Tag Archives: Jon Mitchell

Editorial: Lessons on Encouragement from 1-2 Corinthians (January/February, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

One of the most important charges given to preachers and Christians in general is found in 2 Timothy 4:2:  “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  There is obviously an ever-present need to preach nothing more than the truth of God’s Word, and most preachers recognize the great need to always be ready to preach that Word both when it is well received and even when it is not.  Yet, a struggle exists within many preachers and teachers of the Bible to accurate apply the last part of 2 Timothy 4:2 to their heralding of God’s Word to others.  Many known false teachers both within the brotherhood and in the denominational world infamously shy away from any sort of preaching that would scripturally reprove or rebuke in any fashion.  Consequently, it is easy for sound Christians and gospel preachers and teachers to give more reproofs and rebukes than exhortation and encouragement in their sermons, classes, articles, blog posts, social media comments, and one-on-one conversations, all in an effort to “pick up the slack” and give the world the scriptural correction they need and won’t receive anywhere else.  It is also easy to do this without the longsuffering and patience God inspired Paul to command Timothy to have.

We must remember that there is just as much value and need for exhortation and encouragement as there is for reproof and rebuke (Ga. 6:2; 1 Th. 5:11, 14; 1 Ti. 5:1; He. 3:12-13; 10:24-25).  Spiritually building up and edifying fellow Christians to help them become closer to God and overcome sin in their life requires more than telling them what they need to work on.  It equally requires open acknowledgment and appreciation of what we are doing right, and encouragement to keep it up.  For every (hopefully scriptural and constructive) critical sermon, lesson, article or comment made, there needs to be another which openly acknowledges the good done by Christians and thanks them for it.  Yes, the sermons, articles, and comments which bring out what we need to do better are more times than not correct and they are sure to get numerous “likes” and comments like “Amen!” and “Preach it, brother!”  However, after a while of being regularly saturated with lessons and articles which repeatedly say, “We have this problem,” “We’re not doing what we need to do in this area,” and “We could do better here,” a lot of us will get discouraged and begin to wonder if we can do anything right in the sight of God (or the Christian or church leader who regularly shows us our errors.)  There is a place for reproof and rebuke, but there’s also a place for exhortation.  As Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt. 23:23).

This is why I believe 1-2 Corinthians are books which every Christian needs to read at least once a quarter.  We typically think of Paul as a no-nonsense, “let ’em have it with both barrels” kind of preacher, especially in his letters to the Corinthian church.  This perhaps is due to our human tendency to give more focus on the negative than the positive, which is a big reason why we might be unbalanced with the emphasis on “reproving and rebuking” rather than “exhortation, encouragement, and patience.”

In reality, it is interesting to see how God inspired Paul to both encourage and rebuke the church at Corinth in a balanced way.  He would acknowledge and show appreciation for the good the Corinthians were doing and continually state and affirm the great love he and God have for them and the love they have for each other…all while also repeatedly bringing up their shortcomings in very blunt and sometimes sarcastic ways while admonishing them to repent.

Consider the following examples from both of Paul’s inspired letters to Corinth, a church which had so many faults that it makes some of our worst days in our own congregations look like a picnic in comparison!

Beginning in 1 Corinthians, notice how before rebuking them for division (1:10-13) Paul called them God’s church, sanctified, saints, and wished upon them grace and peace (1:2-3).  Notice how he told them he thanked God for them, openly acknowledged their strong points, and told them they were in fellowship with God (1:4-9).  Brethren, how often do we openly wish God’s grace and peace upon others, even while we “let them have it”?  How often do we openly tell our fellow Christians, especially those who have easily perceived faults, that we thank God for them and bring up the good things about them?

Let’s keep reading.  After calling them spiritual infants due to their worldliness (3:1-4), Paul then called them God’s field and building (3:9), God’s holy temple (3:17), and told them all things were theirs and they were Christ’s (3:21).

After sarcastically mocking their “high and mighty” attitude (4:3-8), he stressed that his goal was not to shame them (4:14) and told them he considered them to be like his children (4:15).  Do we do this when we correct others?

After rebuking them for tolerating fornication amongst them and going to court against each other over trivial matters (5:1-6:8), he reminded them of how they had overcome many grievous sins and were washed, sanctified, and justified (6:9-11).  What a great example of balance!  How needed are the reminders that all is not lost, that those whom we correct have still done some good and are still in Christ!

Right before rebuking them for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), he commends them for their obedience to apostolic traditions (11:2).  This reminds me of how I’ve yet to find any Christian in need of correction who was not obeying any of God’s commandments.

While rebuking them for their misplaced priorities concerning spiritual gifts (12-14), he reminds them of how they are the body of Christ and each one of them is needed (12:12-27).  It’s very easy for some Christians, especially some who have unrepentant sin in their lives and need rebuking, to think they have nothing to offer to the kingdom.  There was a time in my life that I felt that way when sin reigned in my life.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and when Christians realize this it can be great motivation for them to repent of their sins.

After rebuking them for their error concerning the resurrection (15:1-49), he builds them up by painting them a glorious picture of that wonderful Judgment Day and then reminds them of how their work is not in vain (15:50-58).  All of us need reminding of this.

He then ends his first letter to them by sending them “hearty greetings” from brethren elsewhere (16:19-20) before wishing God’s grace upon them and expressing his love for them once more (16:23-24).  What a stark contrast from some discussions I’ve seen in which scriptural correction was given!

