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Does Doctrine Matter?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.””

(1 Cor. 15:33)

Does doctrine make any difference? Does it matter in the slightest what a person believes? Most parents roundly warn their children using this very verse. “Now little Timmy, remember what Paul said, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” Usually this is a warning against hanging around with kids who break windows, steal from their neighbors and drink beer--a morality issue. But the primary aim of Paul’s warning in verse 33 was not of moral danger, as it was earlier in chapter 5, but of doctrinal danger. There were some (v.12, not all) in Corinth who denied the general resurrection of the dead.

Paul understood that the diverse people that make up the Lord’s church will not agree on every single detail nor must they to be saved. As he told the Ephesians, one is saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). In the same epistle Paul went on to say that unification was based on 7 “ones” or 7 foundational truths of the Christian faith (Eph. 4:1-6).

Therein lies the problem at Corinth. This disagreement fell under the umbrella of “one hope” (Eph. 4:4), that hope residing in the resurrection (Acts 23:6). This doctrinal schism would have torn believers apart, so Paul sent the stern warning that the good morals of some in Corinth would be corrupted by the denial of the general resurrection that others held.

Do you see the connection? A person’s beliefs and convictions can and will influence their behavior and morals.

Doctrinal deviation is a serious matter for the very reason that the convictions and beliefs of a person are the foundation upon which all their actions are based. People behave based on what they believe is true. The person who is convinced in his own mind that he is doing the right thing by doing what God says is wrong is still behaving based on what he believes is true. Paul reminisced of his crucified life when he said, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He believed Jesus was an imposter and those who followed him were heretics. His actions followed his convictions.

That’s why it matters what we believe. Paul understood the necessity of having one’s convictions founded upon God-breathed truth which is why he spent the first 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 illustrating that the resurrection of Jesus was real. There were witnesses of the risen Christ the Corinthians could have interviewed (vv.5-7). The Scriptures testified to the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv.3-4). Paul began this discourse by affirming that he delivered to them “as of first importance what I also received…” in other words, this was the unfiltered revelation of God.

We mustn’t use 1 Corinthians 15:33, as some have, to justify a monk-like, isolated existence. This runs contrary to Matthew 5:13-16; the disciple is to be salt and light in the midst of a tasteless and dark world. The effect being that men would “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (v.16). Christ living in us enables us to be the leavening influence (Mt. 13:33) of righteousness that this “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15) so desperately needs.

However, the figure of leaven works both ways. Christ used leaven to describe the evil influence of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6). Paul used the same illustration to warn the church at Corinth of the gross immorality that one of their members was engaged in (1 Cor. 5:6). The leavening influence could be wicked behavior but please note, as we have already, that 1 Corinthians 15:33 was written in connection with a doctrinal perversion and not an immoral lifestyle. Significant? More than a little, methinks. Know the truth, believe it, obey it, and it will set you free (Jn. 8:31-32).


The Rich Young Ruler

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

(Lk. 18:18-22)

Who was this man I wonder? He was wealthy (v.23), young (Mt. 19:20), and a ruler (v.18) of what, the text does not say. Judging by his zeal in keeping God’s law, he may have been a religious ruler, perhaps a Pharisee or a member of the Sanhedrin. Or it could be that he was simply an influential member of Jewish society.

In Mark’s account Jesus looked at this man and loved him (Mk. 10:21). His humility, his devotion in keeping the law, and his honesty in asking the most important question one could ask is impressive. He proved his lowliness in running

to Jesus and kneeling before him (Mk. 10:17). He displayed his honesty in asking the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.18). He showed his reverence in addressing Jesus with honor and respect, giving Him a title of high esteem.

But the sharpness of Christ’s rebuke stands out in the text for a purpose. Jesus directed attention where it belongs, to God and God alone. We don’t know what was going on in the mind of the ruler but it is evident in Christ’s response that he had a superficial definition of “good.” No one is purely good except God alone. Of course Jesus was not denying His divinity but rather making a point for the ruler’s benefit. To the ruler, Jesus was just another Jewish rabbi who could dispense sound wisdom, not the Son of God.

Using God as the standard for "goodness" was meant to bring the man's personal sinfulness in harsh contrast. The ruler thought that by keeping the law of Moses he could inherit “eternal life,” a phrase virtually synonymous with expressions like “entering the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20) and being “saved” (Mt. 19:25-26). Was there one good deed that the ruler was lacking? Was it possible to be “good enough” to go to heaven? He approached Jesus for the answer. If Jesus, who was a mere man in the eyes of the rich young ruler, was “good” then surely goodness could be achieved. And the end of goodness was, in the young ruler’s flawed view, eternal life.

