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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. ~ Acts 18:1

Let’s begin with Paul.  Here’s a guy who used to be the poster child for religious hypocrisy.  He had been passionate about rules, manmade regulations, and punishing, disgracing, and even approving of the murder of anyone who did not submit to and obey those practices.  He was the epitome of self-righteousness.  That is what he was.  This is exactly who he was before his conversion.

Miraculously, Paul was changed by none other than the power of God.  Here, now, in our eighteenth chapter of Acts, we find him Paul the missionary rather than Saul the murderer.  Now, he is traveling from place to place sharing the gospel with whomever he can whenever possible.   Now, he was a great evangelist missionary.  He went to people who were just like he had been previously to try and show them the truth of the gospel.

That’s what we find him doing in Acts chapter 18.  Verse one says he left Athens and went to Corinth.  In Athens he had preached in the synagogue and the marketplace every day.  (Acts 17:17) Every.  Single.  Day.  He points everyone in the vicinity to Christ.  He understands exactly how to answer them.  He knows all their objections and arguments before they even make them because, remember, he was what they were not too very long ago – lost.

He lands in Corinth and what does he do?

And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. ~Acts 18:2-4

First Paul makes some Jewish friends.  He gets to know some people who are in his line of work and he stays with them.  Then, he goes to the synagogue.  He goes into the most religious place of his time and the text says he “reasoned.”  He reasoned with everyone there every…single…week.  This would be like one of us going to a church who was operating in error every week and trying to explain to the leaders what the Bible actually teaches.

How did these very religious men react to his weekly gospel preaching and repetitive apologetics lessons?

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. ~Acts 18:5-7

Paul is testifying about Christ and the religious people “opposed and reviled him.”  In other words, they called him a liar.  They publicly slandered and abused him any way they could.  They did all they possibly could to hate him and rid their religious club of his true words and his teaching.

So, Paul leaves – but not without shaking the dust from his clothing and publicly denouncing their abuse and unbelief while professing his innocence as well.  Then what?

Instead of hopping right into another synagogue, Paul goes next door to the house of a man named Titius Justus.  So, next door to the synagogue he just got hated out of, he plants a church of pagans – well, Gentiles – who generally did not know God at least in any formal way.  But Justus did.  This house church becomes the seed of none other than the Corinthian Church.

This is truly amazing.  It is encouraging to know that justice took place in the house of a man who just happened to be named “Justus.”  It is in Justus’ house that God begins a great work in a city in desperate need of the gospel.  Awesome.

Next, the ruler of the synagogue gets saved along with his whole family.  The Holy Spirit comes to Paul and tells him to keep speaking and teaching.  The Holy Spirit encourages Paul and he continues in Corinth for a year and a half.

Later, the Jews gang up on him again and bring him before the civil authorities.  Verse 12 says they “made a united attack.”  All the unbelieving Jews band together to falsely accuse and discredit Paul.  It doesn’t work out well for them because the authorities end up beating the new synagogue ruler, Sosthenes, and dismissing the case.  (Acts 18:17)

What goes around comes around, folks.  These guys hated Paul and abused him for loving them enough to tell them the truth and the gospel faithfully – week after week – and they reaped exactly what they sowed.  Paul, on the other hand, planted a successful church by the hand of God.  The reason he succeeded is because he obeyed the Holy Spirit and because he absolutely, positively refused to compromise with religious regimes and falseness that centered on man’s work and self-sufficiency.

The gospel is all about God’s work.  Religion is all about man’s work.  I don’t know about you, but I am not the slight bit interested in the latter.

