Tag Archives: Jesus

Galatians 1:10; Brief Thoughts

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Many modern church leaders seek fame and publicity. They persist in ensuring that their names are known and exalted in this life. In effort to secure the praise of men, many compromise the message of the gospel. Some diminish the gospel by omitting difficult parts and others choose to emphasize one aspect at the cost of the whole gospel. Seeking the praise of men, these leaders steal the glory due to God and proudly place crowns on their own heads. These men are to be pitied and mourned over, they will one day answer to the God of glory, whom they have stolen from.

Paul was accused of such a theft. The men who accused Paul of this robbery of God’s glory were guilty of the very crime of which they claimed Paul was complicit. Seeking the praise of men, they postured themselves as holy leaders of the church. Still Paul, honestly presenting his own testimony, insists that he is not seeking the praise of men. Indeed, if Paul were seeking such accolade from mortal men, then the letter to the Galatians would never have been written. Such a testimony of Jesus’ glory and righteousness does not serve to make Paul great. Rather, as Paul will soon testify, his former success as a righteous Jewish Pharisee amounts to no value in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any glory he once tried to attain for himself is now counted as nothing and has resulted in scorn and accusation from men, but will result in honor from God.

A man cannot be a servant of Christ if he strives for the praise of men. Further, it is the motive that determines the position. Paul states that he “would not be a servant of Christ, if [he was] still trying to please man.” If Paul’s motive is to please men, then he proves himself to be a servant of men and not of God. Likewise, those who profess Jesus as King and then serve motives to enhance their own glory are not serving Jesus, but their own self-interests. So, Paul calls into question the accusation itself. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” The answer is obvious that Paul is not attempting to please men.

Paul will later explain that he has seen what it means to please men. He has stood among the apostles and rebuked them for showing deference to the Jews over the Gentiles believers. He has challenged Peter and defended the truth of Jesus in the face of radical hatred. Paul is acquainted with the reality of preference. He knows what it looks like and he has scorned it. He has surrendered prestige and honor for the sake of Christ.

Grace extends beyond me. If praise lands on me and not Christ, then I have cheapened grace. You see, if I matter more than Christ or if I am concerned about praise that I received, then I have brought the value of grace to my level. Here is a story that may serve as an example of what I mean:

I was once eating with an old friend from high school who was asking me about what I do for a living. My friend was of another religion. As a pastor, I have a few answers to this question, I reached into my bag-o-answers and said, “I spend a lot of time counseling people and helping them to live a full life. I walk alongside people whose marriages and lives are in turmoil and help them to understand a better way to live. I teach people what life is and help them to live it to the fullest.” My friend nodded sympathetically and said, “You are a great man who is really making a difference in this world.” At that moment I realized I had failed to exalt Christ. In my attempt to explain what I did, I soften the message of the gospel. I took the Gospel of salvation and explained it as if I was the message. Sorrow filled my heart the moment I heard him say this. The Gospel is so much greater than me. Though I may do some good things, Christ actually forgives sin and changes the souls of believers to give them life! He is the gospel, not me! Yet I had reduced the ministry of the gospel to my work! Needless to say, I no longer answer that way. Now my answer is, “I teach people about one true God, Jesus Christ!” It’s a much more awkward answer, but it is true.

When we seek the praises of men, we drag the Gospel down to the dirt and cover up the real message. Let the Gospel stand exalted in Heaven! That way it will save people and lift believers up to Heaven!

In evaluating our own understanding of grace and exaltation of the Gospel, there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

  1. When I am called by God to say or do something, am I pausing to consider the reactions of men?
  2. When Scripture is plain, am I softening what it says in order to make it more palatable to those around me?
  3. When I meet someone for the first time, am I honest and transparent about the gospel or am I attempting to please the other person?
  4. When I see injustice, do I answer with the gospel or do I hesitate because of the other people around me?

 

Advertisements

Galatians 1:8-9; Brief thoughts

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The Gospel is simple. The Gospel is Jesus, come to earth, died for sins, rose up conquering death, and is coming back. It can be reduced to one profound and yet simple statement: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. The profundity is discovered as the words are unpacked. The simplicity is that there is nothing else to do than believe this. If you could simply believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, then you could have eternal life. Not merely life after this physical life, but much more! You can have life where death has reigned. Where the requirements of law and the bondage of sinfulness have restricted your own ability to love, you could have life and freedom from the dictates of the adversary. You could be free if you simply believe the gospel.

