Supernatural Living, part three; Romans 12:9

Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

The use of the term agape love was very rare in the cultures of Paul’s day. This type of love- giving, generous, self-sacrificing- was even viewed by many if not most as a sign of weakness. But in the New Testament, as MacArthur comments, it was regarded as the supreme virtue.

God Himself is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him, (1 John 4:16). Evil is the exact opposite of this supreme love, and, therefore, the opposite of and against the Lord God. Thus, believers are to abhor what is evil.

 Any Christian who genuinely loves God and people will also hate evil. Thus, the Psalmist exhorts, Hate evil, you who love the Lord, (Psalm 97:10). In Psalm 101:4, David intends that a perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Evil is that which aligns itself against the Almighty. It desires its own selfish will rather than God’s, and is fully intent on doing all that is unrighteous and ungodly.

Even Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, struggled with sin. We covered these struggles in Romans chapter 7. Sense his mighty inner battle here: I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good, (Rom. 7:14-15, 19-21).

Jude warns us that we can get sucked into the sins of others if we are not extremely careful: But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh, (Jude 20-21, 23).

It has been said that the only security against sin is to be shocked by it. It is very hard to be shocked by anything in our generation. Our senses are constantly bombarded “through TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, and books, not to mention the internet and social media, with immoralities,” (Mac), perversions, violence, hatred, and on and on.

The danger is in rationalizing that all this evil somehow doesn’t affect us, that because we belong to Jesus we are immune. It just isn’t true! To think so and to be careless with our purity is to court evil. Sin lieth at the door, (Genesis 4:7).

MacArthur quotes Alexander Pope:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

Paul warned the Corinthian church, who by all standards resided in “sin city,” to flee sexual immorality and idolatry, which were so rampant there. Evil is never to be accepted, condoned, reasoned with. Don’t try to convert it or change it. Flee from it into the protective arms of God as righteous Lot fled from the destruction of Sodom. His wife, who, for an instant, looked back, was turned into a pillar of salt, (Genesis 19:26).

Paul counsels his son in the faith, Timothy, to Flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart, (2 Tim. 2:22).

MacArthur teaches, “It is impossible to pursue righteousness while we tolerate evil,” (Commentary p. 187). Mac tells the story of how to boil a frog. Put the frog in a pan of cool water. Turn the flame on low. As the heat slowly rises in the water, the frog adjusts, tolerating the changing norm. By the time the water reaches boiling the frog realizes too late that he is in big trouble. That slow burn will ultimately destroy! Tolerating evil works the same way!

“Greater exposure to evil should invoke greater resistance to it, no matter how often or how intensely we are confronted by it. We must examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good [and] abstain from every form of evil, (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Because we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), we must, like Him, love righteousness and hate sin (Heb. 1:9). We are to love what He loves and hate what He hates,” (Mac p. 187).

We believers are to also cling to what is good. This is the third personal duty. The verb, kallao, Mac notes, means to cling. It is from the root, kolla, which means glue. It could be used of any bond-spiritual, emotional, physical- and, in this context tells us that we are to bind ourselves like glue (a permanent bond) to what is good (agathos), that which is inherently right and worthy.

Have you ever watched a young child walking hand and hand with his parent? The child may wriggle and squirm, using his whole body in motion to try to dislodge his hand from his guardian’s grasp, to gain his “freedom.” We must not be so. The Lord has us firmly in His loving grip. Don’t squirm to get away; it is the safest place we could possibly be.

So how would we define what is good? …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on [or cling to] these things, (Phil. 4:8).

All of this takes discernment, godly judgment based on careful evaluation of everything so that we know what to reject and what to cling to, (Mac). As we reject the world and its values our minds become transformed by being renewed, so that we may cling to that which is good and acceptable and perfect, (Rom. 12:1-2).

“As we separate ourselves from the things of the world and saturate ourselves with the Word of God, the things that are good will more and more replace the things that are evil” (Mac p. 188).

Until next time, by God’s profound grace, may the Lord bless you as you live out your faith by holding fast to His holy hand…mike.

 

What Does It Mean to Be “Saved”?

This short devotion by Charles Stanley on salvation was too good to not pass along. Please read Psalm 25 so that what he says below will make sense to you. In this psalm David pours his heart out to God, as a child to his loving Father. Only one truly connected to God, having a real relationship with Him, could write this way.

Dr. Stanley asks: “How does a person become acceptable to God? The path to redemption begins not with the decision to live a better life or to stop doing something wrong, but with the realization that we cannot correct our sinful nature.

“To find favor with the Lord, we must grasp that it is impossible to make ourselves righteous. Instead, we need to depend on the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. When we trust in Christ as our Savior, God the Father applies the benefit of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to our sin debt, thereby making us saved- that is, acceptable in His eyes.

