Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021

Disappointment and Grumbling (Exodus 16:8)

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.” Most people will accept this statement as true. If I have pictured my life (or this relationship or this decision or this investment or this whatever) turning out in a certain way, when my plans do not work out according to my wishes and when my expectations are not met, I am disappointed.

Disappointment is a big deal. It is a danger to your emotional well-being. Disappointment can lead to feelings of regret or failure or anger, and the nasty brew of these emotions can lead you into depression. But for the believer, of vastly more significance is the spiritual danger of lingering disappointment. Disappointment is a spiritual acid that erodes your walk with the Lord. It acts like a ball-and-chain that prevents your running the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Disappointment puts a low ceiling on your spiritual growth. And sooner or later it results in grumbling.

The sons of Israel are sort of the “poster children” of grumbling. As the book of Exodus begins, they are oppressed slaves of the cruel Egyptians, scavenging around Egypt for straw to make bricks. They had not heard from Yahweh for a long time and had no real hope that anything about their situation would change. Then Yahweh found a washed-up shepherd in Midian and, through this Moses, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He had decimated the land of Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground. Not only that, but this great God, Yahweh, had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that He was giving them for free. Despite this, within a week or so, the sons of Israel are grumbling because of unmet expectations. And grumbling is a big deal.

“For the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. Your grumblings are not against us, but against the LORD.” – Exodus 16:8

Grumbling is a big deal because our grumbling is against the Lord. By my grumbling, I am letting God know that my expectations have not been met, and He needs to do something about it or else! I may protest that my grumbling and complaining is not against the Lord but is against some circumstance, but the Scripture makes clear that all my grumbling is against the Lord. He has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19),” but with my grumbling I question that. I call God’s faithfulness into question. And that is a big deal.

I have been found out! I am a grumbler and a complainer. Wretched man that I am! What is a grumbler to do? How can I overcome this sin? Well, I have some thoughts.

First, cut off the source of our grumbling, which is unmet expectations. How do we cut off that source? Keep my personal expectations to a minimum. The disciple is the Lord’s bondservant. As bondservants we have very few of our own plans because our goal and role in life is to serve our Master and to obey His commands.

Next, read your Bible and model the heroes you find there. For example, consider the apostle Paul. How different were his expectations from mine! His goal was to exalt Christ “by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).” It is difficult to disappoint a man who expects to die for his faith and to suffer for the name of Jesus while he lives. (Philippians 1:21) It would be an interesting exercise to go from listening to Paul in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, after he has been beaten and thrown in the stocks, and then traveling to the hill overlooking Nineveh in Jonah 4 and listening to the prophet Jonah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Taking that same attitude will radically reduce your disappointments.

Third, replace worldly expectations with biblical ones. Before I make my plans for my glory, I need to remember that “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, to glorify God with my life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” I am called to “present my body (meaning my life) as a living and holy sacrifice, which is my spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).” Therefore, my goal is to use my life, not for my pleasure, but for God’s glory. This mindset effectively erases expectations. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul declares, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” A sheep appointed for the sacrificial slaughter would have modest expectations, and it would be difficult to be disappointed.

Finally, be thankful. An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude will crowd out disappointment and grumbling. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” There is no disappointment if you are always content with the outcome. God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has wrapped you with a robe of righteousness. He has sealed you with His Spirit and He has promised you an eternity with Him in heaven. Now, tell me again, what is the source of your grumbling?

SDG                 rmb                 2/2/2021

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty – Part 2

“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.” – Isaiah 8:12

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

On January 29, I had posted an article about possible feelings of fear in this age of rising confusion and evil.   There is no doubt that our world today supplies us with reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling and we as believers can be tempted to think that God is no longer in control and that Satan and wickedness have gotten the upper hand.

A BIBLICAL VIEW OF GOD’S CONTROL

Before we consider “the prince of the power of the air (Ephesian 2:2),” Satan, who is “a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44),” we need to make sure that our own thinking is on solid ground. That means that our first task is to establish a correct view of God’s control. What does it mean when we say God is in sovereign control of all things?

There are many voices competing for our attention these days, seeking to influence us to forsake the Bible and its clear truth. If we listen to these worldly voices, we will adopt an unbiblical view of God’s control that sounds much more like our unsaved neighbor than it does a child of the King who calls God his or her Abba, Father. In that case, our view of “God is in control” says that “my life is peaceful and safe, and the world is getting better and better every day, so I know God is in control.” The most serious problem here is that, with this view of “God’s sovereignty,” God is accountable to me and each day He must again prove to me that He is still in control by keeping me safe and comfortable. This is an abominable error!

