Wednesday, August 7, 2013

By this time you ought to be teachers

Hebrews 5:12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

Frankly, there is an appalling lack of knowledge in modern congregations.

There are ministers who cannot preach on a moment's notice. Most claim to need at least twenty hours to craft a good sermon. Yet even with such preparation, all that is usually proven is that they know how to do an internet search and how to copy and paste information. Very little modern preaching shows a command of the Scriptures. In order to "preach the word ... in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2), one must know the word ... in season and out of season.

Then there are the abundance of shepherds who have a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible at best. Even though such men should be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) … even though it is their task to equip the saints for the work of service (Ephesians 4:12) … even though they should be “able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9) … most elders know very little of the Scriptures, and probably wouldn't be able to teach a Sunday School lesson without their teacher's quarterly.

Then there are the members of the congregation, many of whom have been Christians for years. How long exactly does it take for the Spirit to record “by this time you ought to be teachers”? One year? Five? Fifty? How long does it take to leave “the elementary teaching about the Christ” and “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1)? How long does it take to be weaned from the milk and take in “solid food”?

As Christians, we should be “filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). Being well trained by our leaders, we should “all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

What excuse then will we offer before heaven for remaining willfully ignorant of God's word? “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.[2] For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, [3] how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).

How indeed? How will we escape this tainted world with our soul intact if the word of the Lord is not “a lamp unto [our] feet and a light unto [our] path” (Psalm 119:105)? Do you not believe that the Lord is serious about His word? Jesus Himself said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48).

The apostle's position in Hebrews 5 is one of chastisement for an improper position before the Lord. There is no excuse for remaining in a state of ignorance, especially when the Lord has worked so diligently to reveal His will to us. Therefore, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The only ones who should still act like babies … are babies.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The love of God

There is much confusion that has been introduced by Satan into the modern church concerning the topic of God's love. First, it must be clearly understood about Satan that 1) he has rejected the love of God completely; and 2) his goal is to lead people away from such love, not toward it. Therefore, he is not a valid source of truth concerning love.

Also, it must be understood that no one is in a better position to explain the love of God than God Himself. Therefore, for men in their limited wisdom to offer spiritual sounding sayings like “God loves everyone,” “God loves everyone the same,” “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin” or to speak of “God's unconditional love” without providing a corresponding, “Thus saith the Lord,” is not only ignorance, but arrogance.

Quoted very quickly in defense of the “God loves everyone” scenario is John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Of all the words in that verse, the one chosen to emphasize is “so”? “God loved the world SOOOO much.”

Actually, the primary definition of the word so indicates manner, not magnitude. “God loved the world in this manner, He gave His only Son.” In other words, the verse describes HOW God demonstrated love to the world, not the degree to which He loved them.

One must also take the context of the passage into consideration. If “God loves everyone” (blanket statement) or if “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” (separating the deed from the doer), then why is John 3:16 a conditional statement? If God loved the world SOOO much, then why did He make that love contingent upon believing in His Son? The implication of the verse is that those who do NOT believe in Jesus WILL perish, and will NOT have eternal life. So much for “unconditional love.”

But please, let's not settle for implication. Let's utilize what the Holy Spirit has recorded for us. I wonder how many of those who rest their case on John 3:16 even know what John 3:36 says. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Wait … what's that? Wrath? Not love? Yup, wrath. What else would you expect for those who reject His Son and side with His enemy, the devil. There is “enmity” (Genesis 3:15, hostility, hatred) between God and Satan, and between those who represent them. God does not want His creatures to perish in sin. He wants them to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, He showed His creatures the love that is available to them once they accept Christ.

Consider Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Here, the Lord is showing sinful man what is available to them if they are willing to leave behind their sin and submit to His Son. And as Paul proceeds further in his argument, he reminds us that God is working! This special attention is not centered on all men, but “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose(Romans 8:28).

In fact, the love relationship that God offers is so strong that nothing can overcome it, yet again it is not available to those who reject His Son. The apostle writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Is this something new that the apostle is teaching, or is it exactly what Jesus taught? In John 14:21, Jesus said conditionally, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Likewise in John 14:23, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” The love of the Father is only shared with those who first prove to love His Son by means of submission and obedient service.