“Your good works and righteous acts are of absolutely no value in the mind of God. Compared to others’ actions, your generosity and good works might seem like enough to bring favor with the Lord, but Scripture tells us salvation is not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:9). When you stand before God, the only way you can be forgiven of your sins is through Christ and His sacrificial, substitutionary, atoning death at Calvary. The Savior came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

“Jesus crucifixion was a public demonstration of God’s hatred for sin and immense love for mankind. He who was blameless bore the penalty for all in order that wicked, corrupt people could be made righteous.

“No matter what you have done, you can be cleansed of the stain left by sin. Confess any known transgressions to the Lord and turn from them. Then Jesus will forgive you and write your name in the Lamb’s book of life (1 John 1:9; Rev. 21:27). By trusting in Him, you are assured of eternity in His presence.” From Charles Stanley’s In Touch Daily Readings, March 19th.

Jesus said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me, (John 12:32).

At the very end of Scripture there is this poignant invitation: And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:17, 20-21).

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.

    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.

 

Supernatural Living, part two; Romans 12:9

Let love be without hypocrisy. 

More practical commands for everyday supernatural living here in verse 9. This is one of several triplets in which Paul mentions three personal duties. The first duty is to let love be without hypocrisy.

The Greeks had four different words for love. This one, agape, is the highest Greek form. It carries the idea of a love that is totally selfless, completely giving; one having no mindset toward one’s own good, but solely for the good of others. This is divine love, the love Christ exhibited all of His earthly life, culminating in His sacrificial death on the cross, not for Himself (for He was sinless), but for us.

In his commentary on Romans, John MacArthur says this: “Agape love centers on the needs and welfare of the one loved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet those needs and foster that welfare,” (Mac p. 184).

John says in 1 John 4:16, God, Himself is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. Jesus was unapologetic when He stated that the two greatest commandments, upon which all the law and the prophets hang, are that You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself, (Matt. 22:37-39, 40).

Paul admonishes the Roman church, Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law, (Ro. 13:8). We have been talking about spiritual gifts, which, when properly used, are crucially important to the life of the church. But no spiritual gift is as important as love.

1 Peter 1:22 teaches us that since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.

From his daily In Touch Bible readings, Charles Stanley notes this: “While it’s hard to respond to unkindness with love, such godly behavior can lead to great blessing. First, God is pleased with us; this realization should bring His children joy, peace, and a sense of accomplishment. John 13:35 tells of another important benefit. Jesus said: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. So think about the people you come in contact with throughout the week. Are you treating them the way Jesus modeled- with love?”

Paul prayed, May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, (1 Thess. 3:12).

Peter teaches, Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins, (1 Peter 4:8). In 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, Paul eloquently sums up what are text is saying:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

He goes on in the rest of the chapter to describe the qualities and character of true agape love. Read chapter 13.

MacArthur gives this warning: “Genuine love is so integral to supernatural living that John declares, We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death, (1 John 3:14). In other words, a person who shows no evidence of agape love has no claim on Christ or on eternal life,” (Mac p. 184).

The love must be pure, without hypocrisy. Genuine agape love is not tainted by self-interest or self-promotion. Hypocrisy is the polar opposite of true love. The best example in Scripture of the consummate hypocrite is Judas.

Mac says this about him: “He feigned devotion to Jesus to achieve his own selfish purposes. His hypocrisy was unmasked and his self-centeredness was made evident when he betrayed Jesus for the 30 pieces of silver. Commenting on this verse in Romans, the theologian John Murray writes, ‘If love is the sum of virtue and hypocrisy is the epitome of vice, what a contradiction to bring the two together,’” (Mac p. 185).

This agape love is from God. We cannot work it up or devise it. It is supernatural, not of this world, just as Jesus declared, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). It doesn’t come from within us, naturally, because the natural man is the person without the Spirit [who] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit, (1 Cor. 2:14).

Going back to the beginning of this chapter, we are to give our bodies as a living sacrifice to God so that He can in turn pour His agape love into us and channel it out into a dying world.

He produces it, and we, through humble obedience, provide our bodies, our minds, our spirits as a living temple, a conduit through which the world can see the living Christ manifest in us, His church!  We are to be light (1 John 1:7), and our light is to shine forth into the darkness, which cannot overcome it! How exciting is that, brethren!?

By God’s loving grace we will bring our study further next time. Until then may the Lord bless you richly as you live for Him…mike.

Facing Our Fears

The following paragraphs are taken from Charles Stanley’s In Touch Dailey Readings, 3/3/17:

(Read Psalm 91:1-16) “Fear creeps into our life and wraps itself around our mind and heart. This can happen so subtly that we don’t recognize how anxiety has affected our decision-making, our health, and our spirit. Ultimately, many people miss God’s best because apprehension keeps them from stepping out in faith to do His will.

“The fear may seem unimportant at first, but left unchecked, it begins to interfere with our life. Physically, we may experience tension that keeps us from relaxing and enjoying the day’s pleasures. Anxiety can lead to health problems, especially if it is constant. Mentally, our mind may be clouded by fear, which can limit what we are willing to think about and consider. If that should happen, our dreams and creativity will almost certainly be stifled.