Be encouraged.  If religious people hate you, and they will if you tell them the truth – especially when they are operating in gross error, you are in good company.  They hated Paul, too, and he was the greatest missionary who ever lived.  And, of course, we can’t forget how much they hated Jesus.  With that, I leave you with Jesus’s words to the religious pretenders of his day:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” ~John 8:39-47

 

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 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” ~John 3:1-2

We.  Nicodemus speaks in plural.  This religious leader is not just speaking for himself.  He says, “…we know…”  It is very likely he is speaking on behalf of himself and several, if not many, religious leaders of his day.  The Pharisees.  They knew.  They knew, at the very least, that Jesus was from God – yet – they still hated him.  They still sought ways to discredit and undermine him.  They still publicly challenged and slandered him.

This is amazing!  Jealousy makes power-hungry religious men do terrible things even though they know better.

Jesus takes Nicodemus immediately to the reason and the solution for why he doesn’t know him for who he actually is.  Jesus is not just from God – he is God.  The reason Nicodemus doesn’t know that is because he has not been regenerated by the power of God.  He is a just another guy who is interested in religion.  He lacks spiritual insight and wisdom precisely because he has not come to know Christ truly yet.  He knows all about religion.  He fails to know God.  This is tragic.

What does Jesus do?

He wastes no time explaining who he is or setting Nicodemus straight about his identity.  Jesus gives him the solution.  “You must be born again.”  He proceeds to preach the gospel to Nicodemus adding that it is quite peculiar that he is in a position and in fact is a teacher of God’s people and yet has no understanding of the things of God. (verse 10)

Nicodemus is bewildered.  He is confused.  He is astonished at what Jesus tells him saying, “How can these things be?” (verse 9)

After Jesus makes the point that a teacher of God’s people ought to know these things, he reveals the real issue in Nicodemus’s life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”~ John 3:11-12

You don’t believe me, Nicodemus.  I have repeatedly told you and showed you the truth in simple, lisping lessons but you simply do not believe it.  If you don’t believe me about things on earth – things you can see – how will you believe about things in heaven – things you have not seen?!  He gives Nicodemus the gospel as well as the reason men just like Nicodemus do not believe it.

We tend to forget that this whole John 3:16 business is in the context of Jesus talking to one of the most religious men of his day.  Think about that.  Consider the implications of that truth.

So what does Jesus say to this very religious teacher guy?  Grace is here – but, as Jesus has already told this man, it is for those who believe.  You do not believe.  Light is here.  The problem is not that you do not have enough light.  You love darkness.  That is the problem.  And why do you love darkness?  Because you’re hiding.  You are afraid that your wrong deeds will be exposed.  You care more about how you look on the outside than you do about whether you are in God’s favor.  You would rather hide behind religion than come into the light and be made clean.

The main idea here is that Jesus is not the one hiding.  God is waiting and willing no matter how or when we come to inquire of him.  We are always the ones who hide from God.  Nicodemus comes at night because he is hiding.  Likely he fears his religious friends seeing him talk to Jesus – because God forbid one of them get to know Jesus rightly and for who he truly is.  They were much more content to make him who they needed him to be in order to keep their sin hidden and their people – their followers – deceived about who they really were.

Jesus is not the one hiding.  The religious men are hiding.  When asked indirectly who he really is, Jesus pulls no punches.  He tells the inquirer the solution and the problem for why he does not know the answer to his own question.  Jesus does not have to say, “I am God” because it is extremely clear that Nicodemus has already repeatedly refused to believe the truths that would lead to that conclusion.  Instead, Jesus mercifully gives him the solution.

Here’s your problem, Nicodemus.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, Nicodemus.  There’s grace, Nicodemus.  Believe and be saved, Nicodemus.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, Nicodemus.

Have you ever had someone try to be your friend secretly?  Or treat you differently when others were around vs. when they were not around?  Religious people are infamous for this kind of behavior because they not only fail to recognize and believe who God is, they fail to know who they themselves are.  Therefore, they are not genuine in their dealings.  Jesus shows us how to deal with this kind of pretense.  Say this:

Here’s your problem, religious man.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, religious man.  There’s grace, religious man.  Believe and be saved, religious man.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, religious man.

