A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

A Purpose Worth Your Soul (Matthew 16:26)

What is the greatest satisfaction? What is that one thing that, if we find it, we will be content? Perhaps another way of asking the question is, “What is that endeavor that is worth the cost of my one God-given life?” Jesus stated the problem this way:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?”

This search for purpose has been a persistent theme in my life, especially since I trusted Christ as Lord and Savior over thirty years ago. Maybe I am unusual in this, but I think that many wrestle with these same thoughts: “What am I going to do with my life?” God has placed within us a desire for purpose. It may be our strongest human desire, the yearning to find that great work, that place where we feel the deepest sense of fulfillment. “This is the reason I exist!”

In a way, we are all exchanging our soul for something. When I was much younger, I was exchanging my soul for rock climbing. Although there were pleasures and accomplishments from my years of rock climbing, there was never any sense that clawing my way up crags was worth my soul. I felt a need for purpose but climbing was never going to get me there. Then I met the Lord Jesus and He changed everything. Now my life had a sense of purpose. When I was a new believer, I had not come close to finding THE PURPOSE, but I knew that now I was on the right road.

THE MASTER ARCHER ANALOGY

I imagine God as the Master Archer and my life as an arrow. The target is that place where I feel the deep satisfaction and contentment of living my life fully to the glory of God, of finding my unique purpose. Before Christ, I had placed my arrow in the hands of clumsy archers who were poor marksmen, and my life was being spent in dissipation to no purpose. But now I have placed my arrow in the hands of the Lord, the Master Archer, and the Lord has launched me from His bow. Like every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am now either a contented arrow in flight, useful to the Master Archer as I fly toward His chosen target, or the greatest of all satisfactions, a fulfilled arrow which has found its target and is living out my purpose. I have found my great work (Nehemiah 6:3). My search is over. This, my purpose, is why I exist.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PURPOSE

The Bible is full of examples of people who found their purpose. Nehemiah left Susa and the court of King Artaxerxes to find his purpose. He realized that the work of his life was rebuilding Jerusalem. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down (Neh. 6:3).” Having found his life purpose, nothing was going to distract him.

The apostle Paul found his purpose in the dust of the Damascus road. He was a chosen instrument for Christ, and nothing was going to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” He was a man who had found his purpose, and so he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”

The Lord Jesus Himself was completely aware of the reason why He was sent by the Father and was focused on fulfilling His purpose. There has never been and there never will be a Person on earth who was more intent on His purpose. As He was preparing for the cross, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).” Even Jesus knew the joy and satisfaction of perfectly fulfilling His purpose.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, and realized his own sinfulness (“Woe is me, for I am ruined!”), but he found his life purpose.

The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah was given his life purpose when he was still a youth.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).” “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you (1:17).”

Many others knew the satisfaction and contentment which comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. Amos 7:15 – “But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” Peter was given his purpose one day on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Simon (Peter), “Do not fear. From now on you will be catching men (Luke 5:11).” Moses was a washed-up shepherd in Midian when the LORD met him in a burning bush and gave him a life purpose, to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3). The LORD commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and then gave him the life purpose of leading Israel in to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua 1). Caleb demanded to be given the city of Hebron, because he knew that the LORD had called him to drive out the giants there (Joshua 14:6-15). Ezekiel was also given his assignment from the LORD: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me (Ezekiel 2:3).” And thus was his life determined.  

But I have become convinced that the Lord intends for all His children to know the satisfaction and peace and contentment of finding their life purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” Now, if He has prepared our good works, he must also know the purpose for those good works.

I feel that, after a search of almost thirty years, I have now found my purpose; my great work. I am now writing full time and have never been more enthusiastic about my life. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” If the desires of your heart are to glorify God with your life and rejoice in Him, then He has promised to give you the desires of your heart. One of those desires should be finding His purpose for your life. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” The world searches for riches and fame and power, but the believer seeks the Lord Himself and fellowship with Him. Seek righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and the Lord has promised to add all the other things. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 2/24/2021

Who is the first horseman in Revelation 6:1-2?

OVERVIEW – This article presents a step-by-step exegesis of Revelation 6:1-2. This exegesis employs techniques that are helpful when studying biblical eschatology, especially in the book of Revelation. The article also presents an overview of the flow of the book of Revelation and introduces the idea of three phases: the “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last day.

