Monday, August 31, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Awareness (Part III)

"(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)" (Philippians 3:18-19)

These verses are parenthetical to the main thought. The Holy Spirit is taking a short side trip in order to reveal the danger of false teachers. If the modifying phrases of the first sentence were removed, the main body would read, "For many walk (as) the enemies of the cross of Christ." The other phrases are describing this main thought. Satan's counterfeits are never far away. When God's people are trying to serve Him, Satan's messengers are usually close by; and they often claim to serve God. However, time will quickly reveal their true motives.

People who profess God to be their authority while rejecting the authority of Scripture are worthy of being avoided. The Spirit calls false teachers the enemies of Christ's cross. Why would the Lord use such terminology? Christ's cross represents man's sin, Jesus' sacrifice, the death of the old man and the need for the crucifixion of the flesh in the Christian's life. All of these things are extremely distasteful to the false teacher. His pride will not permit him to come to repentance concerning his sin and the sinless nature of Christ. He serves the old man; therefore, he has no desire to have him crucified "with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24)," and he most certainly has no desire to die to self daily while letting God sit upon the throne of his heart.

Verse nineteen describes certain traits of false teachers which will aid the believer in marking and avoiding them. First of all, the false teacher is destructive and his end is destruction. The Greek word behind destruction is used mostly to describe the eternal damnation of Satan and those who are outside of Christ. It is often translated perdition. The same root of this word may be found in Satan's name Apollyon which means Destroyer (Revelation 9:11). The false teacher's end is damnation in hell, and his lifestyle and teaching will reveal this reality when compared to the doctrine of Scripture. Believers need to be familiar with the Bible's teaching so that they can recognize error when they hear it. A false teacher's doctrine often contains just enough truth to sound convincing; however, when held up to the light of God's word, the destructive errors will show through.

Not only is a false teacher destructive, but he also serves his flesh. A literal translation would read "...whose the God is the belly." The belly is not referring to the stomach alone; the term represents specifically the sensual nature of the flesh. False professors are sensual by nature. They often scorn self-discipline and modesty. They are quarrelsome and arrogant. They see no value in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and Bible study. They are not chaste individuals (II Peter 2:14). They are oftentimes obese and obnoxious. Instead of appreciating God's provision and enjoying it in modesty, they "[feed] themselves without fear (Jude 12)." If the action feels good, they engage in it. If a certain attitude pleases their agenda, they adopt it. When the doctrine of Scripture hinders their lustful passions, they denounce the authority behind the doctrine and continue on in their evil way. Although many of them appear religious, when put to the test, their own human desires will prove to be the authority in their lives. The belly has been chosen over The God.

False teachers and false professors also glory in the things which should be to their shame. An example of this may be seen in their disregard for God-ordained authority. Concerning this, Peter wrote, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who ... walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities (II Peter 2:1, 10)." False teachers are proud and often arrogant people who encourage others toward an attitude of hatred and rebellion. Instead of humble submission to the powers which God has ordained (Romans 13), they promote disrespect and violence. The Bible sheds shame upon the very actions and attitudes in which they glory.

Lastly, the false teacher minds earthly things. Just as a genuine believer is disposed to consider heavenly things, the false professor is disposed to consider earthly things. A man who does not have the Spirit of Christ cannot be expected to have the mind of Christ (Romans 8:9, II Timothy 2:19).

A man can be genuinely saved while allowing his flesh to enjoy many of the same things that are practiced by a false teacher. A believer can be immodest, rebellious, unappreciative, hateful, violent, lustful, undisciplined and destructive. The false teacher does not have a monopoly on the flesh. The believer still lives with himself, and his old nature loves and appreciates all the wickedness that the false teacher enjoys. If God is angry at the attitudes and actions of the damned, He certainly will not appreciate such attitudes and actions in the redeemed who are commanded to represent their Redeemer.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Awareness (Part II)

"Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample." (Philippians 3:17)

A literal translation of the first part of this verse would read, "Fellow-imitators of me become, brethren." Emphasis is being placed on the need to mimic Paul's submission to Christ. The Holy Spirit is not commanding the believer to follow men in a blind manner, but He is commanding the saint to mimic godly behavior. Paul could boldly command such a thing because he himself was obedient. Obedience benefits both the man who practices it and those upon whom that same man has an influence. Paul's submission to the Lord enabled him to edify others through a command to mimic his holy life. Had he been living for himself, he could not have commanded such a thing, and many people would have been passed by.