On the other hand, a biblical view of “God is in control” says this:

  • God has declared in His word that He is in control of all things, and His word is truth (John 17:17)
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of all things by displaying His control in myriad episodes recorded in the Bible
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of our lives by ordaining the events of our salvation and by providentially guiding the events of our lives
  • Therefore, since He has proven He is in sovereign control of all things, God has commanded us to trust Him

RECONCILING SATAN’S ACTIVITY WITH GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Now we turn to a consideration of Satan and his activity in the world. How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world? Doesn’t a rise in Satan’s work of chaos and strife and violence indicate that God is not in complete control?

The short answer is, “No.” God remains in complete control, but as the world moves toward the end of the age, God will manifest His sovereign control by using Satan’s activity to take history in a new direction. At the appropriate time, God will begin to fulfill all the prophecies about the end-times that are written in His Word so that the world will be prepared for the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.

Despite his reputation, the Bible reveals that Satan is merely another character on the Lord’s stage. As Judas was chosen as one of the Twelve because the Lord Jesus needed a betrayer, so Satan has been created because the Lord required someone to do the grand evil acts scripted into His great drama. The Lord needed someone to tempt Adam and Eve, and Satan was ordained as the tempter (Genesis 3:1-6). God needed someone to test Job, so Satan was selected for that part (Job 1, 2). Someone was needed to test the Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), so Satan received that part, as well. So it will be in the future, when Satan is released from the abyss (Revelation 20:3, 7) to play his role as God’s supporting actor, accomplishing what God created him to accomplish and moving history toward the end of the age. In his role, the devil will accomplish exactly as much destruction and lawlessness and sin as the Lord planned for him to accomplish before the foundation of the world . . . but not even the slightest bit more. Satan will freely choose to do all the evil that the Lord has sovereignly ordained for him to do, and he does not get to adlib. He is an actor on God’s stage, and he enters and exits the stage according to the Director’s precise instructions. He can do no other.

Therefore, we need not be frightened when we see Satan doing those things the Bible declares he must certainly do. The Lord Jesus Himself told us these things would surely take place and He told us these things so that we would not be frightened when they came to pass. (Consider Matthew 24:5-13, 21-28) Instead, when we see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25), we can have these responses:

  1. Have strong confidence in God’s Word, for we see what the Bible has clearly predicted coming to pass.
  2. Increasing joy of anticipation, for we will see Jesus soon! (Matthew 24:33)
  3. Resolve to persevere to the end, for now the time is short (Matthew 25:13).
  4. Draw closer to one another, draw together for encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  5. Send roots deeper into Christ so that we can stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-18).

SDG                 rmb                 1/31/2021

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty – Part 1

“Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them.” – Jeremiah 10:2

“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.” – Isaiah 8:12

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

There is no doubt that our world today gives us reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling.

As we search for security and seek to keep our feet in the raging storm, we can begin to wonder if the Lord is still in control. How can all these “bad” things be happening unless God’s grip has slipped? Godlessness and lawlessness and evil are on the rise. Does this mean Satan is in control? Natural disasters. A global pandemic. Racial tension. Political division. Fear. Distrust. Chaos. “Lord, how can You allow these things on Your watch?” Has Satan broken out and is he now on the loose?

It is in times like these that we open our Bible and dig deep to find out what God has said in His Word. With regard to what we see in our present times, our Bible gives us a foundational truth that never changes:

Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

This is implicit from the general tone and content of the Scriptures. In the Bible, the Lord makes statements about events that will take place decades or centuries in the future, because the Lord will control all things needed to bring those events into existence. See Genesis 15:13-14 about the captivity in Egypt; Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin birth of Immanuel; Micah 5:2 giving the Messiah’s birthplace.

But the Bible also makes explicit statements about the Lord’s sovereign control.

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” – Psalm 115:3

“. . . having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” – Ephesians 1:11

“But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” – Daniel 4:35

So, if God is in sovereign control of all things, why do we see rampant godlessness in our world? Isn’t it possible that Satan is causing this rise in evil and is creating this open attack on the church and on the maligning of everything good?

