Often we have the tendency to erect standards in the Christian life that we cannot ever obtain in the flesh or by sheer will and determination— and this inevitably leads to discouragement, frustration and despair. We do this because we see Jesus as the Anointed Rabbi, the Master Teacher, the Perfect Example and not the Lord who can complete in us exactly what He teaches. In other words, as He spoke the universe into existence and created something from nothing, He can also create in us what He is teaching us to be. He has promised, after all, to complete what He has begun in each of us (Philippians 1:6).
This is the profound thought that Oswald Chambers dissects in today’s My Utmost for His Highest devotion. And I would greatly encourage you to spend a year learning from the feet of Mr. Chambers as he expounds on the deeper things of God. It is time well spent.
Beware of placing Our Lord as a Teacher first. If Jesus Christ is a Teacher only, then all He can do is to tantalize me by erecting a standard I cannot attain. What is the use of presenting me with an ideal I cannot possibly come near? I am happier without knowing it. What is the good of telling me to be what I never can be— to be pure in heart, to do more than my duty, to be perfectly devoted to God? I must know Jesus Christ as Saviour before His teaching has any meaning for me other than that of an ideal which leads to despair. But when I am born again of the Spirit of God, I know that Jesus Christ did not come to teach only: He came to make me what He teaches I should be. The Redemption means that Jesus Christ can put into any man the disposition that ruled His own life, and all the standards God gives are based on that disposition.
The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man— the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out Our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him as paupers and receive from Him. “Blessed are the paupers in spirit,” that is the first principle in the kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility— “I cannot begin to do it.” Then Jesus says— “Blessed are you.” That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us on to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works.
Ouch. And ouch again.
When I look at the often neglected book of Philemon I assume, unfortunately, that this simple letter from Paul to Philemon about a returning runaway slave has little to offer us today. After all, there is no great teaching on the sacrifice of Christ or on the doctrine of election or on the imminent fulfillment of prophecy. There are no instructions to the church in holiness or repentance or sanctification. It seems somewhat out of place, nestled between the instruction of Titus and the theology of Hebrews.
But I could not be more mistaken. Let me explain.
For starters, Philemon is about a rich man who lived in Colosse and had been converted to Christ through the ministry of Paul. We know he is rich because the church meets in his very house. We also know he has a least one slave, Onesimus, possibly more, who ran away from Philemon and robbed him in the process. Even though Philemon did not pursue his runaway slave, the Roman law was broken and the penalty for Onesimus, when caught, was death.
Sometime later, possibly in jail with Paul, Onesimus is also converted to Christ through Paul’s ministry. And, in the course of Paul’s discipleship of Onesimus, Paul urges him to return to Philemon, face his past, pay his penalty, ask for forgiveness, and try to set things right.
So Onesimus does just that. He returns to the scene of his crime and to the man he wronged, taking with him the letter to Philemon, Paul’s letter on behalf of the runaway slave.
Let’s look briefly at this personal letter from Paul to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus.
The letter begins with the usual salutations characteristic of Paul. He says:
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 1-3).
Paul then spends the next couple of verses talking about Philemon, how he misses him, how he prays for him continually, how others have been refreshed by the faith of Philemon. Then Paul moves into the purpose of his letter.
Paul says he “appeals to you (Philemon) for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains.” In other words, Philemon, I am coming to you on behalf of my son in the faith, Onesimus, whom I led to Christ while I was in prison. I am sending him back to you as a forgiven brother and friend and fellow minister and not as a runaway slave. And I am asking you to receive him as a brother and not as one who has taken from you or has harmed you and your family. I am asking that you forgive him, restore him, and accept him as you would me. “You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart” (vs. 12).
Paul’s appeal to Philemon is summed up as such: “If then you count me as a partner (or, as a fellow partaker, a companion in the Gospel), receive him as you would me” (vs. 17). Or, I appeal to you to treat Onesimus, not as a sinner who has wronged you, but as a saint— a forgiven, redeemed, restored brother in Christ, just as I am also.
And then the crux of the message, the pinnacle of Paul’s’ letter.
But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.
I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay— not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides (vs. 18-19).
If Onesimus has stolen from you and has sinned against you, put it on my account. Let me pay the price for what Onesimus has done to you. Let me be wronged, let me be punished, let me suffer for his sin. Let me stand in the place of Onesimus before you and let me bear the wrath of your anger against him who has hurt you so. Let me be his substitute. Put his sin on my account, impute his crime to me, and I will repay all that he owes. See, I am writing this promissory note with my own hand, I will repay. Let Onesimus, my son in the faith and now your brother, not suffer for his sin against you, but let his punishment fall on me, who is innocent of any charge.
Can you see the pageant, the glorious play unfolding out before us?
