Posts Tagged 'False Teaching'

Your Amazing Faith, Part 3

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How amazing is your faith? It’s so amazing only you and other Christians possess it. No unbeliever has faith. Only Christians have faith because faith comes with a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. No unbeliever has a relationship with God. Granted, an unbeliever may say he believes in God – and he may mentally assent to the existence of God – but believing in God isn’t the same thing as being in a relationship with Him. I believe that Kim Kardashian exists, but I don’t have a relationship with her. This is the essence of Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

So, faith comes from hearing the Word of God; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When you couple that verse with another one, you’ll understand why unbelievers don’t possess faith:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | NIV84)

That’s why faith comes from the Word of God. And that’s why the unbeliever doesn’t have it; he doesn’t have the Word and therefore he can’t have faith.

Faith also has nothing to do with what you think or feel. Nor does it have anything to do with the circumstances you may find yourself in. Faith exists outside of your mind, emotions, feelings, and circumstances. Paul discovered that –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Paul, in the midst of a life-threatening storm at sea, was able to say that because his faith wasn’t in the sailors or the ship he was on or in his hope that the weather would change; his faith was in God. Too many Christians haven’t figured this aspect of their amazing faith out. They foolishly think that their circumstances indicate how much faith they have. Or, they allow their feelings to dictate how much faith they have. So when times are good, they “feel” like they have a lot of faith but during bad times, they “feel” like they have less faith. That’s crazy thinking. Our amazing faith has everything to do with God, not us or our circumstances. Our faith is objective, not subjective. And the Object of our faith is God.

That brings us to the third aspect of our amazing faith, and it’s found in Galatians 2:20 –

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | KJV)

This single verse is the most significant theological statement on the new birth in the Bible. Let’s take a look at why Paul wrote it in the first place. The reason behind the verse makes it even more profound.

The old switch and bait

It all started back in Galatians 1:10 –

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 | NIV84)

Not only the Galatian Christians, but those in other churches of the day had been accusing the apostle of sacrificing the truth of God or of sugar-coating the Gospel so that he might win more people over to his way of thinking. In other words, Paul was being accused of lowering the standards of the Gospel of salvation; of making it too easy for Gentiles to become Christians.

The fact was, at one time Paul really did try to “please men,” particularly when he was running around persecuting Christians. But he stopped that when he became a servant of Christ. After his conversion, his concern was pleasing God, not man.

The essence of Paul’s preaching was freedom from sin – salvation by grace. Sinful man is freed from the clutches of this evil world by the power of Christ alone. You’d think people would be clamoring to hear a message like that. Some were, but many wanted him to shut up and keep his grace and freedom to himself. They did that by lying about what he was saying.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 | NIV84)

That’s his defense, and it’s a simple one. Not only was Paul not trying to please man in his preaching, but his sermons didn’t come from any other man’s notes and he didn’t learn it in school. His sermons – his message of grace and freedom in Christ – came directly from the Source: Jesus Christ. Beginning on that dusty road to Damascus and continuing through three years of seclusion in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17, 18). Paul was in no way a bandwagon preacher, glomming onto the popular ideas of the times and incorporating them into his preaching and writing, as happens so often today.

Now, he wasn’t the Lone Ranger evangelist, either.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 | NIV84)

So Paul made it clear that while he wasn’t a loose canon, but his preaching wasn’t influenced by anybody or anything, either. He preached Christ and Christ alone. His credentials – his apostleship – didn’t descend from the mother church back in Jerusalem. He was called to preach by Jesus Christ. For Paul, Christ was truly was his all-in-all.

Peter’s problem

But not all the apostles were like that. Take the case of Peter. Paul certainly did and he raked his friend over the coals.

Once, on a visit to the church’s headquarters in Jerusalem to justify his ministry among the Gentiles, Paul dragged poor Titus along as an illustration of the kind of preaching he engaged in:

Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. ˻This matter arose˼ because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. (Galatians 2:3-4 | NIV84)

And herein was the problem. These false brothers – Jewish troublemakers – thought that Paul should have been preaching elements of Judaism along with Christ to the Gentiles. These people – false brothers – believed that while law-keeping didn’t save a sinner and wasn’t necessary, it did bring about a higher state of perfection. That’s the point behind this verse in Galatians 3:3 –

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:3 | NIV84)

This was a big problem in the early church and the Judaizers, the false brothers by name, could have ruined the fledgling church by intimidating its members and it’s preachers into caving into their demands to introduce elements of Judaism, particularly circumcision, thereby making Christianity just another sect of Judaism.