The gospel preached by Paul and his fellow-laborers to the Galatians churches was one of such magnificent simplicity. It requires nothing and costs everything. It is freedom and yet, if truly believe it, results in surrendering everything. Everything. All your good deeds and self-righteousness. All your worldly desires and self-interest. Everything. The gospel demands nothing, yet we are compelled to give everything out of a deep sense that joy is found in the surrender. So Paul called the Galatians to leave their legalism, their paganism, and their idolatrous attempts to find righteousness on their own. Yet, someone has come to teach them that they must submit again to a yoke of slavery to the law. These vile false teachers have taken the gospel and added the clause: you must obey the law. So their message became, in order to follow Christ you had to become Jewish first. They were teaching that one must be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved by Christ.

In righteous fury, Paul lovingly admonishes the Galatian believers telling them that anyone who would pervert the gospel ought to be cut off from the Kingdom of God. He uses the Greek word ‘Anathema’ meaning “cursed, cut-off,” or “banned from the camp.” This word implies damnation. The perversion of the gospel is so severe that it demands hell as punishment. Consider this illustration: You have labored for years to provide for your children. In love, you labored before their birth to give them everything they would need to live a lavish and comfortable life. You built them a home with a never-ending supply of food and delights. You serve them and raise them to see the wonderful gifts that you have for them. Then they come along and add locks on all the cabinets and refrigerator. They put requirements on their younger siblings. Requirements you did not impose. They say, “if you want to have Daddy’s love you must obey these rules that He did not impose and yet to which we hold.” Consider the gravity of such an offense. They have stolen your love for your children and turned it into something unrecognizable. They have perverted your love. So it is with the gospel and the Galatians. They have listened to a gospel that added locks to the open door. Paul is shattering the locks in this letter.

Take note of some specifics with regard to Paul’s words. Even if another gospel is proclaimed from heaven, it is not to be received! The power of the cross is so great that even the Heavens cannot proclaim another gospel. No angel, no heavenly being can change what God has done. Jesus is Savior and Lord and none can take that from Him. Second, not even Paul can change the gospel message. If Paul came and said, “that’s what I said, but now I’ve changed my mind,” then Paul would be wrong. Stick to the gospel that was taught at the beginning! Finally, if the new message contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is to be rejected.

Three simple ways to recognize false gospels.

  1. Read the Bible and compare what you hear to what it says. Take the Bible for what it says and test all things by what it says (be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11).
  2. If the gospel message taught does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh and literally died and rose again, it is a false gospel (c.f. 1 John 4:1-6).
  3. If the gospel message is not evidenced by a life of love, then it is not the gospel (c.f. John 13:34-35).

There are certainly other ways to ensure that you will not be blown off course by false teaching, but none are so definite as knowing the scripture.

 

Galatians 1:2-3; Brief Thoughts

To the Churches of Galatia:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, …

Peace is never safe and grace always comes at cost to the giver. Law is always safe and order only costs the one on whom the law is imposed. Law and order provide a modicum of security at the expense of freedom and joy. But grace and peace offer freedom and joy to the recipient. Security and safety are not to be found in the adventure of grace and peace.

Grace is given by the Supreme Lord at cost to Himself. He has granted forgiveness of sins and has refused to hold those under grace to the Law. In such a great gift, God has granted freedom to those who believe. Grace is contradictory to the law. Law demands obedience in exchange for security, grace gives freedom at cost of control. God has determined that He will walk with man. He walks alongside mankind, engaging in the seemingly mundane designs of life. So Christ grants grace for freedom over law for control.

