Category Archives: 2017 – Nov/Dec

Editorial: Is The Bible The Only Way God Communicates With Man? (November/December, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

We call the Bible the Word of God, and so it is (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Yet if a sincere yet unknowledgeable soul asked you to explain why you believe the Bible is from God, or why you believe it is the only way God communicates with man today, would you be able to explain it to him?

It is true that many people during biblical times came to know God without reading Scripture.  In fact, no inspired record of any written communication between God and men exists from Eden until He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai and then inspired Moses to write the Pentateuch (Ex. 20:1-17; 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9-11).  Before Sinai, Genesis records God speaking directly to various patriarchs, people and kings (cf. 1:28-30; 4:9-15; 12:1-3) and also indirectly through miraculous prophetic interpretation (40:1-23; 41:1-39).  Genesis also speaks of God-fearing people from families, countries and backgrounds different from those to whom we read that God directly spoke, implying that God also directly communicated with these people even though we have no specific record of such (14:18-20; cf. Josh. 2:9-13).  This divine, miraculous communication outside of inspired Scripture would continue at certain times with certain people during and even after inspired men started writing the Old Testament (cf. Num. 22-24; Josh. 1:1-9; Judg. 6:11-27; et al).

It would also continue during the time when the New Testament was being written.  Men who already had inspired Scripture in the form of the completed Old Testament still directly received communication from Deity during Christ’s time, sometimes without knowing so (Matt. 1:20-25; 2:12-15; John 11:49-52; 12:28-30).  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would directly communicate with them after He had gone (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15), which the Spirit did starting at Pentecost and afterwards (Acts 2; cf. 4:31; 5:1-10).  Later, the apostles would lay their hands on other Christians like Stephen and Philip and give them the ability to miraculously receive communication from the Spirit and thus prophesy (Acts 6:5-6, 8-10; 7:55; 8:18, 26-29).  During this time, some of these apostles and prophets were inspired by the Spirit to write the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Does God communicate to us directly today?  While He spoke to the Hebrew patriarchs in various ways at various times, He now speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. John 15:15), who is interestingly referred to as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14).  When Jesus told the writers of the New Testament that they would be inspired by the Spirit, He said the Spirit would only communicate to them what the Son and the Father directed (John 16:12-15; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).  Thus, whenever we read our Bibles we are reading a message from the Son of God, Who is the only way the Father communicates with us today.  Any other method of communication is cursed and forbidden (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).  Not being Scripture, it would not equip us to any truly good work anyway (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The miraculous spiritual gifts imparted by the apostles  through the laying on of their hands — some of which being direct communication from Deity (1 Cor. 12:1, 4-11) — ceased “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10), a reference in the literal Greek to that which is complete or mature.  The same Greek term is used to describe the complete Word of God (Jas. 1:25; Rom. 12:2).  Thus, the Bible says that miracles involving men — including receiving miraculous, direct communication from Deity — would cease when the New Testament was completed.  God does not lie (Tit. 1:2), so we can be confident that, rather than waiting and searching for some other form of communication from Him, all we need is to go to His Word and “rightly handle” it in order to be on the right path (2 Tim. 2:15).

Yet, can we know that the Bible truly comes from God?  Consider this.  No one can successfully dispute the overwhelming secular evidence that the Bible contains 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years on three different continents in three different languages.  These authors came from very different backgrounds and wrote in very different environments about extremely controversial subjects…and yet there is harmony and continuity in the Bible which is unmatched because all were inspired by the same Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).  That combined with the overwhelming scientific foreknowledge within Scripture (cf. Is. 40:22; Job 26:7; 28:25; 38:16; Ps. 8:8; Eccl. 1:6-7), the hundreds of prophecies historically fulfilled, and the archeological discoveries continually made which support biblical events show the Bible to be what it claims to be: from God.

Thus, let us “in humility receive the word implanted” (Jas. 1:21) and encourage others to do likewise!

— Jon

 

 

Why God’s Word Needs To Be In Our Heads — Chase Green

Ask any preaching student what was his most daunting task in preaching school, and he very likely may say, “Memory work!”  I can still remember the first time I saw a syllabus for a class in the Memphis School of Preaching.  My heart sank.  How was I going to memorize that many verses in such a short period of time?  And to think that this was just one class!

Memorization of Scripture is generally recognized as one of the most basic requirements for a gospel preacher, but this practice should not be limited to preachers only.  The Bible contains many reasons for this.  For instance, consider Psalm 119:1-3:  “How can a young man cleanse his way?  By taking heed according to Your word.  With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!  Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You(emphasis mine).  The blessed man described in Psalm 1:1-3 delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates in His law day and night.  The diligent parent described in Deuteronomy 11:18-23 lays up God’s Word in his heart and soul and teaches it to his children, speaking of it when he sits in his house, when he walks by the way, when he lies down, and when he rises up.  Furthermore, consider also that the teaching, admonishing, and singing mentioned in Colossians 3:16 is predicated upon individual Christians letting the Word of Christ “dwell” in us.  With these and other verses in view, the importance of Scripture memorization can be seen.

