Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 3

Galatians 1:13-14 – For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul planted several churches in the region of Galatia, preaching the gospel message of justification by faith in the shed blood of Christ. 

But after he moved on to strengthen the other churches, false teachers came and began to teach/preach a false gospel to the Galatians.  These Pharisees insisted that grace was not complete in itself; that a combination of works (circumcision, food laws, observing the Sabbath, etc) and the blood of Christ were required for salvation. 

The Galatians are now faced with a dilemma – who is teaching the truth? 

The Pharisees insisted they were teaching correct doctrine.  They went so far as to cast aspersions on the apostleship of Paul by saying that his position was given to him by church leaders and therefore he had no real authority.  If that were true, then his doctrine was false. 

Paul refutes those claims proving to the Galatians that his commission to preach the gospel and the gospel itself were not given to him by man, but by Jesus himself. 

His first proof is his former conduct as a Jewish religious leader, and his hatred of Christians. 

When Paul mentions his ‘former life in Judaism’, he was referring to publicly known facts:  He was a Jew with a provable lineage in the tribe of Benjamin.  In other words, he was not a Samaritan (half Jew), or a proselyte.  He spent his life observing the Mosaic Law to the best of his ability.  He had decided to become a Pharisee.  He vigorously pursued this office, and he was on the fast track to be a high-ranking religious leader. 

Notice that Paul makes a special point that he is ‘zealous for the traditions’ of his fathers.  What does that mean?

The Jews believed that the Law of God as given to them by Moses was sacred.  This Law was contained within the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Pentateuch.  When the Jews broke or disregarded the Law and turned away from God they were sent into exile.  Obviously, they didn’t want that to happen again.

So when they returned from the exile, the leading men of the nation began to make a series of rules and regulations that were originally meant to create a hedge around the law.  The theory was that if you kept the rules, you would never be in danger of breaking the law. 

That sounds like a good idea, but it didn’t work.  The traditions of the elders eventually wound up contradicting the very laws of God they were originally meant to protect! 

Matthew 15:2-6 – Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?  For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.  But he [Jesus] answered and said unto them [the Pharisees], Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?  But you say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift devoted to God, whatsoever you might have received from me; and honors not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God void by your tradition.

There were literally hundreds of these traditions/rules.  In the beginning, they were largely oral in nature.  They would have been passed down from father to son, and from the older Pharisees to newer recruits (like Paul).  To learn all of these largely oral rules would have taken a great amount of time and study.  You would have to be really, really dedicated to the law to take the time to learn and practice them.  (Later, around 200 AD these rules were eventually written down and became a Jewish book called the Mishnah.)

Being ‘zealous for the traditions of his fathers’ is further proof of how dedicated and committed Paul was to the Jewish law.  It is easy to see that Paul had fully and completely invested his entire life in Judaism. 

A further proof of his dedication to Judaism was his persecution of Christians.  He was relentless in his pursuit of those he judged to be blaspheming the Law.  His goal was to waste away or totally annihilate the church of Jesus. 

Acts 8:3 – But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

What kind of an event could possible make a man like Paul suddenly abandon Judaism for Christianity?  What could change him from a persecutor to the one who endured persecution himself?  What could make him give up his position as a rising star in the Jewish religious hierarchy (along with all of its political, social and financial benefits) and become a man hated by his fellow Jews? 

A sudden, dramatic change like that would only occur if God had intervened to cause the change.

Galatians 1:15-16 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

Paul recognizes that God had called him for an important kingdom role (to be an apostle), before he was even born! I believe this is true of every Christian.  God has plans and purposes for each one of us from our very birth. 

Because Paul was so steeped in the practice of the law and knew so much about the traditions of the Jews, he was uniquely qualified to argue for grace as the fulfillment of the law.  In like manner God equips and trains us too.  He gives us the right talents and the exact amount of intelligence we will need to fulfill our purpose.  He allows circumstances into our lives which will further be used to train or shape us. 

There is a very important point to be made here.  Even though a person is a vile sinner today, blaspheming God and persecuting the church, it does NOT mean that God has not called him/her to an important work for his service.  Once they allow Jesus into their lives, anything is possible!  

Jeremiah 1:5  – Before I [God] formed you [Jeremiah] in the womb I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.

This also means that we should pray for the lost all the more, so that they too will have an encounter with Christ and be totally changed just as Paul was. 

The second important point to be made is that this conversion experience occurs according to God’s perfect time.  God did not call Paul until after he spent years attaining the knowledge he needed.  God did not call Moses until he had been educated and equipped by the best minds in Egypt.  God didn’t call Peter to fish for men until he had learned to fish for fish!  So don’t give up praying for your loved one.  Even though they seem far from God, they may just be getting ready for service!  

Galatians 1:17 – nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul’s third point regarding his calling as a true apostle is his actual conversion experience.  On the way to Damascus to further persecute the church, God spoke to Paul and revealed to him that Jesus was the true Messiah.  During that encounter, Jesus himself called Paul to the office of apostle and qualified him to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.

The significant thing is what Paul did NOT do after his conversion.  He did NOT go up to Jerusalem to consult with the other 12 disciples.  He did NOT go to them to be trained in the gospel message. In other words, he did NOT receive his authority or his doctrine from these men.   

Instead, Paul withdrew from public scrutiny to the region of Arabia/Damascus for three years.  It is generally agreed that Holy Spirit further revealed the wisdom and truth of the gospel message to him during that time.  And again, because Paul knew so much about the law, he was especially prepared to argue the finer points of the law with his fellow Jews.  He was able to debate in a manner that uneducated fisherman could not.

It should be noted that no disrespect is intended towards the other apostles; Paul was appointed to his office by the same authority that appointed the other twelve.  Paul’s point is merely that they were not his teachers.        

Galatians 1:18-19 – Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Let’s talk about the time frame for a moment.  As we learned in our study of the book of Matthew, the Jews reckoned time in a slightly different manner than we do. 

Let’s suppose that a Jewish person began a task in December 2020, the last month of our year.  The task was completed in seven months – it was over the final day of June, 2021.  In our culture, we would say the task took 7 months. 

But in the Jewish culture, if the task began in December of one year (2020) and continued on through June of the next year (2021), then technically it happened in two separate years.  They would commonly have said the task took two years.

There’s a pretty big difference between 7 months and two years, yet both calculations are accepted ways of marking time.   So when Paul says he was away from Jerusalem for three years, it could have been much less than 36 full months. 

Regardless of the actual time frame, we know that Paul began to preach Jesus in the synagogues.  He confounded the reasoning of the Jews, proving through the law that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Acts 9:22 – But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, proving that this one is the very Christ.

In fact, his message was so logical and irrefutable that the Pharisees decided to kill him, just to shut him up.  His followers resorted to lowering him over the city wall in a basket so he could escape (Acts 9:22-25).

Only after this period of learning from Holy Spirit and functioning in his apostolic office, did Paul go to Jerusalem to meet/visit Peter.  The root meaning of the Greek word for ‘visit’ is ‘to become personally acquainted’, which is consistent with a visit of 15 days.  Clearly, Paul was not there to receive religious training from Peter.  In truth, Paul knew as much about the Jewish religion as Peter did (if not more), and he had received the doctrine of grace from the same source as Peter – Jesus Christ. 

Paul also admits to meeting another apostle in Jerusalem – James.  As we know, there were two apostles named James (Matthew 10:2-3).  There was James, son of Zebedee and brother of John.  This James was the first of the 12 to be martyred.  He was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2).  

There was also James son of Alphaeus who was a cousin/kinsman of Jesus.  The majority believe it is James son of Alphaeus, who is referred to in this passage of scripture.  He is also sometimes referred to as ‘James the less’ probably because he was younger than James son of Zebedee.  

Galatians 1:20 – (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)

Here Paul is making an oath before God that the facts he has relayed to the Galatians are true. 

Oaths are not something that should be generally used by Christians.  Jesus advises us to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ simply be ‘no’, because anything else stems from evil (Matthew 5:37). 

However, in this particular case, it is needful. Paul has asserted that he had a direct encounter with Jesus in which he received his apostleship.  He also says that he spent time in Arabia/Damascus being taught by Holy Spirit and operating in his apostolic ministry.  He further claims that he spent only 15 days with Peter and James. 

Do you see the problem?  There were no witnesses to what had transpired between God and Paul.  The witness of Peter or James (or any of the believers in Damascus) would also be somewhat difficult to acquire, because in those days you would have to travel from Galatia to Jerusalem (or Damascus), find the person/witness and have him either write a letter or travel back with you to Galatia.  That was not likely to happen.   

So appealing to God (or making an oath) was the only way for Paul to affirm the truth of what he was telling the Galatians.

Further, the importance of the truth Paul was affirming (his authority and doctrine) was critical to the message he was preaching.  So in this particular case, the oath was necessary.       

Galatians 1:21-22 –Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul traveled from Arabia/Damascus to Jerusalem.  At first the believers were afraid of him, but Barnabas vouched for his true conversion and he then went about freely in Jerusalem preaching the message of the gospel. 

But he quickly encountered resistance to the gospel message – once again some Jews rejected his message and eventually tried to kill him.  When the church found out, they sent him to Tarsus of Cilicia to preach the word in that city (Acts 9:22-30 and Acts 1:25-26). 

The end result was that he was virtually unknown to the churches in Judea (the region around Jerusalem).  This shows that his gospel message was not influenced by any teachings of these churches either; the gospel was given to him directly via Holy Spirit.   

Galatians 1:23-24 – They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me.

Paul didn’t just reject Christianity and walk away.  He diligently and purposefully worked to destroy the Christian faith by persecuting anyone he could find that professed belief in Jesus as Messiah.  It is clearly evident that the change in his life (from persecutor to apostle) could only have been made by the grace of God. 

This indeed is cause for rejoicing and giving praise to God for his mercy and grace.  If a sinner like Paul can be saved, then we have hope that our loved ones can be also be changed by that same grace.  As the old hymn says, the blood will never lose its power! 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Do you have a friend or loved one that seems diametrically opposed to the gospel message?  Besides rejecting the gospel, do they also persecute or mock Christianity/Christians? 

If so, don’t give up hope.  If the gospel can change Paul, the ‘chief sinner’ of his day, it can also change your loved one.  Sometimes we pray and pray for an individual and it looks like nothing is happening, but we can be assured that God wants to save them.  With his infinite wisdom, Holy Spirit will bring godly conviction upon them at the exact right time. 

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

Paul acknowledges that God had called him to be an apostle from birth.  What has God called you to do? 

Sometimes, we think that we must be involved in religious ministry in order to be used of God, but that isn’t true.  God has ordained Christians to excel in all walks of life, like teaching, science, politics, art, music, sports, etc.  So find the talents God has given you, and use them for his glory, no matter what category they fall into!

    

Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 2

Galatians 1:6 – I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel –

As we noted in our last post, Paul is writing to correct some errors that have crept into the churches of Galatia.  Specifically, false teachers have been claiming that Christians must also follow the Mosaic Law in order to receive salvation.  These same men have also called Paul’s apostleship into question.  This was done in an attempt to discredit him.  If they can convince people that Paul’s authority came from men and not from God, then they can cast aside his doctrine of justification by faith in the blood of Christ.

In the opening part of his letter, Paul expresses astonishment that the Galatian Christians have turned aside or deserted “him who called you in the grace of Christ”.  Who does that refer to?

Some suppose that it refers to Paul himself, who probably first preached the gospel message to the Galatians.  However, that seems to be an awkward interpretation because the main point of this letter is not to show that these people broke relationship with Paul – it was to show that they abandoned the gospel.

It makes more sense to interpret ‘him’ as God in the person of Holy Spirit.  Elsewhere in scripture we find that the work of calling men to repentance is normally attributed to God.

2 Timothy 1:9  – [God] Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,  

Christians are called by God into the grace of Christ, which refers to justification by faith in the blood of Jesus, apart from works. 

Therefore, when the Galatians begin to embrace a system of grace plus works, or the mingling together of the gospel and the ceremonial law, Paul refers to it as ‘a different gospel’. 

Notice the somewhat subtle difference – they did not reject Christianity in favor of another religion.  They didn’t even deny the blood of Jesus.  Yet, by adding circumcision and other Mosaic Laws to the gospel, they perverted its true nature.

Paul is astonished and concerned that they had so quickly departed from the simplicity of the true faith.  

He will go on reprove their actions in love, in an attempt to restore them to the true faith and their first love to God.  This is a good example for all of us.  We tend to shy away from offering godly correction to those who need it.  I suppose we are afraid of offending them.  But correction done in love is one of the best things we can offer to one another.

Galatians 1:7 –not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

There is only one true gospel message.  It was the one that Paul introduced to the Galatians.

While other false teachers called their message ‘the gospel’ it was a different religion, one which taught an entirely different method of justification before God.  It was a distortion or perversion of the truth. 

It was also very dangerous – under this distorted gospel careful observance of religious rites and ceremonies would replace dependence on the blood of Christ.  Instead of being set free from the law, Christians would once again be burdened by an expectation of obedience that they could not keep. 

In our generation, we find a belief that is no less perverted or dangerous – good works will get us into heaven.  Many people believe that they don’t need to trust in Christ for salvation; if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, they will get to heaven.  When you bring up the subject of salvation, they will often respond with “I’m sure I will go to heaven because I’m a good person.”

In that situation, it is often impossible to convince the person that they have sinned before God.  Arguing won’t help.  Perhaps the best thing is to pray that Holy Spirit will bring conviction upon them, and convince them of their need to repent.   

Galatians 1:8-9 – But 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.  As 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.

Paul now proceeds to defend the authority of his doctrine.  He is confident that the gospel he shared with the Galatians was the one and only true gospel.  He is so fully persuaded of this fact that he pronounces an “anathema” or a curse upon those who pretended to preach any other gospel message.

In that anathema he includes ‘we’.  This may refer to Paul and those who were traveling and ministering with him, or it may be a reference to Paul and the other 12 apostles. 

In either case, there can be no doubt about the word ‘anyone’ –  which certainly includes the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders.

He goes so far as to declare that even if an angel from heaven should bring another gospel, it should be rejected and the angel cursed!

We can’t help but notice that Paul knew and understood the gospel message.  He wasn’t vague or unsure about what he believed.  What about us?  Are we fully confident in what we believe?  If not, we could be swayed into believing false teaching just as the Galatians were. 

It’s good to listen to sermons and read Christian materials (including this blog!), but there is no substitute for reading the bible for yourself. 

2 Timothy 2:15  – Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Become acquainted with the principles and laws that Christ set down in the gospels.  Discover for yourself how Paul (and others) expound them in the New Testament.  Know what you believe – and why you believe it.

Galatians 1:10 – 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.

The use of the word “now” implies that Paul has changed.  It implies that there was a time when he sought the approval of man.  Is that true?

Absolutely!  Before Paul’s conversion to Christianity (when he was still called Saul), he was Jewish in every way – circumcised at the proper time, a man who knew and could prove his lineage, and a man who was ‘blameless’ concerning the law (Philippians 3:5-6).  

He studied to be a Pharisee under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), one of the most respected Pharisees of his time.  Gamaliel was president of the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.  He was an eminent doctor of the Law, well known for his wisdom and great knowledge of the Mishna.   

At that time Saul was violently opposed to Christianity.  He made it his mission to persecute Christians.  He even went to other cities and attempted to put women and children into prison for their faith – and the Jews loved it! 

There is no doubt that he was on the fast track to becoming one of the major religious leaders of his time; his fellow Jews no doubt held him in high esteem. 