A tour through the book of Revelation can be a bewildering journey, as visions of dragons and beasts and serpents writhe in our head, and angels blow trumpets and pour out bowls of wrath. What does all this mean? And how are we to interpret all this so that it makes sense?

To help shed some light on how to understand the apocalyptic language of Revelation, I wanted to look at a sample passage and seek to interpret it so that we know what it says.

GETTING OUR BEARINGS

Before we begin looking at the details of Revelation 6:1-2, the specific verses under consideration, we must do our preparation work. We must establish where we are in redemptive history. In what “phase” are we? To answer this question, and thus to complete our “homework,” some background is needed.

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 4-20

The contents of Revelation chapters 4-20 speak about the events in heaven and on earth during the time-period from the ascension of Christ after His resurrection to His return on the Last Day, when He will judge the earth. Then Revelation 21-22 describes the new heavens and the new earth. While Revelation 4-20 addresses the entire time between Christ’s advents, the great majority of this section of Revelation focuses on the end of the age, a period called “the end-times,” shortly before the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.

So, earlier I mentioned “phases.” What do I mean when I say “phases?” After Jesus commissions His church (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20), He ascends to heaven. Christ’s ascension inaugurates a long phase called the “thousand years,” which is explicitly mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. This is not a literal “thousand years” but is a figurative expression simply meaning a long period of time when the church is fulfilling its mission of proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18). During this “thousand years,” the church is relatively unhindered in its task of being Jesus’ witnesses.

But history is linear and is moving toward a definite end. Jesus is certainly coming back and all the prophecies about the end of the age and about His return must be fulfilled. Therefore, at a time determined by God, the “thousand years” will end, and the final phase of history will begin. Revelation 11-13 gives three different expressions for this final phase: “time, times, and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days.” Since these three expressions all equal a literal forty-two months, I refer to this phase as the 42 months*. Again, this is not a literal 42 months, but is a figurative expression simply meaning a fairly short period of time. It is during the 42 months* that the prophecies about the end of the age are fulfilled and the world is made ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.

After the 42 months* are completed, the world experiences the Last Day, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns, the righteous are glorified, and the unrighteous are forever condemned to the lake of fire. Thus, there are three phases in the Revelation 4-20: The “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last Day.

TACKLING THE PASSAGE

Having gotten some orientation to the overall flow of Revelation, we now encounter another difficulty in interpreting portions of the book, which is determining where a specific passage is located in redemptive history. In the previous section we defined three phases, but how do we turn to Revelation 6:1-2 about a rider on a horse with a crown and a bow, and fit this passage into the right phase and how do we understand the passage’s meaning? We will tackle this step-by-step.

First, a little more context is needed. Back up to Revelation 5 and notice that chapter 5 is about the Lamb, who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).” This Lamb is worthy because He “purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).” This is obviously the victorious Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, risen from the grave and now ascended to heaven. He is worthy to break the seals.

From earlier study, we know that Jesus’ ascension to heaven inaugurates the “thousand years.” The breaking of the first seal in Revelation 6:1-2, therefore, must be at the start of the “thousand years.” As a reminder, during this phase, the church is proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18).

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Rev. 6:1-2

 Our attention will now focus on the second verse, since it contains the information needed to interpret the meaning. The questions are, “Who is this rider? What does this rider symbolize?” In interpreting Revelation, it is crucial to find the clues that are placed in the text to aid in discovering the meaning. What do we observe in this text? We see a white horse, and its rider has a bow. He has been given a crown, and his mission is conquering and to conquer.

There are two more important clues that are not in this immediate context. The first clue is to note that, in Revelation 19:11-12, which is the climax of the entire book of Revelation, there is another Rider on a white horse, and on His head are many diadems (crowns). This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ in His awesome Second Coming. A Rider on a white horse with many crowns. The comparison should be obvious.

The second clue is contained in the Greek word for “conquer” (from “conquering and to conquer”), which is nikao. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, all seven churches are given a promise from Jesus Christ if they “overcome.” The Greek word for “overcome” is nikao. Yes, that is correct: “overcome” and “conquer” are the same Greek verb, nikao. This suggests that what Jesus declares to the seven churches (to overcome) is what we see happening in the first horseman (conquering and to conquer).