Sounds crazy, right? Who’d be foolish enough to go along with that? Remember the aforementioned Peter? He was one who was intimidated by these Judaizers. Here’s how Paul dealt with Peter’s problem:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11-13 | NIV84)

Paul opposed Peter in his unseemly behavior. I’d love to have been a fly on the way when that happened! Here was Peter, one of those closest to Jesus, the one so brash and rash in the early days of his faith, now cowering in the face of these false brothers. It’s astounding that a such a minority of people could wield such influence over so many. But that’s the way it’s always been with false teaching and certainly it’s the way it is today.

That’s the background in behind the verse that opened this message:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

Paul’s perspective

Here’s the thing. Unlike Peter, Paul never gave into these Judaizers for a second. Paul’s perspective was the right one. He had a new life under Christ. He wasn’t that man that persecuted Christians years ago. This new life in Christ set Paul free from the hindrances of the law – that law that encouraged him to persecute Christians; the same law that insisted Gentiles be circumcised or obey other stipulations of Judaism!

That first phrase, “I have been crucified with Christ” sets the foundation for Paul’s perspective. When a person becomes a Christian, he is identified with Christ – His life and His death. This isn’t a clever turn of phrase, it’s a statement of faith. By faith, a sinner makes Christ’s death his own. What that means is profound. In the future sense, it means that a redeemed sinner will never face eternal death for his sins. Somehow, when Christ died on then Cross, so did the sinner. This spiritual fact is something we take on faith.

The present benefit is astounding. The power of sin is broken in the believer’s life because he died to sin with Christ. As Christ died to the world around Him, so we died to world around us. Our old, inner self, hopelessly addicted to sin and depraved by sin, doesn’t exist anymore. That’s an objective truth that must also be taken by faith because more often than not it feels like our old self is still alive and kicking. It isn’t. But sin still is and it’s up to us to live in such a way as to put truth to the spiritual fact that our old self is dead and gone.

The counterpart to dying with Christ is the second phrase: “Christ lives in me.” Paul and all believers are living a new life.

just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 | NIV84)

Death to sin – death to the world around us – opens the door to this new life in Christ. The Greek is far more emphatic than our English translations. Here’s how one Bible scholar paraphrased what Paul was trying to get across:

I live no longer as I once did, but in a new way – no longer I. Now Christ lives in me – He is the Lord of my life.

I like that. Paul wasn’t the same man he was before he fell off that donkey on the road to Damascus. He was different; he was different because he was no longer running his life. Christ was now in charge of Paul the apostle.

In spite of that, he still needed faith. This wonderful new life in Christ is lived in the here-and-now, or “in the body,” as Paul put it. And to live a life worthy of Christ takes faith. Paul was justified by faith and now he must live by faith in Christ. Think about what that means. First, everything in the believer’s life comes from Christ. He is the source. In fact, His love for sinners caused Him to die for them. But secondly, Paul discovered that while salvation was free and and the result of God’s amazing grace, living the Christian life was entirely up to him. He couldn’t’ afford to attempt to live righteously by simply obeying a bunch of man-made rules or regulations. He wouldn’t do it, and he wouldn’t tell others to do it. Paul had discovered something every believer in Jesus Christ must: we live by faith in Jesus Christ and in what He did on the Cross.

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 6

JUDE: STICKING WITH THE FAITH

Jude, an English version of Judas and Judah, was such a common name during the New Testament era, it’s difficult to know who the author of this letter could have been with 100% certainty. There are no less than six Judes or Judases mentioned in the New Testament, and the writer of this short letter was probably one of them. Of the six, scholars believe the author to have been either the apostle Jude (not Iscariot) or Judas, the brother of Jesus. Out of those two, it seems highly probable that Jude, the brother of Jesus wrote this marvelous, little letter.

It’s also difficult to ascertain when Jude wrote his letter and virtually impossible to know whom it was written. It is likely, though, it was written late in the first century, sometime between 60 and 80 AD.

The point of the letter is to contend for the faith. Heretics, Antinomians by name, had come to prominence in the Church and were influencing otherwise godly leaders. These false teachers were Gnostics who believed in a kind of cosmic dualism: the material universe was evil, but the spirit was good. They denied the divinity of Christ and had no respect for spiritual things or even good manners. Jude wrote to encourage his readers to “stay the course” and remain faithful to the Gospel.

1. Contend for the faith, verses 1—4

a. Called, loved, kept, vs. 1, 2

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Assuming the writer to have been the half-brother of Jesus, Jude was a late-comer to the cause. None of Jesus’ brothers followed our Lord during His lifetime. It wasn’t until after Pentecost that they finally saw Jesus for Who He really was and became major influences in the early Church.

