Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Milk and the Meat

I had intended to write a detailed article on one particular passage of Scripture for today, but got side-tracked in two different studies that equally fascinated and intrigued me into losing most of my morning. However, that occurrence brought to light my thought for the day that I hope you will consider.

Have you ever looked back upon your knowledge of the Scriptures in times past (or what you thought you knew about the Bible) and marveled at how you ever could have thought that way about a text? If we are learning and growing as we should that will be a common reaction. We all start, as described in Hebrews 5:13, as those who can only take in the milk of the Word: the basic concepts and principles of understanding that are the fundamentals of God’s Word. The deeper things elude us because we do not sufficiently comprehend the basics of Scripture as we should.

However, as time goes on, if we are growing as we should, we get to the point where the basics are not enough for us. We understand the basic principles, and now we can take those things and transfer our inquiries into the deeper studies of God’s Word. These studies are akin to having finished the work of opening the mouth and shaft of a mine and finally getting to mine the gold out of that mine. These deeper studies are described in Hebrews 5:14 as “strong meat” that is only able to be truly understood by those who have grasped the milk of the word and by use of it can discern between good and evil.

Once we begin seeking those depths of God’s Word an ever expanding world of understanding opens up to us. It is fascinating, engrossing, and awe-inspiring; and every discovery whets the appetite for the next.

As time goes by, it is not that beliefs change (for they have already been firmly rooted by the milk of the word: the understanding of good and evil and basic principles of truth), but the understanding of the Word of God, the context of Scripture, and the emphasis of words and passages with the Bible enlighten our understanding and broaden our horizons to the point that we look back on what we thought we knew about a word or Scripture and wonder at how we ever could have stopped at that level of understanding.

Are you growing in your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word? Do you approach it like a newborn baby desires a mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2): all the time with an ever increasing desire to learn more? We should, because when mining the truths of God’s Word there is no end; no point at which all of the gold has been removed and there is nothing left to gain; no time when we will have acquired all God has to offer us.

Let us have the attitude that fulfills God’s expectations of us: “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ (the milk of the word – abc), let us go on unto perfection (the meat of the word – abc)” (Heb. 6:1). If we do not understand the basics of truth, the deeper things will be unattainable; but if we take the time to understand the milk (as God gave it, not as man declares it), we will be able to spend the rest of our lives savoring the meat. God bless you as you work to understand the wonderful depths of his amazing Word.

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Tearing down a Rock Wall

A couple of weeks ago, I worked with my father-in-law and brother-in-law to tear down an 8-foot tall by 20-foot wide rock wall fireplace and hearth. With nothing but hands, hammers, and crowbars we worked step by step, rock by rock to remove the wall from the room in which it had been located for almost 40 years.

As we removed the rock, however, there was something about the process that has stayed in my mind. As we were seeking to loosen each rock (or boulder, as the case might have been), we were not necessarily going after one rock in particular, we were seeking to loosen the mortar around the rocks and to remove them as they came loose. Sometimes the rocks came off one at a time, sometimes they came off in groups, and sometimes we had to wait until later to remove a certain rock because it was still so securely fastened.

It strikes me that this is how Satan operates as well. As Christians, we are a rock wall, mortared together by the word of God and the relationship we have with one another as brethren. Therefore, as Satan seeks to destroy Christians, he does not necessarily pick out individual Christians, he seeks for those who have allowed the mortar holding them to the wall to weaken and crack.

It is this same style of emphasis Peter makes when he writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The lion does not go around looking for the strongest prey, but the weakest; the one who is the most easily distracted, separated from the herd, and caught.

In like manner, Satan tries to make chinks in the rock wall of Christianity by attacking the mortar holding us together. He attacks our love by using the crowbar of hate, envy, and jealousy. He attacks our unity by trying to wedge opinions, that do not affect in any way the doctrine of Christ, between brethren as matters of contention and division over which they will fight. He uses the hammer of fear to blast away at Christians who are afraid of what might happen in the world around them and are always looking over their shoulders, afraid something terrible is coming.

