Christianity 201

June 10, 2021

Test the Spirits… Wait, What Spirits?

Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognize that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more Gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a Gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the Gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realize that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foundation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

May 20, 2021

With So Many Opinions About Jesus

Thinking Through 1st John 2:18-28

by Clarke Dixon

With so many opinions about Jesus, whom do we trust?

We live in days of opinions on everything. Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? Jesus, or no Jesus? There is no shortage of opinions on politics, hockey, religion, the weather, anything and everything.

The internet has only made things worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It is said that thanks to the internet we live in the Information Age. It may be more correct to say that thanks to the internet, we live in the age of opinions.

Anyone can now share their opinion with the world, no matter how ridiculous the opinion may actually end up being. Nothing needs to be reasonable, or sensible, to be published.

This might be fine when the opinion does not matter much. Which hockey team will win the Stanley cup? I may have an opinion on that, in fact I do. You may not care. It may matter to some of us now, in fact there is a whole industry devoted to sharing opinions on sports. But will I care in 100 years? Will any of us?

There is something that matters now, that can make a big difference in our lives now, and will matter to each and every one of us 100 years from now; What, or better, who, is God?

What, or better, who is God? This is the most important question ever asked. This is the most important question ever avoided on a regular basis. When it is asked, there are so many opinions.

Even if we narrow it down to thinking about Jesus, asking, ‘is Jesus the best representation of God the world has ever seen?’, even then, there are so many opinions.

Some are of the opinion that Jesus is just a mythical figure. Some are of the opinion that Jesus was a man who lived, but the early devotees, or rather ‘inventors’, of Christianity, made him bigger than he is, turning the man Jesus into a God following his death. Some of us are of the opinion that Jesus rose from the dead and is, in fact, Lord and Saviour.

How do we ever find our way in a sea of opinions about Jesus?

John, in his letter known to us as 1st John, responds to an opinion some were promoting about Jesus. What John has to say in helping the early Christians navigate a different opinion about Jesus will help us navigate different opinions about Jesus in our day. So let’s take a look:

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

11 John 2:18-19 (NLT)

With our fascination with the end of the world, we may want to know more about the Antichrist. However, John here is not wanting to talk about one figure, but rather some people who were sharing opinions about Jesus that were new and different. They are “anti,” meaning “instead of” Christ. They were promoting their own conception of Jesus instead of receiving the teaching about Jesus already given by the apostles. John is careful to point out that these people may have hung out with the Christian community, but they were never really Christians.

Who are these people?

In John’s day there was a way of looking at things which developed more fully into what is now called Gnosticism. There is much to say, but to keep it simple, anything “spiritual” and “otherworldly” was good, anything “material” and “this-wordly” was bad. Interestingly, many Christians today are somewhat gnostic in their thinking!

Given such a view, you can well imagine how certain teachings of Jesus would resonate, things like “I am the light of the world.” Since some of the teachings would resonate, they basically highjacked Jesus. They tried to change Jesus to fit their way of understanding instead of changing their understanding to fit Jesus.

They denied the humanity of Jesus, his death, and his bodily resurrection, and the logical conclusions from those facts. These things were all too “worldly” to fit with their way of thinking.

What is important for us to understand here is that the apostles, including John, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and life after death. They were with Jesus, heard his teaching, knew him to be a man like any other, yet a man unlike any other, saw him killed, and saw him alive again, not as some ghost, but as he was, in the body, yet different somehow. The disciples of Jesus adjusted their thinking to fit the facts before them. So when some people come along giving their opinions on how Jesus fits their way of thinking if you just think differently about Jesus, John is eager to set the record straight.

To this, John says,

But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.

1 John 2:20-22 (NLT)

John is saying, you know the truth! And you know that these opinions from the false teachers are not it! You have heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, from the eyewitnesses. That’s it! Plus there is a presence through the Holy Spirit that brings you to a place of hearing about Jesus and saying “that’s it.” And “it” is the best news ever!

You know it and in fact you don’t need these false teachers to teach you anything anything extra:

I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

1 John 2:26-27 (NLT)

Hearing the false teachers would be like being on a jury, hearing all the evidence that has been carefully collected and presented, then picking up a tabloid with the headline “the shocking truth” about the case you are working on. So John is saying, don’t trade facts for opinions!

So remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

1 John 2:24-25 (NLT)

So how does this help us navigate the many opinions being shared about Jesus today? Is Jesus just a mythical figure? Is Jesus just a mere man that other mere men conferred divinity upon later?

Just as the false teachers in John’s day were trying to change Jesus to fit their way of thinking instead of changing their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus, there are those today, who having already made up their minds that miracles do not happen, that the supernatural is not real, or that Christianity is a bad religion, try to change Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit Jesus.

We do well to do as the early followers of Jesus did and follow the evidence.

The early Christians had heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection from the eyewitnesses, the apostles who had experienced the reality of Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. With the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the news rang true, that Jesus is Lord. And the news was the best news ever.

Today we still follow the evidence. We still have the testimony of those who knew Jesus, witnesses of his life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is found in the writings we now call the New Testament. The case for Jesus as Lord and Saviour is compelling. It is both beautiful and believable. (See my sermon series called “Compelling” which is summarized here.)

People can share their opinions about the lake I go windsurfing in. They might be of the opinion that the lake is teeming with great white sharks and that since I fall off a lot I had better not windsurf there. They would be correct about my falling off a lot, but what about the presence of great white sharks? I can do the research and look up what kinds of fish are found in Ontario’s lakes. I can do the research and find out what kind of water great white sharks live in. I can ask those who regularly swim in the lake. I can learn from my own experience of swimming in the lake.

Let us follow the evidence, then walk with Jesus:

And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.

1 John 2:28 (NLT)

There are many opinions about Jesus, but it really matters that we get it right.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus affects life now, it matters now, it makes a big difference, not just for us, but for everyone around us.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus will still matter to us 100 years from now and beyond, when God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life will matter more to us than anything.

Let us not settle for opinions about Jesus, Let us pursue Jesus.

With so many opinions about Jesus being shared in our day, whom do we trust? Let us trust Jesus!


