Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Power of Prayer and the Prophet Elijah

In the first New Testament book ever written, James wrote first and foremost to fellow Jews who now followed his brother Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Already in the early church, James dealt with those who wanted to twist the message of faith alone into a license for carnal Christianity that cared little about living as people of the Lord. As he concluded his letter, he exhorted the early Jewish church to a call to prayer, and he referred back to the example of the prophet Elijah: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 5:17-18 ESV) Therefore, since I read 1 Samuel, 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings, and 2nd Kings over this past week, the story of Elijah in commands our attention.

Elijah was a prophet from Gilead, and he is introduced to us in 1 Kings 17. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV) The author of the book of Kings declares that this man stood before the apostate king of the apostate nation of the ten northern Israelite tribes that broke away from the house of David and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. And this man stands in front of the king and issues a stern warning to him, declaring that the curses for disobedience from Leviticus 26 would now start commencing. And over time, Elijah would be known by the Israelite government as “the troubler of Israel.” To proclaim the word of the Lord brought upon Elijah the political stigma of being an opponent to national interests and political harmony—something that has been true of many faithful proclaimers of God’s word in different countries, such as pastors, preachers, and missionaries. And we may in our lifetime face the same label that Elijah did, for we may be called the troublers of our national and political interests for holding fast to the Word.

Elijah’s powerful prayers frequently strike us as we read through the narrative of his life and ministry. For example, God granted his prayer to raise the son of the widow of Zarephath back to life in the latter part of 1 Kings 17. But as remarkable as a resurrection from the dead is, this would not be for what Elijah would be most remembered for. For now we enter into 1 Kings 18, and three years of drought have brought Ahab to the point where he calls Obadiah to show himself to Elijah, in order to seek some sort of reprieve from the covenantal curses from the Lord. Obadiah, after meeting Elijah, brings Ahab to Elijah, and now the pagan king and the prophet of God face off—leading to one of the most powerful examples of prayer that we ever find in Scripture.

First, Elijah told Ahab that he, rejecting God’s prophetic word and rule over the people of Israel, is actually the troubler of Israel—and those who do the same in our governments today are the actual threats to national interests, for God rules over the nations from the throne room in Heaven. Elijah issued Ahab a challenge: gather all the prophets of Baal together, and he would challenge them to a competition by fire. The entire nation of the northern tribes gathered (most likely in the form of representatives from the tribe) at the scene to watch the challenge unfold. The prophets of Baal cannot call down fire from Heaven, as much as they desperately try by cries and bloodshed. Elijah, after watching their fruitless efforts all morning and afternoon, decided to gather the people of Israel around him. “And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV)

And how did God answer this man’s prayer? “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:38-39 ESV) The power of Elijah’s prayer as answered by the Lord God brought down fire from Heaven and consumed the sacrifices completely, and the people of Israel knew before their very own eyes that the Lord is God. 
And afterwards, Elijah’s prayer restored rain back to the land. When we pray, do we pray that people might know that the Lord is God? Or do we only focus on our short-term concerns and cares in the future? Here, Elijah prays that the Lord God might demonstrate His glory in front of a government that thought faithfulness was political trouble-making and in front of a nation that had rejected the Word of the Lord. We need to do the same, for James in his epistle instructs us to follow His example. 

Elijah’s ministry would play such a significant part in Israel’s history that the Lord elevated him to the status of being the type of the forerunner for the Lord God Himself. For John the Baptist became the new Elijah, but yet Elijah’s story is not yet finished even here. Because Elijah, being a powerful prophet of the Word and a powerful example of prayer, would be exceedingly privileged to be one of the five individuals who witnessed the Lord God incarnate demonstrate His glory on a solitary mountain. Elijah’s story is now complete when we understand that he saw the Lord face to face, and that is when our story will be completed, as well. As we strive to follow Elijah’s example in our own day, we eagerly await to see our Lord face to face, just like Elijah has seen Him already.

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-5 ESV)

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Battle for Hearts and Minds, Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 to A Battle for Hearts and Minds, I examined two vital areas necessary for Christians to possess in our society today. A foundation of biblical truth needs to undergird every aspect of our thinking and beliefs, so that we are not tossed about on the waves of “knowledge falsely so called.” Also, Christians must possess discernment in order to weigh truth claims against Scripture to determine their validity.