You see, Satan cannot defeat us if we remain together in Christ. Just as there was no way for us to remove that rock wall in one piece. Therefore, the only option left is to try to create cracks between brethren, their relationship with Christ, and their relationship with one another. If he can do so, he can isolate us from one another and remove us from the wall of Christ: sometimes one at a time, sometimes in groups or bunches.

Therefore, we must ensure that we keep ourselves bound together in the word of God: both to each other and to Christ.  Maintain the love, faith, hope, peace, and strength that is to be found in the body of Christ. Do not let Satan tear us apart with petty divisions and isolations, because he is only seeking a rock to remove from the wall. Stand strong, be watchful, and rejoice in the strength of the Lord.

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“Know ye not?”

The phrase, “Know ye not” is used 14 times in the KJV of the New Testament. While there are 3 different phrases that are translated with these three words, all three phrases mean basically the same thing: “Do you not understand” or, “Do you not see?” In each of these passages, the phrase is used to introduce a question about the topic at hand; but it is also used with a level of incredulity showing that these are things the audience should have already understood, but for some reason did not.

Consider each of these instances; do we understand the principles being addressed and the context in which they are given? If not, maybe we need to spend a little more time in the contexts of these statements until we do; because each of these (with the exception of the first, which was said to the disciples during Jesus’ ministry) is written to Christians who are already serving God and should comprehend these principles.

Mark 4:13 (in the context of the parable of the soils) – Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Romans 6:3 – Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:16 – Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Romans 7:1 – Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

1 Corinthians 5:6 – Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

1 Corinthians 6:3 – Know ye not that we shall judge angels?

1 Corinthians 6:9 – Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?

1 Corinthians 6:15 – Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?

1 Corinthians 6:16 – What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body?

1 Corinthians 6:19 – What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

1 Corinthians 9:24 – Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?

2 Corinthians 13:5 – Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

James 4:4 – Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?

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The Christian’s Contract

It has often been said that the greatest contract into which one will enter is the contract of marriage. Those words that we so often hear stated at weddings are powerful, yet so often forgotten or left by the wayside in people’s lives. When you think about the vows often given at weddings, intended to seal that contract, they often go something akin to this: “I pledge my love and life, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, ’til death do us part.”

However, I would submit to you that the marriage contract is the second greatest contract into which one will enter. The first is the Christian’s contract between self and God. When someone becomes a Christian by obedience to the Gospel, he or she has become contractually obligated to the service of God. Paul exemplified this mentality when he wrote: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). When I obey the commands of God, enter that watery grave of baptism, and rise as a new creation in Christ (Rom. 6:3-6): I have made a contract with God that I will remain with him and serve him for the rest of my life.

When considering the Christian’s contract with the Lord it is interesting to note that the church is referenced as the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2; Eph. 5:25). It is the pure bride that will be presented before the Father on that final day of judgment (1 Cor. 15:24). Therefore, it is quite interesting to consider the ways in which the vows that we commonly apply to marriage equally apply to our relationship with Christ. Please take a few moments and meditate upon each of the aforementioned statements individually.

“I pledge my love and life” – Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). In addition, our Lord said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat. 22:37). When we become Christians, we pledge to God our love for him and our willingness to present our lives as living sacrifices of service.

“For better or worse” – One has only to read the book of Acts to see the myriad ways this part comes into play in the life of the Christian. The fair weather Christian will never last in the service of God. Paul explained why when he wrote to Timothy from a Roman prison: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). He would also write during his first imprisonment, “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phi. 4:11).

“In sickness and in health” – One example of such dedication to God is seen in Epaphroditus, when Paul wrote of him: “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phi. 2:25-27).

