CTT | The Barren Fig Tree

Artist: J JAMES TISSOT

Artist: J JAMES TISSOT

Today, let’s take a look at the parable of the Barren Fig Tree and see if we can’t bring some context to some of the accounts that have perplexed me over the years. We will be looking through a few of the Gospel texts, but for starters, let’s turn to Luke 13.

Luke 13:1-9 (ESV)  1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Now, the ESV separates these into two different paragraphs, but for the purpose of this study I believe the two concepts go together. Jesus sets up this parable of the fig tree with a reminder of the call to repentance and the judgement that awaits all who refuse to repent. He clearly teaches that everyone is guilty of sin, not just those who seem to have received punishment while others lived. Jesus exposes the myth that those who die suddenly were being judged by God as special cases of sinfulness or offense, and those who lived where more righteous. The parable that follows this begins with a fig tree that was planted in the master’s vineyard, and for three years it bore no fruit. Judgement is coming to the barren fig tree, for the master is ready to cut it down. However, the vinedresser appeals to the master for grace, allow the tree one more year while special care is taken for the tree, fertilizer will be added. If after the year the tree still bears no fruit, then it shall be cut down. By Grace the fig tree was planted in the garden, and by the master’s Grace that tree was allowed to continue fruitlessness for three years, and by Grace it will be given another year with special attention. Judgement is coming, but by God’s Grace there is time for repentance.

In the Matthew 21, we see the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We are going to pick up in an awkward spot, so if you are unfamiliar with this passage, please read Matthew 21 in full. Here let us look at what happens when Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:10-32 (ESV)10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them,“Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward hechanged his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Now, this is a wonderful passage, filled with some extremely tense imagery. Jesus enters Jerusalem and clears out the temple of the money changers and the merchants. He rebukes them for what they have done to the House of the Lord God (for such was the Temple) and ministered to the lame and the blind, performing many wonderful works. The children sang a song of praise Hosanna to the Son of David and the Pharisees were indignant. Fig trees, planted in the Master’s vineyard as teachers and overseers of God’s people, bearing no fruit for a great many years. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and stays the night in Bethany.

When He returns to Jerusalem, He sees the barren fig tree and curses it, and it withers. Often when this passage is taught, the emphasis moves immediately to verses 20-22 to teach the power of prayer and faith and to look at “our potential” as Christians. Let’s not do that today, our focus is on the fig tree. Given our initial parable of the barren fig tree, and the events of the day prior to this morning, we are starting to see that this fig tree is a sign of unbelief. It will not be allowed to live on in selfish unrighteousness, refusing to bear fruit, forever.

Jesus enters the Temple and begins teaching. The chief priests and elders interrupt His teaching to demand that Jesus provide His credentials, by what authority and from whom did He receive said authority to do these things. These men didn’t make these demands the day prior when all where praising God, confessing Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David), or healing the lame and the blind, and they didn’t stop Him from clearing out the merchants and the money changers. No, they were indignant on that day… and then waited for the next day, when Jesus came to teach. Now, notice how Jesus responds. Is He playing coy? Absolutely not. Jesus has never denied that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and He called the Lord God to be His Father. He did so the day prior, and the works He performed were a testimony of His authority to “do these things”. No, Jesus wasn’t playing coy… He was calling out the chief priests and elders, time to inspect the fruit of these trees.

Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV) | A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

You see, the chief priests and elders conferred among themselves and reasoned rightly that their answer would put them at odds with either the Messiah or with the People. For they realized that if they answered that John’s baptism was not of God, the people would revolt against them; however, if they declared John’s baptism was from God, they’d have to answer for their unbelief. They missed 2 major concepts, the first is that the problem was they needed to confess and repent of their unbelief, and the second was that in refusing to answer, they were not safe because any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. However, because these leaders were self-seeking, they were trees planted in the vineyard to display their own greatness in their leaves, but providing no fruit. Time and time again, God has granted to them grace and opportunity to repent. Luke records for us in the book of Acts, chapter 19, that Paul answered this question of John’s baptism to the disciples in Ephesus

Acts 19:1-7 (ESV) | Paul in Ephesus
19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

John baptized with the baptism of repentance. Let us look to John’s baptism, of which Jesus tested the chief priests and elders at the Temple.

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) | John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Praise God. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Don’t presume that you are safe simply because God planted you in His vineyard (tying this thought in with our parable), for if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Amen.

