Monthly Archives: December 2011

Would You Release Barabbas?

As Pontius Pilate is trying to find a way to get the Jews to agree not to kill Jesus, he offers them a choice: he can either release Jesus, who has done nothing wrong, or Barabbas, who is guilty of murder and sedition (Luke 23:13-25). The Jewish leaders cry out, not for the release of the innocent Lord, but for the vicious criminal. It is with disbelief that men often shake their heads and wonder how such a decision could have been made, even with the level of hatred that the Jewish leaders had for Jesus. But ask yourself a question: would you release Barabbas?

The automatic and incredulous answer of most people would be, “Of course not!” But consider the question from another perspective. The Jews knew who Jesus was, there was no way to deny what he had done and the effect he had on the people (John 11:47-54). The problem was that Jesus stood in the way of the power of the Jewish leaders and the direction they wanted to go. Therefore, they were willing to take the evil to remove the interference.

How many Christians make decisions that do the same thing? Consider the words found in Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” This passage emphasizes that the individual that knows who our Lord is and has pledged to serve him, yet willfully decides to turn his back on Christ and accept a life of sin has metaphorically walked all over Christ again in his own life. Hebrews 6:6 describes it as crucifying the Son of God again. He has, in essence, done the same thing the Jews did and chosen the evil (Barabbas) instead of the righteous Lord.

When man is faced with a choice of direction, and willfully chooses evil, he has chosen Barabbas. This is not a mistake: something done out of ignorance, an accidental transgression. It is instead an intentional, premeditated decision to put the Lord’s influence to death in one’s life.

Unfortunately, such decisions are not as uncommon as one might think. We see Christians make them in their entertainment choices, their views on Biblical and moral topics, the priorities they allow to take precedence over the church, and so many other things. They see what God’s Word says and consciously, intentionally go the other direction.

The faithful Christian cannot “look Christ in the face” and choose Barabbas. He cannot have Christ as his Lord, see what direction God would have him go, and walk the other direction. So let me ask the question again: would you release Barabbas?

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The Effects of Murmuring and Disputing

Paul admonished the Philippian Christians in Philippians 2:14-16: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” As Christians, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in exactly those things Paul says to avoid.

The word “murmurings” comes from the Greek word goggusmos and means “murmuring, muttering, inward displeasure.” The word “disputings” comes from the word dialogismos, it means “hesitation, doubting, arguing, or disputing.” Therefore, Paul is commanding those in Philippi to do all things without muttering and arguing. But why does it matter? Consider three reasons why we must do all things as the people of God without murmuring and arguing.

When murmuring and arguing, we cannot be blameless and harmless (Vs. 15). Nobody likes to be around those who are constantly disgruntled and bickering. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the hearer and a sour expression on the face of the participant. Unfortunately, some Christians always seem to feel the need to argue or complain about something. But the willingness to carry such an attitude leaves one open to blame or ridicule. The one who is constantly muttering against someone else is not focused on what is best for that person, but only on what they think of that person and the decision being made. Such is not an attitude of loving care and concern for a brother, but disdain and bitterness. It also shows a willingness to harm others. Muttering and arguing are not conducive to helpful assistance, but are detrimental to all involved. Such actions often lead to hurt feelings, divisions, and other sinful actions on the part of the participants.

When murmuring and arguing, we cannot be without rebuke (Vs. 15). Individuals who are causing such strife and consternation among God’s people will be rebuked for it. Interestingly enough, those described as doing the rebuking by Paul are those out in the world. At times members of the church refuse to stand up to undisciplined brethren and cause them to change their ways; when that happens the rebukes will come from those outside the congregation. Statements such as, “If _________ attends there, I’ll never attend with you” often follow those guilty of muttering and arguing. People out in the world recognize their undesirable attitudes and actions, and it only serves to hurt the cause of Christ.