Before we answer those questions, we must bury a myth that can easily insinuate itself into a Christian’s thinking, and the myth goes something like this: “If God is really in control, then Satan is powerless to cause evil to increase in my world and God will protect me from major problems in my life and bad stuff won’t happen to me.” (Read Satan’s words to God about Job in the first chapter of “Job” to get a biblical account of such thinking.) When those who have adopted this myth see growing corruption and wickedness and violence and conflict, they can conclude that God is no longer in control, and thus be deeply troubled and confused.

How do we deal with this?

First, we set our feet back on the rock of our foundational truth: Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

            Second, we confess that this idea that “God proves He is in control by keeping me safe” is an unbiblical myth. God IS in control, and we trust Him to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

            Third, I must realize that God is not ordaining all the events of history to ensure my personal comfort and happiness. Rather, God is ordaining all events because history is irresistibly moving toward a day of reckoning and final judgment when the Lord Jesus will come from heaven on a white horse to destroy the unrighteous and gather all the righteous to Himself forever (Revelation 19:11-21), and He has chosen me for salvation so that I can perform my small part in the grand drama.

            Fourth, as we carefully read our Bibles, we see that Satan has, in fact, been given a significant role in world events at the end of the age. Therefore, if we have reached that time in history, we should not be surprised to see evidence of his activity in the world.

CAN GOD BE IN CONTROL IF SATAN IS RELEASED AND FREE?

            Even with all that we have said, we are still left with the question, “How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world?” We will attempt to answer that question in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 1/29/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3)

Back on January 21 I published a blog post introducing an end-times Bible study on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. The title of that post was not terribly creative: “End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study.” As I have further considered this study, I have decided to publish the long articles as “pages” on my “Roy’s Reflections” site and to announce each long article with a blog post, summarizing the longer article and also providing a link to the “page” for those who want to read more. So here is the first of my announcements. I hope you enjoy the study. rmb

WHY THIS STUDY OF 2 THESSALONIANS 2?

The Lord has given us eschatological passages (passages about the end of the age or “last things”) in His Word to show us “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” Jesus Christ will surely return to this earth bodily in power and glory (Acts 1:11) and will draw history to a close, and there will certainly be a generation of people who will see Him coming on the clouds (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-31). Given the unprecedented events of recent history and the general trajectory of events into the future, I have wondered if, perhaps, we might be that generation of people. That is, does what the Bible describe as the events at the end of the age bear any resemblance to what we see swirling around in our world today? This study through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is an attempt to answer that question.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT TODAY? THE APOSTASY

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3

In this article the subject will be “the apostasy” from 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The apostasy (“rebellion” in the ESV) is one of the “gating events” mentioned in this passage, for Paul says that “it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” Thus, according to Paul’s teaching, the apostasy must take place before Jesus will return. Our study of the apostasy, then, should answer two questions: 1) What exactly is “the apostasy?” and 2) Has the apostasy taken place yet? If we can answer the first question satisfactorily and then answer “yes” to the second question, we can be confident that at least this end-times event is not preventing His return.

The article then goes on to attempt to answer these two questions (above) and then to draw some conclusions.

Link to article: End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3) – Roy’s Reflections

SDG rmb 1/27/2021

Imitating Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51)

There may be times in our lives when the stress of our disquiet and anxiety becomes distracting. The complexities and difficulties of life are coming at us too fast for us to deflect and to process and we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe the issues are relational or financial or vocational, or all the above, but the net effect is a sense of being outmatched by life. How are we to pray in these situations? How do we cry out to the Lord when it feels like, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4)”?

As I look at the examples and the instructions of the Scriptures, I think the answer is to cry out to the Lord in faith with a specific request. Even when you see many threats and concerns bearing down on you and collectively creating anxiety and stress, there is usually one specific issue that is primary. That is, there is usually one issue that, if defused, would bring things back into the realm of the manageable. But in any event, whether you can identify the key issue or not, you begin by identifying one issue and then addressing that issue with the Lord in prayer.

So, having identified one specific problem or fear or threat, we can cry out to the Lord about THAT. We confess our trouble and probably our fear, and then we “pour out our complaint before the Lord (Psalm 142:2).” We are saying, “Here is my trouble and sorrow. O Lord help me! O Lord answer me! Deliver me!”

AN EXAMPLE IN THE DUST OF THE JERICHO ROAD

There was a day when Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46). The Lord had been passing through Jericho on His way going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), where He was to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish atonement for all of God’s people for all time by His death on the cross. But as He is leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road (Mark 10:46), and the beggar began to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:48)!”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: The Son of God on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission of salvation for the whole world and a blind beggar sitting in the dust beside the Jericho road pitifully crying out for mercy. Jesus could not be bothered with such a one as this, could He?