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

In Revelation, white always symbolizes righteousness. This is without exception, so white is a huge clue. A white horse is, therefore, determinative in associating this rider with Jesus and His saints. We have also just pointed out that Jesus Christ will return on a white horse, crowned with many diadems (Revelation 19:11-12). This identical symbolism of the white horse confirms that the rider on the first horse (6:2) is related to Jesus and His church. These are obvious clues that cannot be ignored or dismissed.  

The rider is given a crown. It should be noted that this is the only one of the four riders (Rev. 6:1-8) who receives a crown. In Revelation, who else is given a crown? In Rev. 2:10, the church at Smyrna, representing the persecuted church, will be given the crown of life, if they remain faithful until death. In Revelation 12:1, there appears “a woman clothed with the sun,” representing the faithful saints of the Old Testament. “On her head was a crown of twelve stars.” Thus, we see that it is the faithful church that is given a crown. It is the same thing in the case of the first horseman. He represents the faithful church and receives a crown.

Notice that this horseman in Revelation 6:2 only has a single crown. “A crown was given to him.” By contrast, remember that Jesus had many diadems (Rev. 19:12). And this is as it should be. Jesus, the victorious Conqueror, is worthy of many diadems, while the faithful church, the representatives of the Conqueror, receive only a single crown.

What is the mission of this horseman on the white horse? His mission is “conquering and to conquer.” “Conquering” speaks of the ongoing, steadfast pursuit of the mission. “Conquering” conveys the idea of determination and persistence. “To conquer” declares the goal in uncompromising terms. The faithful church persistently, steadfastly continues in its mission, and the church will continue until the mission is decisively accomplished.

The rider also “had a bow.” Notice that the rider has the mission of conquering and to conquer, but his only weapon to accomplish this colossal mission is a single bow. The mission seems impossible, with too little ammunition to defeat even the weakest enemy. But although the bow appears to be weak and ineffective, it is actually “mighty before God for the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).” For the bow represents the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The faithful church wields the bow of the gospel to conquer the hearts of men and women and bring them into the church.

THE MEANING OF THE FIRST HORSEMAN – SUMMARY

All the pieces have now been explained and the clues have been examined. Now we are ready to both correctly place this first horseman in redemptive history and declare what he is picturing for us. When the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal, one of the four living creatures calls the church (the rider on the white horse who has been given a crown) to begin her task of proclaiming the gospel (using the bow) for the ingathering of the elect into the church (conquering and to conquer). This task of proclaiming the gospel will continue throughout the “thousand years.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/14/2021

The quest for purpose (Luke 13:7)

Man is a purpose-seeking creature. Built into man’s very nature is the deep need for a purpose that gives meaning to his days. Yet even though there seem to be myriad paths available to a person, there is no obvious guide for deciding which path to choose and there is no universal, default destination for where the chosen path should lead. So, without a path and without a destination, the natural man struggles to find purpose. Sometimes we feel like Alice in Wonderland as she encounters the Cheshire cat at the fork in the road. Alice asks the cat, “Please tell me which road I should choose.” “Well,” replies the cat, “that all depends on where you are going.” “I don’t know where I am going.” “In that case, either road will get you there.”

JUSTIFY OUR EXISTENCE

Man needs a purpose because in some sense he wants to justify his existence. If someone were to ask him one day, “What are you doing here, anyway?” he would like to give some credible answer. And yet, what answer could he give? “I don’t really know what I am doing here. I just showed up one day and kept breathing.” We seek to justify our existence and are frightened to discover that our best offering is pretty shaky.

CAN I FIND A MISSION?

We would love a compelling mission for our lives that gives us a laser beam focus, but, if the truth were told, we would settle for any mission at all. The scene that opens the movie “Apocalypse Now” shows Martin Sheen sitting on a sweat-soaked bed in Vietnam as the ceiling fan slowly stirs the sultry air, and then the voice-over says, “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.” That pictures the state of every person as they begin to grow toward maturity and begin to contemplate their existence. “Here I am. Waiting for a mission.” Where can anyone turn to find an answer to the question of purpose? Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard that produced no fruit. “Cut it down!” he says. “Why should it use up the ground? (Luke 13:7)” Whether we know the Lord or not, this question haunts us. “Why should he use up the ground?”