As Christians, we must bear the fruit of repentance. This is what taking our crosses daily and denying ourselves looks, when we remember (in active form) that we are sinful beings in need of a Savior. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. There is no “moving beyond the Gospel”, it is an ever present place of rest. It is also our mission, to preach the Gospel to all of creation, so that those who hear the Word of God might obtain Faith, confess their sin, and repent from their sinful ways and trust in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

John 6:27-29 (ESV)27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

1 John 5:9-11 (ESV)9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Amen. Bear the fruit of repentance, and believe in and confess the Son of God before mankind. Remain in Him, and trust that the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in you as you grow in Him, and you will never be cut away nor cast into the fire. The chief priests, the elders, the Sadducees and Pharisees did not repent, nor did they believe in the Son, and they were cut off.

In the last parable of the 2 sons, we see clearly that all who were lost and came to repentance are like the first son who defied their father, but later obeyed. The second son was the one who professed with his mouth to obey the father, but rejected his authority and commandments and did what was wrong in the end. He represents those chosen by God to be overseers and spiritual leaders who rejected the Law (instead honoring commandments of men that were self-serving) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21:31-32 (ESV) 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them,“ Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes were among those who confessed their sins and repented in John’s baptism, thereby entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. And even after seeing the Gospel reach the lowly sinner, they still did not later change their minds and believe.

May the God the Holy Spirit minister to your hearts today and bring His Word to life and grant you understanding and wisdom and increase your faith. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

The Church | Part 2

churchAs we continue in our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine. The purpose of this series is to clearly state my doctrine regarding church and to challenge individuals and heads of households to weigh everything they are taught in their church (down to the very structure of said church) against Scripture. I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.

Christ is the Head of His Church

By way of reminder, let us review Ephesians 4:1-16, where the Apostle Paul makes absolutely clear that Jesus is the Head of His Church.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The reason we are starting here is because we are going to be moving into the Biblical model for church leadership within the Body of Christ (I will be using a lower-case “church” to denote the local body of believers or congregation and an upper-case “Church” for the Body of Christ). In Part 1 of this series, we saw that when Paul was using the analogy of the Church as a building, that its foundation was upon that of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. I want to begin the discussion of what Biblical church leadership looks like by addressing what some call a Mosaic model of church leadership. The idea that the church should have a single leader who is expected to hear the Word of God for the church and then relay what God has said to the congregation. Many such leaders take up their own Aarons as assistant pastor and then promote small group leaders patterned after Moses choosing leaders of the tribes manage the many needs of the multitudes. Some of the more modern churches might not realize they are employing a Mosaic architecture, they think it is all from corporate America, where the Moses of the organization is the CEO of the church.  The first major problem with this setup is that Moses already recorded the Law of God and we have that now in written form. Christ came to fulfill the Law (and the Prophets) and we who now believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are no longer under the Law (we Gentiles never had access to the Promises of the Law anyway) but we have been adopted into a New Covenant by the blood of Jesus Christ (The book of Galatians and Hebrews lays this out well). So how is the Church (and subsequently, each church within it) supposed to be set up?

The Foundation of the Apostles

When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ conducted His earthly ministry, He selected 12 disciples and appointed them Apostles. One (Judas) betrayed Him. In the first chapter of Acts, we see the Apostles gathered together with other believers (approximately 120 in total) in prayer. They were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, given to them by Jesus. They also looked to appoint another witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be counted among the leaders.

Acts 1:21-26 (ESV)
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

There are some who point to Peter as the head of the Apostles, and others who point to James. Notice that they didn’t make this decision on their own, they prayed together and asked the Lord, the Head of His Church, to show them who should be appointed the ministry and apostleship that Judas despised. Please note that after the Holy Spirit is poured out from heaven, we no longer see a casting of lots to seek guidance from God. The Holy Spirit was the promised reminder of all that Jesus had said to His disciples, and inspired the writing of the New Testament. We who are in Christ now benefit from the written Word of God & the indwelling presence of the Promised Holy Spirit of God as well. When Peter was sent to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10) for God to show him that the Gospel was indeed for the Gentiles just as it was for the Jews, he went back to the brothers and gave an account to the Apostles. However, Peter didn’t command a change in policy at that point. He offered up his testimony of what God had done for the Gentiles during the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and the Council also listened to the testimony of Paul and Barnabas. At the conclusion of the council, we see James sharing the council’s final decision. What we see demonstrated throughout the book of Acts, is not a Mosaic framework; rather, we see a plurality of elders leading the Church and giving council for the churches with Christ as the Head of His Church.

The Role of Elders

I want to first take a historical look at role of Elders by looking at the introduction of the Deacon in Acts. From there, we will move on to more prescriptive texts.