In times past, I believe this concept was better understood among members of the Lord’s church.  It used to be said that members of the church of Christ were walking Bibles, that we were a people that lived “by the Book.”  (If you want evidence for this, I would suggest that you search for the video of Garland Elkins’ magnificent defense of the truth on the Phil Donahue Show.  Notice also how ably the members of the church who were in the audience quoted Scripture.)

So what has changed in the last few decades?  I believe that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is that our modern technology has become a crutch upon which many of us lean.  Why memorize verses, chapters, and whole books of the Bible when we could just memorize bits and pieces of those verses and then do a quick search on our phones?  Why spend hours memorizing Scripture when said search can be accomplished in a matter of seconds?  These are legitimate questions that need answered, and the best answer for them lie again in the verses already mentioned.

The Bible doesn’t say that we should hide the Word of God in our iPhones; it says we must hide it in our hearts Ps. 119:11; Deut. 11:18).  The Bible doesn’t say that we should meditate with tablet in hand, with fingers at the ready for a verse search; it says we are to meditate in the law of the Lord “day and night” (Ps. 1:2), implying the desire to ruminate over the Word while awake and asleep.  The Bible doesn’t say to let the Word of Christ dwell in our computers, resulting in teaching, admonishing, and singing; it says to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” resulting in those things (Col. 3:16, emphasis mine).

With that said, the Bible is clear that the noble task of Scripture memorization takes effortStudy to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, emphasis mine).  Even though it is not easy, Scripture memorization is a task that is worth our efforts, and it can be accomplished through diligent study.

One may ask, “But how do I go about memorizing Scripture?  What is the key to being able to do this?”  The answer is simple: repetition, repetition, repetition.  If you can memorize a phone number or an address or someone’s name, you can memorize Scripture!  While it is true that memorizing Scripture takes some getting used to, I believe you will find it easier than you think.  Just keep working at it, and don’t give up!

For the remainder of this article, I would like to offer some tips that helped me tremendously in learning how to memorize Scripture.  First, aim small, miss small.  What I mean by this is that you must start down the path of Scripture memorization by focusing on small, easy-to-memorize verses.  If given the choice between John 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:10-12, choose John 3:16!  Chances are, you will be much more familiar with the passage in John, and it will aid you in building confidence in your memorization.  Then once your mind has warmed up to memorization, you can tackle the more difficult verses.

Another tip that I would recommend is to focus on important doctrinal passages.  Do not get me wrong, every passage in Scripture is important and is there for a reason!  That said, it is much more useful to memorize passages regarding baptism or worship or truth rather than passages such as genealogies or salutations of an epistle.

Next, I would say it is crucial to memorize the verse by breaking it down, phrase by phrase.  For instance, rather than trying to memorize the whole verse, try memorizing John 3:16 one phrase at a time:  “For God so loved the world — that He gave His only begotten Son — that whoever believes in Him — should not perish — but have everlasting life.”  By breaking the verse or passage down phrase by phrase, a daunting task becomes much more attainable.

Finally, it is important to take regular study breaks and sleep on it after you have studied.  The human brain is capable of storing a tremendous amount of information, but even the smartest among us can have a difficult time if our brains become overloaded with too much information all at once.  Therefore, when studying a passage of Scripture you want to memorize, make sure you put it down and go do something else in order to give your brain time to process the new information.  Then go back to memorizing and you should find it easier the second time around!  Also, realize that your brain will process this information while you sleep at night, so when you come back to study the passage the next day, you should find the ability to memorize it much more smoothly.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if members of the Lord’s church once again became known as “people of the Book”?  Let us renew our efforts be more like Christ Who answered, “It is written.”

Chase is a 2017 graduate of MSOP and preaches in West Monroe, LA, alongside his wife and children.

 

Practical Considerations Of An Active Faith — Dave Redmond

A few years ago, I wrote a bulletin article concerning “Freedom in Christ.”  While preparing, I became aware of a wonderful blessing.  Under the Old Law, the Jews were expected to keep hundreds of rules and regulations.  I realized that as Christians, while we are expected to keep commandments under the New Covenant, we have the freedom to choose the way we wish to serve God.  This makes the Christian’s service joyous.

Today we are discussing the importance of an active faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter,” but calling it the “Active Faith Chapter” is also appropriate.  Here, the writer reminds us of Noah, who lived in a time of great wickedness.  He was commanded to build a huge ark in order to save his family and the world’s animals.  This was no small undertaking.  Not only was it physically challenging, but took many years.  All who watched thought he was foolish.  They had not seen rain, much less a flood.  Also, the writer tells us of Abraham, who left his home when God called him.  He was not even certain where to go!  Can you think of a harsher climate than in the Middle East?  With large families, animals, and all their belongings, it must have been a tremendous effort to move even a few miles.  Noah and Abraham are men who listened to God, really believed Him, and followed His instructions.  We are here today with the hope of salvation because of their active faith.