THREE KINDS OF PURPOSE

In my observation, there are three broad categories of purpose into which people fit.

  • No purpose
  • A man-made or man-invented purpose
  • A God-given purpose

NO PURPOSE

The natural state and the starting point of all people in their quest for purpose is “no purpose.” This is the result of the Fall of man when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. One of the consequences of man’s sin is that he is separated from God and so is groping around for purpose and direction like the blind. Isaiah says, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes (59:10).” There may be some casual searches for meaning at different points in life, but eventually the search is abandoned, and life becomes a long and aimless chore. Often this is a life defined by random choices because they lack a compelling ‘why,’ and random choices are usually bad choices. Tragically, I think this may describe the majority of people.

A MAN-MADE PURPOSE

It has already been observed that there are myriad paths in life available to a person, but there is no clear means for deciding which of those paths to take or why, and there is no default destination toward which a man or a woman should strive. Nevertheless, there are many who, because of their circumstances in life or because of their personality and character makeup, or both, find a path that, for whatever reason, appeals to them. The choice of path or purpose is often random (I remember we were on a trip to Florida on a summer break from college when I saw a rocket engine and decided to become a Mechanical Engineer!), but, having selected that course in life, men and women pour themselves into this “man-made purpose” with obsessive energy.

Some choose a career as being their obsession. Others choose their children or their family. Making money can be the purpose. Or sexual conquests. Or sports. Or really anything. Wrestling crocodiles. Chasing tornadoes. Politics. Being a “foodie.” The man-made purpose does not need to be important or impressive in the eyes of the world (although it often is). My obsession in my twenties and early thirties was rock climbing. (Like I said, it does not have to make sense or be impressive.) I poured myself into that activity and sacrificed almost everything else to pursue cragging. It seems foolish, but that is the nature of the man-made purpose. Once chosen the choice of the purpose is rarely questioned.

The author of Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher,” had chosen man-made pursuits. Enormously successful at all that he did, he was miserable. “So, I hated life! All is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).” Having given his life to wisdom and pleasure and accomplishment, he encountered that great equalizer. He encountered the problem of the six-foot hole. When considering his own death, he says, “The same event happens to all of them. How the wise dies just like the fool! As one dies, so dies the other (Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16; 3:19).” All those who pursue a man-made purpose will find vexation and emptiness in this life, and judgment in the next. “This, too, is vanity and a striving after wind.”

A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE

The best of all purposes is a God-given purpose. This is possessed by all those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Having been called by God to faith in Jesus, the believer has received the blessing of a clear purpose that pleases God, that is intensely fulfilling, that lasts a lifetime, and that receives the commendation in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21, 23).” The believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is a divine guide for directing him or her to the right path (Isaiah 30:21). The believer has the mission of being a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and of being His ambassador in the world (2 Cor. 5:20), a mission that is joy-producing and satisfying and challenging. In trusting Christ as Savior, the believer has received a purpose that justifies their existence and that is worth spending a lifetime to accomplish. This purpose is worth living for and it is worth dying for.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 

SDG                 rmb                 1/15/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 2 (Philippians 3:10)

“that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10

It seems that the statement is made at some point in conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to affliction for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and so many Christians in history suffer for their faith? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer for my faith? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course of action that almost certainly includes suffering to some degree?

            Because of the importance of the topic of suffering for the believer, I am going to spend several posts exploring what I see to be problems with the statement, “Of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering.” The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

            Problem #1 (January 5) dealt with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ effectively sought out His own suffering as the necessary means for accomplishing His mission of redemption and atonement. Since Jesus sought suffering, it seems hard to imagine that we do not. In this post we will look at Problem #2.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #2

            “That’s really a trivial statement.”