Acts 6:1-7 (ESV)
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Church at this time was already large, and while they pooled all they had for the ministry of the brethren, some were being overlooked. Therefore, the Elders (at this time they were the Apostles) realized that for them to personally ensure that the daily distribution reached all, they’d have to reduce the time they spent in prayer and in ministering of the Word of God (teaching and preaching). Therefore, the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples. This isn’t Paul or James making a decree… the twelve Apostles, Elders of the Church, summoned the full congregation and told them to nominate seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Once chosen, the Apostles laid their hands on the 7 men in prayer. We see these men to indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit and even preaching the Word of God with miracles and wonders, but their office is that of deacon, serving the disciples, and the body of Christ.

Qualifications of Elders

In the interest of time, let us look at Paul’s instructions to Titus regarding Elders. I had planned to walk through Paul’s instructions to Timothy, but I think it best to postpone that discussion to tomorrow (I’m trying to keep these studies to a loose 3,000 word limit). Who is Titus? Well, we first see Titus mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Titus is a Greek convert who Paul and Barnabas brought along as testimony of God’s work among the Gentiles, when Paul presented their ministry to the Apostles in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:1-10 (ESV)
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

So then, Titus is a disciple of Paul since the early missionary trip with Barnabas (before teaming up with Silas). We see his name pop up occasionally as Paul closes his letters giving a quick update on how the state of the Church. Now that we have a good idea of who Titus was, let us begin reading Paul’s instructions to him.

Titus 1  (ESV)
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Notice the adoptive tone of his regard for Titus “my true child in the common faith“.  Titus spent a great deal of time laboring with Paul in the ministry. He is now being charged to do a great deal of work in Crete, putting into order what remained. His primary charge is to appoint elders in every town. If you’ll remember our last discussion, we closed with the idea that the smallest unit of the Church is the family. That it falls to fathers to be the leaders and priests of their households. If the first thought in your mind is “but what about those families without fathers or where the father is not a believer?”, I ask you to hold onto that thought for the final post of this series. We will address the “what if” and the special cases later. We must resist the desire to formulate the rules based on exceptions by focusing on the Word of God that gives the rules, and then search the Scriptures for how to address the “special cases”.

Okay, so if we look at the qualifications for an elder, we find that an elder should be above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children should be believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. Why is that so important? Because an elder isn’t just “a guy with leadership potential”, or a politician to be elected into a temporary office… he is an overseer, God’s steward of the church. As such, he must be above reproach. Paul explains what it means to be above reproach as an individual now (He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined). Look at that final sentence, though. In addition to these character traits, he must hold firmly to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. That last part, is best exemplified by examining the fruit of his instruction and ability to discipline… his wife and children. Does he love his wife as Christ loves the Church? Does his wife submit to, respect, and honor him? Has he taught his children the Word of God? Are they believers? Are they disciplined? We’ll see tomorrow in Paul’s letter to Timothy that a man who cannot manage his household cannot be trusted to manage the church. You don’t hire a bankrupt accountant to manage your finances, and you don’t appoint an elder whose family is in disarray to be God’s steward over the church. If the man is a new believer, or newly married, or his children are still infants then his first ministry is to his family. Remember, while the question of salvation is on an individual level (for God looks on the heart of a man), but the smallest unit of the Church is the family. If an elder’s children become insubordinate or open to the charge of debauchery, there is a problem within his household that needs his attention. For his family is his first responsibility.

Tomorrow, we will begin working through 1 Timothy to fully examine how Paul instructs Timothy regarding the church. In closing today’s discussion, I’d like to read from the closing of the letter to the Romans.

Romans 16:25-27 (ESV)
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In Him,
Jorge

Series: The Church | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

 

Discernment is an Imperative

I’m not a big fan of the majority of internet memes (or info-graphics) that get shared all over the blog-o-sphere and Facebook. Occasionally, one gets shared that I think… “awesome”… and they stick with me for a while. I have a confession to make: I have only recently become familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon and some of the other influential church leaders in the past. Okay, moving along, this one meme in particular was a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon regarding Discernment. It is easy to practice Biblical discernment when you disagree with what is being said, or dislike the person saying it. Especially if what you are countering is clearly wrong according to scriptures. But it is an altogether different experience to discern between “right” and “almost right”… especially if you are trying to establish the “rightness” of a statement you already agree with, or one being made by a person you look up to (or, dare I say it, idolize) or someone a dear friend looks up to.

discernmentIs Discernment Really an Imperative?