Most of us are familiar with James 2:26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Perhaps less familiar is Ephesians 2:10:  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Here we find our purpose as Christians.  We were created so that we can perform “good works.”  Amazingly, our loving and omniscient God prepared these opportunities ahead of time.  We have the choice of accepting these opportunities, but we are humbled that He would consider us worthy.  Our decision to demonstrate an active faith serves a greater purpose.  God tells us why we are to perform good works in Matthew 5:16:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Unfortunately, after we obey the gospel of Christ it is easy to become complacent in our Christian walk, becoming caught up in the problems of life.  Our faith can weaken, and we can neglect opportunities to serve God.

While we are usually motivated by God’s love, fear of punishment is also effective.  Jesus used the parable of the talents to warn against complacency and laziness when it comes to making use of our abilities and opportunities.  What happened to the man who hid his Lord’s money?  In Matthew 25:26 Jesus described this man as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and he was cast out into outer darkness (v. 30).

The verses which follow in Matthew chapter 25 are sobering.  Here Jesus is describing the judgment, and one’s destiny was determined in very practical terms.  Those who were blessed to inherit eternal life had cared for their fellow man: the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, imprisoned, or naked.  Those who did not were rewarded with everlasting punishment.  Jesus said that when we care for others, it is as if we are caring for Him.  When we neglect others, we neglect Jesus too.  He expects us to have an active faith and to demonstrate our faith by our actions (James 2:18).  James then reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

Over the years I have seen Christians of all ages and backgrounds serving God in practical ways.  The remainder of this message is a practical application of the preceding Scripture.

For the child, one of the best ways to serve God is by honoring and obeying parents.  Nothing honors a parent more than to hear from a teacher or neighbor, “Your son or daughter is so well behaved.”  While the child does not understand what faith means, the habit of obedience is developed.

For the Christian teen, it is a blessing to be part of a youth group which serves others while having fun.  Youth groups can visit older people, those who may need help with cleaning the house or yard, and the blessings are mutual.  I remember a sweet older Christian who insisted on serving lemonade after our youth cleaned her yard.  Looking back, these were joyous memories.

After high school, we can demonstrate an active faith through our chosen vocation or during higher education.  For those who can attend college, I think it is a blessing to attend a Christian school.  However, many state universities have a Christian support group and this can offer tremendous encouragement at a time when we become independent.  Several of our local congregations support a campus minister who helps our young people remain faithful.

I remember the wonderful congregation and Christian friends we had during military service.  My wife and I were newly married, and a local church took us under her wing.  For me, learning to lead during worship services was a blessing.  My sweet wife was encouraged by the older ladies, and sometimes we would take communion to an elderly Christian.  We now look back to those years as formative in our relationship, and these were simple ways to put our faith in action.

Whether we remain single or marry and start a family, we can find opportunities to serve in our congregations by teaching, preparing communion, helping in the church office, holding a Bible study, inviting others to services, feeding the needy, donating clothing, or simply asking the church leadership what needs to be done.  For those with young children, getting in the habit of bringing our children to Sunday School is one of the difficult but most rewarding aspects of being a parent.

During our middle years, it is a blessing to be a part of a congregation with elders and deacons.  By now we know more about our talents, our strengths, our interests.  A deacon and his wife gain valuable experience in helping the church.  This is the time when some with children are older, and it becomes more convenient to open up our home to others.  Often, we can be of tremendous assistance during Vacation Bible School and other youth activities because we are old enough to be more mature, but young enough to have the energy.  By now we are often settled in our home and community and there are many ways we can give back, glorifying God by our actions.

As older adults, we usually have a little more time to put our faith in action.  In the congregation, the younger ladies look up to the more mature ladies as examples of faith and service.  Perhaps there is time to attend a ladies Bible class, visit those in the hospital, or prepare food and flower arrangements for various needs.  Also, this is the time when we often begin to lose friends to death.  We can be an encouragement to the depressed, downhearted, and those who are facing financial hardship or difficulties with children.

For the older man, this is the ideal time for self-reflection, perhaps offering to serve as an elder in the congregation.  This is also the time when an older gentleman may be an encouragement to the congregation’s minister, since the preacher is often overworked and goes through the same hardships as others.  Many older men and women are ideal teachers.  In the community, there are ample opportunities to help our neighbors and those in need.  In our congregation, some with financial means help support an orphan’s home, a widows’ ministry, and a Bible camp where our youth interact and some respond to the gospel.

Some of the greatest examples of active faith I have seen are by our most elderly sisters in Christ.  I remember one who continued to teach Cradle Roll, getting down on the floor even when her knees were arthritic.  Another took the time to teach the young girls how to bake unleavened bread and in the process conveyed the importance of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet another would call members of her Life Group, providing updates on the sick, requesting various needs in food, and simply encouraging the lonely.  Age was not a hindrance to serve.