“But the mental paralysis that often accompanies unchecked fear is most dangerous to our spiritual life. Unless it is entrusted to God, a single fear can easily rule over us, coloring our attitude with a general sense of disquiet. We become indecisive, worried that we will make the wrong choice. So we are trapped, trying to avoid anything that will make us anxious. Consequently, we stop growing as Christians and are usually hindered in our work and family life, too.

“If you allow yourself to be paralyzed by worry, you cannot be placing complete trust in God and following Him wholeheartedly. Make an honest assessment of your life, and ask the Lord to reveal places where fear is holding you back.”

To give Jesus His rightful place as our first love, our all-consuming passion, will help powerfully to drive fears away. In that context I wrote the following poem.

Lord Jesus Christ:

You are my calmness, You are my absence of fear;

You are my fellowship, my companion, my good and constant friend;

Lord, You are my Bread- You fill me, and my Water- You quench my thirst;

You are my treasure- I sell all to have You alone;

You are the fulfillment of all my dreams;

You, oh Lord, are my Savior, my Master, my Shepherd, my Rock, the Bishop of my soul.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling, (Psalm 91:9-10). Read and meditate on this wonderful Psalm, which deals in depth with this subject.

Fear is one of the devil’s favorite tools. He used it on Adam and Eve in the Garden, and he has been using it against believers ever since. Scripture tells us we are to fear God alone- nothing and no one else, because if we belong to the Father, nothing that exists can shake us out of His hands! (see Ro. 8:37-39)

I believe that the words God spoke to Joshua in preparation for entering the Promised Land also apply with equal power to His sons and daughters of faith today:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go, (Joshua 1:8-9).

Before I found the Lord as my Savior my life was a shambles. I was so lost and confused. I eventually fell into depression. The depression gave way to anxiety, which then morphed seamlessly into deep fear. Fear of the future, fear of people, fears of mental or physical illness, and on and on.

I had fear in the pit of my stomach all day long, day after long day, constant anxiety and dread. Even though I didn’t officially belong to Him yet, I believe the Lord led me to a book about facing anxiety. I’m not certain it was written by a Christian, but it helped me begin to heal from panicked, out of control fear.

Then the Holy Spirit guided me to start reading Good News for Modern Man. By the time I had read the book of Acts and was half way through Romans, I had given my heart to the Lord. All things were new.

Because I belong to God, I have never again experienced fear like I had suffered for so long. He delivered me and I praise Him. But I am still human, like you, and, as Charles Stanley warned, anxiety and fear can move in and steal way our peace or joy if we are not on our guard. But God will heal us if we let Him. It takes vigilance and trusting Him.

No matter what your fear(s), God can deliver you too. Go to Him, confess and repent of any known sins, and pour through His Word to find scriptures of solace and peace. They abound. Counsel with other believers, ask for prayer.

If you don’t know Jesus yet as Lord and Savior, confess your sins to Him right now; don’t wait. Ask Him to be Lord of your life, and then, by faith, give Him the reins of your heart to do just that. Your life will forever be changed for good, not evil, and He will help you conquer all your fears.

…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

Hope this helped! Until next time, God bless all…mike.

 

Supernatural Living- part one; Romans 12:9-13

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

One look at our society today and it is easy to see and hard to deny that the world is in trouble, and so is America. Historically, there have always been wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and universal immorality.

But there is something different in the air today. Evil has increased; lawlessness, in some sectors, has almost become the norm. Take, for example, our new president. There is so much chaos surrounding even the very beginning of his term. I am not defending him or the things he has said. But there is a whole movement in our country to get him out of office now! Is that not treason and anarchy? Doesn’t it go against everything we stand for as a nation?

This hatred goes against everything our nation and its Constitution have stood for for 240 years!

John MacArthur comments on what may be the root of this growing immorality: “Our society is obsessed with sports, recreation, entertainment, and emotional gratification, and it is paying the consequences of that unbalanced preoccupation. When such pursuits exceed their reasonable roles, they become conspicuous marks of the shallow, superficial, and often decadent society that cultivates them,” (Mac commentary p. 179).

Teddy Roosevelt gives us this insight: “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living and the get-rich theory of life.” I believe that these idolatrous proclivities are the very thing destroying the fabric of our country today. The big rage, “selfies”, says it all!

Believers must make every effort to flee from this destructive thinking and to follow hard after the Lord. An important part of that is in cultivating a disciplined life. The Lord can only work effectively through self-disciplined people.

“MacArthur teaches: “Only the disciplined mind can think clearly and be used of the Lord to properly understand and present His truth to the world. Only the disciplined mind can effectively evaluate and challenge the world’s ideals and standards in the light of that truth. By the same token, only the disciplined Christian life can be a persuasive and effective example, both within the church and before the world.” (Mac. P. 180)

In his book, The Disciplined Life, author Richard Shelley Taylor writes: “Disciplined character belongs to the person who achieves balance by bringing all his faculties and powers under control…He resolutely faces his duty. He is governed by a sense of responsibility. He has inward resources and personal reserves which are the wonder of weaker souls.