2 Corinthians is no different.  He starts the letter by openly wishing upon them grace and peace from God and Christ (1:2).  He then gives them a very uplifting message about comfort (1:3-5), before informing them that they are the reason he and his fellow apostles suffer (1:6) and his hope in them is unshaken (1:7), all before requesting their prayers (1:11).  What a stark contrast from sermons, articles, and comments made by myself and others in the past which simply say to Christians, “Shape up!” without also comforting them and telling them, “I care so much about you, and here’s what I’m willing to do to show it.  I hope in you.  I believe in you, so much that I’m asking you to pray for me.”

Paul then speaks bluntly to them about their need to forgive the penitent among them (1:23-2:11).  Yet, even while doing so he goes out of his way to tell them that he didn’t think he was better than them (1:24a), acknowledge that they stand firm in their faith (1:24b), and inform them of how it tore him up to have to rebuke them (2:4a), all before making sure they knew that he didn’t want to hurt them because he loved them very much (2:4b).  How much we can learn from this!   Rebuking people requires more than telling them to repent while specifying their errors.  It also requires telling them that you love them while acknowledging what they are doing right.

Even while defending himself and his companions from the accusation of being “peddlers of God’s Word” (2:12-3:1), he tells the Corinthians that their walk with Christ is such that he could use them as a “letter of recommendation” (3:2-3).  What a great example for us, friends!

Instead of complaining about it, Paul then speaks positively about the terrible ordeals he and his companions went through (4:8-11) before informing the Corinthians of how he willingly went through these trials for their sake (4:12-15).  Brethren, let’s be honest.  We tend to complain to each other about the problems brought upon us in this life, problems quite small when compared to Paul’s (see 11:23-27).  Why not speak of how God upholds us even in the midst of our sufferings as Paul did, before informing our brethren that we would go through it all over again if it would help just one soul in that congregation get closer to God?

Notice how Paul says to the church, “We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”  (5:20b) and “we APPEAL to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1).  Let’s try IMPLORING brethren to repent and APPEALING to them rather than beating them up over the head about it.  Pleading rather than lecturing might produce better results.

Before admonishing them to be different from unbelievers rather than unequally yoking themselves to them (6:14-7:1), notice how Paul went out of his way to tell these Christians that his heart was wide open for them while encouraging them to widen their hearts also (6:11-13).  Notice also that while he ends his admonishment for them to cleanse themselves, he calls them “beloved” (7:1) and urges them again, “Make room in your hearts for us” (7:2a).  Our brethren need to know how much we care for them and love them while we rebuke them.

Paul then acknowledged that his previous letter brought them grief which led them to repent (7:8-10) before going out of his way to let them know that they were doing a great job repenting (7:11) and that their repentance and subsequent encouraging of Titus comforted Paul (7:13).  Notice how Paul told them that he had been boasting about them, and that their actions proved his boasts to be well-founded (7:14).  See how he told them that Titus’ affection for them was growing and that Titus remembered how obedient they were (7:15).  Paul then told them about his joy over them and that he had “perfect confidence” in them (7:16).  This is Corinth, remember…and yet look how Paul is speaking positively of them here.  The church in America overall has a lot of problems, but she has a lot of good in her too.  We must acknowledge that.  It might just help our brethren to become better.

While talking up the Macedonians, Paul told Corinth (of all people!) that they “excel in everything” while encouraging them to excel in their giving also (8:7).  He then acknowledged that they had already excelled in their benevolence before urging them to keep it up (8:10-11) and thus prove that Paul’s boasts about them were right (8:24).  He talks of their readiness to be benevolent and again informed them of his boasts about them to others, who in turn were inspired by them (9:2), all before exhorting them to give more and in the right way (9:3-11).  He then told them of how others were glorifying God because of their generosity (9:12-15).  What a great example for us in how to stir up brethren to get more involved in church work!

Take note of how Paul, even while defending himself against his detractors at Corinth, again “entreated” and “begged” them to repent (10:1-2).  Notice also how even in the midst of his sarcastic rebuke of them (10-12), he talks of his hope that their faith would increase (10:15), his fear that Satan would lead them astray (11:3), his love for them (11:11), and his anxiety for them and all other churches (11:28).  This is before he tells them that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (12:15a), that it was “all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b), that he was praying for them (13:7, 9), and that they were more important than him (13:9).  He then ended his letter to them in a very positive note (13:11-14).

What a great example of balance that shows us how to rebuke with love and encourage even while admonishing!  We can definitely learn from this, friends.  Proclaiming God’s truth is a blessing, and those of us who share it with others have a high privilege.  Let’s always “speak the truth in love” (Ep. 4:15)!            — Jon

 

Editorial: “The Lord Is My Strength” (November/December, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Psalm 28:7-8 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”  The first phrase of verse 7 especially encourages me.  “The Lord is my strength.”  How true that is!  Continue reading Editorial: “The Lord Is My Strength” (November/December, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Editorial: “It Is Better To Take Refuge In The Lord Than To Trust In Princes…” (October, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

At the time of this writing, the 2016 election for president of the United States and other elected governmental offices on the federal, state, and local level will take place in a little over a month.  Much attention has been given to the presidential race over the past fifteen months or so since the first candidates in each party announced their candidacies.  Many in the brotherhood, myself included, follow politics closely, especially in presidential election years, and like to discuss the various candidates and races in person and online via social media and the like.

