The Green-Eyed Monster

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.


Lipstick on a Pig

lipstick-on-a-pigYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that our lifestyle does impact the community we live in. As the behavior and thinking of people move away from God, the impact in the community or society is evident. God does not declare that it’s progressive thinking or tolerance, it is simply ungodly. We combat this with a lifestyle that demonstrates the power of God in our lives that is evident by our love for one another and for others. This morning, Solomon provides us some vivid word pictures as he continues telling us how to live for God.

In Pro. 11:22-27 Solomon says, As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.  The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath. There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.”

Solomon kicks this passage off with our first and perhaps most vivid word picture. “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a woman who lacks discretion.” I love this verse because it’s so true. Solomon is talking about beauty and this is another way of saying that beauty is more than skin deep. It’s much more important to have inner beauty, but that’s not what the world says. That’s why you see so many beauty enhancing products. That’s why you see products that claim to be age defying. Our society is so desperate to look good on the outside that we forget what God looks at. 1 Pet. 3:3, “Your adornment must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.” Are you thinking this is a crazy analogy? Gen. 24 tells us the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant prayed a very specific prayer so that he would know that God had sent just the right girl for Isaac. He ends up in Mesopotamia and comes upon a spring where he could water his camels and see his very specific prayer played out. A beautiful young girl named Rebekah walks up and Abraham’s servant says to her, “‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists.” (Gen. 24:47) This was a practice in the days of the patriarchs to signify a marriage or a wife.

Think of putting a ring on a pig’s snout. Pigs represented what was unclean, dirty, forbidden, they represented a threat to agriculture, they were overall useless. Dogs and pigs are often considered along the same lines. The behavior of these two animals reveals who they really are. 2 Pet. 2:2 says, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” It is nonsensical to put a ring on a pig’s snout. It’s equally nonsensical to look only at the external beauty of a woman and that’s what Solomon is saying here. You can dress up a pig and put lipstick on it, but it’s still a pig. A woman can be gorgeous on the outside and look horrible on the inside. In this context discretion means moral perception. So put it all together, a beautiful woman that lacks discretion is ethically bankrupt, is valueless, and morally ugly. Now, that is a word picture.

Here’s another comparison. Verse 23 reminds us, “The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.” Again, Solomon paints with a broad brush. All of us can have unrighteous desires from time to time, but Solomon is telling us that the overall desires of the righteous are good. You want good things for people; you want them to get that new car, that promotion, that new house, to have children or adopt a child, or to find the spouse they long for. You don’t want them to endure pain or suffering and your heart breaks when theirs breaks. That is the thought pattern of the righteous. You don’t have the attitude of judgment; they can’t afford that car or house. They wouldn’t be very good parents. That’s the way the wicked think. The righteous want what’s good for people, the wicked want what is bad and they really want wrath. Wrath is generally attributed to God’s judgment and that’s accurate here too. They don’t want God’s discipline which is designed for our growth and demonstrates God’s love for us; they want God to exercise judgment to satisfy their own twisted desires, they want God to remove those that stand in the way of what they want.

Here is something I want you to think about. Have you noticed how divisive it is has gotten today, even among believers? Have you ever heard anyone affiliated with the church at large say that as Christians we just need to love everyone like God does and we need to accept people where they are? The church, at least the American church, is no longer doctrinally and theologically sound, but is bent toward feeling and emotion. Ravi Zacharias said it this way,

“We manufacture feelings in our churches. We manufacture emotions in our churches. Feelings have come unhinged from the mind and unbelief. Feelings are a powerful thing, but they should follow belief, not create belief. In our churches this whole move towards this emotional celebratory stunts that was born in doctrinal vacuum where the person knows less and less of why they believe what they believe but more and more of how ecstatic they are because of it has been a dangerous amputation that has taken place.” (The Truth Project)

The real issue that divides people is the Word of God. Are we going to believe what the Word says, or are we going to allow people that claim a relationship with God to define the Bible as outdated, irrelevant, intolerant, and simply not essential for life? Everyone here can likely think of a divisive issue that is in the news today and probably has had a conversation about it this week. This all plays nicely into Satan’s schemes to shift the focus away from the truth that will set people free and that will lead authentic believers into a passionate, zealous pursuit of Christ where there is no giving up or giving in.

