All posts by Jon Mitchell

Editorial: Discouragement – Satan’s Greatest Weapon (September, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Discouragement.  A tool Satan can use so much more easily than many of the others in his arsenal.  It sits off to the side, looking harmless, assumed to be nothing more than a normal part of life.  How little we realize that with discouragement Satan can open doors in our hearts and minds which are so tightly locked up against his other tools…and once he’s inside our hearts and minds via his key of discouragement, he can use any other tool he wants.

God’s Word records many sad accounts of followers of God who lost heart and gave up.  When Moses sent the spies into the Promised Land, all but Caleb and Joshua came back with discouraging news.  The fearful saw the size and strength of their opponents rather then remembering the size and strength of their God (Num. 13-14).  Elijah  did great things for God which resulted in the conversion of thousands of Israelites (1 Kings 18:1-40; 19:18).  Yet, he had become so discouraged when Jezebel threatened his life that he deceived himself into thinking he was the only servant of God left (1 Kings 19:1-18).  After Peter promised that he’d never leave Jesus’ side, he ran with the rest when the Lord was arrested and a few minutes later became so afraid that he denied even knowing Christ (Matt. 26:31-75).  He did so because he was discouraged after seeing the apparent lost cause his Lord’s ways had become upon His arrest.

We become discouraged when we make the same mistake that these folks made and start paying more attention to the obstacles than the opportunities.  We become discouraged when we start believing Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), instead of the Father “who cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2).  What has the God who cannot lie promised us?  He has promised us that our work is not meaningless, so be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58).  He has promised us that our trials and hardships make us stronger if we allow them (Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5).  He has promised us that the hardships we endure seem painful now, but they cause us to become more righteous later if we allow ourselves to be trained by them (Heb. 12:1-11).  Do we believe His promises?  Do we?  Our actions always prove how strong our faith really is (Jas. 2:14-26).

God can do great things with a heart which is His and a mind which believes it.  Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who refused to be discouraged, went on to do great things for God and His people for years afterward.  Elijah recovered from his discouragement and went on serving God, resulting in being brought directly into heaven rather than being allowed to die.  Fifty days after a discouraged Peter denied Christ, he converted thousands of people through courageous preaching.  All of these men faced what they thought were impossible situations, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope whatsoever…but it turns out they were wrong.  Why?  Because they forgot that God was with them (Phil. 4:13).  Once they remembered that, look at the heights to which they climbed!

What heights can you reach with God’s help?  What can God do with you?  Does He have your heart and mind, or is Satan having his way with you?  Remember James 4:7 and Hebrews 12:12-13, dear friends.  Don’t let Satan discourage you!       — Jon

 

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An Overworked Word With Underfelt Meaning — Lorraine Smith

There are certain words we need to be careful about how we use them or throw them around.  One word we use on a daily basis has probably become the most overworked and overused word we know today.  It is a simple four-letter word.  Everyone uses it.  We have allowed this word to come out of our mouths repeatedly day in and day out.  The word is love.

Just think about it for a moment.  Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:  “I love gardening!”  “I just love your shoes!”  “I’d love to see that!”  “I love baseball!”  “I love to hunt and fish!”  “I absolutely love my morning coffee!”  “I really love to eat at that restaurant!”  “I love you to the moon and back!”  “I love spending time with my family!”  “I love this great weather we’re having!”  “I love the holidays!”  “I love to read, play games, and watch television!”  The list can go on for miles.  We are like the McDonald’s catch phrase, “I’m Lovin’ It,” all over the spectrum.  In most cases, we don’t even realize we are doing it.

There are volumes upon volumes of poetry and songs written with love as the theme.  No matter the genre, most all songs are about love for someone, something, or a broken heart from lost love.  “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  “Love Me Do.”  “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”  And hymns too.  “Faithful Love.”  “Love Lifted Me.”  “I Love The Lord,” just to name a few.

Love is the most misunderstood and misused word in our language.  It is used so loosely it has lost its true meaning, becoming very commonplace.  We need to step back and discern what love is, especially true love.

I think there is a difference between how women and men think about love in our society.  I also know there are different types of love, or maybe I should say degrees of love.  You do not have the same love for your spouse as you do for your children.  You do not have the same degree of love for your children as you do for your friends.  Each makes your heart sing the same song but with different verses or tunes.  I know I do not have the same degree of love for my husband now as when we first married.  Isn’t that marvelous?  God made our hearts with the ability to expand as big as the universe to accommodate different and many loves.