We don’t know much about Jude, the brother of Jesus, but we gather he must have been a humble man. Notice how he refrains from mentioning his family relationship to Jesus, preferring to call Himself “a servant of Jesus.” Barclay observes:

Few things tell more about a man than the way in which a man speaks of himself.

The greeting makes three important points about Christians:

  • Christians are called. The Greek word is kletois, which in the New Testament stresses the sovereignty of God’s grace in “calling” the sinner to salvation. As Jesus taught, “Many are called,” but only a “few” actually accept the terms of the call to become the “chosen.”

  • Christians are loved by God. Believers are called by love, to be loved, to love.

  • Christians are kept by Jesus Christ. The word translated “kept” is teteremenois, in the present tense, suggesting an ongoing preservation of the believer. Jesus promised to never leave us or foresake us. No matter how “alone” we may feel, we are never truly alone nor are we ever expected to somehow “fend for ourselves.” He who calls us and loves us also looks after us.

b. The Christian faith, vs. 3

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

This verse begins Jude’s earnest appeal for his readers to stick with the faith. But from this one verse we glean four important aspects of our salvation.

  • It’s a salvation that was entrusted to us. The KJV’s “delivered” gives us deeper understanding of the Gospel of salvation. It did not come to by way of the clever innovations of man. God’s plan of salvation did not spring from the mind of Moses or the mind of some false teacher. It was a divine plan given to man; entrusted to his care.

  • It’s a salvation given once for all. That’s really the key thought: one word in the Greek, hapax, a word full of urgency meaning the Gospel was given one time and it will never be repeated. There is ONE faith, in other words. It has never been altered or added to an it can never be altered or added to at any time in the future.

  • It’s a salvation given to the saints. The Word of life was given to those who had been set apart by God for Himself. The faith we cherish today was handed down to us by men and women set apart by God, just as we have been set apart by God.

  • It’s a salvation that must be contended for. The faith must be, from time to time, be defended by those who possess it. The word translated “contend for” comes from the Greek root agona, a strong word suggesting a fight or contest.

Verse three is really a “call to arms.” There may be a time when the saints of God must vigorously fight for the faith. To fight for the faith, though, must never be done using man’s weapons. Paul’s teaching on this is important to note:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3—5)

c. Enemies of the faith, vs. 4

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Here is why Jude felt compelled to write his letter. These were a slippery bunch of false teachers who “secretly slipped in among you.” That’s actually one Greek word that always suggests a secret, subtle insinuation of something wicked into a larger group or situation. That’s how false teachers work; they appear to be something they aren’t.

There weren’t a large number of these false teachers—Jude uses the word “certain,” inferring just a few. Their arrival on the scene should not have been a surprise to Jude’s readers. These false teachers had been written about for centuries. There have always been false teachers among God’s people, even back in the Old Testament era. And God cuts false teachers no slack: they are condemned even while they peddle they evil wares.

There is no hope for a false teacher, especially these perverts. The Gnostics believed the body to be a tool of evil, and so according to their thinking, it didn’t matter what a person did in the body. One could live to satisfy any appetite or desire or passion and it didn’t matter because God’s grace would take care of it. God’s grace, in other words, was being perverted into a justification for sin.

2. Expect God’s judgments, verses 5—16

a. Past examples, vs. 5—7

Jude’s readers knew what he was about to write, but that wasn’t going to stop him from reminding them of that which they knew so well. These godless men, too, should have learned their lesson from history. Jude uses three examples of how God dealt sternly with those who rebelled against Him.

  • Unbelieving Israel, vs. 5. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, and when He revealed Himself at Mt Sinai, they witnessed the greatest display of divine grace up to that time in history. In spite of the deliverance, the Law, the care and provision during the wilderness wanderings, some Israelites disbelieved and rebelled against God. Even within the covenant family of God, there was a minority of unbelievers and that minority did not escape God’s judgment. Similarly, these ungodly men within the Church will likewise be destroyed because of their unbelief.

  • Unfaithful angels, vs. 6. Even father back in history were the angels that rebelled against God. This likely refers to the “sons of God” who came to earth and mingled with women (Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6; 2:1). These unfaithful angels didn’t do what they were supposed to do and are even now bound over for judgment.

  • Immoral cities, vs 7. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is always cited in Scripture as an example of God’s wrath against sin. Those twin cities were judged and punished about 2,000 BC, but they remain to this very day a type of punishment that will befall all the ungodly: eternal fire.

b. Filthy dreamers and brute beasts, vs. 8—11

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

These were not only false teachers, they were thoroughly nasty men. Because their judgment is certain, Jude pronounces a stern “woe” on them. He gives examples of three others who faced certain judgment.

