What saith the word?
A local church is going to be about as strong and sound as the preaching it receives and is willing to endure and support. Paul's solemn charge to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1-4) had a sense of urgency about it. Preach the word now, while brethren will endure it, or face a time when they will not.
As of lately, I have been paying particular attention as brethren (preachers and otherwise) express their concerns about the churches of today. One dominant concern seems to be the caliber of preaching coming from our pulpits. A majority of pulpits are preaching soft feel good sermons and are no different than the other churches surrounding them. Strong congregations cannot be built and maintained on this type of teaching. The sad thing is that many churches had rather have watered down sermons than real spiritual food. As long as churches demand it, there will be those who are willing to be paid to NOT preach the Gospel.
Sermons and classes with real doctrine content are held in disfavor by many of today's churches. The demand is for more "relevant" matters. Topics that address so-called "real problems" and "real life concerns" of "today's Christian" are replacing those that deal with what the Book says about man's basic spiritual problem, sin; and his real basic needs of conviction of sin and the salvation of his soul. It seems often that ministers that entertain and make brethren feel good about themselves, rather than producing godly sorrow leading to repentance or any real depth of Scriptural knowledge, are given the most favored status among brethren. Sermons that really teach the Bible are considered "uninteresting," "too structured," and even "crude" by some. All too often preachers who resort to such are asked to find some place else to do their preaching.
A congregation constantly fed on milk (or less) will not develop an appetite for sound doctrine. Those who may have had an appetite will soon lose it and possibly leave. Without a desire for sound doctrine churches are vulnerable to all kinds of fables or doctrines Neither motivational hype nor emotional manipulation is gospel preaching. It may enhance the speaker's standing with brethren as a dynamic speaker. But, it will not produce a well-grounded faith based upon a "thus saith the Lord."
Brethren, our preaching must follow the pattern that Paul outlined to Timothy. In form, it must have a well-rounded combination of reproving, rebuking and exhorting. In substance, it must have doctrine as the base. It is not an accident that Paul, in the preceding chapter, shows the Scriptures to be profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). Book, chapter, and verse preaching and teaching that quotes or reads Scriptures and then makes clear applications of the reading is seldom the desire today, but it is what once made preachers and congregations great!
1 Corinthians 1:8 (KJV) Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The power to perform miracles was a gift present in the first century church of Christ. How long was this miraculous phenomenon to abide? We cannot know exactly. At the very least, miracles died with those who possessed them once there were no more apostle to bestow gifts “through the laying on of hands” (Acts 8:17-18). Some suggest they will last until Christ returns. One of the passages used in attempting to establish this idea is 1 Corinthians 1:8 where Paul, addressing the saints in Corinth, declared that God “shall confirm you unto the end, that you may be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here is the argument some make. Miracles were designed to confirm (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3,4), and since the confirmation was to continue to “the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8), it is obvious that miracles were continue to the end, i.e., until the coming of Christ.
The argument is flawed in several ways. The purpose of miracles was to confirm the truth of the gospel (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3,4) – not people per se; yet this passage speaks of confirming Christians. Obviously the confirmation here suggested is not the same as in these other contexts. The passage no more asserts that miracles will continue to the end of time than it argues the Corinthians themselves would continue to live unto the end of time.
The term “end” (telos) can mean “to the uttermost” (ex. John 13:1), and therefore is not confined to a reference of specific time. Later in this same book Paul contends that supernatural gifts will continue only until “the perfect thing,” i.e., the completion of New Testament revelation, comes (1 Corinthians 13:8ff). We know logically, that the apostle writing through inspiration does not contradict himself in 1 Corinthian 1:8 and 13:8ff.
Some of the Corinthians had miraculous gifts which could confirm the miraculous gifts given by the Apostles, and the authenticity of their faith. However, the point is that Christ would confirm them to the “uttermost” in the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Christ’s confirmation of the faithful Christian is far superior to the earthly confirmation of Miraculous gifts which were available in the first century. Not only does this verse not teach the continuance of gifts, it teaches there is a greater confirmation by our Lord at the judgment of all men (John 12:48).
It is impossible for anyone to have predicted with accuracy all the things found in the New Testament. Yet, that is exactly what we find in the prophecies of the Old Testament which point to the events recorded in the New Testament.
Who could have predicted a child to be called "Mighty God" (Isaiah 9:6), who would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14), who would be rejected by His own people (Isaiah 53:3), who would save only a remnant of Israel (Isaiah 37:31), who would be lead as a sheep to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), who would be resurrected keeping his body from seeing corruption (Isaiah 38:17)? Who could have predicted the rise and fall of kingdoms like Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre and Sidon, the fall of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-27), the subjugation of the Medes and Persians to the Grecians, and a fourth kingdom mightier than those at which time God would set up His kingdom (Daniel2:44)? Who could have predicted the things surrounding Jesus' death, the lots cast for his garments (Isaiah 53:12), the pierced hands and feet (Psalm 22:16), while not a bone being broken in his body like the passover lamb (Psalm 34:20)? Who could have predicted that in three days He would be raised from the dead (Hosea 6:2)? What other book shows such a united theme and such divine wisdom in predictive prophecy? These features are missing from any other book claiming to be inspired.