Love is an instinct while so much of our behavior is learned.  There again, we are created that way.  Love can’t be explained away with a simple definition.  Genuine, true love is a longing, a burning and a wanting to cling to someone.  Love grows just like we do.  It has a beginning, matures and grows.  When I hear someone say, “We fell in love,” the very first thing that pops into my mind is, “It hurts when you fall.”  I have never understood “falling” in or out of love.  It’s just not that easy.  Genuine, true love cannot be swept aside so easily and quickly bestowed on the next stranger who walks through the door.

God’s Word has more to say about love than we can begin to fathom.  We are born to love.  The Almighty designed us to be that way.  Matthew 22:34-40 is a short passage of God’s Word that man has named “The Greatest Command.”  It reads:  “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.  ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Our love for the Lord and His Word needs to be deep in our very souls with a never-ending, burning desire to be with Him.  We need to have an aching, longing thirst to know more and more about him, a thirst which cannot be quenched.  Love for the Almighty is not a one-time deal.  It needs to be constant and ever present in our minds as well as our hearts.  If we can love God this way (which we absolutely can), then we will have love for one another and love for ourselves.  This love will stimulate us to do our very best.  It will create in us the desire to be with fellow Christians as much as possible to share this love and share the Lord together.  This love will generate our spirituality to heights we would never think possible.  In turn, this love will aid in every aspect of our personal lives, our work, our friends, and especially in our families.  Just imagine the domino effect that will impact everything we do!

The book of 1 John is a guide book to love.  Please notice how gentle John speaks, calling Christians “beloved” and “little children,” giving us the truth but in love.  “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves  the world, the love of the Father is not in Him…See what kind of love the Father has given to us; that we should be called children of God…Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.  Whoever does not love abides in death…If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth…Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God has made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.  In this love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother…Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments…” (1 John 2:15; 3:1-2, 11, 17-18; 4:7-12, 15-21; 5:1-3).

It all comes down to this.  We need to love God in the way and manner He wants from us.  After that, everything else will fall into place.  God is willing to help us anyway He can.  All we have to do is allow Him to do so.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Lorraine worships at and is involved in the work of the Calhoun Church of Christ in Calhoun, GA.  She is the author of the books Just Asking and Heaven? or Hell? A Soul’s Choice.

 

Blessed Is The Doer Of The Work — Tim Bench

One of the repeated points of emphasis throughout the New Testament which runs counter to the majority of modern denominational dogma is that Christians are expected and demanded to be doers of the work.  James wrote, “…but whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (1:25, KJV).  The term “doers of the work” clearly teaches that followers of Christ are to be active in their faith, an ideal foreign to and staunchly opposed by numerous modern “faith alone” devotees.  “Doers of the work” clearly indicates that faith or belief in God is not in and of itself sufficient and “works,” so to speak, are an indispensable facet of the Christian walk.

This is the kind of verse which Martin Luther would have opposed quite adamantly.  According to Mark Woods in his April 6, 2016, article “Should James Be In the Bible? Martin Luther Didn’t Think So” in Christianity Today, it was Luther who referred to the book of James in its entirety as an “epistle of straw.”  William Barclay wrote in his Daily Study Bible’s section on James 1“This is the kind of passage in James which Luther so much disliked.  He disliked the idea of law altogether, for with Paul he would have said, ‘Christ is the end of the law’ (Romans 10:4).  ‘James,’ said Luther, ‘drives us to law and works.’  And yet beyond all doubt there is a sense in which James is right.  There is an ethical law which the Christian must seek to put into action.  That law is to found first in the Ten Commandments and then in the teaching of Jesus.”

The modern term “doer” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one that takes an active part.  Thus, a doer — whether it be in athletics, business, or in a church — would be a person who actively participates to the best of his or her ability.  A doer is not lazy or apathetic, and contributes heartily to the overall team effort and the success of the organization.  Applying this to the body of Christ, a doer is one who takes an active part in following and promoting Christ in every way possible.

According to Strong, “doer” comes from the Greek term poietes.  The website http://www.preceptaustin.org’s comments on James 1:22-24 say that it means “to do, to make, to accomplish…describes one who does something as his occupation such as a producer, a poet or an author.  The other sense describes a doer or a performer, speaking of one who does what is prescribed, such as one who keeps the law.”  The term poietes or a derivative of it appears six times in the New Testament (Acts 17:28; Rom. 2:13; Eph. 2:10; Jas. 1:22, 23, 25; 4:11).

“Doing,” or being a “doer,” is also addressed specifically by Jesus as a prerequisite for obedience (Matt. 12:50; John 13:17).  James shows both the demand to be a “doer” and the fallacy of NOT being an active poitetes for Christ in James 1:22-23:  “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass…”  This verse cannot be more specific as to what the expectations are for us as followers of Christ.  “Doers of the word” clearly denotes that Christians are to take on and assume a proactive stance towards their Christian duties.  “Not hearers only” would indict much of modern-day Christendom, where untold masses perhaps attend services a couple of times a week, drop a few dollars in the collection tray, and otherwise give negligible, if any, thought to their faith at any other time throughout the week.