Upon examination, we realize that the declaration above (“Of course, we do not seek suffering”) is somewhat trivial. What I mean is this: Of course, Christians do not seek out suffering! No one in their right mind seeks out suffering as an end in itself, so saying that the Christian is not called to seek suffering is just stating the obvious. Jesus did not call His disciples to seek suffering for suffering’s sake, but He did call us to follow Him wherever He leads regardless of any real or imagined consequences. The consequences of my obedience are the Lord’s responsibility. He determines those, and one of those potential consequences may be suffering. Another consequence could be my physical death. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to obey regardless. The duty of obedience is my responsibility. I obey because obedience to my Master is my highest aim. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

When viewed in this light, the possibility of suffering is irrelevant. It is beside the point. Suffering is just one of the potential consequences of my obedience to the Lord. Why focus on one potential consequence instead of focusing on the goal or the prize of my obedience (Philippians 3:14)? Why highlight this one possible personal consequence instead of bringing all glory to Christ and focusing all my energy on proclaiming the gospel? Why think about a consequence of obedience that might cause me to shrink back from God’s appointed path (Hebrews 10:38-39), instead of running with endurance the race before me and fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), which will spur me on?

The bottom line is that the disciple of Jesus does not seek out a path just because it offers an opportunity to suffer, but neither does the disciple of Jesus shrink back from any God-appointed path that requires personal suffering. Suffering is not sought, nor is it required, but neither is it ever avoided.

SDG                 rmb                 1/9/2021

Is our search for significance vanity? (Ecclesiastes)

So, I hated life!” “I hated all my work at which I worked!” These would be deeply disturbing statements from anyone, because of the misery that is revealed by them. There must be deep anguish of soul when someone says, “I hated life.” What makes these statements more troubling and even more baffling is that they were said not by someone who had led a life of failure and aimlessness and dissolution, but by a man who had lived what many would envy as an ideal life. Immense wealth and pleasure and fame and accomplishment, and yet somehow the result is an exclamation of, “So I hated life (Ecclesiastes 2:17).”

This introduces us to the complex book of “Ecclesiastes” in the Bible, a book that explores the question of whether it is possible to have meaning and significance in life when death seems to erase it all. The author, who I will refer to as Qohelet (Hebrew for “preacher”), appears to have mastered life and to have sucked all the juice out of his life well-lived. Building projects and wisdom, pleasures and accumulating wealth; he seems to have succeeded in everything he attempted. But there is one problem Qohelet has failed to solve: DEATH. All his grandest successes “under the sun” shrink into insignificance in the face of this one failure: “I will die.” Death renders life vain (“Vanity of vanities”). Death erases all that life wrote. Death trumps life, and life’s house of cards collapses. And so Qohelet views all effort, indeed, all of life to be just so much “striving after wind.” Is Qohelet right? Is life a pointless striving after wind since death awaits us all? If Qohelet is wrong, where does his error lie? Can we refute his statements or his conclusions? Better still, do we have a solution to his dilemma?

WHERE DOES QOHELET MISS THE MARK?

            First, let me say that I believe that Qohelet is driven by a search for significance, and the primary obstacle to anyone’s lasting significance is that event that concludes life, namely DEATH. If a person’s death does indeed erase all accomplishment and destroy all significance, as Qohelet assumed, then having significance in this life seems impossible. Qohelet accepted the ideas that death is final and that no purpose or significance transcends death, but I believe both of those ideas are false.

            Qohelet has realized late in life that performing all the right things “under the sun,” and even performing them very well, will not bring significance. Nothing “under the sun” can provide significance, because nothing “under the sun” is meant to provide it. Qohelet has focused his search along the horizontal plane, on what can be found “under the sun,” but significance is found vertically, in looking up.

It is also true that accomplishment never produces purpose. Rather, meaningful accomplishment flows out of purpose. First you receive the mission or the purpose, then you pursue those things that accomplish that mission. Qohelet got the order reversed.

            Finally, it seems to me that the Preacher lacks a compelling “why” for all that he is accomplishing. He has amazing abilities that allow him to achieve astonishing things, but his motivation for these comes from within himself, and is not given him from above. Qohelet needs a motivation that is greater than his own ambition, a God-given motivation.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

            As one who has long contemplated my own significance and who has wrestled with Qohelet’s arguments, I have several thoughts to offer about solutions to these questions.

            I do not create my significance by what I do, nor is my significance achieved by my own effort. That is because significance is not manufactured from within, and thus is not to be found “under the sun,” but significance is given by the Lord who reigns over all and is humbly received by the man or woman who loves the Lord.