Jesus deals with pretense, fear, a religious spirit, and sin all in one blow.  He tells this spiritually impoverished soul the truth of the gospel and the solution to his sin problem.  He makes sure that guy knows exactly what is required of him and shows him that he has not yet been willing to do it.

God’s grace is waiting.  He wants people to come to the light.  We must believe, confess our sin in the light, and repent of our hiding it in the darkness.  God is faithful to meet us there and do a great work in our lives.  He will change us from religious pretenders – people who have (as the Bible says) a form of godliness but deny its power – and false friends to real sons and daughters; brothers and sisters of his very own.

Come to Jesus.  Confess your sin to him.  Ask forgiveness.  Allow his Holy Spirit to do his work in you and you will be a new creation.  You will be born again.  Amen.

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In John 11 we find a friend of Jesus, Lazarus, falling ill and Jesus working a great miracle.  In between, we find some principles we can apply to our own experiences with trouble, hostility, and grief.  Let’s consider John 11:5-11.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 

When Jesus finds out Lazarus is ill, he waits a couple days before he goes to him.  He does this first for a reason.  He knows he must wait until death occurs before he can go and work the miracle that will bring Him glory and prove his authority over death.  Jesus, when he does go to Lazarus, knows well that he is walking into a lion’s den.  That is why his disciples react by reminding him of what happened last time they were in Judea and essentially asking him if he’s crazy.

Really Jesus?!  You’re going there again?  They are trying to kill you, Jesus.  They hate you, Jesus.  They hate all of us.  You’re really going back there???!  Are you sure?

Jesus is more than willing to go to a very hostile place in order to resurrect a dead man and bring glory to his Father.  He proved as much in the manger.  This is Jesus’ way.  It should be our way, too.  Jesus had a call.  He had a mission.  He wasn’t about to let religious hypocrites tell him where he could or couldn’t be.

How does Jesus answer his disciples in their fear and anxiety about returning to this hostile area?  He answers with a seemingly strange spiritual metaphor.  He says, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world.”

He’s reassuring his disciples by telling them that their days are numbered.  God is sovereign over all things, including their very lives.  He is saying that with obedience to God’s call comes confidence and surety with every step of the way.  If we are walking in the light and obedience and faithfulness to God and His Word and His Spirit’s leading, we will be given a faithful guide in all our doubts and a powerful guard in all of our dangers.  We need fear no evil when we are walking in faithfulness.

Jesus’ don’t worry speech is not meant to assure us that hardship, persecution, hatred, violence, and even death will not come to us if we obey Him.  It is meant to assure us that though all of those things may indeed happen to us that he will be enough for us to endure in those times.  We need fear no evil when we are walking by the Light of Christ. It is only the men who love darkness who will stumble and fall.

Next, Jesus confirms Lazarus’ death.  Thomas thinks they are all going to die with him because of the hostility and hatred already exhibited toward them in the place where they were going with Jesus.  Jesus has an exchange with Martha and then with Mary about their brother’s death and both say the same thing to him: “If you had only been here…”  If you had only come in time, Lord, he would not have died.  Now it’s too late.

Their grief moves him because he is compassionate.  He sympathizes with those who are hurting and grieving as we ought to do.  Matthew Henry says, “Tears of compassion well become Christians, and make them most to resemble Christ.”  In other words, we look most like Jesus when we care about other people’s pain.  Not when we dismiss it.  Not when we discount it.  Not when we ignore it.  Not when we pass judgement on them for it.  No.  We look most like Jesus when we care about other people’s pain.

Jesus cared deeply about these people.  He cared about their pain.  He cared so much that the text says he was “deeply troubled” when he saw their grief.  He asks where Lazarus had been laid and then Jesus wept.

