Metaphors in the Bible

Metaphors

Whether we realize it or not, we are all familiar with metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to one thing by giving an example that helps illustrate the deeper meaning. The Bible frequently uses metaphors to illustrate God’s lessons for us. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

There’s also a special form known as a simile that generally uses the word “like” to highlight the illustration. It’s important to note the obvious mistake in taking these illustrations too literally. Since nearly every single book of the Bible uses similes and metaphors we must understand how these important illustrations are used and not miss God’s lessons.

A couple of quick examples are in order: First, Solomon’s bride describes him as like a gazelle or a young stag (Song of Solomon 2:9). No one should mistakenly picture Solomon as a four-footed animal with antlers! Second, many of the voices that speak to John from heaven in his book of Revelation are described a like trumpets, like many waters, like loud thunder and like many harpists (cf. Revelation 14:2). Nothing in this should lead us to picture heaven as filled with actual trumpets, white-water rapids, thunder or harpists… unless we are deliberately missing the point of figures of speech.

All of this reminds us to read carefully and not miss the illustrated lessons of God. So let’s take a quick look at a few of the metaphors or word picture illustrations of the New Testament that are applied to us.

In John 10 Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd and sheep. He is the good shepherd that loves His sheep to the point that He will actually lay down His life for them (John 10:14-15). We are His sheep, called to follow Him, known by Him, protected by Him and obediently listening to Him (cf. John 10:27).

The lesson, of course, has nothing to do with us eating grass or being shorn for our wool. Rather it has everything to do with our relationship with our Savior.

Jesus call us both salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt both enhances flavor and is one of the oldest known preservatives. The New Testament world was well acquainted with salted meats, fish and pickled items. Salt was commonly bought and sold and there were salt mines and salt “farming” (at the Dead Sea, for example) all over the region (and world-wide, in fact).

The illustration of Jesus to compare His people to salt is a perfect one since it relates to everyday life. By the way, Jesus’ comment about salt becoming “tasteless” is interesting when you realize that the only way for that to actually happen is for it to be either so contaminated with something else that the taste is lost, or else it must be chemically changed into something else. Either way, it becomes useless by being changed into something else!

Jesus’ second illustration here is also easily understandable and relatable. Light is only useful when it is on and shining where it can be seen. Interestingly for this illustration is the fact that in John’s Gospel Jesus specifically says that, while He is IN the world, He is the Light of the world (John 9:5).

When we put these two lessons of the Light of the World together, we see the responsibility that Jesus is putting on us as His family. Since He has returned to Heaven, we are called to BE HIM in this this world. Paul, of course, comments on this very illustration when he says, It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). If Christ is alive in us, then we are responsible to BE HIS light in this world.

Putting God’s metaphors together makes a powerful lesson and helps us better appreciate our job, our responsibility in this world.

Next week we’ll look at a few more examples of these word pictures. In the meantime, may we as good sheep be good salt and good light for Jesus!

— Lester P. Bagley

Colossians 3a

  • CHILDREN AND PARENTS, JOIN IN AS WE SING TOGETHER BELOW
  • “I WASHED MY HANDS THIS MORNING…AND LENT THEM BOTH TO JESUS”

Have you read your Bible today? Have you spent time in prayer? Have you been a help or a hinderance to your Savior? It’s a choice we all have to make each and every day. What’s your choice today?

Colossians 3a

There’s an old song that asks the question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Other songs remind us that we were not among those who actually saw or walked with Christ when He was here on this earth.

But Paul has a different lesson for us as Christians. He reminds us that we actually are participants in the resurrection of our Savior.

Colossians 3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your mind on the things  above, not on the things that are on earth. [3] For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Just like Romans 6 talks about baptism as a participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, so, too, does Paul remind us and the Colossian Christians that this is very much the reality of being IN Christ. As much as baptism is a dying to our old self of sin, so, too, it is a resurrection. And we are not ever alone in that resurrection. Paul reminds us that we in Christ have been raised up with Christ!