The first chapter of James even provides specific examples of what we as Christians are to “do.”  He says, “If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (1:26-27).  He also specifies that if a person know to do what is good and then fails to do it, it is sin for him (4:17).

Edmond Heibert wrote in his commentary on James:  “Wholehearted acceptance of the Word must result in active obedience to the Word.  Such obeying of the Word constitutes the essence of a living faith.  These verses express James’ central concern.  James 1:22, 23, 24, 25 state and illustrate the need for active obedience to the Word, and Jas. 1:26, 27 portray the true nature of religious obedience.”  This quote very accurately represents the tenor and intended meaning of James 1:25, yet also highlights another key component in obeying this verse.  “Active obedience to the word” is a phrase which cannot be ignored.  Obedience and obey are terms which Jesus Christ Himself specified on multiple occasions in regards to His commands as directives towards those who follow Him (John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 5:3).  Obedience to the Lord is mandatory.  Following the commands of our Father is not optional.  Obeying involves action on our part, further affirmation that we are to be “doers,” and not merely “hearers” of God.

E.L. Flannery wrote in his piece, “What About Baptism, Faith, And Works” in the March, 1960 issue of Searching the Scriptures, the following:  “Salvation is not by the works of the old law, the law of Moses, but it is by works (obedience) on man’s part, in obeying the law of the gospel of Christ.  This is clearly taught in Ephesians 2:8-10; James 1:25.  Man cannot merit salvation — he must be saved by grace.  But he can manifest his faith by doing what God asks of him.”

JC Choate wrote in his article, “Truth is the Truth,” for Voice of Truth International:  “The Lord’s word, the truth, is said to be the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).  We are exhorted to be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).  Christ says, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).  His word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35) and in the last day all will be judged by His word (John 12:48).”

Each of us without exception need to be “doers of the Word.”  We need to live according to the guidance and instruction of the Word of God.  The writer of Hebrews said, “The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  Obeying Christ and following His gospel should be the focus of our hearts, our minds, our activities and our passion.  Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).  We deceive ourselves at our own eternal peril when we fail to do what God commands of us.  As James said, we delude ourselves by veering away and relying upon our own wants and desires, choosing to live our lives believing it is sufficient to know God’s Word even though we do not live according to God’s Word (1:22).

Paul wrote, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13).  Jesus likewise condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they would “say, and do not do” (Matt. 23:2-4).  They were mere “talkers, but not “doers.”

Being a “doer” flies directly counter to the theological stances of many, yet James 1:25 is not isolated in its meaning.  Paul said that God “…will render to every man according to his deeds.  To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.  But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.  For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:6-11).

Doug Post, an evangelist of the Lord’s church in Salisbury, MD, said, “For many, the Bible is a book about grace and ‘faith only,’ and Romans 2:6-11 destroys that concept.  God will render according to each person’s ‘deeds.’  Most translations use ‘deeds’ instead of ‘works,’ but the Greek word ergon means ‘works’ and is translated elsewhere by numerous translations.  It seems many translations wanted to lessen the blow to their ‘no works’ doctrine by using the word ‘deeds’ instead.  We will be judged according to our works, according to our obedience (doing or being doers of the law…of Christ).”

Matthew 7:24-28 perfectly summarizes the timeless importance of not only hearing God’s Word, but also doing God’s Word.  These are the words of Jesus Himself, and cannot be more clear:  “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house and it fell.  And great was its fall.”

Each of us are constantly presented with opportunities to “do” in the name of the Lord.  Each of us can invite people to church, support or participate in mission efforts, conduct Bible studies with non-Christians, or assist in outreach programs designed to promote the gospel to the lost.  All of us can “do” something which will help promote the gospel, regardless of how lacking in talents or abilities we might be.  Let us each strive to relentlessly and unendingly focus on sharing the gospel with this largely apathetic and at times hostile world around us, while avoiding slipping into apathy and indifference ourselves.  As James 1:25 urges, let each of us be “doers” for Christ in every way which is presented to us.

Tim graduated from ACU in 1990.  He preaches and teaches at various churches of Christ in West Texas, and is a member of the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene.

 

The Peacemakers And The Persecuted — Drew Milligan

Jesus began his great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. He began this great discourse by giving a list of blessings that would come as a result of having some wonderful characteristics. These characteristics and subsequent blessings are referred to as the Beatitudes. Two of those beatitudes deal with being peacemakers and being persecuted for righteousness sake. I find it fascinating that Jesus would put these two right next to each other. The reason I say that is because oftentimes those who are peacemakers are the ones who are persecuted. I believe Jesus in His infinite wisdom understood that peacemakers would often be persecuted. Let us look at some things concerning these two great beatitudes from our Lord.