The full sermon on video can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

February 18, 2021

With So Many Saying So Much With Such Confidence…

My Mum often used an expression when playing the piano: “I’m playing the wrong notes with confidence!” Hearing so many Christian leaders say so many different, even contradictory, things, is it possible that many of us are “saying the wrong things with confidence”? Speaking with confidence doesn’t make things so.

Of course the internet is only making things worse. You don’t need too many clicks to hear differing voices on so many issues; do this, don’t do that, vote this way, vote that way, think this, thank that, and on it goes.

With so many confident, competing, and often less than complimentary voices, how do we know to whom we can listen with confidence?

In the days of Jesus there was no shortage of voices clamoring for people’s attention, leaders speaking with great confidence. There were the Pharisees, “listen to us, and let us become better than everybody else.” There were the Zealots, “listen to us, we are better than the Romans so help us kick these Romans out.” There were the Saducees, “listen to us, life is better with the Romans, so lets just get along with them.” There were the Romans, “listen to us, our Caesar is divine, we build great roads, and besides, if you don’t listen to us, we will crucify you.”

Among all these voices, another speaks up, it is the voice of Jesus:

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. . . . I myself am the shepherd.

John 10:1-5,11 (MSG)

There is one true shepherd we can follow with great confidence; Jesus.

In this passage Jesus is not just speaking about himself as the good shepherd, he is also speaking about the other leaders of the people. They were saying the wrong things with confidence. Even though they thought they had it right, they were so far off that Jesus called them sheep stealers and hired-men. We should note here that all these religious leaders thought that they were honouring God, and that by following them people would be honouring God. Even people who think they are honouring God may say the wrong things with confidence. Perhaps that sometimes includes you and me?

In fact, let us consider the Christian teacher, living or dead, that we hold in the highest regard, for whom we have the greatest respect. You likely have someone in mind, it’s probably not me. We have great confidence in what they tell us. Yet they likely got some things wrong and at some point have said the wrong things with confidence. Every Christian leader will stand before our Lord someday and have their theology corrected. That includes me, of course.

There is one true voice for the sheep to listen to, and that is the true shepherd. Am I as a pastor helping people hear his voice, or are people under my care only ever hearing my voice? I sometimes say the wrong things with confidence. We can always have confidence in Jesus.

We can listen to Jesus with confidence because he is the true shepherd, but also because he is the good shepherd:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

John 10:11-13 (MSG)

Even good religious leaders will try to protect themselves. We can imagine many pastors who, if they were pastors today, would be highly revered, yet in Germany in their day did not raise a voice against the Nazi regime. Perhaps some were blind to what was going on. No doubt some were quiet out of fear. Or we can imagine those who today would be known as great pastors and leaders, yet in their day they did not speak out against slavery. Perhaps some were blind to the sin of it, but we can be sure some kept quiet out of fear.

Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to speak the true things that would get himself killed. He did put our well being before his own, he did lay down his life for us, for the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation to God. He did fearlessly speak the truth and he did get killed for it. He is the Good Shepherd. We can listen to his voice with confidence.

Jesus is the true shepherd, Jesus is the good shepherd, Jesus is also the God-shepherd. What do we mean by that?

Let us consider these words from the prophet Ezekiel:

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.

Ezekiel 34:1-4 (NLT)

The leaders, both religious and political, had done an awful job. They were supposed to be taking care of the people, but were taking care of themselves. Perhaps, sadly, that sounds like some religious or political leaders we can think of today?

Let us go on to consider the promise of God:

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD

Ezekiel 34:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)

It is in Jesus that the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 finds its greatest fulfillment. God has come to us, in Jesus. The LORD is our Shepherd and Jesus is the Shepherd. God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, takes care of the sheep like no one else can.

Since Jesus is the true shepherd, the good shepherd, and the God-shepherd, are we tuned into His voice? Or have we become too dependent on certain voices claiming to speak for him? There are many who help us hear the voice of Jesus, but there are none who can take his place.

The best way to learn someone’s voice is to spend a lot of time listening to them. Therefore we can seek to grow in prayerfulness. We can commit to attentive and thoughtful reading of the Scriptures, especially spending time with Jesus in the Gospels, paying attention to his teaching, but also the example of his life.

With so many saying the wrong things with confidence, let us tune in to the voice of Jesus.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. The full sermon video for today’s devotional can be seen as part of this longer “online worship expression”)

January 15, 2021

How to Start a Christian Cult

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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There are many [versions of Jesus] proclaimed today. There is Jesus the liberator and Jesus the revolutionary. There is Jesus the teacher and Jesus the example. There is Jesus the healer and Jesus the burden-bearer. Homosexuals and adulterers point to “an unconditionally accepting Jesus,” seeking to show that Jesus is on their side. Even the demons are willing to accept certain aspects of our Lord’s identity, but not His authority.  – Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, in today’s linked article

When I first began to think about this topic earlier today, I had in mind two specific areas where groups which perhaps started out in mainstream Christian orthodoxy end up drifting away from their moorings.

  1. Adding to the gospel message
  2. Subtracting from the gospel message

If it were all that simple it might be easier to identify such teaching at a greater distance, but sometimes the approach can be more subtle.

As to adding to the message, this is much of the core of the book of Galatians. It appears in our Bible after Romans and 1&2 Corinthians, but is considered Paul’s earliest work. It is addressed to those who are surrounded with “Judaiizers,” that is people for whom the laws of the first covenant, i.e. circumcision of males, still applies. He writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 NIV)

At the council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, Peter stands up and addresses this issue, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…” and then James continues, “…It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15: 10,19,20 NIV)

Of course, if you were numbered among the Pharisees who were raising these issues, you would see Peter, Paul, James and Barnabas as subtracting from the requirements.

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for his physically removing passages of the Bible with which he disagreed.