Philemon represents God the Father, the One who is wronged, the One who was sinned against, the One who rightfully sits in judgment, the One who holds in His hands both life and death, freedom and bondage, for Onesimus, the rebellious, guilty, runaway slave.
And who are we? We are Onesimus, the arrogant, ungrateful, rebellious, guilty-as-charged, runaway slave. We stand before Philemon with no defense, convicted, ashamed, ready to be judged for our actions. We, like Onesimus, chafed at the yoke placed upon us and decided to run, like the prodigal son, into the world to make our own way with our pockets full of stolen money. We are guilty, judged, and stand ready to be sentenced. We have no alibi, no excuse, and we can expect no mercy from the Roman law that must be obeyed. After all, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Paul represents the Lord Jesus Christ. He sees value in what the world throws away (vs. 11) and offers grace to those who deserve none. He knows that Onesimus is guilty and deserves the punishment he has earned. But Paul, like Christ, also loves the runaway slave and offers himself as the satisfaction of the Law. “If he has wronged you, and we all know that he has, put the consequences of his sin on me. Impute his guilt to me. Let me pay the penalty for his sin and let what I pay atone for what he has done. Let me stand in his place, as his substitute, and let my payment satisfy Onesimus’ debt.”
It’s an amazing thing when we put the Lord Jesus in the middle of a passage that doesn’t seem to “speak to us where we are” and find, in every case, the picture of His redemption displayed with such breathtaking clarity. Let us all, as runaway slaves, remember the grace and love and sacrifice of Jesus who bore our sins Himself so we can be free (2 Peter 2:24). And let us live for Him, in that glory of His sacrifice, forever.
Adveho quis may.
Come what may.
One of the hidden dangers of striving to have correct doctrine, and then letting that striving become the mark or brand of our faith, is that we can become more concerned and focused with serving the Lord than with knowing and loving Him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that holding fast to correct doctrine, to truth, is to be minimized or discounted or taken lightly. Quite the contrary. Scripture continually exhorts and commands us to teach sound doctrine (1 Tim 4:6), to rebuke those who teach a contrary, false doctrine (Eph. 4:14), and Jesus Himself even said that He was, in essence, truth (John 14:6). So we can’t really know the Lord until we have an accurate understanding of Who He is and that, of course, comes from a correct understanding of Scriptures, or a study of doctrine. Hence, true, orthodox doctrine is vital for the Believer and the church. That’s non-negotiable, it’s a given for the Christian.
Let’s then put to rest the idea that I am speaking against the study of Biblical doctrine and truth. I am not. In fact, it is to that study of the Scriptures that I have given the better part of my life. The issue and danger is not in the study of doctrine alone, but in only doctrine.
Let me explain.
If we focus on doctrine only and let the pendulum of our spiritual lives swing too far in one direction, we inevitably become scholars, professors, smug experts in the Law, proud depositories of Biblical facts, and not passionate followers of the Lord Jesus. We replace intimacy with the Lord with knowledge about the Lord and then begin to filter the awe and breathtaking majesty of the Lord through the lens of our degrees and theology and orthodoxy. We think first, and feel last. We sacrifice heartfelt love for intellectual knowledge and brag about knowing all about Him— but not really knowing Him.
And this a dangerous place for a Believer to be.
Consider the church in Ephesus. They worked tirelessly for the Kingdom and stood strong and tall against those who were evil in their midst, against those who peddled their toxic, false doctrine as truth. They tested and vetted those who claimed to be apostles and found them to be liars (Rev. 2:3). The Scriptures say the church at Ephesus “persevered and labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rev. 2:3). From our perspective, they were a church that believed the Scriptures and held firm to sound doctrine. They prided themselves on being the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, of true, Scriptural teaching. And this was a good thing. In fact, it was a great thing.
But Jesus said this to them, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). They had done well in the work of the Lord, but in doing so, had failed in their love of the Lord. They were once in love with Him and now they were in love with what they were doing for Him. Ministry to the Lord replaced fervency for and intimacy with the Lord. They, like us today, jettisoned the best for the good, not realizing what it had cost them— or us.
So what are we to do? How do we keep this from happening to us?
Simply this, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). Remember what it was like when you first came to Christ? Remember the joy, the excitement, the childlike wonder, the swell of faith that birthed great dreams and confident assurance that you and your Lord could do anything? Remember when you truly believed that “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world”? (1 John 4). Remember when you rejoiced that you were a member of His church and that the very “gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Or prevail against you, for that matter. Do you remember all this?
If so, what happened to that person? When did he go? Who ran him off? How can we bring him back?
Jesus told the church at Ephesus to, “repent, and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). The road back to the beginning starts with humbling yourself before the Lord, confessing how you have allowed the world, both sacred and secular, both good and bad, to choke out the love of Christ, and ask for His forgiveness. And, as He promises, He will “forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Then ask the Lord to restore your childlike faith and innocence in Him, and let the revival of our lives begin again.