In summary, there are endless ways to exemplify an active faith, demonstrate Christ in our life, and bring glory to our Heavenly Father.  Good works which God has prepared for us are waiting.  Just as in Matthew 25:23, we yearn to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC. He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

 

 

Some Observations On Church Attendance — Johnny O. Trail

What keeps you away from the assembly of the saints?  I honestly believe that there are potentially valid reasons for one to miss church.  We should all be thankful for emergency responders, hospital workers, and others who provide vital services during Sunday assembly.  No person would want to arrive at the emergency room and see a “closed” sign hanging up on the door.  By the same token, we want someone to answer the phone when we dial 911 regarding a life or death situation that impacts us in some fashion.  Thus, there are people who sacrifice their family time and time at church to keep our nation safely running.  We are thankful for their service and sacrifice.  Moreover, there are people who are “providentially” hindered.  I would imagine that most members of the churches of Christ have heard these words uttered in a prayer.  Providentially is defined as “relating to or believed to be determined by providence.”

Over several years of preaching, I have noted that those who are hindered by various health and mental issues are the ones who want to be at church the most.  Still, there are people who do not attend church because they are simply too sick to be in the congregation.  I personally know of people who suffer with fibromyalgia and various other chronic diseases.  By experience, I know that those suffering with chronic problems would much rather be in church than at home suffering in pain.  I am of the opinion that God understands a person’s circumstances when they are hindered by health related issues.

We have noted that there are valid reasons why a person might not be able to come to church, but what about the other reasons that might be considered?  Can a person choose to be absent from the assembly and sin by their choice?  I firmly believe so.

Church attendance is up to the individual but is not optional in nature.  That having been said, it is hard to judge the motivations behind one’s decision not to attend. Some might believe that it is bothersome to spend a few hours a week in the assembly.  Under the Old Testament law, certain worshippers expressed the same sort of attitude.  This is meted out in the minor prophet Malachi:  “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord.  But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen” (Mal. 1:13-14).

In all honesty, there is work involved with coming to church.  I am always reminded of my wife, Jada, when we see young mothers struggling with children in the assembly.  Since I was always preaching or teaching a class, she had no help in the pew with children who were small enough to be in diapers.  I remarked to her and young parents in our congregations, “It is like moving a small army!”  Still, these godly parents make every effort to get those little ones into the assembly.  I remember asking Jada one Sunday after the services, “How was my sermon?”  She responded, “What little I was able to hear of it was fine.  Your son wiggled on me the entire time.”  In light of these things, one might ask, “So why go?”

Suffice it to say, she went to demonstrate the importance of being in worship and in the presence of like-minded saints.  All of my sons have been baptized, and they actively participate in the worship of the church.  Before they were old enough to understand what was happening, they would pass around our drink coasters and pretend that they were passing around the trays for the Lord’s Supper.  We have a photograph of our middle son in a diaper, standing behind a potato box, holding my Bible, and delivering a “sermon” for all to hear.  This was because he had parents who cared enough to bring him to church.  More specifically in our case, he and his brothers had a godly mother who was willing to do whatever it took to get them to church.

If you are a husband who can sit in the pew with your family, please help your wife.  If you are a mature member of the body, encourage and offer to help families with small children. Seek to encourage them as they struggle with attendance and rambunctious children. We want to continually pray for our young families as they struggle with schedules and bringing their children up on the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6.4).

Still, there are some who see church attendance as a “weariness” because they had rather be doing other things.  Some families have chosen recreational activities over being in the assembly with the saints.  That having been said, I personally know of families who attend early services before sporting events so that they can demonstrate the importance of church assembly to their children.  Still, there are families who have sacrificed their souls and families to the god of sports and entertainment.  We demonstrate our priorities by the choices we make.  If you fail to make Christ and being in the assembly a priority, so will your family members.

At this point one might quote Hebrews 10.25:  “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  This passage refers to continually and purposefully being absent from the assembly, and it would include, in my estimation, times other than Sundays. Contextually, it is written to Christians who are discouraged because of various persecutions they were facing.  In part, we attend to church to help us remain faithful (Rev. 2.10) and encourage good works (Heb. 10.24).

Several years ago, I was in an assembly where a brother led the following portion of a prayer.  “Heavenly Father, please punish those who are absent from church simply because they have chosen not to be here…”  I wonder how many of our brethren would tolerate such a prayer?  I believe that it is scriptural because of the following passage:  “For the Lord disciples the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8).  I sincerely believe that this prayer was uttered in loving concern for the brethren.  We are concerned when we do not see YOU in church.

Johnny preaches for the Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ in Ashland City, TN.  He is a practicing marriage and family therapist.  He is married to Jada and they have three sons, Matthew, Nathan and Noah.

