Tag Archives: Paul

Paul, the Apostle

Besides Peter, the most prominent leader in the early church was Paul, a man from the Greek city of Tarsus. His conversion is a cornerstone in Acts, where Luke describes the event three times (Acts 9.1-9; 22.3-21; 26.1-23). Through his vision on the Damascus road, Paul became a witness of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.3-11) and an apostle with a special commission to proclaim the gospel among the Gentiles (Galatians 2.7-8). From both Acts and Paul’s letters, we can develop his life and teachings.

Peter describes Paul as a “dear brother” who wrote many letters but whose message was distorted by some within the churches (2 Peter 3.15-16). Echoes of his teaching can be heard in other New Testament letters, such as 1 Peter and Hebrews, and the leaders of the postapostolic church recount many of the traditions surrounding his life, including his martyrdom in Rome under Nero.

Paul’s influence on theology has been enormous. He offers the clearest and most detailed exposition of the Christian faith. Although he worked hard and suffered severely for the gospel, he refused to seek honor for himself since he knew that his efforts were divinely empowered: “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1.29).

Zeal for God

The zeal Paul demonstrated in persecuting the church is not simply religious fanaticism. Paul saw his devotion for God and His law as a part of a noble history in Israel, which lauded those who showed outstanding courage to defend and avenge what was holy.

For example, Scripture remembered Phinehas’s zeal, which led him to violence against an Israelite man and a Midianite woman indulging in sexual sin and the worship of Baal (Numbers 25.1-15). Later, 1 Maccabees 2.54 recalled that event, “Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood.” According to Sirach 45.23, “Phinehas son of Eleazar ranks third in glory for being zealous in the fear of the Lord.”

Paul understood his persecution of the church as a part of that tradition. His righteous zeal was the source of his greatest sin (1 Timothy 1.12-14). Yet precisely at this point Paul realized he became the recipient of God’s grace: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

 – The New Testament in Antiquity, pp. 250-51

 

 

Criticism: Nobody Likes It

Know what? It’s really easy to be critical. Why that’s so is a mystery to me. It seems like people would enjoy talking about good stuff, concentrating on nice things, searching for the good things to talk about – but they don’t! If something new comes along, or something different, or someone says a word out of place, some people just can’t wait to have at it. They can’t seem to wait to be offended or to become angry.

Even Jesus, who was the finest man who ever lived, sinless before God, and caring and compassionate toward others even to the point of laying His life down for them, suffered from the vicious tongues of His critics:

  • He was called a glutton and a winebibber (a drunk);
  • He was accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons;
  • He was called a sinner and Beelzebub (the prince of the devils);
  • He was accused of being demon possessed Himself;
  • He was called the worst thing imaginable – a “Samaritan”;
  • He was charged of profaning the Sabbath;
  • He was accused of being a deceiver and a blasphemer.

Nothing appears to be safe from criticism’s damning influence. Those who attacked the Lord were those rejecting Him and bent on destroying Him. A short while later, after the church had been established, critics popped up there, too, spreading their venom throughout the newly planted churches. One of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians was to answer the criticism being leveled against him by some in the Corinthian church:

  • They accused him of being a coward, strong with written words when he was gone but backing down and using weak words when he was with them;
  • They said he was not eloquent – a lousy preacher;
  • They called him a schemer and accused him of being stingy;
  • They said he was unstable, always changing his plans;
  • They claimed he was not a real apostle like Peter or John.

Isn’t it sad (it’s sad when anyone does it) when Christians fall into the ugly habit of criticizing. Let’s don’t let that happen here – instead let’s make Ephesians 4.29 our constant companion: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Psychologists tell us when our own self-esteem is low, we tend to blame others for our problems. On the other hand, when one is secure in Christ, there is less criticism of others. Our criticism is frequently a projection of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves; hence, the one criticizing is often saying more about himself than the other person.

