By Edd Sterchi
Many people who want a relationship with God often add qualifiers to the mix. They want the Lord to make them good, but with a stipulation added. Here are a couple of examples:
* “Lord, make me good, but not yet.” These people want to live in sin as long as possible. They want to be able to sow their “wild oats” and then for God to save them before they die.
* “Lord, make me good, but not completely.” These folks want to have the “best of both worlds”. They want to be saved, but also still want to hang on to certain sins.
But we should simply say to God “Lord, make me good.” (Notice the period at the end.) We should say that with no modifiers and with the attitude of doing what God wants us to do and fully trusting Him to make us good and righteous. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
Sunday, August 14, 2022
By David R. Ferguson
In John 3, we have recorded the event of Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1), coming to visit Jesus “by night” (John 3:2). Nicodemus treats Jesus respectfully, addressing Him as “Rabbi” (John 3:2), which is quite an honorific given to a Man Who had not attended any of the prestigious rabbinical schools which were operating at that time.
Nicodemus also states, “We know that You are a teacher Who has come from God. For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). This is a very astute (and accurate, I might add) observation Nicodemus makes.
Just whom the “we” are who rightly believed that Jesus was a Man Who had been sent by God we don’t know for sure, but an educated guess would seem to indicate that at least Joseph of Arimathea would be in this group, for John tells us in John 19:38, “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus,” and Pilate granted him this request. John then tells us that Nicodemus was also there with Joseph, and it was Nicodemus who purchased the 75-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus as they prepared it for burial (John 19:39) in the tomb which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:60).
Nicodemus was a seeker. He sought truth from Jesus, and Jesus gave it to him, hitting Nicodemus right between the eyes by proclaiming that for one to obtain eternal life and “see the Kingdom of God,” one must be “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus speaks to Nicodemus prophetically of Jesus’ eventual crucifixion, saying to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Although Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a “rabbi,” a “teacher Who has come from God” (John 3:2), Jesus let him know He was much more than that. He was also the “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) sent by the Father to save, not condemn, the world (John 3:17).
By Brian Mitchell
In OT times Israel was regarded as God’s true vine. God used the nation of Israel to accomplish His purposes in the world. They were His vine and He thus cared for them, pruned them, and cut off all unfruitful branches making them more capable of producing fruit (Is.5:1-7). God had done all that He could have possibly done to enable Israel to bear much fruit and yet she produced less and less.
Thus, as a result of her unfruitfulness, God ceased blessing and protecting Israel and she was eventually taken into captivity. Israel was a vivid illustration of the tragic consequences of unfruitfulness which leads us to our lesson in this article. Since Israel as a nation ceased to bear fruit, God needed a new vine through which those connected could receive His blessings. That vine, as we see in the gospel of John, is Jesus Christ (Jn.15:1).
What does it mean to be a part of the vine? Perhaps a better question to ask is; what does it mean to be a part of Christ, since He is the vine? It means that we are a part of His body, which is the church (Eph.1:22-23). One can not be connected to the vine (Christ) without being a part of His body. Only those who have put on Christ in baptism are a part of His church and thus connected to the vine (Gal.3:26-27). One other question of significance is: what is the significance of being a part of the vine? In other words; why do men need to be in Christ? God’s means of accounting men righteous is identifying them with His Son, who is righteous. Therefore, it is only by being in Christ, where all spiritual blessings are (Eph.1:3), that men can be righteous in the sight of God.
What are the obligations of those who are a part of the vine? In short those who a part of the vine must bear much fruit (Jn.15:5, 8). But what does it mean to bear fruit? “Fruit bearing includes every activity of the Christian. It includes, but is not limited to, acts of love and Christian charity. It embraces every act which Christ if present would do, but being absent, must depend on His followers to do for Him” (Guy Woods). The Bible discusses a number of activities which are identified with the Christian’s bearing of fruit. They include, but are not limited to, soul winning (Rom.1:13), living lives of holiness (Rom.6:20-22), singing praises to God (Heb.13:15), and engaging in general good works (Col.1:10).