Please understand, it’s really that simple. All you have to do is ask.
Jesus wants us to stand firm and unyielding for the truth and to also have a heart that beats for Him, moment by moment. He wants us to know all about Him and to continue to grow in that knowledge, but not at the expense of simply knowing Him personally, intimately, face to face. It is not an either/or, Door One or Door Two type of choice. It is both. We stand in the truth because He is Truth and we love Him with all our being. We strive to know more and more about Him because we love Him more and more and by knowing more and more about Him we can love Him more and more. And yes, it really is just that simple.
Choose today to love Him with all that you are and to grow in the knowledge of Him for the simple reason that you love Him and want to know more about Him and watch how the two, doctrine and intimacy, work together as one.
Come Lord Jesus!
It’s hard to believe, but in the book of Zechariah we have a complete picture of the climax of the ages when the Lord Jesus, the Man, the Branch, comes to establish His Kingdom on this earth. It shows humanity crowning Him with an elaborate crown and declaring Him to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And it also shows how His death brought peace between a Holy God and His sinful creation.
And yes, this is all found in the book of Zechariah. Want to know more? Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Zechariah 6:9-15.
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Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
Independence is one of the hallmarks of our society. It is literally woven into the fabric of our nation and is part of our DNA as free Americans. We fought the War of Independence to gain our freedom from England and one of our Nation’s most sacred treasures is the Declaration of Independence.
As a capitalistic society we value and honor independence in the form of entrepreneurialism. We throw phrases of praise around like: “He’s a self-made man.” Or, “He picked himself up by his own bootstraps.” Or, “He started with nothing and look how far he has come with hard work and ingenuity.” We admire and want to be like those who have succeeded beyond anyone else, those with vision and commitment to do the impossible, those who refused to be defined, or labeled, or boxed in. We want to emulate those who made their own way by not working for “the man.” We idolize the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others who rejected the conventional and safe career paths, doubled-down on their dreams, charted new waters, and changed their world. These are the ones that are seen as true American heroes, our independent icons, our own American Idols… well, at least to some. And why? Because as a people and as a nation: We crave independence.
And the church is not immune to this insatiable craving. We choose pastors that will preach only what we want to hear, we demand only the worship music that we enjoy, and we will fight to the death to control all aspects of the church in order to make sure it remains a comfortable haven for us even as our lives drift further from the Truth. After all, we give our money, we bought our ticket, and we expect a good show.
Independence. Valued by our society and promoted by our culture as the key to success, but independence is exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures say leads to success in the Christian life. The Christian life is a life of surrender, of yielding one’s supposed “unalienable rights” for the sake of others. It’s a life of total dependence, helpless dependence— like that of a little child. Remember the words of Jesus: “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). And later, Jesus states that you cannot even enter into the Kingdom of God or receive the Kingdom unless you come dependent, like that of a little child (Mark 10:15).
Knowing how our carnal, prideful nature would balk at the thought of humility and dependence and self-sacrifice, Jesus modeled that dependent relationship while with us on earth with none other than His own Father— the first person of the Trinity.
Think about it, Jesus Christ, Incarnate Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, Co-equal with God the Father, chose to place Himself in a dependent relationship with God the Father in order to show us what is expected of you and me. He not only “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” but He also “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8-9). He became our example, the prototype of how the Christian life was to be lived.
Let me give you just a few examples.
First, when the Pharisees, the religious snobs of His day, put out a contract, a hit, on Jesus because He said that God was His Father and He was equal with God, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He (the Father) does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). In other words, Jesus is not living independent of the Father but in a totally dependent relationship with Him. How much of a dependent relationship? According to Jesus, He didn’t do anything on His own initiative but only did or copied what He saw the Father doing. He was imitating the Father while with us on earth. He had, in effect, the mind of the Father and walked like the Father walked. And we are commanded to have the same type of relationship with Him, to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and to “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
Next, when the religious snobs, the Pharisees, marveled at His teaching and questioned where Jesus received His theological training, the “What degree do you have and from what Seminary did you graduate” preacher prodding, He responded by saying, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). Did you get that? Jesus said the very teaching we read in RED in our Bibles did not originate from Him but was given Him by His Father. He was in such a dependent relationship that the Father gave Jesus, for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Jesus simply relayed the Father’s words to us. Same with the Kingdom Parables or the Vine and Branches in John 15 or the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. Jesus received His teaching from the Father and expects us to do the same. After all, He modeled that type of dependent relationship for us as an example.
Finally, after stinging the religious snobs for their ruthlessness and rescuing a woman caught in the very act of adultery, Jesus is accused and assaulted with the question: “Who are You?” (John 8:25). The Pharisees were hoping that Jesus would condemn Himself by saying what He had been saying to them all along, that He was the Son of God. Jesus responded to their question with this: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). In essence Jesus was saying that when He is crucified they will know that He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, and that He is so dependent on the Father that all He does and everything He says was taught Him by God the Father. He was, in effect, the Father’s mouthpiece and herald come to proclaim the Father’s words to the Father’s creation. He was what He commands us to be.