Here’s a short list to help us beat the criticism habit:

  1. Don’t expect perfection out of people. We all make mistakes. (It’s just that mine aren’t as bad as yours.) No one is perfect! We need to learn and practice a little patience and forbearance. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…” (Colossians 3.12-13).
  2. Don’t use a double standard like – my little vices, inconsistencies, and mistakes are okay – but yours aren’t so little, you need to shape up. Jesus cautioned us: “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3).
  3. Extra care should be directed toward those whom we know the best and love the most. It’s unthinkable for a husband to be considerate of those he works with but harsh and impatient with his wife. And it’s certainly not right for a wife to be the nicest lady in the neighborhood and a nag at home. Again, the Lord teaches: “And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way” (Luke 6.31).

Someone said, “Only God can form and paint a flower – but any child can pull it to pieces.” That’s the ugly work of thoughtless criticism – let’s just don’t do it!

–Bill

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13.35

 

 

Baptism in the New Testament

There continues to be great controversy and debate over the role of baptism in a person’s conversion and salvation. The problem is not with what the New Testament says about baptism; rather it’s how denominational creeds, confessions, and traditions have tried to change or otherwise disregard what the New Testament says.

The verb baptizō appears 77 times in the New Testament, its noun cognitive, baptisma, another 19 times. Both Bauer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) and Mounce (Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament) define the word as “to dip, immerse; to cleanse or purify by washing.”

I don’t have space in this bulletin article to examine all 96 occurrences of the word. Since the term itself is simple and not easily misunderstood, a few references will suffice.

Jesus’ Instruction

In Matthew 28.19 and Mark 16.16 Jesus instructed His apostles to baptize everyone who believed the gospel in order that they might be “saved.” According to Jesus, baptism is for salvation.

Peter’s Sermon

On the first Day of Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the gospel, the message of salvation in His name, was preached for the first time in Jerusalem. On that occasion Peter’s powerful sermon convinced the crowd (all devout Jews celebrating the Day of Pentecost) that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2.36-37).

When the people in the crowd cried out “What shall we do?” Peter did not say, “Accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior and say the sinner’s prayer – ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.’”

No, that’s not at all what he said! He said, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” According to Peter, preaching by guidance of the Holy Spirit, baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.

Saul’s Conversion

When Saul of Tarsus went to Damascus on the authority of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, to arrest Christians and return them to Jerusalem in chains to stand trial for heresy, he had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26). As a result of that encounter he was temporarily blinded and had to be led into Damascus. Blind, for three days and nights he prayed and fasted. Finally a disciple named Ananias came to him, undoubtedly one of the people he had come to arrest. Here’s what he said,

“’Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name’” (Acts 22.13-16).

Because of his encounter with Jesus, Saul became a penitent believer, but until he was baptized he was still in his sins. According to the Holy Spirit through His spokesman Ananias, baptism is required to wash away sin.

Here’s a brief summary of what the New Testament says baptism does:

  1. It obeys a command of Christ (Matthew 28.19; Mark 16.16).
  2. It obeys a command of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.38).
  3. It is for the remission of sins (Acts 2.38).
  4. It is how a person receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.38).
  5. It washes away sins (Acts 22.16).
  6. It puts a person in contact with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6.3-4).
  7. It clothes a person in Christ (Galatians 3.27).
  8. It is for salvation (Mark 16.16; 1 Peter 3.21).

Unfortunately, neither the Institutes of the Christian Faith, the Augsburg Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession, nor a host of other denominational traditions endorse what the New Testament has to say about baptism.

The words of Jesus in Mark 7.9 ought to be troubling to a lot of people: You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

– Bill

 

 

Servants of God in Every Way

IN EVERY WAY we show ourselves to be servants of God:

in great endurance;
in troubles, hardships and distresses;
in beatings, imprisonments, and riots;
in hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger;
in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness;
in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;
in truthful speech and in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;
through glory and dishonor, praise, and blame;
genuine, yet regarded as imposters;
known, yet regarded as unknown;
dying, yet we live on;
beaten, and yet not killed;
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
poor, yet making many rich;
having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6.4-10

 

Unity Is More Important Than Being “Right”

Reflections on Romans 14 & 15

“Therefore let us not judge one another any more, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Romans 14.13).