The second command, "mark," means to look out for, to notice, to consider or to keep one's eyes on. It is the same verb translated look in 2:4. The Christian is commanded to keep his eyes open. God wants him to notice those who are living for Christ and to copy their biblical behavior. Often times, pride will encourage an individual not to copy the godly behavior of others, but this attitude is foolish. If another man is following Christ, why should not his example be heeded? Will the Lord somehow justify human pride in the end and vindicate those who viewed themselves as having no need of the example of others? Godly people are what they are because God has brought them to that point. This means that they have made mistakes and fought battles; therefore, they likely have advice and insight which may prevent others from making the same mistakes. The proud man who will not tap into this insight and godly wisdom finds himself the loser in the end.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Awareness

"Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." (Philippians 3:16)

By grace, God brings His people along. He grows them. As time passes, the saint should be arriving at new locations in his Christian walk. The verb attained means to arrive. God does not want His people to plateau or to digress. He wants them to move forward, consistently arriving at a new mile-marker along the road of the Christian journey. Such spiritual progress will not be possible apart from giving due diligence and obedience to the Scriptures. The "sincere milk of the Word" is the primary means by which a Christian grows in maturity (I Peter 2:2). Therefore, a lack of maturity, or a lack of arriving, can often be linked back to a lack of Bible study or a lack of submission to what is being studied.

The verb walk means to walk orderly. It is translated this way in Acts 21:24 concerning Paul's public testimony. God expects His saints to live orderly lives which are submitted to biblical rules and principles. This concept is quite contrary to the undisciplined and self-pleasing "Christianity" of modern-day times. The believer is not at liberty to do as he pleases. Anyone who believes that he may do as he pleases so long as he does no harm to others is a deceived and disobedient individual. The believer is commanded to walk orderly, showing deference to biblical commands and principles.

The Lord is gracious in providing an unchanging standard by which the Christian can gauge his walk. This standard is the Bible. It is the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Word who is the Author of the written Word. Believers will not enjoy obedient unity unless they are all individually focused on the single standard of the Scriptures. A group of believers who are individually set on obedience to the Bible is a group of people who cannot be torn apart; however, when any one Christian begins to reject the authority of this unwavering Standard, he tears down those around him and begins to experience tension between himself and those whose focus has remained upon Christ.

Mind means to think, to observe, to have thoughts or attitudes (which lead to actions) or to be disposed. The Holy Spirit is stressing the importance of each Christian being subjected to the singular authority of Christ as expressed in the Scriptures. The believer is to mind his Savior. Many people have either experienced or heard the expression "mind your mother" or "mind your father." Likewise, each believer is to mind his Master. The Psalmist said, "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us (Psalm 123:2)." When each Christian, within any given body of believers, is fully resolved to walk orderly according to the Standard of Scripture, giving full attention to his Master, he finds himself doing what he can to encourage those around him to biblical unity and edification.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part XI)

"Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." (Philippians 3:15)

This verse clearly lays out the reality of the Christian's position in Christ. In verse twelve, Paul said that he had not been made perfect in this life; and here, he declares that all believers are made perfect. Such things are possible because of the sinless perfection of Jesus. The Lord's faultless righteousness is imparted to every man who trusts in Him; therefore, every Christian is positionally faultless in Christ Jesus. If it were not so, the saint would stand in danger of condemnation.

The Holy Spirit encourages each saint to have a heart for holiness. He wants all Christians to be likeminded in their pursuit of Christ's character. Paul's call to sanctification is prefaced by a command of humility. He says, "Let us." He includes himself. He is not asking the Philippian church to do anything that he is not willing to do. A man should not encourage others to a life of holiness if he himself is not willing to pursue the same goals.