Yes, Scriptures warn us not to think too highly of ourselves and to be humble. But God also reminds us just exactly who we are in His sight! If Jesus was raised from the dead to be restored to His position of authority beside God, then what are we raised for with Him? One of the hardest lessons in life is getting our priorities straight. It’s easy to spend all day on some insignificant task only to realize at the end of the day that we failed to accomplish the really important thing we needed to do.

In the exact same way, we so often spend our day, our week, our entire lives as Christians focused and worrying about tiny, insignificant things. Jesus would comment about the worry of food and clothing when we know that God takes care of all that for even the birds. How much more does He care for us? (Cf. Matthew 6:25-28)

If we are IN Christ we must be, just as He had to be, doing our Father’s business (cf. Luke 2:49). If we are IN Christ our priority must be on the things of God, not on the things of this world. Now there’s a hard lesson for us to learn!

Lord, how can I possibly have time to worry about you and your will? Don’t you know, God, how important all these myriads of other things in this world are? The hardest part  is, He knows. Jesus knows just how unimportant all this busy work is when there is the work of God to be done.

The real question is: Do we know who we are? We died! We need to visit the cemetery and have a look at all the dead people there and see what they are doing! Have you ever noticed? How busy are they? How many conversations are they having? What are they doing?

The answer is, nothing! They are dead! And the answer for me and my life and my priorities and my ideas is exactly the same.

Lord, give us more dead people to serve you! Too often we are dead Christians instead of dead non-Christians! When we put on Christ the old me dies and the ONLY priority is Christ living in me! How much could we accomplish if we actually remembered that? Lord, please hide the me and reveal the you!

One of the world’s favorite sayings is, I need to take time for me. God says the right time for me time is when Christ comes again. How much of you and your time and your life does Jesus really want?

Colossians 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. [6] For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, [7] and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. [8] But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. [9] Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, [10] and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him — [11] a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

To be blunt, the real reason so many so-called Christians continue to indulge in sin is because they don’t really belong to Jesus! Paul’s next lesson is, if you are IN Christ then start living like it!

Paul begins with a list of sexual sins and broadens it in a couple of pointed ways. Jesus extended adultery to include the desire for adultery even without the actual action (Matthew 5:28). Paul also adds greed and equates the whole realm of sexual sins with idolatry.

In our world of casual sex and sex as a normal part of any degree of relationship, how does a Christian feel about all this? Far too many have simply caved in to the Devil and gone along with the practices of the world. New Testament Christians faced exactly the same compromises! If the pagan temples could sell sex and everybody in the Greco-Roman world was accepting any kind of sexual perversion as “normal” then why not Christians?

God’s answer to that question is simple. You might just as well worship an idol! Many Christians today are happy to pervert God’s standard for morality and yet still be proud that they don’t worship some little false god statue. God sees no difference and  the eternity for one sin is the same as for the other.

As Christians we are called to be new, to have a do-over that avoids all the mistakes we once made. Further, Paul says that renewal is for ALL of us as Christians. Don’t pretend that you are somehow better than others, we are all sinners that have fallen short of God’s glory. And we ALL need to be renewed that we might together live for Jesus.

God doesn’t care what you’ve done, what your ancestry is, or where in society you fit in. None of that matters to God! The thing, the ONLY thing that matters is Christ! Are you IN Christ? Is Christ IN you? If so, then all of us as family, God’s family, have to work together to accomplish God’s work and will on this earth.

Do you really know Jesus? Or are you just some impostor trying to look like a Christian?

If you feel that any of this is harsh, that’s because it is. Paul and God want the false and  the fake out of us and out of Christ’s church. Look back at verses 10 and 11 one more time. God wants His people to be the ones that have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him — a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Those words are important, they are imperative, not optional. There is no room in Christ’s church, His body, for those that allow outward, humanistic appearances to count for anything.