When we think of these concepts, we easily remember the book of Revelation’s final warning, “…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (22:19 NASB) This echoes the Old Testament words in Deuteronomy 4: “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to you.” (v2 NET)

…The concept of addition and subtraction merely scratches the surface in looking at how false teachers arise. In the article I quoted at the outset of today’s thoughts, the writer marks a number of characteristics which are worth studying in greater detail. I’ve reduced his nine points to five for us today:

  1. Claiming to be a prophet. (I know this will grate with those for whose practice emphasizes being a prophet as one of the five-fold ministry gifts — sometimes called APEPT — but generally the prophet does not say this of himself.)
  2. They can come from both inside and outside the church.
  3. At some point, their teaching attracts rebuke from the world at large (and harms not only the place where they do their teaching, but the capital “C” Church in general.)
  4. They start out subtle. (Here the author quotes Matthew 7:15-23 and says you will know them by their fruit. I think it’s interesting that as a non-agriculturally-aware person, I can look at a tree and not be able to identify it until the fruit appears. This then, is a process of time.)
  5. Apart from the message, there may be flaws in the false teacher’s personal morality. This will be seen in their motivation (money, power, success, fame) and their methods (deception, secrecy, smooth-talking).

There was also a reference to the book of Jude, which is very instructive on this subject:

NIV.4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith…

The book of Jude ends with a doxology to “him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…

This is Jude’s highest aim for the readers of his letter; that they be kept from falling.

Here is the link to the full article at Bible.org concerning false teachers.

 

 

June 7, 2020

Not Everyone Sees the Cross as an Object of Affection

Going back to early 2016, we’ve included material from StudyLight.org approximately every six months. A subsection of the site is called Live As If, which features recurring writers such as Jim Bullington whose column is called Today’s Little Lift. (At least I think I got that right!) Clicking any of the above links or the article header below will get you there, where you’ll find an abundance of material.

The Offense of the Cross (Galatians 5)

Sad realities are nonetheless true and must be faced. One sad reality is the fact that false teachers, some of them, will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives. There is no clearer proof of this than the fact that Jesus, the sinless Son of God was unmercifully ushered to the Cross at the insistence of false teachers.

Paul, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ , faced the sad reality of false teachers everyday of his Christian life (2 Corinthians 11.26). Peter warned about false teachers in the Christian era just as surely as there had been false prophets in the Old Testament age (2 Peter 2.1). Even John, the disciple of love, warned of the necessity of “testing the spirits” due to the fact that “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4.1). Surely these references should be enough to convince the believer of the sad reality of false teachers and false prophets.

Consider the following statement in view of this reality: “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” (Galatians 5:11; emphasis mine above and below, jb). Paul wrote these words to a group of churches who were in the crosshairs of false teachers. The region of Galatia was under attack by those who taught that circumcision was a rite that was obligatory upon all men, even Christians. Neither Paul nor any of the apostles taught such a doctrine; in fact, they explicitly and forcefully repudiated the doctrine (see the entirety of Acts 15). Yet, in spite of evidence to the contrary, unscrupulous men claimed that Paul was teaching that circumcision was binding upon Christians; this is implied by our focus text. Paul’s defense was simple! Effectively he wrote, “If their charge is true, if I indeed preach the necessity of circumcision, then why am I persecuted everywhere I go by those who demand circumcision?” The facts simply did not add up; they did not pass the common sense test!

Further, Paul would argue that if what the false teachers were saying was true, then “…the offense of the cross has ceased.” As much as we might like to believe otherwise, the cross is not an object of affection in everyone’s view; there are enemies of the cross. Paul stated it this way: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame——who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philippians 3.18-19). The specific ones of whom Paul warned the Philippians professed themselves to be Christians and walked among the flock even as sheep. In reality, they were wolves in sheep’s clothing even as Jesus had spoken during His earthly ministry (Matthew 7.15).

Enemies of the cross do not necessarily raise a standard under which they march, and certainly not a standard which declares, “We are enemies of the cross!” Rather, they walk and work under whatever cover works for them. Their goal is destruction and they will stop at nothing to achieve their ends! While the Christian strives to be loving and kind, there is no kind way to deal with willful purveyors of error. Dealing with such tactics might also make it appear that we are not “playing nice.” Such is the harsh reality of the wold in which we live! We cannot allow the false charges of the enemies of the cross to deter us from our responsibility to uphold and defend truth any more than Paul could allow men of like character to destroy his effectiveness as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Looking at it from that angle we can also be assured that if the enemies of the cross would falsely accuse a true apostle of Jesus, surely they will stop at no less when dealing with believers like you and me!

Jesus commissioned His disciples to “…be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10.16).

Questions:

1. Why do we say that the existence of false teachers is a “sad reality?”

2. What did John say to do because many false prophets had gone out into the world? Is it possible that these very false prophets are the ones who repeat the chant, “Judge not that you be not judged?”

3. Should it be surprising that many false prophets are in fact “false brethren?” Why or why not?

4. Is the believer required to “play nice” when it comes to willful error? If not, what is required?

Today’s Little Lift‘ Copyright 2020 © Jim Bullington

About the author: Jim Bullington is a Christian writer whose insight into the scriptures is reflected in practical application lessons in every article. The reader will find that the Bible speaks directly to him/her through these articles. God is always exalted and His word is treated with the utmost respect in this column.

November 1, 2019

Michael’s Argument With The Devil (You Remember That One, Right?)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today, after a break of a few years, we’re returning to the writing of Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch. Clicking the header below will take you to the article directly.

Difficult Bible Passages: Jude 1:9

This is without question a rather perplexing text!

There are various biblical texts which can be rather difficult to interpret and understand. This verse would certainly be one of them. The verse in question says this: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’

There are a number of questions that arise here. While some linguistic and textual issues could be considered, it is the biblical and theological issues that I will mainly look at. I have chosen this verse for at least two reasons. One, because it is indeed a difficult passage.

And two, because someone once tried to use this verse against me. But he was clearly misusing this text as he sought to rebuke me for calling out a false teacher. As I said in my reply to him:

Slander, as commonly understood, means this: “the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.” It is illegal because it involves falsehood. So calling out a false teacher has nothing to do with slander. The Jude text is based in legal language, and the principle here is that God is the ultimate judge in this matter. So too, God alone ultimately knows those who are truly his, but that does not mean we have no place in exposing bad doctrine and dodgy living. We are commanded to do this constantly in the New Testament.