“He brings adversity under tribute, and compels it to serve him. When adversity becomes too overwhelming and blows fall which he cannot parry, he bows to them, but is not broken by them. His spirit still soars.”

Self-discipline, for the Christian, is the willingness and God-given ability to subordinate personal desires, goals, dreams, to the omniscient will of a holy God, who will accept our sacrifice as a sweet smelling aroma and make from it something truly beautiful.

Mac says, “For the Christian, self-discipline is obedience to the Word of God, the willingness to subordinate everything in our lives-physical, emotional, social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, to God’s will and control and for God’s glory…The Christian life is an accountable life, and, by definition, accountability is based on specific principles and standards…to which God holds each of His children. It is because we are accountable that the Lord disciplines us when we disobey His Word and ignore His will,” (Mac. P. 180-181).

Charles Stanley, commenting on the purifying of our faith, says this: “One of the first areas the Lord deals with is your character. His goal is to shape you into the image of His Son, and there are some traits and attitudes that must be chipped away in order for Him to accomplish the task. [Like a Sculptor] His chisel lays bare roots of sin and selfishness.

“When anything or anyone become more important to us than the Lord, we have an idol in our life (see Hebrews 11:32-40)…The chisel hurts…unless you understand His goal and believe He’s working for your good,” (In Touch Daily Readings, March 2017, p. 18).

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives, (Hebrews 12:5-7).

“Through Romans 12:8, Paul has laid the doctrinal foundation of the justified, sanctified, and dedicated Christian life. In the rest of the epistle, he focuses on specific ways in which believers must live their lives in obedience to God’s Word and to obey the glory of His name. The call to practical, holy living is the climax of this rich epistle.” (Mac)

“In Romans 12:9-21 Paul gives a comprehensive, but not exhaustive list of basic characteristics of the supernatural Christian life. Paul gives some 25 distinct, but closely related exhortations. The specific exhortations fall under four general categories or phases, which form an ever-increasing circle, as it were, that expands from personal attitudes to the widest social applications.

“They are: personal duties (V. 9); family duties (vv. 10-13); duty to other people in general (vv. 14-16); and duty to those who are avowed personal enemies (vv. 17-21).” (Mac p. 183)

Next time, by God’s sweet grace, we will look at these categories together. Until then may God bless you all…mike.

 

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts: Giving; Leadership; Showing Mercy; Ro. 12:8

The discussion and explanation of how to approach spiritual gifts follows from the beginning of chapter twelve, where it states that we must give our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. This comes in light of all that God has done for us, detailed in the first eleven chapters of this great epistle.

Therefore, we experience a turning point. Doctrine turns to duty and theology to practice. Paul is calling all Christians to put hands and feet and, if necessary, sweat, blood and tears to service and the working out [of our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure, (Phil. 2:12, 13).

Verses one and two of chapter twelve call for a total consecration of our body, soul, mind and will. We are to put ourselves on the altar of self-sacrifice, much as Abraham place Isaac, his only begotten son, in whose life resided all the great patriarch’s dreams and hopes, on the altar at Mt. Moriah. An offering to God, a sweet-smelling savor.

Speaking of this very concept, Paul confessed, I die daily, (1 Cor. 15:31). He put aside his hopes and dreams for the cause of Christ. Earlier, Jesus gave this command to His followers: Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Me, (Matt. 16:24).

Why, we may ask? Why go to this extreme? So that we may be of use to the Master in the fulfillment of His will. Jesus set the pattern. He came to serve, not to be served, although He had every right to expect that. Can we in good conscience strive for any less?

1 Peter 4:10 gives us this command: As each one has received a gift, minster it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. It is both our privilege and obligation to serve the Lord out of what He has given us. We were not saved to be an island, but to reach out as a blessing to both brethren and unbelievers to draw them in.

He who gives, with liberality; The usual Greek word for giving, didomi, is not used here. The more intensified form, metadidomi, is used. It gives the idea of giving and sharing of ones’ own goods, and even ones’ own self.

As MacArthur relates, the opening of this Romans letter expressed Paul’s desire to impart some spiritual [metadidoi] gift to you, that you may be established, (Rom. 1:11). John the Baptist counseled the people, let the man who has two tunics share [metadidoi] with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise, (Luke 3:8, 11).

We read in Ephesians 4:28: Every Christian should labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share [metadidoi] with him who has needs. Paul told the Thessalonians that having thus a fond affection for you we were well pleased to impart [metadidoi] to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us, (1 Thess. 2:8).

“Liberality,” comments John MacArthur, “translates haplotes, which has the root meaning of singleness and came to connote simplicity (as in the KJV), singlemindedness, openheartedness, and then generosity. It carries the idea of sincere, heartfelt giving that is untainted by affectation or ulterior motive.