AND JESUS STOPPED

When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, what happened? AND JESUS STOPPED (10:49). Think about this for a moment. The Son of God is “on the road going up to Jerusalem (10:32)” and when, above all the noise of the large crowd, He hears a cry for mercy, Jesus stopped. Jesus temporarily set aside His mission of saving the world to talk to a blind beggar. He then calls Bartimaeus to Himself and says, “What do you want Me to do for you (Mark 10:51)?”

CONSIDER BARTIMAEUS: A MAN OF ONE REQUEST

The King of kings has just called Bartimaeus to come to Him and He has given this blind man a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now is his chance. Now Bartimaeus has the full attention of the Lord of the universe and he can ask Him for any one thing. With this incredible privilege, what will he ask for?

Bartimaeus is ready with his one request. Without hesitation he said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight (10:51)!” This is a perfect request! Not only does the request demonstrate Bartimaeus’ faith by asking Jesus for what is humanly impossible, but it also clearly identifies the one issue that is most critical to the blind man: his sight. Bartimaeus gives Jesus a specific request. What happens next?

Jesus instantly and evidently answered his “impossible” request. No one there could deny what had taken place. A blind beggar had come to Jesus and had asked Him to give him his sight, and Jesus had spontaneously done exactly that. “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (10:52).” Thus, Jesus was glorified as the great healer and the one who answers impossible requests asked in faith.

APPLICATION

Now if we switch back to the situation where we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s complexities and difficulties, maybe we can learn from Bartimaeus’ example. Although as a blind beggar, there is little doubt that Bartimaeus must have had many challenging issues, when it came time to present his request to the Lord, our man gave one specific request. “I want to regain my sight.” Like Bartimaeus, once we have identified our major issue, we present our one specific request to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, here is the complaint that I am pouring out before You. Here is my trouble and my sorrow. Here is THE issue. O Lord please answer me!”

A specific request makes possible a clear, specific answer. The Lord is glorified by answering our prayer request and we are blessed by His answer.

SDG                 rmb                 1/25/2021

Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

AGRICULTURAL WISDOM

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

FAITHFUL SOWERS AND WASTED SEED

The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 1/22/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study

Because the unprecedented events of recent history have been happening very quickly and because things that seemed far-fetched only a short time ago are now matters of fact and reality, I felt the desire to write a series of blog posts on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, one of the clearest passages in the Bible on the events that will take place at the end of history. This section of Scripture presents key information about the events and personalities of the end-times, the time just before the return of Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2 also provides connections to other eschatological passages in the Bible, which enables us to form a clearer and more cohesive picture of last things.

OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY

The study will be presented in a series of blog posts which cover the features Paul presents to his readers in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. This blog will be an introduction to the study, including an overview of the entire passage and a consideration of the context of the letter of 2 Thessalonians. Subsequent posts will examine each of the major features (events, personalities, etc.) of this passage and attempt to clarify their place in the end-times mosaic. This examination of the major features of the passage will also show connections and similarities with other Scriptures, demonstrating that the Bible presents a consistent and discernable vision for last things. The purpose of the study is to help us be ready and be on the alert (Matthew 24:42, 43, 44; 25:10, 13) for Jesus’ return. The goal of the study is to show that, while we are aware that Jesus could return at any time, there are end-times events occurring almost every day that persuade me that Jesus could be very “near, right at the door (Matthew 24:33).” Recognizing the time should move us to greater urgency with our task of proclaiming the gospel and should remind us to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE

The letter of 2 Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul around AD 52. Paul wrote two letters to these new believers at Thessalonica to encourage them in the face of persecution and to remind them of the things that he (Paul) had taught them when he founded the church a few months before. Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians contain eschatological (end-times) passages. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 gives details about the resurrection of believers, both those who have already died (“fallen asleep”) when Jesus returns and those who are still alive when He comes. 2 Thessalonians gives a picture of the actual return of Christ in 1:6-10, as well as giving details of the events which lead up to Christ’s return in our subject passage in 2:3-12. The reason Paul is writing 2 Thessalonians 2 is that some people had been spreading the news that the day of the Lord (i.e., the day that Jesus returns) had already come (2:1-2). Paul says, “not so.” “Let no one in any way deceive you (2:3).”