“Blessed Are The Peacemakers, For They Shall Be Called The Children Of God”

What exactly is a peacemaker? According to Webster’s dictionary, a peacemaker is “one who makes peace, especially by reconciling parties at variance.”  We live in a world where there seems to be more agitators and less peacemakers. By looking at verse 9 in Matthew chapter 5, we see that God desires his people to be peacemakers. It says peacemakers shall be called the children of God. All people are children of God as we are all made in his image (Gen. 1:26) even if they reject him as father. When Jesus says in verse 9 that peacemakers shall be called the children of God, there is a strong implication that if a child of God desires to be faithful then he will strive to be a peacemaker. How exactly should a Christian go about being a peacemaker? I submit three ways:

  1. Seek peace with others. The apostle Paul said, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).  There are times when it is not possible to get along with others. It is quite difficult to get along with people who do not desire peace. Paul’s point in Romans 12:18 is that if you can live at peace with people, you need to do so. The peacemaker desires to reconcile with others if at all possible. The peacemaker understands the importance of leaving his gift at the altar and being reconciled with his brother before he proceeds to worship (Matt. 5:24). The peacemaker as Jesus defines them understands the importance of having a merciful and forgiving heart. Jesus taught Peter and the other apostles the importance of being a peacemaker by teaching them about how often one should forgive (Matt. 18:21-22).
  2. Seek peace with self. Isn’t it sad that many people do not have peace with themselves?  How many times in the news have we heard of someone taking their own life?  Many times, those people were not at peace with themselves.  There are those who are not content with their own lives.  They want more and more, bigger and better.  Jesus taught a parable dealing with that (Lk. 12:13-21).  The man in that parable was not content or at peace with what he had and desired more and more.  God called that man a fool and said his soul would be required that very night.  May we always remember to thank God for what He has given us.  God has been very good to each of us.  Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6)!
  3. Be at peace with God. More important than being at peace with others and with self is to be at peace with God.  If one is at peace with God, the other two will fall into place.  If I desire to spend eternity with God in heaven, I must be at peace with Him.  How many times have we heard, “Rest in peace,” when someone dies and we know that person did not live for the Lord?  How can someone rest in peace who died not being at peace with God?  One must be a faithful Christian to be at peace with God.  “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).  To be at peace with God, I must be willing to die for His cause and be willing to remain faithful to Him all of my days.

“Blessed Are They Who Are Persecuted For Righteousness’ Sake, For Theirs Is The Kingdom Of Heaven.”

What does it mean to be persecuted?  A definition I often use when teaching my students at Boyd Christian School about the subject is “being harmed or even killed for what you believe in.”  If one is persecuted for righteousness’ sake, he is persecuted because he is striving to do the will of God and be a faithful member of the church.  How are Christians persecuted today?  In our country, we don’t face the problems faced by first century Christians, but we still face persecution today.

  1. We are persecuted by those in the world. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them because it hated Him first (John 15:18).  There are many people in the world who hate Christians.  There are those in other faiths, such as Islam, who despise Christianity and want it wiped from existence.  Then there are the atheists such as Stephen Hawking who famously said, “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe.  But now science offers a more convincing explanation.  What I meant by ‘We would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t.  I’m an atheist.”  People follow him and trust his every word and turn their hatred towards those of the faith.  There is also the LGBTQ movement which is anti-God and blasphemous with their use of the rainbow which God Himself created (Gen. 9:13).  How many times have ministers been tested by those who want a gay marriage performed?  How many times have we heard of florists or bakers who are sued because they will not compromise biblical values?  You can’t forget the pro-choice, pro-abortion movement.  One of our liberal senators recently said that being “pro-life” is code for being against women.  Christians are expected to change their ways to conform with the world’s way of thinking but conform we must not.
  2. We are even persecuted by some in the church. This statement may be one which is hard to swallow.  Christians should not go to the left nor to the right, instead focusing  completely on the cross and doing the will of God (Prov. 4:25-27).  Naturally, when we focus on doing only what God has said, not adding to or taking away, there will be pushback.  Consider that there are many who are in the “progressive” or “liberal” wing of the church of Christ who would call us legalists or patternists because we desire to follow the old paths.  This same bunch will spew sarcasm and disdain when we refuse to accept women preachers or institute mechanical instruments in worship.  Yet on the other side, there are those who try to make up laws for God.  My father worked with a man who said that he might as well worship with a Baptist than to worship where I preach because we have Bible classes.  There are even those who will try to police the brotherhood, marking anyone who speaks on a lectureship with someone who has ties to someone who has ties to a false teacher.  These folks will get on social media and drag good brethren through the mud.  That is no better than Diotrophes (3 John 9-10). 