 

Why Are We Christians? — Stephen Scaggs

Our inquiry is a personal one.  “Why are we Christians?”  Indeed, each of us owes an enormous debt to those who have gone on before us, from the faith of Abraham to the courage of restorationists like Guy N. Woods.  Many of us would not be Christians if it were not for our familial heritage, which seemed to be the case with Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).  Yet when it boils down to it, each of us is a Christian because each of us chose it.

The inspired physician tells us “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26c).  Since that day, this name “Christian” has bound all disciples together, whether Jew or Greek, whether male or female, whether black or white.  In a short time, this name infiltrated the houses of royalty and spread across the Roman Sea (Acts 28:14ff).  By sharing some of the reasons that we are Christians, we might persuade those who hear us each day to become just as we are (Acts 26:28-29).

We Are Christians Because God Has Called Us 

No list would be complete without mentioning God.  The apostle Peter wrote that we are Christians because of God who called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2 Pet. 2:9).  Our English word “call” is quite vague, but the Greek word kaleo can either refer to the act of naming (e.g., as in Acts 11:26 mentioned earlier, or “He was called Jesus” [Luke 2:21], or summoning as in a court summons).  Peter uses the latter sense.  How does God summon us?  He beckons to us through the preaching of His gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).  When people believe and surrender to the gospel call, God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

The apostle Peter repeatedly refers to our calling (i.e., when man responds to His calling) as a point of reference for the excellence of moral character.  His calling sets the precedence for our holy conduct (1 Pet. 1:15); that we may proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9); for our following in Jesus’ steps (1 Pet 2:21); for how we retaliate (1 Pet. 3:9); and His calling is how we will inherit His eternal glory (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).

Let us “give the more diligence to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10) by living up to His holy calling.

We Are Christians Because We Believe In Jesus

At the very heart of Christianity is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  After all, He is the namesake of our religion.  Fifty days after Passover during the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the apostle Peter stood up and preached, “God hath raised [Jesus] up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24).  The Christ, “though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:8-9).

At the center of Christianity are Jesus and His resurrection.  The fact of Jesus’ present living gives Him precedence over all false religions.  Indeed, as one poet writes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow/Because He lives, all fear is gone/Because I know He holds the future/And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

By inspiration, Peter and John declared boldly before the Sanhedrin, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation is no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

We Are Christians Because It Matters

The motivation for the Christian walk is the prize.  This was the case for the apostle Paul.  He wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  This was Paul’s driving force behind all that he did.  Paul pressed on because he understood his labors mattered.  As the apostle concisely wrote after discussing the general resurrection, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“The uttermost hevel, says the Preacher, the uttermost hevel!  All is hevel!” (Eccl. 1:2, paraphrased).  This word hevel is a difficult to translate (and it is repeated several times in the Hebrew, simply underscoring the intensity of the word).  In an effort to translate it, some have rendered it “meaningless” (NIV, NLT); “vanity” (ESV; KJV; NASB; YLT); “futility” (HCSB); “pointless” (ISV).  While these words try to capture the meaning of the Hebrew word hevel, the point is not the life has no meaning, but that its meaning is not always readily apparent.  The Hebrew word hevel literally refers to “smoke.”  Just like being in a thick cloud of smoke, the meaning of life is not readily visible.  Yet there is meaning in what is concluded: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the totality of man” (Eccl. 12:13).

One day when Jesus returns, He will clear the smoke (hevel) and all the pains of this life will dissolve into eternity.  As we often sing, “Soon we will see our dear loving Savior/Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky/Then we will meet those gone on before us/Then we shall know and understand why…Farther along we’ll know all about it/Farther along we’ll understand why/Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine/We’ll understand it all by and by” (W.B. Stevens, “Farther Along”).

Conclusion 

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it contains sufficient reason for this writer to be a Christian.  We are Christians because God has called us, because we believe in Christ, and because it matters.  If you have never surrendered to Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do so.  If you have any questions, the writers of the Carolina Messenger publication would be pleased to give you a Bible answer to any query you may have.

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.

 

 

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — Robert Bedenbaugh, Jr.

It has been said, “One who studies only the Bible doesn’t know much about it.” This statement recognizes the fact that we are so greatly removed from the original languages. Even what we can read “in black and white” is just a translation and “some things do get lost in translation.” Conversely “commentaries written by men are just that” and not the Word of God. I admit at times, early in life, I blindly disregarded God’s Word because reading and understanding modern human writings was an easier choice compared to following 2 Timothy 2:15.

Instead, consider supplementing your personal Bible study with reference books of the original language: dictionaries, concordances, lexicons, and the like. Any human comment(ary) must refer back to God’s Word or it is opinion. Discern what God meant by where, how, and in what context He used words versus what someone says He meant.

As we explore our topic, we will consider both words, Lord and Savior, their generic and specifically divine uses, and introduce another word that may help blend the two together and clarify our understanding of His role as both our Lord and our Savior.