Solomon now makes some direct comparisons with two character traits that are in direct opposition to one another. Vs. 26-27 tells us, “He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.” There has been much talk regarding finances and there will be much more before we finish this study. One of the predominate reasons Solomon brings it up is that money is necessary. God promises to provide for us and for most people, working at a job to earn wages is the process by which is happens. Even when we go way back, although actual currency may not have be exchanged, bartering of goods and services were necessary to ensure people had what was needed to sustain life. We do have examples of God supernaturally providing for the physical needs of people. In Ex. 16, God provided manna and quail for the Israelites as they wandered. 1 Ki. 17 tell us of Elijah and the cruse of oil and jar of flour that did not run out. In Matt. 15, we see Jesus feeding 4000 with just seven loaves a few fish. We see the principle of working all the way back to the garden when God gave the mandate to Adam and Eve to take care of it in Gen. 2. I have given you this background to help you understand the importance of working in order to be generous, but it is not a prerequisite. In God’s economy, you will not be able to out give God, but it’s not a competition. People who think if they give, then they will lack have not tested God. Solomon says when you give, you increase all the more. When generosity is demonstrated, more will be given.

Look at the disclaimer in v. 24, “Withholds what is justly due.” The issue here really revolves around hoarding. When you refuse to give or even sell what you have, v. 26 says, “The people will curse him.” I think of fictional characters like Mr. Scrooge and Mr. Potter. They had lots of wealth, but they were hated by the people. They were hated because they refused to share their abundant wealth. These folks were known for their shady business dealings, but let me be clear. I’m not in favor of Robin Hood tactics. We’re talking about generosity from a godly perspective. God expects us to share when we have bounty to those in need and when we’re in need, God will provide through the generosity of others. Sometimes though, the opposite happens. People who have relied on the generosity of others often fail to exercise the same generosity when they have more than they need. Those who are generous tend to continue to have more than they need and they continue to give it away. Most of us are born with a sense of self-preservation – it’s our sin nature. Generosity comes supernaturally and those that exercise this Christ like characteristic will be prosperous according to v. 26. It means to be successful or flourish, especially financially. The more generous you are, the more prosperous you will be. Again, we’re talking generally.

Finally Solomon says, “He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.” Just by trying to find good, by searching to do what is good for others and for yourself will find favor with God. Nothing is said of achieving it, but God takes pleasure in you looking for good. On the other hand, if you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.

If you are righteous, you’re going to want what’s good for everyone. You’ll go looking for it and that is pleasing to God. If you withhold what is rightly due someone, the people will not be happy. We’re to be generous, not greedy. We’ll check this topic of generosity in greater detail next time.

A Time to Remember

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Last week Jude spoke of the self centeredness of the creepers. They were only concerned about themselves and they grumbled, blamed others, and followed after their own lusts. In vs. 5-16 Jude has described in detail the reasons why the creepers should be judged. They’re given no benefit of the doubt and no mercy. If that seems harsh, the actions of these people and people like them were predicted years earlier. This morning, Jude shifts from the criticism of the creepers to the encouragement of his readers – us.

Jude 17-18 says, “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”

Jude now shifts back to the church. It’s obvious that Jude starts a new section by his use of, “But you beloved.” He’s showing his deep love for them, it’s a term of endearment. We know that Jude has been very critical of the creepers. There is just cause for that since they willingly and knowingly snuck into the church and taught things that were contrary to the fundamental tenants of the faith. He’s talked about the creepers and flips it around by using the word but. There’s the contrast. His readers, “Ought to remember the words that were spoken of beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ought to remember here means duty. Jude’s readers are supposed to remember the words spoken by the apostles of Christ.

Mal. 4:4, “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.”

Eph. 2:20, “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.”