  • The false teachers have “taken the way of Cain.” The Greek verb Jude used describes one’s religious walk: they walked the way Cain walked. Cain’s walk was a walk devoid of faith; a walk that eventually led him to murder his brother, Abel. Cain’s “religion” was one of his own invention; he made up a way to approach God that God did not approve of.

  • The false teachers involved themselves in Balaam’s error. Balaam is like a prototype of every false teacher, false prophet, and preacher-for-hire down through history. Like Balaam, who prophesied for money, these false teachers were consumed with greed.

  • The false teachers were destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16 and it tells the sad story of the punishment that befell Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 others who rebelled against Moses’ authority. Of course, these false teachers of Jude’s day had not yet been destroyed, but their doom was so certain, it is as though they had already been destroyed.

Another way to view this trio of religious rebels is like this: (1) Cain—the man who sacrificed too little; (2) Balaam—the man who prayed too often for the wrong reasons; (3) Korah and the men who professed too much.

c. Empty clouds and wandering stars, vs. 12—16

With unparalleled eloquence, Jude piles figure upon figure to describe these false teachers. Six figures in all, they all add up to one thing:

These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (verse 16)

They were selfish, hypocritical, delusional, deceivers. Bennet characterized them well:

When it was safe to do so, they blustered and bullied, and played the superior person, but they cringed to rich men, and flattered them for the sake of dinners and presents.

3. Remember, build, keep, and rescue, verses 17—25

a. Remember what the apostles said, vs. 17—19

Naturally the New Testament didn’t exist when Jude wrote this letter, but the teachings of the apostles were well known, both from letters written by the likes of Paul and Peter circulating among the churches, to the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Barnabas, Mark, Luke, and all the early missionaries who carried the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.

These false teachers, unlike the apostles, did not walk as Christ walked but rather walked in a way that satisfied their own “ungodly desires.” They had no “code of ethics,” but could be considered “spiritual anarchists.” They, like all false teachers, divided congregations to create schisms and factions, pitting believer against believer.

How could they behave like this? Because they did not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

In spite of how wicked these men were, the apostles all knew they were coming; it should be no surprise that false teachers are in the Church.

b. Build and keep, vs. 20, 21

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

This is the burden of Jude! “Keep” comes from the Greek teresate, a terribly urgent word. It is absolutely imperative to “keep yourself in God’s love.” But does God hold us, or do we hold God? Scripture goes both ways, but leave it to Spurgeon to put this idea into a pithy saying: Holding I am held. It’s a mutual holding. We cling to God, and hold us. Jesus said much the same thing:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. (John 15:4a)

While we are “holding and being held,” we are to be actively building ourselves up in the faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. In regard to the second admonition, we should pray all the time, but when the Holy Spirit takes charge, we pray as we should pray. Praying in the Spirit means that we pray in His strength, and in His wisdom. The Spirit moves our hearts and directs our minds. We build ourselves up in the faith by fellowship with God through His Word and with His people.

c. Rescue those in danger, vs. 22, 23

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

These verses are a powerful reminder of what we owe the other person. What is our response to the overwhelming love and mercy we have experienced in Jesus Christ? We are to show that same love and mercy to those whose walk with Christ isn’t as strong as ours. Stephen Grellet was thought to penned these words, and it should be the hallmark of our lives as Christians:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to my fellow creature. let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

d. The doxology, vs. 24, 24

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

There are many doxologies in the New Testament, but Jude’s is, to some, the most powerful. His warnings about false teachers and their doom could be considered depressing and discouraging. One wonders how overcoming these false teachers is even possible! Can the believer ever just serve the Lord in peace and safety? Yes! The believer has nothing whatsoever to fear from any false teacher because God is looking out for them. God the Father is able to keep us from falling. Think of that! God is able to keep us from stumbling or falling; He is able to help us persevere in the faith so that one day we may stand before God without any fear that we have come up short. What a relief! None of us has to live using our own devices.

Jude’s conclusion stirs the soul and should be memorized by all Christians. It’s very easy to be distracted by the machinations of man. It’s easy to get discouraged the evil that’s all around us. Sometimes we wonder if our faith will ever prevail over anything in this life. Jude’s words, when taken to heart, lift us up, beyond the petty conflicts and problems of this life and enables us to gain a glimpse into the heavenly realms where we may see God firmly seated on His throne, in complete control. God’s plan for His people will be carried out. No false teacher will stop Him for fulfilling His will for us.