So let me try to bring some clarity as to what this passage is in fact saying. The general context of the verse involves Jude’s concern with false teachers, and those who are being rebellious and pushing sexual license. They are, as he says in verse 4, “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

It is admittedly a very difficult text, since we don’t even have a specific Old Testament source for this episode. All we have on this is Deuteronomy 34:5-6: “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.”

What we have here is one of those rare cases where a New Testament writer is quoting from or referring to a non-canonical, or apocryphal book – in this case, the Jewish pseudepigraphal writing, the Assumption of Moses, or the Testament of Moses (from, approximately, the first century AD).

Jude’s readers would be familiar with a later OT incident as recorded in Zechariah 3:1-2: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’

So why is Jude alluding to this other book? In this apocryphal story Satan is accusing Moses of sin, and saying that he should therefore not be allowed to enter into God’s presence. But we have to ask this question: against whom does Michael dare not bring an accusation?

Most commentators take it to be Satan, but some have argued that Moses may in fact be in view. The scholars are divided on who is being referred to here. At best, I can offer a few quotes from those on either side of the debate. Let me run with the minority view on this. Dick Lucas and Christopher Green say this:

It is easy but very confusing to think he means Satan. But the Zechariah allusion to Joshua makes it certain. Jude means that Michael refrains from accusing Moses. The NIV brings out the difficulties of Jude’s subtle word-play well. It is important to notice, though, that the phrase translated bring a slanderous accusation has nothing to do with being rude or offensive. It is a legal phrase, meaning ‘to pass a judgment or decision about slander’. Satan was apparently accusing Moses of slander. Even Michael did not dare to make a legal decision about Moses in this case, but handed the decision over to God and rebuked Satan for his presumption.

As to those who take it as a reference to Satan, Douglas Moo says this: “Presumably, Jude’s point is that the false teachers are so presumptuous as to do what even Michael, the archangel, refused to do: rebuke, without the Lord’s authority and backing, Satan or his associates. For Michael did not himself rebuke Satan; he called on the Lord to do so. The false teachers, however, disparage evil angels on their own authority.”

Or as Thomas Schreiner comments, “Michael refused to utter a word of judgment against the devil. The verse, then, has a simple contrast. Michael did not dare to pronounce a condemning judgment upon the devil. He left the judgment of Satan in God’s hands, asking God to finally judge him. Such a reading of the verse fits well with our understanding of 2 Pet. 2:10-11.”

Richard Baukham offers an explanation about how this text ties in with the larger context of Jude’s letter:

Michael’s behavior contrasts with that of the false teachers when they reject the accusations which the angels, as spokesmen for the Law, bring against them. They do so because they claim to be above all such accusations, subject to no moral authority. In fact, even if they had the status of Moses or Michael, they would remain subject to the divine Lawgiver and Judge. Given the context of the allusion, which Jude’s readers knew, v 9 effectively exposes the spiritual conceit of the false teachers, whose attitude to the angels reveals a resistance to authority which will not even be subject to God.

Questions will likely remain about this passage. It is certainly a tough one, and one that I do not claim to have the final word on. But the general point is the rebuke of the immoral false teachers who seemed to be pushing a hyper-grace sort of message.

N. T. Wright offers this by way of a summary statement:

Once you reject supernatural authority, it’s easy to reject human authorities as well, whether in the church or in the wider world. And once you do that, the most obvious thing is to cast off restraint in any and every aspect of behaviour, not least in relation to sex….

The teachers are overthrowing or ignoring the proper structures of authority, and the result is moral chaos and pollution. . . . The teachers appear to offer a way of life which is exciting, different and liberating; but the only thing they achieve is shame, darkness and chaos.

Given all the difficulties involved here, it is always helpful to bear in mind this general principle of biblical interpretation: it is always wise not to use a perplexing text and allow it to form the basis of discussing or refuting more clear passages. Instead, we should move in the opposite direction: use the clear(er) passages to help illuminate and explain the less clear texts.

 

February 12, 2019

Aaron’s Golden Calf Today

by Russell Young

For those who think that Aaron’s golden calf was an historical event in Israel’s past, they should think again. The problem is that the calf is being worshipped so much that people do not recognize it as an idol.

I have been admonished by people because my words are not often seen as uplifting, not affirming the assurance of their eternal hope. Over the years I have been told to present a word more supportive and encouraging concerning their spiritual state. Like Balak, they seek a blessing even though their living may be in defiance of truth.

Moses had gone up Mt Sinai to meet with God (Ex 31:18) concerning his people. While absent, the Israelites felt it safe to vent their anger to Aaron, the priest. They had yearned for Egypt and the desirable offerings of that land and had grumbled about Moses’ leadership. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Num 11:5) “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1)

Aaron should have known better. His claim was that because they were “prone to evil” he had fashioned the calf. There is no evidence that he had tried to resist. The people had wanted the idol, so he had complied with their wishes. He did not defend God or righteousness but had submitted to their wickedness. He asked for their gold and fashioned a calf. This practice is certainly prevalent with many televangelists today. Give them your gold and they will fashion a god to your liking. They assure their audience that this (their created god) god is the one who will bless them. Unfortunately, many teachers and spiritual leaders are also of this faction. When fear of man supersedes fear of God, the line has been crossed and the golden calf is being shaped.

Aaron did not hesitate to encourage their delusion. He pronounced, “’These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.’ And when Aaron saw this (probably that it pleased them), he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord’.” (Ex 32: 4−5) He tried to restore them to God, but he did not destroy their idol. Consequently, after presenting their fellowship offerings they ate and drank and indulged in revelry. Fear of God had left them.

The Exodus of Israel was not pleasant. They had been taken into the desert for testing by God, so that he would know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commands. (Deut 8:2) The Old Testament reveals God’s history with the Israelites as he tried to forge attitudes of obedience and righteousness in their relationship with him. Because of their weakened, “sinful nature” (Rom 8:3) he could never accomplish it; he was unable to overcome their love for other gods and the rule and accommodation of their flesh.