The Need for Christian Conviction

William Durant, author of The Story of Civilization and The Story of Philosophy, penned the following: “The greatest question of our time is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even East versus the West; it is whether men can live without God.” In essence, the secular philosopher Durant correctly identified the fundamental issue facing American society today: will the United States of America seek to eradicate any semblance of relying on God? This question strikes at the very heart and soul of moral ills in our society.

Not only in American history does the answer to this question appear. Civilizations past and present have been defined based on their faithfulness to the truth of Scripture, and whether they lived according to that truth. Consider, for instance, the words of T.S. Elliot: “The World is trying to experiment with attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”

Utter moral collapse exists in culture whenever man strives to determine truth apart from the authority of God’s eternal truth. Paul describes the process of moral degeneration in society in this familiar passage in Romans 1:24-32. In this passage, Paul lists very specific symptoms that arise from a rejection of biblical truth in society. First, Paul describes the rejection of the knowledge of God by those professing themselves to be wise. Psalm 10:4 says, “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’” Such is an apt description of the rampant atheism prevalent in our educational systems, for instance. Paul then describes the rejection of the divine power and sovereignty of God. In a rejection of His sovereignty, their minds and hearts were darkened.

In the Old Testament, the book of 2 Kings describes Israel’s societal breakdown as a result of their rejection of biblical truth: They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them.
(2 Kings 17:15 ESV)

The outworkings of this dark thinking manifested itself through idolatry, which continues to the present day. Blatant forms of idolatry such as pantheism and New Age thinking evidence the truth of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. More subtle forms of idolatry exist when people manufacture a god of their imagination and a less offensive gospel. An example of this in recent memory can be found in the prosperity gospel and the emergent church movement.

Paul then clearly articulates the redefinition of marriage that occurs when the truth of Mark 10:6-9. And we can clearly see throughout history and in society today the continual onslaught against marriage exclusively being between one man and one woman. As Christians, we are not “traditional marriage” advocates based on tradition or because certain prominent historical figures held to traditional marriage. We advocate and believe firmly in biblical marriage based on the authority of God’s Word, when He created the only pre-fall institution called marriage.

Paul concludes with very specific descriptors of those who have turned away from a knowledge of God, and we can see these manifested in our fallen world today.

The question now arises, how then do Christians live in secular society that exalts itself against the knowledge of God? The same answer that God’s people have lived out throughout history. An unwavering commitment to biblical truth in the form of Christian conviction has defined the courageous men and women of God throughout history. Living lives defined by the salvation we possess comes not from any works of righteousness on our part, but through the power of God. Paul clarifies the nature of Christian conviction many times in his apostolic writings, such as in Ephesians 5:1-20.

Living with conviction entails a proper focus. In Ephesians 5:1, Paul declares, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” In Hebrews 12:2, Scripture extols us to a proper perspective. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As Christians who have received eternal salvation, our primary focus should not be on the evils of the world around us. In the Psalms, David speaks of the mindset we need to possess when we encounter evil. “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7) Such a perspective sets our troubled minds to rest, in that ultimately our strength and confidence comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope comes not from how good or evil society around us may happen to be in-rather, it comes from Christ.

Living with conviction necessitates Christian love.  “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)

Christian love encompasses many things, but for the purposes of this post, the highlighted attribute is speaking the truth in gentleness and respect to those who need to hear it. Acts tells the story of Paul’s life being defined as this very thing: preaching the Gospel and Christ crucified to those who were lost. In Acts 26, Jesus Christ gives Paul the mission statement that would define the rest of his earthly days: ”But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:16-18)

Living with conviction produces an abhorrence for worldliness. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3-5 ESV)

Because of the work of Christ in our lives, we no longer desire to be controlled by the things which so clearly define worldliness. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

Living with conviction separates the children of God from non-believers.  “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:6-8 ESV)

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Living with conviction means exposing the works of darkness. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV)”

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6)

Living with conviction exercises discernment. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Living with conviction binds believers in Christian fellowship.  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV)

One of the joys of the Christian walk is walking with those on the straight and narrow road. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) “And let us 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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

In part 4, I will conclude this series with a look at the topic of Christian courage and the importance of defending the faith. In summary of the writings this far, Christians must be well grounded in biblical truth and sound doctrine. Secondly, Christians need to exercise their knowledge of biblical truth in discerning the worldviews and influences around them. Thirdly, Christians need to have lives marked by the strength of God in standing for Scriptural truth. Such has been the focus of this post and the effects that Christian conviction works in our lives.