However, that all changed when he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9).  After that, he lived only to please God.

Philippians 3:7 – But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

So here is the point he is making to the Galatians:  People who seek to please other people will often corrupt their message/doctrine to please the hearers.  This corruption of doctrine springs from worldly ambition, greed, pride or any other sinful passion that the speaker has in their heart.

This describes the Pharisees who preached a message of works mixed with faith, so that they might please or at least pacify the Jews.  By keeping their fellow Jews happy, they hoped to avoid persecution, keep their standing in the culture, and continue being recognized/respected as spiritual leaders.

But Paul is not preaching to please men.  He now preaches the gospel with a heart that is committed to pleasing God alone.  Therefore, he will not change, alter, distort or corrupt the true gospel message.  His chief goal was to promote God’s glory by bringing sinners to Christ.  To do anything different would be an insult to God.

When you look at the life of Paul and see the many persecutions and hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, it is easy to see that he was indeed serving God, not man.

What’s in your heart?  Are we motivated to do the right thing at all times because of the relationship we have with Christ?  Are we fully committed to righteousness, or has sin crept into our lives?  

Galatians 1:11-12 – For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul now goes on to further prove his case by giving an in-depth account of his spiritual life.

His first point is that his revelation of the gospel did not come through another human being.  If it had, there was a possibility of corruption in the message.  But since his knowledge/revelation of the gospel as well as his authority to preach it came directly from the risen savior Jesus Christ, it could NOT be man’s gospel.  (You can read his conversion experience in Acts chapter 9).

When we read of his conversion on the road to Damascus, we can’t help but notice that it was a fairly brief encounter.  Did God pour a complete revelation of the gospel to him in that short amount of time?

Most scholars don’t think so. 

What he received on the road to Damascus was a life changing encounter with Christ.  In that encounter, he became acutely aware of the Messiahship of Jesus.  Once he realized that Jesus was the Son of God and that his sacrifice fulfilled/superseded the Law, things began to logically fall into place.

Almost immediately Paul retreated to the desert of Arabia.  Scholars believe that during that time he received the gospel in its complete form, through reflection and extended revelation from Holy Spirit.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Paul’s understanding of the Law (which took him years and years to acquire) was crucial to understanding the full impact of the gospel.  This shows us that God uniquely equipped Paul to fulfill the true purpose of his life. 

The same is true for you and me.  Our everyday experiences, our education, our upbringing, even our relationships will all be used to prepare us for the divine destiny God has for us.

Let me offer you some relief:

Paul spent a good portion of his life on the wrong track.  He persecuted the church of Jesus.  He whole heartedly approved the stoning of Stephen.  But when he repented of his sin, all his guilt was washed away.  It was atoned for by the precious blood of Christ. 

The same is true for you and me.  No matter what we have done God will wash our guilt away with the blood of his Son.

 Let me offer you some strength:

Paul had a strong grip on the absolute truth of the gospel message.  Because of this, he could not be swayed by false teaching. 

What about you and me?  Are we so confident in our understanding of the word that we cannot be fooled by any of the false teachings of today?  Take some time this week and strengthen grip on the absolute truth of the gospel.

     

 

Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 1

Who:  The ancient people of Galatia were of Celtic descent. They were the relics of a Gaulish invasion which swept over South-eastern Europe and poured into Asia Minor in the early part of the third century before Christ.

These tribes governed themselves until they were subdued by Rome and made one of their colonies.  This occurred under the reign of Augustus Caesar, approximately 26 years before the incarnation of Christ. 

Historians tell us that they retained much of their ancient language and manners, while picking up a good bit of Greek culture as well.  Generally speaking they were very intelligent, impulsive in feeling and action, vain, fickle and quarrelsome.  They have also been described as impetuous, impressible and perpetually engaged in strife. 

They practiced a very superstitious religion; they are said to have worshipped the mother of the gods under the name Agdistis.  Prisoners captured in war became human sacrifices to this pagan god.  But eventually Jews settled among them in considerable numbers.  Their presence prepared the way for Paul to come into the region with the gospel.    

It should be noted that ‘Galatia’ refers to a territory or province, not a single city.  There were several major cities within the region of Galatia.  The exact number of churches is unknown, but it is not improbable that a church had been established in each of the larger cities, and that the churches were in relatively close proximity to each other.  The letter to the Galatians was directed to them all.

Why:  What is the main reason for writing this letter?  It seems that the churches of Galatia had some of the same difficulties we find in other early New Testament churches – Jewish Christians attempting to bring Jewish Law into the church and compelling Gentile converts to fulfill the Mosaic rituals.  These rituals included circumcision, food laws, keeping the sabbath, etc.  

In other words, they wanted to make the Gentiles into Jews, before they could become Christians!  This was a tendency of many new churches, and Paul worked diligently to remove these errors from the body of Christ.  Hence, justification by faith apart from the law is a main focus of this book, as it is in the book of Romans.  

Another topic covered extensively in this letter is the apostleship of Paul.

When:  The date of this letter is very uncertain.  Scholars generally fall into one of two categories – those who favor an early date of 52-53 AD and those who favor a date as late as 57-58 AD. 

Where:  Part of the ‘where’ question would be answered by the ‘when’ question.  If the letter was written at the earlier date (52-53), then the most likely place of writing was Ephesus.  If the letter was written during the later period (57-58), it must have been penned in Corinth.  (Although, honestly, it really doesn’t matter.)

Galatians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead –

Paul declares clearly and emphatically at the very beginning of this epistle that he has been made an apostle by God himself. 

Why was that so important?

In order to get the full picture, we need to look back at the state of the early church.  Paul and Barnabas had been called by Holy Spirit to go forth and preach the gospel, planting new churches wherever they went (Acts 13:1-3).  As they did so, they preached a doctrine of faith in Christ.  Salvation was a free gift, available by the blood of Jesus.

However, there were other teachers (Pharisees) traveling from church to church preaching a different doctrine.  They were trying to circumvent the freedom of the gospel by teaching that men must observe the Mosaic Law in order to be a Christian.  Particularly, they were very insistent that anyone who intended to become a Christian needed to be circumcised.  

This was no small issue – it was a fundamental difference which prompted the Jerusalem council of Acts chapter 15. 

Acts 15:1-2 – But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

So we find this grievous doctrinal controversy going on in the early church.  Things could not continue on this course, or the church would be divided against itself and it would fall.  A decision had to be made.  The church must either stand upon salvation by works through the law, or it must embrace grace – salvation by the sacrifice of Christ alone. 

Fortunately, Holy Spirit worked through the apostles at the Jerusalem council to set the record straight.  In the end, Christians were admonished to abstain from sexual immorality, things sacrificed to idols, from blood and from anything strangled.  That was it.  The Mosaic Law was officially put aside.  Salvation is obtained through the blood of Jesus; men/women are justified by faith – a free gift that has nothing to do with the works of man.

But that did not stop some men from continuing to preach a message of works.  They slandered Paul and undermined his doctrine by calling his apostleship into question.  Their reasoning went something like this: If they could convince the people that Paul wasn’t really an apostle appointed by God, then the authority of his message vanished and there was no reason for people to believe it or live by it.  They were then free to preach their religion of works.   

The false teachers proceeded to claim that Paul’s apostleship was the result of mankind.  They may have been making a reference to the apostleship of Matthias, who was chosen by Holy Spirit through via lot to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts chapter 1).  They may also have been trying to assert that Paul’s apostleship was simply a title awarded to him by the council in Jerusalem.  In either case, their intentions were the same – to discredit Paul’s authority in Christ.   

But Paul doesn’t waste any time setting the record straight.  He is not only an apostle, he is an apostle ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’.  What higher authority could there be?

Eleven of the apostles were called by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and no one questioned their authority.  One was chosen by Holy Spirit through a lot, and no one questioned that either. 

How then, can they question the apostleship of Paul who was miraculously called by Jesus when he was seated at the right hand of God, after being raised from the dead?   Clearly, Paul’s claim to apostleship was every bit as valid as the other twelve.  

He received an inward and immediate revelation of Jesus and the gospel during his commission.  He was instructed to go to both the Jews and the Gentiles and preach the remission of sins through the blood of Jesus.  Therefore, his authority should not be challenged; his doctrine (justification by faith) was of God.

How do you view the role of works in the Christian life?  What do you believe?

I believe the bible makes this distinction:  Mankind is saved solely by accepting the blood of Christ as payment for sin.  If a person confesses Jesus as Lord with their mouth and believes in their heart that God has raised them from the dead, they are saved (Romans 10:9).  Works do not contribute to salvation.

However, once a person has been forgiven by Jesus they become a new creature.  They have a new nature and part of that nature includes doing righteous things, including good works.  In fact, scripture also tells us that God has good works set aside for each one of us to perform (Ephesians 2:10).  As a result of doing these good works, God sets aside treasures for us in heaven. 

We are not saved because we do good works.  We perform good works because we have been saved (justified) by our faith in God!     

Galatians 1:2 – and all the brothers who are with me.

Paul did not travel alone.  The majority of the time, he had others with him.  He sometimes refers to them as ‘fellow laborers’ in the gospel.

Philippians 4:3 – And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life. 

Although Paul is the only author of the epistle, there are other Christian men who acknowledge his authority and are in agreement with his doctrine.  This either refers to the fellow laborers who traveled with him, or to prominent men within Galatia who were no doubt gravely concerned about the false teaching of others.

Either way, these men provided further proof that Paul’s doctrine was not some heretical nonsense, but acceptable truth from God.   

Galatians 1:3 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

This is a typical Christian salutation, which Paul uses in his other letters.  It expresses a desire for the best blessings of God towards his people. 

Let’s talk about blessings for a moment.  Jewish fathers always blessed their children.  They did so by laying hands on them, and speaking words of blessing over them.  A good example of this can be found in Genesis chapter 48, where Israel blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh just before his death.

The blessing was always given to the children by their father (or grandfather), because he was the one in authority over them.  He had the power to declare life and blessing or death and hardship.  

And that is not all.  When God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, he gave them the law and instituted the priesthood.  The priests had spiritual authority over the children of Israel.  Therefore, they were in a position to bless the Jews. 

Sure enough, God gave the priests a specific blessing that was to be spoken over his children.  You can find the whole blessing it in the book of Numbers chapter 6, verses 23-27.  

Numbers 6:23 – Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, In this way you shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them…

So… are you a parent?  If so, you occupy a position of authority over your children, and you have the capacity to speak blessings over them.  Are you doing that?  It’s not too late to start. 

If your children (or grandchildren) are younger, you can easily lay your hands upon them and speak a blessing as you tuck them in at night.  If your children are older, you can bless them as they leave the house for the day.  In either case, lay your hands on your children and speak words of material, physical, mental and spiritual blessings upon them.  If you have never done this before, it may seem a bit awkward at first, but don’t let that stop you.  After a few times, it will be very natural.  Don’t miss the opportunity to bless your household because of fear or pride! 

Now back to the apostle Paul.  Since he has been made an apostle by Jesus, that puts him in a place of spiritual authority, just like the priests of the Old Testament.  So when he speaks the grace and peace of God upon the reader, it becomes a viable blessing.

The blessings he speaks over us are those of grace and peace, as bestowed upon us by God the Father and Jesus his Son.  Grace includes God’s favor and goodwill towards us, as well as the mercy he shows us.  It implies a relationship between us and God.    

We must have mercy before we can experience peace.

Peace includes both inward comfort and outward blessings of prosperity.   Both come from the same source – God the Father.  Both are made available to us through the shed blood of Jesus the Son. 

Galatians 1:4-5 – who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

What does Paul refer to when he speaks of the ‘present evil age’ that we have been delivered from? 

Well, he wouldn’t be referring to fallen created nature (the literal earth), because we wouldn’t be able to live without the earth.  At some point God will redeem the earth, but not until the end of time.   

He also can’t be referring to sinful men, because we need them too – the church is made up of former sinners!  In fact, that is the task we have been charged with – to preach the gospel in every corner of the world, so that people can be saved.  We don’t need to be delivered from sinners, we need to go find them so they too can be justified by faith in Christ!

The present evil age refers to the adherence of some Jews to the old Mosaic Law.  In other words, Paul was instructing the Galatians that God has done an astonishing thing – he has completely fulfilled the Law.  Since it has been completely fulfilled by Jesus, there is no longer any reason for mankind to cling to it.  To try and hold onto it is sinful.  To try and earn salvation by keeping the law is futile.

Just to be clear, the Law itself was good because it pointed out the sin and guilt of mankind, but it NEVER had the ability to permanently redeem us.  Only the blood of Christ could do that.  

So the period of time in which certain Jewish leaders refuse to allow the law to pass away becomes an evil age.  It is evil because these beliefs and traditions actually prevent people from entering into a life giving relationship with God which was opened up by the blood of Jesus.  

Clearly, it was only by the will of God that Jesus laid down his life for us.  Since that is the case, we cannot continue under the law; neither can we mix the law with grace.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Don’t be an old wine skin (Mark 2:22)!  The Pharisees just couldn’t let go of the old Mosaic Law and customs, even though they knew perfectly well that Jesus had fulfilled them and established a new order. 

Are there customs or traditions that you are holding onto that prevent you from experiencing freedom in your relationship with God?  For instance, you may have grown up in a church that held the belief that miracles were only for the time of the apostles. 

Right now I would encourage you to search the scriptures with an open mind, allowing Holy Spirit to speak to you.  Listen to the testimony of other believers.  Then see if you need to let go of this (or other) old beliefs!       

Let me offer you some relief:

Are you part of a religious system that stresses rules and regulations?  Do you feel condemnation when you fail?  You might be relieved to know that what God really wants from you is not perfection in keeping rules.  He is primarily interested in having a close relationship with you.  After all, that is why he sent Jesus – so you could be in fellowship with him once again.  

In the midst of that relationship, you will find that it is natural and simple to do the things that please God.  You will also find that condemnation is gone; when you fail God will graciously call it to your attention so it can be forgiven and forgotten.   

Let me offer you some strength:

There are times when we enter into earthly relationships only to find that people let us down or fail us.  For that reason, we sometimes tend to hold back from fully committing ourselves to God.  We have this nagging suspicion that he will let us down too.

But there is no need to worry!  God loves you so much, he was willing to let Jesus die for your sin.  He is the only one who will never leave you, desert you or hurt you.  So don’t be afraid to fully commit your life to him.  You’ll be glad you did.

  

 

  

 

 

Psalms 46

Introduction:   The scriptures record many, many instances when God gave Israel victory in battle over her enemies.  But this particular psalm is somewhat unusual – it does not celebrate an offensive victory in battle.  Instead, it gives glory and honor to God for his successful defense against an enemy. 

Defense!

What was the exact historical circumstance the author was celebrating with this song?  Many answers have been given, including the defeat of the Assyrians (led by Sennacherib) and the miraculous destruction of their army.  If you haven’t read this account recently, you really should review it.  You can find it in II Kings 19 and Isaiah chapters 36 and 37.

In that particular incident, which happened during the reign of King Hezekiah, Israel did not fight at all.  She was under siege by the Assyrian army, and she simply waited for God to rescue her.  It is an amazing testimony to the power of God!

II Kings 19:34 – For I [God] will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.

Other people believe this Psalm speaks of a time that is future – the day when Christ returns to earth and rescues Israel from those who are yet to surround her, and then sets up his millennial kingdom.      

While these two examples could certainly be the basis for this Psalm, we really don’t know what circumstance prompted the writer to pen this song of praise and glory to God.  But in some ways, I am glad we don’t know.