When murmuring and arguing, we cannot hold forth the word of life (Vs. 16). It is impossible to “be at one another’s throats” and hold out to others the standard and principles of God’s Word. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16). Those who resort to muttering and arguing are not presenting good works and have put out their light from the sight of men. It is impossible to shine a light with darkness.

It is understood that there will be times of disagreement in opinion between members of the church, for we are all human. But just because we disagree does not mean we have to become disagreeable and ungodly in our actions. In matters of doctrine we must stand for the truth, but doing so means letting God’s Word do the arguing, not our shouted rhetoric and angry voices. Let us do all things without murmuring and disputing.

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I Had No Choice

Americans in the twenty-first century live in a country averse to personal responsibility. Everything is someone or something else’s fault and the phrase “I had no choice” is one of the most common explanations for the decisions made. It needs to once again be ingrained in the minds of our families, communities, and government that mankind always has a choice. It may not always be an easy choice, and the right choice may not always be the popular one, but there are always options for every situation. Consider three Biblical examples of those who refused to say “I had no choice.”

Joseph refused to say it after the advances of Potiphar’s wife. In Genesis 39 Joseph has captivated the attention of the wife of his master. As she continues her advances toward him, there would have been many who would have thrown up their hands, said “I have no choice” and acceded to her wishes. Instead, Joseph responds in verse 9 by saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” When he runs from the house leaving his garment in her hand (Vs. 12) he seals his departure for the prison cells of Egypt. Yet Joseph recognized he had a choice between righteousness and pleasing his employer: he chose righteousness.

Daniel is another example of one who would not acquiesce to his captors when they placed before him that which was unlawful. In Daniel 1, he and his companions are presented with meat from the king that would have defiled them by being unclean (Vs. 8). Daniel could have simply said, “I have no choice” and devoured whatever was placed before him. Instead, Daniel proposes a challenge whereby he and his companions receive only vegetables and water for 10 days to see which group comes out in better condition. Daniel, of course, comes out on top, and in the process found a way to not violate the laws of God. Daniel recognized he had a choice between keeping God’s law or caving to his captors; he chose God’s law, and the captors came around to his viewpoint.

In the New Testament the apostles would have had ample opportunity to use the, “I have no choice” excuse. In Acts 5 they are brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and asked whether or not they remembered being commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus (Vs. 28)? The apostles could have, after the initial rebuke, simply said, “We have no choice” and gone on about their previous lives. Instead they answered the Sanhedrin with their own form of the statement when Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Vs. 29). The apostles had a choice: continue proclaiming the truth, or allow the government to shut them up. In response they said there was only one true option, to obey God and proclaim his will.

There is always a choice and there is always a correct answer to a dilemma. The greatest test of a Christian’s faith is not how he or she reacts when the right choice is obvious, easy, and unobstructed; but how Christians react when the right choice is difficult, hard, and not easily seen. There will be times in every Christian’s life where the desirable decision will be the wrong one, and the much harder and less physically rewarding decision will be correct. Will we have the courage to take personal responsibility for our actions, look man square in the eye and say, “I choose right” instead of, “I had no choice?” We answer that question every day by the decisions we make, the entertainment in which we partake, the rules by which we live, and the character we exhibit. May we never be found to make the excuse, “I had no choice.”

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“The Pillar and Ground of the Truth”

At about the midway point of Paul’s first letter to Timothy the apostle confirms why he has written those first three chapters to the young preacher. He writes, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). There are two questions that this particular statement brings to the forefront in Paul’s explanation: “what do those two terms mean?” And “to what do the pillar and ground refer?”

To define the two central terms in this statement one must go back to the original language. The term “pillar” comes from the Greek word stulos and it means “a column, pillar, a prop or support.” With the definition of such a word it does not take the mind long to envision the columns that were so prevalent in Greco-Roman architecture in and around the first century. The word “ground” comes from the Greek word hedraiōma and means “a stay, prop, or support.” This word, though it sounds as though it means the same thing as the first term, has a different place of emphasis. The columns were both for visible beauty, and also for outer structure support. The word translated “ground” would have more to do with the internal support structure of a building, that which was absolutely necessary for the continued structural stability of it. Thus, upon definition, there are two terms of support, one visible outwardly, one structurally necessary inwardly.