Other than being receptive to the cries of the penitent, there is no love relationship described in Scripture between the Lord and ungodly people. There is no truth to the statement that “God loves everyone the same.” Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord has shown Himself to discriminate on behalf of the righteous. Psalm 34:15-16 says, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry. [16] The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

A superior example of this is found within the account of the Exodus. Upon being removed from Egypt, the Hebrews were led directly to the edge of the promised land. The report of two spies in particular was favorable, “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8).

The Lord certainly was pleased … with two of them. Of the original generation removed from Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land. The rest of them died in the wilderness because of their unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’; [11] AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST’” (Hebrews 3:10-11).

Where was God's love for the Egyptians, or any other of the pagan peoples? Where was God's “unconditional love” in relation to His disobedient children? Doesn't God “hate the sin, but love the sinner”? No, He doesn't. There is no separation of the deed from the doer, because the heart controls the actions. “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” is nothing more than an excuse to continue in sin. It is a rationalization for behavior that God abhors.

Consider Psalm 11:5-7, “The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates. [6] Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. [7] For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face.”

Consider Psalm 21:8-9, “Your hand will find out all your enemies; Your right hand will find out those who hate you. [9] You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger; The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and fire will devour them.”
Consider Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: [17] Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, [18] a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, [19] a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”

"What? That's all Old Testament!"

You want a New Testament verse? Consider James 4:4-6, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? [6] But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.””
“Oh, but that's all about evil people!”

Hold on! I thought you said God's love was “unconditional”? I thought you said “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner”? I thought you said that “God loves everyone the same”?

In Hosea 9:15, God says of the tribe of Ephraim (descendants of righteous Joseph), “All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more.”

Why would a God of love say such a thing? Because the God of mercy is also a God of justice. He will not provide one at the expense of the other. In love, He has provided a means to escape sin … but He will not force a person to enter into His love. If even His own people choose to reject Him, then He will reject them. “Thus they became unclean in their practices, and played the harlot in their deeds. [40] Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people and He abhorred His inheritance(Psalm 106:39-40).

Certainly that is tough language, but God doesn't do fake. He is a God of complete truth. Satan is the one who specializes in the lie … in manipulation … in hypocrisy. The teachings of the contemporary church demonstrate that they have been listening more to Satan than to God. On Sunday morning, they hug and greet one another … and by Monday morning, they stab one another in the back. They claim to be Christian, but produce little fruit that supports such a boast. They preach love and tolerance and acceptance … until you disagree with them, then they prove who really controls their heart.

Ultimately, that's what this is about … the heart. The love of God is on display for the entire sinful world to see, yet until it is received into a grateful and receptive heart it is of no value whatsoever. Thus Jesus says of those who wanted to kill Him, “You are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:40). “You do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42).

But those who have accepted the Son are different. They have seen the love that God offers, want it for themselves, and have taken the appropriate steps to receive that love into themselves. They have repented of their sins, expressed faith in Christ, confessed before men that He is exactly who He claimed to be, and have washed their sins away by being buried with Him in baptism.

Seeing such willing obedience, God has accepted their submission to His Son and placed within them His own Holy Spirit. NOW they are in a position to enjoy the full benefits of the conditional love of God. When we realized that our sin separated us from the Lord, we did something about it. We placed our hope completely in Christ Jesus … “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:4).

Now, as the church, what message do we share with a sinful world? Do we go throughout the world preaching love? No, we preach Christ! If the message of the church is the “unconditional love of God,” then why didn't even one preacher in the book of Acts ever preach it? The word love isn't even found within the book of Acts, which is our sole record for the birth and growth of the early church. Why? Because the appropriate message to sinners is repentance. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30).

Once men repent and become Christians … once they become a part of the family of God … THEN they are in a position to experience the fullness of God's love, which is reserved for those who are “A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION” (1 Peter 2:9).

One final word of warning: The closer you draw to the Lord, the more Satan will work to draw you away from Him. He does not want you to experience real love, which is why he has flooded the churches with false doctrines of love based on the feelings of man rather than the facts of heaven. The result is corruption within the church. To one of the seven churches in the Revelation, Jesus says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

That is the devil's goal … to get you to leave “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Your goal is just the opposite … to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 21). Therefore, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (Ephesians 6:24).