The truth is that in every generation there are people of God who need to be rescued from their adversaries.  And in every generation, God answers that call.  Therefore, this is a timeless Psalm that applies to Christians of every age, including us. 

Psalms 46:1 – To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth.  A Song.  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Surely the children of Israel had good cause to declare that God was their refuge.  Time and time again they fled to the protection of the Father and he saved them.  Just consider a few examples: 

  • Pharaoh and his army thought they had trapped the Israelites at the Red Sea, but God prepared a dry path through the water (Exodus 14:21-22). 
  • The Midianites ravaged the land of Israel, stealing all her crops, but God used Gideon and 300 other men to destroy that innumerable army (Judges 6 and 7). 
  • Haman planned to exterminate the Jews, but God rescued them through Queen Esther. 

The examples go on and on – which ones come to your mind?

God is also a safe refuge for the church.  Many times in the New Testament, we find great persecution breaking out as Satan attempts to destroy the fledgling church (Acts 8:1).  But God not only protects and preserves the church, he causes it to flourish even in the midst of evil. 

As believers, each of us can trust in God as our refuge (Psalms 9:9).  I know you have done so many times in your life, because I have too.  What were some of the circumstances when God was a refuge for you? 

 The Israelites were also living proof of God’s strength.  From the Egyptians to the Amorites to the Nazis, many groups have endeavored to completely destroy this nation.  Yet none have been successful, because God is their strength!  When they were weak, he was strong.  When they should have been wiped out, he intervened. 

The church of Jesus Christ can make the same claim.  From its inception during Roman rule, throughout the crusades and in the midst of modern-day persecution, Satan seeks to destroy her time and time again.  But the church is still here.  Even now, in the last dispensation of time, God is strengthening the church.  He is pouring out his Spirit upon us, to make us victorious over the enemy. 

The psalmist adds that God is a very present help in times of trouble. 

I am sure that King Hezekiah would agree, as he sat in Jerusalem while it was besieged by the Assyrians.  God assured him through the prophet Isaiah that victory would come, and it did.  God sent an angel of destruction who killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night, and the next morning what remained of the enemy withdrew from Jerusalem. 

I am sure that America would agree, as they fought for independence from Britain.  The settlers desired a country where they could freely worship God.  God granted that request and so much more!

I am sure that you would agree too.  When has God been a very present help to you?

Psalms 46:2-3 – Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  Selah.

Have you noticed that over and over in the scriptures, God gives us the mandate ‘Fear Not’?  We should be using this as a motto! 

  • God assures us that no weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17). 
  • He assures us that if he is for us, no one can be against us (Romans 8:31).   
  • Long ago he let us know that he is greater and more powerful than he that is in the world (I John 4:4). 
  • Our own experience should give us a personal confirmation that we should not be living in fear.

In fact, it is our great privilege and duty to be living in boldness without fear.  The psalmist recognized that fact and thus he penned the declaration ‘though the earth gives way’ and/or ‘the mountains be moved into the sea’, those who trust in God have no reason to fear.

Let’s discuss the ‘earth gives way’.  Certainly, this could be taken literally to mean that the entire earth would fall from the heavens.  But if that happened, fear would only be a factor for a matter of moments before all life would cease (either burned up or frozen, depending on which direction the planet would go). 

Alternatively, some catastrophic event could occur that literally causes the mountains to crash down into the sea.  But again, if that happened, the result would be a quick death for every living thing on the planet. 

Is there another interpretation?  We must keep in mind that the psalms are poetic in nature.   Poetry frequently assigns human characteristics to inanimate objects.  Could that be what is happening here? 

Did you know that the scriptures often use the sea as a metaphor for the nations of the world (Daniel 7:1-6), and mountains as individual kingdoms (Amos 6:1)?  The overall picture given here in poetic form is a situation in which the nations of the world are in turmoil.  No nation has an answer for the problems its people face.  Governments are constantly being overturned by rebellions or coups.  Each nation fears hostility from other nations, and worries what will happen to them if uncontrolled conflict erupts.  There is no ‘world leader’ to maintain peace and order.

I don’t know about you, but that type of situation would invite fear into my life! 

But as the people of God, we don’t have to open the door to the spirit of fear when it comes knocking.  Christians stand upon the solid, unchanging rock Christ Jesus.  Our treasures are in heaven, where they cannot be destroyed; our life with God continues when this life is over.  We have been assured that Jesus is returning for his bride, and our future rests in him. 

In fact, if the earth suddenly evaporates, the person who has cause to fear is the unbeliever, who has laid up all their treasures on earth.  They will lose what they had in this life, and they have no life in eternity. 

Do you see any parallels to this passage and the situation of the world governments today?  If so, does a spirit of fear try to rise up and take control of your life?  Don’t allow yourself to get hit with that fiery dart of the enemy!  Get out your shield of faith and repel it.  Utilize your sword of the Spirit (the word of God) and chase fear away!

Psalms 46:4-5 – There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

In opposition to the chaotic, fearful turmoil of the sea (world), God offers his people a river that flows from his habitation.  It is a river of peace and calmness.  It is a river of joy and blessing.  It is a river protection and healing.  It is a river of wisdom and strength.  It is a life-giving river.

Physically speaking, the psalmist probably refers to the waters of Siloam, which travel softly by Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:6-7).  This river was a defense to the people of God during the reign of Hezekiah (Isaiah 22:10-11). 

But spiritually speaking, there is a river of God that flows from his habitation or throne in heaven (Revelation 22:1-2).  The Tree of Life, whose leaves heal the nations, is on either side of it.  This is the same water that Jesus refers to in John 7:38-39, when he says out of our hearts (belly or literally womb) would flow rivers of living water.  This river of water refers to the Holy Spirit. 

The river or presence of the Holy Spirit brings the people of God peace, calmness, joy, blessing, guidance, wisdom, protection and healing.  The Spirit of God gives us life. 

How would you classify your relationship to Holy Spirit?  Is it a close intimate one, or are you just acquaintances?  You can change your relationship with the Spirit in the same way you change physical relationships.  You get to know him better by spending time with him (prayer) by learning who he is and what his plans are (reading the word), and by engaging with him during your everyday life. 

Holy Spirit has gifts for you personally and gifts from God that he wants to manifest through you to a lost and dying world.  Are you open to that kind of a relationship with him?

Psalms 46:6-7  – The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.

God is sovereign over all the nations of this world.  He rules from heaven by his power and providence, overruling all the affairs of men to bring about his own plans and glory. 

He stops or holds in check the rage and power of the nations that oppose him and his interests in the world.  No one can stop him.

Not that men haven’t tried… there were many people and nations who opposed Israel and opposed David as king, but God overruled them.  He spoke (uttered) his plans and purposes into existence; at his command, Israel was made a nation and David was made king.

Even now, there are many people and nations that oppose God’s people – Israel, America and the church.  But we have a sure hope in God.  He cannot be moved.  If we allow ourselves to flow in the river of Holy Spirit and learn to obey him, we will be able to say “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress!”

Through God, our nation can be saved and re-established in righteousness, leaving us a nation and a heritage that we can pass on to our descendants. 

Psalms 46:8-9 – Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

The scriptures record many instances of God bringing desolation or destruction upon kingdoms, cities and nations of the world. 

Again, the writer may have had the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in mind when he penned this poem.  But there are other instances as well.  God caused a very great destruction to come upon the cities of the Philistines when they took the Ark of the Covenant (I Samuel 5:9), he utterly destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-25), and he has promised to destroy the lands of God and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39).  What other examples can you think of?

Obviously, no weapon of man can fight against the Lord; human military assets (bows, chariots, tanks, missiles, nuclear warheads) are useless against God.   

What point is the writer trying to make?  He is inviting the reader to contemplate known instances in which God has not just given victory to his people, but utterly and completely annihilated the enemy. 

By examining the evidence, the reader’s faith is increased because he or she is reminded how completely and totally God delivers his people and brings an end to war.  This is abundant proof that God is able to protect his people in times of danger. 

What modern day instances could be studied for this purpose?  How about the six-day war of 1967, in which Israel conquered her enemies?

Psalms 46:10-11 – Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.

After considering the great victories that God has wrought on behalf of his people, it should be much easier for us to be still and trust in him.

God has done, is doing and will continue to do great and mighty things.  In the midst of turmoil let us be reminded that God is working on our behalf, even when we don’t see it!  He will bring about victory, even when the situation looks impossible to us!  His arm is never short that it cannot save! 

Let us remind ourselves about God’s faithfulness.  He is faithful in every generation, even when we are not.  For that reason, we can live confidently knowing that he will bring about the perfect resolution to every situation we face in his perfect time.  There is no cause to worry or fret.  As we abide in him, we can be still and see him be glorified on the earth. 

Hebrews 13:6 – So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me.

The mighty acts of God are also a witness to the unbelievers of the world.  At some point they too must be still in his presence.  Though they hate God, they will be forced to acknowledge that he is Lord, by bowing before him (Romans 14:11). 

Believers of every generation can triumph and rejoice in the fact that we have God’s presence with us; the God of ALL power, authority and dominion is our Father!  God has bound us to himself through a covenant of blood through his only Son. 

Let me give you some encouragement, relief and strength… The God of Jacob is our fortress!

Psalms 101

Introduction:  Clearly, this Psalm was penned by David.  However, the time and place of writing is uncertain.  It seems as though the Psalm was written as he contemplated entering domestic life – being the head of his own household and family.  He lays down the rules or the standards which will govern his home and his family life. 

Family!

David then concludes that these same principles should govern not only his household, but his business dealings and his kingdom; they apply to all avenues of life. 

That being the case, the poetic verses of this Psalm are timeless.  Its principles have a universal application to God fearing men and women of all ages, backgrounds and levels of authority.

Psalms 101:1 – A Psalm of David.  I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.

Scripture tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).  Therefore, we can conclude that David has been meditating on both the mercy (steadfast love) and justice (judgment) of God.    

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.  It can also be defined as an action motivated by compassion, performed out of a desire to relieve suffering. 

Justice is fairness; moral uprightness, just dealing or right action; using power/authority to support fair treatment and due reward.

When David considers these two aspects of God’s character, it produces a profound joy which wells up inside him and bursts out as a song!

It should produce the same reaction in us.  Let’s briefly consider God’s mercy.  When mankind rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, we essentially gave our earthly authority to Satan.  At that point, we were subject to him.  Since his main focuses are stealing, killing and destroying, that is what mankind could expect to get from him.

And that is exactly what we received.  Look around you.  Satan has tried to steal/kill/destroy everything that affects you.  He wants to steal your peace and leave you with anxiety.  He wants to steal your joy and leave you with depression.  He wants to kill your hopes, your dreams and your creativity.  He wants to destroy your health, your relationships, your finances and anything else he can get his hands on.   Consider what he did to Job!

But, hallelujah, the mercy of God has been manifested on the earth!  Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we no longer have to suffer under the dominion of Satan.  We can now experience true joy, peace and fulfillment.  We can live in hope.  We can see our dreams come true and our creativity benefitting mankind.  We can have lives that include good health, satisfying relationships, and abundant finances.

Stop and consider the mercy of God in your own life.  What has he done for you?  Don’t be afraid to sing your own personal song of praise to God for what he has done for you.  It doesn’t have to be perfect – just sincere.  I am sure God would love to hear it!

David also recognized that God’s mercy is perfectly tempered by his justice/judgment.  God is longsuffering towards all sinners.  It is his desire for all men to be saved (II Peter 3:9).  But eventually, justice will come.  Those who choose to be enemies of God will eventually be punished by him.  Those who abuse and destroy the people of God (Jews and Christians) will eventually find themselves facing the wrath of God.  Sin will eventually be judged and punishment decreed. 

Every once in a while, you still find people who declare that God is love and he would never send anyone to hell.  Clearly, they have never taken the time to read the Bible!  God is certainly love; there can be no doubt about that.  But God’s love is perfectly matched with his justice.  Therefore, he will punish those who do not turn from rebelling against him.

We primarily consider justice in regard to our enemy (Satan) and his followers, but justice also plays a role in discipline.  God does the right or just thing when he corrects us.  God loves his people, but like any good Father, he will discipline them if needed.   

Children who grow up without any discipline wind up being unstable and unreasonable adults.  If Christians grew up without any discipline from God, they would wind up being big spiritual babies, unfit to contribute to the kingdom of God.  God loves his children too much to allow them to end up that way.     

In David’s case, he sees how God’s perfect combination of mercy and justice bring forth a stable, peaceful environment that cultivates success of every kind.  Creativity and accomplishment, peace and joy, hopes and dreams all flourish under this type of loving yet controlled circumstance.  This is what David desires for his own household.  What principles are you using as the foundation for your house?

Psalms 101:2 – I will ponder the way that is blameless.  Oh when will you come to me?  I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;

Our translation says “I will ponder the way that is blameless”, but I think the King James Version is significantly better.  It says “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way”.  One reason I think this is so much better is because there is a big difference between ‘pondering’ and ‘behaving’.  Anyone can ponder or think about doing the right thing, but actually doing it is something else all together!

However, David’s point is a good one – if you purpose in your heart to do what is right, that is likely what you will do when temptation comes.  

By purposing in our hearts and reminding ourselves that we will do what is righteous, we are building up a defense against evil attacks.  Let’s face it – we all have areas of weakness.  So right now, you can begin to rehearse God’s laws in your mind.  You can begin to purpose not to succumb to temptation in that area.  If we wait until the moment of temptation to decide how to handle things, the outcome might not be so good!

 David’s desire is that when God visits his house, He will find it being run according to righteous principles, including mercy and justice.  These principles apply to his own conduct, the way he treats those under his authority and anyone in his employ.  These are the rules that should govern our everyday lives:

Micah 6:8 – He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Sometimes we try to make Christianity so complicated, but it really isn’t!  Loving God and treating our neighbors as ourselves really is the heart of Christianity.

 Here is something else to consider:  those who are faithful in little things make themselves available to God for much bigger things:

Luke 19:17 – And he said unto him, Well done, good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.

Have you ever desired for God to use you to accomplish something for his kingdom?  He is not going to start you out as the overseer of a million people.  That wouldn’t be fair to you or them!  But if you are willing to minister to just one, and you do a good job, he may just give you two, or five.  Then 10 or 20 or more. 

David will one day rule the nation, but he needs to rule his own house first.  So if your desire is to do more or greater things for God, make sure you are being a wise steward of what you currently have!

Psalms 101:3-4 – I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.  I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.  A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.

Have you ever taken a walk through the woods and found brambles or briars stuck to your clothing when you returned?  Or even worse, maybe you found a tick that hitched a ride on you or your pet.  Obviously, you don’t want briars or ticks clinging to you; you no doubt find them abhorrent and you will remove them immediately. 

Spiritually speaking, you can’t separate yourself from the world – you have to walk through it.  You are going to come into contact with people who do wicked things.  But David vows that this kind of person will not have a place of influence or authority in his world.  He hates their evil works; he will not allow their evil to cling to him like a tick. 

Although ticks are small, they feed on your life’s blood and infect you with disease.  In the same way, sin can be small, but it is not harmless!  Let me repeat that:  You may have a sin that seems small or insignificant, but no sin is harmless

David understands that any sin which clings to him will affect his reputation, his family and his kingdom.  For this reason, he vows to keep even the smallest sin away from his sight.

What about you?  Do you have sin in your life that you consider to be small?  Answer this question – What makes it small?