“The Christian who gives with liberality gives of himself, not for himself. He does not give for thanks or recognition, but for the sake of the one who receives his help and for the glory of the Lord.” (Mac commentary p. 175). Jesus counselled: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (Matt. 6:3).

It’s all His anyways, right?  We are but stewards of the Lord’s resources, obediently making the most of our opportunities to increase His harvest. We must not be like the slothful steward who hid His Master’s money in the ground, where it earned no interest. And those who give with liberality are the opposite of those hypocrites who give to be seen by men, (Matt. 6:2).

Those who give liberally believe that sowing bountifully will mean one day reaping bountifully in this life and the life to come, (2 Cor. 9:6).

He who leads, with diligence…

From the Greek, proistemi, we get the idea of standing before, which is what a leader does: he stands before the people and guides them forward. This concept carried further means to lead with speed or with haste, as when Moses led the people quickly through the parted waves of the Red Sea in their escape from Egypt.

This could also carry aspects of governing and/or administrating. Of course, the pastor leads his church in many aspects, but there are many and diverse other church leaders and administrators who help the church chart its God-ordained path. These would include deacons and deaconesses, elders, Sunday school teachers, music ministers, and so forth. The analogy of piloting a ship, found in Acts 27:11 and Revelation 18:17, brings clarity to the concept here. An interesting point is that in his letter to the much- troubled Corinthian church, Paul makes no mention of leaders. Perhaps they didn’t have good leaders, or no leaders, and this may have been a big part of the reason the church was in such disarray.

One so gifted should lead with diligence. This would be with an earnestness and zeal from the root, spoude. There must be no laziness or procrastination. Again, the idea of hurrying to get the job going and accomplished.

He who shows mercy, with cheerfulness…

Eleeo, the Greek for shows mercy, means to actively demonstrate sympathy for someone else and to possess the necessary resources to “comfort and strengthen that person.” (Mac p. 177)

“The gifted Christian who shows mercy is divinely endowed with special sensitivity to suffering and sorrow, with the ability to notice misery and stress that may go unnoticed by others, and with the desire and means to help alleviate such afflictions. It is feeling put into action. He shows his mercy by what he says to and what he does for the one in need,” (Mac p. 177).

Ministering to broken people requires a cheerful attitude. The afflicted must sense that you are glad to be with them and impart good to them, and that you are not just trying to stack up brownie points. The victim would quickly sense that, and it would only increase their misery. They must know your good heart toward them through your gentleness and positive actions. He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor, (Proverbs 14:21).

The very heart of Jesus’ ministry included cheerful mercy: …the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to te poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, (Luke 4:18-19).

The noted Puritan writer, John Owen, wrote: “Spiritual gifts are that without which the church cannot subsist in the world, nor can believers be useful to one another and the rest of mankind to the glory of Christ as they ought to be. They are the powers of the world to come, those effectual operations of the power of Christ whereby His kingdom was erected and is preserved,” (The Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids, Kregel).

MacArthur notes, “We can serve Christ only as we become like Christ, and we can exercise the Spirit’s gifts only as we present ourselves as living sacrifices and submit to His continuing transformation and sanctification of our lives.” (Mac. P. 178)

A.B. Simpson wrote the lines of this beautiful hymn to express what our attitude should be toward our gift and our Christian life:

“Once it was the blessing,

Now it is the Lord,

Once it was the feeling,

Now it is His Word,

Once His gifts I wanted,

Now the Giver alone,

Once I sought healing,

Now Himself alone.”

I will conclude this passage on the gifts with a prayer Spirit-breathed through the writer of Hebrews: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

 

 

 

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts: Service, Teaching, Exhortation; Ro. 12: 7-8

 …service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation;

Today we look at three more gifts in the speaking/serving categories. Remember, every gift, no matter how seemingly minor, is necessary for church health and function.

The gift of service is a general term for ministry. It covers a wide range of possibilities. It comes from the Greek word, diakonia, from which we get deacon and deaconess, meaning those who serve. As Mac relates, (Commentary p. 172), the first deacons of the early church were men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. These men were in charge of providing food for the widows and poor so that the apostles could be free to devote themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word, (Acts 6:3-4).

This term is similar to the gift of helps mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The scope of this gift goes beyond the office of deacon and has the basic idea of help for those who are too weak to help themselves, thus the admonition, help the weak, (Acts 20:35).

“The gift of service is manifest in every sort of practical help that Christians can give one another in Jesus’ name,” (Mac p. 172).

J. Vernon McGee, in his commentary on Romans, says this about service: “’Ministering’ is performing an act of service, referring to a manifold ministry with practical implications. There are multitudinous forms for service in the body of believers which this gift covers- setting up chairs and giving out songbooks is a ministry. I know one dear lady who can put on a dinner that will make everyone happy. That is her gift, and I’ve told her that. She would never make a good president of the missionary society…but if you want to put on a church dinner, she is the one to get.”

Like all the gifts, service must never be approached from the standpoint of selfish ambition. We are to give of ourselves without thought for ourselves.