What happens when those in the vine don’t fulfill their obligations? Jesus reveals that there are some branches that are simply unfruitful and thus are removed from the vine and cast out to wither (Jn.15:2, 6). This, of course, poses an insurmountable obstacle for those religious groups which teach the impossibility of apostasy or once saved always saved. These fruitless branches are Christians, as Jesus shows, “they are in Him.” The problem with those who are cast out is not that they were never Christians, as some suppose, the problem is that they bore not fruit as Christians and thus served no useful purpose.
Jesus is the true vine and those in Him have life and thus have the responsibility to bear much fruit in the name of Him who gave them life. God wants Christians to bear much fruit and it is in fact through doing so that we glorify God (Jn.15:8). The key to bearing fruit is abiding in Jesus. The key to abiding in Jesus is obeying His words. The key to obeying His words is loving Him. The key to loving Him is knowing Him. Thus the more we know and love Jesus, the more obedient we will be to Him. That only leaves one question; Are You a Part of the Vine?
By Ron Bartanen
Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).
We who, by the grace of God, are the saved in Christ, were saved not just that we might go to heaven, but that also we might work the works of God. A believer’s life should be of use to God and man. Time and again the Scriptures emphasize that we are saved to serve, and that God condemns, as much as any sin, the sin of doing nothing!
Why, then, are we usually so lax in our Christian service? Why are so many inactive? Why does it take so long for so many Christians to reach so few persons with the Gospel of Christ? We want to point out that there are barriers to service which we need to emphasize and break down in order that we be effective laborers for Christ.
SELFISHNESS is probably the number one barrier to effective Christian service. We are basically selfish and are more concerned about our own problems than about anyone else’s. My ingrown toenail will possibly cause me more concern than my neighbor’s cancer. My needs always seem much more pressing than the needs of anyone else. Often, what God wants done must take second place to what I want done. It is easier to sing “King of my life, I crown Thee now” than it is to crucify self and enthrone Christ in my life. Lord, deliver me from SELF; help me tear down the barrier of selfishness in my life.
PRIDE is another barrier to Christian service. The thankless, often behind-the-scenes job in the Lord’s vineyard often goes begging. Anyone can serve amidst recognition and praise. It takes a true servant of Christ to serve when man does not see and man does not care. There would be no limit to what the church could accomplish if we didn’t care who got the credit. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier teaches a great lesson—a nation’s victories are mostly won by the blood of nameless men. So, also, in the kingdom of God, the real heroes are the humble, unheralded saints who serve tirelessly simply because they love the Lord.
PROCRASTINATION is possibly one of the most common barriers to service. All true Christians want to serve the Lord, but too frequently it is something that we regard as preferably done tomorrow. From experience I know that I have lost opportunities because I delayed too long. How quickly the night comes when no longer will work be possible. How quickly the harvest season will be past!
May the Lord, in His grace, give power to break down the barriers such as selfishness, pride and procrastination that we may get on with the Master’s work.
By Jeff Arnette
Most know Paul wrote 1 &2 Thessalonians, but many forget that Timothy and Silas are also named as authors (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).
Sunday, August 7, 2022
From Acts 2 and 3, we read of the Lord’s saints (apostles) proclaiming His message on the day of Pentecost, a significant day that generated, I am sure, curiosity. In chapter 4 we start learning a little more about the forces of resistance beginning to brew. Fresh in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders was the life, teaching, and rebuke suffered by them from the Lord. Aggravated as they were by Jesus, they were determined to put Him death. This they did, thinking they were able to put a stop to His influence. However, though they thought to put a stop to Jesus’ influence, they were now experiencing the ramifications of Jesus’ teaching with His disciples; they focused their attention on them.
The Sanhedrin (a very significant source of civil and religious authority among the Jews) decided to take a stand against the apostles, but this was not before there was, at least, an additional 2,000 people who had committed to the Gospel message of the Lord. They asked them, in effect, “Who are you and by what authority are you doing these things?” The apostles were happy to give attention to this question; it gave them the opening they desired to talk about Jesus, and this they did (4:8-12).
That is an important question to consider. “By whose authority do we do the things we do?”