But to what do these words refer, and why? Earlier in verse 15 Paul states that the things written to Timothy were so that he might know how one is to behave in the house of God. The house is then equated to the church and the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia and means “assembly, called out, gathering.” The general principle of the church throughout Scripture is that the church of Christ is the called out body of believers who assemble to worship and serve God as he has authorized. As one reads 1 Timothy though, the emphasis of much of the book is on the internal workings of the congregation.

The contextual evidence would indicate that the statement of verse 15 is a statement concerning the central creation of God for the purpose of assisting and strengthening the saints: the congregational assembly of the saints itself. Consider the application: the assembly is the pillar. It is the beautiful outer framework that everyone can see and experience for themselves simply by stepping into the assembly of the saints. How many times have people come into the worship services of the church and stated that there was something different from what is experienced elsewhere? The assembly is the outward, visible support structure for the truth. It is that place from which the truth shines forth and attracts those whose sole desire is to serve and worship God acceptably.

The assembly is also the ground of the truth; the internal support structure that keeps the truth’s proclamation present at every gathering. The assembly is the strength for the internal structure of the church. It requires, not just the external perception of the teaching and practice of the truth, but the internal strength and integrity of that truth to function as it should and remain a sturdy structure. Many congregations crumble because they have maintained the pillars, but the internal supports are crumbling, and all that is left is a shell. The congregational assembly is truly “the pillar and ground of the truth.” But it can only be so if we keep the truth, maintain it in our assemblies, and present it with boldness and confidence.

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Can an Evil Man Change?

King Manasseh of Judah is one of the lesser known kings of the people of Israel, in spite of the fact that his 55-year reign was more than any other king in the northern or southern kingdoms. This man only has two chapters dedicated to his life in Scripture: the first is 2 Kings 21; the second is 2 Chronicles 33. But within these two chapters is the account of one of the greatest life changes in the Bible.

Manasseh became king at the age of 12 (2 Kin. 21:1). He was the son of one of the greatest kings Judah had ever seen in King Hezekiah, yet his father’s influence did not rub off on the young Manasseh. When Manasseh became king he went out of his way to destroy everything his father had accomplished. A cursory examination of 2 Kings 21 reveals that Manasseh built up the idolatrous high places that his father had destroyed as well as rearing up idols of his own (Vs. 3). He built altars to idolatrous gods and placed them in the temple of God (Vs. 4). He burned his children alive in offerings to these idolatrous gods and dealt in witchcraft (Vs. 6). He shed innocent blood in Jerusalem to the point that it filled Jerusalem from one end to the other (Vs. 16). He did more evil in his reign than the nations that were destroyed by God before the children of Israel (Vs. 9). Manasseh was an evil and vile man whose reign was marked with rebellion, idolatry, violence, perversion, and hatred.

If all we saw about Manasseh was 2 Kings 21, it would certainly be one of the most terrible and horrific accounts of the Old Testament. For truly the actions of Manasseh were ones that dropped Judah into some of her deepest, darkest times. But in 2 Chronicles 33 we read what Paul Harvey would have called, “the rest of the story.” The Lord brings the host of Assyria against Manasseh because of his wickedness (Vs. 11). Manasseh will be captured, taken prisoner, and carried to Babylon in chains. While imprisoned there, Manasseh humbled himself greatly before God asking his forgiveness and pleading for his release (Vs. 12-13). God heard his prayers and returned Manasseh once again to Jerusalem. Manasseh was now a changed man. He removed the altars and images that he had created in Israel (Vs. 15). He rebuilt the nation of Judah and fortified it (Vs. 14). He reinstated the worship of God and had offerings of peace and thanksgiving raised up before God (Vs. 16); and from all indications of Scripture he served God the rest of his life.