As the time for Jesus’ return approaches, it would do well for each of us to consider the ways we have defined our relationship with Jesus as that of a servant— 40 hour work week, time and a half overtime, 2 weeks paid vacation and an incredible benefit package— and not that of a slave. Because a slave, a voluntary slave, a bondslave, a doulos, is exactly what the Scriptures declare we are. We are ones that have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20) and now belong to our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
How ’bout we try living dependent on Him and not independent of His Word. What do you say? Don’t we owe that to the One who gave His all for us? I think we do— and much, much more.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
I was reading in the Proverbs and came across a verse that seems to perfectly describe the contemporary church culture of today. Surprised? You really shouldn’t be. After all, we are living large in the land of Laodicea where our mantra, our politically correct slogan, our bumper sticker of choice is: “Look at me, I’m important, I have worth, I matter to me.” We think it’s all about us, all about our wants and our desires and our opinions and our likes and dislikes. Our life literally revolves around us. It’s about who we friend on Facebook, who we tweet with our self-inflated pearls of wisdom and how cool and sexy and desirable we think we look in the thousands of selfies we post for everyone to see. We believe the world is anxiously waiting for us to post the next bit of trivia in our lives so they can rejoice with us at the picture of the meal we are eating or that we just completed 2 miles on the treadmill or how cute our cat looks all curled up on the couch. Our thoughts become consumed with “who is following me on Twitter, how many friends do I have on Facebook, who is checking out my profile? Wow! I must be something!”
And this chain of self-absorbed and prideful thinking then bleeds over into our spiritual lives and we begin to reason that if God were really the God we think He is… no, if He was the God we created Him to be, then He would see things our way. He would have the “mind of His creation” and not expect us to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). He would be our clone, our twin, someone greater than us designed to do our bidding and meet our every need. And why not? It’s all about us, isn’t it?
But that’s not at all who God is— and we know it. We just chafe at the thought of having to submit our will and conform our lives to the likeness of someone we can’t control or even understand. And if we were honest, we really want it to be about us and not about Him.
But that’s what the Christian life is all about. The life in Christ is a life of dependency and submission and not of self-will and self-gratification. It’s not a life of relying on our own understanding and choosing what is best in our own eyes. It’s not a life that “seems right” to each of us based on our own carnal, fallen sense of morality and righteousness. It’s not about living by our own rules and then feeling good about what we feel good about.
In other words, it’s not about us. Never has been. Never will be.
If we persist in demanding to be the god in our own life and to judge ourselves by our own standards we will inevitably continue to slide down the way that seems right to each of us. We will continue to journey down the path of living to only satisfy what we want to do, what we feel good about and what makes our flesh happy with ourselves. We will, in effect, reject God’s standards and pay a frightening price for doing so.
Proverbs 14:12 states:
There is a way or a path, journey, manner of living
that seems right or correct, or just
to a man or to each of us
but its end or the end result of going down that path that seems right or correct to us
is the way of death.
The Word of God clearly states the consequence of going our own way, of living like Laodiceans, of doing what seems right in our own eyes, of shaking our fist in the face of a holy, sovereign God who saved us by the death of His only Son— is death. It’s spiritual death, eternal death, physical death, moral death, certain death.
This is not the time to journey down the path that seems right to each of us. It’s not the time to do what our heart tells us to do. Why? Because God’s Word says that our heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9) and is not to be trusted. Plus, following our wicked and deceitful heart will only lead us down the path of death and destruction, so say the Proverbs.
Remember the words of Jesus: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Or, “Why do you call me Lord and not obey Me or follow My commands?” One answer for the almost criminal carnality and disobedience in the church today is found in 1 John 1:6 where John says: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
Let’s look at that verse a little closer.
If we say that we have fellowship or communion, participation, koinōnía
with Him or say we are Believers, follower of Christ, Christians
and walk in darkness or live unlike the Lord we claim to love and serve, to disobey His commands and neglect His Word
we lie in saying we are Believers, followers of Christ, Christians
and do not practice the truth or live like the Lord we claim to serve.
In effect, we are heading down the way of death according to Proverbs 14:12.
So which is it? Are we carnal and self-absorbed because we don’t truly know the Lord and are lost and deceived in thinking we belong to Him? Or are we simply losers in the spiritual life and suck at following Christ? Look deep inside of you and ask, Which is it?
It is now the time to stand for Truth (John 14:6), to surrender our lives to the One who created us (Rom. 12:1-2), and to walk as children of light and not children of darkness (Eph. 5:8). It essence, it is high time to become obedient to the Lord and the Word of God.
Adveho quis may.
Come what may.