Jesus Christ, Our Lord (Romans 1:4)

The word kurios, translated “lord,” may also be translated as “master” when referring to one who is in control of another person (Acts 16:16-19; Eph. 6:5-9) and “sir” in situations of cordial politeness (John 4:11-19, 49; 5:7). It is also used and typically translated “lord” when referring to an owner of a thing. Each references, at its root, the ultimate power to control the fate of a person or thing.

Jesus is referred to as the Lord of inanimate objects. He’s Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8,; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5). Since He and His Father are One (John 10:30), He is also Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21; Acts 17:24) and Lord of the harvest (Matt. 9:38; Luke 10:2). None of these come as a surprise since He is Lord of everything that exists (Ps. 24:1; John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6).

Neither is it a surprise that He is Lord of His people, since they are His (Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 6:2). In fact, He is Lord of all people (Acts 10:36; Phil. 2:11) even of those that are called lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). Incidentally, what comes to mind when you hear “Jesus is Lord of lords”? Replace the word “Lord” with any of our definitions. He is Master of masters. He is Controller of controllers. He is in control of those who are in control. He decides the fate of those who decide fates. He is Lord of lords…and King of kings or Ruler of those who rule and reigns over those who reign.

But our topic says “our Lord.” Is He? There are two answers to this question because there are two points of view, one objective and one subjective. If we stand back and view our relationship with Him as the Creator and the Creation, then absolutely yes, He is everyone’s Lord as we noticed earlier (Acts 10:36; Phil. 2:11). He is Lord of all and one day all will admit that fact. Yet if we consider our personal relationship with Him, and ask, “Is Jesus my Lord?”, there may be a different answer. We’re given the opportunity in this life to voluntarily submit to Him and have Him as our Lord (Josh. 24:14-24). We can choose to do otherwise and often we all do fail to submit to Him and allow our lives to be mastered, controlled, and owned by Him.

Some years back, I saw a little skit exemplifying this very thing. The stage was the life of a little girl and in the middle of the stage was a throne. As the skit began, she was on the throne of her life and various individuals would come on stage representing friends and acquaintances, each putting her in different situations. She was in charge and did what she willed. Shortly, one friend actually brought in another friend whose name was Jesus. Jesus and the little girl were introduced and the friend helped the little girl understand who Jesus was, what He had done, what He offered the little girl, and what He required (Matt. 7:21). Essentially, He wanted to sit on the throne of her life. She agreed, got down out of the throne and Jesus sat down becoming her master.

Friends and acquaintances continued to come.  In each situation, she’d ask Jesus what she should do. She would obey, even if she didn’t like His answer. Her friends wouldn’t understand her choices and might ridicule her but she obeyed. As the situations became more intense, she began to argue with Jesus and even try to squeeze herself into the throne with Jesus. At the climax, she shoved Jesus out of the throne of her life and she sat down. She was back in charge. Jesus stood up from the floor, dusted Himself off, and simply asked her, “What are you doing?”

Brothers and sisters, have you ever been there?  Have you ever been at a point where you could imagine that Jesus was asking you, “What are you doing?” Maybe you’re there now. Maybe you’re in that far off country eating pig slop. Someone is waiting for you. Come to your senses and do yourself a favor.  Go home and be willing to owned. Instead, you’ll actually be treated like family (Luke 15:11-24).

Is He your Lord? Objectively, He is whether you like it or not and one day you’ll admit that He is Lord. Subjectively, only you and He know the answer. If He isn’t on the throne of your life, get out of His way and let Him be your Master, your Controller, your Lord.

Jesus Christ, Our Savior (Titus 1:4)

The word soter, translated “savior,” is defined as just that, a savior, a deliverer, a preserver. At that, I think of a life preserver without which we would lose our spiritual life, drowning in sin and its consequences. Maybe you think of something else but roll those words over in your mind and get a good picture of the act of saving. In case that were not enough of a word picture, we look beyond the word to its root.

So often we learn more about a given word by researching its etymology. The noun soter has its root in the verb sozo which is defined as “to save” but also “to make well,” “to restore to health or heal,”, and “to make whole.” Hopefully the analogies are obvious. Jesus Christ, our Savior makes us well from the disease of sin, restores and heals our sin-sick soul, and makes our spiritual life whole again.

He is Savior in both His accolades and in His actions. Let’s observe His accolades as Savior. He is the promised Savior (Acts 13:23), the Savior of His body, the church (Eph. 5:23), and, as pointed about above, the Savior of the world (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). Even His human name, Jesus, means savior, deliverer, and rescuer (Matt. 1:21). Let’s also notice His actions as Savior. He gives repentance and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31), abolishes death and brings life and immortality (2 Tim. 1:10), and is the medium through whom God richly poured out His Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:4-6).

Without any of these facts about or deeds done by Jesus Christ, He would not be our Savior because we would not be saved, nor made well or whole, nor restored to health or healed. He is the Savior of the world because all humanity has the opportunity to have this salvation (Tit. 2:11) but He is, most affectionately, pictured as the Savior of His people (Matt. 1:21; 23:37).