Even if someone could have predicted these things, who could have made them happen just as prophesied? The odds of this occurring apart from inspiration is1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. An amazing feature found in the Old Testament is the many direct prophecies of Christ, which when combined with the miraculous events, confirm His Deity and his being part of the Godhead. This is only a small portion of the many reasons I know the Bible is inspired, accurate, truthful, and the only Guide for the follower of God today!
As Christians trying to abide by the will of Christ (Col 3:16-17) we realize the importance of studying the scriptures so that we know what to believe and do (2 Tim 2:15). Unfortunately, today many people are teaching and practicing things contrary to the scriptures, but give verses to support their doctrines. Many state it is a difference in interpretation, but many times they are not rightly dividing the word of truth. Many of these problems are related to keeping verses in context. We have to remember as we read the scriptures today, that these scriptures were written to a different group of people who lived in a different time. Some passages are directed specifically to the Apostles, others to Christians in General, and others to non-believers. This does not mean that these scriptures are not applicable to us today. However, we must first understand God’s inspired message to them so that we can apply it to us today in a relevant way.
One cannot just take any scripture and use it to support their ideas. For example, one cannot take John 3:16 (KJV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” and make this a support verse to include any person with a mental belief of Jesus. There are many people who think Jesus lived but was not the Messiah, and clearly this verse does not teach universal salvation.
The scriptures impose boundaries upon themselves just like we do in our language today. The authors of the New Testament make it abundantly clear that the Law of Moses and the old covenant are not bound upon believers in the new covenant (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18; Colossians 2:16-19; Hebrews 7-9). Yet, the Old Testament passages can be quoted to reinforce New Testament teachings, but it would be wrong for someone to impose animal sacrifice upon a New Testament Christian. Therefore, the importance of understanding scriptures as applied to us today is context. Clearly, God’s message was meant for both those living when it was written and for us today, but context shows us how to apply it in a time with different customs and manner of life.
Another example of this is when Paul was speaking to those in the first century who had received spiritual gifts from the apostles. There are no apostles today to give gifts as demonstrated in Acts 8:17. It would be incorrect to think that we have access to the same gifts (I Corinthians 13:10, James 1:25). When that which was perfect (complete) was come the gifts were done away with. The “perfect” or “complete” thing he was talking about is the “perfect law of Liberty” which is also called the New Testament. There was the written word to guide us, and thus there was no need for the miracles which produced faith in the messenger.
People have been speculating about the message of Revelation for their own day for the past nineteen centuries; and for nineteen centuries many have been wrong. Revelation was written directly to the Christian audience at the end of the first century and must be understood in that perspective. However, the lessons can be applied to us today. Any interpretation of Revelation that does not respect the original audience is not a Biblical interpretation! We must work diligently to not just read and quote Scripture but to do so in a proper and right way, which is keeping it in context!
What A Name Says!
The name Christian brings honor and glory to Christ and shows that one is a follower of Him and His word. Why are followers of Christ called Christians, and from where did this name come? Seven hundred years before it was given, God promised He would one day call His people by another name (Isaiah 65:15). This new name was to be given by the Lord Himself (Isaiah 62:2). Additionally, Isaiah 62:2 shows that this new name was to be given by the Lord after "the Gentiles shall see your righteousness". By Acts chapter 10 the gospel had been taught to both Jew and Gentile and the church was composed of both. Then we read in Acts 11:26, "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." The name "Christian" was the new name the Lord gave after the Gentiles were included in His church as was prophesied. This is the worthy name by which we glorify God and Christ. Even king Agrippa recognized this. Acts 26:28 (KJV) Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. This was not a name, which Christians assumed for themselves, nor was it given in derision by enemies of Christ.
