Sunday – January 25, 2015 3rd John Verses 1 to 15 “True Prosperity”

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3 John 2-4
“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

As in all of John’s writings, truth is a central concept in 3 John. He mentions it six times in these thirteen verses, plus the world “true” in verse 12. As we’ve seen, John’s greatest joy was to hear of his spiritual children walking in the truth. Why did the aged apostle hammer on the truth so often? One reason was that he was the last living apostle, and he saw numerous errors creeping into the churches. Also, the Lord Jesus had repeatedly emphasized the truth in His earthly ministry.

In John 1:14, John testified that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” In John 3:21, “he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” In John 4:23, Jesus explained that the Father seeks those who “worship in spirit and truth.” In John 8:32, Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” In John 14:6, Jesus claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth”. He prayed in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus told the skeptical Pilate in John 18:37, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

The huge emphasis on truth in John’s writings teaches us that truth matters! How a person thinks about God, man, salvation, and life determines how that person lives. A person with false concepts in these areas will live differently than the person with a biblical view in these important matters. Since Jesus Himself is the truth and since God’s Word is truth, Satan works overtime to undermine the truth about the person and work of Christ and the truth of God’s inerrant Word.

So truth was a huge emphasis in Jesus’ ministry, and therefore, too, in the life and ministry of the apostle John. Contrary to the current postmodern philosophy that denies absolute truth in the spiritual realm, the Bible clearly affirms that there is theological and moral truth and error. This truth centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Since God is the author of truth, whereas Satan is the author of spiritual lies, God’s people must know and obey the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Then it may be said of you, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” And your pastor will have great joy to hear that you are walking in the truth.

Sunday – January 18, 2015 2nd John Verse 7 to 13 “Prescription for a Healthy Church Pt 2”

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2 John 7-8
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”

The word heresy sounds outdated these days. It just smacks of arrogance, because to accuse someone of heresy implies that I am right and not just that he is wrong, but seriously wrong. It also assumes that there is such a thing as definable truth and error in the spiritual realm. But in our day, spiritual “truth” is subjective and relative. If it’s true for you, that’s cool. But I have my own spiritual “truths” that work for me. So who are you to accuse me of heresy?

But before we put heresy in the museum as a relic from the past, we need to think carefully. There is one huge factor that renders heresy a valid concept, namely, the fact that God is and that He has revealed Himself to us through His written Word. If God exists, not as a projection of men’s minds, but as the eternal Sovereign Creator of the universe, then He is the ultimate and final standard of truth. And if He has spoken to us in His Word, then as Jesus said, His Word is truth (John 17:17). Either Jesus was mistaken or lying, or God’s Word is truth. Any deviation from His Word on core matters, such as the person and work of Jesus Christ or the way of salvation, is heresy.

Before we think to ourselves that we could never fall prey to heresy, we need to remember our own weakness to desire what we want instead of what God has provided. We are all susceptible to heretical teachings because in one form or another, they nurture and reflect the way we would have it be rather than the way God has provided, which is infinitely better for us. The whispers of prosperity and blessing from God as our divine right lead us into the blind alleys of self-indulgence and escape from life. Heresies in all their forms pander to the most unworthy tendencies of the human heart.

As we have seen, there is an inseparable connection between truth and love. Biblical love seeks the highest good of the one loved. If a false teacher is actively involved in deceiving people about the truth so that they go to eternal condemnation, then we are not acting in love to do anything to encourage such teachers in their misleading deeds. John Stott observes, “If John’s instruction still seems harsh, it is perhaps because his concern for the glory of the Son and the good of men’s souls is greater than ours, and because ‘the tolerance on which we pride ourselves’ is in reality an ‘indifference to truth.’”

Sunday – January 11, 2015 2nd John Verses 1 to 6 “Prescription for a Healthy Church”

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 2 John 4-6
“I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

John is obviously concerned about the truth. He uses that word five times in the first four verses (19 times in his three letters!). For John, the concept of truth centers on the person of Jesus Christ. The heretics were deceiving people about the person of Christ, saying either that He did not have a real human body, or that “the Christ” came upon the man Jesus at His baptism and left just prior to His crucifixion. These errors went against the person of Jesus that John had seen, heard, and touched as we learned in 1 John 1:1-4. Wrong views of the person of Christ invariably spill over into wrong views on His work on the cross. If you deny the true humanity of Jesus, then He could not be the substitute for the sins of humans. So it is essential to hold to sound doctrine on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not based on the religious speculations of philosophers but rather upon the revelation of God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The apostles spent three years with Jesus and they bear witness in the New Testament to His life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. They make it clear that He is God in human flesh. The church of Jesus Christ is, therefore, a community of those who “have come to know the truth.” John personifies truth with reference to Jesus Himself, who claimed to be the truth in John 14:6. John says the truth “abides in us and will be with us forever.”