There was a time when I never thought much, if at all, about any connection between my Christian faith and political views.  However, that changed in 2000 when I became a preacher and, not coincidentally, began to take my Christian walk more seriously.  During that first year of full-time work I read and for the first time personally applied to myself Jesus’ command and promise in Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  I also read for the very first time ever Paul’s charge to Timothy:  “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Ti. 4:12).  These verses became very important to me, and still are.  I was 24 years old, a brand new preacher who had never planned to become one and had received no purposeful formal training.  My personal biblical studies and burgeoning experiences in dealing with brethren and the lost were, along with advice from older, more seasoned preachers and brethren, all I had to guide me.  I knew how easy it would be for people to condescend to me due to my age and inexperience, and so I was determined to do the best I could, however imperfectly that would be, to set the proper example before them in all areas of my life.  The only way I could do that would be to put God and his will as the top priority in every single aspect of my life as best I could.  That is still my goal today, and I still fallibly try to meet it.  It’s a good goal for all Christians to have.

I realized that if I as a Christian first and preacher second were going to “set the believers an example” by “seek(ing) first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then my politics would have to completely coincide with God’s revealed will.  Otherwise, I would be guilty of choosing to follow Matthew 6:33…except in the voting booth.  Christ’s condemnation of the hypocritical example the Pharisees set before those who sat at their feet (Mt. 23:2-3), at the time newly discovered and studied by me, weighed heavily on my heart and I did not want that same condemnation.  Thus it was that during that 2000 election year I started diligently researching God’s Word for guidance as to what governmental policy positions God would approve of and what kind of leader God would want America or any country to have so I could vote accordingly.

Something God said in the Psalms jumped out at me:  “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (118:9), and again, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (146:3).  This was a stark contrast to how I had looked at politicians previously.  An honest retrospection of how I had viewed my choices for president in the 1990’s and in 2000 made me realize that I had thought them to be the only ones who could not only  save America from its woes, but also make my personal life more abundant and fulfilling.  My political discussions with my brethren that year—and every election year since, especially this one—made it clear that I am far from the only Christian who thinks this way.  If I was going to truly trust Jesus’ promise that he would provide for my needs if I put his will first (Mt. 6:33), then I would need to follow God’s directive to put my trust in him instead of princes and politicians.  Christians, please take this to heart.

David’s inspired words also caught my attention:  “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me:  ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God’” (2 Sa. 23:3).  Solomon wrote something similar:  “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness” (Pr. 16:12).  God wants men who are just, righteous, and who fear him to rule over nations.  My initial reaction to this was to wonder if I could only vote for faithful New Testament Christians since only we by the blood of Christ are completely justified and righteous…until I saw that the Bible also spoke of non-Christians possessing these attributes to a lesser degree (cf. Mt. 13:17; Ac. 10:1-2, 7, 22).  I concluded that I could follow God’s parameters if I supported a candidate who, as best as I could tell, showed by the fruits or evidences of his personal and political life that he was just, righteous, and feared God (cf. Mt. 7:16-18).  Any candidate whose personal life, personality, and policy positions were proven to be unrepentantly ungodly could not receive my support if I was to truly heed Matthew 6:33, 1 Timothy 4:12, Psalms 118:8 and 146:3, 2 Samuel 23:3, and Proverbs 16:12…no matter how much they promised to make my own life and the country better.

As I continued to study, I noted with interest how little the Bible had to say about the pros and cons of various domestic and foreign policy philosophies which held such prominence in what people looked for in candidates.  I couldn’t find guidance on which specific economic, educational, healthcare, or foreign policies God would endorse.  Rather, I found that God would rather his followers live in an impoverished nation which was rich in righteousness instead of a wealthy, unrighteous nation (Pr. 16:8).  I also saw that he was looking for leaders who surrounded themselves with wise counselors whose advice they would be willing to heed (Pr. 25:5; 29:2; cf. 1 Ki. 12:6-15), men and women who were tough on crime and evildoers (Pr. 20:8, 26; Ro. 13:3-4) and who would not oppress the poor while also refusing to enable the lazy (Pr. 28:15; 29:14; 31:9; cf. 2 Th. 3:10).

Thus, I realized that if I was to put God’s righteousness first in the voting booth, a candidate’s positions on promoting what God calls righteous in our nation would have to matter more to me than their domestic, economic, and foreign policies per se.  All my life, the killing of innocents in the womb and the legitimizing of the abomination of homosexuality have been matters of governmental policy.  Both have been promoted and fought to be further legitimized, by various candidates, even though God condemns both (Ps. 139:13-16;  Ro. 9:11-13; Ez. 18:1-20; Pr. 6:16-17; Mt. 19:4; Ro. 1:26-28; 1 Co. 6:9-10).  In addition, I’ve seen candidates excuse away or defend certain crimes and criminals, candidates who themselves have oppressed the poor and needy or have promoted policies which do the same, while also enabling the lazy to continue to avoid honest work.  Keeping Jesus’ and James’ admonitions to heed all of God’s will in mind (Mt. 23:23b; Ja. 2:10-11), I realized that I could not support a candidate unless I could see that they were making an honest effort to promote and defend God’s righteousness in all of these areas and  humbly listen to wise counselors who upheld the same.  This would have to be top priority, more important than any attractive promises about healthcare, education, foreign policy, taxes, and the like.

The last biblical truth I found was that God ultimately decides who will rule America (Da. 2:21; 4:17, 32, 34-35; 1 Ti. 6:15; Re. 1:5; cf. Ro. 13:1ff).  If it is his will that an ungodly person rule our country, he will make that happen and, as Habakkuk also taught me, will do so likely to punish our country in an effort to bring us back to him (Hab. 1:1-11).  Since righteousness exalts a nation and God abhors evil rulers (Pr. 14:34; 16:12), the only reason he would allow an evil ruler is to bring a nation low in order to motivate it to come back to him (cf. He. 12:5-11).