            My significance is a derived significance. By myself, my life is relatively insignificant. That is why my significance must be derived from another, from one who is infinitely significant. For I joyfully serve the living God and, through faith in Jesus Christ, I have come into a loving relationship with Him, and I derive my significance from His infinite majesty. I am an adopted child of the King of kings, and nothing I could accomplish in a thousand lifetimes would be more significant than that. And since I am in Christ, and Christ lives forever, death has lost its threat and the grave can no longer frighten.

            If we search for significance “under the sun,” we will always be “striving after wind.” But those who fear the Lord and worship the One who is worthy of all praise will find true contentment. They will rest in Him and rejoice in Him and receive with joy and thanksgiving the good things He provides and praise His name. They rejoice in hope now in this life “under the sun,” knowing that after death they will be forever rejoicing with Him.

            In short, significance is found in bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus and humbly and obediently walking with Him through life here “under the sun,” and then forevermore in heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 11/19/2020

The joy of fruitful labor (Philippians 1:22)

If I am to live on in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (1:22).

            For this article, we are considering the passage in Philippians 1:21-26. These verses state in no uncertain terms the commitment that the apostle Paul had made to the Lord Jesus. His encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road had transformed the fire-breathing Pharisee into a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and now he can say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”

            It is hard to imagine a more radical declaration than this. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was a man who saw life through a Christ-focused lens. His life belonged to Christ, and as long as he drew breath, his purpose was to serve Christ and to proclaim the gospel of Christ’s glory. Heaven with Christ was guaranteed (“to die is gain”), so now, while he was “in the flesh (1:22),” he would serve Him with his whole life.

But a radical declaration (“To live is Christ”) necessitates a radical commitment.

            The apostle has made a radical declaration, but what does “to live is Christ” look like in real-life? Paul answers that question in the next verse. “(But) if I am to live on in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (1:22).”

            Fruitful labor is the key! Seeking to live a life in fruitful labor puts shoe leather on the declaration “to live is Christ.” So, when Paul said, “To live is Christ,” he not only made an explicit declaration of what defined his existence, but he also made an implicit commitment to manifest that declaration in fruitful labor.

            This commitment to fruitful labor is everywhere evident in Paul’s life. In this very passage to the Philippians, we see that Paul considered it “more necessary” for him to remain and continue with them for their progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25). In Acts 14, after being stoned by the crowds in Lystra (14:19), Paul got up, dusted himself off, again entered the city, went to Derbe, and then “returned to Lystra (!) and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22).” Paul was all about fruitful labor.  

APPLICATION

            My purpose is not to exalt Paul but is to exhort us. I think that, as radical as the statement of Philippians 1:21 is, it is the statement of the normal Christian life. Elsewhere, the New Testament declares that we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). We have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). We have lost our life for His sake (Matthew 10:39). We have left everything and followed Him (Mark 10:28). In other words, “To live is Christ.” And since that is the case, the disciple’s “spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1)” is to give himself or herself to a life of fruitful labor.

WHAT IS YOUR “FRUITFUL LABOR?”

            If we have made the commitment to seek to live in fruitful labor, then we must take the time to think through what that looks like for us. The details will be different for each disciple because the Lord has called us into different roles and various vocations and diverse circumstances. For Paul, fruitful labor included writing thirteen New Testament books and proclaiming the gospel as a pioneer missionary over the known world. For most of us, our fruitful labor will be more modest. Nevertheless, I believe we need to consider how we can make the most of the time (Ephesians 5:16) and spend our lives in ways which manifest our commitment to Christ in Christ-honoring labors.

Here are some ideas for where to start in finding your fruitful labors.

  • Your current roles and relationships will define some of these labors. In your spheres of influence you can “let your light shine before men,” you can “let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt,” you can be an ambassador for Christ, a fisher of men, a sower who went out to sow, etc.
  • Consider Ephesians 2:10, which states that God has prepared our good works beforehand (in eternity past), that we would walk in them. Meditating on this verse may give some direction on where you might find your fruitful labor.
  • Be intentional and keep the idea of fruitful labor consciously in your mind. Develop a “fruitful labor” mindset.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2020

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “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 (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Of Rewards and Wages – What do we receive? (1 Cor. 3:5-8)

Will some believers have a greater reward in heaven than others? Will Apollos receive a lesser reward than Paul because he did not write thirteen New Testament epistles? (Apollos only wrote “Hebrews!”) Will Amos have a smaller crown than Elijah because Amos never called down fire from heaven? Or will Elijah have a smaller crown than Amos because Elijah never wrote an Old Testament book? Does the Bible have anything to say about this?