Contrary to the current postmodern thinking, the New Testament affirms that truth is both absolute and knowable. The truth centers in all that the Old and New Testaments affirm about Jesus Christ. To know Him personally is to be in the truth. This does not mean that you must become a theologian to be saved. To be saved, you simply must recognize that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. Trust in Him and He will save you. But it does mean that as a believer, you should grow in your understanding of the truth about Jesus Christ and salvation. Sound doctrine on these matters is crucial. What makes those who are truly saved different from the rest of the world is the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. When John talks about “some of your children walking in truth,” the word walk implies that truth is something that every believer must continually grow in over time.

Sunday – January 4, 2015 1st John 5 verses 18 to 21

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 1 John 5:21
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

John throws a final fastball right by us in 1 John 5:21. You stand there flat-footed, thinking, “Where did that come from?” He hasn’t been saying anything about idolatry. He hasn’t mentioned it in the entire book. So, at first glance, it seems out of context. But as you think about it, it sums up his entire message. Idolatry is making up your own god as a substitute for the one true God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. The false teachers were doing just that. They were offering a false god of speculation, not the one true God of revelation. So John’s final words are a warning against adopting the errors of man-made religion.

We may think that this warning had a special application in Ephesus, where John sent this letter. The Temple of Diana (or Artemis) was there and the silversmiths made a good living making statues of this pagan goddess (Acts 19:23-41). If you travel today in the Far East or in primitive tribal areas, you see many shrines to idols. But Americans, we say to ourselves, do not have a problem with bowing down before statues of imagined gods. But that is not the case. Our idols may not be of stone, gold or precious stones, but we Americans still bow down to them.

In the most basic sense, an idol is anything that takes the rightful place of God in your life. Paul equated covetousness or greed with idolatry (Eph. 5:5). Your career, your pursuit of money, your possessions, excessive devotion to leisure and recreation, or even putting a human relationship ahead of your relationship with God, may all become idols. Putting your intellect above God’s revelation, just as Nicodemus did in John 3, is idolatry. Watching hours of inane or immoral TV shows each week or spending hours playing computer games, while not having time to spend with God or serve Him, is idolatry.

John tells us to “guard” ourselves from idols, which implies that we have something valuable that the enemy is trying to steal. Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century British preacher, points out that if a man has a box and he’s not sure what’s in it, he won’t be very careful about guarding it. But if he knows that it contains a rare and valuable treasure, he will be diligent to guard it carefully. John is saying that if you know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, you have a treasure. Guard it so that you don’t drift into one of the many forms of idolatry.

Sunday – December 28, 2014 1st John 5 verses 14 to 17 “Confidence in Prayer”

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1 John 5:14-15
“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

Over the years, I have to admit my “prayer batting average” is pretty low. I have prayed for the salvation of people who have not gotten saved. I have prayed for the restoration of sinning Christians, who have not repented and been restored. I have prayed for the reconciliation of many Christian marriages that have broken up. Many people have tried to encourage me by telling me, “God gives people free will.” But if God cannot subdue a sinful person’s will, then He can’t do anything! That means that sinful man, not God, is sovereign! If God promises to answer our prayers, then He has the power to answer them!

Many who do not know God pray, but they are not seeking God’s will in prayer. Rather, they are trying to use Him (whoever they conceive Him to be) to get what they want. But biblical prayer is not trying to talk God into giving us what we want. Rather, it is submitting our will to His will. It is praying, as Jesus instructed the disciples in Matthew 6:10, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

It would be the height of stupidity to pray for your will to be done as opposed to God’s will. Yet we do that very thing when we “command” God to give us what we think will make us happy or to take away painful things in our lives. For one thing, it would mean that you know better than God what is best for your life. But He knows everything and He has assured us that He loves us far more than the best earthly father loves his children. So it only makes sense to submit to and pray for His will for your life and for others.