As humans, we tend to categorize sin into what we consider small sins (white lies, holding a grudge) and big sins (murder), but God makes no such distinctions.  All sin is despicable in the sight of God.  No sin of any kind can exist in the presence of his holiness.  It might be time for us to adopt David’s view of sin!  

Psalms 101:5 – Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.  Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.

David now speaks of two specific sins that still occur in the present time.  Both are very destructive. 

If a person has something good to say about someone else, they will normally say it openly.  However, if they have something bad to say, it will likely be said in secret.  This is how rumors get started, how reputations get tarnished, how ministries are destroyed and how churches are torn apart.  Just think about how much damage has been done to people (and the cause of Christ) with just this one sin! 

The wickedness perpetrated by secretly speaking evil can be likened to an ambush – the person under attack does not even know they are being assaulted!  They have no chance to defend themselves.  By the time they discover a rumor is out there, the damage has been done and it is virtually impossible to repair.  This is a despicable sin; yet who among us has not either participated in it or been a victim of it?

The second sin David specifically mentions is pride or an arrogant heart.  This person considers themselves to be better than others.  As a result of this belief, they will not hesitate to slander someone.  They will not hesitate to withhold mercy or justice. 

In addition, they often consider themselves to be above the law.  This is very dangerous mindset for anyone in authority.  Fortunately for the people of Israel, David has vowed that he hates these sins and they will have no place in the administration of his kingdom.  Truly, David was a man after God’s own heart.  Are you?   

Psalms 101:6 – I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.

Every ruler, including the president of the United States, has advisors, councilors and confidants.  These are people who assist or advise the president in making decisions that will affect the whole nation.  If these advisors are wicked, what will happen to the nation and its people? 

Instead of looking upon or endorsing that which is evil, David will place his favor upon people who are faithful, humble, upright servants of God.  These are the qualifications he is looking for in his future councilors and confidants.  If the ruler of the nation and his advisors are righteous, what will happen to the nation and its people?

In this case, we don’t have to wonder – we know.  The reigns of David and his son Solomon are considered the ‘golden age’ of Israel.  It was a time characterized by peace, prosperity and justice.  People were happy and free to enjoy life.  As a nation, Israel enjoyed the respect of other nations.  In the midst of all this, God was glorified.

But not too long afterward, we find a ruler who surrounded himself with worthless advisors.  He was Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.  You can read the whole story in I Kings chapter 12, but basically it went something like this:  Immediately after Rehoboam became king, the people came to him and asked him to cut their taxes.

The councilors who previously served Solomon advised the new king to earn the loyalty of the people by giving them a tax break.  The new, haughty councilors chosen by Rehoboam advised the king to make the taxes even higher! 

The king chose the advice of the arrogant young men, and increased the taxes.  As a result, there was a rebellion.  Eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel decided to elect and serve a new king (Jeroboam), and Rehoboam was left to rule only the tribe of Judah.  Too bad Rehoboam surrounded himself with haughty, unwise advisors! 

Who are you taking advice from?  When you have an issue and you need wise council, who do you turn to?  Are they basing their wisdom on God’s law or man’s?             

Psalms 101:7 – No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.  

The man or woman who exhibited dishonesty, false pretences or trickery was not going to be a part of David’s life.  He would not go into business with them, make an alliance or partnership with them, employ them or allow them to occupy a place of authority in his kingdom. 

If a person of this character somehow made it into the life of David, he was determined to banish them as soon as he found out.  While this may have seemed ridiculous or overly zealous at the time, David ensured a smooth life for himself by nipping trouble in the bud.  By not entangling himself with these men in the first place, he spared himself the cost and embarrassment of being associated with them later on, when their sins were made public.

Now there is some really, really good advice – do with it as you will!

Psalms 101:8 – Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.

The city of the Lord is Jerusalem.  At the time he composed this Psalm David was not yet king.  He is purposing in his heart what he will do when his kingdom is established.

The same principles that he will use to run his own household are the ones he will use to govern all of God’s people.  When he is king, he will do everything within his power to purge the land from wicked people and their practices. 

The phrase ‘morning by morning’ indicates that this effort will be constant.  It isn’t something that David can do one time and the issue will be permanently settled.  Evil will not stay at bay forever; those who want to purge it from their society/culture must always be on guard or it will creep back in.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

It seems as though the Christians in our nation have run away from serving in public office.  This has turned out to be a mistake!  We need men and women of God who are willing to serve in public office and steward that position of authority and power for the glory of God, just as David did.   

If you feel God is calling you to some public office (no matter what that might be), I encourage you to pursue that with all of your might!  Your community and your nation need you!

Let me offer you some relief:

David determined very early in his life to exhibit mercy and justice in all of his affairs, starting with his own household.  Maybe you already have a household, but you started out with different laws like anger or favoritism.  Let me offer you some relief – it’s not too late to change! 

Begin to purpose in your heart that you want to treat those in your household and place of employment with the same principles that David did.  Begin to ask Holy Spirit to help you make that change. 

Let me offer you some strength:

Basing your life on Christian principles in general and mercy/justice in particular, is going to make you different from the world around you.  That is a good thing!  When people see those principles at work in your life, they will want to be part of what you are doing!  Who doesn’t want to work for a person who shows mercy and justice? 

So determine in your heart what you are going to do, and stick to it.  God will give you the strength to establish these principles in your life and he will bring about opportunities to be a witness for him!

 

Psalms, Chapter 4

Hello!  I hope you enjoyed our last study on the book of II Peter.  Rather than beginning a new book, we are going to spend the last few weeks of summer by looking at some of the Psalms. 

A study of the entire book would be quite an undertaking – at 150 chapters it would take years!  Instead, we will spread them out over time, examining a few here and there. 

Our look at the Psalms will be a bit different from our study of other biblical books.  Since this is a book of poetry/songs, we are going to read and reflect on the main concepts, rather than intently studying every aspect of it.  So let’s relax and meditate on our wonderful heavenly Father!

Psalms 4:1 – Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

Psalms 3 and 4 were composed by King David.  It appears as though they were written as a pair – the third Psalm being sung in morning worship, and the fourth Psalm sung as the evening worship of the same day.

The circumstances under which this song was written are not specifically revealed in the song itself, however, both Jewish interpreters and Christian expositors are in agreement that it was written during the rebellion of Absalom (see II Samuel 13-19 for the complete story).

Let’s consider that for a moment.  We are well aware that David was not perfect.  We also know that he had a lot of family problems, especially with his kids.  Perhaps our first reflection is that following Jesus does not guarantee a trouble-free life!

How should we respond to the trouble that is sure to cross our path?  David says “Answer me when I call, O God”.   To call on God means to pray; to reach out to the one who holds our future in his hands. He formed us in our mother’s womb; he knows when we sit down, when we rise up, and every word we speak before it passes our lips.  He knows the number of hairs on our head and he knows the plans he has for us.  What a comfort to call upon God in prayer knowing that he is bigger than any problem we face. Hallelujah!  

Here is one of the wonderful things about prayer:  It is as individual as each one of us!  No two people pray in the same manner.  Some people are very formal when they pray, while others are more relaxed.  Some people like to walk around while some kneel or sit.  Some speak loudly, while others whisper.  We can pray with our understanding and we can pray in the Spirit.  Sometimes, when our grief or pain is extremely intense we only have to call out his name – Jesus – and he is there to comfort us, bringing peace and strength. 

I really hope that you are not embarrassed or ashamed of the way you pray.  I hope you don’t compare your prayers to the prayers of others.  I hope you are not afraid to pray out loud in front of other people.  Since your relationship with God is unique, it only makes sense that your prayer life will be also.  Just relax and talk to your Father in whatever way seems natural to you.     

Aren’t you glad that you have a relationship with God?  Aren’t you glad that Jesus paid the price for your sin, so you can go boldly into the throne room of God and obtain help in the times of trouble?

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 

Why can David so confidently bring his petitions before the Lord?  Because he knows from experience that “You have given me relief when I was in distress.”  In other words, God not only hears our prayers, he answers them! 

Take a few moments right now to reflect on that: 

  • What is the biggest prayer that God answered for you?  Think back and remember the times when you thought there was no possible answer to your dilemma, but God stunned you by making a way. 
  • Now, consider the smallest, seemingly insignificant prayer that God answered for you.  Isn’t it amazing that he cares about every aspect of your life?  Isn’t it incredible that he wants to be involved in everything that concerns you, whether big or small?  God is so good!

As you reflect on the answers to past prayers, let it fuel your faith for your current situation.  God answered you in the past and he will do it again.

Psalms 4:2 –O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?  How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?  Selah.

Switching subjects, David now poetically addresses his adversaries – those engaged in persecuting him.  In his case, that would be Absalom and his followers who had caused David to flee Jerusalem.  They want to see David running for his life, reduced to poverty and shame, while they rise up to claim the authority and honor of his throne.

But these wicked men are making a big mistake.  Their evil desires are vain and hopeless.  Ultimately, they will be unsuccessful.  Why is that? 

It’s because they ignored the fact that David did not anoint himself as king – GOD did!  The wicked plans of man cannot over rule the purposes of God.  No matter how hard these men tried, they were not going to take the kingdom from David.  Fighting against David was like fighting against God himself. 

What a comforting thought!  Even now there are evil forces at work in the world that want to steal the blessings God has set aside for you (and for America).  They will try to discourage you, humiliate you and bring you to ruin.  They will throw roadblocks along your path.  They will even curse you, as Shimei did to David as he fled from Absalom (II Samuel 16:13).

But don’t listen to them!  Your hope is in God.  He will lead you, sustain you and empower you to fulfill the unique destiny he has prepared for you.

In the natural realm, Absalom represented a very real and grievous threat to David’s kingdom.  But in the spiritual realm, the only thing that could have caused David to lose the kingdom was…. David himself.  If he had given up hope or ceased to believe the promises of God, Absalom would indeed have usurped the throne.  However, as David continued to trust in God, the plans of his adversaries were thwarted. 

God is standing by to do the same for you.  Seek him, place your faith in him, and obey what he commands you to do.  Victory will be yours!

Psalms 4:3 – But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Do you have some special possession that you cherish?  Think about that item as you ask yourself these questions:  What makes it special?  Is it valuable?  Is it one of a kind?  Is it beautiful?  Does it bring you joy?  Does it remind you of someone you love?

David tells us that God considers YOU a precious treasure that he has set apart for himself!  You are special to GodGod considers you priceless.  I know that because he spent the blood of his only Son just to buy you back from sin.  You are one of a kind.  God has made billions of people yet each one of us have different DNA and different fingerprints.  You were not made on an assembly line, you were custom made by your Father.  Are you beautiful?  Of course you are!  Don’t judge yourself by the shallow and ever-changing beauty standards of mankind.  God loves beauty and everything he creates contains it. Do you bring joy to God?  You sure do!

Isaiah 62:5 – … as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Know this:  God has set YOU aside for himself.  He has set his favor upon you.  He has created you to be a living temple, full of his Spirit, reflecting his glory.  He has chosen you to represent him in this generation, and to exercise His authority on earth.  He has given you the keys to his kingdom and power over the enemy.  Obviously, when you call out to him, he is going to hear you!

Psalms 4:4 – Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.  Selah.

“Be angry” can also be translated “Stand in awe”.  David is calling upon us to consider the awesome holiness, character and power of God.  When we consider the character and nature of God, it should make us painfully aware of our own sin.   It should inspire us to be more holy.

What facet of God’s character is most precious to you?  Is it his righteousness?  His mercy?  His perfection?  His love?  His wisdom?  It’s hard to choose just one, isn’t it?  And just think – these are the parts of God that we know about.  I have a feeling there is much more to be discovered!

David also encourages us to soberly examine our own hearts/lives.  What have we said and done today?  Were our actions, thoughts and words pleasing to the Lord?  Did they encourage and edify others?  Did they lead sinners to the light of Jesus Christ?   If not, what changes can we make? 

I have to add this final thought:  Examining our own lives is essential, but doing so in bed may not be such a good idea.  Personally, I would be asleep in three minutes!

Psalms 4:5 – Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

Let’s talk about sacrifice for a minute.  To sacrifice means to give up something of importance or value for the sake of other considerations. 

Obviously, this is a concept presented all throughout scripture, with Jesus as the ultimate example.  God gave up something of importance or value to himself in order to redeem you and me. 

Let’s consider the nature of sacrifices.  In the New Testament, Jesus watched people putting money into the offering plate at the temple.  He declared that a widow who gave a penny had sacrificed more than others who put in $100 (Mark 12:41-44). 

According to Jesus, the value of the sacrifice was based on how much it cost the giver.  In other words, the man who gave $100 wasn’t going to miss it much, so it wasn’t a costly sacrifice for him.  Meanwhile, the widow literally had nothing so the penny she placed in the plate was all she had to sustain herself.  For that reason, it was a very costly sacrifice indeed. 

Here is another example.  King David was in the midst of a huge crisis.  An avenging angel was destroying the people of Israel.  David knew that a proper sacrifice to the Lord could stop the judgment.  At that point, one of his subjects offered him a tract of land and some excellent oxen for free; David could sacrifice them immediately.  But David refused the offer: 

II Samuel 24:24 – But the king [David] said to Araunah… “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

David understood the concept of a ‘right’ sacrifice.  If there was no true cost to David then his sacrifice would have been just like the $100 given to the temple by the rich man.  It would not have caused God to stop the avenging angel.

But David paused and purchased the land and oxen from Araunah at full price.  As a result, the sacrifice was legitimate, and it was accepted by God.    

What is the nature of your sacrifice to God?  Are you giving him time, money or talents that you wouldn’t miss anyway, or does your sacrifice represent a true cost?

Psalms 4:6-7 – There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”  You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

How do sinners like Absalom define ‘good’?  They look for the fleeting honors and pleasures of this life, such as food, drink, entertainment and economic stability.   They look no further than the comforts of the flesh.

But true believers know that these things are of no value without a right relationship to God.  What good is the security of this life, unless one has eternal security for their soul?

Matthew 16:26 – For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  

Would you give anything in exchange for your eternal soul?  NO WAY!  There may be times when you are tempted to envy the material possessions of others.  But don’t take Satan’s bait! 

As David indicates, true joy comes when God turns his face towards us and we have a relationship with him.  For the Christian, nothing can compare to the richness and exhilaration of a life lived with Christ.   This kind of life is not tied to how much money you make, where you live, or what you eat.  It is for anyone and everyone!

Psalms 4:8 – In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. 

As Christians, we should be able to lay down at night and get some rest, free of worry about our enemies and their plans. 

  • We do this by releasing our fears and concerns to God through prayer and worship. 
  • We do this by using our shield of faith to repel the fiery darts of worry and anxiety that Satan tries to launch at us at 2 am!   
  • We do this by using the sword of the Spirit (the word of God) against the lies of the enemy. 

God has given us the tools for a good night’s sleep – let’s use them!

But consider this as well:  Sleep is also a euphemism for death.  At some point, you and I will go to ‘sleep’ on earth and wake up in heaven.  As believers, we are safe and secure in the knowledge that God has prepared a place for us in his eternal kingdom, where we will live in his presence forevermore! 

Let me offer you some encouragement: 

We all know there are struggles in this life.  But let’s rise above that.  Let’s be like David – let’s worship in the morning, preparing ourselves to serve Christ that day.  And let’s worship him in the evening, knowing that we rest in the peace and safety of our Lord and Savior.  Before you know it, God will be calling us home to heaven!