The cleansing, convicting and comforting nature of God's Spirit is seen in the latter part of this verse. God is faithful. If a saved individual is not pursing that which compliments his position in Christ, God will be faithful in showing that individual his or her error. The Lord may do this through personal Bible time, preaching, teaching, conversation etc. Regardless of how He may choose to reveal the incompatibility between the believer's pursuits and position, the Lord should be praised for His tender shepherding.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part VIII)

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." 
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Paul boldly declares, "I have not arrived." Pride has led many Christians to believe that they have no more lessons to learn. Many pastors, evangelists and teachers firmly believe that they cannot be taught except perhaps by a few select individuals who are as "high" as they are. Such thinking is wicked. It wreaks of pride. The apostle whom God used to found the New Testament church humbly admits, "I count not myself to have apprehended." Such humility should characterize every believer. There is always one more lesson to learn, one more battle to face, one more admonition to be received. God can use a small child or an aged man to teach a believer. No one has arrived in this life.

Even though Paul did not view himself as faultless, he did not allow his past sin or his present struggles to discourage his onward journey. Having been a murderer and a persecutor of God's people, Paul would have had many excuses for being overcome with guilt and discouragement. Also, he still struggled with human passions and emotions. He was just a man. He had wrong thoughts, wrong desires and wrong attitudes. However, he gave all things (past and present) to Christ. He did not dwell on them. He did not allow Satan to use them as ammunition against the work of God. Paul always appreciated the value of his salvation. He did not minimize the wickedness of his past (I Timothy 1:12-15); however, he did not allow himself to become preoccupied with his own failures and weaknesses lest he should fall short in finishing the race.

Every Christian struggles with past sin and present failure. Every believer could easily become discouraged if he or she were to dwell on past sins; therefore, the best choice is to look forward to God's strength and perfection. At the end of life's journey, there is a perfect reward to be had in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Every one should appreciate his salvation. Every one should remember that from which God's grace saved him; however, no one should let the weight of those things keep him from doing the work of God now.

The verb press means to pursue or to persecute. Paul left the baggage of his past in the hands of God, and he followed after the righteous character of Christ like a warrior pursuing the fleeing enemy. This passage should encourage those who feel the overwhelming weight of past sin. It should encourage them to rest in God's ability and grace. The Lord does not want His people to be destroyed through guilt; He wants them to be established in God-fearing faith. He wants them to be a light in any way possible. Yes, sin does have lasting consequences; however, God is well able to give grace and victory in the midst of those consequences. Every Christian is appointed to a position of perfection in Christ Jesus. It would be a shame to fall short of doing that position justice in this life.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part VII)

"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12)

Paul is saying that he has not reached a state of sinless perfection. The verb translated were...perfect is passive. The idea is to be made perfect. Paul did not believe that he had reached a point where God's sanctifying work was no longer needed in his life. On the contrary, he openly admitted that he had not reached the end of sanctification's journey.

Paul says, "I follow after." Positionally, in Christ, Paul was completely sanctified, he was made absolutely perfect through Christ's righteousness. No accusation could be brought against him. Damnation could not threaten him. No human failure, sin or weakness could pull him from the keeping power of God; and because of this, he wanted to pursue practically the life to which he had been saved. The same holds true for every believer. When a man accepts Christ, he is immediately clothed with Jesus' righteousness. Positionally, he instantly becomes seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). He has been "apprehended" by Christ's Spirit, and nothing can destroy or infringe upon that relationship; however, practically speaking, he needs to pursue a life that reflects the position to which he has been saved. Daily, a believer must choose to live in obedience to the Scriptures, letting God's Spirit bring out the fruits of righteousness. Daily, the Christian needs to put aside worldly endeavors and choose a direction that compliments his position in Christ. This is "[apprehending] that for which also [we are] apprehended of Christ Jesus." The preposition of means by. The saint has been overcome by the saving power of Christ. He cannot escape his Master's character and compassion. Why would he not want to live a life that parallels the holiness and charity to which he has been so graciously redeemed?