Peace can only be attained by risk. One must surrender and trust the One who promises peace. If you wish to know peace, then you must surrender your need to control the circumstances in your own life. This surrender of control and security in exchange for lasting, real peace seems difficult. Mankind is not inclined to “let go.” Every person desires to shape their own destiny and decide their own fate. The irony of such a struggle is that it is dependent on controlling external circumstances – circumstances that are decidedly out of a man’s control. These circumstances that we so fear are beyond our ability to control, yet they are held fast in the hands of the Almighty God. He has power over all things and keeps all things (Col. 1:17). Indeed, He is the only active agent that can change ANY circumstance. Thus, He is the only one who can guarantee peace. Yet the peace can only come when trust is given entirely to Him. A man must surrender his need to make himself righteous and trust that Jesus’ sacrifice will rescue those who believe.

Further, this grace and peace come from God who has a particular relationship with us. He is “our Father” (v.3). He is Lord over all, and He is our Father. He has an intimately personal investment in you as a person. He is the One whom you derive your character from as a believer. He is the One who has taken care of you. Think for a moment about Jesus’ example of fatherhood in Luke 11:1-13. God is a good father who gives good things to His children. He gives peace. In Luke, this peace is particularly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to grant peace and grace to those who believe! What greater peace can be given than the constant presence of the Father to guide and walk life with us!? There is no greater peace a person can have than the presence of the One who is Lord over all!

God the Father and Jesus Christ provide perfect peace and sufficient grace for those who believe in Christ Jesus. If you wish to have this grace and peace, you must trust in Jesus for salvation. This means that you admit that you have sinned against God- that means that you have broken His law and attempted to secure your own righteousness apart from Him (an impossible task). Trust in Christ’s atoning work for your sins – past, present, and future. Jesus died on the cross, taking the sins of those who believe upon Himself. In His death, your sin is defeated! Consider this for a moment: when Jesus died, all your sins were future sins. You trust in Christ, He takes ALL your sins upon himself. The Gospel is well stated succinctly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11.

To put it simply:

  1. Recognize you are a sinner in need of forgiveness from God.
  2. Trust that Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, died – taking sin upon Himself.
  3. Trust that Jesus overcame death by being resurrected from the dead.
  4. Surrender to Him as Savior and Lord.

You can pray to God and ask His forgiveness and He will give it. Place your trust in Him. There is no law that can save you, no amount of self-made-righteousness that can rescue you from your own wickedness. Only trusting in Christ can save you.

Galatians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle – not from me nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – 2and all the brothers who are with me.

All the goodness and efforts of man cannot compare with the holiness of God and God’s own work. No amount of human strength can rescue the sinful man from their own disposition. No about of effort can redeem a man’s heart or rescue a man’s soul from death. Yet, the very word of God brings life. The Lord created the world with a word and brings life to the dead through very same means. God speaks, we breathe – that’s how it works.

Confronted by a leagalistic heresy, a mass of well-intentioned church people, and a culture that demanded religious observance and public piety, Paul wrote the church in Galatia about the miraculous and profound nature of salvation. There is no power that can free a man, no law that can restore a man to right relationship with God, only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can rescue mankind. One must trust Him for salvation. Thus, Paul begins his message to the Galatians by asserting his authority and message are from Jesus, not man nor any work of man.

Paul is an apostle. The word apostle means one who is sent. Paul has been sent by God with a message from God. He does not simply commend a message from God or reference a message from God. Rather, he brings the message from God. The words that proceed from the pen of Paul are words of tremendous conviction and are of a confrontational nature. Paul establishes, before engaging in the nuances of the Christian life, that this message comes from Jesus. He brings the word of the Lord to bare on the conscience of the reader.

Further, Paul’s apostleship did not come from his own ambition or from the urging of other men. Indeed, Paul’s original ambition was to remove every semblance of Christianity from the earth (Acts. 7:58-8:3). His own ambition was no longer a viable part of his life. He had surrendered his rights to promotion and self-exaltation in effort to see the gospel advance. Likewise, there were not many who believed that Paul should be in ministry. His history of persecution over the church was not lauded with tremendous zeal for him to begin Christian ministry. Indeed, it is much more likely that many were wary of his ministry given his history. Ananias, the first Christian to reach out to Paul even objected to the Lord’s command to go to Paul saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much even he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13) Yet, the Lord saw fit to redeem and call Paul an apostle. No committee or vote was held, no church ordination, no seminary degree was required, only God’s calling an commission were present. Paul’s apostleship was unique from all the others. He was commissioned by Christ on a road and the Holy Spirit in the desert (c.f. Acts 9).

