Christianity 201

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.

September 18, 2019

Does Your Church Bite?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
 – Galatians 5:15 NLT

Our car is going to be at the shop for a few days, so I cleaned it out before leaving it with them. In the cupholder was a small piece of paper which simply said, “Gal 5:15.”

I had written that down several years earlier, but reading it now, I’m not sure what the particular point of emphasis was to be.

So now you know the why of today’s text.

Let’s look at some context, taking two verses before and two verses after from the Common English Bible:

13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! 16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.

As I looked around the internet for further insights into this passage, I landed at Verse by Verse Commentary. We’ve used them before here for brief quotations, but I’ve never shared the full text of how they treat a passage; I’ve never allowed you to see the format. It’s more like ‘word by word’ or ‘phrase by phrase’ commentary; the type of source material so helpful in expository preaching. Click the header below to read at source.

Galatians 5:15

by Grant Richison

“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”

The Galatian church entered onto a stage of conflict because of legalistic thinking. Paul now warns them about a consequence of this. All doctrine, whether false or true, has practical implications.

But if you bite

Secular Greek used the verbs in this verse of “bite,” “devour” and “consume” for wild animals that bite with the teeth in lethal battle. Legalists lacerate those who believe in grace with reproach. 

and devour one another,

The word “devour” means to gulp down. It comes from two words: to consume by eating and down. The idea is to completely consume something. Evidently there is such a thing as Christian cannibalism! The Galatians did not nibble on one another!

beware

The idea of “beware” is to keep our spiritual vision sharp. The word comes from a word for to see. If Christians do not stay alert, they will fall into divisions that result from legalistic belief. Legalism is always divisive and censorious.

lest you be consumed by one another!

Christians can destroy one another by legalism.

Principle:

Legalism produces a censorious spirit

Application:

Paul never fuses legalism and grace because they are opposites. Neither can we harmonize them into some sentimental doctrinal glob. We should set legalism and grace in stark contrast if we are going to life the Christian life as it should be lived. If we do not separate these two ideas, we will also experience rivalry in the church.

Legalists are contemptuous and severely critical people who show little mercy. However, true Christian love makes allowances for others and takes account of their frailties. Genuine love compensates for people.

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins‘” (1 Peter 4:8).

Christians cannot afford to play god and become the judge of other believers. When we take the role of a critic, we put ourselves in the position of god. If we find fault with one another and tear each other’s reputation apart, we will destroy the Christian community. All that we see from some churches God has used mightily, is smoke billowing from the ruins of wrath. The people of God could not get along. There is a great difference between the fruit of love the ruins of wrath.

 

May 29, 2019

Misreading Paul’s “Keeping of Special Days”

I have a birthday coming up in the next few days. Over the years I have had discussions with people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

  • Paul sees the keeping of special days — and it’s the Old Covenant feast days he has partly in view — as going back or reverting to a series of rituals they had been freed from.
  • The Galatians were doing this to try to please God. They were adding to what Christ’s death and resurrection had made no longer necessary. They were wanting the structure of religion with its dos and don’ts.
  • Others of Paul’s converts may have come from pagan religions which each had their own feast days. Old habits die hard. Imagine if you had a family tradition that had been practiced for generations that was suddenly stripped away. These pagan feasts day were incompatible with Christian faith and could not be retained in a Christ-following life.

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday over the years, I trust that my family had these aims:

  • I’m not being venerated. Their purpose isn’t sacred. Their actions are not sacramental. Some people argue that we can’t separate life into the sacred and the secular, but some things we do are merely perfunctory, like getting dressed, brushing our teeth, checking the mail, etc. A birthday serves no spiritual purpose.
  • Recognizing and celebrating the encouragement that someone’s life brings you is scriptural. Over and over we are told to encourage one another, to build one another up. A sincere expression of thanks and appreciation — personal, not what the greeting card writer came up with — should really be an everyday occurrence, not a yearly thing; but we we do need prompting to do this.
  • We are reminded of the passing of time. Our lives are “but a breath;” we are “here today and gone tomorrow.” We live sometimes in the “myth of continuity;” believing that things will always be as they are, but in fact, age will eventually catch up with us, it will happen quickly or when we are not looking. It’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. That may seem to make a birthday bittersweet, but as you get older, it really is.
  • It’s not wrong to buy people things. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God gave us. Going to a dollar store (or for my UK readers, a poundshop) to buy something that will be broken a week later is not wise stewardship. (Perhaps the earth’s resources should never have been used to manufacture the item in the first place.) But there are things people both need and desire, and having an excuse at least provides a context to nudge someone to acquire something that might be beneficial to their hobbies and interests, but that they might hesitate to purchase for themselves.
  • Children need to identify and celebrate friendships. If you can do a birthday party without excluding anyone, and at the same time not incurring great expense, it’s nice for kids to gather their friends around them. You can also do a party where instead of gifts, people make a contribution to a charity of the child’s choice. (Try Compassion International, Partners International, Christian Blind Mission, etc.)

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

When your turn rolls around, I do, with all sincerity and with all intention, wish you a Happy Birthday!