Normally as far as I can tell, there has always been at least one candidate who has come across both personally and in the policies he promotes as just and fearing God.  This year is different.  For the first time in my adult life, it is generally agreed in both religious and secular circles that both major candidates are personally abhorrent by biblical standards, and both promote various ungodly policies.  Both have recently been under investigation for wrongdoing.  Both are well known for personally saying and acting both publicly and privately in ways that are extremely ungodly.  Still, both are loudly supported by those who wear the name of Christ…and the lost in the world are noticing.  Social media and the blogosphere show that many  are turned off to Christianity by what they (correctly) perceive to be our inconsistency.

Many Christians loudly support these ungodly choices because they are understandably scared.  Yet, let’s remember that God wants us to live by faith (Hab. 2:4), to put his righteousness first, even if it seems that doing so will bring harder times, and trust that he will still take care of us.  He doesn’t want us to put our trust in princes, in Trump or Clinton or anyone else.  He just wants us to put our trust in him.

God doesn’t ask our help to put the ungodly into power…but he does want us to bring souls to him.  The Bible doesn’t require us to vote, but we are commanded to let our light shine, set the proper example, bring souls to Jesus, and put his righteousness first.  Lost souls are watching us to see if God’s standards matter outside the church building.  Let’s not give them a reason to think they don’t.  If we choose to vote, let’s trust in God and put his standards first.

— Jon

Editorial: “For If These Qualities Are Yours And Are Increasing…” (September, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

It is so easy to take our Christianity for granted.  I say this not only from honest personal introspection but also from the admissions of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the years that they too at times fail to heed the warning from Paul to the Corinthian church which was the foundation of my editorial in the last issue of the Carolina Messenger“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Co. 10:l2).

Yet one can’t help but notice a sharp contrast between Paul’s warning to Corinth and the exhortation given by Peter at the end of his life to his faithful spiritual family:  “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pe. 1:10).  Put side by side, the divine imperative given through these two apostles would be this:  Always be careful to never fall.  Here’s how to make sure that never happens.

I remember the first time I read the qualities listed by Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-7 which make up the theme of this issue and of which he was referring in verse 10.  It was on the occasion of preparing for my very first Wednesday night devotional as a youth minister intern in Greenville, Illinois, in the summer of 1999, only seven months after my graduation from Harding and when I was just beginning to consider the possibility that I could dedicate my life to the ministry.  Perhaps it was due to the majority of my life up to that point being filled with mandatory math classes from kindergarten through early college, but I remember my first thought upon reading the passage being that it was very much like a mathematical formula.  Basically what Peter was saying to Christians was, “Diligently add virtue to your faith, knowledge to your virtue, self-control to your knowledge, and so on…and the sum will be eternity with God!”

The diligence factor is an important part of this spiritual formula which cannot be overlooked.  One could even say it’s what starts and ends the formula in that “giving all diligence” (NKJV) or “make every effort” (ESV) is commanded even before the first commanded addition to our faith (v. 5) and is commanded towards the end of Peter’s discourse with his command to “be all the more diligent” (v. 10).  Diligence is also implied in the statement found in verse 8:  “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

For all our adamant and legitimate refusal to acknowledge any legitimacy in the erroneous Calvinistic tenet commonly known as “Once Saved, Always Saved,” our Creator and Master knows how easy it is to unconsciously adapt that same mindset into our Christian mindset.  Our Savior knows how simple it is to conclude that simply because we were immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins into the Lord’s church of which there is only one, worship according to the New Testament pattern by observing communion and giving of our means every Sunday in a worship service which is without instrumental accompaniment or any other man-made additions or subtractions, and adhere to biblical church organization by refusing to call our preachers “pastors” because the New Testament gives elders and bishops that particular designation, we have no need to focus on any other aspects of Christianity.  We were saved by our obedience to sound doctrine concerning salvation and continue to observe sound doctrine concerning worship and the church, and that’s quite a lot more than those deceived souls over in the denominational world are doing…so that’s the only thing that really matters in the end, right?

Sure, I may not know the Bible nearly like I should.  Yes, I tend to hold grudges pretty easily.  Okay, I tend to gossip, complain, and jump to conclusions quite a lot.  All right, so there’s not that much difference between me and your average non-Christian except for my church attendance…and okay, other than my belief in God and my willingness to “Amen” his teachings when preached from the pulpit (as long as I feel that they apply more to the rest of the church — especially you — than they do to me), there’s quite a lot of difference between Jesus and me.  But that’s okay, because I was baptized, it was immersion, I worship without a piano, and I’m a member of the church of Christ.

God wants more.  He is pleading with us and warning us to be more than churchgoers who believe in Jesus.  He wants us to know Jesus.  He wants us to act like him and follow him.  In addition to our faith, God wants us to have the same virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love that Jesus has.  He wants us to not only initially obtain these qualities, but diligently grow in them each and every day of our lives.  Only by purposefully and diligently pursuing these traits will we never fall and stay saved because we will never take our Christianity for granted.   Instead, we will continually repent of our faults and be encouraged by our growth and God will be pleased and continue to help us and forgive us.