Or he who teaches, in his teaching;

The third gift in this list is that of teaching. The term comes from the Greek word didaskon. Like prophecy, one who teaches is “divinely gifted to interpret and present God’s truth understandably,” (p. 172). The difference is that the prophet proclaims, as in a preaching mode, and the teacher gives systematic and regular instruction in God’s Word.

This gift can be used in a seminary, a Sunday school class, a small group, or anywhere the word of God is taught. In Acts 2:42 we read of the early church: And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine… Most of the churches in those early days were house churches, small groups of believers gathered together to, among other things, study God’s Word as handed down from the apostles, who knew and served Jesus directly.

We are commanded by our Lord in the Great Commission to Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, (Matt. 28:19-20). In Paul’s letter to Timothy he instructs his young disciple: And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also, (2 Timothy 1:11).

As MacArthur continues to relate, Jesus Himself was the supreme Preacher and Teacher. He even continued to teach after His death and resurrection. When He met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures…And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24:27, 32)

“Regular, systematic teaching of the Word of God is the primary function of the pastor-teacher. As an elder he is required to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and to hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9).” (Mac commentary II on Romans).

William Barclay notes the following: “There is teaching. The message of Christ needs not only to be proclaimed; it needs also to be explained. It may well be that one of the great failures of the Church at this present time is just in this realm. Exhortation and invitation without a background of teaching are empty things.” (Barclay Commentary on Romans)

Speaking of the gift of teaching, Barnes writes in his notes, “The same thing exists substantially now in most churches, in the appointment of Sunday school teachers, whose main business it is to instruct the children in the doctrines of the Christian religion. It is an office of great importance to the church; and the exhortation of the apostle may be applied to them: that they should be assiduous, constant, diligent in their teaching; that they should confine themselves to their appropriate place; and should feel that their office is of great importance in the church of God; and remember that this is His arrangement, designed to promote the edification of His people.” (Barnes notes on Romans)

Paul warned Timothy to pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, (1 Tim. 4:16). In James 3:1 we read: Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. This gift carries great responsibility. Properly teaching the whole counsel of God with wisdom, sobriety, accuracy and zeal will lead to disciples who grow up into Christ without hang-ups or hindrance or confusion. Oh, for excellent teachers in our churches!

Or he who exhorts, in his exhortation;

Exhortation, as Mac observes from the Greek, paraklesis, has the literal meaning of calling someone to one’s side. It is closely related to the Greek term, parakletos, meaning advocate, comforter, helper. Ths terminology is commonly ascribed to the Holy Spirit, but also to Christ, as in John 14:16.

“The gift of exhortation, therefore, encompasses the ideas of advising, pleading, encouraging, warning, strengthening, and comforting,”(Mac). The gift has a wide range of uses. One could exhort a brother to stop his sin or, at a later time, exhort that same brother to be comforted in his grief over a loss or an illness. We can advocate for another’s cause, defend them, and comfort them with Scripture. It is all exhortation.

Paul and Barnabas, returning to the churches they had begun, used the gift of exhortation: …they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:21-22).

There is an interesting  passage in Hebrews 10:24-25 regarding this gift: …consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near, (Hebrews 10:24-25).

This same epistle ends with a beautiful benediction, echoing the sentiment which motivates this gift: Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen, (Hebrews 13:20-21).

I couldn’t end a study any better. Love in Christ to you all, until next time…your servant, mike.

 

  

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts- Prophecy; Ro. 12:6b

If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;

The first spiritual gift in this list is prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 this gift is linked to other sign gifts and was considered both supernatural and revelatory in nature. In Romans (and remember, Romans was written 4 years later than 1 Corinthians) it is connected to serving and speaking gifts.

So, there are, it seems, both revelatory and non-revelatory aspects to prophecy. However, MacArthur accurately notes the following: “Some interpreters believe this was a special revelatory gift that belonged only to the apostles and, like the sign gifts, ceased after those men died,” (Mac. Commentary p. 169).

He comments further, “The gift of prophecy does not pertain to the content but rather to the means of proclamation. In our day it is active enablement to proclaim God’s Word already written in Scripture. Paul gives no distinction to this gift among the other six [listed in this passage], which are clearly ongoing gifts in the church, thus not limiting it to revelation” [that is, the uncovering of new truth].

Prophecy (Propheteia) literally means to speak forth. The term simply means to put forth the Word of God, either by preaching or teaching or exhortation. One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation, (1 Cor. 14:3). Further, Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11: Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”

William Barclay, writing his commentary on Romans, observed the following: “There is the gift of prophecy. It is only rarely that prophecy in the New Testament has to do with foretelling the future; it usually has to do with forthtelling the word of God. The prophet is the man who can announce the Christian message with the authority of one who knows. To announce Christ to others a man must first know Him himself. “What this parish needs,” said Carlyle’s father, “is a man who knows Christ other than at second-hand.”