Let me offer you some relief:

I want to reiterate this once again:  YOU are special to God!  He values you no matter what (or how many) mistakes you made.  He loves you so much, he sacrificed his only Son in order to win you back from the clutches of Satan!  There is no sin he won’t forgive.   

So don’t let anyone tell you that you have no value or that you are worthless; those are the lies of your enemy.  Enter into the courts of the Lord and allow him to reveal to you just how much he cares!      

Let me offer you some strength:

Absalom seemed to have everything the world offered.  He was young, handsome, rich and well connected.  He had the support of many people.  And for a while, it looked like he had the upper hand.  But he could not take the throne of his father, because God had reserved that just for David.    

God also has blessings reserved for you.  No one can take them from you, unless you give up and allow that to happen.  So stand strong and claim the promises that God has placed within your heart!

 

II Peter, Chapter 3, Part 2

II Peter 3:10 – But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

In our last post, we mentioned the return of Jesus.  Though it seems to be ‘taking forever’ in our opinion, the Lord is not bound by time.  For him, a thousand years of time is like a single day.

And though his return may or may not be imminent, we can rest assured IT WILL CERTAINLY OCCUR.  Once the appointed time arrives, Jesus will return like a thief.  In other words, his return will come suddenly and unexpectedly. 

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 –  For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

This implies that some people will be unprepared for it.  (Also see Revelation 16:15 and Matthew 24:43-44).   While the heathens are obviously unprepared, it should be noted that there will be unprepared Christians as well (as in the five foolish virgins).  The wise Christian will be constantly mindful of the Lord’s return. 

The rest of this verse describes events that will take place at the end of time.  Peter’s words have generated an immense amount of speculation on the part of believers.  For example:

Peter declares that the heavens will pass away.  Does this mean only the earth and its atmosphere (the first heaven), or does it also include the planets and stars located in the second heaven? 

Peter says the earth (and planets?) will be set on fire, or burned.  Everyone agrees there will be a raging conflagration on earth.  But people disagree on the effects of the fire.  The disagreement centers around the word ‘dissolved’. 

Some are persuaded that this should be taken literally; the earth will not only be destroyed, but it will pass away or cease to exist entirely, even on a molecular level.

Some believe that this refers only to the inhabited portions of the planet.

Others maintain that fire/heat merely changes the form of things.  For example, if you burn wood on a campfire, it does not cease to exist; its form is merely changed into heat, gases and ash.  Likewise, these people believe that fire will simply change earth it to a new form, perhaps converting it into the elements it was originally formed from.  They believe that unless God intervenes and annihilates it, the actual matter which now makes up the earth will still be in existence after the fire.  This may be substance God uses to make the new heavens and the new earth.

And what about the great noise or roar which will accompany the fire?  Some speculate the noise will be caused by the changing of the earth’s present form back into its elements.  Others believe the sound is literally the crackling or roaring sound accompanied by fire, as in the case of a forest fire.  Still others think it refers to the explosion of an atomic bomb, which they believe will initiate the fire. 

Clearly, there is room to speculate on how this event may occur, but the result of it is clear – the works of both God (plant/animal life, seas, mountains, etc) and the works of man (art, cities, infrastructure, buildings, money, etc) will be destroyed. 

While these opinions/scenarios are really interesting, the exact nature or cause/effect of the inferno is not the main point the apostle wants us to see.  We don’t want to get so caught up in them that we miss Peter’s true point.  Putting all speculation aside, his true point is very clear:  Just as God destroyed the old heavens and earth by water, he will destroy the current heavens and earth by fire. 

This point should cause us to stop and examine our own lives.  If the world itself needs to be purged from the effects of sin, how much more do you and I need to rid ourselves of sin and live holy lives? 

II Peter 3:11 – Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,

The purpose of knowing that the earth will once again be destroyed is not so we can indulge in vain speculation.  It is so we can prepare ourselves against that day.  If Jesus came today, would you be comfortable standing before him?

Are you satisfied with your spiritual life?

There are certainly times when we eagerly anticipate the return of Christ, and it spurs us to great levels of spiritual activity. 

But on the other hand, how often do we put off things we should be doing, while promising ourselves that tomorrow is another day?  The busyness of daily life sometimes crowds out our spiritual goals; the cultivation of holiness and godliness falls to the wayside.  We should regard Peter’s admonition in this verse as a wake-up call – the time to be negligent or idle has passed.

2 Corinthians 7:1 – Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.    

This world is not our home, so don’t make plans to stay here!  Our fleshly desires need to be crucified and our personal holiness needs to be nurtured.  We need to discover, accept and operate in our spiritual gifts.  We need to find our kingdom assignment, and accomplish it will all our might.

Do you earnestly desire the return of Christ?  Have you prepared yourself for it? 

II Peter 3:12 – waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

The Greek word ‘hastening’ reflects expectation, or to wait with eager desire.   So, as we diligently work in the kingdom, we should long for or expect the return of our Savior. 

Titus 2:12-13 – Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ;

In other words, we should not be surprised at the return of Jesus.  As his children, we not only expect him to return, we live in such a way that we are prepared to be commended as good stewards when he does come.  We are not the foolish virgins, but the wise ones, who have oil in their lamps.  We do not hide our talents in the ground; we use them to produce eternal results for God. 

This also means that we do not fear the ending of the world.  Have you ever spoken with people about the end of the world?  Some will simply laugh and make light of it.  Others will express fear or dismay about this topic.  But that should never be the case for the Christian. 

We should view the return of Christ as the culmination of our redemption.  It is the beginning of our eternal life with Jesus; there is no reason for us to fear!  This event will only usher us into eternal joy, peace and love.  Since this is the case, we should eagerly look forward to it and set all our hope upon it.  Those who hope in the Lord will never be disappointed.

II Peter 3:13 –But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

God has not only promised to return for us, He has promised a new heaven and earth.  Isaiah prophesied about it (Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22), and the apostle John actually saw it in his vision of the Revelation of Jesus Christ!   

Revelation 21:1 – And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

We don’t know all the details of how God is going to accomplish this, but we can rest assured that he will.  We can also be sure that this new world will be purified from sin and defilement; righteousness will dwell in it.  It is going to be a wonderful place!

II Peter 3:14 – Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

Thoughts of the return of Christ and the implementation of the new heaven and earth should motivate us to examine our own lives and see if we are ready for these events. 

The person who earnestly pines/waits for the new heaven and earth, will feel the natural desire to renew himself/herself.  They will do their utmost to remove sin and fleshly desires from themselves and replace them with Christian graces and holiness.  Their desire will be to have every last stain of sin removed from their lives. 

The opposite is also true.  Those who bury the promises of Christ’s return and never take the time to reflect on them, are likely to focus their time and efforts on the things of this world even though they are Christians.

The more we desire things to come, the more diligent we are likely to be in renewing our minds/hearts and focusing ourselves on kingdom work.  For this reason, we would do well to review these promises from time to time.

What does Peter mean by saying we should be found at peace?

He is probably referring to an overall state of mind and heart.  Those who are ready for the return of Christ have peace with God, the righteous judge, and peace with their own consciences.  This peace will spill over into our relationships and we will be at peace with our fellow man.

This peace comes from God and is not dependent on any outward circumstance.  It is a precious peace that the world cannot understand or possess.  It is a peace that assures us God will keep all of the promises he has made to his people.       

II Peter 3:15 – And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

Christians can be assured that God’s alleged delay in returning to earth is not evidence that he will not keep his promise.  Rather, it is proof of his desire that everyone come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  His mercy is revealed as he gives chance, after chance, after chance for sinners to repent.  Therefore, the believer should not be weary or disheartened if the coming of the Lord delays.  We should rejoice in every day that passes, for it keeps the window of salvation open for the lost.

Every new day also affords the believer more opportunities to labor in the kingdom of heaven.  We should stop and ask ourselves this:  What are we doing with the gift of today?  This way of thinking should cause us to share the gospel message at every opportunity.

Mark 16:15 – And he said unto them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

On the other hand, the alleged delay of the Lord’s return does not change the fact that God will proceed with final judgment and punishment at the end of the age.  Wicked men should not make the mistake of thinking they will escape judgment.

This truth about the longsuffering of God has also been confirmed by the apostle Paul in his writings, which would later make up the majority of the New Testament.  Obviously, the truth/wisdom revealed by both Peter and Paul had a common source – Holy Spirit. 

Peter’s mention of Paul’s writings actually serves another purpose – it binds the church together.  Paul is mainly considered the apostle to the Gentiles, while Peter is most often associated with Jewish believers.  Here, Peter shows that the same revelation has been given to all the apostles, because there is a single church of Jesus Christ, made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

It is obvious that Peter’s readers were aware of the teachings of Paul.  How could that be so? 

Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written to the churches by the apostle Paul.  After one church read and studied the letter, it was passed on to other churches as well.  Thus, his teachings spread throughout the churches.  Can you imagine how excited each church would be to get a new letter?  To receive new wisdom and revelation about Jesus and their Christian walk?    

How vastly different things are today!  Most of us are at the point where we can access the entire bible almost instantly – we can even get it on our phones!  In light of this, we have to ask ourselves a question:  What excuse do we have for not being familiar with it?  How much value do we place on our access to the word of God?  What excuse do we have for not growing and maturing in our Christian life?

There are many Christians who want to be like Peter Pan – they never want to grow up!  They want pastors and teachers to spiritually spoon feed them like toddlers.  Truthfully, if that is what you want, there is enough access to sound teaching that you could do it. 

But I encourage you not to be that person.  I encourage you to be the person who searches the scriptures for yourself, allowing Holy Spirit to reveal to you the deep things of God (I Corinthians 2:9-10).

I encourage you to be the person who reads the word and discovers for yourself the promises of God that pertain to your life and situation.  Don’t depend on someone else to discover this for you. 

I assure you, the discovery of these truths is like discovering buried treasure!  When you come across a promise and Holy Spirit quickens it to you, you will KNOW that it is for you; you KNOW it will come to pass! 

In short, be a grown up in Christ!  The time for being a baby is over.  Those who refuse to grow up will miss the astonishing things that God has in store for them.  They will miss out on being a valued partner with God as he brings to pass his plan for the ages.

Do you want to be part of the army of God – one who can enforce his will on the earth? Or do you want to be the baby who stays on the sidelines and misses all the action?

II Peter 3:16 – as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.  There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Are there things in scripture that are hard to understand?  You bet there are!  If you don’t believe me, go ahead and read Revelation!

But we need to keep this in perspective.  The gospel message itself is not difficult to understand nor is it complicated.  Rehearse it with me now:

  • Mankind rebelled against God and allowed sin into the world. 
  • God made provision for that sin to be forgiven through the blood of Jesus; it is a free gift resulting in eternal life. 
  • Those who accept this free gift become children of God. 
  • At the end of time, God will gather his children to himself while the wicked will be cast into hell.

2 Timothy 3:15 – And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

It’s not complicated, is it?  Even a child can understand the message of salvation.  In fact, there are many, many, many elemental truths in scripture that are clear and easy to understand. 

But at the same time, there are truths that can only be understood by mature believers (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Think of it this way:  We would not expect a first grader to be able to complete a thesis necessary to get a doctorate.   Eventually, over time, the student could certainly achieve this, but he would need to work up to it.

In the same way, Christians must mature in the knowledge of God. There are two components to maturity.

  • The first is ‘head’ knowledge.  The believer who wants to mature needs to read and study the word.  They need to know the ‘play book’; they must understand the authority, the power and weapons that God has provided for them to use. 
  • They will also need experiential knowledge.  They must put into practice the things they have learned.  It isn’t enough to know that God answers prayer – you must learn to actually pray.  It isn’t enough to know that Holy Spirit fills believers and empowers them – you must be filled yourself. 

As the believer learns and subsequently puts into practice these truths, they mature to greater and greater levels in Christ.  As they mature, they can understand the more difficult revelations of God.  

How much have you grown in Christ in the last six months or year?  What is holding you back?  Is it a lack of knowledge?  Is it a lack of experience?  Have you been negligent in taking the next step that God has made known to you?  If you are not growing, I strongly urge you to spend time with the Lord, asking him how to move forward.

While there will be Christians who grow in Christ, there will also be ignorant and unstable people who twist the scriptures. 

Here is something interesting – the Greek word for twist is a metaphor taken from torturers, who placed people on racks and stretched/tortured them until they acknowledged lies as the truth, or spoke/confessed things they never intended to really say. 

In the same way, there will be people who ‘stretch’ or distort the true meaning of Holy Spirit in the scriptures. They twist the scriptures to make them say something that God never intended, and thus they make lies into truth.

For example, Peter spoke about licentious men who abused the doctrine of grace.  As we mentioned previously, they taught that since God’s grace covers every sin, it is okay for Christians to sin as much as they like.  According to them, there is no need to pursue holiness – the more God forgives, the more his grace is magnified – so go ahead and indulge!  Obviously, this is a twisted and perverse understanding of grace. 

Once they accepted this perversion of the truth, they could do any and every sinful thing their evil hearts desired.  However, the twisting of the doctrine of grace will eventually lead to their spiritual death and destruction. 

II Peter 3:17 – You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

There can be no doubt that scoffers and heretics will come.  Here Peter admonishes believers to be on their guard against the false twisted teachings endorsed/promoted by these lawless men who are following their own sinful desires.  We want to be careful not to be lured into false beliefs, which appeal to our fleshly natures.  We do not want to depart from faith in Christ, and the confidence of our salvation which he has given to us.  

II Peter 3:18 – But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.

Again, we notice that it is possible for the believer to grow in his spiritual life. 

Consider this:  We plant seeds in the ground, which start off as very tiny plants.  But as we cultivate, prune, water and fertilize them, they grown to a point of producing fruit.  The amount of fruit produced is in direct proportion to the degree of care and attention we bestow upon the plant or tree. 

The same is true in our spiritual lives.  We must cultivate Christian graces.  We must prune our thoughts and conduct in order to become holier.  We must water and fertilize our minds with the word of God, while being on guard against false doctrines presented by scoffers and false teachers. 

While we may be more spiritually mature today than we were yesterday, we all still have areas for improvement.  Hopefully, what we are tomorrow is not what we are today!

Our ultimate goal is to be made over into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let us be ready for the day of his coming!  

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Think about this for a minute:  Living things do not remain static.  Anything that is not actively growing, is actually in the process of dying.  Likewise, if you are not growing in your faith, then you are actually dying spiritually.  

Why not take a few minutes right now to assess your recent spiritual growth?  If you are not on track, I encourage you to repent before God and make some immediate changes in your life.

Let me offer you some relief:

You don’t need to worry if you don’t understand EVERYTHING about your Christian faith.  There are some truths that are for the mature believer. 

But here is the good news – one day, YOU can be that believer!  Just keep on growing, every day.  Keep reading the word, practicing what you learn and keeping your eyes on Christ.  Before you know it, you will be ready for increased knowledge and wisdom.

Let me offer you some strength:

It’s not always fun to diet or exercise your earthly body.  Likewise, crucifying your flesh and replacing it with personal holiness and Christian graces isn’t always easy or fun either.  But I can assure you, it is worth it!  Once you begin the process you will be so glad you did!

And eventually, Christ will return.  Those who are best prepared will have the most joy at his return.  So shake off weariness and hesitation.  Get back in the spiritual self improvement game! 

 

 

II Peter, Chapter 3, Part 2

II Peter 3:1 – This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.  In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,

In this section of his second letter, you can sense the urgency and gravity that Peter feels as he earnestly writes to the believers in Asia Minor.

