Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don’t Get Spoiled

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

The imperative verb “beware” expresses more than a casual caution.  It is the Greek verb blépete meaning to look or observe carefully and intently with perception.  God’s Word consistently urges us to observe carefully the events going on around us that threaten to assault our Christian faith.  “Beware lest thou forget the LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:12).    Jesus warned,Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15), and “beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).  Paul alerts the Philippians to “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision” (Philippians 3:2).  Peter also cautions, “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).

In our day it appears that the threat to “spoil you” has intensified.  The verb spoil here is not the same as we understand for milk or other food becoming unfit for consumption, although that understanding might have some merit here.  However, the Greek word translated “spoil” here, sulagogeo, means to be lead away as booty or to be seduced.  The idea is that of a conquering warrior carrying off a great prize.  That man then, by implication is Satan.  And how does he do this?  He does it through philosophy -- the humanistic, evolutionistic thinking of our modern world who “professing themselves to be wise” (Romans 1:22) have become fools and through vain or “empty” deceit.  This is like the unsubstantial political promise of “change;” it sounds good when obscured in clouds of ambiguity but the end result is worse than the beginning.  These things come “after the tradition of men” and “the rudiments,” i.e., the principles “of the world,” i.e., the kosmos or the world system, juxtaposed to the tradition and principles that are “after Christ.”  Beware! And don’t get spoiled!  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wisdom Unto Salvation

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  (2 Timothy 3:15)

Paul, facing certain death, writes his final letter to Timothy, his “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), to encourage his young associate left behind at Ephesus.  Paul reminds Timothy “that from a child thou hast known the holy scripture.”  The verb “hast known” (Greek: oídas) indicates that Timothy possessed a perceptive understanding of God’s Word.  Thus he could have full confidence that the Scriptures are able give wisdom and insight into salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Not that Timothy needed salvation; he was already saved, but in his work as a minister of the Gospel, he needed the wisdom gained from Scripture in order to be “throughly furnished unto all good works” (v. 17) the most important of which is leading others to saving faith in Christ.  For this, he must have full confidence in his equipment knowing that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (v.16).  As such, all Scripture is useful for instruction of the church, reproof of an errant brother, for correction of the same, and training in righteous living.  For Timothy to do all of this, he first needed to give diligent effort to the study of the Scriptures to show himself “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy2:15).

This exhortation applies to all Christians of all times.  All Christians, in a sense, are ministers.  So, as ministers, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).  The Greek word for “answer” in this verse is apologia from which we get our word “apologetics;” that is wisdom unto salvation. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Single Eye

Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. (Psalm 119:37)

Psalm 119 is a collection of 176 verses in 22 groups of eight verses each.  Each group of eight begins with the same Hebrew letter, and the groups are arranged in alphabetical order.  Our verse is the fifth verse in the fifth group – He (pronounced “heh”).

The first word in the verse is ha`abeer which means to “cause to cross over” as in a stream that cannot be forded.  The sense of the psalmist’s cry is that he has come to a raging river that he, of his own power, cannot cross, and he is calling out to God to help him get over this impasse.  The barrier to his progress is the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16).  In the words of the old hymn, “All the vain things that charm me most” turn our focus away from the true riches Christ has prepared for us (John 14:1-3).  Vanities are the things of this earth which are temporal.  The Bible says, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).  All earthly matter and the material things that come from it are all vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Jesus urges us to have a single eye:  “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).  How do we cultivate a single eye?  The psalmist pleads, “quicken [Hebrew chayah – to make alive] thou me.”  Only God can keep our eye single.  Jesus, the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14), reminds us, “without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Indeed, the psalmist identifies the source of life as “thy way.”  Jesus also said, “I am the way” (John 14:6).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bad Company

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1)

The Hebrew interjection ashreey translated “blessed” here means “How happy!” and it comes from the root word awshar which means to be straight, to be guided or to be honest and proper.  Often when we see the word “blessed” we envision material blessings, i.e., a good job with a good salary, a house with all the trappings thereof, a nice car, etc.  We may even count our physical health as a blessing.  However, that is not what is pictured in this Psalm; rather it connotes a state of peace and contentment that comes from not falling in line with bad company.

One might rightly argue, “What happens to evangelism if we avoid the ungodly, the sinners and the scornful?”  Even Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13), and He was accused by the Pharisees of being “a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luke 7:34).  Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).  So there must be more to our text than immediately strikes the eye.

The verb “walks” (Hebrew: halak) implies adopting the lifestyle or being influenced by a godless worldview.  In similar fashion, the verb “stand” (Hebrew: `amad) means to “abide,” to dwell in or to follow the way of sinners.   Finally, to “sit” (Hebrew: yashab) means to “settle with” and by implication means to agree with those who mock the Word of God.  The truly blessed man avoids these traps, and thus enhances his witness to the godless, scoffing sinner.  That man delights in the Word of God and is like a fruitful tree (vv. 2-3) drawing strength and nourishment from the source of living water (John 4:13-14).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Claim the Victory

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Have you ever assumed a task “for the Lord” fully confident that you had all the skills, talent, and training necessary to perform the task with excellence only to have the fruits of your labor shrivel on the vine? Conversely, have you ever refused to assume a roll of responsibility in some ministry because you felt unqualified or unworthy? The problem with either scenario is self-reliance rather than “Christ-reliance.”

A good example of both of these cases is the Apostle Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:23-33). When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water they were fearful thinking that He was a ghost. Once Jesus had identified Himself, impetuous Peter said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (v. 28). Peter wasted no time getting out of the boat when Jesus bid him to come. He was confident in his own abilities at first, and he trusted that Jesus could make him walk on the water. And he did! – for a while. But then he took his eyes off of Jesus and noticed the winds and the waves and the overwhelming laws of physics that would deny him such a feat. That is when he sank. “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (v. 31) Peter! Did you not know that God has given you the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). So whether we have all the talent, skills and abilities in the world, or we feel that we have nothing to offer, the power to do whatever He asks will only come when we claim and rely on His victory, not our own abilities.