There are many “Aarons” who have taken and are taking the gold of the people and are fashioning an idol that pleases the people. The sinful nature thrives on approval and on being appeased. When even false blessings are promised, people will gather to enjoy the hope given by the idol that has been fashioned. They do not want to hear about God’s righteous judgment, of the need for the obedient living that restricts their life choices. They want a god who is accepting of their right to self-rule and who offers encouragement concerning their practices, and who even promises an eternal hope despite their disobedience. They want good news as they see it. “For a 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.” (2 Tim 4:3) These teachers will suffer the destruction that is promised to those who present “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” (2 Pet 2:1) “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” (1 Thess 5:3) It may do well to remember that while God loved Moses, most of the people did not, and only one of the first generation who had been redeemed from Egypt (the world) entered the Promised Land; the rest died in the wilderness without passing the test.

While Moses was meeting with God the people had “become corrupt” in God’s sight. (Ex 32:7) Aaron had let the people get out of control and they had become a laughingstock to their enemies. (Ex 32:25). Many were put to death (Ex 32:27) and the rest who had sinned were struck with a plague. (Ex 32:25)

The journey of the Israelites was filled with trials and hardships, even death and destruction for disobedience. Their plight should be understood and taken seriously. The same one and only God is sovereign and rules today despite the gods that are being proffered. He is seeking a holy nation, a people who will honor his sovereignty and who will live in obedience to his commands. (Mt 7:21, 19:17, 28:20; Lk11:28; Jn 14:23; Rom 6:16; Heb 5:9; 1 Jn 2:3, 3:24; Rev 14:12) Those Israelites who disobeyed the LORD while in the wilderness found their hope dashed (Heb 3:18), and those who display lack of faith through disobedience today will also find disappointment. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9)

Believers are destined for trials. “You know quite well that we were destined for them (trials). (1 Thess: 3:3) The Lord said on the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt 5:11) He did not call his servants to distort his truths to appease their listeners and to gain their gold. James taught that trials should be joyfully accepted because they produce faith that matures the believer. (Jas 1:2−4)

The gospel is a gospel of hope, but it is an eternal hope not one that promises peace and enjoyment from this world. There are many cautions that need to be realized and personal issues to be overcome if a person is to become an acceptable offering to God and to gain his kingdom. Those who seek a “golden calf” to provide comfort in this world, like the rebellious Israelites, will only reap destruction. (Gal 6:7) When God returns who will he find worshipping him in truth and obedience, and through trials? Who will you be found bowing to a golden calf?



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

Other book promotions posted at C201 do not originate with us.

June 26, 2018

Explaining the Phrase, “Spirit of Antichrist”

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Today a much-discussed but often mis-used term, the idea of the “spirit of (the) antichrist.”

What is the spirit of the antichrist?

The phrase spirit of the antichrist is found in 1 John 4:2–3:This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

It’s vital to understand the context of John’s statements. A predominant worldview when he wrote this letter suggested that diverse spirits were at work in the world. Many false teachings, mystery religions, spiritual experiences, and variations of Christianity were emerging at the time. The spiritual atmosphere was not unlike the one present in our world today. People entertained countless views regarding truth.

John presented a definitive solution for wading through this variety of beliefs and teachings. He instructed his readers to pay attention and test the spirits: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

But how do we test the spirits? How can we discern which teachers are imparting truth? How do we recognize the spirit of the antichrist?

These “spirits” John spoke of were not merely disembodied, supernatural beings. John taught that a prophet or teacher was the actual mouthpiece for a spirit. Spiritual doctrines are promulgated through human spokespersons. Teachers of truth are filled with the Spirit of God and thus are agents who speak for God. Teachers of falsehood are spreading the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

So, the first test relates to theology or doctrine: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 2). We can ask, does the content of the person’s teaching acknowledge that Jesus Christ—fully God and fully human—has come in the flesh? If the answer is yes, then we know the Spirit of God inspires that person. If not, his entire teaching ought to be rejected. This particular test was especially apropos in John’s day, as the heresy of Gnosticism was becoming prevalent; Gnosticism taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body but was not actually a flesh-and-blood person.

Next, John says, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3). Anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Bible presents Him is inspired by the spirit of the antichrist.

The word antichrist means “against Christ.” People who say that Jesus is not from God are controlled by the spirit of the antichrist. Satan opposes Christ, and he desires to deceive people into a false view of who Jesus is. The spirit of the antichrist teaches against Christ. To twist the truth about Jesus Christ is to pervert the gospel. Satan works to spread lies about Christ and keep people in the dark: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).

The spirit of the antichrist is the birds that eat the seeds along the path in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:4, 15). It is “the god of this age” who blinds the minds of unbelievers, keeping them from seeing “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is “the father of lies(John 8:44). The spirit of the antichrist is “the great dragon . . . who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

The Bible teaches that the world will eventually produce a world ruler, called “the beast” in Revelation, who will wield great power and demand worship of himself. He will have “a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies” (Revelation 13:5) and is empowered by Satan (verse 2). He is called “the man of lawlessness . . . the man doomed to destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This final Antichrist will be the culmination of the evil workings of Satan throughout the centuries. The Antichrist of the end times will embody all the deception and perversion of truth that the spirit of the antichrist has always promoted. Today, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (verse 7). The same spirit that will empower the Antichrist of the last days is currently operating in the world to bring confusion and deception to the issue of Jesus Christ’s person and work. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

Even given the pervasive influence of the spirit of the antichrist, there is no need to fear. As John reminds us, the Spirit of truth indwells all believers and provides protection from the spirit of the antichrist: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

We have some practical ways to distinguish the false spirit of the antichrist from the true Spirit of God: “[False prophets] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:5–6). Those who are influenced by the spirit of the antichrist are of the world. They have the same values as the world; therefore, the world listens to them. Those who acknowledge Christ have His Spirit of truth, and they embrace the apostles’ message. The gospel the apostles preached is never popular in the world, but it is that very gospel that holds the power to save, through God’s Spirit of truth (Romans 1:16).

