Tag Archives: Tim Bench

Adding Self-Control To Knowledge — Tim Bench

The mastery of one’s own desires, wants, and passions is often the most difficult step for a Christian, and yet it is very much an unavoidable and demanded spiritual facet of biblical obedience. This is an elusive goal, wherein one is able to effectively harness and control oneself versus the seemingly endless supply of worldly temptations and snares, requiring both dedication as well as maturity.

Strong defines “self-control” or “temperance” from the Greek word enkrateia (transliterated as egkrateia in some sources), meaning “mastery of one’s appetites and passions, power over oneself in the sense of persistence or restraint.”  Thayer calls it “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions”.  In addition to its usage in 2 Peter 1:6, it is also interesting to note that these terms are referred to as part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ga. 5:22-23), by Paul in his discourse to Felix (Ac. 24:25), and are listed as one of the described traits of an elder (Ti. 1:8).  They would ultimately even become the source of names and foundational beliefs of latter emerging groups, as documented in The Ecclesiology of St. Clement and Dr. Everett Ferguson’s Encyclopedia of Early Christianity.

Steve Hamilton writes in his work, “Temperance”:

In the first century, the Greek word “enkrateia” from which we get our English word “temperance” as translated in the King James Version meant abstinence as a form of self-control. Josephus wrote in The War of the Jews (2, 8, 2), “These Essenes reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence [enkrateian], and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue”….  Continence means the “total abstinence from sexual activity.”… This is exactly how this word in its verb form is used in 1 Corinthians 7:9. It reads, “but if they cannot exercise self-control [enkrateuomai], let them marry” (NKJV). The idea of moderation for the exercise of self-control would certainly have been an inappropriate connotation for this verse. Obviously, the exercise of self-control in this passage is abstinence from fleshly desires.

Abstinence in the exercise of self-control should be the connotation that is carried with the Greek word “enkrateia” wherever it is found in the New Testament; not moderation. When the Apostle Paul reasoned with Felix over the exercise of self-control (“temperance”, KJV) in Acts 24:25, he was instructing Felix to control himself by abstaining from his fleshly desires. When the Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians how to obtain the imperishable crown as an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:25, he was telling them to be abstinent (“temperate,” KJV) from all fleshly desires. The same could be said in all the other passages where this Greek word is found (Gal. 5:23Tit. 1:82 Pet. 1:6).

According to Forerunner Commentary:

In the New Testament, the most common Greek word for self-control (temperance, KJV) is enkrateia. Its root meaning is “power over oneself” or “self-mastery.” Self-control, in its widest sense, is mastery over our passions. It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will or regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires. Moderation is a key element in self-control.

Why would temperance or self-control be of such paramount importance for a Christian? Consider the inspired command given through Peter.  “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pe. 2:11).  Remember also the words given to us from the Spirit through Paul:  “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do no box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co. 9:25-27).  The words of the apostle Paul on self-control are every bit as relevant in the twenty-first century as they were in the first century. Like Paul, are we intent on bringing our “body” under “control” for Christ?  Unless we can control ourselves, we will be controlled by desires of the flesh just as the majority of the world is largely controlled by physical desires and wants.  Our biblical charge is to be the very antithesis of the vile world around us (1 Pe. 2:9, 2 Co. 6:17; 7:1, Ro. 12:2; Ep. 5:11, Jn. 15:18-19), mirroring Christ as much as we can to a world largely opposed to the very message of the Gospel and Jesus himself.  Having self-control would include controlling our outward actions and thoughts (Mt. 5:28, 30) as well as the words we speak (1 Pe. 3:10, Ep. 4:29, Ja. 1:26; 3:8).  If we ignore the vital role of self-control, we will inevitably fall to the forces of  temptation (1 Pe. 5:8; 2 Co. 2:11).

Christians must discipline their bodies and minds and bring them under control in order to obtain salvation.  This is a necessity of the Christian faith.  Rather than being a slave to the body and the physical desires of this world, we must focus on making our bodies servants for the Master.  We must ultimately deny ourselves and our earthly desires and whims, and take up the cross of Christ and follow Jesus with all of our very being (Mt. 16:24; 22:37; Lk. 10:27).  Behaving like the rest of the world and allowing ourselves to follow primal physical desires is not the New Testament pattern for living.  A Christian with no self-control, undifferentiated from the world, is ultimately no Christian at all.  This is not an easy task and in essence flies in the face of our very nature.  Yet being a follower of Christ requires us to behave contrary to our physical nature.  If we desire to have eternal life, we must bring our bodies and hearts into subjection via self-control.