“For richer or poorer” – God never promises riches to his people in this life; in fact, he tells us not to be focused upon physical riches on Earth (Mat. 6:19-21). One of the greatest examples of this factor is found in the “Hall of Faith” about those not mentioned by name: “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:37-38). While some have prospered greatly in the service of God, many have lost everything seeking him. We must be equally faithful to him on whichever side of the coin we find ourselves.

“‘Til death do us part” – This is the only part that needs to be adapted somewhat. Instead of the normal statement, we should amend that to, “‘Til death bring us together.” The promise of Christ to the church at Smyrna comes to the forefront when he said: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Death is not something the Christian dreads, but anticipates with the knowledge that the end of this life means, “there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). To which only needs to be added his words to the Thessalonians when he writes: “And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 The. 4:17).

When we become Christians, we create a contract between us and God to love him and give him our all for the rest of our lives. Do we understand that commitment? Do we take it as seriously as we should our marriage vows? We must, and it is no wonder that God equates our breach of contract in his service with adultery (Jam. 4:4); because, spiritually, that is exactly what it is.

Therefore, let us always keep the terms of our contract before us, understanding the obligation to “pledge my love and life, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, ’til death bring us together.”

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Lessons on Hearing the Words of God

The eighth chapter of Nehemiah is one that fascinates me for a number of different reasons. The Israelites have returned from captivity and they, under the leadership of Nehemiah, have completed the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem and have settled back into some sense of normal life.

However, there is one thing that many of them have never heard or seen: the reading of the Law God gave to Moses for Israel. Therefore, this chapter details what occurred with the reading of the law and the people’s reactions to what they heard. I am also convinced that the contents of this chapter illustrate one of the greatest examples of how men who truly desire to serve God react to the hearing of his word.

Consider what is said about these Israelites of Nehemiah’s day:
– They came together as one man (Vs. 1). They did not come together because they were commanded to do so, nor did they do so as individuals with their own agendas and ideas; they came as the people of God asking for his Law to be read to them.
– Their ears were attentive to the book of the law (Vs. 3). They were not attentive to what they thought the law said, what they had always heard about the law, or what they thought the law should say; their concern was with what the law actually said.
– When Ezra opened the book of the law, the people stood up (Vs. 5). Though there are numerous ideas about why they did this, the principle seems to be that it was a sign of respect and formal desire to hear what was being said.
– They worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground (Vs. 6). They did not stand haughtily before God, but showed him honor and respect by bowing themselves to the ground before him in worship.
– They listened to, not just the words of the law, but the explanations of what the law meant (Vs. 7-8). The priests and Levites did not simply give them the law and leave it for them to figure out for themselves. It was presented with explanations so that all could understand what was commanded by God.
– They rejoiced, though they wanted to weep, because they understood the words of God (Vs. 10-12). When they heard the law, they recognized their grievous shortcomings in keeping the law and many wanted to weep in shame. Instead, Nehemiah encouraged them to rejoice that they now understood what God wanted them to do.
– They took the necessary steps to keep the law (Vs. 13-18). In the reading of the law, the priests, Levites, and chief fathers realized the command for the keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles (feast of booths) in Leviticus 23:34ff. Instead of ignoring it, they took the necessary steps to keep the feast as commanded (something that had not been done since the days of Joshua).

We need to learn the lessons from the Israelites of Nehemiah’s day. We need to be those who come together as one for the express purpose of hearing the law of God. We need to listen with our ears open and our mouth closed, more concerned with what God has said than what man’s opinions might be. We need to show the proper honor and respect for God when hearing his word; it is not a side show or an event of marginal importance: it contains the most important words we will ever hear. We need to be sure we understand what the law actually says, not what we want it to say; and though there will be times we want to weep because of what we did not know or understand, we should instead rejoice that we now understand what God wants us to do and how it can be accomplished. Finally, we must be willing to implement the expectations of God. It does no good to know the law if man is not willing to accomplish it.

I believe it appropriate to close with the words of Paul to Timothy: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16).