(c) 2012 WitzEnd

Rising Above Average: Of Mustard and Yeast

Matthew 13:31-33

Most scholars see these two parables as a pair, with the first one (the mustard seed) referring to the outward growth of the Kingdom of Heaven and the second one (the yeast) referring to the inward growth of the Kingdom.

The traditional interpretation of this pair of parables is likely familiar to most church-goers because it is what we have been taught since Sunday School:

The traditional [view] held from the early days of the Church…affirms that Jesus is here describing the two-fold growth of the Church.  In the parable of the mustard seed it is the outward growth; in the parable of the leaven it is inward, spiritual growth—or its influence in leavening society.  (Ralph Earle)

The traditional view is that the Holy Spirit, working in the hearts of believers, like yeast in dough, causes the Kingdom of Heaven to grow steadily from its tiny beginning, like a mustard seed.  Eventually, thanks to the transforming power of God at work in the hearts of citizens of the Kingdom, that Kingdom will blossom, like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large plant and yeasts permeates the dough.

This view is empowering, positive, encouraging and, sadly, incorrect.  In the past 150 years or so, another view, which has actually been around for centuries, has come to the fore as reality takes precedence over utopian ideology.  The fact is, as one looks around at the state of the Church on earth today, the Kingdom of Heaven is obviously not going to “take over” the world.  When we look at the impurity and impotency of the Church it becomes obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ has little or no influence over the affairs of man.  If the traditional view is incorrect, what is the mystery of Kingdom that Jesus is trying to impart in this pair of parables?

1.  Context, context, context

Before looking at what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 13:31—33, we need to recap what Jesus has been teaching up to verse 30, because the whole chapter must be looked at as unit of teaching; one message given using several different illustrations to explain it.

Jesus had been teaching a large crowd by the sea a number of “mysteries” concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.  The first thing He wanted people to understand was that not everybody in the Kingdom of Heaven is what they appear to be.  Of all the citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven today, a mere one-quarter are fruit-bearing believers in whom the Word of God, planted by Jesus Himself, has taken root.  The vast majority of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the remaining three-quarters, is made up of mediocre-to-average believers who are hot one day and cold the next.  These are the “double minded” people described by James in his epistle.   Within the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus is sowing the seed, but so also is Satan; the enemy of God and His people, sowing destructive seeds of heresy causing many of the majority to abandon their lukewarm faith.  Jesus knows that this is happening, but since we are currently living in the Dispensation of Grace, He is allowing this to happen in order to accomplish His eternal purposes for man.

So today there exists within the Kingdom of Heaven a strange kind of plurality:  mediocre, hypocritical, and false believers mixed in with genuine, true believers.  This is the context in which Jesus proceeds to tell His story which will further advance the revelation of these Kingdom mysteries.

2.  The mustard seed:  unnatural growth, verses 31—32

MustardPlantsHe told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

In simplest terms, the illustration of the mustard seed speaks of the abnormal and insubstantial growth of the Kingdom of Heaven, especially of the Church, which is the visible side of the Kingdom on Earth today.

Normally throughout the New Testament, believers are compared to fruit-bearing trees; the mustard plant is not a tree, it’s an unimpressive desert shrub.  While fruit is healthy and good for you, mustard has no nutrient value at all.  It is a condiment; it is not a food you can live on.  It tastes terrible if you get a mouthful.   So right at the beginning of this illustration we know something different must be being taught by Christ.  It makes no sense to compare the Kingdom of Heaven to mustard—a scraggly, grubby shrub that produces a nasty tasting herb— in any positive sense.mustard_field

That Jesus compares the Kingdom to the mustard shrub is a negative lesson, not a positive one.  The fact that this shrub grows to gargantuan proportions so that birds can come to rest in its branches shows a freakish, abnormal plant!    In fact, this story reveals the outward growth of the visible Church; it grows at an unnatural pace because Christianity, though it began small and pure, is not today fulfilling its normal calling of holiness and separation from the world and worldliness.  The Church of Jesus Christ today is a compromised and compromising organization; so much so that even the birds, which traditionally symbolize unconverted people, find a place of shelter in it.  Since when to those hostile to the things of God want anything to do with Him and His house?  That occurs when the sinner feels comfortable enough with his sinful state to remain in God’s house; he does not experience conviction of sin because that is addressed.

In the 21st century, the Church and the world have become a tangled mess.  It is getting harder and harder to tell the Christian from the sinner.   That is why Jesus describes Christianity of this present age as a weird, almost other worldly shrub:  it bears no resemblance to what it is supposed to look like.  Christians are called to be the salt of the earth, not mustard!