Why?  What made the Savior of the world cry?  Some speculated in the text:

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” ~John 11:36-37

Some thought he was crying because he loved Lazarus so much.  Jesus knew he was about to bring him back to life, though.  Some thought he was impotent and had no power to do anything about it.  We know that is false.  It is likely that he was most grieved because of their hardness of heart.  He was weeping over how severely they doubted and dismissed every single thing he ever did; how quick they were to forget every miracle he had already done that had been meant to draw them to repentance.  I believe Matthew 23:37-39 are the very sediments in his heart as he wept over his own people who so rejected him and the only truth that could save them:

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus longs to be reconciled and restored to his people but they will not.  They refuse him time and again.  They pretend not to see him.  They refuse to see him because they love their sin, their positions, and their darkness so much.  This is why Jesus weeps.  Jesus was going to have Lazarus back in an instant.  Furthermore, he knew he’d spend eternity with his friend.  Jesus weeps over the stubborn, willful refusal of his own people – the Jews.  Their refusal to know him, to trust him, to recognize him for who he truly was instead of who they had deceitfully made him out to be, to be reconciled to him, and to be saved.

There is nothing more troubling or sorrowful than religious people who refuse to know and love the God they profess.  I, too, weep for these.

 

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Philippians chapter 3 begins with the word “finally.”  Finally, to sum up all he has just instructed his beloved church from his jail cell, Paul risks redundancy for the sake of emphasis.  His uniform plea is this, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Rejoice in the Lord, not the religious works and ways others are so violently demanding from you.

Paul goes on with some repeated warnings and exhortations meant to deter false confidences gained by submission to false teachers who were infiltrating the church.  He magnifies the sole source of true confidence as Christ alone.  He insists that this is the only real reason to rejoice.  The life we live here on earth is shifting, unsafe, unjust, and unpredictable.  Though it may temporarily boost our assurance in self, mere religious piety and adherence to strict, overbearing teachers only hinders our assurance of faith.  Why?  Because we fail.

 It seems that the best way he knows to convey these truths is by telling them what does not offer confidence in the eternal – the stumbling blocks for many a pious person, if you will.

His warning begins with a call to vigilance concerning false teachers who were demanding physical acts as rites of passage into the faith.  Apparently the church in Philippi was oppressed by Judaizers and the like who would insist upon circumcision and other obediences to the Old Testament law before recognizing one into the faith.

Paul debunks these heresies by referring to “the circumcision” as those who simply “worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh.”  He taught that membership within the body of Christ was not related to fleshly acts of religious show in the least.  He cites his own weighty past profile and refers to his prestigious religious resume, in its entirety, as dung.

All he’d worked for to be recognized as a leader in the religious community.  Dung.  All he’d sacrificed to obtain power and position among the most learned Jews of his day.  Dung.  Everything he had fought with blood, sweat, tears, and study to prove that he was a pedigree person of piety.  Dung.  His point?  A righteousness that a man can obtain in self-reliance and self-sufficiency – a righteousness that he, if anyone at all, would most certainly be worthy of receiving, is not a righteousness that God accepts.  We need a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith.  We need a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith.  (Philippians 3:9)  With that, any other “righteousness” is not only useless and unnecessary, but contemptible to those who have been graciously given the former.  These things compete with Christ for our obedience and service which makes them repulsive.  It’s like inheriting a fortune and then being told by the bankrupt what you must do to get rich.  Absurd.

Why did Paul renounce his debonair distinctions?  Verses 9-11 tell us.

To gain Christ.  The only thing saved by works of the law is pride.  God opposes the proud.  We must throw off pride’s vices if we are sincere about obtaining a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

To be found in Him.  We cannot be found in Christ when we are lost in self-promoting works.

To have a real righteousness.  Works righteousness blocks the gate to real righteousness because it demands impossible human perfection.  Because only Christ was perfectly righteous, to project any righteousness apart from him requires pretense and falsifying our identity in place of confessing our sin and trusting in God.

To depend on faith.  Depending on self is the foolish, godless product of works righteousness.  If we cannot depend on self, we must depend on our faith in Jesus Christ.