2 Pet. 3:2, “That you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.”

This is not just being able to recite Scripture from memory. The meaning is much deeper. When Scripture tells us to remember, it means take to heart so that it is imprinted on our lives. David said, Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. (Ps. 119:11) Do you treasure Scripture? Do you hold Scripture as dearly as you do your child or grandchild? That’s the meaning David is conveying. God’s Word is so valuable and precious , but we seem to have cheapened it because it’s so accessible. What if your Bible was taken away? Would you notice or would you grieve over the loss? We do not worship God’s Word, but through Scripture, we get to know the One and only true God which should move us to continual worship of the One who is the Word. I wonder if Jude’s readers had held up the words of the apostles, would they have immediately recognized these men? Jude is specifically referring to the warnings regarding false teachers, but the application is much broader. We ought to remember because the Holy Spirit of God inspired His apostles to write down what we needed to know and understand.

So what did the apostles say? The warning was simple and to the point. “In the last time there will be mockers.” Are we in the last time? The writer of Hebrews thought so when he said, “In these last days.” (Heb. 1:2) Not maybe or likely, but there will be people who mock. 2 Pet. 3:3: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts.” Mock means to make fun of in a cruel manner. The intention is to cause harm. The last days will bring all sorts of criticism and harm to people that express and live by a code of Christian faith. Sadly this mocking can come from within the walls of the church. It can be as subtle as, “You don’t really believe that do you?”  Introducing a bit of doubt can shake the foundations of faith. It can be a bit more obvious such as the issue surrounding gay marriage. I saw a report a couple of months ago where a minister had gone against his denomination’s stance on this and officiated the same sex marriage of his son. He did it in secret and when his congregation found out about it, they reported him to denominational authorities. In a TV interview I saw he said, “Society is changing so fast that the church cannot keep up with it.” How can a mainstream minister say something like that? Well, in a Nov. 19, 2013 Washington Post article, a 30 year assistant choir director at that particular church is quoted as saying, “There was a drift from the Scripture.” When you morph Scripture to the needs of society, you fall into that trap we saw last week when Paul warned Timothy that, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (1 Tim. 4:3-4) These mockers Jude refers to follow, “after their own ungodly lusts.” They are driven by passion and desire. It’s not bad to be driven by passion and desire when they are godly. That’s not the case with these guys.

In the closing verses of Hebrews, the writer reminds us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb.13:8) Our methods change, but the Gospel does not. Society should have little influence on the church, but the church should have great influence on society.

What If?

What IfCheck out the podcast for this message here.

Last week we saw the empty promises of the false teachers. They promised freedom, but were themselves enslaved by greed. Their lives were a contradiction of their message. This morning, Peter enters what if land and provides a more beneficial scenario.

2 Pet. 2:20-22 says, For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

Look where true freedom is found. Peter says true freedom is found in knowledge of Jesus Christ. “For if, after they had escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome.” The first thing we have to determine is who Peter is referring to. It’s either the false teachers or the recent converts. There are a couple of clues and if we read too fast, we might miss them. The first is the word “for.” This refers back to v. 18 and the people that were caught in the trap set by the false teachers. The second clue is the phrase, “have escaped” in v. 20. Who recently escaped from the ones that live in error? It’s the recent converts of the church. Given these clues and the fact the entire chapter is devoted to the false teachers, it’s reasonable to conclude Peter is talking about the false teachers in v. 20.

Why does it matter? Let’s break down the verse. It contains two phrases and if we take out the parenthetical phrase we’re left with, “For if they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” It is Jesus Christ and the knowledge of Him that sets us free. Take a look at John 8:31-36. If you have a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and claim a relationship with Him, then there are expectations that result. Look at 1 Jo. 2:3-6. Peter’s argument is that if they had the knowledge of Jesus Christ and fell back to their old ways, they’re worse off.

There is a difficulty in the church today. This is a bit conditional clause and I want to clear up any misconceptions you may be having. People will use this verse as a proof text that one can lose his salvation. If they’re once again entangled in the, “defilements of the world” then how can they be saved? Verse 20 is talking about a true, conversion experience. It’s set off by the knowledge that Peter loves to talk about. Remember back in 2 Pet.1:2 in Peter’s opening remarks he said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” This is a clear indicator that he’s writing to people that have experienced that authentic transformation that only Jesus can make happen. Grace and peace are multiplied through the knowledge of God and Jesus. God’s, “Divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3) So Peter is clear that he’s talking to true believers because he talks about having escaped from the world in the past tense. What about the false teachers? These false teachers had escaped the pull of the world only to return to the world. The gospel they once confessed they now deny. The One they called Savior, they now reject.