As I was reading through 1 Corinthians, I came to the passage in chapter 3 where Paul talks about servants (3:5) and about wages (3:8).

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to eachI planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 ESV

As I considered this passage. I began to think about rewards and crowns and whether each believer receives the same reward to their work or if those who produced more results received a greater reward. So, I decided to explore this question from the Scriptures.

  • The case for, “We will all receive the same reward.”
    • Matthew 20:1-16. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, every laborer receives a denarius as a reward. Whether they endured the sun the entire day or they came out to the vineyard during the last hour, they all received the same reward of a denarius.
    • Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him graciously give us all things?” The verse teaches that God will give US all things. If we all receive all things, do we not all receive the same reward?
    • 2 Timothy 4:8. We will ALL receive the crown of righteousness, not just Paul, even though Paul accomplished much more than us for the kingdom.
    • Ephesians 2:10. If God has determined beforehand the extent of my good works, would it be fair that I receive a lesser reward because God determined that I would do lesser works than another?
    • Parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Before the master went on his journey, he gave out talents to his servants, “to each according to his ability (25:15).” Then, when the master returned from his journey, he gave the servant who had gained TWO MORE TALENTS exactly the same reward that he gave the servant who had gained FIVE MORE TALENTS. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” EXACTLY the same reward for different faithful results.
  • The case for, “We receive greater or lesser rewards based on the fruits of our labors for the Kingdom in this life.”
    • The parable of the minas in Luke 19:12-27. While this parable is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 (above), the rewards given to the servants for their labors are different. The servant whose mina made ten minas more was given authority over ten cities, while the one whose mina had made five minas was given authority over five cities. This indicates that rewards are commensurate with accomplishment and that all do not receive the same reward.
    • 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. These verses reveal different rewards for those who are involved in the building of the church (pastors, church-planters, elders, possibly evangelists).

13 Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The one who built the church foolishly will “suffer loss,” but will himself be saved, but the “wise master builder (3:10)” will receive a reward (3:14). Thus, there are different rewards for different achievements.

THE THIRD OPTION

But I think that there is a third option that is better than either of the two already proposed. I think that, while we are here on this earth, our focus is not on increasing our personal heavenly reward but is on encouraging one another to faithfully carry out the works God has given us to do. Thus, we are increasing the glory that God receives as a result of our proclamation of the gospel and declaration of His glory to the nations.

  • Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Clearly, the goal is not to compare future rewards, but is to encourage each other as we walk toward heaven.
  • Ephesians 4:16. “The whole body is joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow.” Again, we see that each part is important to the functioning of the whole body. So, “every joint” is important, and it is important for each part to “work properly.” So, each part of the body is to encourage every other part to function “properly.”
  • Romans 12:3-8. While spiritual gifts are distributed differently, each believer is to be a faithful steward of their gifts for the glory of God.

In heaven, there may indeed be different rewards based on the results of our kingdom labors on this earth, but, if that is the case, each saint in heaven will be perfectly content with their own reward and will rejoice with other saints over the rewards the Lord has given them.

SDG                 rmb                 9/21/2020

How will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14-15)

BRITTON BUSINESS SCHOOL CASE STUDY

The sales manager was at a loss as to what to do next. Sales had been flat to slightly declining for almost five years now, despite having a clearly superior product at a more competitive price. True, the product had not been changed or been upgraded for a while, but the existing features and benefits already so far exceeded all the competition that an upgrade should have been unnecessary. That, in combination with a sales price much less than the competing products, made it hard to explain why sales were not steadily increasing.

“Far superior product at a lower price; Why can’t we move the needle on sales?”

He considered the company’s decision to cut marketing. Could that be it? Yes, they spent less than 25% of what the competition spent on marketing, but that could not be the full explanation.

He thought about sales training as a possible answer. “Maybe our salespeople need more training.” But that didn’t make sense, because both his salespeople had been selling the product for at least twenty years. Both knew how to prospect, how to make and convert cold calls, how to show the superior features and benefits of the product. As far as skill at one-on-one sales, the sales manager would put both his salespeople up against anyone in the business.