In conjunction with this, Peter made it very clear that of all the names given among men living under the banner of the heavens, there is no other name than Jesus, the only name by which any can and will be saved (Acts 4:12). What this means in practical terms is this: there is no acceptable religious devotion from any of the people of any community who rejects Jesus. This applies to all the so-called “great” religions of the world. If one does not submit to the Lord Jesus, then all necessarily submit to the adversary of the Lord’s people, the devil.
After hearing the apostles, the Sanhedrin forbade them from speaking any further in the name of Jesus. To most, this would have been a sufficient reason to stop. Peter and John, however, thought differently. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard (Acts 4:19-20, ASV). The force of the resistance that opposed Jesus was beginning to throw its might against them, never considering that the force of the Almighty is on the side of those preaching the message of the Gospel.
Some lessons to learn. First, regarding salvation, no one is saved before the Almighty without a positive, obedient response to the Lord Jesus. Second, the religiously oriented and highly educated Jewish community does not make one religiously right in the Lord’s sight. Whatever devotion they may have had, to reject the Lord’s Servant is to reject Him. Let that be a reminder to each of us that it is not only one’s sincerity and devotion that makes one pleasing to the Lord, but it includes accurate knowledge and obedience to that which is learned from the Lord. Knowledge contributes to one’s holiness, but the heart’s response to that knowledge in obedience to the holy will of God is equally important. Third, when you talk about Jesus do not speculate on things to which the Holy Spirit never gave any attention (cf. 4:20); only talk about those things you know (cf. Rom. 15:18). If you’re uncertain about something, take time to study and look for another day to converse. Fourth, the Lord’s church will grow when all who love the Lord are under His banner, not trying to take the lead on their own.
Satan is a most vicious and subtle adversary, especially with those who are not fully in his camp. He doesn’t have to be overly sneaky with them – he’s already got them and they aren’t going anywhere. But for those of us who believe in Jesus and have the desire to live for and die with Him, Satan’s cunning is creative and devious. He’ll twist the scriptures and make promises he can’t possibly deliver (Matt. 4:1-11). He’ll hunt you down like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). He’ll attack you like an enemy (Eph. 6:10-18). He’ll even alter his appearance to seem trustworthy, like an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
He’ll make you feel good about your choices, yet all the while encouraging you to sin in other ways. For example, he allowed the Corinthian Christians to enjoy listening to the preaching of Peter, Apollos, and Paul, while subtly encouraging them to divide into splinter groups preferring Peter or Paul or Apollos. He had quietly diverted their attention away from the message and on to the messenger, turning something good into something evil. That’s why Paul had to sternly appeal to them in the name of Jesus, “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). There’s nothing wrong with different preaching styles, or even with preferring certain styles or methods over others. Peter, Apollos and Paul differed in their preaching styles due to their experiences, education and personalities. But even though they each taught the same gospel, Satan convinced the Christians to begin quarreling and dividing among themselves over these preachers. They all loved Jesus, but when their love for each other eroded into fights and quarrels, Satan was happy. Among the other things Paul listed as acts of the flesh (sinful nature) are “hatred, discord … dissensions, factions …” and he concluded, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal.5:19-21). Satan wins when Christians quarrel and divide. Keeping some, while breaking others, still makes you a lawbreaker (James 2:8-11). Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:20-21).
Of course, it’s not just over preacher preferences that Satan gets Christians to divide; it can be over any preference or optional matter. It could be …
… politics (Republican/Democrat/Independent – liberal/conservative)
… worship styles (traditional/contemporary – lively/meditative)
… race (black/white/oriental/Hispanic)
… education (Vo-Tech/State University/Christian College)
… holidays (how to observe Christmas/Easter)
… church programs (missions/Bible classes/visitation/worship times)
When it comes to doctrine, we must all take a firm stand to turn neither to the left nor to the right (Josh. 23:6-7; Rev. 22:19), but be submissively obedient. However, personal views and opinions must never be the cause of division. It’s OK to have preferences. It’s not OK to divide the body of Christ over them. Prayerfully read Romans 14.