    What Shall We Do?

    First, be thankful.  When we are persecuted, we should count it all joy (Jas. 1:1-4).  To some, that may sound odd.  James is saying that we should be thankful when we are persecuted because it will strengthen our faith and our patience.  Remember that Christ said if the world hates us, it hated Him first (John 15:18).  We should be thankful to endure like our Savior did!

    Let’s not forget to pray for those who mistreat us.  Our Lord said, “But I say to you, love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).  There is a great blessing which comes from praying to God.  One of those blessings is that God will help us deal righteously with those who are unrighteous to us.  When was the last time you prayed for brethren who mock you?  When was the last time you prayed for Muslims or LGBTQ people to come to the truth?  Praying for our persecutors will help bring peace to our lives.

    Drew is the preacher at the Corinth Church of Christ in Rock Island, TN.  He also teaches History, Government, and Middle & High School Bible at Boyd Christian School in McMinnville, TN.

     

 

The Merciful And The Pure In Heart — Travis Main

Matthew writes:  “‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’  From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (4:15-17).

Early in His ministry, the word of Jesus quickly spread even beyond Israel.  Multitudes followed Jesus, sitting at His feet, and He taught them doctrine unique to their ears, differing from the rabbis, scribes and wise men of Israel.  He did not teach the Law of Moses.  He did not clarify it.  He imparted the teachings of the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus sat down to teach the multitudes in Matthew 5-7, His oration left the people astonished.  At the beginning of His discourse, He stated the following:  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:7-8).  Proclaiming how men could do well for themselves, Jesus spoke of mercy and purity.  He opened the door to things not seen by men, a  peek into how to ultimately dwell in the presence of God.  Indeed, these two traits are living sermons seen in Jesus, the Word of God and the Christian.

The Mercy and Purity of Jesus

The apostle John writes these words of Jesus:  “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (8:29).  The Christ declares that His actions stand as testament that the Father is always with Him.  What a man Jesus was!  He did not covet His position as Deity, but chose to come as a savior to this world of sin (Phil. 2:6).  How the world needs Jesus!

Isaiah wrote, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (59:2).  Every person walking this earth from the beginning to end — except Jesus — commits sin (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:8).  So when Jesus came to this earth, He found a people in need of spiritual mercy.  They were unclean, unhealthy, impure, weighed down with the filth of sin and therefore separated from the God who created them.  Jesus arrived as a great spiritual purifier for mankind, teaching how to return to God (Mark 2:17).  Yet this is not why the multitudes of Matthew 5-7 followed Jesus.  They were seeking the mercy of His miraculous healing.  Jesus was not just spiritually merciful (Matt. 4:23-24).  He showed compassion in healing all who came to Him (Matt. 9:35-36).  His mercy also caused Him to feed the hungry who followed Him for days on end (Matt. 15:32-38).  He cared about the physical well-being of others and for good reason.  Jesus came to this earth, living in the flesh as a man.  He subjected Himself to the intentional and unintentional consequences of the actions of mankind.  He breathed the same air we do under the same sun.  He experienced temptation and hardship just the same as mankind has since the beginning of time.  He endured what the struggle of mankind feels like.  Thus, Jesus shows mercy spiritually and physically for our plight (Heb. 2:17-18).

However, though merciful, Jesus also needed to be pure.  Purity is demonstrated when an individual lives a life of serving God rather than the world.  Jesus led a life free from the sins that whirled around Him in the lives of mankind.  He rejected temptation (Matt. 4).  He championed thinking on the good things of life.  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.  When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten…” (1 Pet. 2:22-23).  Peter describes the blood of Christ as that of a lamb without spot (1 Pet. 1:19).  It was only in this way that He would fulfill the Law of Moses and be acceptable as a sacrifice for mankind.  Though He was tempted as us, He did not sin (Heb. 4:15).

In showing mercy to us, Jesus obtained the mercy of the Father who raised Him up from the grave.  By living a life of purity, Jesus “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).  The life He presented to others in Matthew 5-7 turned out to be a living illustration on how things can go well for one’s life.

The Mercy and Purity of the Word of God

The Word of God which Jesus taught was only that which the Father gave Him (John 12:49-50).  Jesus shared a parable in Matthew 18:22-35 which told of a servant forgiven a huge sum by his master.  Sadly, the servant goes away and refuses to show the same mercy to another owing a small debt.  In fact, he causes the man to be thrown in prison over the sum.  When the master hears of the actions of the unmerciful servant, the servant is delivered over to be punished.  God’s Word declares the same will be done by the Heavenly Father to those not showing mercy.  The parable Jesus spoke in Matthew 18 is the other side of “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  The Word of God displays mercy by not only telling us how to do well, but how to avoid punishment (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Note how the psalmist declares the purity of the way of God!  He wrote:

              “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6).