Our world imagines that prejudice is something we’ve invented in the last few hundred years. It’s not. People of one background or appearance or culture or whatever have always imagined that they are somehow better because they are different.

The reality is, they are nearly right! Those that belong to God and are faithful to Him and His will ARE MORE than just better. We are sanctified, set apart as special, made holy by Jesus. The Hebrew writer says it like this: By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10).

It’s certainly ridiculous to imagine a Christian meeting Jesus in person and complaining about His skin color, His heritage, His eye color, or any other feature. It is equally ridiculous for a Christian to look down on a brother or sister in Christ for such things.

When we see a brother or sister in Christ, we see Christ for it is Christ who lives in them as He does in each of us. When we see anyone outside of Christ, we see either someone who is in need of Christ or someone who has rejected Christ. But NEVER will we see anyone any greater on this earth than a brother or sister in Christ!

If any of this sounds a bit like many of the earthly problems of our world today, that’s because that is exactly what Paul, what the Holy Spirit of God speaking through Paul, is trying to get through our thick heads. Being one with Christ, being in Christ and Him being in you, is where it’s at, it’s what’s most important.

The churches of the first century struggled with getting over their prejudices, and they, just like us, had many to get over. But get over it we MUST if we would see Jesus, either here on this earth or in eternity.

Finally, notice again that all this is written by Paul, by God in imperatives. Getting rid of immorality, getting rid of prejudice, getting rid of all kinds of sin is NOT optional!

DO the right things because they are right before God. Nothing else in this world matters. Nothing!

—Lester P. Bagley

Useless Prayers

The last few months have really brought home to us just how blessed we were. We see the lesson repeatedly in life that we don’t really appreciate what we have until we lose it. Our times together in fellowship were nice before the virus but were sorely missed and even more appreciated when we lost them for a time. Hopefully the same has held true for our time spent in Bible reading, Bible study and in prayer.

Useless Prayers

What a title! Is there really any such thing? Doesn’t God always hear our prayer? Can it really be true that God would not listen to and help us?

Have you ever heard or used the phrase, In one ear and out the other? Often it is said by a parent to a child and we have probably all both heard it at one time and repeated it ourselves.

Yes, God, being God, hears all prayers even as He knows all things that happen and, more importantly, knows all hearts and intents. So in a sense, if God ignores our prayers it is as though the request has gone through Him without catching His attention or intention to answer.

The obvious next question is really, Does or can that happen? So let’s begin with a few Scriptures:

  • He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)
  • If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear; (Psalm 66:18)
  • When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, And let his prayer become sin (Psalm 109:7).
  • The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Proverbs 15:8).
  • The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent (Proverbs 21:27)!
  • They cried for help, but there was none to save, Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them (Psalm 18:41).

The prophets also frequently warned God’s own chosen people of the danger. If you do not love and obey the Lord then He will not even listen to you. Check out just a few examples:

  • So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. (Isaiah 1:15)
  • Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them (Jeremiah 11:11).
  • Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them (Ezekiel 8:18).
  • Then they will cry out to the LORD, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time Because they have practiced evil deeds (Micah 3:4).
  • They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. (13) And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12-13)

We often hear how willing God is to heed and save those that call on Him. But that  NEVER means, in God’s terms, that you can call on Him without obedience. God makes no bargains to save us any way other than that He has set forth in His word!

God puts this bluntly in Proverbs 1:28 when He says,Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me. If we are not willing to obey God’s will it is useless to seek His help!

Oh, but that’s all Old Testament teachings. Now, in the New Testament God has changed and we can fool Him. Isn’t that true?

Of course not! Listen to Paul: (6) For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, (8) dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Did you catch verse 8? Yes, those that spurn God and do not know Him will pay the penalty of eternal destruction. But so will all those that do not OBEY Him.

Without obedience and faithful service to the Lord, He will not heed or answer our prayers. God actually hates those prayers and they become sin. Remember Psalm 109:7 (above)?