2.  The yeast:  a gospel of destruction, verse 33

breadHe told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

If the preceding story illustrates the outward growth of Christianity, then this story shows how that growth was achieved.  This one, single verse is extremely important in our understanding of the great dispensational truths Jesus is revealing in Matthew 13.

Traditionally, the interpretation of this story goes something like this:  The woman is Christ, and the yeast is gospel and the dough is the world.  The point of this verse is to show how the Kingdom starts of small and insignificant—like yeast—yet over time it grows and grows until it takes over the world.

Those who teach that the yeast represents the Gospel have a lot of explaining to do since everywhere else in Scripture yeast represents the principle of evil.  The word “yeast” or “leaven” occurs almost 100 times in both Testaments and always in a negative sense.  So it seems unlikely in the extreme that Jesus would all of a sudden take a negative and turn it into a positive!   No, symbolism in Scripture never, ever contradicts itself and is always consistent.

In fact, while the yeast is something evil, the Gospel is represented in this story by the “large amount of flour.”  Don’t forget about the “good seeds” and the “wheat” of the previous parables; they show up here in this parable in the form flour.

making breadThe woman in the story does not represent Christ; she is seen handling evil, which Christ would never do, and when women are mentioned in connection with faith or doctrine in the Bible, they are always representative of evil.  Just a quick reading of Proverbs, for example, will illustrate this.   Furthermore, if you believe the woman is Christ then she is doing a very strange thing with the yeast of the Gospel:  she is hiding it!  Nowhere in the New Testament are we taught that the Gospel was something to be hidden!  The Word of God is supposed to proclaimed loudly and clearly for all to hear.

Here is what is really happening in this brief and powerful story:  Just like we see in the previous parables, the woman represents some form of false teacher and the yeast represents various forms of false teachings that corrupt the dough.  What Jesus is explaining, and what He wants us to be aware of, is that in this present dispensation there is a lot of false teaching to be found throughout the Church.  He is making a statement of fact.

3.  Combining the two:  a picture of the modern Church

If we take this pair of parables as a unit, then Jesus is teaching us one very startling truth that can be distilled into three words:  numbers mean nothing. We live in a culture today where numbers mean everything.  The number of members a church has on its roll is almost always seen as an indicator that that church is “doing something right.”  But is that an accurate statement?    According to the essence of what Jesus is teaching, that is not an accurate statement at all.

While there is nothing wrong with a church having a large congregation, that factor in and of itself is no guarantee that the Gospel is being preached and sinners converted in that church.   According to the story of the mustard seed, that large church could, in fact, be experiencing abnormal and freakish growth that has nothing whatsoever to do with a move of God.

When yeast is introduced into dough, it causes fermentation and the dough rises.  Not only that, it makes the dough taste good.  If you have ever eaten genuine unleavened bread—bread with no yeast in it—you know how utterly bland it is.   But toss in some yeast and all of a sudden that bland recipe becomes tasty indeed.  And if you don’t put that dough into the oven, it will just continue to ferment and rise until it becomes nasty.

circusMany churches, desperate for members, use a little yeast to make the Gospel tasty.  But to those who need saving, the Gospel is not supposed to be tasty.   The Kingdom of Heaven is not supposed to appeal our fleshly nature.  The Church of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with meeting man’s supposed temporal needs; it has everything to do with the glory of God who is alone is able to meet man’s eternal need of salvation.

What Jesus described in parabolic form two thousand years ago we are witnessing in reality today.  Today we have churches that no longer preach against sin for fear of offending somebody.  We have so-called Christians who hop from church-to-church looking for that one church that will meet the needs they think they have.  What they don’t know is their need can be met only by Jesus Christ and His Word, and you don’t need programs and gimmicks for that.

But what we really see happening today is exactly what the Word of God has prophesied would happen as the age of man draws to a conclusion.  The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that the world, including the Church in this present age, will continue to deteriorate and degrade so that even the smartest person will be deceived at the end.  Jesus Himself posed this question:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8b)

Within the context of that verse, and the way the sentence is constructed in the Greek, a negative answer is the correct answer.  When Christ returns, the world He left will be a mess, thanks in large part to a lumbering, freakish, apostate church.  While we look at the world around us and rightfully observe how offensive it has become to God, we need to realize that we are part of the reason the world has fallen so far.  John MacArthur once remarked:

hinn-tbn“TBN has done more harm to the gospel than Jerry Springer. For a false representation of God is more damaging than a true display of sin.”