Yes. Let’s look at what the Word of God says:

Matthew 7:15-23 (ESV) 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

1 John 4:1 (ESV) 4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Galatians 1:6-7 (ESV) 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

There may be more references worth including here, but here I’ve listed the Authoritative warning by Jesus, and the reminder from 2 witnesses John and Paul. As I’ve said before, the entire book of Galatians focuses on this point… on the point of discerning between Gospel (“right”) and  Law (which cannot be considered wrong, but if you’ll read Galatians, you’ll see that it’s an “almost right”).  Before you start explaining away these passages as being about paganism, Satanism, or Mormonism… stop. Jesus said they’d be in sheep’s clothing… meaning they’d look like you and me. In 1 John, he goes to explain that some of these men had gone out from them… from the church in Jerusalem… and they were false. And Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is talking about men from Jerusalem who were of the circumcision party of believers. We aren’t talking only about the obviously wrong teaching, or the in-your-face blasphemies… we are talking about a distortion of the Gospel of Christ.

Well, You are Entitled to your Opinion…

Yes, you are. But that has absolutely nothing to do with Biblical Discernment. In fact, if your opposition to (or defense of) a message, a prophecy, a sermon, or a theology begins and ends with “I feel like” or “what this passage means to me” you are engaging in opinion-sharing. While everyone has an opinion, it doesn’t mean there are no right, almost right, and wrong opinions. Furthermore, Biblical Discernment is not about opinion, it’s about understanding what the Word of God says, according to the Word of God. I submit to you that very little… if anything… is open to personal opinion when it comes to the God-breathed Scriptures. Don’t let anyone discourage you from comparing what is being said in the Name of God to what we find written in the Word of God. And if there is still a hesitation in your mind… well, let’s see what Paul thought.

Galatians 1:8-12 (ESV) 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 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.

Galatians 5:7-12 (ESV) 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

And we also have this warning from Peter:

2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV) 2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

So, this is what is at stake. Any deviation from the Gospel of Christ is to be rebuked. But this isn’t just about calling out falsehood! Discernment is also about establishing what is true in light of the Word of God. Going back to 1 John 4:1, we weren’t told to test to see if they were false, but to test to see if the spirit is of God. When you grade a test, you don’t compare it to what is wrong, you compare it to what is Right, what is Truth!

Acts 17:10-12 (ESV) 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

These were Jews, described as being more noble than those in Thessalonica (because those in Thessalonica were jealous of the following that Paul and Silas gained, and stirred up the crowds to persecute Paul and Silas) and they examined the Scriptures daily. Paul and Silas were bringing them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and these men were weighing what they were hearing by what they already knew was the Word of God! And it proved to be Right, and True according to God’s Word (the Law and the Prophets, our Old Testament) and so they were already obeying 1 John 4:1 before it was even written! And because God’s Word is True, they believed the Gospel as preached by Paul and Silas in the Grace given them by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit…

Nor do I. Take great care in how you characterize the message and the messenger as you go about searching the Scriptures as the men in Berea did. But the solution to this concern is not to shy away from obeying what is clearly a Biblical Imperative. Based on Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:37-40, “And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Let us look to 1 Corinthians 13 to see how Love is defined in Scripture:

1 Corinthians 13:1-6 (ESV)1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

When you choose to speak up (which you should) do so in Love. I also strongly recommend that you do so in private, first. Why? Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…” so yes… do so in private, and in Love. Will it be welcomed? No. Will you always gain your brother? No. Will you always be right? only so far as you rightly use the Word of God, and don’t fall to your own sin of misinterpretation of the Word of God.

Again, it is not easy confronting false teaching that comes from a friend, or even a mentor. However, if you are not engaging in the opinions of men, and you’ve searched out the Scriptures, and proceed in love, it is a good thing to do. There is no prescription or mandate, to tolerate false-teaching. In fact, we are told not to fear the false teachers, nor to listen to them.

Titus 1:5-11 (ESV) 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

listentomenPaul is not instructing Titus to do something Paul had not already done. In fact, Titus was there when it happened. Let’s return to Galatians:

Galatians 2:1-11 (ESV) 1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Titus witnessed was taught the value of conferring with Elders, submitting to Biblical Discernment (or Paul wanted to know that he had not run in vain) and in the necessity of rebuking hypocrisy and false doctrine (though it was the behavior of Cephas that was silently bearing testimony to the false teaching of the Judaizers). Cephas, was one who seemed to be influential, to be a pillar. The final thought for this post is this, that we dare not take the word of a leader over the Word of God.

I pray this has been of some encouragement to you. God’s Word isn’t open to individual interpretations and opinions… because it is Truth, Objective and Absolute Truth. We do not define Scripture by our emotion or by our opinions, but by the Word of God. The Elders of your assembly bear a great deal of responsibility. You, too, having all of the Word of God made readily available to you in this present age, learn to love God’s Word and search it out. No issue is too small, nor trial too great for answers to be found in the written Word of God.

May the Lord Bless and Keep you,
In Him,
Jorge