Of course, this daily pursuit of God is made possible by God's grace. The believer can go as far as the Lord carries him. Little by little, as God purges and perfects, the believer is daily conformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. This is not a work performed in the power of the flesh; it is a lifelong process which is carried out in submission to the power of the Spirit. As long as a man is living in his body, he will find himself undergoing God's sanctifying work, a work which encourages him to apprehend practically the holy nature of his faultless position in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part VI)

"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Knowing Christ and being conformed into His image is the result of being clothed with His righteousness. To know the Savior is to experience His resurrection power and the same sufferings which He Himself faced here on earth. The power of His resurrection brings victory over the flesh. The spiritual baptism of the believer, which takes place at the moment of belief, destroys the power of the old man while bringing the victorious presence of the new man which is the Holy Spirit (Romans 6). After salvation, an individual no longer has to be what he was, because the Holy Spirit now indwells him, and He enables the Christian to change his behavior. Old motives, lusts, desires, fears, etc., no longer have to dictate one's behavior. Christ's power over sin and death brings power and peace to the life of the one trusting in Him.

Along with this resurrection power comes the reality of suffering. Jesus said, "The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you...(John 15:20)." The world hates God's authority; therefore, when Christ becomes a man's authority, the world will cease to appreciate that man. Those who were once his friends will likely drift away. The believer will likely experience ridicule, exclusion and, in many instances, direct persecution. These things are to be expected. They accompany the change of authority. It is easy to focus on the resurrection power while forgetting the reality of the sufferings. These sufferings can encompass more than just attack from without. Christ's spirit was pained as He witnessed the rebellion and foolishness of those around Him. A Christian will feel the same oppression in his spirit as he experiences the disobedience and worldliness of others, not to mention the failure in his own life.

All of these things are not the end; they are the beginning. The grave poses no threat to the man who is in Christ. To the lost, death is the greatest fear, but for the redeemed, death is the entrance into eternal life. Ultimately, the Christian is destined to a complete resurrection. His righteous soul will someday be reunited with a sinless body through the work of Christ, and failure and sin will be no more.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part V)

"And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:" 
(Philippians 3:9)

The righteous merit of the sinless Christ clothes the soul of the man who places personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Outside of Christ imparting His righteousness, personal justification before God is not possible. To stand before God on the basis of one's own ability to keep the law is death. Galatians 3:10 says, "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." One the other hand, the man who has received Christ's righteousness on the basis of faith will be perfectly safe in the day of judgment, because Galatians 3:11 goes on to say, "...The just shall live by faith." How foolish would it be to exchange the secure righteousness of the a sinless Savior for the deceptive and doomed righteousness of law-keeping?

The way by which salvation is received is the way by which it is lived. A man is saved by faith, and he is sanctified by faith. A believer is not drawn closer to God by simply doing good deeds in his own power. He is drawn closer to God by allowing the Spirit to fill him and produce good works. A man cannot save himself and neither can he sanctify himself. He is saved by faith and sanctified by faith. The self-righteous Christian focuses on what he can do in order to become more holy, but the selfless Christian focuses on what the Spirit can do through him as he yields in faith to God's power. The believer cannot make himself more holy; such a work belongs to God.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part IV)

"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ," (Philippians 3:8)

The two prepositions for mean on account of. Paul counted all his earthly gains of religious stature as nothing but loss on account of the far superior knowledge of Jesus Christ; and on account of Christ, Paul had lost the grandeur of his religious position since such things are useless in the light of Christ's righteousness.

What was Paul's reaction to this reality? Was he bitter toward God because he had lost so much on this earth? No. He viewed his past religious politics as nothing better than refuse.

The majority of professing Christianity is overwhelmingly concerned with religious politics to one degree or another. Networking has been substituted for faith. Many profess to exalt the Bible and its Author, yet the same people tend to favor the philosophies and experiences of religious leadership more than biblical principle. Too many pastors and their congregations are concerned with what people think rather than with what they need to hear. Bible colleges, mission boards, fellowships and parachurch organizations of all kinds are often hotbeds of religious corruption. Too many people are concerned with what religious men of influence can do for them instead of being concerned with maintaining their own religion pure. Biblical standards concerning divorce and remarriage, music, entertainment, dress, Bible translation etc., have been shamefully compromised on account of man's preoccupation with religious politics. Often times, believers will not speak out against sin because they fear being shunned by their peers. Quite often, churches will not separate from disobedient brethren because they consider the political benefit of their union to be more important than obedience to Scripture (John 12:42-43). The list goes on. The Scripture declares the pursuit of religious politics to be refuse. At the judgment seat, the useless nature of man's pursuits will be fully revealed. It is the believer's responsibility to turn away from the pursuit of religious advantage and to seek the faith that pleases God.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part III)