To know Him and the power of His resurrection.  We do not feel a need to know Christ or rely on his salvation if we believe we are self-sufficient.  Therefore, we cannot know Him if we are self-reliant.

To share his sufferings and become like him in his death.  Esteemed law keepers of the world do not look, act, or get treated like Christ.  His children, on the other hand, look, act, and are treated just like he was.

To attain resurrection from the dead.  Because this is only possible when we recognize our desperate need of Christ alone – not religion alone.  Not religion plus Christ.  Christ alone.

Paul makes it crystal clear for the Philippians and for us.  Joy in all circumstances is only possible when Christ is the only card we’re playing.  When we bank on him, our righteousness and salvation is secure.  Therefore, rejoice in the Lord.  Again I say, rejoice!

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In conclusion in his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives his last and final warning regarding false teachers there.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. ~Galatians 6:11-15

Paul again sites the men who were trying to lead and sway the church toward their own selfish interests and ideas.  He again describes them as externally focused, cowardly, hypocritical, and full of boasting.  Let’s consider those ugly attributes for just a moment.

Externally focused.  You’ve met leaders like this.  They are the ones obsessed with counting attendance; crunching numbers; building bigger.  They love talking about all the work they are doing and telling you about all the work you ought to be doing for God.  (‘Cause what Jesus called you to do just ain’t good ’nuff bro.)  They like publicity.  They like pats on the back.  They’re the ones telling everyone besides their elite carbon copies that they are likely outside of grace lest they all conform and work diligently on…you guessed it…their vision.  Beware, says Paul, teachers whose emphasis is on work, duty, and things such as numerical growth from the brethren above grace, mercy, and love of the brethren.

Cowardly. These men did not want to suffer for the gospel.  Let’s face it, no one likes to suffer, but, these guys were willing to compromise anything and everything necessary as far as truth goes in order to stay “safe.”  They loved their reputations.  They loved their positions.  They loved their names, their titles, and their social statuses.  Therefore, they had to compromise the truth in order to please men, look righteous, and play both sides of the fence.  Anyone who would challenge the validity or veracity of their false teachings or practices became their enemy.  Hence, the attitude of social and spiritual exclusion.  

Hypocritical.  These are the guys who point out every letter in the law for every single soul but themselves.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.  If you do; if you don’t, you are demonic and damnable…”  They not only fail to recognize humanity for who we are (Christian or not), but also fail to recognize the darkness and deceit of their very own hearts as well.  There is no grace.  There is no hope.  There is only judgement, disgust, and self-righteous condescension towards those they claim to seek to lead.  Oh, the damage done by men so blind and barbaric!  Jesus saves sinners.  It is the sick that he heals.

Boastful.  These men used their external works and rule-keeping logs as a badge of honor and boasting in the church.  They never sinned…publicly.  They never admitted their own failures.  They never confessed.  They only kept lists of all the great things they did according to their own rule-books.  The whole point of encouraging others to follow was for the sake of their own pride and boasting over more of the same works, not for the glory of Jesus Christ or the gospel. 

You know what Paul says about their externally focused, cowardly, hypocritical, boastful religious works??? You know what he says about his own works?  

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

They count for NOTHING! Nothing!  Paul wants his brothers and sisters to see who they are in Christ, not who someone else that clearly doesn’t even love them at all expects them to be.  Funny, he doesn’t mention anything about their outward condition.  No.  But he calls them new.  Bought and owned by a God of peace; of mercy; of grace.  Instead of telling them how they ought to suffer, he encourages them with his own suffering.  He offers a farewell bent on grace and love.  

For a guy who was thoroughly troubled and frustrated with his church, this is a remarkable sort of love letter.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Paul has truly given us a work of grace in this short epistle to the Galatian church.  Amen.