There are two great lessons to learn from the life of Manasseh. The first lesson is that any man can change his ways if his desire is strong enough. Manasseh was one of the greatest villains of the Old Testament. His wicked deeds and rebellious actions were rivaled by few in the inscriptions of the Bible. Yet, when he humbled himself and turned, his turning was a complete 180. He did not try to half-heartedly “do better,” but went full force in the opposite direction. Such is what is necessary for an evil man to change.

The second lesson is that, though a man may change, the consequences of his actions are still present. Though Manasseh changed his ways and served God, the damage of the wickedness of his life was already done. Many innocent lives had been lost. The people had been turned from God to idolatry. The son of Manasseh, Amon, who would reign after him, would follow in the early footsteps of his father, instead of the footsteps of his repentance. Though Manasseh changed, his legacy was already in place. We must ensure we live our lives with the understanding that every decision we make, every direction we take, has an impact on others around us. When we make wrong decisions we may be able to make them right before God, but we can’t always change the impact they’ve had on others.

Manasseh should be far better known than he is. His story is inspiring because it shows that humility and godliness can change anyone. But his story is also a warning because the path of evil leaves great destruction in its wake.

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Are You A Malnourished Christian?

We live in an age of starvation. There are millions of people in this country who go without a proper diet and even among members of the body of Christ a large percentage are malnourished and feeble. No, I am not talking about physical welfare, but spiritual fitness. We see so much emphasis on the necessity of eating right and taking care of our bodies; I would to God that we would spend a fraction of that energy emphasizing the need to eat right spiritually.

Children of God, as with physical children, are expected to grow and develop in their understanding, abilities, and general lifestyle. Unfortunately, there are still many “old babies” in the church who have never developed beyond the stage of infancy spiritually. Paul would talk about such individuals on a number of occasions. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul wrote, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” The Corinthians were not developing properly, and the entirety of 1 Corinthians is to try to get them back on the right track.

Moreover, in Hebrews 5:11-14 the statement is made to those Christians considering going back under Judaism, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” These are people who should have been able to teach others the things that they still had to be taught, they were immature Christians and it was showing in their actions.

Many of the problems found in the church today can be traced back to the spiritual immaturity of many of today’s Christians. Many are so wrapped up in physical entertainments and earthly education that they “don’t have time” for spiritual studies and endeavors. As a result we have generations of weak and feeble Christians who are still clamoring for the same milk they were receiving at the beginning.

How do you know if you fit into the category of one who is still on milk and not meat? Consider the following “You might still be on milk if’s…”

  • You might still be on milk if you aren’t sure you could explain to someone what the Bible teaches about salvation and why.
  • You might still be on milk if all you really understand about the Scriptures is “faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
  • You might still be on milk if you are unwilling to teach a Bible class because you don’t feel you know enough to teach it (Notice I didn’t say because you are uncomfortable with your teaching skills, that’s another issue).
  • You might still be on milk if you believe that the Old Testament is irrelevant to Christians today and believe that the “scheme of redemption” and the steps necessary for salvation are referencing the same thing.
  • You might still be on milk if you cringe every time the preacher starts bringing up biblical definitions from the original language to show what the intent of Scripture is.
  • You might still be on milk if the only time you are found with your Bible in front of you are in the worship service.

There are many more that could be listed, but the point is simple. It is not to berate, downcast, or insult the individual who is spiritually immature. Rather, it is to get the Christian to see his deficiencies that he might correct them and grow; because the first step to fixing a problem is identifying it. Paul put it this way, “Therefore leaving the principles (first principles, basics) of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit” (Heb. 6:1-3)

Brethren, it is high time we start expecting our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow up spiritually. Preachers, give them something to sink their teeth into. Teach them the whole council of God in the fullness and beauty of its truth.  Members, devote yourselves to spiritual betterment, both in understanding and application. Seek it out, ask for it, and it will be given you (Mat. 7:7).