— Jon

God’s Promises to Abraham — Jon Mitchell

There is a reason God promised that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” (Ge. 17:5).   The Hebrews came from him through his son Isaac, while Arabic Muslims regard him as their ancestor through Ishmael.  And of course, all Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ (Gal. 3:29).  No wonder his name was changed from “Abram,” meaning “exalted father,” to “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude” (Ge. 17:5)!  A study of the various promises God made to this great man reveals his importance to the overall plan of salvation revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture.

For example, the Lord promised Abram that his descendants would be “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2; cf. 13:16; 17:6; 18:18).  This promise was fulfilled when Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac and grandson Israel became a nation of great numbers during their time in Egypt (Ge.. 46:3; Ex. 1:7; Dt. 26:5), a nation which would become great and powerful under the direction of godly leaders such as Moses, Joshua, and David who directed Abraham’s descendants to faithfully serve the Lord.

Along these same lines, the Lord also commanded Abram to leave his country and family and travel to “the land that I will show you” (Ge. 12:1), the land of Canaan (12:5-6).  At that point God promised Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7), a promise he kept centuries later starting during the days of Joshua (Josh. 21:43-45) and ending in the days of Solomon (2 Ch. 9:26; cf. 1 Ki. 8:56).  This promise was based on the condition that Abraham’s descendants remain faithfully obedient to Jehovah (Josh. 23:14-16; cf. Le. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68).  Old Testament history reveals how Abraham’s descendants repeatedly fell away from the Lord and as a result repeatedly lost control of their land and were taken into foreign captivity (Judges; 1-2 Kings; 1-2 Chronicles; Jeremiah; Lamentations; etc.), with the ultimate destruction of their claim to Canaan delivered to them by God through Rome after they rejected Christ as the Messiah (Mt. 21:33-46; 23:29-39; 24:1-34; Mk 13:1-30; Lk 19:41-44; 21:5-32; 23:27-31).  After the abominations visited upon them by Rome in the latter part of the first century AD, Abraham’s descendants through Israel could never again lay complete claim to the land possessed by their ancestors.  Even today, after the United Nations worked to reunite Jews with the land known in biblical times as “the Promised Land” in an effort to help them recover from the horrors visited upon them during the Holocaust of World War II, Abraham’s descendants through Israel daily fight numerous enemies from the nations surrounding them in order to hold on to just a small fraction of the land originally promised by God.  Since the days of the Truman administration, many in this country and elsewhere believe that the United States and other allies of Israel should help her retake Canaan’s land primarily because it is the will of God.  However, political pundits and commentators who claim that Israel currently has a divine right to the land directly east of the Mediterranean overlook the fact that God’s promise to Abraham was conditioned upon his descendants continued loyal obedience to him, a condition which they failed to keep (Je. 31:32).

Abram and his wife Sarai, or Sarah as she would later be named (Ge. 17:15), were childless when Scripture first introduces us to them (Ge. 11:26-30).  By promising to make of him “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2), God in effect was promising Abram “offspring” (Ge. 13:15-16).  After Jehovah declared himself to be Abram’s “shield” and promising him that his “reward shall be very great” (Ge. 15:1), Abram pointed out that he was still childless and that his current heir was his servant Eliezer of Damascus (15:2).  The Lord then promised Abram that “your very own son shall be your heir” rather than Eliezer (15:4), and then declared that his offspring would be compared to the innumerable stars of heaven (15:5).  Abram “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6), a passage quoted by centuries later by Paul to prove to Judaizers that one under Christ’s covenant were not required to do the works of Moses’ law in order to be justified (Ro. 4:1-25), and quoted by James to show that a person is justified by works of obedience to the commandments of God in addition to faith (Ja. 2:20-24).

Abram’s faith in God’s promises to give him offspring was not always constant, however.  This is shown in the numerous times he dishonestly presented Sarai as his sister rather than as his wife in efforts to preserve his life from those whom he feared would take it (Ge. 12:10-20; 20:1-18).  It is sadly ironic that due to Abraham resorting to lying because of a lack of faith that God would keep him safe in order to keep his promise of granting offspring to him, the son God promised to him would eventually follow his father’s sinful example and lie about his own marital standing in order to save his life even after God made him a similar promise (Ge. 26:1-11).  May Christian parents today heed this lesson and be warned about the power of their own example and the influence it has on our children!

Abram and Sarai’s faith in God’s promise to give him offspring was shown to be weak on another occasion when Sarai convinced him to obtain a child through marriage to her servant, Hagar (Ge. 16:1-4a).  This polygamous union resulted in the conception and birth of Ishmael (16:15-16), which in turn caused considerable strife in Abraham’s family both then and in the years to come (16:4b-6; 21:8-11).  However, God was able to use their weak faith and the sin that resulted from it.  Centuries later, he would inspire Paul to use the polygamous marriages of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar and the two sons that resulted from them to allegorically illustrate the differences between the Mosaic covenant and Christ’s covenant in order to show the superiority of the latter (Ga. 4:21-31).  He also used this sinful episode to fulfill his promise to make Abraham “the father of many nations” (17:5) by causing Ishmael also to be the ancestor of a great nation (16:7-12; 21:12-21).    Yet, the strife resulting in Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s promise is felt even today as we see Isaac and Ishmael’s descendants still at war with each other.  One cannot imagine how different the world would be if Abram and Sarai’s faith had been stronger and they had decided to wait for God to fulfill his promise to them on his own time (Ps. 25:3; 27:14).