If our allegiance is not to the Lord then we are presumptuous in even making a request to God. If we desire God’s blessing then we need to get out hearts and lives right with Him.

The vital thing for us is to know and obey the word of God. Never stop listening to Him. Never stop doing His will. Peter puts it like this: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12).

—Lester P. Bagley

When you don’t read your Bible…

 

From the Preacher’s Pen… Many have commented how much they missed the blessing of being together for worship. We need to pray that God will teach us the same lesson about reading our Bibles! Can you imagine NOT having access to God’s word for two months. Would you miss it? If you really care about God, then take time to read His word today!

When You Don’t Read Your Bible

Ignorance is really NOT bliss. When we are ignorant of something, we can easily be deceived into believing what is totally, perhaps even dangerously untrue. A few weeks back the President made a comment about wishing we could just take a disinfectant to combat the virus from inside our bodies. In their fervor to mock anything he says, the press reported that the President advised drinking liquid disinfectant. They then proceeded to have “experts” talk about how that could never work and was totally absurd. So there, Mr. Stupid President!

What many failed to notice (and a few of the real experts in the field comment on but were mostly ignored) is that what he proposed is actually a basic layman’s explanation of how many medicines work. For example, all chemotherapy essentially works that way and so do numerous other “medicines” for various illnesses. The point is, when ignorant people savagely criticize someone, they really want to justify what they believe or do and are NOT the least interested in the truth.

The same thing happens when people fail to read their Bible and yet profess to want to serve God. Without KNOWING God’s will, we are most likely going to invent some fanciful nonsense that has absolutely zero basis in fact.

The first example to consider is the “Sinners Prayer.” The idea that salvation comes by saying the words invented by a false teacher without regard to anything God says in the Bible, really doesn’t deserve any serious consideration.  Still, let’s check out God’s word and see what He says about the “Sinners Prayer.” Go ahead and check your Bible. I’ll wait….

….Have you found anything yet? Of course NOT! The “Sinners Prayer” is NEVER mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

Of course, if we recall how the Bible is designed, we know that the New Testament is the place to look for God’s plan of salvation for people today. We should also recall that the only book specifically dealing with the spread of the Gospel to non-Christians is the book of Acts. So that is the best place to go to learn how to be saved.

Those that are outside of Christ, so we learn from the book of Acts, are told to do several things that lead to salvation. The next to last step involves actually becoming a part of Christ and His church, also known as baptism or reenacting the death, burial and resurrection into a new, reborn state. The final step is that of remaining faithful to Jesus and His will for us as long as we live.

Yes, we many times oversimplify it to say (as Peter did in 1 Peter 3:21) that baptism saves us. But that’s just saying “take an internal disinfectant” as a super-simplified way of referring to an antibiotic, for example.

Every single saved person this side of the cross of Christ and establishment of His church on the first Pentecost after His death (cf. Acts 2) has done those things to be saved. NOTHING else works and nothing else is ever taught by God.

Let’s consider a second example of not really reading the Bible but nevertheless forming an opinion based entirely on ignorance. This one comes from a person posting on the internet their “proof” that the Bible is full of hate and error and that you won’t hear about the real Bible “nonsense” in church.

The verse that “proves” all this is Joshua 23:15 and it reads, It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.

There it is! The proof that God is hateful and that preachers lie to you by not telling you what God is really like! A single sentence ripped from the context and forced to say exactly the opposite of what God was saying is somehow “proof” that God is wrong.

Well, truthfully, we see the news media and internet doing just that on a daily basis. Are you impressed?

Hopefully, you went back and read Joshua 23 and saw what was actually going on. As Joshua has now brought peace to the Land and rest for God’s people, they are warned about becoming complacent and forgetting God.

Yes, God will bless them (and us) richly if we are faithful and do His will. But just as certain as God’s blessings are God’s curses for those that turn their backs on Him.

Joshua’s very next verse (Joshua 23:16 is actually the completion of his original statement) says: When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.