Paul was made an apostle through Jesus Christ. He did not merit the apostleship. He did not earn it through years of study. He was made an apostle through the work and effort of Jesus Christ and Christ alone. Note the name by which Paul calls Jesus – Jesus Christ. He is the Christ. The one whom the law points all mankind. The Savior. The bringer of freedom. The righteousness of God and salvation for all who believe. The Christ! The anointed one in whom freedom and Sabbath is found! Paul’s apostleship comes from this Lord. This King who rules over all with the word of grace and life. Further, it is not simply through Jesus, but also with the authority of God, the one who brings resurrection and life. Paul’s apostleship comes from the very seat of life and creation. The very hand that wrote the law on tablets of stone and lead the Israelites through the wilderness into the promised land is the same One who gave Paul the commission of “apostle!”

Consider the power of such an authority. Is there a greater authority available? Is there a power stronger than the one who can defy death? Is there a strength greater? No… no there is not. The mission and authority by which Paul writes is unparalleled.

Finally, Paul does not write in a vacuum. He writes with the witness  of the community of grace. He calls to a community within the context of a community of faith that loves him well. Consider the focus of this letter – the law verses grace. Where law is overcome by grace, community thrives. In a community of grace, the apostleship of all Christians is recognized and self-inflated piety dissipates into nothingness because Christ has covered all who trust in Him.

This letter to the Galatians is much more than just a commentary on the Law. It is about living in grace. Christ has freed us from the Law. He has freed us from sin and death and enabled us to live in right relationship with Him and also with each other. This repaired relationship is the context by which Paul writes.

Brief Thoughts: Philemon 4-5

4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

Philemon was a house church leader in Colossae. His prominence among the community of faith was one that held sway and influence over a number of brothers and sisters in Christ. So Paul begins his instruction to Philemon by reminding Philemon of their mutual relationship. Though Paul is in prison and Philemon is in comfort, they share a shepherding relationship in the church. Confrontation looming, Paul seeks to remind his brother, Philemon, of that relationship.

Paul begins to approach the issues that need addressing by praising God for the good Philemon has done. Invoking the authority of God and, thereby, passively reminding Philemon of God’s position in their relationship. Paul’s reminder to Philemon in verse 4 is a not-so-subtle attempt to remind Philemon that he is being brought before God. Anytime someone says they have been thanking God for you, it ought to make you examine yourself to see if there is anything God is going to correct. This is especially true when a man such as Paul reminds you that he has labored over you in prayer. As a student wanting to please his teacher, so Philemon must have had some desire to please Paul, the great missionary founder of the churches in Asia.

The reason for gratitude over Philemon is the news of his love and faith. Philemon has made sacrifices for the community. He voluntarily gives over his home and time to the work of the Lord. This is a unique sacrifice that should not be overlooked. While Philemon may or may not be an elder (scripture does not tell us if he held the title pastor), he is the host of the church. Hosts don’t get time off. Hosts surrender their own space so that the community can meet in their home. If someone else is tired or sick, they can stay home and just skip for the week. But the host cannot. So Philemon has shown himself to be loving and faithful.

Moreover, Paul is probably referencing even further dedication to the love of the saints and the provision of their needs. It is, no doubt, with great joy that Paul prays in gratitude for Philemon. His constant care and love for the church has made its way to Paul’s ear. Paul, who founded the churches of Asia and dealt specifically with riots, rejection, and all sorts of pitfalls, must find extreme delight in those who carry on the work when he is gone.

Take note that Paul is particularly struck by his love toward “Jesus and all the saints.” Philemon is gently reminded that his love for Jesus is good and that it extends to ALL the saints. Not merely those of high social standing or those who are in particular positions of prominence. The love of Jesus must extend through the hearts of His disciples to everyone. Jesus’ own words explain this even further in Matthew 25:31-40 when He speaks about the final judgment and the day that the King will say to those who are condemned that they have failed to provide for the least and therefore have failed to provide for Him. Loving the lowest in society is loving Jesus. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. There is only one King and He made himself lowest (C.f. John 13). We are to follow His example and be as He is.