Paul then goes on to explain in 2:3-12 the way future events will unfold to convince the believers in Thessalonica that they have definitely not missed the day of the Lord. First, there are two events that must take place before the day of the Lord can come: The “apostasy” and the revealing of the man of lawlessness (2:3). (I am going to refer to these as “gating events,” because, until they happen, they effectively prevent the day of the Lord from occurring.) When he is revealed, the man of lawlessness makes a huge show of himself and even displays himself as being God (2:4). But “now” the man of lawlessness is being restrained until his time has come (2:6-7). Then, when he is finally revealed, “the lawless one” will engage in the activity of Satan and will show off with signs and false wonders (2:9). With every “deception of wickedness,” the man of lawlessness will deceive the unrighteous because they did not believe the truth of the gospel (2:10). God then sends on the unrighteous “a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false (2:11).” The unrighteous will thus be condemned because they did not believe the truth (2:12), and the Lord will slay the man of lawlessness with the breath of His mouth at His coming (2:8).

These are the events that we want to unpack over this series of blogs to see what they reveal about the end-times.

EVENTS AND TOPICS TO BE COVERED IN THE STUDY

Here are some of the events and topics that will be covered in these blogs:

  • The apostasy (2:3) (“gating event”)
  • the man of lawlessness – his revealing (“gating event”), his activity, his source of power, his end. Many cross-references and similarities to other Scriptures and other figures.
  • The “restrainer” (2:6-7)
  • The “Parousia” (coming) of Jesus (2:8)
  • The “deception of wickedness” (2:10)
  • “A deluding influence” (from God) (2:11)

CONNECTIONS WITH OTHER SCRIPTURE

In this study, we will be looking at other eschatological passages in the Scriptures, particularly in Daniel and Revelation, and will see that, while a single passage may leave us confused about its meaning, a second or a third passage or verse as cross-reference or comparison can make the obscure clear. Hopefully by the end of this study, there will be a greater understanding of eschatological terms and concepts, and a clearer understanding of the overall flow of end-times in general. It is my opinion that, if we meet these goals, we will sense a greater urgency to live for Jesus and the gospel.      

SDG                 rmb                 1/21/2021

Our suffering as accomplishment (1 Peter 5:9)

“But resist him (the devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” – 1 Peter 5:9 (NASB)

            Christ has suffered, and so His body, the church, is also called to suffer. Paul’s goal is to know “the fellowship (“koinonia” in Greek) of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).” It may correctly be said that to be a Christian is to anticipate suffering for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). The apostle Peter mentions in his first epistle that Christ suffered and left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). As Christ has suffered, so we will suffer as witnesses to Him. Jesus said, “And you shall be My witnesses (Acts 1:8),” and the Greek word for witnesses is the word “martyr.” So, we are certainly to anticipate suffering for the name of Jesus. But while it is true that Christ suffered in the flesh (1 Peter 3:18; 4:1) and that the church also suffers, there is a profound difference between these two experiences of suffering.

            Christ has suffered in the flesh and has perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do. In John 17:4, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” What work did He accomplish? Jesus accomplished the work of atonement. That was the reason Jesus was sent to the earth, to accomplish the work of atonement, a work that He alone could accomplish. To accomplish this work, Christ had to endure the full fury of the wrath of God against all the sins of all His people of all time. Thus, Christ suffered as a means of accomplishing His work. Accomplishing His work involved suffering, but His work was not the suffering itself. How much suffering was Christ required to endure? Exactly the amount of suffering needed to propitiate the wrath of God against His people’s sins.

            Then, when God had poured out all His wrath on Christ, Christ’s work was done. Therefore, Jesus could cry out, “Tetelestai!” “It is finished (John 19:30)!” Three hours of suffering the full wrath of God had been endured and His work was accomplished. Once Jesus’ work of atonement was accomplished, His life could be yielded up (John 19:30; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50), because the purpose of His life was fulfilled, and now He needed to die.

            We have already said, “Since Christ suffered, so we will also suffer,” but for Christ’s body, the church, our suffering is central, not incidental. That is, there is an amount of suffering that the body of Christ must accomplish. Note what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:9: “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” The verse says that the suffering is the work being accomplished. God has ordained that the body of Christ must suffer as an end and not merely as a means to some other end. As we have seen above, Christ’s suffering was the means necessary to accomplish His work of atonement, but the church’s suffering is the work to be accomplished.

            The New Testament has much to say about suffering for the name of Jesus Christ, but there is also an underlying theme in the New Testament suggesting that there is a predetermined amount of suffering which the church must “accomplish” to fulfill her purpose of witnessing. Consider these verses.