When we don’t let God speak, when we don’t read our Bibles and get the whole picture when doing it, we are just as foolish as those that hate God. In reality, unless we are daily spending time in God’s word and in prayer, we are instead daily giving our allegiance to Satan and sin.

Yes, it IS that important!

~~ Lester P. Bagley

 

 

God that IS peace

 

How’s that Bible reading going? Do you like nagging? Apparently, we DO when it’s important enough. How many times are you willing to “nag” someone you really love to be careful? Oh, that’s not really nagging when it’s important! So, how’s that Bible reading going? It IS that important!

Peace

Some words just belong to God. Without God’s definition and understanding of them they are meaningless. Amen is a good example that we’ve studied before. God’s meaning and use of the word gives us, as God’s people, a totally different sense than any replacement from the world.

If anything, this is even more true with the word peace. It is certainly a word that the world tries to use, but clearly God thinks that the world’s use is incompetent and downright wrong.

In a very unique way, God actually defines peace. In Judges 6:24 as Gideon is called by God and builds an altar to worship the Lord, he names it The LORD is Peace, Yahweh- shalom. As Jesus spends that final night before His death with the Apostles, He tells them Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)

Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared first to the 10 (Thomas is missing) and then, later, to the 11 (read John 20:19, 21 & 26). His greeting to them (most likely actually spoken in Hebrew as they all were familiar with the greeting) is peace upon you (plural) or šālôm ‘ălêkem.

The words form the still common greeting in Israel. We might translate it as good day, but it means much, much more. The idea expressed is may you be well, whole, complete as in having the physical and spiritual resources sufficient to your needs.

Think about the importance and urgency of what Jesus is saying. The Lord God is the very definition, the epitome of peace. Only in Him can we really be well, whole and complete. Only the God that IS peace has the physical and spiritual power to supply what we really need.

Before His death, Jesus extended this true peace of God to them (indeed, to us all, through them!) as a blessing. Blessings don’t come any greater or more complete than everything you need! Then the resurrected Jesus, having physically displayed His power as God by raising Himself from death (cf. John 10:18), extends yet again His powerful blessing of peace to His friends. (Be sure to read John 15:13-15 where Jesus makes the point that His disciples are no longer to be called slaves or servants but friends!)

Over 200 times the Old Testament illustrates this word, peace, and most of the time with that special link to God’s definition of real peace. In addition, the Old Testament uses a form of the word for God’s peace to refer to a special peace offering nearly 100 times. And these illustrations add to our understanding of what God’s peace really means.

These offerings are sometimes called fellowship offerings or wholeness offerings as they involved a sacrificial meal shared by the one making the offering, the people and the priests. You will recall how similar this is to the Passover, but, in this case, it could take place at any time of the year.

The peace or fellowship offering was for thanksgiving, at the fulfillment of a vow and/or for a freewill offering. The reasons or excuses for making this offering were broad enough to allow it at any time. Consider that thought for a moment. When is an appropriate time to simply thank God because you love and appreciate Him?

There were regulations for the offering. Cf. Exodus 20:24 (required); Leviticus 7:11-18 (purpose); Leviticus 3:1, 6-12 (the animal used); Leviticus 3:2, 8-13; 17:5-6 (how to prepare); Leviticus 19:5; 22:21 (requirements to be acceptable); Amos 5:22-24 (including a right attitude). After all, people have tried to fool God with fake offerings many times (Malachi discusses this problem, if you recall). So if you really want to thank God and do something to honor Him, you still have to do it the right way.

The peace or fellowship offering was shared. God received the best (Leviticus 3:3, 5, 9, 11, 14-16). The priests received a share as food (Leviticus 7:29-34). The people ate the rest (Leviticus 10:14).