Not a Kingdom Requirement

It’s astounding that Paul said, “The kingdom of God does not consist of eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17). The notion that eating and drinking, referring to the Jewish food laws, is not a kingdom requirement dramatically breaks with those who considered Leviticus the commandment of the Lord for the church. Paul is declaring a sea change in the way the Old Testament Scriptures are understood in the church.

Yet…

Paul counsels abstention from those foods prohibited under the law not as a matter of keeping the law but as an act of freedom on behalf of the unity of God’s people. Paul considers the embodied unity of the people of God as the primary sign of the kingdom coming in Jesus. Our freedom must serve the unity that Christ gives.

The church is the sign to the principalities and the powers of the multidimensional wisdom of God revealed in the Messiah (Ephesians 3.10). Division over “eating and drinking” would destroy the church’s witness to the eternal purposes of God.

At the close of this part of Romans (15.5-13), Paul casts a vision so big and so foundational that agreement on food laws pale in significance. Our small, divided, sectarian minds have trouble imagining such.

At the close of this part of Romans (15.5-13), Paul casts a vision so big and so foundational that agreement on food laws pale in significance. Our small, divided, sectarian minds have trouble imagining such.

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written…” (Romans 15.50-9).

 And the Gentiles Will Praise God with the Jews

Paul then quotes several Old Testament passages that anticipate the Gentiles praising God in community with the Jews. “Therefore I will praise Thee among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to Thy name” (2 Samuel 22.50; Psalm 18.49). Again it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people” (Deuteronomy 32.43). And again, “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him all you peoples” (Psalm 117.1). Isaiah said, “The root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him” (Isaiah 11.10).

Jews and Gentiles together in Christ, justified by grace through faith and alive in the Spirit, are witness to the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through Israel’s seed the nations would be blessed. Paul then offers additional Old Testament texts that anticipate the Gentiles praising the Lord in the new community of believers. Therefore, division over the food laws dishonors the promise of the Lord to Abraham and the prophetic visions of the prophets.

For Paul, division over the food laws obscures and even hides the significance of the reconciling work of God in Christ for the whole world. Unity together preserves the church’s witness to Christ’s work and embodies the blessing of Abraham in the world!

(Jim Reynolds, Sermon Seminar Notes)

 

“Christ in You, the Hope of Glory”

The Colossian church had its roots in the preaching of Paul. Though it does not appear he ever visited the city personally, the gospel message was proclaimed throughout the Colossian area largely through his efforts. Acts chapter nineteen informs us Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years preaching and training others to preach so that the text concludes: “…all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19.10).

Sometime later Paul wrote to this mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile Christians stating it was to them “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1.27).

Mystery No Longer

The mystery, hidden throughout the ages, was a mystery no longer—God had sent His only Son into the world to redeem all men. Even Gentiles were “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3.3-6). To the Jews such was unacceptable. They believed God was their God exclusively. They could not share Him fully with unclean, non-covenant Gentiles. However, through the ministry of Paul, the equality of all men in Christ became apparent. The Jews never forgave Paul for his opposition to their position of privilege. They followed him throughout his ministry trying to undermine his teaching. They were intent on forcing Gentile Christians back under the bondage of the law. Paul would have none of it. All men, Jew and Gentile, were free in Christ and joint heirs of God. To the Colossian brethren he wrote of this mystery in both a beautiful and practical way—“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

First, it speaks of a personal and real relationship with Christ. What can be more real than being the temple of the living God, of an indwelling Christ that governs your life and guides your way? This is the mystery of the rebirth Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3.3-6). It’s the wonder of salvation Peter preached on Pentecost (Acts 2.14-40). It’s the marvel of a new life lived in Christ (Romans 6.3-8). It’s the assurance of the Holy Spirit  given by God to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).