So here’s the difficult part. V. 21 says, “For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” It sounds like Peter is saying it would be better for them to have never heard the truth of the Gospel to begin with. It sounds like he’s saying forget about evangelism and missions because there must be some special caveat for people that have never heard the name of Jesus. It sounds like he’s saying you can walk away if you want to. We could apply it to many situations today too. You see people that are church goers, but are not converts. You see people that are church members that are not miraculously transformed. Peter is saying that they knew the truth and still turned away from God. Way back in the first verse of this letter, Peter said righteousness in our lives is an indication of God’s transforming power. If there is no transformation, there is no conversion. If there is no conversion, there is death. Pro. 12:28 says, “In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” I encourage you to challenge people that profess a relationship with Christ, but have no evidence in their lives. If they’re really saved, they’ll welcome the opportunity. If they’re truly saved, they won’t be offended, but grateful you talked to them. There are too many people that teach and preach a Gospel that that does not change people. There are too many people in the church today that have a profession of faith and no resultant transformation.

Peter illustrates what he’s talking about in a very graphic manner. There are two illustrations in v. 22 to help us understand. The first is, “A dog returns to its own vomit.” The second illustration is, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” These phrases should be taken together because they mean roughly the same thing. Dogs and pigs are unclean animals. People are sometimes called dogs as a derogatory term in Scripture. These animals go to what they know. Remember Peter called the false teachers unreasoning animals in 2:12. Regardless of how you dress them up, dogs and pigs are just dogs and pigs that act upon their instinct. Pro. 26:11, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Is Peter saying that these false teachers were saved and then renounced Jesus? The quick answer is absolutely not. The Bible does not teach walk the aisle, say a prayer, or become a church member to be saved. At the same time there are people that anchor their salvation to an event like that. Making a decision to be a disciple of Christ will necessarily mean things in your life. Peter laid them out in the first chapter of this letter. In 1 Pet. 1:5 he said believers, “Are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” You can clean up a pig on the outside, but inside he’s still a pig. These false teachers can be clean on the outside, but on the inside, they’re the same as always. They’re just like the Pharisees when Jesus when said, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27) Only Jesus can truly transform the inside of a person – the soul of a person. So what of Peter’s statement that they’d be better off not knowing the truth? Because these false teachers were still in the church, Peter addressed them with Christian type language. They had the appearance of faith, but Peter did not consider them to be Christians not because they lost their salvation, but because they never had a faith to begin with. It doesn’t make much sense to say they’d be better off not knowing if they were truly saved.

1 Jo. 2:19 is very clear that people who have a genuine faith will never walk away from Jesus. The only possibility for walking away means there was no salvation. These false teachers seemed to change, but they are just like the pigs that were washed on the outside only to return to the mud. They were always unclean.

Show Some Love

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we began our journey into this short letter. This letter was not his last writing, but it’s still a very important message. We saw it was written to a man named Gaius whom John praised for being spiritually healthy. How did John come to that conclusion? Gaius was walking in truth. This morning we’ll see some additional insights as to why Gaius is so beloved by John.

3 John 5-8 says, Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.”

John offers more praise to Gaius. This is so significant. John tells Gaius, “You are acting faithfully.” Again this is present tense so it’s not what Gaius used to do. It can be very discouraging to hear people say what they used to do. I used to tell people about Jesus, I used to read my Bible, I used to pray, I used to go to church. I often wonder why people stop. Is there some tragic even that draws a person to Christ and then when Christ does what is asked of Him, they go back to the way it was? What leads a person to quit on God? Sometimes it’s because God seems distant; sometimes we convince ourselves that it doesn’t work; sometimes we think God doesn’t care. Sometimes there is no answer. What do you do when those doubts or those fears invade your brain? What do you do when discouragement and disappointment reign in your life? Do what Gaius did – he walked in truth. Combat the doubt that creeps into your mind with the truth found in God’s Word.