But, the difficulty is, how do we determine what God’s will is so that we pray in line with it? Are we talking about His will of decree or His will of desire? God’s will of decree is what He has determined to do. In this sense, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Here’s the difficulty when it comes to praying for God’s will: It is God’s will of desire that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Yet, we know that in His decree, God has willed to save only His elect (Rom. 9:9-24). So it would be going against God’s will of decree to pray, “God, save everyone in the world.” But, we should pray, “God, save my loved one,” and, “Save my neighbor.” The problem is, I cannot know in advance whether or not He will do it, because I do not know His will of decree. So I ask, but I have to say, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”

Sunday – December 21, 2014 Christmas Message

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Hebrews 10:5-7
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND SACRIFICES FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’”

One does not need to be a sociologist or a theologian to realize our society is doing everything it can to take Christ out of Christmas. Christmas is clearly under attack, both from within and without. It is no longer legal, or at least fashionable, to display a nativity scene on public property. Say things like, “Merry Christmas” and you will find people at best replying “Happy holidays.” Christmas vacation is now more obliquely called a “winter holiday” and will likely soon to be downgraded to a solstice celebration. What’s left of Christmas is less about the Newborn Babe and more about a chubby old man in a red suit.

While I am concerned about how the world views Christmas, I am more deeply troubled that all too many Christians fail to fully grasp the importance and implications of the incarnation. And beyond this, that many are willing to allow the celebration of the incarnation to be restricted to one day a year. I believe the importance of the incarnation is worthy of our attention in any season, but even more during this season lest the outgoing tide of culture pull us further away from the significance of God taking on human flesh. If we grasp the significance of the incarnation as we should, then we will also conclude that the annual celebration of Christmas is inadequate, and that our celebration of our Lord’s first coming must result in worship like the shepherds at the manger.

The incarnation was necessary in order for men to see God, and to behold how God’s perfections manifest themselves in humanity. God was unseen in the Old Testament, and because no man-made image (idol) or created thing could accurately reveal God’s likeness, their worship was forbidden by God. With the incarnation of our Lord in human form, God was now manifest in human flesh, so that men could see and touch Him. In the words of Scripture, Jesus was “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). The incarnation is an essential part of the gospel, by which men are saved as Peter told the crowds in Acts 2:22-25. Belief in the incarnation is essential, so much so that embracing it is a test of orthodoxy as we have seen in our study of John’s first epistle (1 John 4:1-3).

The incarnation of our Lord is to be celebrated on a regular basis, every time we observe communion. The incarnation is to be celebrated in the context of the saving work of our Lord. Thus, communion is a proclamation of the fundamental truths of the gospel, truths which we dare not forget, and truths which those who are lost must embrace. Christ Jesus came to earth in sinless, human flesh, to live a life of complete obedience to the Father, and ultimately to die in the sinner’s place, bearing God’s wrath, so that all who accept His work may be saved.

 

 

Sunday – December 14, 2014 1st John 5 verses 6 to 13 “Is Christianity Merely Psychological?”

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1 John 5:6-8
“This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

Skeptics frequently allege that Christian conversion is merely a psychological phenomenon that can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. In their minds, conversion to Christ is a purely subjective experience. They will agree it is nice if it works for you, but you shouldn’t try to impose it on everyone else or say that those who do not believe as you do are wrong. If you say that Jesus Christ changed your life, the skeptic will reply, “That’s great for you, but it doesn’t prove that Christianity is true for everyone else. Buddhism changed Richard Gere’s life. Scientology changed Tom Cruise’s life. Cabalistic Judaism seems to have changed Madonna’s life. So if changed lives are the criteria of truth, there is plenty of evidence that Christianity is not the only religious truth out there.”

How do you counter such arguments? There is value in subjective, inner assurance of the truth of the gospel for believers. But we need a more sure foundation for our faith than our subjective experience alone provides. Throughout 1 John, the apostle has been addressing the matter of authentic Christianity. False teachers had caused confusion in the church and had left, taking a number of people with them. They claimed to have secret knowledge about Jesus Christ, but their teaching contradicted the apostolic witness to Christ. John repeatedly shows that authentic Christians believe the truth about Jesus Christ, they obey God’s commandments, and they love one another.

John wasn’t relaying some inner, subjective vision or philosophy. He was telling about his objective experience with Jesus Christ. You can’t get much more objective than seeing, hearing, and touching! Jesus Christ is God’s witness to us through the apostles who spent three years with Him. In our text, John comes back to this objective witness with which he opened this letter. He wants us to have a sure foundation for our faith. Authentic Christian faith rests on God’s testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know whether or not you have eternal life, nothing is more important than to make sure. Go back and read again God’s testimony of His Son in the gospels. See the witness of the Spirit throughout the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. God’s testimony about Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Christianity is not just a psychological experience. It rests on this solid witness.

Sunday – December 7, 2014 1st John 5 verses 1 to 5 “How Are Your Vital Signs?”

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1 John 5:1-4
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

We all know of people who claim to be Christians and yet their lives seem to bear little resemblance to one who obeys His commands. Jesus warned that there will be many who call Him “Lord” who even have done miracles in His name, but at the judgment He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). In light of these things, we all need to be clear about whether we truly have been born again or not.