Barnes adds this: “This word [Prophecy] properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of people, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Acts 13:1, “There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets, and teachers, as Barnabas, etc.;” Acts 15:32, “and Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, etc.;” Acts 21:10, “a certain prophet named Agabus.” In 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.” (Barnes Notes on the Bible)

J. Vernon McGee is quoted as teaching this: “Prophecy here does not refer to prediction but to any message from God. Notice that prophecy is to be done in ‘proportion’ (this is a mathematical term) to God’s provision of the faith and the power to match the gift,” (Romans Commentary chapt. 9-16).

The gift of prophecy is to be used as God’s public spokesman, to teach, exhort, counsel, and minister the oracles of God primarily to God’s people. Mac says we are to “instruct, admonish, warn, rebuke, correct, challenge, comfort, and encourage.” (Mac p. 170)

To exercise this gift successfully the man so entrusted must enjoy an intimate relationship with the Lord and His Spirit as well as His Holy Word. Paul’s words carried such weight because he was living what he was preaching. Many times the Lord will let the teacher experience what he is to teach. Hence, his message will be all the more powerful!

John Calvin believed that prophesying was not first foretelling, but rather forth-telling Scripture by way of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of God’s will (Calvin’s Commentaries, Romans).

The book of Acts, which documents a time not only of growth but of transition for the church, has prophets functioning in both revelatory and non-revelatory aspects. Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem and part of a larger prophetic group, predicted a famine which would plague Judea during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:27-28); in contrast, Judas and Silas were also prophets but gave no predictions or revelations. They rather encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message (Acts 15:32).

Realize as noted in our last study that the church was transitioning away from the sign gifts as the New Testament letters were being written and eventually the Scriptures completed. The Holy Scriptures are God’s complete revelation of Himself to man. No new revelations are needed. In fact there is a stern warning in the book of Revelation against either adding to or taking away from completed Biblical canon.

Since the Greek includes the definite article, as Mac notes, according to the proportion of his faith could refer to the faith, that is, the full gospel message, so that the prophet would be careful to preach in accordance with the gospel revealed through the apostles- the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Mac 171; Jude 3). Or it could be talking about the believer’s own subjective but experiential understanding of what God is saying to us through His Word according to the individual proportion of…faith that God has sovereignly assigned to him for the operation of his gift, (Mac).

“Whether it relates to revelation, prediction, declaration, instruction, encouragement, or anything else, all prophecy was always to proclaim the Word of God and exalt the Son of God, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, (Rev. 19:10). Paul’s specific charge to Timothy applies to all proclaimers of God’s Word, including prophets: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction,” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Next time, by God’s grace, we’ll look at other gifts in the Romans list. Until then, pray over your gift to find the most effective way in which the Lord wants you to exercise it…your servant, mike. 

 

Service is Not an Option; Titus 2:11-15

Hello, everyone. Today I want to take an excerpt from Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministry Daily Readings for February, 2017. The following wisdom from Dr. Stanley ties in beautifully with the spiritual gifts section we are studying in Romans.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works, (Titus 2:11-14)

Now, from Dr. Stanley: Who is a servant of God? Ask average churchgoers that question, and they will most likely point to their pastor or some Christian celebrity. They almost certainly will not say, “We are God’s servants.” The church has a mixed-up idea that believers are separated into servants- that is, individuals in full-time ministry- and laypeople. The Bible contains no such distinction. Instead, Paul reminds the Ephesians that believers [all believers] are saved so that they might serve, (Eph. 2:10).

If there were no other reason to serve God besides gratitude for salvation, that would be cause enough. We are rescued from torment and given eternal life with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Our service is but a small acknowledgment of the Father sending His Son to be sacrificed in payment of the sin-debt we owed. We have no right to withhold our gifts or time.

Many people, believers included, serve the big “I.” What satisfies and pleases “I”? What is convenient for “I”? What makes “I” happy and prosperous? When a pastor appeals for help, most of his parishioners are sure he is speaking to someone else because “I” has insufficient training or a busy schedule. Here is a harsh reality: if “I” is our master, we are committing “I”-dolatry. Anything given first place over God- including selfish desires- is an idol.

Service isn’t an option. God calls us to be servants so we can invest our lives in an eternally valuable purpose: the salvation of unbelievers and their subsequent discipleship for His glory. Our job may seem insignificant or our limitations great, but we are vessels of Christ with a role in the kingdom.

[See 2 Corinthians 11:22-31] …the Apostle Paul’s description of his suffering [for his faith] is remarkable in two ways. First of all, he had obviously faced considerable torment for his faith. Second, he refused to whine or seek pity- if this was the price for passionately serving Christ, Paul was willing to pay. In our own faith walk, we can learn from the apostle’s commitment.

We serve according to God’s will, not our own. On the road to Damascus, Jesus said to Paul, It will be told you what you must do, (Acts 9:6). We are to seek the Lord’s direction and timing instead of choosing the ministry that seems best to us. Committing to do whatever He asks requires courage, but anything less amounts to putting limitations on our obedience.