God’s word says, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter" (1 Peter 4:16). We glorify God when we wear the name Christian. Why should anyone wear a name that does not glorify God and meet His approval? Why would anyone, who "claims" to be a follower of Christ, want to give glory and honor to Luther, John the Baptist, Rome, Nazareth, catholic which means universal, and the list goes on and on. Why can’t we give glory and honor to God and Christ where the honor belongs? Even by their names they do not claim to belong to the Lord. Many want to wear their denominational names by calling themselves by other names rather than only a Christian. They seem to be ashamed of the name Christian or at the very least involved in division. Jesus says, Mark 8:38 (KJV) Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. We must never be ashamed of being a Christian. It is an honor to wear the name. According to the New Testament, not everyone who is referred to as a Christian is a Christian. One is not a Christian because he believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God because the Bible says, "Even the devils believe and tremble" (James 2:19). The name Christian is used loosely today which brings shame and reproach on the Lord and His name because many want to do things their way and not the Lord’s. By this they, "blaspheme that noble name by which you are called" (James 2:7). The many differing denominations do not exist by the authority of the Lord, and their existence is contrary to the doctrine of Christ by wearing their different religious names (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). We should simply be a Christian, a member of the Lord’s one true church as revealed in the New Testament. We must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. We must call things by Bible names and do things in Bible ways, if we expect to go to Heaven
The Bible has much to say about our influence through speech upon others. The passage that comes to my mind immediately is Ephesians 4:29 (KJV) “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers”. From this passage we learn that “corrupt” speech is not to be spoken by the Christian. There are three ways in which we can use speech in a corrupt way. First of all we can utter a curse upon something. This is basically what Jesus condemns in Matthew 5:22 (KJV) “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire”. To curse another person or even to curse God’s creation is a sin against God. God made the earth and people as a blessing. We ought to respect God’s blessing and not curse it. The second way in which we can corrupt speech is by using God’s name in vain. God told the Israelites in Exodus 20:7 (KJV) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. This principle is still true today. God does not want us to refer to Him in a vain or empty way. He is God, and deserves our constant and complete respect and reverence. To use His name in an empty way is to not give God the respect that God deserves. The third way in which we can corrupt speech is by taking something that God has made holy and making it common. The intimate (sexual) relationship is one such example. God made that relationship to be holy, that is, set apart between a husband and wife. If we speak concerning that relationship or act as if it is just another common activity then we denigrate it. Yet today, television shows mock this relationship and many speak of such matters in a flippant and joking way. This is completely inappropriate and should not be named among the people of God. Ephesians 5:3-4 (KJV) 3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.”
So where do euphemisms fall into these three categories? When we are unsure of the meaning of words, the best place to go is to the dictionary. When I looked up “gosh” it said that it was a euphemism for God. When I looked up “golly” it said the same thing. The word “heck” is a euphemism for “hell.” The words “darn” and “dang” are euphemisms for the word “damn.” Often on social media, I see Christians write “O.M.G”. This is simply a euphemism for “Oh My God.” And is just as inappropriate as using God’s name in vain. The word euphemism means the following: “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.” Basically, a euphemism is using a word that doesn’t sound as bad as the one that most consider offensive, but the meaning of the word is the same. So there is no change in meaning when we use a euphemism. Therefore, dang and darn mean “damn”, heck means “hell”, and shoot means …. Well, you know.
Temptations are things that people face on a daily basis. It is not always something as bad a pornography, adultery, or murder. A temptation is anything which challenges our character as a Christian. This could be something as simple as skipping service, dressing immodesty, or telling a “white lie” to save someone’s feelings. Overcoming these temptations is a task that we will face for the rest of our lives.
Does James advice seem contradictory or unusual? James 1:2 (KJV) My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Christians are not to think of trials or temptations as a punishment or a trap in our lives. These trials are not “placed” in front of us to make us fall, but are rather tests or trials which simply come about because of life. These trials will come but Paul tells us how to deal with them. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (KJV) There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. We are able to overcome any temptation, but the best method is to look for the route of escape. Sometimes escape is not possible and we simply have to endure the trial, other times we are given the option to not indulge in or take part in an activity which we now is wrong. Often, the best method of escape is to not participate. Jesus Himself told us how to prepare for these trials. Mark 14:38 (KJV) Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
Now for the important part of dealing with temptations. Face it, we are humans and we make mistakes and give in to our temptations. The important thing is our mindset regarding the temptation and how we deal with it in the future. When we fall into temptations and fail, we have an avenue to become righteous again. 1 John 1:9 (KJV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We then have to figure out how to deal with the trial in the future and this brings us back to Mark 14:38. We must watch for this temptation again in the future in order that we can avoid it from causing us to fall again. Our eyes set on purity and righteousness, coupled with prayer regarding the matter, are our best defense in avoiding and overcoming temptation.
When we become Christians we are to transform our lives. Some immediately begin to grow, while others remain stagnant in their faith. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2 (KJV) And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Based on Paul’s words, lets look at three ways we can be transformed.
1. We must prepare our hearts
Preparing our hearts is one of the most important steps to become spiritually mature. If we don’t desire the right mindset to do Gods will, we may eventually fall away from God. It takes dedication and commitment to learn more about God and do his will. Jesus taught the same concept during his ministry. Luke 10:27 (KJV) And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. If we do not fully prepare our heart to serve God we will find it very difficult to remain faithful. Motivation and desire is the key to success in every area of life.