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

— Proverbs 25:28

tulsa4@aol.com

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

 

What Abel Has Taught Me – Tim Bench

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a family more famous in both human and Biblical history than that of Adam and Eve, and likewise their sons Cain and Abel. Both Christians and non-Christians alike are typically familiar with the story of the two brothers, usually assumed to be twins (although there is no specific biblical wording to support this claim). Cain and Abel’s rivalry even served as a foundational basis for John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden. In short, the Bible’s first brothers famously display all-too-common failings of mankind, both then and now: treachery, jealousy, anger, and ultimately violence from Cain, while also displaying obedience and service to God on Abel’s part.

The saga of this family and their tragedies provides us who are some 3,400+ years removed from the writing of Genesis multiple beneficial observations and lessons to be gleaned even today. The focus of this article will be to specifically look at Abel, history’s first recorded murder victim and martyr, and to provide and discuss two specific lessons we can derive from his life, obedience to God, and untimely death at the hands of his own brother. How can we apply these observations as 21st century New Testament Christians?

According to Gene Taylor’s Character Studies in Genesis, the definition of Abel’s name is a possible variant of the name Jabal, which means “shepherd” or “herdsman.” Abel itself is defined as “breath, vapor, transitoriness.” It is imperative to note that his saga is not merely some obscure Old Testament story, relegated to being a mere biblical footnote of remote antiquity. The Old Testament is certainly still relevant for our learning and profit (Rom. 15:4). The New Testament tells us in no uncertain terms that by faith, Abel is still “speaking,” albeit not in a literal sense (Heb. 11:4). Jesus Himself referred to Abel as a “righteous” man (Matt. 23:35), and both Cain and Abel are repeatedly referred to and mentioned throughout the New Testament (Heb. 12:24; Luke 11:51; 1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). These brothers provide us a vivid example of polar opposites in terms of morality: one being moral and acquiescent to God, and the other obstinate and immoral. Easton’s Bible Dictionary described Cain as “a sullen, self-willed, haughty, vindictive man; wanting the religious element in his character, and defiant even in his attitude towards God….Doomed to be a wanderer and a fugitive in the earth…” The relevance of these brothers is every bit as applicable today as it was when the New Testament was written and assembled. It would behoove each and every one of us today to both study this drama, and take away from it pertinent applications for our modern lives. Let us note two specific examples.

First, notice that Abel’s life and death clearly show that God is aware of all that takes place on the earth. Those who commit sin with the false belief that their misdeeds will go unnoticed or unseen are in egregious, soul-threatening error.

Out of rage and jealousy, Cain killed Abel (Gen. 4:8). God then asked Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” and then told him, “. . . the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (4:9-10). The sheer audacity of Cain’s reply to God (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) almost defies belief, but perhaps further highlights Cain’s mistaken, amazingly confident notion of being able to effectively hide his sin from God. God sees and knows everything. He is aware of the thoughts, actions, deeds, and sins of every person who has, or ever will live. There is no detail which escapes God’s eyes (Jer. 16:17).

Similar to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Cain foolishly lived under the illusion that his sins could be hidden, just as many Christians believe today. Nothing can be hidden from God. God knows the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7) and is aware of every detail of the earth, even when a bird falls from the sky (Matt. 10:29). Yet, just as vile and defiant sin will not go unseen and unpunished by God, Abel shows us that mankind’s obedient, dutiful, and righteous action will likewise not go unnoticed or unrewarded by God (Heb. 6:10).

Secondly, Abel’s worship shows that there is indeed such a thing as acceptable worship to God. Likewise, Cain’s offering shows that there exists worship which does NOT serve to please God. This runs contrary to the rampant viewpoint across much of modern society that any and all worship to God is equivalent and acceptable.

God did not accept the offering of Cain (Gen. 4:5). Contrast this with the previous verse, which tells us that God “had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” Hebrews 11:4 would likewise state, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” James Burton Coffman noted in his commentary on Genesis: “Hebrews 11:4 categorically states the reason for the acceptability of Abel’s sacrifice as being solely due to his having offered it ‘by faith,’ a truth which emphatically declares that he offered in harmony with what God had commanded him to offer.”

