The writer of Hebrews ends his letter to this old, second-generation Hebrew-Christian congregation with encouraging words. They needed exhorting; many were teetering on the brink of turning their backs on the faith and returning to Judaism. A bit of persecution had come their way—not the large sort (torture and death)—but ostracism and the like. “Was it worthwhile?” some were asking. And I suppose, like their ancestors long before them, were sniffing at the onions and garlic of Egypt. Exhortation was due.
But how does he give it? Among other things, he assures them that the “great Shepherd of the sheep,” Who had gathered them into a flock, would “equip” them “with every good thing for doing His will” (Hebrews 13:21).
It’s discouraging when one must face an enemy with no weapons (or knowledge of how to use them, if you do have them). This writer knows that, and goes right to the heart of that problem: God will not send you out to do battle for Him without first equipping and training you. But you must believe this and avail yourself of what He provides.
So, Christian brother or sister—are you weary of fighting the forces that oppose you every time you seek to please Him by doing His will? It is your fault, you know. This passage says so. You can be the kind of person who successfully resists temptation while becoming more like Christ in the process. You can please Him. How? By availing yourself of all of the equipment for doing so, and learning how to use it.
If you don’t know what this equipment is, then you need to talk to your pastor or an elder in your church. After he tells you, ask him how the church has provided opportunities for you to learn to use it effectively. Those two things plainly ought to be matters of such concern that you refuse to put off doing so. Phone, email, or see someone about them today!
That’s the entrepreneur’s goal. He invests everything he can in order to get a good return. How strange, then, that when it comes to the most valuable thing in life he entirely changes his goals.
“What are you referring to?”
His view of profit and loss.
“How does he do that?”
Well, he stops thinking of gain when it come to his spiritual destiny.
Certainly. Listen to this: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1: 21). How many business men do you know who think that way—“to die is gain?”
“Not too many. There are even Christians who have a very different perspective: ‘Get all you can while to getting’s good’ is what you so often hear even believers say.”
Right. They are not staking all on eternity. It’s good business sense to think ahead. Shrewd business men plan for the future. The trouble is, while planning for the next 5 or so in very uncertain years, so often they fail to think far enough ahead—to eternity—the one place where planning can be certain.
The die is eternal gain for the one who has planned ahead by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who dies for His people’s sins and then rose from the dead. By faith invest your life into His hands and you can be sure of a huge return. Businessman, are you planning far enough ahead?
You blind guides, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Matthew 23: 24
It is clear that when Jesus spoke about swallowing a camel but straining at a gnat, He was getting at a very important principle.
But first—a KJV correction.
In the original KJV there was a typo that some versions of it have not corrected it even by today. Jesus didn’t believe it was all that hard to remove a gnat from one’s cup that he had to strain when doing so! What He really said was “strain OUT a gnat.” But the KJV messed it up with that typo.
What He was saying is that some will swallow huge lies and falsehoods, while making a point about some small mistake or error.
Can you picture it? Here is this fellow pouring his coffee through a strainer to catch the gnat in order to throw it away before drinking. On the other hand, here he is trying to force down a big hairy, knuckle-bound slobbering camel the very next day.
Are you like that? Well, if so, it’s time to get you priorities straight.
By the way, what are your priorities?
Fear God that you may not retrogress;
love Him that you may progress.
Augustine, Ps. LXXXV,16.
There is always the possibility of a Christian retrogressing. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul warns against the negative influence of evil companions. Patterns of living, once pleasing to God, may be “corrupted’ by such influence, he says. John warned the “elect lady” to whom he was writing that it was possible for her to lose her reward by showing hospitality to false teachers, thereby enabling them to spread their heresy (2 John 8). So, we need something to keep us from retrogressing. Augustine’s point is that losing one’s reward, or sliding back into past sinful patterns, is something we ought to fear. Not fear of the thing itself, of course, but fear of God—fear lest we displease Him and, thereby, arouse His Fatherly displeasure and suffer His chastisement.
He who has this hope in him, purifies himself just as He is pure.
1 John 3:3
It is essential to understand what biblical writers mean by the word “hope.” When we say, ‘I hope so” we usually mean, “I have no certainty about what will transpire, but I hope against hope that it will be like such and such.” For us today, hope is a hope-so hope.
The biblical meaning of the word is very different. The element of uncertainty has been removed from it—when you read the word “hope” think “expectation,” or ‘anticipation.” It is applies to something that is certain, but is a “hope” because it just hasn’t happened yet. The blessed hope isn’t the blessed “hope-so.” It’s the happy expectation—the joyous anticipation OF Christ’s coming in glory as the “great God and Savior.” What makes it a hope is not that it is uncertain, but that it is still in the future.