Not only was Gaius walking in truth John told him, “You are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren and especially when they are strangers.” We can break this down pretty easily. In the context of this letter, the “whatever” relates to the hospitality Gaius showed to other Christians – especially strangers. This isn’t very difficult to understand. Hospitality is a very important characteristic to have. Some Christians are particularly gifted in this area, but that doesn’t negate the responsibility for all Christians to act in a hospitable manner. If you look at hospitality in the O.T., it was not only a part of the culture, it was a demonstration of faithfulness to God. Job 31:32, “The alien has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler.” Is. 58:7, “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”  In Gen. 18 we see Abraham meeting three strangers while in Mamre. He saw to it that their feet were washed, that they had a place to rest, and he literally fed them the choicest calf. If you continue reading in Gen. 18, you’ll see this is the time when Sarah laughed because she overheard one of the strangers tell Abraham that she would have a son at the same time next year – the birth of Isaac; the son of promise.

In the N.T., hospitality is no less important. Gal. 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” In Rom. 12:13 Paul told the church to, “Practice hospitality.” Heb. 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Gaius was a hospitable man. He acted faithfully. He took care of the brethren, especially the strangers.

How do we know? According to v. 6 these strangers, “have testified to your love before the church.” John and Gaius were not in the same location. The people that Gaius took care of likely were sent by John’s church. Church here is the Greek word ekklesia. You may have heard that word used before. The word was around for several hundred years prior to the Christian era. Before Christ it meant an assembly of people with a well defined membership. It was typically associated with a socio-political entity based on citizenship of a city or state. In the context of 3 John, it is a specific local assembly of people that trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is the local place where John met for fellowship, for corporate prayer, for teaching – for worship. Although strangers to Gaius, these travelers were not strangers to John or the church. When they returned, they gave a report, they testified, they gave evidence of Gaius’ love for them. His love was demonstrated by opening up his home to people he did not know. He took care of these traveling evangelists. He opened up his home; fed them, made sure they had everything they needed; Gaius’ attitude was my home is your home. So these evangelists go back to the church and relate all that happened on their trip, just as we did when we returned from Romania. We told you how we were taken care of by Matthew. How we were taken care of by the families we stayed with, how they opened their homes to us, took care of us, washed our clothes, fed us, made sure we had everything we needed. Our Romanian friends, just like Gaius, made it possible for us to accomplish God’s work.

Fast forward to today and you might think, “Well I don’t have a chance to demonstrate that kind of faithfulness.” Pastor Ben Cloud of Amadeo Church in Higley, AZ says “Before asking someone to church, invite him or her into your home.” The application of hospitality is a broad one. Host a get together at your house.  Invite your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. Host a Community Group, a Bible study, a prayer group. Have someone over to your house for coffee or tea. Some are going to say my house isn’t nice enough, I don’t have time, it’s too much work, my house isn’t clean. You’re going to make some excuse to yourself why you cannot do something rather than just doing it. I believe Gaius was always ready to have people in his home and I assure you, his house was not nearly as nice as your house. His house was most likely made of volcanic rock. It probably had a dirt floor or at best, a wooden floor. Guests may have had a wooden framed bed to sleep on, but most likely slept on the floor with mats they carried with them. We could compare it to primitive camping.

It is not the house, but what makes it a home that provides a welcoming, warm, and inviting atmosphere. I think that’s what Gaius had going on; he had a desire to make people – even strangers – feel welcome in his home. We should have the same desire. If you think your house is dirty – clean it. If you think your house is messy – pick it up. Most people don’t care so much about the house, but who is inside it and how they feel when they are there. In the last part of v. 6 John says, “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” “Will do well” is in the future tense. John conveys the confidence in what Gaius is doing and will continue to do for evangelists. These evangelists were on a mission from God. It was a gospel mission – a good news mission – the good news that is found in Jesus Christ – the truth that John is so faithful to. Doing this, “in a manner that is worthy of God” is the only way to do it. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Here’s a great reason and a great reminder. The reason John says to do this is because, “They went out for the sake of the Name accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” It is the name of Jesus Christ. He is the One and only way. The only reason they went out was to proclaim the truth that is found in Christ. There is power in the name of Christ. Phil 2:9-11, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It was a singular mission; it was a powerful mission and they accepted, “nothing from the Gentiles.” This is really interesting. If you’re thinking, “Hey I’m a Gentile so none of this applies to me.” Nice try, in this context, Gentile means unbelieving, it means non-Christian. The evangelists relied on God’s provision through the gifts and generosity of God’s people.