The believer’s job is to test the spirits carefully (1 John 4:1). We must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We should not automatically embrace the message of any preacher or teacher simply because of his or her reputation or credentials; rather, we must listen cautiously to their Christology. What they say about Jesus is of utmost importance.

May 23, 2018

The Love of Money and the Teaching of False Doctrine

Today’s devotional’s title is actually a new title for something which appeared here five years ago. I re-titled it because I wanted you to see that there might be more than a casual connection between the two. Yes, false teachers teach falsely about many subjects — not just finances — but the often-quoted verse about the love of money is found in a larger context of something different: False doctrine.

It’s always good to frequently remind people in your sphere of influence that the chapter headers and paragraph headers in modern Bibles are not in any way part of the text. A few days ago here, I learned that when you create a particular headline, you send peoples’ thoughts in a particular direction that doesn’t allow what is written to speak for itself. It’s the same with the publishers of Bibles.

I Timothy 6 (NIV sans header) begins:

6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

In the Full-Color Bible edition of the NIV (a newer Bible from Standard Publishing formatted similar to the Rainbow Study Bible) there is a header that says,

Danger of loving money

That header tends to funnel us directly to the “love of money” section at the expense of the earlier verses, at the expense of what precedes it.

Here is how some of today’s popular Bibles highlight this passage:

False Teachers and the Love of Money (NIV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NLT – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NRSV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teachers and True Contentment (ESV – middle of vs. 2)
Instructions to Those Who Minister (NASB – start of entire chapter)
Warning about false teachers (CEB – start of vs. 3)
The Lust for Money (MSG – start of vs. 2)
The dangers of false doctrine and the love of money (Phillips – start of vs. 3)
False Doctrine and Human Greed (HCSB – middle of vs. 2)

The second part of verse five is the pivot around which the text moves into a discussion of finances, but we emphasize those verses about the love of money to the point of neglecting the section about those who teach false doctrine, especially as described in verse 4 and 5a.

  • he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. (HCSB)
  • …has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words… (NRSV)
  • …has an unhealthy craving for controversy… (ESV)
  • …He is puffed up with pride and stupefied with conceit, [although he is] woefully ignorant. He has a morbid fondness for controversy and disputes and strife about words… (AMP)
  • They don’t understand anything but have a sick obsession with debates and arguments. (CEB)
  • …he is a conceited idiot! His mind is a morbid jumble of disputation and argument, things which lead to nothing but jealousy, quarreling, insults and malicious innuendos—continual wrangling (Phillips)
  • If others are teaching otherwise and bringing unhealthy conversations to the community, if they are not sticking to the sound words in the teaching of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, if they are not teaching godly principles— 4 then they are swollen with conceit, filled with self-importance, and without any proper understanding. They probably have a gross infatuation with controversy and will endlessly debate meanings of words. (The Voice)

Certainly any look at what takes placed in the Christian blogosphere and in the comments section on news websites dealing with religion stories shows the preoccupation for words and controversy. Many of those writing are simply not qualified to make blanket, authoritative pronouncements.

But it’s interesting that many of these very people are also called out for their preoccupation with money. It is as though the two conditions go hand in hand.

The second half of vs. 5 in the NIV also needs to be considered in the light of prosperity teaching:

“…who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

This is the message of many faith teachers; that living life God’s way will result in financial gain, whereas the scriptures teach God’s provision for needs. Matthew 6:33 says that if we seek God’s kingdom “all these things” will be “added” to us, but the “things” referred to in the preceding verses are food, drink, and clothing; in other words physical necessities.

Does this work both ways? If the unhealthy obsession with doctrinal controversy leads to wrong teaching and wrong prioritization about finances, can a wrong attitude about money also warp our reading of scriptural truth that impacts our core theology? It would be hard to make a case that one causes the other, but the characteristics we see in people on particular issue “A” often indicate a potential for problems with topic “B” …or “C” or “D” or “X.”

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t let the Bible’s teaching about the love of money in I Timothy 6 cause you to miss that money issues are often part of a larger issue, either in someone’s character or in their methodology for interpreting the Bible.

 

 

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

January 24, 2018

Watch Out: There Are Wolves Online

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Hebrews 5:13-14 ““For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” 

This article replaces another which appears previously in this space.

Without a thorough indoctrination into the publishing industry, it’s easy for people shopping for a Christian resource to find something through a search engine, or scrolling categories at Amazon which appears to fit the bill but does not actually line up with scripture as they have always understood it and as their church teaches.

We wrote about this in August, 2017 in an article titled, Shopping for Church Resources on Google and Amazon Involves Risk.

…[T]the group leader, capitulating to an internet shopping world goes online and discovers a particular resource for their small group that seems to fit the bill.

  1. It’s on the book of Philippians, which is exactly what they want.
  2. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks format, which is exactly what they want.
  3. It runs ten weeks, which is exactly what they want.
  4. It’s under $10 US per book, which is exactly what they want.

What could possibly go wrong?

We then offered a number of things that could blow up, the last of which was,

The search process lands someone on a website not realizing it belongs to a marginal or fringe group such as LDS/Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and is impressed enough to delve further into their writings, never returning to their place of origin.

Heck, if you’re ordering quantities of things, let’s face it, many people could be deceived.

There are several ways this can happen:

  1. The product they followed up on when they typed their criteria into a search engine belonged to a commercial publisher or distributor who was paying for search engine optimization (SEO) or even a paid ad itself.
  2. The internet isn’t very discerning; it follows an algorithm to obtain results depending on what you type. But too many search terms can also send it off the rails.
  3. The person searching isn’t very discerning; they are not trained in terms of knowledge of who it is behind the website or the publisher.

 

From there the article discussed a number of issues all related to publishing.

But there is a much broader issue begging for discussion here, and that’s discernment, as in spiritual discernment. It’s more than just a “spidey sense” but sometimes it presents that way. Something just feels off, or not right.

Because we’ve covered discernment here already many, many times — it’s the spiritual gift I believe people desperately  need in an internet age — I would encourage you to track some of those articles at this link.

What are we supposed to do?