Second, it is “the hope of glory.” Who would like to state the fullness in human terms? Even God through inspired writers couldn’t. He painted some word pictures of the glory of eternal promise, but because of our human limitations He Himself was limited. We who are physical cannot fully comprehend the spiritual. Yet in Christ and the cross the mystery is revealed to us. To those who are perishing, it remains a mystery, but to those who have been awakened to eternal life it is no longer a mystery (1 Corinthians 2.1-16).

The saints in Colosse likewise shared in the mind of Christ. As they came into contact with the message of salvation and as they entered into a relationship with God through Christ they were enlightened. They who had no hope, received hope. They who were not His people became His people. The mystery hidden for so long ceased to be a mystery. It had become revealed truth and as such brought light to all those in darkness.

“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Colossians 3.1-4).

– Bill

 

Seeing the Unseen

“…while we look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen:
for the things which are seen are temporal;
but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4.18)

What a riddle! What nonsense! How in the world are we supposed to look at things we can’t see and value them higher than the things we can see?

The common view in our secular world is that the only things that are real are the things that can be observed or experienced by our empirical senses; that is, through touch, taste, sound, sight, or smell.

Jesus – Living by the Unseen

Nothing is clearer from a reading of the Gospels than that to Jesus the unseen realm of life was just as real as that which was openly visible – and not only that, but that the unseen was of much greater significance.

He lived by the unseen Father: “No man hath seen God at any time…” He could do nothing of Himself save that which the Father did: “The Father who dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.”

His purpose was to “open the eyes of them that see not,” of bringing a new birth to men, the reality of which should be proved by their subsequent seeing the Kingdom of God, of purifying their hearts that they should see God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

It’s evident from Paul’s reference to the unseen that the early Christians captured Jesus’ concept of life in the realm above. Contemporary society has largely rejected that idea in favor of a secular humanistic world view that states “we and we alone, are the masters of our fate.”

The Grand Contradiction

There’s a grand contradiction in the unseen world around us. The lowest level of all physical material, beyond dispute, is composed of things unseen. A country walk, a stroll along a beach, an evening spent gazing in wonder at the starry host above – the universe and all it contains is literally built upon the unseen. Elementary science functions in terms of atoms of complex structure, electrons, protons, and neutrons which no one has ever seen – yet no one challenges their existence. We know they’re there because the laws of physics require them.

Pomp, prestige, power, and wealth – are these the real stuff of life? What about the unseen qualities of love, honesty, integrity, devotion, loyalty, conscience, friendship, unselfishness, or their dark opposites – hatred, greed, and jealousy? None of these are seen, but they exist as surely as anything that’s tangible. In fact, they are the true governors of the physical things we have. Jesus put it this way, “Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?” In other words, the intrinsic virtues, the “unseen things,” rather than tangible stuff, is what makes life rich and rewarding.

The Unseen Spirit

Then there’s the indomitable human spirit – you can’t see that, either! We have the capacity to transform disaster and tragedy into success and triumph. The song of the Blind Ploughman tells of how “God took my eyes away that I might see.” When Fanny Crosby was an infant she was blinded because of a doctor’s error. Eighty-three years later she wrote, “I wish I could meet that physician. I would say ‘Thank you’ over and over again for making me blind’ – I know that sounds strange to you, but I assure you, I mean every word of it.” Deprived of her empirical sense of sight she developed an intangible capacity to “see” what she couldn’t see. Her life of “blind” faith continues to teach and encourage us through the inspiring hymns she composed during her lifetime of “seeing the unseen.”

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

— Bill

 

 

Church Terminology

I am a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church. I express my relationship to God in those terms much more frequently than I say, “I am a member of the church of Christ.” I never say, “I’m Church of Christ.” Some maintain using terminology like “Christian” and “Lord’s church” to describe ourselves as narrow and sectarian.

If by “the Lord’s church” or “church of Christ,” we mean only those currently worshiping in a building with “Church of Christ” on its sign, the terms are too narrow. However, if those using them include people not “born of water and Spirit” (John 3.5), who have not been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk a new life (Romans 6.3-4), they are too broad.