On yet another occasion, Sarah’s faith in God’s promise was shown to be lacking (Ge. 18:1-8; cf. 18:22; 19:1ff).  Even though God had already specifically promised Abraham that Sarah would bear him Isaac in their old age (17:15-19), Sarah laughed to herself when she heard the Lord repeat the promise to Abraham and wondered how she and Abraham could conceive after menopause (18:9-12).  God called her on the lack of faith shown by her laughter, even though she initially denied that she had laughed (18:13-15).  A year later, God fulfilled his promise to them in spite of her laughter and she bore Abraham a son in their old age, naming him Isaac, which means “he laughs” (21:1-7).  Interestingly, by telling Abraham to give the promised son that particular name even before the episode in which Sarah laughed (17:19), God proved that he knew of Sarah’s reaction in advance…and yet gave the promised and the blessing of children anyway.  What a testimony to his love, grace, and patience (Mt. 5:44-45)!

In spite of these lapses, Abraham and Sarah’s overall faith in the promises of God stand as an example for us today.  Their faith in God’s promises was what prompted him to obey his extremely difficult command to leave their home and family to travel to an unknown and distant land (He. 11:8-9; cf. Ge. 12:1-5).  Sarah’s faith in God’s promises, even though proven to be weak on at least two occasions as we’ve seen, was still the reason the Lord kept his promise to her (He. 11:11-12).  As a result, she is the spiritual “mother” of Christian women who follow her example of respectful, pure, modest, quiet conduct today (1 Pe. 3:1-6).  Likewise, Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of numerous offspring gave him the strength to obey the extremely burdensome command God gave to test his faith when he told him to sacrifice Isaac (He. 11:17; cf. Ge. 22:1-12).  His faith in God’s promises was so strong that he considered that God would resurrect Isaac  in order to keep his promise to him (He. 11:18).  Thus, his faith exemplifies what true obedience to God is all about (Ja. 2:14-26).  The times when their faith was weak also serve as a warning for us to be watchful when we think we are strong (1 Co. 10:11-12).

Undoubtedly the most significant and important promise God made to Abraham is found in the statement, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Ge. 22:18; cf. 26:4; 28:14; 12:3).  Peter pronounced this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (Ac. 3:17-26; cf. Dt. 18:15-19).  Later, Judaizing Christians who believed salvation to be dependent upon adherence to the laws of Moses sought to limit this promise to those who were either physical descendants of Abraham or to Gentile Christians who were circumcised and kept the Mosaic commandments (cf. Ac. 15:1ff).  This prompted Paul to address the issue in his letter to the Galatians by first stating those who have faith are “sons of Abraham” (Ga. 3:7), i.e., his true descendants.  God’s promise to Abraham that in him “all the nations” would be blessed was fulfilled when God justified the Gentiles by faith, proving that in a sense Abraham had had the gospel preached to him centuries earlier (Ga. 3:8; cf. Ge. 12:3) and that under the Christian covenant Jew or Gentile who believe in God as Abraham did are blessed just as he was (Ga. 3:9; cf. Jn. 8:39; Ro. 4:11-12; He. 11:8-10).  Those Jews who tried to be justified by Mosaic Law (Ro. 9:31-10:13) would be “under a curse” (Ga. 3:10; cf. Dt. 27:26; Je. 11:3; Ez. 18:4; Ro. 3:10-19).  They would not find justification through works of the Mosaic economy which required perfect obedience, but rather through faith as the Old Covenant itself foretold (Ga. 3:11-12; cf. Hb. 2:4; Le. 18:5).  Paul went on to clarify that true sons of Abraham would have faith specifically in Christ by pointing out how Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” via his crucifixion (Ga. 3:13; cf. Dt. 21:23; 1 Pe. 2:24; Ti. 2:14; Ep. 1:7).  Therefore, it would be only “in Christ Jesus” that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” in order for them to “receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Ga. 3:14; cf. Ge. 12:3; Jn. 7:37-39; Ga. 3:2; Ac. 2:38-39).  This is why Paul would specify how the promises God had made to Abraham did not say “‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Ga. 3:16; cf. Ge. 12:7).

Paul later taught that the true heirs of Abraham are those who have become sons of God through faith in Christ (Ga. 3:26; cf. Jn. 1:12; Ro. 10:9).  This happened when they put on Christ via baptism into him (Ga. 3:27; cf. Ro. 6:3-8).  This is why Christians “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Ga. 3:29).  May we preach God’s promise to Abraham to others so they may become heirs as well (Mk. 16:15-16) and receive forgiveness and eternal life!

carolinamessenger@gmail.com

 

Editorial: “Therefore Let Him Who Thinks He Stands Take Heed Lest He Fall” (July/August, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

The inspired apostle gave Christians a very serious warning when he wrote to Corinth centuries ago (1 Co. 10:12).  Oh, how relevant that warning continually proves to be when we are honest with ourselves!  Oh, but how easy it is to forget this warning or unconsciously allow ourselves to downplay it!

There are a lot of positive blessings associated with being a Christian.  We know we have access to “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” because we are “in Christ” (Ep. 1:3).  We know we are part of the body of Christ which is his church and of which he is Savior (Ep. 5:23), and are not deceived by the false doctrines and traditions of men associated with salvation and worship found in denominationalism which have drawn away so many (cf. 1 Ti. 4:1ff; 2 Ti. 4:3-4).  When compared to those out in the world, we may stand head and shoulders above them when it comes to morality and ethics.  Those of us who are active workers in the church can also take pride and comfort in the fact that “(our) labor is not in vain” (1 Co. 15:58) and we make a difference in the lives and souls of others.  All of this and more is good and we should gather great comfort from it (2 Co. 1:3-5).