 

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Paul elaborates further on his opening statements in Galatians 1 and 2.  He wants his hearers to understand who he is, where he came from, and why his accusers are bogus.  He gives ample reason why they can be assured that he is trustworthy.  Paul gives a detailed account of his travels and experiences both with God and the church.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus…(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) ~Galatians 1:10-17, 20

Why would Paul so adamantly state that he was not lying?  Apparently there were more than a few who were spreading misleading information regarding he and his reputation.  So much so that he felt he had to vehemently declare his own innocence in the face of those he cared so dearly for.  But as he defends himself, he insists that he has only one opinion in mind – God’s.  Ironic, huh?  A man defending himself for the sake of the truth he is teaching and the God he is serving.  While his accusers may charge his defense self-righteous,  2000+ years of study has proven otherwise.  

Paul defends himself and restates his motives because he recognizes the great potential for men to misunderstand, misrepresent, and malign him because of them.  Let’s face it, when you’re working for God, people don’t always understand.  He wants his brothers and sisters to recognize that, too.  So, he reminds them who he is working to please and where his authority comes from.  Paul wasn’t flaunting Pharisaic degrees given by rabbis.  He wasn’t pointing to his strict upbringing or his noble birth.  Never once do we see Paul boasting about his worldly accolades – even though we are certain he had more than most.  But, no.  When Paul pointed to his qualification, he pointed to God alone.  When he pointed to his past, he pointed only to his own failure.  (Galatians 1:12-14)

Little wonder why Paul’s emphasis is stayed upon the sufficiency and supernatural calling of Christ alone.  (Galatians 1:15-17)  No doubt this is why these false teachings and bogus accusations are so concerning to him.  He knows the mission of these men is not just to discredit and discount him.  Their mission is to discredit the true gospel and replace it with a false one.  Can someone say cult?  Yikes.

So Paul regards not anything of his own making or doing.  He relies not upon himself or any worldly credentials.  Yet, he proves that he has everything.  Paul had what the religious authorities of his day did not.  He had the mighty hand of God Almighty laid strong upon his very life. (Galatians 1:15-24)  No one could miss that, unless, of course, they needed to.

Yes, these men who claimed to be the authorities needed to discredit Paul.  They wanted people to disbelieve him.  His true doctrine did not fit with their destructive practices.  From self-promoting, self-made rituals to regulatory impositions upon other people, they wanted to stay right where they’d always been – in charge.

Why would the Christians follow, though?  Why would they allow these guys to enforce their man-made rules?  Why would they mix works with faith as a prerequisite to salvation?  Why would they mix the law with the gospel?  Didn’t they know better?  What was the motivation for such unpleasant penance?  And why was it so important for them to make sure they followed these guys?  

Well, not surprisingly, they did it for the same reason men and women today do just the opposite: persecution.

Today, most religious authorities do not persecute for lack of ritual observation (although a few still would have us all working for salvation, abstaining from marriage and meat, and wearing what’s most out of style.)  But, no.  Now, the most destructive heresies come as a result of what many claim to be a “lack of tolerance.”  Oh, yes.  This is our cultural creed.  Where the Jews’ cultural creed was don’t eat, don’t associate, don’t include, and don’t dare forget your fast and sacrifice (even though Jesus finished all that) or else we’ll ostracize you, ours is don’t judge, don’t discern, don’t debate, don’t question – even if – you guessed it – heresies are prevalent within the church (because, well, Jesus wouldn’t want anyone spitting hairs over things like sin or exposing it for goodness sake…and if you do, we’ll ostracize you.)  

Both errors result from missing the imperative balance between law and grace.  Love brings law and grace together for the good of all, not self-interest.  