Remember in John’s second letter he told us not to entertain false teachers? If we give false teachers a platform for their deception, we’d be guilty by association. Here John tells us the exact opposite. “Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth,” When we exercise our generosity, our support, and our gifts we become fellow workers with the truth. We are participants. Not everyone can do everything. Not everyone can go, but all of us can participate in God’s work through our hospitality and our generosity. This support is something all Christians can do.

No matter your status according to the world, you can be an active participant in spreading God’s truth. Not only should we do this, we must do this. It is our duty, our responsibility, our privilege.

A Wrap Up

Last week we concluded our look at John’s first letter to the church. We’ve covered a lot of ground since our first message on Sept. 12th of last year so I wanted to review John’s major themes that we really need to embrace. John’s entire letter is important, but I think there are three major points for us to carry with us every day. These three points are tied together in John’s primary purpose statement found in 1 John 5:13.

The first major point we need to understand is the reality of Jesus. Gnosticism was being introduced during John’s time, but was not the rule of the day. There were detractors from the historic Jesus just as there are today. John was very clear about who Jesus is and what that means to humanity. You can’t be a Christian without acknowledging that Jesus was the Son of God. The very definition of the word Christian means follower of Christ. Acts 26:11 tells us that disciples of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch. Remember the principle of first mention. It doesn’t matter how the world defines a Christian. Acknowledging that Jesus was the Son of God means believing the testimony of God concerning His one and only Son. Only Jesus can atone for the sins of mankind. Why? Because Jesus is the, “propitiation for our sins” according to 1 Jo. 2:2 and 4:10. Jesus appeased the wrath of God caused by our sin; by our wrong doing, by us falling short of what God expects.

Not only was Jesus a real, live person that atoned for our sins, there’s some other things we need to realize about Him. If you want to have fellowship with God, you must have fellowship with Jesus. You can’t get to God without going through Jesus. When you go through the door that is Christ, you have fellowship with God and also fellowship with believers everywhere. John wrote, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 Jo. 2:23) Jesus is the Light of the world. When you shine the light, the darkness flees. Jesus is our advocate. He goes to God on our behalf. Jesus gives us the confidence to stand before a holy and perfect God. Jesus appeared in order to take away sins and destroy the works of the devil. “He who has Jesus, has the life.” That’s what we need to realize about Jesus.

The second major point of John’s letter is our salvation. No matter what people may say, John tells us we can know we are saved. Remember his purpose statement in 5:13.  He wanted these beloved little children to know they had eternal life. When you believe in the Jesus of the Scriptures, there is no need to doubt. But remember, knowing that Jesus is the Christ carries some significant indicators in your life. How can I know I’m saved? One of the biggest indicators is your ability to love others, even when they don’t love you first or love you back. In fact, this may be the biggest demonstrator of a person that is an authentic Christian. How else can we love except that the love of Christ is inside us? This is not normal for people. It’s easy to love the lovable, but when we really love the unlovable, we know that love can only come from God. This can provide for some self deception too. “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 Jo. 4:20) When we love the way God wants us to love, “His love is perfected in us.” (1 Jo. 4:12) People see God’s love manifested in real, ordinary people.