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Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire

In Matthew 3:11 John makes a statement that is very interesting and often misunderstood. On that occasion John states, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Many have taken this particular statement as a verification that all Christians are going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but is that the emphasis of John? Consider some clues that will help shed light on John’s intentions with this statement.

To whom is John speaking? One of the first things that must always be considered in interpreting a statement of Scripture is discovering to whom it was said. In this instance, Matthew records that John is speaking with the Pharisees and Sadducees (Vs. 7). They have come out to where he is baptizing, but not with pure hearts of repentance. Instead, they have come out because that is where everyone else is going (Vs. 5-6). They are not before John seeking to do what is right, they simply want to see what all the fuss is about.

What is the overall message? John delivers a harsh, biting rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He begins by calling them a “generation of vipers” (Vs. 7), moves to speaking of “the axe” being laid to the “root of the trees” (Vs. 10), and concludes with the fact that Christ will “purge his floor” and “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Vs. 12). These are not complimentary and positive outlooks on these two groups or what will happen to them in the future. Why, then, do we have in the midst of this scathing rebuke a statement that would seem to be something positive and purposefully empowering?  Understanding the recipients and message of John leaves us with the feeling something doesn’t quite fit.

The meaning of “baptize.” The word is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo and it means “to immerse, to submerge, to plunge” but it also has another, more figurative, meaning “to overwhelm.” The meaning of the word carries with it the understanding of being thoroughly surrounded. When dealing with baptism of water it means a complete submersion under water. When dealing with other uses it can mean to be overwhelmed by something. Jesus will use it in such a sense in Matthew 20:22 speaking concerning the “baptism” with which he would be baptized. He is not speaking of a baptism with water, but the overwhelming nature of the death he would endure.

The use of the word “with.” John says that the Pharisees and Sadducees would be baptized “with” the Holy Spirit AND fire. The word that is translated “with” is the Greek word en and can be used to denote location or instrumentation. In this case, the emphasis is upon the instrument used to cover or overwhelm them. There will be two instruments, the Holy Spirit and fire. The fire is almost universally understood to be the fire of final judgment as verse 12 indicates.  However, verse 11 is connecting the overwhelming immersion with the Spirit and the fire. Is it possible that this “baptism” with the Holy Spirit is not a positive one? Let us put all of the evidence together and see if we can come to a conclusion.

John is speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees; two groups that, as a whole, did not follow Christ nor were obedient to the will of God under the covenant of Christ. It is unreasonable to then extrapolate that John is proclaiming that a bunch of unbelievers were going to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the apostles did in Acts 2. If that were what he was proclaiming, it did not come to pass and John was speaking as a false prophet.

However, in the midst of the fiery rebuke by the forerunner of Christ, he says that though they are not penitent men come to receive the baptism of water unto repentance, they will be baptized (immersed, overwhelmed) with something. They are going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Not the apostolic form of immersion, but rather the complete overwhelming of every facet of their lives and doctrines by the proclamations and evidences that the Spirit will bring, showing their views as false and against God. From the time of Jesus’ ministry through the time of the apostles, the Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly bombarded by the evidences of Christ and the Spirit that they are on the wrong side of the argument; yet they steadfastly refused to change position. They were baptized (overwhelmed) to the point of drowning in the evidences of the Spirit, but to no avail on their lives. Therefore, they were also going to be subsequently baptized with the fires of eternal, unquenchable destruction.

John’s statement is not an affirmation of Holy Spirit baptism on all Christians. Instead, it is a scathing rebuke and prophecy of the doom of the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their unwillingness to repent and be obedient to God. This should shed a great deal of light on John’s message, his courage, and his position as the forerunner of Christ and a prophet of God.

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