Finally, we must remember the great truth of the freedom from the strongholds of evil that exist today. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Philippians Week 38-The Former Life of Paul

January 21, 2015


-“Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Philippians 3:4-6


-Because the believers at Philippi now confessed Jesus Christ to be Lord, they could no longer fully engage the civic sphere of their culture anymore. They no longer participated in the imperial cult, for they no longer confessed that “Caesar is Lord.” They no longer participated in pagan religious festivals, for they believed in one God and one Lord and one way of salvation.
-In the Roman Empire, Christianity was not an officially recognized religion in the days of the apostles. Judaism, however, was—and Jews were exempt from paying local taxes to pagan temples or offering sacrifices to Caesar, as a result. Furthermore, Christians believed in one Man as the Savior of the world, who died as a Roman criminal on an instrument of torture.
-The Jewish false teachers therefore could have influenced those desirous to escape the stigma and shame of being part of a “superstition” by adding to faith in Christ for salvation in order to be part of a quasi-Judaism emphasis.

Verse 4
though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
1. The Confidence of Paul

-“Though” contrasts the attitude with those in verse 2 with the apostle Paul.
-The Spirit of God turns the attention back onto Paul with “I myself”.
-Paul sometimes used himself as an example in order to refute the opponents of Jesus Christ in the theological sphere. (2 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 11:18-21; 2 Corinthians 12:1)
-Paul had a profound sense of how the Spirit of God worked in his life (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5), and he remembered well his former life before the Damascus road. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
-“Reason for confidence” (πεποίθησιν) means to be persuaded to put confidence in something or someone.
-Paul now challenged those in Philippians 3:2 to a logical analysis of his case, for logical debate is a critical part of the apologetic task of a Christian. (Acts 17:1-2; Acts 18:4; Acts 18:19)
-“In the flesh” (σάρξ) declares the faulty confidence of the Jewish opponents described in verse 2.
-Man’s strength is frail, compared to the strength of God. (2 Chronicles 20:15; 2 Chronicles 32:7-8)
-Man’s mind is finite, compared to the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God. (Job 15:8; Isaiah 40:13; 1 Corinthians 2:16)
-Man’s power is puny compared to the power of almighty God. (Psalm 29:4; Job 40:9-12)
2. The Comparison of Paul
-Paul removes anyone from exemption by declaring “If anyone else” has not been specified yet, they have just now been highlighted.
-The Word of God uncovers the hearts and minds of every human individual, for the Spirit of God who breathed it out is omniscience and omnipresent. (Psalm 139:1-12)
-The Word of God has divine power to search the all the cracks and crevices of the human soul. (Hebrews 4:12-13; John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23)
-“Thinks” (δοκεῖ) is the action of all the rest who have not yet been described.
-To “think” about setting confidence in the flesh means to be persuaded by confidence in oneself for redemption. (Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 31:1)
-“I have more” (μᾶλλον) is an adverb of degree, specifying that Paul could have greater confidence than any of his readers if he chose to place confidence in his flesh.
-“Not satisfied with putting himself on a level with any one of them, he even gives himself the preference to them. Hence he cannot on this account be suspected, as though he were envious of their excellence, and extolled Christ with the view of making his own deficiencies appear the less inconsiderable. He says, therefore, that, if it were coming to be matter of dispute, he would be superior to others. For they had nothing (as we shall see erelong) that he had not on his part equally with them, while in some things he greatly excelled them.”—John Calvin, Commentary on Philippians 
-“So that, if anybody could have boasted of what he was by birth, what he was by profession, what he was by the display of religious zeal, Paul could have boasted as boldly as anyone could, for in all those respects he was second to nobody. You know that it is a very easy thing, or it ought to be a very easy thing, for some people to be humble, for they have nothing to be proud of, but here is a man who had much of which he might have been proud. According to the letter of the law, he was a diamond of the first water; yet see what a different verdict he gives after grace has opened his eyes.”—Charles Spurgeon

Verse 5

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
1. The Circumcision of Paul