              “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.  The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:8).

Peter refers to the Word of God when he tells Christians to long for the “pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).  As God Himself is pure, so goes His Word.  God is light and in Him is no darkness (1 John 1:5).  This is why purity at its simplest and most recognizable form is God.  Many times in Scripture God declared this by declaring that He is holy.  Now consider John 1:1:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John declares Christ as that Word (1:14).  We know God to be merciful and pure.  We know Christ to be merciful and pure.  The Word of God thus demonstrates the traits of mercy and purity as taught by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount.

The Mercy and Purity of the Christian

As Jesus spoke to the multitudes, He offered teaching which established what a citizen of the kingdom of God looked like.  The citizen of the kingdom of God replicates Jesus in mercy and purity (Eph. 5:25-27).  The citizen of the kingdom of God also replicates the Word of God in mercy and purity because the Christian sees salvation through the implanted, merciful, and pure Word (James 1:21).  Jesus commanded mankind to be merciful when He shared the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10).  The apostle Paul preached to the Christians of Colossae telling them of mercy and the moral perfection which is purity (Col. 3:12-14).  Christianity represents the light of God.  In action, true Christianity shows faith in our unrealized hope, the coming of Christ and entrance into His kingdom.  That such a belief mandates traits of mercy and purity becomes clear when Paul speaks of the selfishness and immorality which will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

While speaking to His disciples as they were concerned about rank in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus stated, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).  A young child yet unstained by the world wants to please.  He or she will share their cookies and toys and freely give their love.  They want to do anything they can do to help when someone hurts.  Children demonstrate mercy and purity every day, just like Christ.  These traits need to become ours.  The Father longs for this.  Christ lived it.  The apostles taught it.  The world can  read this in the Word of God which was given for their guidance and perfection.

Jesus, the great Healer of mankind, looked out at the multitudes which constantly surrounded Him and shared the words of the Father which provide eternal life.  He did so knowing they were all condemned to die in sin.  He did so knowing they would eventually beat Him, spit on Him, reject Him and crucify Him.  His greatest act of mercy and purity took place upon that cross as the pure sacrificial lamb of God.  Showing mercy, He pleaded, “Father, forgive them…” (Lk. 23:34).

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years.  He is the creator of www.churchofchristarticles.com.

 

 

To Meekly Crave Righteousness — Rick Lawson

Every great sermon declares eternal truths and is instructive in its tone.  This is certainly true of the great sermon preached by Jesus that we call the Sermon on the Mount. Consider Matthew 5:5-6: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” In just twenty five words (in the English), Jesus conveys so much spiritual meat upon which his followers may feast! Both requirements and blessings are set forth by our Lord.

“Blessed Are The Meek”

What does Jesus mean by the idea of “blessed?” Often the word “happy” is used to describe the meaning of blessed. The context in which the original Greek word markarios is used connotes not the momentary giddiness resulting from a fleeting pleasant experience, but the deep, abiding joy that comes from the knowledge that God’s pleasure is the result of our obedience to His Word. No matter the immediate circumstance, God’s people can rejoice that the Father smiles down upon His faithful children.

The subject of this beatitude is meekness. Often meekness is equated with weakness or resignation, but this is due to modern usage of the term. The student of the Bible must examine the way that the word is used in the Scriptures. Thayer says that to be meek is to be gentle and mild. In the Outline of Biblical Usage meekness is described this way:

“Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting…Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest.  It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation.  The gentle person is not occupied with self at all.”

Meekness must not be seen as weakness. Meekness is strength under control. Moses is called the meekest man in the world (Num. 12:3), yet he had enormous authority as the leader of God’s people in the Old Testament. Jesus described Himself as meek, though He created and upholds the universe with the Word of His power (Matt. 11:29; Heb. 1:2-3).  God has always promised to bless the meek. “The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live forever” (Ps. 22:26). “The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground” (Ps. 147:6). See also Psalm 25:9; 67:9; 149:4 and Isaiah 29:19.  Pride, selfishness and conceit are characteristics of the lost, and will be responsible for untold numbers being condemned to hell for all eternity. Entire nations have perished because of the sin of pride, and nations will surely continue to fall due to it. Meekness, gentleness, and self-control are the spiritual qualities required by God. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1Tim. 6:11).