Narrow Path

Notice that these true believers have sincere or pure minds.  This indicates that they are still true believers, walking on the narrow path that leads to eternal life.  They have not been polluted by the false teachers/prophets mentioned at length in chapter two.  As we saw in that chapter, Peter took the time to thoroughly warn Christians about false doctrines of licentiousness that would eventually lead them to apostasy.

But that is not the only snare that Satan has set for believers. 

Peter also senses danger for the church in the guise of scoffers. A scoffer is someone who jeers or mocks; who treats something with contempt.  They attempt to cast doubt or derision on something, based on their own reasoning or opinion. 

Jude 18 –They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”

In this particular case, scoffers are people who mock the promises that God has made to his children.  In so doing, they attempt to undermine the faith of the believer. 

But Peter isn’t about to let that happen.  He is going to refute the false, faith destroying opinions of these ignorant people. 

Because there are scoffers in every generation (including ours), it is crucial that we listen to the wise council of Peter.

II Peter 3:2 – that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior though your apostles,

Peter wants to stir up the minds of Christians to remember the words of prophesy given to believers in both the Old Testament (the law and prophets) and the New Testament (doctrines included in the gospel message given through the apostles).

Notice that Peter joins together the prophets of old and the apostles of that day, confirming the continuity of scripture.  Though there were numerous prophets and apostles who spoke over a span of hundreds of years, they spoke consistent doctrines and promises. 

It is vital that we remember and meditate on the promises of God delivered through these messengers, so that scoffers do not derail us from the true gospel message. 

II Peter 3:3 – knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

It should be noted that we have no way of knowing how long this period of time will last.  It could be over before you finish reading this blog, or it could still be continuing long after your great grandchildren are old and gray! 

The term ‘last days’ refers to the final period in human history.  We often refer to this as the Gospel Dispensation or the Age of Grace.  It began when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and it will end with his return to earth (also known as his second coming).

Here’s what we do know:  Scoffers are present throughout the era of the last days, which means we can expect to encounter them, if we haven’t already.

Here is something else we know:  Like the false teacher, the scoffer is motivated by a craving to indulge in their own sinful desires. 

For a moment, picture a sinner who comes face to face with the reality of God.  He discovers that God is pure and holy, and He desires for us to be like He is.  To accept and follow Christ is to embrace a life of holiness. 

I Peter 1:15-16 – … as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”.

But the sinner is more in love with his sin than he is with God.  He does not want to be restrained by what he perceives as the limitations of godliness and holiness.  So… what will he do now? 

This particular sinner might become a scoffer.  In order to avoid the truth, he will constantly try to pick it apart and prove that it is not true.  He will dismiss every point that he cannot fully understand.  He will find things that he cannot explain and use it as an excuse to deride the whole gospel.  He will boldly proclaim the truth to be a lie; he will deem the gospel worthless or despicable.  He will persuade himself that that the gospel is spurious. 

If he can convince himself that is the case, he has the liberty to cast the gospel aside and follow his evil propensities.  Sadly, his opposition to the truth began and ended in his own lusts.

II Peter 3:4 – They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Here is one of the doctrines that scoffers love to revile – the second coming of Jesus.  When Jesus returns to earth, he is going to judge the world in justice and righteousness.  Those who are found in Christ will receive rewards.  Those who have rejected Christ will be judged and punished. 

We can instantly see why the scoffer desires to blaspheme the doctrine of the second coming.  Remember, he or she wants to continue wallowing in their sin.  If they openly acknowledge that Jesus is going to return and judge the wicked, then they must admit their actions are wrong, and they need to repent.  However, scoffing at the idea of the return of Christ sears their conscience and allows them to keep on sinning.  

The argument presented by the scoffers goes something like this:

When the prophets of old foretold the return of Christ, they expected these events to occur any day (imminently).  But nothing happened.  They died and were buried long, long ago, but nothing changed.  The world just keeps spinning on and on

Our own forefathers spoke of the same promises.  They kept the words of the prophets alive in their generation, but they too are dead.  And nothing has changed.  The world continues as it always has.

Since the days of creation, the course of nature has gone on steadily.  Day after day, month after month, year after year the sun rises and sets.  Spring follows winter.  The tides ebb and flow.  People are born and people die.  Nothing has changed.

Where is the evidence that Christ would return?  Show it to us!  Where is the fulfillment of the promise? It is never going to happen!

These are the views of the scoffer.

To make matters worse, scholars think that some Christians of that day had taken it upon themselves to predict an exact date/time for Christ’s return.  When that date passed by without anything happening, scoffers seized the opportunity to claim God’s promise had failed.

Let’s take a look at their claim.

First, we notice that they do not deny that God made a promise to return.  There is way too much evidence and too many witnesses of that promise in both the Old and New Testaments to deny its existence.  So instead of denying the promise, they mock it.  They scorn it.  They argue against it.  This demonstrates a much higher degree of contempt than simple denial.

Their actual argument is this:  If Jesus was going to return to earth, he would have already done it by now.  According to the scoffer, if there had been any truth or certainty to that promise, we would have seen some evidence or sign of his coming by now.  But there is no such evidence.  The world has remained unchanged for thousands of years; therefore, God either cannot or will not return as he promised. 

Obviously, their claims are sketchy at best.  Simple human reasoning tells us that just because something has not yet happened, does not mean it won’t happen at a future date.

But we don’t want to use human reasoning to defend our beliefs.  Here’s why: The second coming of Jesus is the crowning event/denouement of the plan of salvation.  When Jesus returns, he brings justice and righteousness to all things.  The wicked are judged.  Death, the final enemy, is defeated.  The righteous inherit eternal life and begin the next phase of our existence.  All loose ends are tied up.  Everything is perfectly finished.  If Christ never returns, these things never take place.  Clearly, the significance of the second coming cannot be over stated.  So we don’t want to use changeable, imperfect human reasoning to defend it.  We want to use the infallible word of God – which is exactly what Peter does!

II Peter 3:5-6 – For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

The phrase ‘deliberately overlook’ once again stresses the fact that the scoffer did not arrive at their conclusion by reason or sober judgment.  They stubbornly choose to ignore the truth so they can continue in their sinful ways.  They will eventually find out that being willfully ignorant does not justify them.

Peter begins his rebuttal with a clear fact:  Despite the claims of the scoffer, things have NOT remained unchanged since the beginning of creation.

Creation was disrupted by the flood during the days of Noah.  God swept away a whole world of ungodly men during that destructive event.  If God was willing and able to destroy the wicked in the flood, why does the scoffer refuse to believe he will do so again, at his second coming?

Indeed, Peter is going to rehearse the events of the flood to show what God has done in the past.  These facts should convince/persuade men to believe that God is fully capable of destroying the world a second time, and indeed he will do so at his final return, just as he promised.

In the book of Genesis, we find reference to a vast unformed collection of materials and elements which are collectively called water.  The earth itself was formed from/out of this water by the powerful, creative words of God (Genesis 1:1-2). 

During creation, God divided the waters according to his wisdom.  Some were stored in the heavens (what we know as the atmosphere or first heaven), some were gathered together into the seas (leaving dry land) and some was stored in the ‘great deep’ (Genesis 7:11). 

Genesis 1:6-8 – And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.  And it was so.  And God called the expanse heaven.  And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And there they stayed, allowing life to flourish on earth. 

However, the wickedness of man increased to such a level that the world was entirely filled with violence and sin.  At that point, God demonstrated his wrath and mighty power by releasing the repositories of water and allowing the earth to be destroyed by the flood waters, as he promised he would do:

Genesis 6:17 – For behold, I [God] will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.  Everything that is on the earth shall die.

(See also Genesis 6:7, 6:13, 7:4). Thus, the scoffer cannot claim that the earth has continued since creation without change.  Neither can he claim that God is incapable of destroying it.  His argument against the second coming of Christ has been demolished!

II Peter 3:7 – But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

This might be a good time to comment on the word “heavens”.  Scripture speaks of three different heavens.  The first heaven refers to the atmosphere of the earth.  The second heaven refers to what we would call ‘space’; it entails all of the stars, planets, etc.  The third heaven is the place where God dwells.  When Peter says the heavens are stored up for fire/destruction, he is not referring to the place where God dwells. 

Through the word of God (scripture), Peter has just proved that there was a major change in the heavens and the earth during the days of Noah.  This change came solely as a result of God’s word and will.  The earth and the laws of nature have no power or stability of their own.  They go on day after day, year after year because God wills it to be so.  He created them.  He sustains them.  He established their laws of operation.  He alone controls them.

By his word he created them; by his word, he destroyed them with the flood.   Thus, the foolishness of the scoffer is readily apparent. 

The scoffer and the Christian alike should also take note that a second total destruction has already been decreed for the earth.  The same powerful word of God that destroyed the world by water will also destroy it by fire.

Like the flood, this future judgment is tied to the destruction of the wicked.  Obviously, it is yet to come; we do not know when it will occur.  It may or may not happen within our generation or lifetime.  But come it will, just as surely as the flood did, because God always keeps his promises.  He does what he declares he will do.

Isaiah 66:15-16 – For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.  For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

Therefore, the Christian should never believe the lies of the scoffer.  Rather, we place our faith in the immutable promises of God.  We do not need to fear the future; we only need to remain faithful to our loving heavenly Father, who keeps us safe within the secret place of the Most High (Psalms 91:1-8).   At the perfect time, he will deliver his saints and destroy his enemies.

II Peter 3:8 – But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

This is the second point of rebuttal given by Peter to the claims of the scoffer. 

The opinion of the scoffer is that if God was going to return, he would surely have done so by now.  They imply that too much time has passed between the promise and the fulfillment; God has forgotten or neglected the promise of his return.  In God’s neglect, the world continues on and on as it always has. 

But Peter again points out that their human reasoning is faulty.  God is not trapped in space and time as humans are.  He transcends time. For him, nothing is past or future, but all things are present.  He existed before he created time, and he will live eternally after he brings time to an end. 

Psalms 90:4 – For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

No measurable duration of time has any bearing on the eternity of God.  Therefore, God’s actions cannot be judged according to our understanding of time.  While a thousand years is far, far past the limits of our fleshly existence, it is nothing to God, for he is eternal.

Even believers sometimes get impatient as we wait for God to fulfill his promises.  Peter provides a good reminder for us that God’s hidden purposes will be accomplished perfectly; he is not bound by our measurement of time.  

Conclusion:  God is willing and able to fulfill all of the promises he has made to YOU, even if it’s been a long time in coming!  Don’t give up!  Don’t let your faith waiver!

Habakkuk 2:3 – For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.  

Did you catch what God said to Habakkuk?  The appointed time for fulfillment of God’s promise would surely come!  Though it takes awhile, wait for it!

What promise are you claiming? 

  • Are you praying for one of your children?  Don’t give up- wait for it! 
  • Are you looking for revival to break out in your community?  Don’t give up- wait for it! 
  • Do you want to see miracles? Don’t give up- wait for it… it will surely come!  

II Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

All of us can probably recall a time when someone made us a promise, but then either broke it or forgot it.  When this happens, we begin to make assumptions about why they failed to keep their promise.  We might think they changed their mind/plans, or they forgot their promise to us, or perhaps they do not have the ability (time, resources, money, authority) to complete the task.  In the case of humans, any of these assumptions may be true.

But no such assumption can be made in the case of God.  He has not failed or forgotten to do anything.  The true reason for any perceived delay is the patience and goodness of God.  In his great mercy, God delays judgment in order to afford mankind more time to repent, and thus prevent their own eternal judgment/ruin.

Ezekiel 33:11 – Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Although God does not desire the death of the wicked, it will eventually happen if they do not repent.  God has appointed a day to judge the world in righteousness and he will keep that appointment. 

Scripture says the return of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, when people are asleep and secure, not expecting him to come (Luke 12:39-40).   Therefore, the wicked should not wait to repent.

The same thought is expressed in the parable of the 10 virgins, where five women are unprepared for the sudden (yet long awaited) return of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).  Therefore, Christians should be diligently looking for the return of Christ.  This includes you and me. 

Every day we have on earth is another day to add Christian graces to our lives, to do good works, to become more like Christ, to share the gospel, to praise and worship our redeemer, to exercise faith, to encourage a brother/sister or to grow in the knowledge and wisdom of God.

Each one of us need to consider the return of the Lord as an imminent event.  If we relegate it to sometime far in the future, we will tend to become slack in our service for God.

Let me offer you some encouragement

Peter says that in the last days, scoffers will come.  They mock the promises of God.  They will try to undermine your faith, and get you to doubt God’s promises too. 

Don’t fall prey to their false and flawed reasoning.  Use your shield of faith to stop their fiery darts of unbelief and doubt.  If you are waiting for God to fulfill a promise he made to you, stand strong.  Here are some practical things you can do to combat doubt: Repeat that promise or scripture over and over; keeping it fresh within your heart.  Pray over it.  Rejoice over the answer/victory, even though you haven’t seen it yet.  Declare that scripture over your life or the lives of your children.

Remember, God spoke the world into existence.  There is power in speaking his word over yourself and your children!

Let me offer you some relief:

As a Christian, you don’t need to fear the return of the Lord.  Every sin you have committed has been cleansed and forgiven through the blood of Christ.  Satan will try to tell you otherwise…he will constantly bring to your remembrance past mistakes and failures.  When that happens, chase him off with your spiritual sword – the word of God! 

Quote scriptures that speak of your forgiveness and acceptance through Christ.  If you stand up to Satan, he will flee from you (James 4:7)!

Let me offer you some strength:

You are on planet earth for a reason; you have a purpose in life.  Every day that you wake up is a new day to fulfill that purpose.   Whatever God has called you to do, do it with all your might!

Don’t be one of the five foolish virgins – work diligently each day for the glory of God, and look for his return.  He will be back for you before you know it!

 

II Peter, Chapter 2, Part 2

II Peter 2:10 – and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

Here in chapter 2, Peter is warning true believers against false teachers. 

As we noted in our last post, it is likely that Peter is referring to a heretical sect known as the Nicolaitans:

  • These people claimed to be Christians, but they abused the laws of grace, even to the point of denying that Jesus was the Messiah who died on the cross. 
  • They also claimed to have ‘secret’ spiritual wisdom which they received through mystic revelation.  This was supposedly given to them, and no one else.  Their actions caused divisions within the church body.
  • They introduced false doctrines into the church.  This was not done blatantly; instead they introduced their own opinions here and there until they succeeded in twisting the truth.
  • Peter describes them as greedy.  They gave smooth convincing sermons designed to take money from honest believers who wanted to support the gospel.
  • Peter describes them as licentious.  Their behavior was unrestrained by law or morality and characterized by abuse of freedom.  Their sin had no boundaries and basically taught that ‘anything goes’.  (I can see where that would be a popular doctrine!)

In short, they intentionally perverted religious truth in order to open doors of licentiousness and sin for themselves and anyone they could convince to join them.  Sadly, there are still false teachers in the world today!

Our last post ended with Peter assuring us that God has punishment in store for these wicked people.

Peter now builds upon that topic.  Not only does God punish the wicked in general, he especially punishes heretics and seducers, who add the ‘lust of defiling passion’ to their corrupt doctrines and false teachings.  Not only are they teaching evil, they are living it for all the world to see, while still identifying themselves Christians.

They live for the indulgence of their carnal appetites, following the desires and inclinations of their own minds.  Since their minds are filled with thoughts of sin and worldly pleasure, they will relentlessly pursue those things without restraint. 

This is the opposite of the true believer, who renews his mind in righteousness (Romans 12:2) and keeps a diligent guard on the thoughts that enter his mind. 

