) the lust of his eyes; and (3) the boasting of what he has and does.

Believers should not love the world because the world is temporary and is passing away. What John is saying here quite startling, actually. “Pass away” is the same verb in the same tense (present) as was used back in verse 8 to describe the present downfall of darkness. Here, the “darkness” is “the world,” and again John describes it as even now passing away. The chilling assumption is that when the world passes, those who are a part of it will pass as well.

3. Abide in Christ, 1 John 2:18—29

This is the last of John’s “tests,” the doctrine test—the necessity to believe right. Here John has returned the purpose of his letter—to combat false teaching and false teachers by giving his readers solid teachings.

John indicates in verse 18 that he and his readers were living in, literally, “the last hour.” The early church was very conscious that Christ could return at any moment, and that’s why so many of the New Testament’s admonitions about holiness and purity of life are viewed in that context. The thought being, live right and believe right because Christ could return in the next moment. Getting caught with one’s hand in the proverbial cookie jar is powerful motivation to live God-pleasing lives!

a. Antichrists and the anointing, vs. 18—21

Like John and his friends, we too are living in the “last hour.” It’s a long hour, but the dangers of his day are the dangers of ours. False teachers—antichrists—are all over the place, spewing their bad teachings and leading many ignorant believers astray. In John’s day, the identity of the antichrists he was concerned about is clear: they seemed to be one-time members of the church!

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us (vs. 19)

They masqueraded as believers but revealed their true colors when they left—went out from—the company of true believers, to strike out on their own, preaching their own gospel.

We learn something about two important doctrines of the Church here. First, we get an inkling of what “the perseverance of the saints” involves. Only those who remain absolutely faithful to Christ until the end are truly saved. Endurance saves no one, but it is a characteristic of one who is saved. And second, we see the doctrine of “the true church,” or what the true church looks like. Only those who are true to Christ are members of the Church and only He knows what that is.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. (vs. 20, 21)

What assurance for true believers! We who persevere in the faith have two powerful things going for us: (1) We “have an anointing from the Holy One.” The “Holy One” could refer to either Christ or God, but the anointing definitely refers to the Holy Spirit. The true believer is anointed just like Christ was: by the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we are like Him. The “but” suggests that the false teachers didn’t have this anointing at all. They were running around claiming to be like Christ, yet they were empty. Meanwhile, those who remained true to Him are like Him in the sense that the same anointing fills them as filled Christ. (2) John’s readers “know the truth.” This is an assurance every single believer has because it doesn’t depend on a seminary education:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (vs. 27)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17) and He becomes our teacher. It’s easy to be intimidated by teachers, and especially false teachers, who use big words and wordy arguments, but it was important to John that his readers understand that they don’t need to feel this way because they have real knowledge of God, taught to them by the Holy Spirit Himself. This same Spirit also helps believers distinguish between true teaching and error.

b. The Christ, vs. 22, 23

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

The rhetorical question provides another test. One who denies that Jesus is the Christ—the false teachers—is an antichrist. To deny Christ is to deny the Father. Without getting in to an in depth teaching on Gnosticism, the modern application is obvious. Many people claim to “believe in God,” yet have no relationship whatsoever with Jesus Christ or even fail to recognize His divinity. Such people are not part of the Body of Christ.

c. Safeguards against heresy, vs. 24—29

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (vs. 24)

Unlike the false teachers who gave up on the true Gospel, John urges his readers not to. If a believer clings to the true teachings of Scriptures, they may protect themselves from the trap of the false teachers. Paul wrote what about a time when people wouldn’t be following John’s advice:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (1 Timothy 4:3, 4)

It takes work to remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture; false teachings always appeal to the flesh and the sinful nature, even while they pretend to be spiritual.

Verse 27 gives us the reason why John wrote the things he did:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.

But even he recognized that no matter how much he wrote and taught them about the truth, there was One who could do more than he ever could:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

It’s important to listen to the right teaching; to believe the right things. John’s readers had heard the right teachings from him plus they had the Holy Spirit’s ongoing ministry within them. So there are two forms of protection against heresy: the truth of the Word God, read and taught, and the Spirit of Truth. A believer who has both of these protections operating in his life in balance will not fall prey to false teachers. But balance is important. One should not focus on the Scripture at the expense of the the Spirit or vice versa. The best safeguard against false teaching is a knowledge of the truth gained through personal study of the Word, exposure to solid Bible teaching, and Spirit-led illumination.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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