Biblically, the church is the saved. On the Day of Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the people who believed what Peter preached and obeyed what he told them to do were saved and “added to them.” When the antecedent of “them” is traced forward and backward, the Bible is saying they were “added to the church.” The same Lord does the saving and the adding; so no one is added to the church who is not saved and no one is saved who is not added.

So What Should We Say?

So in a conversation, when one says “I’m a Baptist” and another says “I’m a Presbyterian,” what should we say? If we say, “I’m Church of Christ” as many do, or even “I’m a member of the Church of Christ,” they will understand “Church of Christ” to be a denomination just like “Baptist” or “Presbyterian.” But if we respond, “I’m a Christian,” we open up an immediate opportunity for a Bible study.

When trying to speak as the Bible speaks, which we ought to do, what should we call those who consider themselves Christians but fall short of Scripture’s definition? “Christian” is used broadly for any not a Muslim, Jew, or atheist. Most problematically, as we consider what to call them, there are many dedicated people who strongly believe the Bible to be God’s word, but who also strongly believe in salvation “by faith alone.”

I cringe when a brother or sister blithely uses “Christian” for the whole spectrum of un-immersed people who consider themselves Christian. On the other hand, I do not want to insult them and close off any opportunity to teach them. Those who believe the Bible is the word of God but preach salvation by “faith alone” (the Bible says salvation is “not by faith alone,” James 2.24) call themselves “Evangelicals.” That is a good term.

King Agrippa asked Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” He obviously knew what Paul wanted him to do. He declined. A penitent, fasting believer, Saul, now Paul, did not decline when a divinely sent messenger told him, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16). Those who decline are not Christians by New Testament definition. It is better if we do not call them Christians.

Nondenominational

Surveys indicate people today do not have “brand loyalty” as most used to have. That affects both their church affiliation as well as their grocery buying. More and more “nondenominational” churches are springing up. Many of them are pre-millennial and almost all of them use instrumental music in their assemblies and preach salvation by “faith alone.” They are correct, however, in their desire to be nondenominational  That is a point of contact we could take advantage of, if we could learn not to speak and think so denominationally ourselves.

There is no one proper name for Christ’s church. “Church of Christ” is an apt descriptive phrase, not a denominational name. While we recognize that and occasionally say so, many seem to forget it when someone uses a different biblical designation.

If a group uses women as speakers in their assemblies, adds instrumental music to their worship, and un-immersed believers to their church rolls, they are rightly to be challenged. But if a congregation simply designates itself “the church at 7th and Vine (compare “the church of the Thessalonians,” 1 Thessalonians 1.1), there is no biblical basis for disparaging that.

Some writers argue that “Church of Christ” is the only appropriate designation. It is appropriate, but so is “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1.2), “church of the firstborn ones” (Hebrews 12.23), “churches of Galatia” (or any other geographical location, 1 Corinthians 16.1), or any other designation used by the apostles. The phrase “churches of Christ” (Romans 16.16) denotes a relationship – “churches which belong to Christ” – not a name of a religious organization.

Cecil May, Jr., Faulkner University

 

Pursuing Spiritual Excellence

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.      1 Corinthians 9.24-27

Called to Be Disciples

Jesus has called us to be His disciples. He demands dedication of us, and He promises a great destiny for us. People will make sacrifices to achieve or acquire that which they really want – it’s a matter of priority.

As Christians, our greatest priority should be the pursuit of spiritual excellence. Paul compared it to running a race. But this race is different. It’s not competitive. We are not out to beat each other. We are not competing against each other. Rather, we are all running and at the same time encouraging and assisting each other to continue and win. Winning is not victory over each other, but instead is the defeat of a common enemy – the devil.