-“Circumcised” (περιτομή) refers to the Jewish practice of circumcising all males as the covenant symbol of Jewish identity.
-The Lord first established the covenant of circumcision a few thousand years before with Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-11)
-Circumcision for the Israelites represented their tribal identity as the covenant people of God. (Joshua 5:2-5)
-Circumcision served to separate believers in God with unbelieving pagans in the minds of the Jews. (1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36)
-Circumcision in the flesh did not guarantee or promise that the hearts of the Israelites would be circumcised. (Leviticus 26:40-41; Jeremiah 9:25-26)
-In the days of Paul, circumcision had proven to be an extremely controversial issue, for Jewish false teachers promoted it as necessary for salvation. (Galatians 5:1-4)
-The social pressure to add circumcision to salvation was very high; so high that some swayed under the pressure. (Galatians 2)
-The first church council ruled that circumcision was not necessary for believers in Christ.
-“On the eighth day” refers to being circumcised exactly as the Abrahamic covenant specified.
-Some Jewish proselytes were circumcised when they were 13, as was Ishmael (Genesis 17:23-26). But Paul was like Isaac, for he was circumcised on the eighth day. (Genesis 17:12; Genesis 21:4)
-Faithful Jewish parents circumcised their sons on the eight day, such as Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:59) and Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:21)
-No physical ceremonies or signs of the covenant bring salvation to any of us. (Galatians 5:5-6)
2. The Nation of Paul
-“Of the people of Israel (γένους Ἰσραήλ) specifies that Paul was part of the covenant nation of the Israelites.
-The Lord made his promises about the nation of Israel to Abraham. (Genesis 12:1-5; Genesis 17:4; Genesis 18:18-19)
-The Lord chose to redeem Jacob when He wrestled with Him in order to set in the motion the fulfillment of His promises. (Genesis 32:24-30; Genesis 35:10)
-The Lord chose Israel to be His holy nation for His glory, not because of the inherent glory of this tiny and insignificant nation. (Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Ezekiel 36:22)
-It was from the nation of Israel that the Savior of the world came, for Jesus was fully Jewish. (Matthew 1:1; Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5)
-It was the nation of Israel that was given the covenants and promises of God. (Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 4:32-33; Romans 9:3-4)
-It was and will be in the nation of Israel that the Lord chose to demonstrate His glory. (Psalm 85:9; Isaiah 46:13)
-It is the nation of Israel that is promised that the Lord will reign as her King among all the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-13; Micah 4:8) in the city of Jerusalem. (Matthew 5:34-35; Psalm 48:2)
-It is the nation of Israel that the Lord identifies as His treasured possession. (Zechariah 2:8; Deuteronomy 32:9)
-It is the nation of Israel to whom the Lord promises to vindicate and to redeem in a glorious restoration of that nation. (Isaiah 62:1-11)
-However, simply being part of the nation of Israel was no guarantee of salvation (Romans 2:28; Romans 9:6), for only Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah are the true “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16)
-Our national identity and participation with the covenant community of God cannot bring us salvation. (Acts 20:30; 1 John 2:19)
3. The Tribe of Paul
-“Of the tribe of Benjamin” (φυλῆς Βενιαμίν) refers to the tribe from which Paul was descended.
-Benjamin (בִנְיָמִֽין), meaning “son of my right hand,” was one of the favored sons of Jacob, for he was the second son of Jacob’s favorite wife. (Genesis 35:18; Genesis 42:38)
-Israel and Moses both offered up blessings for the tribe of Benjamin. (Genesis 49:27; Deuteronomy 33:12)
-The tribe of Benjamin saw the first king of Israel arise from its ranks. (1 Samuel 9:1-2; 1 Samuel 10:1)
-The tribe of Benjamin hosted some of the best warriors in the nation of Israel. (Judges 20:16-26; 1 Chronicles 12:1-2)
-The tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the line of David when the other ten tribes broke away under Jeroboam. (2 Chronicles 10:16-11:4)
-Some of the genealogies had been lost in the exile, and therefore those who could not identify their tribe and family were excluded from the rest of Israel. (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64) Paul, unlike some Jews, knew his genealogy fully and could boast that he could identify himself by his tribe, for he could trace his lineage all the way back to Benjamin, and ultimately all the way back to Adam himself. No genealogy or exemplary family background can ever bring salvation to us.
4. The Excellence of Paul
-“A Hebrew of Hebrews” (Ἑβραῖος Ἑβραῖος) refers to one who was foremost in Jewish society for their grasp of Hebrew culture.
-This phrase contrasted Paul with the Jews in the Diaspora who were part of Hellenistic culture, for Paul was a Jew who was born in the line of Benjamin and could speak fluent Hebrew (Acts 22:1-2) which many Jews in the Diaspora could not.
-From the fourth century B.C. to the time of Christ, the Greeks gradually changed the culture of Palestine and the Mediterranean region to match their cultural ideologies. The Hellenists began to infiltrate Jewish society. Greek literature began to influence the literature of the people of Israel. The cities of the Semitic region took on Greek names and identities. Greek words began permeating the language of the Jews, to the point where an entire Greek translation was developed from the Hebrew Old Testament. Greek games took place, to the offense of the Jews.
-Hellenism reached a breaking point when Antiochus Epiphanes brought on himself the revolt of the Maccabees when he firmly endeavored to stamp out the worship of the Jews.
-The Hebrews of Hebrews in Jesus’ day were those who had retained their Jewish identity and history. Jesus, for example, read from the Hebrew scrolls in His ministry, whereas other Jews had to rely on the Septuagint in the Roman Empire.
-Paul was also a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:27-29), but he was raised in Jerusalem itself. (Acts 22:3)
-Being a foremost member of society in terms of an historical and familial background brings no salvation to mankind.
5. The Education of Paul
-“As to the law, a Pharisee” (νόμον Φαρισαῖος) means that Paul was among the most exalted conservative group of educated “holy men” of his day.
-Paul sets himself above the adherents of Judaism, for he was among the elite Jews of his day in education in the religion of Judaism.
-The Pharisees likely descended from the Hasideans, who were pious Jews who stoutly held to rigid observance of Mosaic Law. The Hasideans fought in the 2nd century B.C. in the Maccabean revolt. According to 1 Maccabees 2:42, the Hasideans preferred torture to violating any part of the Sabbath Law. After the Maccabean revolt, the party of the Pharisees began, consisting largely of scribes and laypeople, unlike the Sadducees, who became the academic liberals of their time. The Pharisees held not only to the Torah (the written books of Moses), but also to Mishna (oral tradition) that Jesus firmly rebuked in His day. (Matthew 15:3).
-The Pharisees were the elite of mainstream conservative society in the time of Jesus and the apostles, and they eventually evolved into Orthodox Judaism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.
-The Pharisees upheld an outward appearance of righteousness that could not be matched by the common people. (Matthew 5:20) However, Jesus declared that outward righteousness was a mask for spiritual deadness. (Matthew 23:27)
-No amount of education or academic prowess can ever earn salvation. (Ezekiel 28:1-10)