The message of this beatitude is similar to Psalm 37:11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”  The blessing promised by Jesus to the meek is that they will inherit the earth. It is clear that the earth belongs to God (Ex. 19:5), and no man can conquer God or take by force that which belongs to God. The earth is God’s to give or to withhold. This is why Jesus uses the term “inherit.” The good things that this world has to offer are bestowed upon the faithful by God Himself, as an earthly father bequeaths his possessions to his heirs. A similar promise is made by Jesus in Matthew 19:29:  “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” The faithful may never receive the wealth, popularity, or approval sought by worldly men, but God’s blessings are the only ones that matter. Jesus says the way to receive these things is through meekness.

“Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst After Righteousness”

Psychologists classify hunger and thirst as two of the strongest drives that motivate human beings. A man can only live without water for a few days. The human brain is 95% water, and a 2% drop in a person’s hydration level can cause symptoms of dehydration. When starved, food becomes the primary concern of men. I was on a mission trip to Thailand some years ago and visited a poor village. While there, I saw a number of people walking around during the day. Curious, I asked my translator, “What do these people do for work?” The translator was confused by my question. He replied, “Sir, their job is finding something for them and their families to eat today.” Hunger is a strong drive!

The psalmist wrote, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.  My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2)  Jesus taught that the hunger and thirst for righteousness should motivate mankind.  Righteousness is defined by Strong as “the character or quality of being right or just.”  The follower of Jesus should long for that which is right.  He should seek for that which is true.

Everyone is motivated by something.  Many are driven by the desire to obtain material things, but these pass away.  Many are motivated by carnal desires and pleasures of this life, but these lead to shame and dissatisfaction.  The approval of men is the motivation behind many of the choices made by the ungodly, and they often receive it.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were men like this.  He warned His disciples, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:1-2).

Nothing is better than a cold drink of water to the thirsty man, and God provides what man needs.  He has said that those who seek the righteousness of God shall find it.  “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).

Hydration and nutrition sustain physical life. The Word of God provides for the spiritual needs of men. Consider some parallels between material food and water and spiritual sustenance. Just as man must eat and drink on a regular, ongoing basis, so must man partake of the Bible. Like the noble Bereans, man must search the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). As physical food must be digested and assimilated to be beneficial, so must the Bible be understood and applied to life. This is what David meant when he wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). When a man hides the Word in his heart he puts the Devil on the run!

The intake of water and food must be of sufficient quantity for man to thrive. Similarly, man’s intake of spiritual food must be adequate. Studying a few verses, ripped from their proper context, to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible is dangerous and deadly. One might as soon try to exist on a single food to the exclusion of all others. The American Standard version renders Psalm 119:160: The sum of thy word is truth; And every one of thy righteous ordinances endureth forever.” Don’t settle for some when you need the sum! The entire Bible should be studied and rightly divided by the servant of God (2 Tim. 2:15). This is how the child of God makes his “calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).

The World Health Organization reports that 1.8 billion people around the world are forced to use water contaminated by human waste. I wonder how many are basing their religion on doctrines contaminated by human opinions, thoughts and ideas. Surely the number is much higher than 1.8 billion! Man’s spiritual needs are only met by the unadulterated, pure message from God. If contaminated, spiritual sickness and death is the result. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). What would you think of a farmer who carefully smashed each kernel of corn seed to dust with a hammer before planting it? That is a farmer who will never grow a crop! Man must not tamper with God’s Seed if he expects it to bear fruit in the hearts of men (Lk. 8:11).

Just as the meek shall inherit the earth, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. What a blessing to realize that God does not offer adequacy, but abundance (John 10:10)! Dear reader, you too can be filled to the brim with the blessings that God offers. With meekness and humility search out the righteousness of God with fervor and urgency, and submit to His will for your life. Heaven is yours to gain!

Rick is a 1999 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, an instructor for the Georgia School of Preaching (Marietta and Adairsville campuses), and has served as the evangelist of the Adairsville, GA church of Christ since 2013.

 

The Blessings of Brokenness and Heartache — Stephen Scaggs

There is an old story about an old rabbi who said, “In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.”

“Why don’t they anymore?” a young student asked.

“Because nowadays, no one stoops that low,” he replied.

Who wants to stoop down? Who wants to be a lowly person? In the focus of our study, we want to look at Matthew 5:3-4, which begin a section known as the beatitudes of Jesus. Many spend their lives trying to pull themselves up. Society teaches us to walk tall. But according to our Teacher, God blesses those who are lowly – those stooped low. In our limited space, I wish to share with you three things: (1) What is the history of the word translated “blessed”? (2) What does it mean to be broken? (3) And what does it mean to have heartache?