Run in such a way that you may win. Running requires effort, training, and development. The Lord means for us to work – to put forth some effort. He never promised this calling would be easy. He has promised it will be worth the effort. We must run as best we can while using each opportunity to further develop and strengthen our faith. It is only through such participation, such earnest pursuit of spiritual excellence, that God is able to use us in His kingdom.

The Privilege of Reward

Jesus promised His faithful disciples a crown that lasts forever. Peter reminds us that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (that we might) obtain an inheritance imperishable and undefiled and that will not fade away” (1 Peter. 1.3-4).

As Paul neared the end of his life, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4.7-8).

Compared to eternity, our time here pales into insignificance, yet it is so very important, because how we use the life God has granted to us here will determine the nature of our life in eternity.

The Possibility of Defeat

Paul realized that even after he had taught others, the possibility existed that he himself, through some sort of sinful negligence, might be disqualified, “become castaway.” We cannot think of a greater tragedy, so let that possibility be a constant part of our motivation. Pray God will powerfully use us in His service, but never let us take for granted the need for steadfast, conscientious, and unswerving fidelity to Christ and His church.

Let us make the pursuit of spiritual excellence the core of our fellowship and work together here in Holyoke and Imperial. Pray for God to draw us closer to Him and to each other through our worship and fellowship and study together.

What It Means to Follow

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”           Luke 9.57-62

– Bill

 

Dealing with Criticism

There seem to be few things in life that come easier than criticism. Why that’s so is a mystery. It seems people would enjoy talking about the good, emphasizing the good, searching for the good things to talk about – but they don’t! If something new, different, or unusual comes along, they can’t wait to get at it and tear it apart to find out what’s wrong with it.

Jesus a Target of Criticism

Even Jesus, who was the finest man who ever lived, sinless before God, and caring and compassionate toward others to the point of giving His life for them, suffered from the vicious tongues of His critics:

  • He was called a glutton and a winebibber (a drunk);
  • He was accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons;
  • He was called a sinner and Beelzebub (the prince of the devils);
  • He was accused of being demon-possessed Himself;
  • He was called the worst thing imaginable – a “Samaritan”;
  • He was charged of profaning the Sabbath;
  • He was accused of being a deceiver and a blasphemer.

Nothing is safe from criticism’s damning influence. Those who attacked the Lord were those rejecting Him and bent on destroying Him.

Paul a Target of Criticism

A short while later, after the church had been established, critics popped up there, too, spreading their venom throughout the newly planted churches. One of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians was to answer the criticisms being leveled against him by some in the Corinthian church:

  • They accused him of being a coward, strong with written words when he was gone but backing down and using weak words when he was with them;
  • They said he was not eloquent – a lousy preacher;
  • They called him a schemer and accused him of being stingy;
  • They said he was unstable, always changing his plans;
  • They claimed he was not a real apostle like Peter or John.

Isn’t it sad when Christians (or anyone) fall into the ugly habit of criticizing? Let’s not let that not happen here – instead, let’s make Ephesians 4.29 our constant companion: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Psychologists tell us when our own self-esteem is low; we tend to blame others for our problems. On the other hand, when we are secure in Christ, we are less critical of others. Our criticism is frequently a projection of our dissatisfaction with ourselves; the one criticizing is often saying more about himself than the other person.

Three short steps to help beat the criticism habit

  1. Do not expect people to be perfect. Elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, preachers, song leaders, mommas and daddies all make mistakes. No one is perfect! We need to learn and practice a little patience and forbearance. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…” (Colossians 3.12-13).
  2. Do not develop a double standard. In other words, “My little vices and inconsistencies are okay – but yours aren’t.” Jesus cautioned us: “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3).
  3. Extra care should be directed toward those whom we know the best and love the most. It is unthinkable for a husband to be nice to his secretary but harsh and impatient with his wife. And it’s certainly not right for a wife to be the nicest lady in the neighborhood and a nag at home. Again, the Lord teaches: “And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way” (Luke 6.31).

Someone said, “Only God can form and paint a flower – but any child can pull it to pieces.” Such is the ugly work of the critic.

– Bill