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“You Haven’t Done Anything Someone Else Hasn’t Done Before”

When I was about 12 years old I was spending the summer with my grandparents in Arkansas. One morning my grandfather had taken us to the house of an older member of the family to help cut the grass and clean up the yard. The job for my brothers and I was to use the two push-mowers while my grandfather used his electric weed eater with the 75-foot extension cord.

While mowing the yard, I inadvertently ran over the extension cord, not seeing it through the thick grass. My grandfather, who was on the other side of the house at the time, came looking to see why his weed eater had stopped. We looked at the problem for a moment, with me almost in tears apologizing, and found that it was a simple fix and the cord would continue to work with a little patching. As he wound the cord with electrical tape and I was apologizing for the umpteenth time, he finally looked at me and said, “Look at this.” He showed me a place about 20 feet down the line that was covered in the same style of electrical tape he was currently using. “This is where I ran over the cord with the mower a while back,” he explained. Then he quietly said, “You haven’t done anything someone else hasn’t done before.”

That little statement, and the way he responded, has always stuck with me. When we make mistakes or are dealing with problems in life, we like to think our situations are unique, when in reality: “You haven’t done anything someone else hasn’t done before.”

We need to be equally mindful of this when dealing with sin and salvation. When God says he will save us, no matter the sins, as long as we come in repentance and obedience, people often say: “You don’t know what I’ve done.” That may be true, but I guarantee you it’s nothing others have not done before. Look through the Scriptures and see the things that the people of God did, and God was still willing to forgive them: lying, cheating, stealing, killing, adultery, fornication, idolatry, and on the list goes.

I am reminded of the Lord’s words to Sarah when he told her she would have a son: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” We all make mistakes, we all sin and come short of the glory of God, but we haven’t done anything that hasn’t been done before.

Therefore, let us come before God with humility. Let us look to our fellow men, not with indignant looks and hurtful words, but with understanding hearts and helpful minds as we genuinely show others through God’s Word: “You haven’t done anything someone else hasn’t done before.”

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How should Christians view the Old Testament?

When one begins to consider the Old Testament and its place among New Testament Christians, the study can lead to some depths not often considered. Many people, stating they believe the Bible, want to hold to portions of the Old Testament as still valid today, yet they recognize that there are certain aspects that cannot be applicable to us in this day and time. So how should we, in the days of New Testament Christianity, view and approach the Old Testament?

Such a question is not easily satisfied in a simple one word or one phrase answer. There are a number of aspects to this question that must be considered before a complete picture can be drawn. Therefore, please consider briefly each of these aspects as we seek to come to a satisfactory answer.

At the outset of such a discussion as this, the first area that must be understood is the purpose and scope of the Old Testament: for what, and to whom, was it given? Most people believe that, since it is in the Bible, the Old Testament was designed and intended to be followed by all men. However, this is not the case. Consider the words of the Lord to Israel when they came to Mount Sinai: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exo. 19:5-6).

God tells the children of Israel that if they will keep the covenant he is about to give them (the Old Testament) they will be a separated treasure from the rest of the world, a holy (from the Hebrew word meaning “to be set apart”) nation. The Old Testament was not given to, nor was it intended for, all men everywhere. It was intended specifically for one nation, the Israelites. Paul would affirm the truth of this when he wrote, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law (the Old Law), do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” (Rom. 2:14). Paul affirms that the Gentiles (non-Jews) did not have the Old Law binding upon them, but had a law for themselves. It was not a made-up law of whatever they desired; it was the same law that had applied to all men from the time of Adam to Moses: the laws of patriarchy, which were unwritten, but handed down through the families from generation to generation (Rom. 4:15; 5:13-14). Therefore, we must understand that the Old Law was designed for, and given to, the Jews only. It is also of interest to note that God never once commanded or encouraged the children of Israel to go and convert the rest of the world to Old Testament principles and teaching: because the law was never designed for those outside of Israel.