2 Corinthians 10:5 – Casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  

You are the gate keeper of your own mind – God allows each one of us to choose what we will allow our minds to dwell on.  As you are deciding what to think about, keep this in mind – the seeds you plant in your mind will come to fruition in your actions (James 1:13-15).  So be careful what you think about!

As if that were not enough, false teachers also hate authority.  In our study of I Peter chapter 2, Peter admonished believers to submit to those that God has placed in authority over us, such as kings, magistrates, governors, etc.  God has placed them there for our good – to punish evil and maintain order.  As we respect and obey them, it brings glory to God and removes any reason that the heathen have for slandering Christianity.    

However, these vain false teachers do not respect authority of any kind.  Because they desire unbridled freedom of all kinds, they rebel against authority in the government, the church, the family and ultimately against God himself.  Their ultimate goal is anarchy.

I can’t help but compare this passage of scripture to some of the events taking place in our nation today.  We seem to have areas where people have thrown off the restraints of government, society and police, resulting in pockets of anarchy.  One thing we can do is to pray, asking God to send revival into these areas.  If these rebellious people will accept Christ as Lord, he will change their hearts and minds.  

II Peter 2:11 – whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.

This verse is actually the second half of the thought expressed in verse 10, which describes the false teachers as people who rebel against all authority, especially that of the civil government.  In their bold and scornful rebellion, they curse, imprecate and judge the government officials in authority over them.

Peter now contrasts their actions with those of the angels:

There is evidence in scripture to show that angels do not mock, blaspheme, reproach, judge or otherwise rail against others, even when they are zealously engaged in the work of God. 

An example of this is referenced in Jude 9-10 as well as in Jewish tradition, where the archangel Michael contended with Satan for the body of Moses.  During their encounter, the only words spoken by the angel were simple, truthful and straightforward – ‘The Lord rebuke you’.   There was no use of harsh or violent language.  The angels did not presume to judge or condemn their adversaries.

Here is the point Peter is making: Angels are higher in knowledge, dignity and power than human beings.  Therefore, it would be more appropriate for angels to speak judgmentally against the magistrates/rulers of this world than it would be for men to do so.  Yet, angels don’t do that.  They always show respect and dignity toward those God has placed in positions of civil authority.  Angels recognize that God has sanctioned that authority and they, as servants of God, respect it.

But these false teachers are senseless brutes – they speak blasphemy and judgment against those who have their authority from God.  We might say they rush in where angels fear to tread, and they rail against things they don’t understand (the purposes of God in granting authority to certain people). 

Scripture does not give us a full account of what was said by these foolish men.  We only know that they spoke presumptuously and wickedly against authority.  Our assumption is that the people of Peter’s day knew the specifics of the situation.  We can also assume that Holy Spirit wanted to call our attention to the bigger picture here – that false teachers exhibit a lack of respect for authority, always leaning towards anarchy. 

II Peter 2:12-13a – But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. 

Let’s stop and talk about wild boars for a minute.  Except for older males, wild boars travel in groups.  They are swift, nocturnal, unpredictable and aggressive.  They are omnivorous (they’ll eat anything – plants, meat, garbage, etc).  The males average around 200 pounds, although many larger animals have been documented. 

These animals are extremely destructive.  They love to root, trample and wallow.  In the process of doing so, they destroy crops, forests and property.  They prey on or compete with native species such as rodents, deer, birds, snakes, frogs and lizards. 

They also spread disease to both animals and humans.  There are more than 24 diseases that people can get form wild boars including hepatitis E and tuberculosis. 

Now, suppose that a large wild boar was loose in your neighborhood.  What would that be like?  Remember, that animal is wild and aggressive.  You can’t tame it.  You can’t train it.  You can’t reason with it.  It’s unpredictable and aggressive.  It’s only goal in life is to fulfill its desires – eat, destroy and reproduce. 

It will attack and destroy wildlife and pets.  It will ruin your lawn/garden, your landscaping, your fruit trees and any crops the farmers are growing.  Not only would it be dangerous because it is aggressive, it carries disease.  If an animal like that was wreaking havoc in your town, it wouldn’t be long before animal control was called in to capture and kill it. 

Peter is saying that licentious false teachers/prophets are like wild boar.  They ignore their God given ability to restrain their behavior and desires.  They want to be wild, throwing off all restraint or authority in pursuit of their base fleshly desires (money, sex, power, drunkenness, entertainment, etc).  They don’t care who they hurt or destroy in the process.  They infect unsuspecting believers with their diseased doctrine and practices.  In the end, they will be destroyed – their behavior will eventually lead to both moral and spiritual death.   

The ironic thing is this – these people are all about casting off authority because they don’t want to be restrained or bound by law and society.  But by rebelling against the authority sanctioned by God, they place themselves under the bondage of their own evil passions.  So either way, they wind up being ‘captured’ – they will serve a master of some kind. 

Those who serve a master earn wages. 

We are all familiar with ‘wages’ – money earned by performing work.  In a sense, all people are earning eternal wages.  Those who serve God are laying up treasures in heaven, while those who serve Satan (or themselves) are laying up torment/punishment in hell. Recompense may or may not come in this life, but it is guaranteed in the next.  The justice of God guarantees it. 

II Peter 2:13b –They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime.  They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.

Most sinners wait for the cover of secrecy or night to indulge in sinful pleasures.  But these false teachers are so bad, they have cast off even that light fetter.  They defy all decency by openly and shamefully practicing wickedness in a place and manner that all can see.   

These vile sinners are like blots or blemishes.  Picture it this way:  You are wearing a brand new, pure white, silk shirt to a party.  Turns out, the host of the party is serving BBQ wings.  You pick up a really saucy wing and – oops – your shirt isn’t white anymore!  What a shame; the spot ruins the shirt.

In the same way, the actions and beliefs of false teachers are a scandal and a disgrace to the true spiritual church of Christ, which should be (and one day will be) without spot or wrinkle.

Furthermore, our translation says they revel in their deceptions, while the King James Version says they ‘sport themselves with their own deceivings’.  Not surprisingly, the Greek word means to live delicately or luxuriously.  In other words, they take advantage of their views/doctrines to live in rebellion and luxury.  They indulge in their most corrupt passions under the guise of Christianity.  In fact, they even look forward to the Christian feasts as an occasion to indulge (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

What could be worse?  They clearly blaspheme God and slander salvation by their words and deeds.

II Peter 2:14 – They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.  They entice unsteady souls.  They have hearts trained in greed.  Accursed children!

‘Eyes’ is a figurative expression often used in scripture.  In this case, it refers to the mind/disposition of man.  For example: 

  • Bountiful eye refers to a person of kindly disposition (Proverbs 22:9). 
  • Haughty or lofty eyes refer to a spirit of pride (Psalms 131:1). 
  • Lowly eyes refers to a person who is humble (Luke 18:13). 
  • Sharpening of the eyes refers to anger (Job 16:9). 

In this case, eyes full of adultery refers to idolatrous inclinations.  Peter tells us their desires are insatiable.  Your translation may say ‘cannot cease from sin’.  This does not mean that they do not have the natural mental ability to stop sinning.  Neither does it mean that they are physically incapable of ceasing to sin.  Rather, it means that they are so corrupt that they will certainly always sin. 

And they don’t like to sin alone.  They try to involve as many people as possible in their false doctrines which promise carnal pleasures and liberties.  Christians who are not deeply rooted in their commitment to Christ are in danger of being beguiled (baited or entrapped) by these deceivers.

Peter refers to these wicked people as accursed children.  This either means they brought a curse with them wherever they went, or that they deserved to be cursed.

I Peter 2:15-16 – Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.  They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

The right way refers to the narrow path of righteousness that Christians tread in this life (Matthew 7:13-14).  This path leads to peace, blessing and eternal life.  False teachers and prophets have left the narrow path and proceeded to follow Balaam down the wide road.  This road leads to sin, torment and eternal death.

Remember Balaam son of Beor (or Bozor)?  He is most famous for having a conversation with his own donkey, but there is a whole lot more to his story.  You can read the whole account of Balaam in Numbers 22-25. 

Without explaining the entire story of Balaam (we don’t have time), let’s look at how he compares to the false teachers/prophets that Peter is warning his flock about.

One – Balaam professed to be a religious leader or servant of God, but that is very questionable.  He was planning to do great harm to the nation of Israel by accepting a lot of money to curse them.  So too, false teachers were professing to be Christians, but causing great harm in the church.

Two – Balaam was greedy and covetous.  He knew full well that God did not want him to go with the Moabites to curse Israel, but he went anyway because he wanted the honor and fortune that King Balak was going to give him.  (Balaam’s tendency to avarice is clearly evident throughout the entire narrative.  You will see it if you go back and read the account in Numbers).  He preferred rewards of this life over the blessing of God.  The false teachers of Peter’s day were also willing to disobey God in order to receive earthly rewards.

Three – Inciting others to licentiousness.  The culmination of Balaam’s story is this:  Although he desperately wanted to curse Israel so he could get paid, God would literally not allow him to do it.  (In fact, he verbally blesses them instead.)  So he does the next best thing –he reveals to the King of Moab how to get Israel to curse itself.  And – you guessed it- he did it through licentiousness. 

Balaam instructed the Moabites to throw a great feast and invite Israel.  There was plenty of alcohol, food and false idols.  The beautiful young women of Moab came to the feast ready to party and soon the whole affair turned into a great orgy in which the false gods of Moab were worshipped by the Israelites.  As a result of their actions, God severely punished them. 

This brings up an interesting question:  Have we avoided the snares of false teachers only to curse ourselves?  Are we doing things contrary to the word of God?  Are these things blocking the Lord’s blessing from our lives? 

For instance, are you harboring unforgiveness towards someone?  Are you with holding tithe and offerings from the Lord?  Has Holy Spirit clearly spoken to you to do something for him, but you refuse like an obstinate child?  All of these things can block God’s blessings from you.  

II Peter 2:17 – These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.  For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the midst of a desert.  You are out of water.  It is extremely hot.  There is no relief from the relentless sun.  You are sweaty and exhausted.  Your mouth is like sandpaper and your lips taste like salt.  As time passes by, you are getting closer and closer to death.

But suddenly, you crest a sand dune and way off in the distance you see a well!  Relief and joy flood your spirit because that well promises relief and life to you.  You struggle to get through that last mile and reach the well.

Now suppose you uncap the well, only to find that it is dry.  Imagine what that would feel like.  You would despair and give up hope.  You are closer to death than you have ever been because the well did not deliver what it promised – water.

In the same way, sinners are seeking relief from sin.  They are in a desert of death and despair.  They are looking for life, and they turn to the church to find it.  But what if they are not met with a true Christian teacher or pastor?  A false teacher is like that dry desert well – they promise relief from spiritual death, but they can’t deliver (Jude 12-13).  Those seeking the refreshing truth of the gospel are disappointed.  Their spiritual journey has just gotten more difficult, instead of easier.

Here is Peter’s point: False teachers offer doctrines that seem wonderful.  According to them, you can have your cake and eat it too.  You can be a Christian but live as sinful a life as you like.  But that is not true.  Their vain, empty promises are like wells without water or rain clouds without rain.

Peter also assures his readers once again that God is going to punish these wicked people.  Utter darkness denotes a place of future punishment (Matthew 8:12) which God has prepared for those who choose this path. 

So here’s the really important question:  If a sinner came to you as a well of spiritual life, would you be able to give them the water of salvation?

John 7:38 – He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.

In the gospel of John chapter 4, Jesus speaks to the woman at the well about the living waters of salvation.  In John chapter 7, Jesus says that if we are believers, the precious Holy Spirit lives within us and is like a mighty river of water that brings healing and salvation to those who need it. 

If you are a Christian, you have this water.  What you need to do is learn how to use your bucket to draw out that water and present it to others by sharing the gospel message.

II Peter 2:18-19 – For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.  For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

‘Those who are barely escaping from error’ refers to new Christians.  Having turned to Christ, they have just recently escaped from sin and death.  This puts them in a very dangerous place – they have probably only recently broken off many of their old habits and there may be a strong desire to relapse into old ways. 

At this point, if they receive sound doctrine to help them grow in grace, they will become rooted and grounded in Christ and go on to bring forth a spiritual harvest for the kingdom of heaven.

But if they come across a false teacher speaking words of folly and boasting, they could be in real trouble.  These teachers deliberately present their erroneous doctrines with fancy words in a pompous manner, hoping to allure or ensnare unsuspecting believers into their false beliefs.  Specifically, they promise Christianity with unlimited indulgence in carnal appetites and unrestrained freedom/liberty.  

Let’s talk about freedom for a moment.  Sin makes you a slave to darkness and evil.  You have no way of breaking out of the cycle of servitude to it.  Every person under the bondage of sin will reap the same reward – death. 

However, true Christianity promises and delivers freedom from sin.  Hallelujah!  By breaking the yoke of darkness from your life, it gives you the freedom to choose Christ; you can choose to live a holy life as a son or daughter of God.  You can choose to become a steward in the kingdom of heaven, reaping rewards of life.  This is true freedom:

John 8:35-36 – The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The freedom of the false teachers is different.   They define freedom as the absence of needless restraint and/or the strict/narrow limits of religion.  But this is not freedom – it is licentiousness which in reality, is slavery. 

Here’s why:  Whatever a person submits to (greed, lust, desire for power, etc) is truly his master – he is enslaved to it.  So in casting off restraints, they place themselves back under the chains of their passions and desires.  Thus, the promise of freedom from false teachers results in bondage again to sin; all sin results in servitude and slavery.

Here is some good news:  Christians can prevent falling prey to their tactics by seriously attending to their own personal holiness and working to add Christian graces to their lives.

II Peter 2:20 – For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

The unstable souls (verse 14) who come under the destructive influence of false doctrines will find themselves in a worse position than before they were saved. 

By coming to Christ, they gained additional wisdom and knowledge of God that sinners do not have; they have first hand experience of the true saving grace of Christ. 

Knowledge always carries the burden of responsibility.  Each person is responsible for the level of knowledge of God that they have.   By again becoming entangled in the things of the world, they will now be judged on an increased level of knowledge, which will result in a more severe judgment that what the ignorant will receive (Luke 12:47).

II Peter 2:21 – For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

When the apostle uses the word ‘better’ here, he is making a comparison.

On the one hand, we have sinners who have always been heathens, being in ignorance of the gospel message, and being ignorant of the law of sin. 

But on the other hand we have sinners who were once heathens, but then came to a knowledge of the grace of Christ Jesus.  They knew what it was like to have the freedom to choose Christ.  They heard the gospel message, understood sin, and knew they were saved by grace. 

To have a knowledge of the truth and then turn away from it is considered the greater evil.  Those who were always ignorant of the truth have less culpability than those who knew the truth and yet sinned against it.

II Peter 2:22 – What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

Here Peter calls upon the wisdom found in Proverbs (26:11) and Jewish tradition.

This is a proverb we recognize and easily understand.  Pigs don’t change their natures.  They have a desire to wallow in the mud.  Even if they clean themselves, it is only a temporary measure.  They will soon return to wallowing in the mud because their nature has not changed. 

So far, so good.  This makes perfect sense in the case of the pig.  But when we seek to apply this proverb to the spiritual realm, we get major difference of opinion amongst scholars. 

The debate centers around this: 

Did the person in question ever really have a true change of heart/conversion experience? 

Those who believe the person really DID have a change of heart/conversion (became a Christian) must, by default, believe that people can fall away from the faith.  They can ‘back slide’ or lose their salvation if they willfully choose the ways of sin.