Let’s stay with our last reference (Matt. 23:37), where Christ says He longed to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. Google images of a hen with her brood. That’s the picture Christ is sharing. He, with arms out-stretched, gathers, covers, and protects those who are His family, or at least He wants to. He desires to self-sacrificingly suffer by sheltering those He loves so dearly, but He is brought to tears by those who “were not willing.”

Are there benefits to being “gathered” to the Savior of the world? Certainly so. There is fellowship with Him and the Father (1 John 1:3). There is life in the light without darkness (John 8:12; 12:44-46; 1 John 1:5-7) but with godliness and contentment (1 Tim. 6:6-10). And just as we see in Matthew 23:37, there is a family (Eph. 2:19-22; Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 3:14-15).

Have you been gathered to Christ? Are you gently nestled close to Him…or have you been unwilling? Only in Him who is the fullness of the deity (Col. 2:9) can every spiritual blessing be found (Eph. 1:3). He invites each of us as a group and individually to come to Him (Matt. 11:28-30).

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

It is interesting that these exact words are only found three times and each is in the book of 2 Peter (1:11; 2:20; 3:18). Paul does mention the idea once and so does Jude to some degree, but only Peter pens “κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.” But before we comment on that, let’s have a few thoughts on inspiration.

I would never argue against the fact that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and I, in no way, acknowledge or subscribe to neither dynamic inspiration nor limited inspiration. However, it is noteworthy that each pen-wielder of our New Testament has a personal style. The elite education of Paul can be seen in the letters he penned (large compound words and long sentences) and likewise for John and his lack of formal education (small words and short sentences, yet just as profound). Luke, the physician, has his personality revealed as well. We also have Peter, who, by inspiration, openly admitted that some things Paul wrote were hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16).

Peter, like John, came from a simple life and was promised to be transformed from a “human who fished” into one who “fished for humans” (Luke 5:10).  His is the only pen that writes “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” and only three times in only one letter.  Why him and no one else?  I’m not sure that question can be answered this side of eternity, but let it suffice to say that all scripture is God-breathed and the roles of both Lord and Savior are not contradictory but complementary in every way.

The Good Shepherd (John 10)

It seems the roles described separately by the terms Lord and Savior may come together in the role of Shepherd. Jesus shows the Good Shepherd is Lord of the sheep because He owns them (John 10:14) and He even calls them “My sheep” (v. 27). Jesus also indicates that the Good Shepherd is Savior of the sheep because He lays down His life for them (vs. 11, 15) and provides life to them (v. 28).

Consider Psalm 23:1-3 where David wrote of the responsibilities of a shepherd as fulfilled by God. He, as Lord, commands His sheep making them to lie down and leading them. He, as Savior, provides His sheep with that which is required for life (still waters and green pastures) and even restores their very soul.

I close by asking the reader to examine Ezekiel 34 and notice the word pictures God uses of how His sheep were being treated and how He would treat them, being their master and their healer. Also recall the parable of the lost sheep and the risk the Shepherd takes and the care He provides (Luke 15:4-6) all because of His compassion for them (Matthew 9:36). Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, truly is the Good Shepherd.

Robert worships at the Seneca Church of Christ in Seneca, SC, with his wife, Heather, and their daughter, Savannah.

 

 

 

Eternal Security Debate Recap — B.J. Clarke

In 2016, in Lafayette, Tennessee, a Missionary Baptist Preacher by the name of Michael Brawner had a public discussion on the subject of baptism with brother Jack Honeycutt.   That discussion brought about so many positive results and conversions that the elders of the Willette Church of Christ (in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee) sought to shine the light of Truth in the community on other matters of doctrinal importance. I received an invitation to participate in a public discussion with Michael Brawner concerning the matter of eternal security.

Mr. Brawner and I corresponded and agreed to participate in a public discussion at the Macon County Junior High School auditorium in Lafayette, Tennessee on May 26-27, 2017. We consented to follow certain rules, and we submitted propositions to one another for review and approval.

The Propositions

On Friday night, May 26th, Michael Brawner affirmed: “The scriptures teach that those who have been born again cannot so far depart from the will of God as to be finally lost in hell.”

On Saturday afternoon, May 27th, I affirmed: “The Scriptures teach that one saved by the blood of Christ can thereafter fall from grace by departing from the living God, and thus be lost eternally.”

The Presentations

Does the Bible teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved”? Does the Christian have any security at all in Christ?

Michael Brawner’s Affirmatives

In his first presentation, and throughout the discussion, Mr. Brawner affirmed that if man could do anything to bring about his salvation, or to keep it, this would constitute salvation by works and nullify the grace of God. He argued that since grace is God’s doing, then once a man is in God’s grace that man is always in God’s grace; otherwise God’s efforts to save him would have failed, and man would be greater in power than God.