So, what was the purpose of the Law? If it was not for all men everywhere, why was it given? Its basic purpose was to protect and guide the people through whom God would send the Savior of all men. God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation and to bless the whole world through his descendants (Gen. 12:2-3). That nation would be Israel, and that descendant would be Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament, everything looks forward to one event, the coming of the Christ. The over 300 prophecies pertaining to the coming Christ, the prophecies concerning the coming kingdom (the church), and the prophecies concerning how God would deal with, and protect, his people; all of these look forward to, and keep our eyes focused on, the coming of Christ. In fact, there is not a single Old Testament prophecy that extends beyond the first century. The Old Law was not intended to last forever, nor were the Jews intended to be God’s chosen people for all time: but the law was intended to bring men to a knowledge and understanding of the coming Christ and to foreshadow the things that would be established in the church. This point is duly emphasized by Paul when he wrote to the Galatians: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).

Seeing, then, that the Old Law was given to the Jews only, and that it was intended to bring us to knowledge and recognition of the Christ: what happened to the Law when Christ came? Jesus was clear about his intentions pertaining to the law when he said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:17-18). The Old Law could not be removed until its purpose was completed, fulfilled. Therefore, Jesus came to fulfill the intents and prophecies of the Old Law; to completely finish the purpose for which it was given so that a new law could be put in its place.

This removal of the Old Law was accomplished with Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension. By his actions he fulfilled the Old Law and established a New Covenant. This is affirmed in a number of passages of Scripture; consider a couple of them. We have already looked at Galatians 3:24, now consider the next verse where Paul writes: “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” When the New Covenant was put in place, the Old Covenant was no longer valid or in use. This is further affirmed in the book of Hebrews when it is written: “Then said he, Lo I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:9-10). Jesus fulfilled the Old Law through his life and death, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14). He did not destroy the law, but he completed and fulfilled its intended purposes, thereby removing it in the same way any contract today is removed once the terms of the contract are completed.

So what does that mean for the Christian today, how should we look at the Old Law? It is certain that the law is no longer in effect today, otherwise Jesus did not do what he came to do and all of our efforts are in vain. It is also equally true that we cannot pick and choose aspects of the law we like and want to keep, because the Scriptures are clear that if we try to bind certain aspects of a law, we must bind the whole law. Paul wrote, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). If we are going to keep one aspect of the law, we must keep all of it. This is impossible with the Old Law, for whether with the priesthood, the sacrifices, or the ordinances, no man can keep the entirety of the Old Law today.

Therefore, we must understand that no aspect of the Old Testament is binding as law for us today. This is greatly emphasized in the New Testament through the letters of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews: all of which have, as their primary intent, the purpose of showing the greatness of the New Law over the Old and how the Old Law has been put away and all men are equal under Christ. The only aspects of the Old Law that are binding on men today are the ones that are stated again in the New Covenant (which would include 9 of the 10 commandments, moral laws and principles, etc.)

However, that does not mean that the principles and teachings of the Old Law are false and should be disregarded. Paul also wrote, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime (the Old Testament) were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Through the Old Law we see the plans of God coming to fruition, the nature of God being revealed, the steps God took to ensure that all men had the opportunity to receive salvation, and the ways in which God shows from the beginning the plans that he has for mankind through Christ and the church.

The Old Testament is of immense value, and the Christian who is unwilling to study it has handcuffed his knowledge and understanding of many aspects of God and the New Testament; but the Old Testament is not a binding law for the obedience of any man today. It had its time, and it had its purpose, but both were fulfilled with the coming of Christ and his kingdom. If any of the Old Testament contract was not completed by Christ: he was a failure and a fraud, and is thereby unworthy of our service and obedience. Since that is not the case, let us be mindful to keep the Old Testament in its place, learn from it, and serve our Lord acceptably by keeping the law he has given and not trying to muddy it by applying a law that has long since passed.

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