Those who believe the person DID NOT really have a true change of heart/conversion must, by default, believe that the person was never saved (became a Christian) to begin with.  Therefore, like the pig, they will return to sin.  The logical conclusion to this belief is that those who do truly accept Christ will never ‘back slide’.  Therefore, you can never lose your salvation, once you truly accept it. 

This issue is a divisive one, which scholars in our generation continue to hotly debate.  You can decide for yourself which opinion you think is correct. 

But the real bottom line is this:  No church is completely pure.  No church is without people and thus no church is without sin or faulty doctrine of some kind.  It is the duty of each individual Christian to guard against false beliefs that lead to unrestrained behavior (licentiousness).  As we work towards personal holiness (I Peter 1:15-16), and purposefully add Christian graces to our lives, we can rest assured that Holy Spirit will keep us safe from falling away from grace.  There is no need to fear. 

But woe to those who lead others astray for their own gratification! 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

As we mentioned earlier, God gives each one of us the ability to control our minds.  You can’t stop random thoughts of sin from popping into your mind.  But you can control what you allow to stay there! 

What should the minds of holy people be dwelling on?  The apostle Paul gives us the answer here:

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I encourage you to dwell on these things, because if you do, you will avoid a lot of sin and temptation!

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

As we mentioned earlier, all Christians have the ‘living water’ of God in our lives.  In other words, you have the same gospel message that Billy Graham, Charles Finney and others had. You have access to the same Holy Spirit power they had.  

All you need to do is get comfortable sharing that water with thirsty souls.  It’s not a matter of having a PhD in divinity.  It’s not a matter of getting a bullhorn and standing on the corner condemning random people to hell.  It doesn’t have to include every book of the bible and take an entire day.  It does not have to be confrontational.

It’s simply a matter of being ready to share what God has done for you with people who are hurting.  Is one of your coworkers going through an illness or a marriage problem?  Offer them support and prayer.  Just a little kindness can open the door for you to share what a difference Christ has made in your life. 

Sharing the gospel can be a gentle, peaceful, well received experience.  You don’t have to fear it!  Just look for ways to mention Jesus in your daily conversations.  You might be surprised how easy it is to share your faith!

II Peter, Chapter 2, Part 1

II Peter 2:1 – But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

At the end of chapter one, Peter spoke about prophesy as proof of the truth of the Christian religion/gospel message. 

BUT (notice it’s a big but) not everyone who claims to be a prophet is a true messenger of God.  Just as there were false prophets under the Jewish dispensation, there will be false prophets and false teachers in the Christian church.  Rather than prophesying by divine inspiration, they prophesy and/or teach from their own vain imaginations, and they ensnare and corrupt many.

One source of false teaching during the second century was Gnosticism.  Gnosticism is difficult to define exactly because it has many forms that vary widely.  It is a topic that could be studied for months on end, and still not fully understood.  Obviously, we can’t do an in depth study of it in a short post.  So for our purposes, we are going to look at some very basic ways to define it.

In general, we can define it as a mystic belief system that combines certain Christian ideas (particularly that of redemption through Christ) with speculations/imaginings/opinions of men derived from a medley of sources (Buddhism, Platonism, Greek or Jewish philosophies, religions, theosophies or mysteries). 

For example, all Gnostics believe in the essential separation of matter and spirit, with matter being the source of all evil.  Now that may not sound like a big problem on the surface.  After all, Christians also believe that the spirit is separate from the flesh.  We believe that mankind is fallen and has a sinful nature.   

But look where the subtle lie of the Gnostic leads you:  Human flesh is matter, so by default it is evil.  Since God cannot have any direct contact with evil (matter), then the incarnation of God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is inconceivable.  Therefore, the incarnation and the true human life of Jesus never took place at all; consequently, his suffering and death on the cross cannot be real (according to the Gnostics). 

See how their vain speculations twist and pervert the gospel message? 

Another belief common among Gnostics is that they have secret spiritual knowledge obtained by mystic revelation, which other believers do not/cannot understand.  Based on this alleged ‘superior knowledge’ they try to form sects or divisions within the church which exclude ordinary believers.

Pretty soon the body is divided with one part being faithful to the gospel message, and another part believing some far out or twisted interpretation of the gospel based on secret mystical revelation.  And you see the danger here, right?  A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Now, let’s take this one step further.  There was a particular sect of Gnostics who called themselves Nicolaitans.  I am sure you have read about them in scripture.  This group professed to be Christians, but they advocated ideas which abuse the doctrine of grace. 

Grace is the divine favor of God towards man; the mercy of God (as opposed to his justice), and any benefits his mercy imparts such as love, pardon, divine favor, etc.

As we well know, Christians still sin, but because of grace God forgives us when we make mistakes or break his laws.  All we need to do is truly repent and confess our shortcomings.  Under the genuine doctrine of grace, we can be assured that God will see our repentance and forgive us.  

The Nicolaitans, however, twisted the doctrine of grace.  They attempted to introduce a false freedom or licentiousness (behavior unrestrained by law or morality, characterized by abuse of freedom, excess, surpassing boundaries) into the church.  Basically, they subtly reasoned that ‘anything goes’ for the Christian, because no matter what they did, God would forgive them because of grace.  

There can be no doubt that this was a false doctrine:

Romans 6:1-2 – What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?

Their false teachings seemed to particularly contradict the laws set down by Holy Spirit at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.  As you recall, the Jerusalem Council freed Christians from observing the hundreds of laws/traditions observed under the Old Covenant.  Basically, the church was bound to abstain from idol meats and sexual sins. 

The Nicolaitans so twisted the message of grace, it appeared to Christians that they could, and even should, eat meat sacrificed to idols during pagan feasts.  These feasts frequently ended up in orgies which the false teachers also labeled as permissible through grace.  Thus, these false teachers introduce evil doctrine and practices into the church by perverting the true words of God.  All this is done through a myriad of twisted reasoning and vain speculation, supported by ‘secret’ truth.

Now that we have at least a basic idea of false teaching, lets discuss the idea of ‘bringing in destructive heresies’.

Heresy can refer to either an opinion that is in opposition to established doctrine, or the sect that promotes these beliefs (like the Nicolaitans).  Normally, people who have doctrinal differences split off from a group to form a new organization.  But in this case, they stayed within the church, creating divisions within Christianity by the introduction of subtle lies and deceptions into true doctrines.

Interestingly, the Greek word translated ‘bring in’ literally means to ‘lead in by the side of others’.  In other words, they did not openly renounce the gospel.  Rather, their false beliefs were like a poison added to the gospel with cunning and craftiness, which would be fatal to the spiritual life of those who believed it.

But scripture assures us that false teachers who sow crops of heresy will eventually reap a harvest of swift destruction. 

As true Christians, we need to make sure we are never caught up in heresy.  

Christians in every generation should always be on guard against false doctrines.  The more familiar you are with the bible, the easier it will be for you to spot a lie or the half truth of a false teacher.  If you are listening to a teacher and something they say feels wrong to your spirit, don’t ignore it.  Stop right there.  Pray for Holy Spirit to pinpoint the problem.  Search the word.  Root out the lie.  In this way, you can protect yourself from false teaching.

II Peter 2:2 – And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.

We need to make a very important point here:  Heresy is NOT honest error.  It is the intentional perversion of religious truth designed to open doors of licentiousness and sin for those who believe it. 

Why are these false doctrines so enticing?  How is it possible that they can lead ‘many’ astray?  The answer is simple:  They allow people to have their cake and eat it too. 

These people call themselves Christians, and thus try to lay claim to all the vast and wonderful promises of God without the holy living that God truly requires.  In their belief system, there is no need to control your lustful desires or to restrain yourself in any way. There is no need to work at adding Christian graces to your life, or to become more like Christ, or to love your neighbor as yourself, or to live a holy life, or to endure persecution for the sake of the gospel.

Sadly, heresy brings disgrace, calumny and defamation to Christianity.  Because of it, the name and doctrine of Christ will be open to the reproach of the very people who need it the most.  Even true Christians will be misrepresented as hypocrites and the gospel message is reduced to a bad joke.  Thus, people like the Nicolaitans bring blasphemy upon the name of Jesus and the gospel message. 

II Peter 2:3 – And in their greed, they will exploit you with false words.  Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

We have an example of this in the bible – Judas Iscariot!  Notice, he identified with the apostles, but in reality he was a friend of the devil.  The narrative of the woman with the alabaster box reveals that Judas was very greedy:

John 12:5-6 – Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?  This he [Judas] said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bore what was put therein. 

Peter is saying that all false teachers are the same – they are greedy.  They are looking for money to fund their indulgent lifestyles and in order to get it, they will lie and deceive.

So on the one hand, there are devout Christians who are willing to give everything (including their money) to the cause of Christ.  On the other hand, there are false teachers who devise smooth and artful speeches designed to deceive believers into giving them money.  The outcome is obvious.   This has often been described as ‘fleecing the flock’, or treating believers as merchandise, which can be sold for profit. 

Sadly, this still occurs.  I think we can all recall public figures who sell healing or prosperity to true believers by using deceitful reasoning. 

Peter not only warns us of the existence of these practices, he warns us about the judgment they bring.  From the beginning, God has promised to pour out his wrath and indignation on the wicked.  Although those punishments were predicted long ago, they are not impotent or asleep; they are alert and active, hurrying to overtake those who deceive God’s children. 

Notice that Peter is slowly and methodically building up an airtight case against false teachers.  By showing what they do and what their final outcome will be, he gives true believers the strength and wisdom to reject their enticing teachings.   

II Peter 2:4 – For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;

Peter now continues to give further proof that the wicked will be punished.  He is going to give us three separate examples: the angels, the world during the time of Noah and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The ANGELS

Angels were created as holy, and they had the experience of actually walking in the presence of God.  Although we don’t know the exact details, we can discern that through their own choice/free will they rebelled against God. 

As a result of this sin, they were punished – cast down to hell and held in chains of darkness, reserved for the final judgment.  That is where they are right now.  The darkness that binds them is so dense and so strong that it cannot be broken.  They cannot deliver themselves, nor can they be delivered by others.  At the final judgment, they will forever (permanently) be excluded from the presence of God. 

Peter’s point is this:  If God did not spare these angels from judgment, he will not spare false teachers either.

II Peter 2:5 – if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

The WORLD

We have all read the story of Noah and the ark (Genesis 6-7).  We know that the world had rejected God and become corrupt and sinful:

Genesis 6:5 – And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Because of their rebellion against God, he brought upon them swift destruction in the form of the flood.  Like the judgment of the angels, there was no possible way for these people to deliver themselves or be delivered by anyone else.  

Notice that the numbers did not make a difference to God.  Though the unrighteous were numerous, they were all slain.  Though the righteous were but a few, they were well protected by God.    

Peter’s point is this:  If God did not spare great numbers of sinful antediluvians from judgment, he will not spare the wicked false teachers either. 

II Peter 2:6 – If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;

SODOM and GOMORRAH

This is the third example of God’s punishment of the rebellious and wicked.  Again, we are familiar with the story.  Sodom and Gomorrah were so corrupt, God couldn’t even find ten righteous people within the city (Genesis 18:23-28)!

Because of their rebellion against God, he brought upon them swift destruction in the form of fire and brimstone, which burned them into ashes.  Like the angels and the antediluvians, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were incapable of saving themselves, or being saved by others. 

The only exception was Lot and his family, the only righteous people in the city.  We note that God spared those who serve him; he postponed the destruction of the city until they moved to a place of safety.

Peter’s point is this:  The awful and final judgments that came upon the rebellious and licentious people of Sodom and Gomorrah are plain proof of divine condemnation.  Unlike man, God judges fairly and equitably.  If the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared for their rebellion, neither will the false teachers of Peter’s day. 

The angels, the antediluvians and the people of Sodom were incapable of saving themselves.  No one could save them from the wrath of God either.  The same will be true of false teachers.   

II Peter 2:7-8 – and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);

There are several observations we can make from this passage.

  • We know that Noah and his family as well as Lot and his family were saved from the destruction which overtook those around them.  This demonstrates how God makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (Psalms 91). 
  • As bad as Sodom was, there was still at least one righteous man in it.  God does not leave himself without a witness in even the vilest and most wicked places (I Kings 19:18).  Maybe sin prevails in your place of employment or your school.  You may be tempted to leave that place, but stop for a minute and carefully consider your position. 

Is it God’s will for you to leave?  Or is this an opportunity to let your gospel light shine even brighter so that others may see your good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16)?   

  • The scripture says that Lot was vexed/wearied/burdened by the unrestrained sin and excessive wickedness of the people of Sodom.  If you think about it, that is a really incredible statement and it reveals a lot about him. 

How many of us are desensitized to sin because we rub shoulders with unbelievers every day?  Do we cringe if we hear cursing, or are we so used to it that we don’t even notice it anymore?  When people around us are proud to have taken advantage of others, are you grieved by their sin, or do you simply not care?  We could give many more examples, but the point is this:  Lot held God’s laws in such high esteem, that he was grieved or burdened by the sin around him.  He was actually wearied by it.  Are we grieved by the sin we see every day?  What does that say about us?

  • Furthermore, Lot lived in the midst of a culture that accepted extreme licentiousness as the ‘norm’.  Yet, as long as he lived in Sodom, he maintained his integrity and personal holiness.  What about us?  Are we more influenced by our culture or God’s word?

II Peter 2:9 – then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement,

We can take comfort in knowing that God has a perfect and exact knowledge of both the righteous and the wicked. 

THE RIGHTEOUS – First, let me offer you this word of encouragement: You can be sure that every good work you have done has been seen by our Father and he delights to bless you both in this life and the next. 

We can also be sure that God is not only able to deliver his children from trials and temptations, he fully understands the best way to do it.  He sees a way to do it, even if we do not; he can deliver in ways we never thought possible. 

  • He can send angels to assist us. 
  • He can remove or destroy our enemy. 
  • He can give us earthly friends to strengthen us. 
  • Or, he can completely deliver us from trouble by taking us to heaven.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – … God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.

THE WICKED – It may seem as though the wicked escape from trouble, but that is an illusion.  Sin carries its own penalty in this life and punishment will reach its maximum fulfillment in hell.  There will be no escape from the judgment of God.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Are you in a trial that seems like it has lasted forever, and still has no end in sight?  I think we have all been in that position from time to time.  In these situations, we should follow the example of King David.  The Bible says he ‘encouraged himself in the Lord’:

1 Samuel 30:6 – And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.

When you are in the midst of a long trial, all you need to do is begin to read the word.  The Bible is filled from cover to cover with testimonies of how God loves his people.  He parts the sea for them.  He slays entire enemy armies in the dead of night.  He opens prison doors.  He provides water from rocks.  He makes axe heads float.  The list goes on and on and on…  Keep reading the word until it really sinks into your spirit that God loves you with an everlasting love and is going to make you victorious and deliver you, one way or another.  Let your faith rise up and grasp the victory!    

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

False teachers and prophets appear in every generation, including ours.  Satan would love to ensnare you in a lie and make you ineffective in the kingdom of heaven.  But we can avoid that trap by listening to Holy Spirit, knowing the word, and by testing the word that teachers/preachers give.

1 John 4:1 – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  

Just because someone says they have a word or revelation from God does not make it so; we must listen to their word to see if it lines up with scripture and bears witness with our spirits.  If we seek the wisdom of God on these matters, he will be sure that we are not fooled by false teachers.