These actions came together to affirm their relationship to God and were a part of their covenant  with  God  at  Sinai  (cf.  Exodus  20:24;  24:4-6)  and  later  with  their  Kings  (cf.  1 Samuel 10:8; 11:15 & 1 Kings 9:25). And they were also part of the seasonal festivals of Weeks (Leviticus 23:19) and Tabernacles (Numbers 29:39).

This was a regular part of many other times for both individual life (Nazirite vows, Numbers 6:14, 17-18; 10:10) and the community of God’s people (New Moon and other festivals, on entering the Promised Land, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, dedication of the Temple, etc.).

When you think about it, any time was and is a good time to celebrate peace with God and fellowship with Him and His people. Is it any wonder that the Lord’s Supper is called a celebration  by  Paul  (1 Corinthians  5:8)  as  well  as  a  proclamation  or  announcement   (1 Corinthians 11:26)? For that matter, is it a surprise to any of us that one of the great joys of congregational life is a potluck, a feasting together with brothers and sisters in Christ?

Finally, consider that perhaps the most recognized Christian greeting in the New Testament is the reminder of God’s grace and peace as our blessing. Read….

  • Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2;
  • Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1;
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2;
  • Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3; 1 Peter 1:2;
  • 2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 3; Revelation 1:4.

May God’s rich grace and peace be multiplied to you!

—Lester P. Bagley

Philippians 3 ~ Stealing Our Joy

Lord willing we will be meeting together at the building again in June. Keep on reading your Bible and never forget how much the Lord’s loves YOU!

Philippians 3

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again to you is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1) One of the big problems you always struggle with in translating something into another language is how literal you can be and still be understood. If you recall, in chapter 2 we noted Paul’s use of intestines as the source of tender affections. To translate his thoughts into English we typically would use the word heart.

The Greek word translated here as finally in most translations is loipos and it can sometimes refer to a final point being made. It’s actually the same word used by Jesus in Mark 14:41 when He inquires in the Garden, Are you still sleeping and resting? Of the 61 times the word is used in the New Testament, it is only translated as finally 6 times and all of those in Paul’s writings. So when we chuckle about Paul writing finally here and then again in chapter 4 verse 8, we are the ones missing the point. Paul is NOT coming to a conclusion as he begins chapter 3 but rather is simply making a transition in thought, shifting gears to his next point. In Galatians 6:17 the same word begins the sentence there and nearly every translation renders it from now on or henceforth. And that seems to be more in line with the point Paul is making.

Because of how great our Savior is and because we are to imitate Him (Paul’s lesson in the first part of chapter 2) AND because of the faithful brothers working with Paul and the Philippian church we should all from now on rejoice in the Lord. This is much larger than a conclusion and certainly not the end of what Paul has to say. In fact, he’s just about to start in on those that steal the Lord’s joy from God’s people!

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who practice mutilation. For we are the true circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:2-3) We sometimes hear people say that God wants us to accept and go along with everybody. The same Jesus that taught compassion also used whips on those that reviled God. And Paul here makes it very plain that those who lead Christians astray with their false teaching are dangerous dogs.

Paul’s early dealings with teachers that taught compromise with Old Testament practices led to stern lessons to the Galatian Christians years earlier. As these false teachers continue to follow the Lord’s church and seek to corrupt each new congregation, so Paul condemns them every time they attempt to draw Christians away from the truth. And what better way to draw people away from Christ than by claiming that they are superior to Christians?

They are not entitled to think that! In no uncertain terms, they are nothing but dogs. Paul then identifies them as Jews that reject the Law of Christ. How? By striking at their own pride. Circumcision was the badge of honor, the mark that showed them superior to Gentiles. But Paul turns the tables and makes a joke of their circumcision.

The Greek word for circumcision is peritomē and the word for mutilation is katatomē. The play on words that sound alike but have totally different meanings is intentional. Make fun of Christ and teach something that leads people away from God and you are not deserving of kind words.