The rich young ruler needed to see himself under the microscope of a truly good God. When Jesus masterfully pointed out that he had not fully kept the law of Moses, the young man went away sorrowful, “for he was extremely rich” (v.23). Yes he had kept the commandments listed for him, the second table of the law, commandments 6-10 (Ex. 20:13-16), but he still lacked one thing (v.22).

His inability to divest himself of his riches was a symptom of a much deeper problem. He could not follow Jesus (v.22), that is, take up his cross and deny himself (9:23), because he loved something (anything) more than God. He had broken the first and greatest commandment (Deut. 6:5; Mt. 22:37) upon which the whole Law depended. He had made himself an idol to replace God and he was devoted more to one than the other. Truly, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (16:13).

The rich young ruler learned a vital lesson that we all have to learn if we want any hope of inheriting eternal life. We are not “good.” We are sinners dead in our trespasses that need life only a good God can provide. This realization will put us on the road to repentance and eternal life only if we learn the lesson of the rich young ruler’s failure and deny ourselves and follow Jesus whatever the cost. 

Cast Your Anxieties on Him

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In 1 Kings 18 and 19, the king of Judah, Hezekiah, received a disturbing message from Sennacherib the king of Assyria. After the shame of giving Sennacherib tribute in the form of all the silver from the temple (18:15) Assyria's king felt Hezekiah was holding out on him so he sent Rabshakeh of Lachish with an army to persuade him. Upon arrival, Rabshakeh was told to speak the message in Aramaic so that only the king's court would understand without all the inhabitants of Jerusalem hearing but Rabshakeh defied them and spoke Judean in the hearing of all the men who sit on the wall whom he said were "doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine" (1 Kgs. 18:27). Some of our southern friends might say, "Them's fightin' words!"

Despite the might of the Assyrian army, an army which conquered several kingdoms before its march on Judah, Hezekiah had told the Hebrews to trust in the Lord and they would surely be delivered. Rabshakeh called into question the wisdom of this kingly decree. After all, said he, "Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (1 Kgs. 18:33-35).

Indeed, Sennacherib's record was undefeated. From Hezekiah's point of view this must have been a frightful position to be in. Could you imagine sitting on the throne receiving report after report of Assyria's movements, one kingdom after another falling until finally the whole of Samaria fell (1 Kg 18:9-12)? After more "trash talk" from Rabshakeh, Hezekiah tore his robes and sent for Isaiah who returned with a message of hope from the Lord (1 Kgs 19:5-7).

Sennacherib then sent a blasphemous and arrogant letter that repeated the threats of his previous message which drove Hezekiah to his knees before his God. Mysteriously, the next morning, the Assyrian army woke to find 185,000 of their compatriots slain in their tents with no explanation. The God of Israel was busy. Sennacherib left the way he came with his tail tucked between his legs.

How did this fortunate turn of events come about? The sincere prayer of a righteous man. God said, "Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you." (1 Kgs. 19:20). When Hezekiah was frightened of what might come to pass he brought his troubles before the Lord, quite literally: "Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD" (1 Kgs. 19:14) and he prayed a fervent, God-exalting prayer for deliverance (19:14-19).

Brethren, how many Sennacheribs do you have looming at the gate with threatening language? How many problems in your life feel so much bigger than you? Do you feel as if the odds are stacked against you so that you can never overcome them on your own? Do you feel that you will surely fall beneath the crushing weight of adversity? For the child of God, this is the most advantageous position from which to fight. Draw back your bow and take aim in prayer to God. Take all your troubles and spread them out before the LORD like Hezekiah. When God's children are backed into a corner by Satan, God reacts to the prayers of His saints like a mother bear reacts to the helpless cries of her cubs--with fury (see Psa. 18).

Take your problems before the LORD. Even though your Father "knows what you need before you ask Him" (Mt. 6:8) He desires that you spread out the scroll of your anxieties at His feet. Leave no fear bottled up but "let your requests be known to God" (Phil. 4:6). "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:6, see also Mt. 7:7-11).

Remaining Faithful

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Someone has said of another, "he has not been faithful," or "he is faithful." Faithful to what or to whom, I wonder? Often what is meant by calling one's faithfulness into question is whether or not the individual is currently assembling with the saints. I believe the scriptures teach that assembling with the saints is part of our faithfulness to the Lord.

Hebrews 10:24-25 states, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." There were two "habits" or customary practices among believers at the time Hebrews was penned; there was one group of believers who were in the habit of assembling together regularly (per the command of the Lord [Lk. 22:19-20; Acts 20:7]) and another group who made a habit of neglecting to assemble.

One group was faithful in their attendance while the other group was not. But is being faithful in attendance equal to being faithful to the Lord?