Finally, actions speak louder than words. This theme is seen throughout the letter so what do we need to understand about our behavior? A real relationship with God plants the desire in us to glorify Him. Glorifying God means following the principles He has set up for our good. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 Jo. 5:3) We’re not saved because of the way we behave. We behave a certain way because we’re saved. Right behavior indicates a right relationship. The walk of faith is a marathon, not a sprint. Most anyone can “act right” for a short time. Even though we may not ever be perfect, there should be progress in our lives. You should be growing more and more like Christ each day. Where there is no change, there can be no salvation. 1 Jo. 2:1 says, “I am writing these things to you so you may not sin.”Sin here is a verb. Do not to commit a sinful act, don’t have a sinful thought. John is telling us to be perfect. In 1:8 and 10, John said that if we say we have no sin, we’re deluded. This is why verb tense is so important in Scripture. This is in the aorist tense indicating a single point in time. He is saying don’t commit individual acts of sin. BUT since you will, God made a way to cleanse us through the blood of Christ who John calls the Advocate in v. 2. Advocate is a legal term that means someone that speaks on behalf of another. Jesus Chris the righteous intercedes on our behalf before the Father. You might be thinking, is there a cut off limit? Is there a number of times I can get away with? What’s the difference between these sins and a lifestyle of sin? If you have to ask, you don’t get it. We need to agree with God about sin. The point of is not to get as close to the line of sin as you can, but to stay far from it. We cannot reduce our Christianity to a set of rules and regulations. If we do that, it becomes religion rather than relationship.

Does it really matter how we act? I mean, come on, we still live in this sin sick world. Well in short, YES! One of the driving factors for John writing this letter was because Gnosticism discounted the humanity of Christ. Gnostics argued that matter was evil and spirit was good and the spirit was impervious to anything done in the body. All matter was evil and the source of evil. That included the body and the world, and everything in it. Since the flesh is evil, Jesus couldn’t have come in the flesh. Salvation they reasoned came not from Jesus, but from an enlightened level of knowledge. Ordinary Christians could not and did not possess this higher level of knowledge. Since knowledge equaled salvation in their mind, it didn’t matter what the body did. This was a convenient way for them to twist salvation into something it is not; that they could live any way they wanted without regard to sin. This is absolute heresy.

Another reason John wrote was because there were people trying to deceive the church. We’ve seen this too. There was only supposed to be 144,000 people saved, but that number has been revised due to the number of people following the false teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is documented evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophecies that included the rapture, the fall of the U.S. Government, and that the temple would be built in Zion. . . Missouri that is. None of his prophecies came true. Most recently, the rapture was to occur on May 21, now that has been revised to October. If that weren’t disturbing enough, we still have people that follow these men even though the Bible says they are false prophets. As long as the devil continues to prowl the world, false prophets will spring up and deception will occur in people who are not grounded in the Scriptures. Don’t let that stop you from being who Jesus wants you to be. One of the best ways to show that Jesus is alive is to demonstrate what he has done in your life. No one can explain away the complete transformation of a Christian by anything else except the power of God. We’re left in this world after salvation to live a life that brings glory to God, to tell people about His one and only Son, to demonstrate the love of Christ to people that desperately need to see it to believe in a holy and perfect God that loves them. As powerful and awesome as God is, He can’t save anyone apart from His Son. Don’t be deceived into thinking there is another way. Don’t get sucked into the world’s trap. It’s not about trying to get all this life has to offer. It’s all about living a life that is pleasing to God.

Jesus was really born in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died a horrible death, was buried and was raised again by the power of God. He was seen by the multitudes and ascended to heaven where He intercedes on our behalf. He is the Messiah; the One prophesied that would save the world from sin. We can know Him and that must make a difference in our lives. We know we have a relationship with Christ because He gives us the ability to love others unconditionally. Anyone can look at us, look at our lives and know that we are different because of our behavior.

Paul summed up his purpose in life in Phil. 3:7-14, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

What a great goal in life.

How Great is God’s Love

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we looked at some contrasts between the anti-Christs and those people in the church. The church has the incredible promise of eternal life, but the anti-Christs do not. We are to abide in the Spirit and He abides in us and leads us to truth. This morning, John begins a new section in his letter.

I hope you’ll look at 1 John 2:28-3:1 with us.