Hard Questions

The title of this series of teachings (that is, my title, not our Lord’s) is “Rising Above Average.”  My prayer is that those who have been reading these teachings learn something about themselves.  The question each of us need to ask is a simple one:

Within the Body of Christ, am I part of the 25% minority or part of the 75% majority?

Only those who are completely sold out to Jesus Christ are dedicated to Him wholly, and those are the 25% believers of excellence.  Of these men and women, boys and girls, the Lord will say—

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’  (Matthew 25:21)

But to those mediocre, double minded Christians, Jesus has warned—

Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  (Matthew 25:28—29)

You don’t have to be that person.  You can become a believer of excellence simply by yielding to the Holy Spirit within you and the drawing of God.  There is no better way of living than living a life consecrated to Christ.  Francis Havergal expressed it in a powerful way:

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

pray-bible(c)  2009 WitzEnd


Jude, Part 6

How To Survive With Your Faith Intact

Jude 17—23

With the exception of one more brief warning, Jude is finished with the issue of false teachers or apostates. The remaining verses of this brief and powerful letter contain a series of exhortations designed to encourage the believers to remain faithful and Jude even gives them some practical advice, which we would do well to take to heart.

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

1. Remember the Gospel, verses 17, 18

Like Ezekiel, Jude sees himself a watchman on the walls of Zion; times are dangerous for the House of God, and so he tells his readers to remember. The words “but” and “but you” in these verses are in the emphatic position, showing what Jude thought of his readers. He holds them in high esteem, especially in contrast to the false teachers. Jude expects much from them.

Jude again addresses his readers as agapetoi, “my beloved.” Because he loved his friends so much, Jude has spent considerable time on this issue. They face struggles, and in the face of what is to come, the first piece of advice given is to remember the teachings of the apostles. The Twelves, as they were known, and Paul, had a far reaching ministry, most of which we know nothing of. Edwin Blum makes a wonderful comment:

[T]heir preaching was part of the oral deposit of faith for the early churches.

The readers must be able to recall the message of the Gospel so that they can defend themselves against the pernicious attacks of the apostates. This is a powerful bit of advice for it places the emphasis of defense on the Word of God, not on the words of man. False teachers can be beaten, but not by clever arguments based on man’s doctrines, but on the plain teachings of the Word.

The teaching that Jude quotes is not found anywhere in the New Testament in those exact words; this has led most scholars to conclude that Jude paraphrased the overall teaching of the apostles. For example, Paul wrote this in Acts 20:29,

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.

The Greek suggests that the idea of this teaching, that there would be selfish scoffers in the last days, was something taught repeatedly by the apostles. Through their sermons, they drilled this into the hearts and heads of the congregations of the early church. The term “last days” as used throughout the New Testament refers to their present time and a time in the future. The apostles never relaxed their vigilance, even during relative good times they were conscious that the believer is an enemy to the world in which he lives. This is surely a message for today, as we see the Church compromising itself time and time again, making friends with the world instead of fighting against it.

And so, Jude advises his friends that the best defense against false teaching is to know the Word of God. Believers have been warned of perilous times, they should not be surprised when they come, but they should know how to defend and contend for the faith.

2. Avoid false teachers, verse 19

For just a moment, Jude returns to the subject of false teachers. He merely reminds them that they:

  • “divide you.” The Greek word is extremely rare and may be “they make distinctions” between believers. Rather than accepting a brother or sister as a brother or sister, these false teachers put people into classes.
  • “follow mere natural instincts.” The Greek is psychikoi, from which we get our word “psychic,” but really means “soulish” or “unspiritual.” The church today seems plagued by teachers and preachers who claim special knowledge or “revelation” based on some kind of mystical experience, yet their lives don’t stand up under scrutiny.
  • “do not have the Spirit.” Despite their grand words, they are void of the Holy Spirit.

These kind of people do not have a place in the Church. Believers are not even to associate with heretics like this. Jesus spoke of not casting our peals before swine; in other words, some people are best avoided because of the damage they can cause to the Body of Christ.

3. Persevere and pray, verses 20, 21

The repetition of agapetoi serves to personalize the remaining few verses and points back to Jude’s friends. He gives his readers a series of four admonitions dealing with faith, prayer, love, and hope.