Every parent knows the great joy of seeing a new life come into this world. Some parents must go through the pain and sorrow of having a stillborn baby. The difference consists in that one quality, which even modern medicine cannot impart—life. In the spiritual realm, as in the physical, new life means everything. If a person is truly born of God, there will be signs of life. If those signs are missing, there is cause for great alarm.

The very first test given to a newborn in the delivery room is called the Apgar score. The test was designed to quickly evaluate a newborn’s physical condition after delivery and to determine any immediate need for extra medical or emergency care. It measures things like muscle tone, heart rate, reflexes, skin color, and breathing rate. The vital signs of birth are essential. The vital signs of spiritual birth are just as essential.

A true child of God will have a spiritual Apgar score. We could probably come up with more, but John gives us three vital signs of the new birth: faith in Jesus Christ, love for others, and obedience to God’s commandments. If you claim to be born again, you may want to check your spiritual Apgar score. If the vital signs of new life in Christ are not there, you need to get down on your knees and plead with God to cause you “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Sunday – November 30, 2014 1John 4:17-21 “Confidence on the Day of Judgment”

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1 John 4:16-18
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.”

John knows that in the matter of loving others, it’s easy to be hypocrites. It’s easy to sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” while at the same time our homes are a battle zone. We put on our spiritual masks at church, but in our hearts we harbor bitterness toward a fellow Christian who has wronged us. So John once more hits this vital matter of practical love for one another. John is saying, love that comes from God gives us confidence in the day of judgment and must be expressed in love for others in obedience to God’s commandment.

Of all of the important matters in life, none is more vital than the one that John mentions in verse 17—having confidence in the day of judgment. But we need to make sure that our confidence is based on biblical reasons, not on false hope. Polls show that at least 60 percent of Americans believe in hell, but only four percent think there’s a good chance that they will go there. Since we’re talking about eternity in the lake of fire, you need to be sure of where you stand! Since John tells us how to have confidence on that coming day, we all should pay close attention.

From beginning to end, the Bible is clear that there is a coming day of judgment. Jesus spoke often about the judgment to come. The apostle Paul, preaching to the philosophers in Athens, declared (Acts 17:31) that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” When he talked with the Roman governor Felix, Paul discussed “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come”.

Our source of confidence is that we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood as the propitiation for our sins. It is only His blood, not our works, that atones for sins. But, how do we know that our faith in Christ is genuine, since it is easy to be deceived? One evidence of genuine faith is when we see God’s love flowing through us to others, especially to others that we would not naturally love. The more you see God’s love surfacing in your life, the more you will “have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1st John 2:28).

Sunday – November 23, 2014 Thanksgiving Celebration

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Psalms 136:1-3
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

We’re not supposed to give thanks to the Lord only one day each year, when we stuff ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings. Giving thanks to our gracious God should not be seasonal, but perpetual: “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20). And so this psalm is appropriate for any and every day of the year but most importantly at this time of Thanksgiving. The psalmist tells us to always give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalm 136 is a unique psalm in that the same refrain is repeated 26 times. The only thing close is when Psalm 118:1-4 repeats, “His lovingkindness is everlasting” four times. Probably, Psalm 136 was designed for public worship. The Jews called it the Great Hallel (Praise), and it was especially sung at the Passover. Perhaps the worship leader would recite the first line of each verse, followed by the congregation repeating together the response, “for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” John Calvin said that the repeated refrain teaches us that to praise the Lord properly, we must acknowledge that everything we receive from Him is bestowed by His grace.

The lesson for us is that it is important for us to know Scripture (including the Old Testament!) so well that we respond to trials and other situations in our lives with biblical language and thought patterns. The stories in the Old Testament that Psalm 136 speak about were written for our instruction so that we would not crave evil things as they did, nor be idolaters, nor try the Lord, nor grumble. If you are not familiar with these stories, so that they shape your worldview, you will not apply them when you most need to. Rather than thanking the Lord for His everlasting love, you will fall into grumbling with the rest of the world.

Why does the psalmist hammer home 26 times the theme that God’s lovingkindness is everlasting? It’s because the enemy wants us to doubt it, especially when trials hit. This truth was so important that David appointed singers whose job was to repeat at the tabernacle, “give thanks to the Lord, because His lovingkindness is everlasting” (1 Chron. 16:41). Later, when the ark was brought into the newly completed temple, Solomon appointed singers to sing, “He indeed is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (2 Chron. 5:13). God’s response was to fill the temple with the cloud of His glory. These things are for our instruction. In every situation, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”.