The first thing you see is the love of a shepherd. John’s love for the church comes across clearly in v. 28. He gives them another word of encouragement. This is really the conclusion of the previous section, but he also begins a new train of thought. He calls them little children just as did in 2:1. The encouragement once again is to abide – to remain in Christ. Amidst all the false teaching of the Gnostics, hang in there with the truth. Don’t waiver; don’t bend; don’t compromise from what you know to be true. Abiding in Christ gets us ready to see Christ. In an effort to help people decide between doing or not doing something, the question is often asked, would you be ashamed if Christ appeared and found you doing that? Abiding in Christ gives us confidence to, “Not shrink away from Him at His coming.” The idea is when you are actively engaged in an intimate, growing relationship with Christ, you can have confidence. Your understanding of Christ deepens, your love for Christ deepens, your desire to please Him deepens, and your confidence in Him deepens. Don’t shrink back from what you know to be true. Don’t shrink back from the Word; don’t shrink back from Christ. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) You might say, I’d never be ashamed of Jesus, but when you have an opportunity to take a stand for Christ and don’t, by default, you’re shrinking away. When you feel like you’re distant from Christ or you’re not hearing from Christ like you should or like you used to, it’s not because Christ is different. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. In John 15:4 Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you.” We can have confidence in Christ because of who He is and His proven track record.

How can John say have confidence and don’t shrink away? He says in v. 29, If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” It’s really a statement of fact. John has used the word know 14 times in the 29 verses of Chapter 2. The people in this community of believers know a lot and John uses that to encourage them to once again, walk holy. It’s not enough just to know it. What is the standard of righteousness? The standard is Christ. Webster defines righteousness as the characteristic or quality of being right. My Greek English lexicon defines it as the act of doing what God requires. Righteousness is doing what is right in the sight of God. How do we know people are saved? They practice righteousness. That’s in the present tense. They practice righteousness and that is a clear indicator of salvation. It is the righteousness of Christ that sets apart the one that has the knowledge and has made the life changing decision of a new birth. They’re not engaged in habitual sin, they’re not walking in sin. Remember, it matters little what we say. It matters what we do. “Everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” This is a spiritual birth, not a physical birth. John loves this concept of new birth. In his Gospel it is the experience of a new birth. In his letters, it is the evidence of the new birth. In John’s mind, you can’t have the experience of salvation without the evidence. John Stott said it this way, “A person’s righteousness is thus the evidence of his new birth, not the cause or condition of it.”

Don’t miss the significance of this new birth in the first phrase of 3:1. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God.” We’re children of God because we have experienced a new birth. That gives us the privilege and honor to be called a child of God. John says, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us.” That’s a command. Once again John points out how much God loves us. The phrase, “how great” occurs only seven times in the N.T. God’s love is incredible; it is immeasurable; it is unearthly, it is unimaginable. When you reflect of God’s love for you, it should drive you to your knees in awe and wonder and praise. “Bestowed” is a perfect tense verb. That’s significant because the perfect tense means something that happened in the past, but has permanent consequences for today. He bestowed His love and we are called children of God. What’s even more incredible is that His love knows no bounds. His love is the same for the crack addict as it is the church goer. His love is the same for the drunk as it is for the deacon. His love is the same for the blasphemer as it is for the Bible study teacher. His love is the same for the prostitute as it is for the preacher. But that doesn’t mean He wants you to stay the way you are. We are children of God.

In certain circles today, names still mean something. In political circles, being a Kennedy is synonymous with Massachusetts, being a Daly – Chicago, being a Bush – Texas. In sports, it is the Mannings with football, in racing it is Petty, Earnhardt, and Andretti. In Hollywood, the names are Douglas, Southerland, and Baldwin. In church circles the names are Graham, Falwell, and Stanley. As children of God, we share the name of the One whose name is above all other names, that at the very mention of His name, “every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11) There is power in that name! But even beyond sharing the name of God, we actually become God’s children – a member of God’s family. That is how great a love God has for you.

Why is there such a separation in the world? John tells us in the last part of v. 1. “For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” Remember John’s command from 2:15? “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” World in 3:1 is the same Greek word meaning the secular, humanistic society that surrounds us. It is a society that is collectively against God and His Son. The world does not, cannot understand why we are the way we are. It doesn’t understand how we can stand unwaveringly for truth. It does not understand biblical morality. It doesn’t understand the idea of putting others first. To finish this out, read John 15:18-25 and see what Jesus says.

So when people hate you for your stand with Christ, know that the world hated Jesus before you. The world has an opposition to Christ so you need to expect there will be opposition to you; at work, at school, at Wal-Mart, and sometimes at home. Rejection by the world is an indicator that you are a child of God. John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”