2. We are to do everything with heaven as our ultimate goal.
Matthew 6:19-21 (KJV) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Jesus was letting the people know that monetary gain should not be our focus in life, rather we are to make heaven our goal and our treasure. If our goal is to get to heaven, and we have prepared our hearts, half the battle is won.
3. We must be doers of the Word.
Its not enough to be motivated, or to desire the reward of heaven. It is also not enough to know the word of God. We must also obey what we have learned as a response to the preparation of our heart and the desire for our heavenly reward. I believe James put it best: James 1:21-25 (KJV) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
Simply put, Christianity is based upon a heart that desires to do right in hopes of a reward of heaven. This desire is demonstrated by the faithful Christian in knowing God’s will, and then living according to God’s word in every aspect of their life.
Nathan told David, “thou art the man”! I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, therefore God has never spoken directly to me about the condition of another person’s life. I am not an apostle, therefore, I don’t have insight into a person’s private thoughts and motives as Peter did (Acts 5:1-11). However, I am a teacher of God’s Word and that requires that I speak in specifics and not just generalities about sin. It is my responsibility to make the application of God’s word personal, and it is the learner’s responsibility to apply the Word personally. If people cannot see their need for the message of God’s word, then I have failed in my duty.
When Nathan came to David and told him the story about the man and his little ewe lamb, he did not initially tell David that he was the one who was guilty. The story was designed to arouse feelings of unjustness, so that David could make personal application to his own behavior. David was enraged because of the selfish and unfair behavior Nathan described (2 Samuel 12:1-6). Then, when Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) David’s eyes were finally opened. We might wonder how David had not known what he had done before Nathan said, “Thou art the man.” When David committed adultery, then, having failed to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, carried out the plan to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed so he could have his wife, he was not unaware of what he was doing. How can one hide the awfulness of such behavior from himself? To even ask the question is to see our own faces reflected in David’s mirror, because we also hide sins in our hearts. Every one of us in the church has areas of weakness and commits sin. Some more than others! Sometimes, we bury those sins so we don’t have to face the act or the consequences. For the Christian who is trying to live right, remorse must follow. David’s conscious remorse and heart-felt anguish are revealed in Psalm 51. David got the message!
Our judgments about the application of God’s Word can be flawed and our lives spotted by our own imperfections, but that’s no excuse for not dealing with one’s sin. Weak and bland preaching that makes people feel good about themselves, but never addresses wrong attitudes and sinful practices, causes people to be deceived. One has to be willing to see how God sees their sins before he can ever repent of them, and God does require repentance (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:22; Acts 17:30). There is something to be said for one on bent knees with tear stained cheeks for the cleansing of the heart (2 Corinthians 7:10).
When you hear the phrase “thou art the man”, have you applied that statement to yourself to determine your standing with God? It should be one of the last questions you ask every night: “Am I the Man (or Woman)?
As Christians, we are trying to build and encourage believers. We want to encourage unity, and increase knowledge among the members of the congregation. The question is whether preaching can get the job done. Some say yes, and others say no.
If I may speak for myself when it comes to “preaching”, often times I feel as though my message was not presented as well as it could have been. However, I look back at comments from others who remarked on my “worst performances” and said that sermon really “hit the mark” today, or “I got a lot from it”. Both the preacher and the listener have to realize that the power is not in the speaker, it is in the word of God which has been delivered truthfully. There are many great “religious” orators that deliver sermons or motivational speeches that are either lacking scripture for support, or even worse are erroneous teachings. What good did their preaching do? None! However, the most poorly given sermon which is completely accurate regarding God’s word and used in context, will still accomplish its task to a crowd seeking the truth.
Increasingly, many people and congregations are wondering whether preaching works.
Because of this belief, many congregations are considering other methods to get across their message. Some of these methods include: praise teams, drama teams, small groups (without church oversight), and counseling groups which meet at the church (without church oversight). The question must be asked, what methods were given in the scriptures for spreading the Gospel? The answer in the Bible on how to produce Christians, or how to help a Christian Grow, is preaching and teaching.
Some suggest the real work of ministry only happens in face-to-face personal relationships. It can of course work in this type of relationship and we have examples of this in the Bible. Yet, one is wrong to suggest that preaching cannot “get the job done”. Preaching has been proven to work throughout the centuries, and is recorded in numerous historical biblical accounts in the New Testament.
Every week, the whole congregation gathers to hear God’s Word and be uplifted and equipped through a sermon and the other acts of worship. During the middle of the week, another opportunity is given for the entire congregation to gather together to study and be edified. I believe that preaching and teaching still works when preachers and teachers study, pray, and deliver Biblically true sermons or Bible study classes. Preaching and teaching still work because God still speaks through His Word! Preaching and teaching still works because the power is not in the speaker. Yet, with that said, an honest heart will be affected by the most poorly presented sermon or Bible study class, if it is in agreement with God’s word and given in the manner of love and truth.