The History of “Blessed”

How Jesus uses the word “blessed” (makarios) runs against His Hellenistic culture. In ancient Greek times, the blessed ones (makaroioi) referred to the gods. These blessed ones received happiness and contentment in life that surpassed all cares, labors, and even death. The blessed ones lived in a different world, free of the cares, problems, and worries of ordinary people. Thus, in Greek culture people only considered the gods as blessed (makarios).

An alternative meaning of makarios in Hellenistic culture refers to death. Humans, through death, reach the other world of the blessed ones. They were beyond the cares, problems, and worries of an earthly life. Thus, in Greek culture you had to die before people considered you blessed. This is the origin of the Catholic Church teaching of individual saint days – remembering saints on the date of their death. “All Saints Day” was for all the saints they did not know.

In Jesus’ day, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper crust of society, the wealthy people. It referred to those who had riches and power, putting them above the cares, problems, and worries of the lesser people – those who constantly struggled, worried, and labored in life. Thus, in Jesus’ day people considered you blessed if you were rich and powerful.

In all these meanings, being blessed referred to a higher plane than the common people. They were either gods, humans who went to be with the gods via death, or humans who had accumulated many possessions. They were people who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of the common people.

Jesus uses makarios radically different to its historical usage. God does not bless the elite, but those who have realized their brokenness. He does not bless those without problems, but those who openly ache in their hearts.

The Blessing of Brokenness

The term translated “the poor” (ptōchoi) means “to crouch as a helpless beggar.” Scolding the Galatian Christians, Paul asked, “How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless (ptōcha) elementary principles of the world?” (Gal. 4:9).  This is not a man who struggles to make a living.  This is utter bankruptcy, “a poverty beaten to its knees” as William Barclay put it  in his Daily Study Bible’s comments on Matthew 5. Thus, in this context, to be poor means total dependence on others for help.  The “poor in spirit” are those who are painfully aware of their personal standing and their need for help from God.

Such receive the kingdom of God. Those who are poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. Those who have no influence, power, or prestige. When men close their resources to the poor, they can only look to God. These are those who have nothing on earth, who have come to put complete confidence in God. Those who see their spiritual emptiness and poverty. Those who sense their irremediable brokenness and need for God’s restoration. To these, God gives the treasures of His grace and He lays up crowns of joy for them in heaven.

As the “Man of Sorrows” (Is. 53:3), Jesus understands the language of our pain. He was constantly amid the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected. When the religious leaders complained against Jesus, He answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Lk. 5:30-32). Unless we become as little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3). As the psalmist said, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

The Blessing of Heartache

The word for mourn is penthountes. This mourning refers to that sorrow which pierces the heart and expresses itself in loud, audible sobs and visible in large streams of tears. According to HELPS Word Studies, it is to “grieve over a death” or figuratively to “grieve over a personal hope that dies.” Barclay comments that this is “the kind of grief which takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hid. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrainable tears to the eyes.” When the brothers told the fake news to their father about how the wolves killed Joseph, Jacob mourned (epenthei; LXX; Gen. 37:34). When Mary of Magdala told the disciples that Jesus had risen, they were mourning (penthousi; Mark 16:10).

Blessed are those who are mourning… over what? Jesus does not specify, but it seems the overall sense of heartache over present circumstances and over stubborn sin. Paul scolded the Christians in Corinth for their lack of distress (epenthēsate) over their erring brother (1 Cor. 5:2), and he knew that if he had to come to Corinth again that he would mourn (penthēsō) because many of them had not given up their old sins (2 Cor. 12:21).

Mourning is the expression of care, the voice of pain, the sorrow of a broken heart. Those who mourn care deeply; they feel the weight of loss; they grieve over sin. In grieving over sin, there is no place to hide or rationalization – just the raw realization of our fatal condition apart from God and the sincere appeal for God’s mercy. Mourning over our sins draws us to God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Truly, God’s Word is the ultimate source of comfort. The psalmist knew that amid his conflict that God’s Word had kept him alive (Ps. 119:50). Another source of comfort is that, “I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). Even in the “shadow of the valley of death” (i.e., this broken and declining world), the Lord is with us with His presence (Ps. 23:4). When we mourn, God will comfort us, literally “to come alongside.”

Conclusion

In these two blessings, brokenness and heartache, we can see the paradox when compared to the values of the world. Even though we live two thousand years removed from Jesus’ words, the world we live in still lives by the iron rule that might makes right. Yet these words of Jesus are meant to give us hope…that in His upside-down kingdom, true strength comes from dependence on Him as the source of our salvation.

“For You would not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it, nor be pleased by burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.  A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

  — Psalm 51:13-19 

Stephen is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN.  He is currently living in Dublin, GA, where he is seeking to further his education in ministry.  He is married to Rebekah and they have two children, Emmett and Edison.