Writing at Before the Cross, Erica Boutwell notes,

…Paul says in Romans 16 to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Maybe you’re feeling some reservations about someone but you don’t think you have enough Biblical knowledge to really tell if what they’re teaching is legit. Ask your pastor or someone you believe knows the Word well. Trust that the stirring in your gut is not just that late night bowl of ice cream talking. There’s a good chance it’s the Holy Spirit prompting you to research something a little more – either to further your own knowledge of scripture or to help you point out false teaching.

I believe the biggest thing believers need to learn from the tricky spot we find ourselves in today is to never take something at face value. The enemy is cunning and he is patient enough to creep in just a little at a time, even through someone you feel like you’ve been able to trust up until now. We have to stop blindly following the teachings of 3rd party resources, and start holding up the information we’re being handed against the lens of scripture. When all is said and done, we don’t get to use the excuse of “but he said . . .” or “but she told me . . .” Rest assured, the day will come when they will be held accountable, but not for your choices.

As we continue growing in our faith, we are to become more and more responsible for who we let teach us and what teachings we trust. So as the different teachers in our faith increase in number and influence, especially outside of the church, let’s make it a priority to know the Word of God well enough to be aware when we are being fed real meat and when we are having the wool pulled over our eyes…


Click this link for other articles by Erica at Before the Cross.

February 22, 2016

It’s Not (Just) Teaching That Identifies a False Prophet

As I was reading today’s article, I was reminded of Matthew 7: 15-16a

15“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16“You will know them by their fruits…

This week we pay a return visit to a blog we featured last year, Theology for Girls. (Yes, that’s the title!) At first what follows looks like a more topical subject that would be better suited for my other blog, Thinking Out Loud. But I decided that the first part of this raises an issue worth considering. Especially among Evangelicals, we tend to think of false teachers solely in terms of their teaching.

You need to click through to read this at source, because this is only the first half of the article, there are some practical suggestions that make up the second half. The author is .

Sexual Predators in the Church

“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” 2 Tim. 3:6

We have in our file cabinet a manila folder containing testimonies written nearly forty years ago by several very courageous women.  They chronicle detailed accounts of seduction by the senior pastor of the church where my husband was the associate pastor.  Some spoke of how the  Bible was twisted to convince them that they were doing God’s will. All of these women willingly submitted to and passed polygraph tests because only a few people believed their stories. They had all come from difficult backgrounds that would render their testimonies questionable.

My husband was  only thirty-years old, fresh out of  Bible College, and was left to deal with  serious issues in an era when the idea of church discipline was considered harsh and unloving by most Evangelicals.  Consequently, he had little support from other leaders in the community. As a young pastor’s wife I witnessed the devastating impact one man’s sin had on everyone  around him, but I lacked the spiritual maturity to be of much help.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and try to be of better service to those dear people in our first ministry!

I do not want to convey the idea that in situations where two fully consenting adults are involved that the woman should take no responsibility for her actions. These women understood this completely.  However, when a man who has been appointed to shepherd the flock takes advantage of weak parishioners by means of deception to fulfill his own sexual lust, the sin he commits is exceedingly reprehensible.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident but as the years passed we encountered similar situations in other Evangelical churches. The types of sexual abuse committed by church leaders which we have personally dealt with in one way or the other have ranged from serial adultery to pedophilia.

I want to make a clear distinction between the true Christian who, in a backslidden state, temporarily succumbs to temptation and then genuinely repents. Rather, I am speaking of a very different sort of person. These are the false professors who fit the descriptions spoken of in Jude,  Matt. 7:15-23;   2 Tim. 3:5-9;  and 2 Peter 2:1-3.

“For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.  They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.  Jude 1:4

We tend to think of false prophets in terms of those who are primarily teaching false doctrine, but the men described in the above passages also have insatiable appetites for sex and/or money. When Jude says that they “deny Jesus Christ”  he is not referring to a mere profession of words but rather that these are men who inwardly deny Christ and His Lordship. If they were not holding to some outward form of godliness, how would they get their foot in the door?

We may not be able to stop these kinds of people from entering the church, but with teaching and awareness we can at least bring the problem out of the closet and put into place some safety measures. While we don’t want to lose the joy of fellowship with our church family by becoming suspicious, the Lord did give us these Scriptures to warn us.

What then are some practical ways we can protect others and ourselves from sexual exploitation and temptation?

[…continue reading here…]


Blog Birthday 8This week our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud is celebrating its 8th year of Christian news, opinion and current cultural trends affecting The Church. If you’re not a regular reader, click the button above to link.

 

May 29, 2013

Allowing the Text to Speak

It’s always good to frequently remind people in your sphere of influence that the chapter headers and paragraph headers in modern Bibles are not in any way part of the text. A few days ago here, I learned that when you create a particular headline, you send peoples’ thoughts in a particular direction that doesn’t allow what is written to speak for itself. It’s the same with the publishers of Bibles.

I Timothy 6 (NIV sans header) begins:

6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

In the Full-Color Bible edition of the NIV (a newer Bible from Standard Publishing  formatted similar to the Rainbow Study Bible) there is a header that says,

Danger of loving money

That header tends to funnel us directly to the “love of money” section at the expense of the earlier verses, at the expense of what precedes it.

Here is how some of today’s popular Bibles highlight this passage:

False Teachers and the Love of Money (NIV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NLT – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NRSV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teachers and True Contentment (ESV – middle of vs. 2)
Instructions to Those Who Minister (NASB – start of entire chapter)
Warning about false teachers (CEB – start of vs. 3)
The Lust for Money (MSG – start of vs. 2)
The dangers of false doctrine and the love of money (Phillips – start of vs. 3)
False Doctrine and Human Greed (HCSB – middle of vs. 2)

The second part of verse five is the pivot around which the text moves into a discussion of finances, but we emphasize those verses about the love of money to the point of neglecting the section about those who teach false doctrine, especially as described in verse 4 and 5a.