"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." (Philippians 3:7)

This verse could be translated, "But what things were gain to me, those things I regarded as a loss on account of Christ." In the light of Christ's faultless character, the deficiency of Paul's human deeds were exposed, judged and found to be lacking. The splendor and acknowledgment of his religious position became his own condemnation in the light of Jesus Christ's faultless character.

A Christian's good deeds can be motivated by one of two desires. He can do right because he loves Christ and desires to please Him regardless of the approval or disapproval of others, or he can do what appears to be right because he desires others to think well of him or because he delights in being perceived as a man of good moral standing. Simply put, he can serve to glorify God, or he can serve to glorify self. The glory of God is the only correct and eternally enduring mode of Christian service. When the Christian stands before the judgment seat of Christ, the motive of his service will quickly be revealed, and his Christian works will either stand or fall. "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is (I Corinthians 3:13)."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution (Part II)

"Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Philippians 3:4-6)

Through Paul's salvation, God shewed self-righteous Israel, as well as the entire world, that no man can work his way to heaven regardless of religious position. Paul is not saying that he truly has reason to boast of his own goodness. He is simply saying that he of all men should have grounds for religious pride if such an attitude could possibly be accepted by God. People who had far less religious advantage than Paul were attempting to throw their supposed merit in the face of God and His people; therefore, the Holy Spirit uses Paul to silence their prideful boasting through the example of Paul's Pharisaic background.

If anyone could be saved by rule-keeping, it should have been Paul. The Scripture declares that he was blameless concerning the Mosaic Law; however, Paul missed the heart of God's law; therefore, he was condemned with the rest of humanity.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Caution

"To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Philippians 3:1b-3)

Repetition is often the key to learning. Paul did not consider it troublesome to remind the Philippian church of principles and commands which he had taught numerous times both to them and to others. Human nature is often enamored with new things. People are constantly in search of new doctrines and ideas just like the citizens of Athens (Acts 17:21). Many believers want to be awed by some great and difficult truth every service when what they need most is an admonition to be obedient to the many simple commands which daily go unheeded. Reminding others of God's straightforward commands is always safe and edifying.

The Holy Spirit is not concerned with political correctness. The text calls false teachers and destructive people dogs, evil workers and mutilators. The word concision refers to the circumcising Judaizers whom Paul consistently battled; however, the Greek word behind concision is not the typical word for circumcision. The word behind concision means mutilation. Paul was likely making a play on words by calling legalists mutilators who spiritually destroy people through unbiblical teachings involving physical circumcision and other self-righteous acts.

A self-righteous man is bad enough, but his actions are more abominable when they cause others to go astray. A false teacher is nothing better than a mutilator, one who delights in destroying the humble faith of others which finds its rewards in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. These mutilators are more prevalent than one might think. They are always characterized by pride and an unwillingness to be taught by others. They are often unapproachable. They may boast of a willingness to discuss differences but when faced with biblical evidence of their sin, they reject God's truth and turn to emotions and experiences as their grounds for justification. Such people should be marked, watched, rebuked, avoided and put on the outside (Romans 16:17-18).

In contrast to the self-righteous man who places confidence in his own religious ability, the true Christian is one who is changed from the inside out by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Every born-again believer is a member of God's spiritual circumcision. Throughout the Old Testament, God admonishes men to circumcise their hearts through repentant faith in the blood of the Messiah. All who heed this admonition are placed within the ranks of the spiritually circumcised.

According to the text, at least three traits are to characterize the person who has been saved (spiritually circumcised). Firstly, he worships God in the spirit. When explaining salvation to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)." True worship is inseparably linked to certain physical actions such as singing, church attendance, witnessing etc. However, these things are motivated by a desire to first worship God with the spirit. If a man's spirit is not yielded to humbly worship his Creator, his actions will be of little worth.