Then he wondered whether it was the competition. While it was a fact that the competition was well-established in the market, it was also a fact that almost all of their existing customers had at one point in time been using the competitive product and had switched when they heard about our product and what it had to offer. “No, it’s not the competition. It must be something else that I can’t put my finger on. There has to be some reason why we can’t get more market share, especially with more than 50 million potential customers in our territory.” The sales manager decided to call his two salespeople into his office and see if they could brainstorm and come up with an answer.

CASE STUDY ANALYSIS

            As business consultants, how would you explain the lack of anticipated sales at this company? What would be your recommendation for the sales manager as to how to increase sales?

            Okay, time’s up. What is your answer? I hope that you said something like, “Get more salespeople out there! If you have a market of 50 million people and TWO SALESPEOPLE, you are desperately understaffed and need to figure out how to let more people know that there is a far superior product available at a lower price. People will not buy the best product in the world, even if it is free, if they don’t know that the product exists.

THE GOSPEL ANALOGY

            In Romans 10:14-15, the apostle Paul lays out four essential steps for any person anywhere to be saved. After declaring that, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13),” Paul then tells how that blessing of salvation takes place, starting with the end and working backwards. So, he asks how they will call on the Lord if they have not believed in the Lord. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Backing up one more step, he asks how they will believe in Jesus if they have never heard the gospel about Jesus. (Implied answer: They won’t!) Finally, he asks the critical question, “And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Implied answer: They won’t!) All these steps are necessary for salvation. No step can be omitted. Therefore, it is necessary for salvation for there to be “a preacher” (see below for a description of what it means to be “a preacher”) to proclaim the gospel message so that an unsaved person will hear the gospel. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who hears the gospel message to believe that message. And it is necessary for salvation for the person who believes the gospel message to call on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith as a response to their believing the gospel message that was preached and heard. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth (a verbal call on the name of the Lord) Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That means that if there is true belief in your heart, it will issue forth in verbal confession from your mouth and then in life and behavior change as sanctification occurs.

WHO IS A PREACHER?

            So, from Scripture we see that a preacher is necessary for salvation because the gospel message must be heralded to the unsaved. But now the question comes up, “Well, who is a preacher?” Various pictures may be conjured up in your mind in answer to this question. The caricature seems to be of some man sweating profusely as he shouts at his hapless congregation. The popularity of this image would suggest that the picture was designed in hell and has resulted in the perishing of many souls as they laughed off “the preacher.” But the biblical word that is used in Romans 10:14-15 is that of a herald, of a person who had been entrusted with a critically important message and was sent out to proclaim exactly that message, even if the herald was killed in carrying out the task. This is the biblical picture. In the Bible, Paul was a preacher (2 Timothy 1:11). John the Baptist was a preacher. Solomon was a Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Noah was a preacher (2 Peter 2:5). Most significant of all, the Lord Jesus Himself was a Preacher. There is no reason to shrink back from being a preacher based on reputation.

            But who is a preacher? Think about the preacher’s task. The preacher is a herald sent out to proclaim a message. Now consider Matthew 28:19-20, when Jesus told us to “Go, therefore” in the Great Commission. Jesus was sending every member of His church out to proclaim the gospel to the nations. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says to His first disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Those are herald words. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Again, herald words. Jesus told the parable in Matthew 13, “The sower went out to sow.” We find out that “the sower” sows the Word of God, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see that every believer could be described as a sower. Again, more herald words.

            Who is a preacher? Who is a herald? Who has been sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ to herald His message to perishing men and women so that they might be saved? That is the privileged calling of the preacher. Who wouldn’t want to be called to that task? And what Paul is saying in Romans 10:14 is that you and I have been called as preachers (“heralds”) of the good news so that people will hear and believe and call on the name of the Lord.

            So, whether your audience is few or many, you are the one who has been called by your Lord and Savior to let others know about Jesus and about how they can be delivered from the wrath to come.

            In Matthew 9:38, after seeing the misery of the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, He said, “Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Just as the company in the case study needed more salespeople, so the Lord Jesus is seeking more heralds who will be active in His harvest.

SDG                 rmb                 9.8.2020