Verse 6
as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

1. The Zeal of Paul
-“Zeal” (ζῆλος) has the air of earnest contention, of jealously guarding the honor or dignity of something with great ardor.
-Although the Pharisees must not be confused with the Zealots, Zealots were given their name because of their strong political zeal to overthrow the might of Rome and reform Israelite politics.       
-Zeal often marks those with good intentions but not as much knowledge as they think they have. (Proverbs 19:2; Acts 21:19-22; Romans 10:2)
-Zeal often could mislead men into very devious acts. (2 Samuel 21:2)
-Internal passions produce zeal, but the internal passions must first be redeemed, otherwise the zeal will never bring redemption. (Romans 7:5; Colossians 3:5)
-Zeal always moves men to definitive action, as Jesus demonstrated during His earthly ministry. (Psalm 69:9; John 2:13-17)
-“Persecute” (διώκω) means to press forward in pursuing someone for their destruction.
-“The church” (ἐκκλησίαν) identifies who Paul targeted in his efforts of persecution.
-Jesus Christ declares that His church will never be ultimately hindered or destroyed. (Matthew 6:18)
-All Christians will be persecuted on various levels. (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-14)
-Paul persecuted the church as a member of the Sanhedrin, for he voted to have the Christians extinguished. (Acts 8:3; Acts 22:3-4; Acts 26:9-10)
-Proper zeal is to honor the Lord and pursue holiness (Titus 2:13-14; Revelation 3:19), but Paul did just the opposite. However, religious zeal can never earn anyone salvation.
2. The Righteousness of Paul
-“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνην) refers to being virtuous in accordance with established guidelines.
-The Pharisees considered themselves more righteous than all others, for they adhered strictly to their system of written Scriptures and sacred tradition. (Proverbs 30:12-13; Luke 18:10-12)
-Jesus firmly and repeatedly declared that the righteousness of the Pharisees was a façade masking their sinful condition. (Matthew 3:7; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 23:15)
-Scripture declares that no one can ever be truly righteous apart from Christ’s imputed righteousness, but Paul was trusting in his own external conformity to Pharisaic traditions for salvation. (Matthew 23:29-36)
-“Under the law” (νόμῳ) refers to the righteousness Paul endeavored to redeem himself by: legalism.
-The Law of God brings knowledge of sin to the unbeliever (and believer), but it cannot by itself bring salvation. (Romans 7:7)
-Scripture declares that no one can ever be justified by works of the law. (Acts 13:29; Romans 3:20; Romans 3:28)
-The Law of God in revealed Scriptures are perfectly holy (Psalm 93:5; Psalm 119:138), but can only truly be obeyed by the regenerate in Christ. (Psalm 19:7-8)
-“Blameless” (ἄμεμπτος) means that Paul was faultless in keeping the regulations of the law-code that the Pharisees abided by.
-Paul had already instructed the Philippians about being blameless (Philippians 2:15), but declares here that no one, including believers, can trust in their own conformity to God’s Law to be blameless before Him. (Psalm 143:2)