  • he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. (HCSB)
  • …has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words… (NRSV)
  • …has an unhealthy craving for controversy… (ESV)
  • …He is puffed up with pride and stupefied with conceit, [although he is] woefully ignorant. He has a morbid fondness for controversy and disputes and strife about words… (AMP)
  • They don’t understand anything but have a sick obsession with debates and arguments.  (CEB)
  • …he is a conceited idiot! His mind is a morbid jumble of disputation and argument, things which lead to nothing but jealousy, quarreling, insults and malicious innuendos—continual wrangling (Phillips)
  • If others are teaching otherwise and bringing unhealthy conversations to the community, if they are not sticking to the sound words in the teaching of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, if they are not teaching godly principles— then they are swollen with conceit, filled with self-importance, and without any proper understanding. They probably have a gross infatuation with controversy and will endlessly debate meanings of words. (The Voice)

Certainly any look at what takes placed in the Christian blogosphere and in the comments section on  news websites dealing with religion stories shows the preoccupation for words and controversy. Many of those writing are simply not qualified to make blanket, authoritative pronouncements.

But it’s interesting that many of these very people are also called out for their preoccupation with money. It is as though the two conditions go hand in hand.

The second half of vs. 5 in the NIV also needs to be considered in the light of prosperity teaching:

“…who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

This is the message of many faith teachers; that living life God’s way will result in financial gain, whereas the scriptures teach God’s provision for needs.  Matthew 6:33 says that if we seek God’s kingdom “all these things” will be “added” to us, but the “things” referred to in the preceding verses are food, drink, and clothing; in other words physical necessities.

Does this work both ways? If the unhealthy obsession with doctrinal controversy leads to wrong teaching and wrong prioritization about finances, can a wrong attitude about money also warp our reading of scriptural truth that impacts our core theology? It would be hard to make a case that one causes the other, but the characteristics we see in people on particular issue “A” often indicate a potential for problems with topic “B” …or “C” or “D” or “X.” 

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t let the Bible’s teaching about the love of money in I Timothy 6 cause you to miss that money issues are often part of a larger issue, either in someone’s character or in their methodology for interpreting the Bible.

September 9, 2012

Protecting The Flock from Attack

For today’s post we make a return visit to Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. Even though I find myself currently immersed in the worship life of two different congregations, I can honestly say that I am not aware of any factions within either of them. For that I am thankful, especially because my job causes me to sometimes have to listen to people from other congregations voice various complaints. Still, pastors and leaders need to keep their eyes open for things that would disrupt the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches. Elsie titled this Wolves in the Church, and as always you’re encouraged to click the title to read at source.

In our many moves, we have attended many churches of all sizes. Some were small and struggling. Others were healthy and growing rapidly. In my observations and experience, it seems that the biggest blessings are for those leaders and congregations that are concerned with God’s glory. Personal desires and ambitions have no place and because of that, the churches whose focus is on Jesus Christ are blessed, united and strong.
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However, the Apostle Paul knew that strong churches would become targets. Our spiritual enemy will attack, using whatever will work to divide its members and crumble its foundations. The church at Ephesus was a strong church. When he met with their leaders, Paul warned them…
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28–30)
Here, “fierce wolves” seems to apply to those who teach false doctrine in an effort to draw people from the truth. These wolves want to build their own kingdom and will try to split the church toward that end. However, pastors must be watchful against all that tends to injure and corrupt a congregation. If false teachers and other factions come in, the elders of the church must put them right or put them out. Yet, this is a task for which they receive little training.

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Most courses offered by seminaries for a Master of Divinity degree do not offer instruction in how to deal with those who try to split or corrupt a congregation. There are a few online sermons that explain how to spot wolves and deal with them, but I get the impression that those preachers learned this from experience rather than advance preparation.

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This problem actually requires more than one person. Church leadership at its best is in a congregation with a plurality of elders. In fact, the word for Christian elders in the New Testament is almost always plural. These days when individualism, authoritarianism or even economic necessity make the pastoral role a “one-man show,” churches still must promote teamwork in their leadership.

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However, that leadership must be God-given. Paul said, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” The Lord motivates and gifts men to be leaders. Their job is to be caring, pastoral and corrective. They are to watch their own selves even as they protect and feed the people of God. Their role also includes admonition of those who stray, which presupposes resistance and even opposition. I’ve never envied the duties of a pastor!

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As one preacher says, this leadership will be serious, conscientious and intensely personal. After all, this is the church of God, bought with the blood of Christ. It does not belong to the pastor, or the elders, or the congregation.

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Not only that, even with today’s emphasis on spiritual gifts and special roles, such as administrator, educator, counselor, church-growth strategist, and so on, the Bible puts greater emphasis on shepherding, tending, feeding, and protecting the people of God. We are like sheep and we need good shepherds.

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Wolves are not interested in caring for the sheep. They want a following. They want power. They want to be in authority and have the strongest voice in all decisions. They are more interested in feeding and protecting themselves. In every church we have attended, there are a few who may faithfully attend, but constantly gripe about leadership and authority. They are not interested in unity or in promoting peace and spiritual growth. If the pastor knows how to deal with these, they tend to move on, looking for easier prey in another congregation. If not, the pastor will eventually be brought down and the congregation will fall with him.

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Lord, nothing is more distressing than observing a church divided against itself, particularly when this division is fueled by wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As You said to the disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) and “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

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Most of the time regarding these matters, I feel about as wise as an oblivious dove. I struggle with objectivity and clarity regarding those who do these wolf-like things. Are they dangerous? or merely disgruntled? Yet either way, You say to pay careful attention to myself. I am not an elder but can certainly pray for and support those who lead Your church with integrity and in the desire to glorify You.  Amen.
~Elsie Montgomery
I apologize for the dots between paragraphs. Reblogging from Blogspot to WordPress is always difficult, but normally I can eliminate the unwanted HTML tags after a few tries. Today it just wouldn’t work.

March 28, 2012

“Take Your Bibles and Turn With Me…”

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…”   I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian blogosphere, on Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”  

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying?  Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.  

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one:  It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson). 

A crowd can be wrong . Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible.  And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.

When it’s your turn to speak, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

The graphic at the top of the page is from Till He Comes, and really doesn’t have a lot to do with today’s topic directly other than that I liked it!