Occasionally today we find false teachers that brag about their degrees or who they studied under or in some other way imply that they are greater than God’s people. Many of the Apostles were dismissed as Galileans and Paul apparently heard a lot of similar dismissal as a Christian, too. And Paul, when pushed, would occasionally, just like Jesus, come out fighting with the whips.

[E]ven though I have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews. In regard to the law, I was a Pharisee; as for zeal, a persecutor of the church; as for the righteousness set forth in the law, I was blameless.

But whatever things were gain to me, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and regard them as rubbish, in order to gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that is based on faith —that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:4-11)

Paul’s point is NOT just that I’ve been there, done that and got all the human glory but rather that he has something even greater in Christ! We can never afford to lose sight of what REALLY matters. Just like James (4:13-17)) reminds us that we cannot plan tomorrow because God is what really matters, so Paul acknowledges the same truth.

Not that I have already obtained all this or have already reached my goal, but I press on in order to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider to have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14) Even when the whips have to come out against evil (or perhaps more correctly, especially then!) remember who you belong to!

So those of us who are mature should take this point of view; and if in anything you think differently, that too God will make known to you. In any case, let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16)

The word translated mature here is also translated as perfect in many translations. A point Paul also made to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1- 3; 14:20) was that right thinking is mature thinking. Just because someone “doesn’t see things that way” doesn’t mean that they actually have a right to their own viewpoint in God’s eyes. A child will see you as being an old, grumpy, mean person for not giving them candy for supper. That doesn’t mean their opinion is just as good as their parents’. It just means they haven’t grown up. And they still don’t get their own way because, immature or not, it’s wrong! Thus Paul concludes live like a Christian and grow up to take the correct attitude.

The idea that there are other opinions and other ways to be right before God is as prevalent today as in New Testament times. So Paul again reminds us much like the Old Testament that there is a way that SEEMS right to people (cf. Proverbs 14:12) and that means that there is the RIGHT way we need to follow.

Join in following my example, brothers, and pay close attention to those who are living this way, as you have us as an example. For many are living (I have often told you about them but now tell you even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:17-19)

Just as nothing good comes of living the wrong way, nothing bad comes of living God’s way! When we suppress ourselves and fill our lives with Christ, then all the promises and all the blessings of God are before us.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

It requires a lot of growing up to live responsibly. Sometimes we wish we could just be a child again with no responsibility, no expectations of acting like a grownup. But childhood misses out on all the beauty and richness of maturity. Family and friends are far more precious treasures when we’ve grown into them. And God, together with all His eternal promises, has far more in store for us than we could ever imagine here!

—Lester P. Bagley

Philippians chapter 2

How’s your Bible reading going? As life begins to get back to outside activities and people are less constrained inside all the time, we need to be extra cautious. Not so much about a virus, but cautious that we do not ever forget to take time to spend with God!

Philippians 2

Paul often constructs amazingly complex sentences that are filled with important meaning. He does so here as he begins chapter two. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, united in spirit, with a single purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).

Encouragement is paraklēsis. It’s the word that formed Joseph the Levite’s name given him by the Apostles (Acts 4:36) and is frequently used (some 29 times) in the New Testament. It’s about as positive a word for encouragement as you can imagine as it carries the idea of earnestly calling for cheering, supporting, joyful, glad, help. It’s also pretty obvious what the Apostles were trying to convey in giving this “name” of superlatives for encouragement to “Barnabas.” Now Paul begins his appeal to Christians uniting in service with “any” ultimate goodness of encouragement in Christ!

The second standard is any comfort of or from love. Love, of course, is the word used of God’s selfless concern of commitment to us, even when we didn’t deserve it. The comfort (or consolation in some translations) is paramythion, a gentle cheering, encouragement.

The third standard then is any fellowship in the Spirit. Paul often put the arm-twisting pressure on Christians to live up to the standard they are called to in Christ. Here he’s asking his audience to check and see if they are really a part of God’s family.