The brothers had offered differing sacrifices to God. Cain, as a “tiller of the ground” (Gen. 4:2) “brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground.” Abel, “a keeper of sheep…brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions,” an animal sacrifice. Cain may well have possessed every bit as ardent a desire to worship God as his brother did. However, this does not negate Cain’s error in his attempt at substitution, replacing what God had specifically commanded with what God did not decree. Cain, to his eternal discredit, brought that which God had not authorized, which God had apparently not told him to bring, and God did not accept it. Further evidence of Cain’s moral repugnance is his reaction to correction from God (Gen. 4:6-7); he certainly does not demonstrate a contrite, repentant heart, as we clearly see when he kills his own brother, flees, and then possesses the shocking gall to complain as God’s wrath descends upon him (vs. 11-13). His focus was still on himself and not sorrow over his misdeeds. Abel’s offering was deemed acceptable by God, and Cain’s was not, which clearly serves to illustrate for all time that not all “sacrifices” are equal, or even acceptable, in the eyes of Almighty God.

When we offer to God some facet or element that is not authorized, God does not accept that specific offering. Simply stated, we possess two potential paths to follow in regard to worshiping God. We can worship as God has commanded and ordained, or we can worship in a manner which we deem to be “just as good”. Cain should serve as a warning for all ages of the folly of the second choice, while Abel can serve to illustrate for all time the mammoth importance of obeying God.

How many of us hear the cries and supposed justifications from postmodernists and progressives today that HOW we worship is negligible in importance, or even irrelevant? In the New Testament, the Lord has provided for us a pattern and specific guidelines for worship. When we as His children worship Him appropriately in spirit and in truth, then such worship is pleasing in His sight (John 4:23-24). Worshiping God as we see fit, based on how we “feel”, summarily disregarding God’s expectations, desires, and commands, is not acceptable or pleasing unto God. Logically, none of us as “Christians” would desire to have our “sacrifice”, or obedience to God, deemed “lacking” or “rejected”, as was Cain’s.

In his article “Abel vs. Cain,” Frank Walton said, “Cain was the first religious innovator, which illustrates the error of ‘will-worship’ (Col. 2:23) or ‘self-chosen religion.’ Those who ‘reject authority’ (Jude 8), as in worship and add unauthorized items, have dangerously entered ‘the way of Cain’ (v. 11). This is the way of rebellion against God’s appointed way of acceptable worship and fellowship. In prompting Abel’s murder, Cain’s unauthorized worship is specifically enumerated as ‘his works were evil’ (1 John 3:12). A rebellious person is a selfish person, who is more concerned with presumptuously doing what he wants in religion than submitting to what God requires.”

Abel’s example of devotion and obedience to God are still perfectly applicable to us today….as is Cain’s sheer disregard for obedience to the Lord. Is your faith grounded in resolute, unwavering, and indefatigable pursuit of God and His will? Or is your faith and behavior more aligned with that of Cain’s, focused on your own “convenience” and intractableness, ultimately resulting in separation from God? Your soul and your eternal destiny hangs in the balance of a thorough and honest answer to that question.

tulsa4@aol.com

Lessons Learned From The Jerusalem Church – Tim Bench

Acts chapter 2 discusses in great detail many of the attributes and details of the church established in Jerusalem. It can and often has been often argued that the ideal, perfect, and biblical precepts of how a church is to be operated is exhibited within this chapter of Acts. In this article, we will briefly analyze and discuss four facets of this first century congregation and how the church of the 21st century can, and should, in many ways emulate this example.

The amazing effectiveness of the evangelistic efforts of the Jerusalem church

We are to “take the Gospel into the whole world” and “unto every creature” (Mark 16:15). Nowhere in scripture does a church fulfill this command and commission more effectively than the church at Jerusalem.

In Acts 2:41, we see 3,000 conversions from a largely Jewish audience in a single day, with 5,000 more on another day (Acts 4:4). Mass numbers of Jews had ventured to Jerusalem for Pentecost, one of the three feasts of the Jews (2 Chr. 8:12-13), with the others being Passover and Tabernacles. “Pentecost” was also known as “Firstfruits,” “Harvest Festival,” and “Feast of Weeks” (Lev. 23:15). Having such a massive Jewish audience would provide the perfect opportunity for these earliest Christians to widen their following. These mass baptisms likely occurred at the pool of Siloam, just south of the Jerusalem Temple, or possibly Upper Gihon or Lower Gihon (“Pool of the Sultan”).

The sheer numerical tallies, impressive as they may seem, of these early evangelistic efforts do not serve to adequately express the impact of these early efforts. We can certainly assume there were uncounted and unrecognized results from that first sermon in the power of Pentecost, lost to history. Masses of people heard the Word, and were converted, and obeyed and received baptism, and were thus added to the Lord; these people would soon return to their homes and native lands across the known world of the time, and would thus help dramatically to help spread Christ’s message. We can never know precisely how many souls were ultimately affected and influenced for the cause of Jesus Christ due to the Jerusalem church efforts, but certainly it would be exponentially higher than the specific numbers we are provided in Acts 2. A seed was planted, so to speak, which would spread across the Middle East, and ultimately the world.