Yet, let us never forget that even the best of us has sin and continues to sin (1 Jo. 1:8, 10).  We face temptations every single day, and one of Satan’s greatest tools to deceive us into giving into those temptations is to get us to not judge ourselves with the same righteous judgment God gives to us (1 Co. 4:4a; 11:31; cf. Jn. 7:24b).  God shows no partiality (Ro. 2:11), but we tend to show partiality to ourselves!  Like the Pharisee of the parable, we tend to focus on the good we are doing and the shortcomings of those around us while choosing to ignore or downplay our own sins (Lk. 18:9-14).

As a result, we may look at the good we do for the kingdom of God as a crutch instead of the acts of selfless service God wants them to be.  “Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t do _____________, but it’s gonna be okay because after all, look at all the good I do for the church!”  We may compare ourselves to the sinners out in the world or our weaker brethren and use that as a crutch.  “Hey, why are you telling me to repent of ___________?  After all, it’s not like I murdered anyone/committed adultery/skip church all the time because I’d rather sleep in!”  Instead of gratefully finding comfort in our obedience to biblical doctrine concerning the oneness of the church and being motivated to obey further by repenting of our sins, we may use the fact that we obeyed the gospel and are part of the Lord’s church as a crutch.  “If there’s anyone who needs to get right with God, it’s those churches who add to God’s Word and are not the true church!  Focus on them instead of telling me I need to change ___________!”

I am so thankful Paul then gave us that wonderful way out in the next verse (1 Co. 10:13)!  I am so thankful God’s grace exists (Ti. 2:11) and offers continual, immediate forgiveness…but only should we sorrowfully and penitently confess our sins (1 Jo. 1:7, 9; 2 Co. 7:9-11) and follow grace’s instructions (Ti. 2:12-13)!  May we always examine ourselves honestly (2 Co. 13:5) and never insult God’s grace by choosing to rebelliously, unrepentantly, and willfully sin and thus bring upon ourselves his wrath (He. 10:26-31)!       — Jon

 

Editorial: Denying the Historicity of Genesis Does Not Uphold Biblical Christianity (January/February, 2016) – Jon Mitchell, Editor

 

A few years ago my wife’s employer, a professed believer and follower of Jesus Christ, informed Beth of her belief that the events of the book of Genesis (the creation of the world in six days, Adam and Eve, the global flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) was fictional.  When Beth asked her why she believed this, she cited the genealogical timelines recorded in Genesis (Gen. 4:17-5:32) which, when taken into account alongside the historical fact that Jesus Christ lived about two thousand years ago and the biblical genealogical records tracing his lineage back to Abraham and Adam (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38), would promote the conclusion that this world is only around six thousand years old.  She then explained how this contradicted the scientific “facts” of evolution which promote a rather lengthy age of 4-6 billion years for this planet.  She also pointed out that the historical existence of Adam and Eve contradicts the “proven facts of evolution” which proclaim that mankind evolved over millions of years from animals.  As for the global flood, she dismissed it as an obvious fable and myth.

Sadly, this was not the first time (nor would it be the last) in which I had heard of a supposed Christian denying the authenticity of Genesis in favor of upholding the erroneous, unproven, and inconsistent man-made theories of evolution.  About fourteen years ago, I was involved from time to time in a college ministry.  On one occasion, the college minister had invited a brother in Christ who taught at a university to speak to these college students about how the six days in which Genesis says the world was created in reality were each symbolic of millions of years.   When asked by me and a few others why he believed this, he said that due to the “proven fact” that this world is millions and millions of years old, we should not take these six days in Genesis chapter one literally.  According to him and many others, the six days are obviously representative of much longer periods of time, which would then back up what science has supposedly proven to be true.

However, much scientific, archeological, and historical evidence exists which contradicts these notions.  My purpose in writing this editorial is not to directly present such evidence; therefore, I encourage the reader to examine the material published by Apologetics Press in order to see it for themselves.  I encourage any readers of this editorial who do not believe in Christianity and/or are atheists to examine the material at Apologetics Press with an open and honest heart.  To my Christian readers, I commend you to them in order for you to learn more and thus be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  To further help us obey this scriptural command, this editorial will consider the biblical evidence which supports the historicity of Genesis so that we can see how logical consistency would force those professed followers of Christ who deny Genesis’ authenticity or try to change its message in favor of man’s evolutionary theories to also deny Jesus Christ and his teachings.

To begin with, let’s examine exactly why we believe in Jesus Christ.  Why are you a Christian?  What is the basis for your faith in Jesus?  Is it only because your parents were churchgoers and taught you to be the same?  Similarly, is it “because I’ve always believed”?  While both of these reasons are important and should not be discounted, our faith must be built on more.  Why?  Because both the skeptic and the honest seeker of truth will, legitimately, be dissatisfied when they ask you, “Why should I become a Christian?” and the only answer you give them is, “The reason I’m a Christian is because my parents brought me to church and taught me since childhood, and so I’ve always believed.”  “Fine,” they will say, “but WHY have you always believed?  Why did your parents believe?  Why did the Christians who taught them believe?  Why should I believe?”