We serve according to our gifts, not our talents. A spiritual gift is a special endowment God gives us to serve where He calls. Talents may be useful in His work, but His gifts equip us for success. Natural skill wasn’t what made Paul a powerful preacher. In fact, he spoke of the uselessness of his abilities and pedigree in comparison with knowing and serving Christ (Phil. 3:4-9).

We are to serve with a focus on God, not on the work. Paul excelled at remaining Christ-centered, but this is where many people fall short. We get caught up in scheduling, responsibility, and accolades, which can make us lose sight of the true purpose: reaching the needy and those who need Christ.

Doing “church work” can stroke the ego but drain the body. If we keep focused and serve out of our gifts, service will be satisfying, even when it is hard or painful.

(End Charles Stanley quote)

So the work of God is there for we lay people just as much as it is for professional clergy. This should be tremendously exciting to the willing, energized believer. God has work for us too. We count, we matter, and the Lord cares so much for our success in blessing and edifying His body with the proper use of our gift(s). But the responsibility is on us to get to the work while it is still day. As Jesus warned, the night is coming when no man can work.

Be refreshed, be hopeful. God is with us! As we develop and strengthen our relationship with Christ Jesus we cannot fail! Blessings to all in Christ Jesus…your servant, mike.

 

 

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts- part 2; Ro. 12:6-8

And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

According to the grace – “That is, the favor, the mercy that is bestowed on us. As all that we have is a matter of grace, it should keep us from pride; and it should make us willing to occupy our appropriate place in the church. True honor consists not in splendid endowments, or great wealth and function. It consists in rightly discharging the duties which God requires of us in our appropriate sphere. If all people held their talents as the gift of God; if all would find and occupy in society the place for which God designed them, it would prevent no small part of the uneasiness, the restlessness, the ambition, and misery of the world,” (Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible).

MacArthur notes that no gift given by God through the Holy Spirit is of any value unless it is used. There was a man in Saskatchewan, Canada who had a great collection of rare and valuable violins. Put in the right hands those instruments would literally sing to the world, but kept in his private vault they were of value to no one. Our spiritual gifts are like that. With humble use they become of great value in the church. It is tragic that so many Christians keep their gifts carefully packed away, with all the untapped potential for divine beauty locked within.

Many American mothers keep their child’s first baby shoes to later have them bronzed as a remembrance and a symbol of freedom and independence. Japanese mothers, on the other hand, keep a small section of the umbilical cord as a symbol of dependence and loyalty, which is a beautiful picture of our relationship to our Father in Heaven and the interrelationship the Lord desires for the members of His Body, the church, (Mac commentary on Romans II, p. 168).

Between the time of Christ living on the earth and the completion of the writings of the New Testament there was , as Mac states, “…no standard for judging the truthfulness of someone who preached, taught, or witnessed in the name of Christ. The sign gifts authenticated the teaching of the Apostles- which was the measure of all other teaching- and therefore ceased after the Apostles died, probably even earlier. (Mac p. 168)

Paul explains to the Corinthian church: The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

Following John MacArthur’s thought line, as we read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and other texts describing spiritual gifts and their use, we see that there are three categories of gifts: sign, speaking, and serving.

In Hebrews 2:3-4, there is further explanation: After [the gospel] was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

As MacArthur further points out, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the apostles went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed, (Mark 16:20).

Mac observes the following: “1 Corinthians was written in A.D. 54; Romans was written about four years later. It is important to note that none of the sign gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10- namely the gifts of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues- is found in Romans 12. The other two New Testament passages that mention spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:7, 11; 1 Peter 4:10-11) were written several years after Romans and, like that epistle, make no mention of sign gifts. Peter specifically mentions the categories of speaking and serving gifts (v. 11), but neither the category nor an example of the sign gifts.

“It seems evident, therefore, that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end. They belonged to a unique era in the church’s life and would have no permanent place in its ongoing ministry. It is significant, therefore, that the seven gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 are all within the category of speaking and serving,” (Mac p. 168).

In this passage Paul is speaking to those who have trusted Christ as their personal Savior. Of course, our salvation and our newly sanctified lives are lived out by the grace given to us. This grace is not earned or deserved any more than our salvation is. It is, rather, given to us by our redeemer God. These gifts differ according to the Lord’s sovereign choice for equipping each of us individually. We are like pieces of a many-colored puzzle, which, when fitted together, form an unimaginably beautiful whole!

Differ refers to diversity, and grace speaks of the unity we enjoy as God’s people while exercising our unique giftedness within and for the body of believers.

“Grace,” John MacArthur observes, “is God’s favor, unmerited kindness on His part, which is the only source of spiritual enablements. They are not earned or deserved, or they would not be grace. And the grace is sovereign, in that God alone makes the choice as to what gift each of His children receives. Each believer, therefore, is to exercise his gifts accordingly,”(Mac commentary II, p. 169).

Lord willing, next time we will look at the gifts listed one by one. Until then, may the Lord give you grace and boldness in the faithful administration of your God-ordained gifts…your servant, mike.