Secondly, the saved man rejoices in Christ Jesus. The imparting of Jesus' merit to the repentant sinner is the sole means by which a man enters heaven. That man's works can in no way redeem him; therefore, Christ's gracious nature is abundantly worthy of the believer's praise.

Thirdly, the saved man is fully persuaded that his flesh is spiritually useless. The word for confidence is the same word for persuaded. In order for a man to come to saving faith in Christ, he must acknowledge that his flesh cannot save him. Even after salvation, a Christian must remember the danger of a self-righteous approach to God. Religious rule keeping in a self-righteous spirit will make one a stench in the nostrils of God; however, obedience to the Bible's commands out of grateful faith in the ability of Christ will bring one into favor with God.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Rejoicing (Part IV)

Falling Short In Rejoicing

As previously mentioned, the tense of this command renders it as a continuous action. God has commanded His people to rejoice and to keep on rejoicing. The believer is not free to rejoice when it may seem convenient. He is not permitted to rejoice so long as life goes his way. He is to rejoice continuously. Every believer, old and young, mature and immature, has failed this command to some degree. Yet, the Bible is clear. The Christian is to have a heart of continuous rejoicing. This command is not forbidding times of sorrow and mourning. There is "a time to weep" and "a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4)." This command is not forbidding a man to experience times of spiritual struggle. The Psalms are filled with testimonies of human struggle; however, they are also filled with testimonies of victory through faith in the unfailing mercies of God. When all is said and done, the believer is to be clothed with the robes of rejoicing. The heart attitude is what matters most. A person does not have to parade about with a manufactured smile; yet, the heart should be filled with thankfulness and praise to God. Such things will result in outward expressions of peace and wellbeing. Most Christians remember to rejoice sometimes, but not many choose to rejoice most of the time.

A man can also fall short in sincerity when rejoicing. Rejoicing often takes on an outward expression for the purposes of show while the heart remains cold and unchanged. A person may say "Praise the Lord" or "Glory to God" simply because he or she wishes to be perceived as sincere. God is not fooled by the outward expression. Rejoicing must begin in the soul before it can sincerely be displayed on the person.

The Christian needs God's grace and sufficiency every moment. Even when a man puts forth his best efforts to rejoice in sincerity, he falls short in adequacy and expression. Human frailty keeps a man from fully rendering to God the praise of which He is so worthy; and yet, the Lord does not hold this against him. God simply commands His people to rejoice. God's Spirit knows the heart; He knows the struggles and the frustrations. "He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:14)." Such realities should drive every believer to gratitude and greater rejoicing. God, Who is worthy of so much, asks for so little.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Rejoicing (Part III)

Forgetting To Rejoice

Prosperity is often the enemy of rejoicing. In and of itself, prosperity is not evil. The Scriptures give many examples of righteous people whom God prospered. However, human nature tends to forget God when the stomach is full. In Proverbs 30:8, Agur requested of the Lord, "...Feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD?" In his closing admonitions to Israel, Moses declared,

When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).

The Christian must beware of forgetting to rejoice in the midst of God's blessings. How sad it is that God should find it necessary to remind His people to rejoice in the midst of His great care. Rejoicing over God's goodness should be natural; however, the human heart often grows cold to God's goodness, and it must be reawakened.

A lack of provision can also encourage one to forget his need to rejoice in God. Agur also said, "...lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain (Proverbs 30:9)." In the frustration of need, a man's heart will encourage him to curse God rather than to bless God. The believer must be on guard against this as well. Needs must be immediately and consistently taken to God, not bottled up and left to the management of human reasoning. A lack of provision is not a biblical excuse for failing to rejoice. When faced with the promise of a Chaldean invasion, Habakkuk cast his faith upon God and wrote this resolve,

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Time is also a catalyst for forgetfulness. The routine of everyday life can easily blind a man to God's consistent blessings. Human beings easily get themselves into a rut and forget the unfailing mercies that make a consistent lifestyle possible. After settling into the land of Canaan, Israel quickly forgot the Lord and His goodness. Parents forgot to teach their children of God's mercy and provision, and the children followed the misleading tugs of their human hearts.