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child…” ( 1 Cor. 13:11).  I went to church because my parents wanted me to, and I believed in Jesus because they believed in Jesus.  That needed to change as the years passed, because when “I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).  My faith needed to be my own, and it needed to have concrete, thought out, scriptural, logical, and consistent reasons (Rom. 10:17; 1 Thess. 5:21).  Therefore, I as an adult believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, my Savior, and my Lord because God raised him from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 15:12-19) after he lived a sinless life (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15) in order to die on the cross as the saving propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2; Rom. 5:6-11).

There are additional reasons for my faith in Jesus, but for the purpose of this editorial I want us to focus on the fact that our faith in Christ is meaningless if he wasn’t raised from the dead…after having died on that cross to save us from our sins…after having lived a sinless life.  If Jesus hadn’t lived a sinless life, then his death on the cross would not have been the propitiation for our sins.  Therefore, God would not have raised him from the dead to prove to us that he is our Savior.

The key to this which I want us to focus on is the necessity of Jesus having lived a sinless life.  Specifically, I want us to focus on the fact that no deceit was found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:22).  Think about that for a minute.  If Christ had been dishonest in any way, he could not be the propitiation for our sins and God would not have resurrected him.  Therefore, he could not be our Savior, which means that our faith, the Christian religion, would be meaningless.

Bringing this back to the historicity of Genesis, we will see below how both Jesus and the apostles and prophets his Holy Spirit inspired (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15; Acts 2:1-4ff; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) talked about the events recorded in Genesis as if they were factual, historical events.  This is significant because if they in fact were mistaken or lying, then Christ could never have been our Savior.  Therefore, Christianity as a whole would be completely false.  Those who deny Genesis while professing to be followers of Christ need to realize this.

For example, Jesus while describing how Judgment Day will occur compared it to the day when the Genesis flood came (Matt. 24:35-39; Luke 17:22-27; cf. Gen. 6-9).  Peter also used the flood to illustrate the importance of immersion (1 Pet. 3:18-21) and the importance of not being a false teacher (2 Pet. 2:1-5, 9-10).  Notice that they did not imply nor refer to the flood as a story or myth in any way.  If the global flood did not actually occur, then by talking about it as if it did occur Jesus and his apostles were being less than truthful, and therefore sinned.  If that was the case, why are we Christians?

Again, Jesus on several occasions referred to the Genesis account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah during the days of Lot as illustrations of lessons or warnings he wanted to give to cities or people he or his apostles were teaching (Matt. 10:14-15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:10-12; 17:22-32; cf. Gen. 19:1-29).  Paul, Peter, Jude, and John also referred to Sodom to illustrate warnings God gave to Christians (Rom. 9:27-29; 2 Pet. 2:1-10; Jude 6-7; Rev. 11:7-8).  Again, notice that they talked about what happened to Lot and Sodom as if it was an actual historical event.  If in fact it wasn’t, then we’ve put our faith in liars and our religion is meaningless.

While teaching about divorce, our Lord quoted Genesis twice (1:27; 2:24), specifically referring to the marriage of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8).  By talking about Adam and Eve as if they were historical characters, Jesus himself confirmed their historicity.  The Holy Spirit-inspired Paul would later affirm this by referring to Adam as “the first man” (1 Cor. 15:45), also doing so as if he were referring to a historical figure.  Therefore, to call Adam and Eve mythological would be to imply that Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Paul were at best mistaken and at worst liars.  And since the message of all three ultimately originated with God the Father (John 12:49-50; 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; 2 Pet. 1:19-21), to say that Adam and Eve were not real or were not the first human beings would be to call God the Father either mistaken or untruthful as well.  While one would expect this from a militant atheist, the Christian who would do so is either ignorant of the Scriptures or rebelliously blasphemous, and in either case has exposed a serious flaw in his faith.

Furthermore, by stating in Matthew’s account, “Have you not read that he (God) who created them (Adam and Eve) from the beginning made them male and female,” and in Mark’s account, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them (Adam and Eve) male and female,” Jesus is placing Adam and Eve at the very beginning of the existence of this world.  The Genesis record does the same by stating that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day along with the land-dwelling animals (Gen. 1:24-31).  Christians who state that the days in Genesis were in reality symbolic of millions of years each in their attempts to make the biblical account coincide with the flawed and unproven theories of Darwinistic evolution have Adam and Eve coming onto the scene millions of years after “the beginning.”  By doing so, they are disagreeing with their Lord and Savior who said the opposite.  If they choose to persist in doing so, even after “receiving the knowledge of the truth” (Heb. 10:26-31), they make their Christianity meaningless and put their soul in eternal peril.

I am continually amazed that some can apparently believe that God raised a Man from the dead after giving this same Man and his followers the ability to perform many miraculous signs which defy the laws of science…all while finding it hard to believe that God could also create the world, animals, and man in six literal days, and later decide to destroy that entire world with water and several cities with fire and sulfur.  I am even more amazed that these same folks proclaim to put their faith in this Man as their Lord and Savior…all while basically stating or implying that he, his followers, the Spirit who inspired them, and God the Father himself are wrong about their testimony as to the beginnings of our race.

Yet, perhaps we should not be amazed at this, because the same God who told us about the beginning of the world in Genesis also told us that false teachers would come, giving preference to empty human theories and philosophies over doctrine, and that many naive brethren who lack knowledge themselves would follow after them (Hos. 4:6; Matt. 7:15-27; Acts 20:28-32; Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:6-10; Eph. 4:11-14; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 4:1-2; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:1-5).

You can’t confess Christ while denying his Word, but that’s what you do when you do not take Genesis for what it says. May we all choose to have faith which trusts in our God over men! —Jon

carolinamessenger@gmail.com