The problem with this argument is that it forgets the fact that God chose to give man the responsibility to obey His will in order to receive the benefits of His grace (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9). Thus, when man obeys God, in order to receive His promised blessings, he is not wresting the role of Savior away from God.  Rather, he is humbling himself before God. This is true, not only in becoming a Christian, but also in remaining a faithful child of God.

The argument also fails to recognize that there are different types of works spoken of in the New Testament. Salvation is not by works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), works of the Law of Moses (Rom. 3:28), or works of human devising wherein we may boast (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). However, works of obedience, while not meritorious, are essential to be accepted with God (Acts 10:34-35; Psa. 119:172; James 2:17-24).

One of the chief arguments made by Mr. Brawner in the discussion had to do with the composition of man as both flesh and spirit.  However, Mr. Brawner’s position was/is that, because the flesh and spirit are different in nature, what one does in the flesh does not affect the salvation of the soul.  This is not a new argument.  Famed Missionary Baptist preacher, Ben Bogard, affirmed the same. He taught that once one becomes a Christian his soul becomes incapable of sinning. He cited 1 John 3:9 as proof of this. Consider the following quotation from the debate Ben Bogard had with N. B. Hardeman:

“But the reason given why they cannot sin is not because they can’t do it consistently — his seed remaineth in you — therefore you cannot sin!  Jesus Christ remains in us!  That prevents sin.  My soul Sin?  No.  ‘Has Brother Bogard ever sinned?’  In my soul, I do not.  I am as perfect as God himself as far as my soul is concerned.  Then what about my body?  It does sin.  (Hardeman-Bogard Debate, pp. 309-310).

Whereas the Bible certainly does recognize that man is made of flesh and spirit, the teaching of Scripture is emphatic that what we do in the flesh affects our soul/spirit. Paul concluded: “…I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). If one’s soul is automatically preserved blameless once and for all, why would Paul pray for something to be that was already guaranteed to be?!

Furthermore, Paul warned the Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This settles it—the things we do in our body, in our flesh, are the very things we will answer for when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ!

Does the Christian have a God-given responsibility to avoid the sins of the flesh because those sins will contaminate the soul? Let Paul answer the question: “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” (2 Cor. 7:1).

B.J. Clarke’s Affirmatives

The Teaching of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 18:24-32 is a devastating passage for the proponents of the once saved, always saved doctrine. This text states emphatically the possibility of a righteous man turning from his righteousness (18:24), and also states the consequence of this turning—“for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (18:26).

The Teaching of Jesus. Many words of Jesus have been isolated by some in an attempt to prove unconditional eternal security. Mr. Brawner brought up passages like John 5:24; John 6:37, and John 10:28-29 in an attempt to prove his proposition. However, upon closer inspection these texts actually deny his proposition because they all employ present continuous action verbs to indicate that the promised blessing is only for those who keep on hearing, believing, coming, and following. You can have a driver’s license right now and yet lose it in the future because of future crimes. Possessing something right now does not necessarily guarantee permanent possession.

In my very first speech, (my first negative) I made certain to emphasize that I/we believe in the eternal security of the believer, as long as he remains a believer. Jesus did teach the doctrine of eternal security in John 10:28-29, but He promised it unto the sheep described in John 10:27. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Accordingly, the sheep that will never perish are the sheep that keep on hearing the voice of Jesus and following His lead. But what about the sheep who quit following the Shepherd? They are not the ones promised eternal security! In fact, Jesus further taught that a branch that did not remain connected to the vine would be cast forth and burned (John 15:1-6).

The Teaching of Paul. Paul knew that men in a covenant relationship with God could fall and thus he warned, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:1-12). He informed the Galatians that their decision to seek justification in the Law of Moses meant that “ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). In one of the most compelling passages, Paul affirmed that he kept his body in subjection lest he himself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul was cleansed by the blood of Christ, and yet knew that he could end up castaway from God if he did not keep his body under control! Does this mean that Paul lived in constant doubt and fear? Far from it—he affirmed his readiness to die and knew that he would receive a crown of life (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

The Teaching of Peter. One text from Peter’s pen deals a demolishing blow to the once saved, always saved doctrine. In 2 Peter 2:20-22, he described those who had escaped the pollutions of the world and had become entangled again therein. Are they still saved, according to Peter? The inspired writer affirmed, “The latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” Does their apostasy mean they were never washed in the first place? No! They were washed but went back to the muck and mire of sin (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Conclusion

This is but a small sample of the many passages discussed.  The full discussion is available on DVD.  As for measurable results, a young man came up to me during the discussion and said, “I was converted to Christ after the discussion last year on baptism. I left the denominational church my family raised me up in, and it has been very difficult. However, the truth you have preached here this weekend has confirmed for me that I made the right choice. Thank you.” If that is the only good to come of this discussion it was certainly worth every hour of preparation!

B.J. is a faithful gospel preacher of the Lord who is also involved in teaching future preachers at the Memphis School of Preaching, teaching on the Gospel Broadcasting Network, and many other fruitful works in the kingdom.