Be glad you’re here to tell us about it! There are those who didn’t make it. As he rounded the curve at 85 miles per hour, he also said, “I think I can make it easily.” But he was wrong—it only seemed right to him, but it wasn’t. When she reached for the bottle of medicine on that dark night, it seemed that she had the right bottle, but those wrong pills killed her. Sure, it seemed right, but it wasn’t.
He was serious—he thought he could make it; she was certain that she had the right bottle. But both of them were wrong—dead wrong. People make mistakes because, since Adam’s sin, there have been no perfect people. Every day people do things that seem right but they end up in hospitals or funeral parlors. Seeming right isn’t the same as being right. No matter how sincerely one may think something is correct—if it isn’t, it isn’t. Seeming right doesn’t make it right.
Now there are people all over the world who worship images, spirits, the sun and moon, gods that they earnestly believe it is right to worship. But that doesn’t mean that these gods exist. And people who place their hopes in them will find out some day that they were miserably deceived by parents, priests and others who urged them to swear by them. But it will be too late then.
The fourteenth Chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with edification—how to help build up the spiritual lives of other believers. There was a party in Corinth that reveled in their spiritual gifts—especially in the gift of being able to speak in other languages without having to study them. It was a remarkable gift, well-suited to the early church before there was a complete canon of New Testament books spread throughout the church (for data on the relationship of spiritual gifts to the formation of the New Testament see my book, Signs and Wonders in the Last Days). Those who possessed the gift of tongues (the Greek word for “languages”) were zealous to use them. But, the trouble is, tongues were given for reaching unbelievers, and they were using them in the church instead (v.22). Others, who could not interpret were not being edified by what is said. And disorder prevailed (v, 40).
It’s amazing how this blog is getting out into the most unexpected places. Old friends, seemingly lost in the process of time, have now made themselves and their whereabouts known. People that I have met at meetings have made contact, and I’m delighted to hear from every one of them.
But, it’s every bit as good to know that others, whom I have never met, and do not know, are taking an interest as well.
My deepest concern is to reach as many as possible with something that will help them come to Christ, or that will somehow enable believers to serve Him better.
The word today is “peace.” All are born enemies of God (Romans 5). When they lay down their defenses and surrender to Him through faith in Christ, they come over to the other side—God’s side. The only thing that an enemy can do is surrender. You cannot placate God. You can’t “make things right” on your own. You must acknowledge your sin as an offence against Him; nothing less. If you are not with Him, He says you are against Him; you “scatter” rather than “gather,” as Jesus put it. That is to say, you are on His side, working for Him, or you aren’t, but are working against Him. There is no middle ground; no neutrality.
Having found peace with God by trusting Christ as Savior (see other blogs for details concerning the Gospel), you will come to know the peace of God—i.e., peace that He gives to His children—a peace that grows out of the assurance of salvation and eternal life. This peace also extends to what once used to be worries (Philippians 4), but now supplants them. By recognizing God’s providence, instead of worrying, the Christian may trust His daily work in his life, to bring about what is good for him—even though he may not immediately be able to see how it could be. On providence, see earlier blogs.
The joy of being at peace with God—with all hostilities ended, and the knowledge that He is actively arranging life so as to bless you—is the most wonderful realization anyone may have in this life. Is it yours?
Do you have any idea what the following verses ought to mean to you?
Revelation 2:5; 2 Peter 1:5; James 1:23; Hebrews 13:21; James 6:1; 2 Timothy 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:11; John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:10; Galatians 1:6-9; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10? Each, in its own way, has something to do with your spiritual growth (or, as the theologians call it, sanctification). Do you see it? OK, you see they are connected—but now, look again, and answer this question: How? What factor is common to all? The answer is that they all emphasize that one must put forth effort in order to grow more like Christ.
Now, there is a strange teaching that is traveling in today’s biblical counseling circuits. Strange, I say, because it seems to set forth the opposite. But strange, also because it is ill-defined, and hard for those who don’t believe it to express it in words.
People are confused by it, and have begun to ask questions; this is understandable, in light of the verses above. The problem with the teaching is that it tends to confuse justification with sanctification. While properly emphasizing the cross of Christ as central to our Christian faith, it goes on in one way or another to suggest that contemplation of what Jesus did on the cross is the way to spiritual growth. One is sanctified, according to this view, by contemplating, remembering and meditating on the sacrificial death of the Savior for His people. Certainly, that is fine to do; but is it the way for a believer to grow? Will this seemingly Romish quietistic mysticism—or, at least, what borders on it help one to grow?
When you start out on a journey you are wise to have prepared for the trip. Plan the journey, store up provisions, check out your resources. The interesting fact about the Christian life, however, is that from the moment when you are saved, you are already on a journey that you haven’t been able to prepare for.
Indeed, before you began, you had no idea you would even take the trip.
So, that means you have a lot of catching up to do. What, ideally, you would have done before setting out, you must now do while already on the road. In some ways that makes it harder; in others easier. Either way, it’s the reality that you must deal with.