-“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79:9 ESV)



Friday, January 16, 2015

A Battle for Hearts and Minds, Part 2

The Need for Worldview Discernment

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5)

The passage from Proverbs commands Solomon’s son to strive after the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, in contrast to seeking the faulty pagan wisdom from the surrounding cultures of Israel several hundred years before Christ. Indeed, when we look into the New Testament, we find that the source of this wisdom is none other than in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10 ESV)

Therefore, how do Christians engage the worldviews that oppose the Lordship of Christ, which are empty of any real intellectual or spiritual strength? By exercising what I have termed “worldview discernment,” which is the sifting of ideas, morals, and values to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. This reflects the mindset of the apostles as they engaged the claims of Christ with the worldviews of the Roman Empire. “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) In fact, Christians should strive to succeed in this type of discernment, for Paul will write to Philippians, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV)

First, a lack of discernment can destroy those seeking to wage war against that which exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Biblical discernment is achieved through constant, rigorous study of the Scriptures. “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

In a world where Christians receive many conflicting, confusing, and toxic messages about what to believe, why to believe it, and how to act out those beliefs, the possession of discernment is absolutely vital. Blind acceptance to that which poisons the soul can destroy the most well-intentioned Christian.

John Piper gave an illustration of this in discussing a scenario about Christian students and their media consumption. He described where Christians who were well-versed in Scripture had little interest or ability to discern the worldviews in the weekly movies they attended. In watching whatever the local theaters offered every Saturday evening, these young people continued to drink from the well of poisoned thinking that these movies presented. Piper described them as having “wires disconnected in their brains between Scripture and their daily lives”. 

Secondly, Christians need to exercise discernment because worldviews always disciple those who come in contact with them. As a whole, the Western world continues to speed towards the acceptance of the Greco-Roman worldviews present in the lands before Christ’s birth. A broadscale rejection of the Judeo-Christian worldview by the entrance of opposing worldviews has always threatened to capture undiscerning people who do not rightly divide truth from error.

In a quote by Paul Washer, he stated the following about young Christians captivated by the world: “Many of you will study the Bible; many of you will pray; many of you will seek out Godly fellowship; and at the same time, you do not make that much progress towards purity of your heart, because you’re constantly allowing filth to be pumped in. You have to guard your heart. Why? Jesus has already told us in Matthew 15 that from the heart springs everything. If you want your actions to be pure, your heart must be pure. How can we have a pure heart? It is by guarding it. Protecting it. Do not be transformed by this world. Do not be conformed to it. Do not allow it to get near you.”

In part 3, I will write regarding the nature of living with Christian commitment, having developed the mandate for Christian truth and the necessity of utilizing that truth to discern the conflicting worldviews around us. Therefore, having understood the truth of Christ and discerned which does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, how do we stand against the tide of false worldviews? Such will be the topic of the next post.