Believers should practice the art of remembrance. Bringing to mind God's goodness will surely encourage a man to rejoice. The believer should often stop and consider the goodness of God which has led him to repentance. He should consider the little things and not simply the "big" blessings. If a Christian would slow down and consider the many things to which he has grown accustomed and the things which he would miss were they removed, he would quickly find many reasons to rejoice in the Lord.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Rejoicing (Part II)

Failing To Rejoice

After their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the Israelites unwisely tested and provoked the Lord numerous times. When the armies of Pharaoh formed a wall on the west and the Red Sea hemmed them in on the east, the Israelites cried out and said,

Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11-12).

Approximately one month later, the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness without food. Instead of turning to God in faith, they accused the Lord and His servant Moses by saying,

Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Exodus 16:3).

The same tenor of these words may be seen in the other instances of Israel's complaints (17:1-7, Numbers 11, 14:1-5, 21:4-5). When faced with a difficult circumstance, the Israelites chose murmuring over rejoicing. Nothing has changed with time. The believer is just as capable of such mistakes. The instances of Israel's complaints afford many helpful principles which will aid the believer in guarding against a failure to rejoice.

Firstly, the majority of the Israelites simply did not have faith (Deuteronomy 32:20). A failure to take God at His word regardless of the circumstances will always result in a failure to rejoice in His power and goodness. Oftentimes, rejoicing comes easier when the circumstances are easier; however, when life's circumstances become unfavorable, the genuine nature of the believer's faith is tested; and the depth or shallowness of his faith is revealed by the presence or absence of rejoicing.

Secondly, the Israelites did not appreciate their deliverance. They even expressed a desire to return to their previous bondage. They did not remember the spiritual and physical oppressions of their former position, and they longed for many aspects of their Egyptian lifestyle. When a man forgets the value of his redemption, he will fail in rejoicing. The flesh always presents sin in a favorable light. The old sin nature always longs to return to the oppression of its former evils. If a believer is not careful, he can easily find himself longing for the lusts and pleasures that he once served, not remembering that "the end of those things is death (Romans 6:21)." It is always profitable to keep the value of one's redemption in view.

Thirdly, Israel was not grateful for all the mercy which God had demonstrated toward them up to their present state; therefore, they failed to rejoice. The believer has been permanently delivered from eternal death as well as from the power of sin. The worth of these things will never be fully realized this side of eternity. Ingratitude is a slippery slope. Once a man starts down the slope, he quickly gains speed. When the Christian finds himself failing to rejoice, perhaps he should stop and tell God, "Thank You."

Fourthly, Israel feared man more than God. The fear of man is death to a rejoicing spirit (Proverbs 29:25). When the king of Assyria threatened the king of Judah, the Lord told Hezekiah,

Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land (Isaiah 37:6-7).

Man's fear should always be centered in God. Godly fear works life. Proverbs 14:27 says, "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27)." Trials encourage one to fear man and the surrounding circumstances. It is during these times when a believer should be particularly on guard against misdirected fear.

Fifthly, Israel limited God's power. Even after witnessing the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, they limited God's ability in giving them their daily needs. The human heart is incredibly faithless. The believer is just as apt to limit God if he is not refreshing his faith through the study of the Scriptures. Limiting God's power is the perfect catalyst for failing to rejoice.

Sixthly, Israel assumed the worst of God. They accused the Lord of leading them into the wilderness for the sole purpose of destroying them. God has no character flaws. Men are capable of insincere motives and so are the gods which men create; however, the true God is not capable of such things. Man's tendency to believe the worst of God is one of the saddest truths in existence. This tendency does not leave the flesh after salvation. God's child can have victory over such lies; however, the tendency to believe such lies will eventually surface at some point. Trouble provides an opportune time for Satan to embitter the Christian toward his Master. When a believer finds himself in such a place, he should take it to God in prayer rather than failing to rejoice. He should also immerse himself in the Scriptures; they are an excellent reminder of God's faultless, merciful and loving character.