  • “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’ (Romans 8:36).” As the sheep were sacrificed routinely and anonymously, so the church suffers continually and without glory to give testimony to the worth of Christ.
  • “Now I rejoice (!) in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).” Notice that Paul’s sufferings are on behalf of the church and that they are “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This thought is consistent with the idea that the purpose of the church is to witness to Christ through suffering.
  • We have already looked at 1 Peter 5:9, “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
  • Underneath the altar were the souls of those who had been slain (for Jesus), and they cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” They were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also (Revelation 6:9-11). The clear message from this passage is that God has determined a set number of martyrs who must be killed to complete the testimony of the church.

The church is called to be a witness to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). This is one of the purposes of the church, and the collective suffering of the entire church is accomplishing this part of the church’s purpose. Thus, it may be said that a suffering church is an accomplishing church.                         

SDG                rmb                 1/20/2021

To fear the Lord, or not to fear the Lord? (Exodus 20:20)

One of the difficult concepts to understand in our walk with Christ is the concept of the fear of God. There are times in the Bible where the believer is instructed or commanded to fear the Lord, and then perhaps in the same passage he will be commanded not to be afraid. There are many commands to “Fear not,” but then there are those that say, “you shall fear.” How do we sort these things out? Are we to fear or are we not to fear?

This post will take a brief look at this idea of “the fear of the Lord” to give us a right perspective on it.

First, the believer is commanded to fear the Lord. Consider Deuteronomy 6:13.

You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

The verse seems clear, but what does the word “fear” mean in this context? Am I to be fearful of God? Am I to cower before Him or hide from Him because He is holy, a consuming fire? Is our relationship based on His threats and my frightened obedience? Of course, the answer is no. Because of Jesus, the believer has received grace and full forgiveness from the Lord, so there is no cause to be afraid of His judgment and condemnation anymore. The fear that is commanded is a reverential love and a steadfast hope. This is the fear that David is talking about in Psalm 34 when he writes, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them (34:7).” The “fear” that manifests itself in loving reverence and trust receives protection and rescue from the angel of the LORD. David goes on to say that this fear of the LORD will result in “keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit; Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (34:13-14).” So, this fear is not a cowering terror, but is a reverential love and trust that produces obedience and worship.

Second, there are times when the Scripture commands people not to fear the Lord. This is the case in Exodus 20:20 – Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” In this terrifying encounter with the LORD at Mount Sinai, the people trembled and stood at a distance (20:18). They were understandably afraid because the LORD was giving the Law and was revealing to them their sin. Moses is saying to those who will repent of their sins and will have a reverential love for the LORD and will trust the LORD have no need to be afraid of the LORD. Those who turn from their sins and obey the LORD relate to Him as a son or daughter relates to a father. So, the believer is instructed to not be afraid of the Lord, because perfect love has cast out fear (1 John 4:18), while at the same time they fear the Lord with reverential love and trust and awe.

Third, the Scripture commands the believer to not fear “ordinary threats and dangers,” because they are protected and defended and loved by the Lord. Consider these verses:

  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. – Psalm 46:1-2
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. (See also 41:13, 14.)
  • But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1, 3.
  • But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27.

Regardless of the peril of the circumstances, the believer is not to fear, because the believer has joined himself or herself to the Lord, and the Lord is greater than all. So then, for the believer to fear anything or anyone except the Lord is a sin, because they are distrusting the Lord and are declaring, by their fear, that something is greater than the Lord. Instead, for the one who fears the LORD, “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7.” The one who truly fears the Lord should fear nothing else.

Finally, those who do not know the Lord and who are not covered by the atoning blood of Jesus are completely right to fear the Lord. They remain under His holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and under His judgment and condemnation. Whether they know it or not, they are fully “open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13),” and they are exactly one heartbeat away from meeting God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

So, yes, believers fear the Lord with a holy reverence. We are in awe of Him because of His holiness and because of His wrath against any and all sin. He is still the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, the Holy One of Israel.

But because of Jesus and because of His finished work on the cross; because of “Tetelestai (John 19:30)” and because of His resurrection, we are now those in whom the Lord delights. Amazingly, the Lord delights in us as those who fear His name (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4).

So, we are not afraid of the LORD God like Adam was (Genesis 3:8-10), who hid from the Lord’s presence because of his sin, but we are those who come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12) in reverential fear, cleansed from our sin by the blood of Jesus and adopted into God’s family as His beloved children (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Eph. 1:5).  

SDG                 rmb                 1/19/2021