The gospel is the great equalizer. Titles of “slave” and “master” are no longer applicable in the context of the gospel. Philemon’s relationship to Onesimus has transformed from slave to brother. To what extent does the gospel change society’s structure? To what end does the gospel defy the social morae’s of the time? In every way! The gospel defies injustice and demands that believers live above the base morality of society. When a believer is confronted with injustice they make war against it. Believers do not submit to the unjust luxuries of society no matter how integrated they may be. Slavery was an integral part of society in the first century. No matter how easy it made life or how dependent on slavery the economic structure may have been, Christians are called to live the gospel! That means there can no longer be slaves. The gospel must transform all of life. We should not be surprised if the gospel requires great cost from those who believe. After all, we are all once slaves, now free.

Philemon 1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Paul and Timothy write to Philemon to encourage him to welcome Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and to free him from slavery to sin and death. As they have been freed in Christ, so the gospel is one that should set every man free from slavery both spiritual and physical. In this simple letter, Paul endeavors to engage Philemon as a brother and encourage him to voluntarily forgive Onesimus and make him a brother, no longer a slave. Whatever offense Onesimus has caused, Philemon needs to be able to forgive it and do what is right. That is to say, Philemon needs to be able to forgive the past and free the slave – because that’s what the gospel does.

This greeting identifies Paul as a victim of circumstantial wickedness (imprisonment for Christ) like Onesimus (a victim of slavery). It also sets Paul apart from Philemon. Paul was alone with only Timothy to support him. Indeed, he had been abandoned by many! Contrary to Paul, Philemon is surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even lists, specifically, a “sister and a “soldier.” A family member and a protector. Whereas Paul is condemned by soldiers of a wicked government, Philemon has a soldier of Christ in his home! Whereas Paul has only Timothy to console him, Philemon has an entire church! The stark contrast between luxury and prison cannot be lost. Paul is clearly making a point by asserting the blessings of Philemon. It is as if Paul is saying, “you have no reason for complaint about property, condition, or company.” It is no great thing for Philemon to release a slave in order to gain a brother.

Further, Paul knows that others are watching Philemon and he is reminding Philemon that he has the eyes of others upon him. The church that he labors to serve as a “fellow worker” is the very audience to which he is attempting to model Christ. So it stands to reason: if Philemon wishes to display the freedom of Christ and the love of Christ in his own actions, then it follows that he should forgive Onesimus and set him free. Paul’s greeting serves as both a loving salutation and a gentle reminder of the responsibility of one who leads the church.

Finally, Paul’s greeting to Philemon passively asserts the truth that no one in the church should compartmentalize their lives to allow un-forgiveness. Philemon is a part of a community. That community meets in his home and is intimately acquainted with him. Philemon cannot avoid them or live hypocritically before them. This is the nature of a healthy church community. A healthy church is one in which members of the body cannot hide from each other. They cannot simply pretend that they are holy and pursuing Christ in all areas of life and then simply go home and do as they please. Healthy communities engage each other on a level that does not allow for isolation and compartmentalization.

Unfortunately, compartmentalized faith is all too common in the modern western church. Men will serve as bastions of holiness in their church community while living a debauched life away from that community. Women will put themselves pillars of godly womanhood when present in their church, then they will gossip and slander others when away from the community. In a healthy church, this should not happen. A healthy church is in contact with each other in all spheres of life. The eyes of the church community are all looking out for one another and are helping to urge one another on towards unity. There is no hiding when you have surrendered your life to the exposing light of Jesus Christ. Love exposes our failures and redirects us to love one another through a personal connection.

Do you have a community like this? Philemon was held accountable by loving brothers and sisters. Such accountability would, no doubt, give him the support and love to forgive Onesimus and bring him into the community. Do you compartmentalize your faith from your everyday life? Strive to serve and love others in a transparent community of faith! Surrender your privacy so that you might delight in the community of Christ.

The I pastor strives to live in this sort of authentic community. If you live anywhere near Brazoria, TX, come join us as we struggle to live transparent lives worshiping the King of Glory together! We don’t always get it right, and we are far from perfect. Come walk this life in community. More info available here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

IMG_7029

For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

To purchase through Lulu.com:  https://goo.gl/yCoQJk