Even Jewish priests, seemingly the ones who would be the most resolute in their dedication to Judaism, were brought to the gospel (Acts 6:7). Souls were added to the church daily (Acts 2:47), proving that these jaw-dropping evangelistic results were ongoing, consistent, and startlingly effective.

We may well never equal the amazing numerical conversion results, but we certainly can, and should, apply the evangelism efforts seen in Acts 2 to today’s world, largely apathetic and indifferent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As is stated above, we cannot know the effect, for untold generations to come, of a person who obeys Christ…saving “merely one” might well be the prelude to saving many, many more. One saved soul, fervent and dedicated to the cause of Jesus Christ, may influence many more to follow, across geographical areas as well as for the future.

Stewardship and need

We see a startling view of wealth, money, and stewardship from these early saints. Let us briefly consider the circumstances and atmosphere of the day. There were literally thousands of people on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, many of them hundreds of miles from their homes, with no effective way to provide for themselves food and shelter. The only realistic way to provide for the gathered masses was for followers of Jesus Christ to surrender their own possessions, selling what they owned so that the proceeds might be given to the church for “distribution” to every man who had need (see Acts 4:31-35).

The Jerusalem church was filled with cheerful and supportive givers (2 Cor. 9:7). There was no rampant greed, no thought of self, no hoarding or desire to gather and accumulate the temporal possessions of this world. Possessions were “all things common,” the expressed ideal of community of goods, lands, wealth, and possessions. This phrase does not, as some would claim, indicate that everyone was obligated to sell off everything that was owned, but instead illustrates the ideal that all held their possessions not for satisfaction of their own wants and lusts, but as a communal trust for the good and benefit of all. We see this theme expressed in 1 John 3:17 as well.

Many of the Jews present had traveled vast distances and had few, if any, supplies. People willingly give what they had so that others might have what they needed. This is a startling and foreign mindset for many in modern culture, where the pursuit of wealth and “things” is tantamount to self-worth and “success” for many people. The Jerusalem church did not merely give from convenience, as we often do today, but gave until they impoverished themselves (see Heb. 10:32-34, Acts 11:27-30, Rom. 15:25-27) for the cause and the mission of Jesus Christ. These amazing first century Christians did not regard their possessions and wealth as belonging to them, but instead as the property of the brethren as a whole, and thus to be shared as need arose (see Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32).

How many of us today would truly be able to say that we would do likewise? Could you literally sacrifice EVERYTHING you owned in the name of Jesus, to help provide for the needs of others you do not even know?

Necessity of baptism clearly established

Numerous faiths, denominations, and “churches” of today will claim that baptism is not at all necessary for salvation, or that salvation may be a necessity but somehow precedes salvation. It is imperative that churches of today can effectively address this all-too-common viewpoint, which is also thwarted in Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, etc.

A cursory reading of Acts 2:37-38 seems to clearly illustrate the necessity of baptism, except for those who simply choose to not read the text openly. The Jews, upon hearing the preaching, were “pricked in their hearts” and ask the eternal question of “What shall we do?” for salvation (this clearly demolishes the viewpoint that “faith alone” or “faith only” provides salvation). Peter does NOT tell them that they are saved by faith alone, and replies “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Scripture is abundantly clear here in response to the “What shall we DO?” query. What they were “to DO” in response to hearing the Gospel is stated with no ambiguity by Peter. They were to be baptized for the remission of their sins.

Earthly leadership established

The church at Jerusalem was established and organized as per biblical principle, not upon the whims of culture of popular opinion. Specifically, elders were selected and installed to oversee the church (Acts 15:6 and Acts 15:22). Deacons were likewise selected (Acts 6:1-7). These men (and contrary to popular public opinion amongst many today, elders and deacons were NOT to be women) were selected based on qualifications very clearly specified and described in 1 Tim. 3:1-10.

It is important to note that the church at Jerusalem, established biblically, did NOT belong to or adhere to dogma from any “society”, national group, “accrediting agency”, “convention”, denomination, ecumenical “alliances”, board of directors, or any other earthly foundation. Each individual church was to be established and overseen by elders, who would be responsible for their individual congregation (Acts 11:29-30).

In summary, the Jerusalem church serves as the epitome of Christianity in its most pure, first century-form. The structure, function, and amazing effectiveness of this church should serve as the inspiration and goal of Christians every bit as much today as it did nearly 2000 years ago. We have no better model to emulate or imitate than the Jerusalem church.

Tulsa4@aol.com