  • Believers should “build themselves up” in their “most holy faith.” The Greek suggests this “building up” is a continuous process that never ends. The “most holy faith” refers to the objective faith that came through the apostles; it includes all their teachings and practices. Today, we would say that believers need to study the Word of God, apply its teachings to the practices of everyday life and in that way, we are built up, fortified. Christians are also built up by fellowshipping together and worshiping together.
  • Believers are to be praying in the Holy Spirit. Once again, the Greek indicates a continuous, never ending activity. Praying in the Holy Spirit is not “praying in tongues” as some teach. Since all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, all believers should pray according to His will. That will is made known through the Word of God, through inner promptings and through the preaching of the gospel. Paul wrote a similar things in Ephesians 6:8. The wonderful thing about being filled with the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit takes our feeble prayers and prefects and presents them to God the Father (Kistemaker). See also Romans 8:26. This is in sharp contrast to the apostates, who don’t have the Holy Spirit in them.
  • Believers are to keep themselves in the love of God. The Greek for “keep” is teresate, an aorist imperative, stressing urgency. Robert Shank succinctly observed, The burden of Jude is that his readers continue to fight the good fight of faith. Charles Spurgeon is known to have placed a plaque over the doorway to his London Pastor’s College that read: Holding I am held. What an amazing truth! Neither clause can stand alone, they are both necessary for together they summarize the essence of Christ’s words, “Remain in me, and I in you.”
  • Finally, believers are to be focused on the “mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” because that is what gives them “eternal life.” Literally, the last half of verse 20 reads, “As you are waiting with expectation.” Elsewhere in the NT, believers are live their lives in anticipation of: the resurrection (Acts 24:15); their eternal glory (Titus 2:13); and the return of Christ (Luke 12:36). We can see that the life of the believer should be lived in expectation of great and positive things! In the context of Jude, believers are to eagerly anticipate the day of judgment for they will be acquitted as all believers experience the fullness of the mercy of Christ, but the wicked will be punished.

4. Show mercy, verses 22, 23

These verses contain some minor textual problems, which serve only as distractions because they don’t add or take away from anything Jude is trying to say. Basically, Jude is telling believers that there are three groups of people who need to shown mercy: those who are hesitating in questioning their faith, those who need to be saved from the fire, and those who need pity because they have been contaminated by the false teachers.

In view of the mercy we have been shown in Christ, we ought to show as much to those who need it. Stephen Grellet is thought to have said:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to my fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

  1. The first command to show mercy to those who are doubting (hesitating). The NEB has a translated this phrase in a striking way: “There are some doubting souls who need your pity.” Perhaps these false teachers have caused some to question their faith, these folk need to be reassured, not criticized. They need to shown patience, love, and mercy.
  2. The second group to whom mercy must be shown involves those who have been scotched by the flames of sin. Jude likely has in mind Amos 4:11, where God says to Israel, “You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire.” Those who are so influenced by sin are in danger of losing their very souls and time is short for them. To these who are on the verse of perishing, we are the instruments of their salvation. Calvin comments, “The word ‘save’ is transferred to men, not that they are the authors, but they are the ministers of salvation.”
  3. The final group needing mercy is a group tainted or corrupted by sin. These have likely been involved in the immorality of the false teachers. But the imagery is powerful. The picture Jude paints is of undergarments soiled by discharges from the body. Jude wants his readers to feel intense repulsion at that thought. Those who are covered in such filth desperately need help. What a marvelous picture of the length and breadth of God’s mercy and grace: He is able to exchange the excrement-covered garments for festive garments of righteousness. There is not one sinner—even the most defiled sinner—who is beyond salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work.

5. Concluding words of praise, verses 24, 25

In a stunning ascription of adoration, Jude turns to God. Interestingly, he has come full circle. He opened his letter attributing love and protection to God the Father and Jesus Christ. He concludes it by praising God and His Son for their protection.

First, after reading about these false teachers, one gets the impression that just getting to heaven is almost impossible. In the face of the constant struggles to maintain our faith, how can we do it? The answer lies in the keeping power of God the Father. This doxology, the most powerful in the NT, reminds us of God’s ability to bring every one of His own safely to Himself. God is able to guard His own as “the apple of His eye” (Deut. 32:10), for we are His precious possession.

Second, not only does God protect us, He will present us to God His Father. We are utterly unable to enter into heaven on our own merit. But glory be to God, through the effort of His Son, we are protected from falling away and made able to enter Heaven’s gate. Not only that, we are presented to the Father without fault! That is a statement made even more stunning by the fact that the singular Greek word, amomos, is used here of believers and in 1 Peter 1:19 of Jesus Christ!

Finally, and I think most remarkably, the phrase “with great joy.” To whom does this apply? To believer most assuredly. The final completion of our great salvation will fill us with unbelievable joy. But imagine the joy that will fill heaven when believers stand complete before their heavenly Father will be shared with all the saints of glory and with the Father and the Son.


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