Hebrews 10:24-25 emphasizes this "one another" aspect of being a disciple. God knows that meeting with one another is for our own good. Meeting together facilitates an environment of mutual encouragement where teaching can take place for the building up of the body in love (Eph. 4:16). Meeting together also provides a safe environment in which to be judged. We see several examples and commands to Christians to rebuke their brother in error (Lk. 17:3; Acts 8:18-24; Gal. 2:11-13). Meeting together regularly is also beneficial to "grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord" (2 Pet. 3:18). Meeting together weekly helps us not fall into temptation as we remember our Savior's sacrifice in partaking of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:24-26), singing together, praying together and submitting to one another (Eph. 5:19-21).

Time and space do not permit an exhaustive list of the benefits and blessings of meeting together with Christians regularly but the point is obvious. This regular meeting with the saints is both a blessing to and the responsibility of every believer. There is a sense in which, by assembling regularly with one another, we are being faithful to one another. But the question still remains: is being faithful in attendance equal to being faithful to the Lord?

While attendance is an important part of our discipleship, one's attendance at service is not a certificate of discipleship or proof of one's salvation. It is possible that one could attend every meeting while continuing in a life of sin and dead works. Just as it is possible for one to sing at every assembly without ever worshiping God. Just as it is possible for one to partake of the Lord's Supper with the correct emblems on the correct day of the week and never actually commune with the Lord or his brother.

The deciding factor in all this is hidden from the eyes of flesh but laid bare before God. Only God knows if the heart is devoted to the Lord for He sees not as man sees (1 Sam. 16:7). For example, not every person who is immersed in water is converted. It depends on why they followed the command of the Lord to be baptized. Judging by all outward appearances the person may appear "faithful to the Lord" but only "The Lord knows who are His" (2 Tim. 2:19).

In short, one cannot neglect the assembly by choice and still be faithful to the Lord. But the opposite is not true. One can regularly assemble with the saints and yet be unfaithful to the Lord. So let us not equate faithfulness to attendance.

In his book, "Plain Talk About God's Church," Robert F. Turner wrote, "Much of our lament about young people who "quit the church" is equally misdirected... Back home parents, and later, their friends, expected them "to be faithful" (meaning attend the "services") and they did so. But away from home, separated from home-town pressures to conform, their lack of genuine ties to Christ is apparent. It was not "worldly California" that drew them away... They simply were not bound by the love of God in the first place." (Plain Talk, vol. 3, no. 8, p.5 Sept. 1966)

While attendance is a vital part of our Christian faith we must not limit our discipleship to a few hours a week. Christ demands a "living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Rom. 12:1). Being in a covenant relationship with God, our whole being (“present your bodies” Rom. 12:1 begins) must be dedicated in service to God. Our sacrifice is living, that is, ending only at death. To quote Sting and the Police, our service extends to every breath we take, every move we make, every word we say. To quote Jesus, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). Let us obey from the heart that form of teaching to which we were committed (Rom. 6:17).


Friday, October 02, 2015

“And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” 

(Acts 16:15)

For the little said of Lydia in Scripture she strikes an impressive character. She was “from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God” (v.14). That brief resume is augmented by her exchange with Paul and his companions following her conversion.

It is curious that Paul and Silas were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (v.6) and yet, after receiving the call to bring the gospel to Macedonia, the first person they convert is a woman from Thyatira, a city in the province of Lydia (no kidding) in Asia Minor. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Upon encountering a group of women gathered together by the riverside outside the gate of Philippi, Paul, Timothy, Silas and Luke spoke the gospel to them. And “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v.14). She tenderly received the truth, obeyed it with her household and invited the men to stay with her. 

Being a Jewess, Lydia would have been familiar with the book of Proverbs. It is no coincidence then that her godly character is cut from the same purple cloth of Proverbs 31, the woman of whom Lydia bears more than a passing resemblance.

The Proverbs 31 woman is diligent, hardworking and successful (v.13-19), like Lydia. She even wears “purple” (v.22), the same color of Lydia’s stock, a color reserved for nobility and royalty (cf. Mt. 27:28). But the godly woman’s true adornment is “strength and dignity” (v.25; 1 Tim. 2:9-10), the very raiment of Lydia. She is compassionate, “reaching out her hands to the needy” (v.20), much like Lydia reaching out to a tired band of preachers inviting them, nay, insisting that they lodge with her.

Lydia understood that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is worthy to be praised” (v.30) and so Luke described her as a “worshiper of God” or a God-fearing woman. She prevailed upon the men, backing Paul into a corner by asking him, “If you judge me faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” Who could argue with that? She showed her faith by her works (Jas. 2:18) and her faithfulness was worthy to be praised. Paul and the gang had no choice but to oblige. That’s called wisdom, another trait of the Proverbs 31 woman (v.26).

Lydia heard the gospel with an open heart and responded to it, leading her whole household to do the same. How much like the godly woman of Proverbs 31, who leads her family by example? What a woman! What a great example of faith!

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