We must recognize our time and refer to Paul and Jesus who both rightly refused to bow to the bosses with the biggest britches.  We’ve simply got someone else to please.  Fight on, Christian soldiers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG78M7g9wRo

 

 

 

 

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In Job chapter 22, once again, we find Job being mercilessly falsely accused.  This time, Eliphaz brings specifics to his unfounded charges.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

2 “Can a man be profitable to God?
    Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
    or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
4 Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
    and enters into judgment with you?
5 Is not your evil abundant?
    There is no end to your iniquities. ~Job 22:1-5

Eliphaz begins by assuring Job that God has no need of him, even if he were righteous.

Come on, Job.  Don’t you know there’s no rewards with God?  You can’t merit anything by doing good or obeying him.  Do you really think that piety earns favor with God?  What are you, some kind of legalist?  I thought you were reformed.

Well, Eli’s half right, but his delivery is rancid.  While we do not earn favor or love through works, God is indeed pleased with righteousness and obedience.  Why else would he call us to it?  God honors those who are faithful in spiritual disciplines and he gives them a good return of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control when they persevere.  Although our piety never adds to or detracts from God himself in any way, it surely adds to or detracts from our own well-being.  Godliness is of value in every way. (1 Timothy 4:8)

Furthermore, Job serves a God who enjoys men’s sacrifices of praise.  He delights to fill his nostrils with the aroma of our worship.  Job’s obedience to God’s directives and his faithful prayer, sacrifice, and worship were not evidence of legalism or meritoriousness; they were evidence of his faithfulness.

Come to think of it, what better way is there to magnify a God who stands in need of no one and nothing than to display his amazing, careful, loving grace to condescend; to encourage; to invite; to accept the humble offerings of his children – not because he needs them, but because he wants them.  When we act upon our beliefs by prayer, fasting, studying, serving, and worshiping, we have the unique opportunity to display not only God’s worthiness, but also, his grace to accept us despite our helplessness and insufficiency.

Eliphaz doesn’t seem to know much about that, though, does he?  Where is his encouragement for Job in what he had done right?  Oh, I forgot, nothing Job ever did was right in Eliphaz’s eyes.  After all, that’s why he’s suffering, right?  Job was pegged.  Even good was seen as pure evil if Job’s hands touched it.  If Job was wise and learned, it was because he was puffed up with knowledge and void of love.  If he was void of knowledge, he was neglectful of diligent study and foolish.  If he did good works he was trusting in himself.  If he did not do good works he was oppressing the poor.  If he carried out spiritual disciplines he was pretending to love God.  If he faltered in spiritual disciplines he was godless.  Job was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t in the eyes of this man and his friends – who, by the way, I’m certain were giving one another mad props as they bounced their wrong ideas off one another piercing Job with them all.  How troubling that must have been to a man already vexed with such a load of grief.

Eliphaz went on to falsely accuse Job of hypocrisy, atheism, infidelity, gross impiety, injustice, oppression, no fear of God, and no regard for men.  None of it was true.  He sought to convict Job by shame and by fear.  When he said, “Agree with God” (Job 22:21),  what he really meant was, “Agree with me.”  Maybe someone should’ve told Eli that he wasn’t exactly the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know.

Well, what I do know is that there’s another guy who likes to peg people as one-dimensional and hopeless.  Maybe Eli hung out with him a little too much.  He also loves to damn people when they do as well as when they don’t.  His name is Satan.

Christians!  We must stop being Eliphaz!  We will never earn the confidence of our peers if all we ever do is discourage wrong…especially when everything is wrong in our eyes.  We must encourage right without darkening it by assuming ill-motives and underlying evil simply because we lack discernment.  There will always be people who do the right things for the wrong reasons.  We shouldn’t ever assume that certain people, you know, those ones we love to hate, fear, envy or have no practical use for in our lives, are sinister in all their undertakings.  Only Satan does things like that.

Don’t be a jerk.  Encourage one another despite imperfections.  When you see a man suffering, be gentle and extend extra compassion – not because God needs you to, but because he wants you to.  Then, like Job, the guilty will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.

He delivers even the one who is not innocent,
    who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands. ~Job 22:30

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0p6_4KDy98

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