The fourth standard is any affection and compassion. Compassion is pretty much the exact idea of the Greek word, but affection is splanchnon, a word the King James often translates (precisely and literally, I might add) as bowels. To the Greeks the tenderest affections come from the intestines. As humorous as we might find that, our use of the heart (a muscle that pumps the blood around your body), is just as funny, isn’t it?

So, Paul has loaded up his call for Christians to truly be united in every conceivably good and positive way possible to work together in the Lord. That’s Paul’s challenge to us all. Yes, it’s a mouthful and complex but his purpose is to have Christians begin with the understanding that God’s people are truly living, working, thinking as God’s family here on earth. Jesus simplified this to you are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

If we are to live our lives on this earth as the human representations of God, then we must act like it toward one another. Christians that don’t love (totally committed to) the church, the body of Christ are total failures! But failure is not an option and not at all Paul’s point here.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each person should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Your attitude toward one another should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross! Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)

Live up to God’s standard! Our job is to BE Christ Jesus living here on this earth! Read John 14:19 where Jesus promises to live in His disciples, even though He’s no longer “living” in this world; also note 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20 and 1 Peter 4:2. This really IS our purpose as Christians. Paul’s portrait of the humility and true greatness of Jesus is purposely painted here for us to grasp the importance of being just like that!

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more now in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work on behalf of his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe, holding fast the word of life, so that I may have reason to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)

There is nothing sadder than to see Christians act just like the world. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves! No grumbling, no arguing and none of the other sins that are identifying marks of the world that follows Satan. No excuses! Live and die as the light of God shining in this world of darkness!

Paul loved to brag about his faithful fellow workers in Christ and he does so now on Timothy and Epaphroditus, one of the members of the church at Philippi. And Paul, just like when he’s bragging about his Savior, doesn’t cut any corners. After all, Christians who live and act like Christ are the greatest people on this earth.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. For I have no one else of like mind who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all look out for their own interests, not for those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven character, how as a child with his father he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him just as soon as I see how things will turn out for me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming soon.

In the meantime I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need, because he has been longing for all of you and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill; he almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me as well,  so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may no longer be anxious. Therefore welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and hold such men in honor, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you were not able to give me. (Philippians 2:19-30)

We have every reason to be proud of those we work with in God’s kingdom. After all our God has done for us, after all the blessings He’s given us, after all we’ve promised to do in service to Him, there really isn’t any room for self. Imagine a congregation that puts God first in everything, a group of Christians that so loves the Lord and each other that they give their all just like Jesus gave His all for us. What could they accomplish together for the Lord? What can we accomplish together for the Lord?

—Lester P. Bagley

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Joy to the highest degree

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Are you still reading your Bible? This year has certainly been a good reminder that we all need to spend time with our God. Let’s put it a different way. If you miss brushing your teeth for a day, would you just give up and never brush your teeth again? If you miss reading your Bible for a day, be sure to get back to doing something far more important than brushing your teeth. Take care of your eternal soul!

Joy

Let’s begin with a silly question or two. Do you prefer to be joyful or blah? Do you like being so joyful that you just can’t contain yourself? The simple fact is that this is likely one of the spiritual qualities that shines through even in our human forms.

It seems that people have often associated joy, real joy with God. Moses promised true joy to God’s people in celebrating the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 16:15) and offered God’s curses on those that failed to serve the Lord with joy and a glad heart (Deuteronomy 28:47). As David made the preparations for his son Solomon to build the Temple, he blessed those preparations with joy at the willingness of God’s people to make offerings to the Lord (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:17).

When God’s people returned to the Lord after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra observed the joy of restoring the house of the Lord and all the resulting blessings of faithfulness to God (cf. Ezra 6:16, 22). Nehemiah would outright say that their joy came from God (Nehemiah 12:43). And Zephaniah the prophet would remark how, when God’s people obeyed the Lord that, He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17).

Look back at that passage from Zephaniah. The Hebrew uses three different words for God’s joy. The first two, He will exult over you with joy and He will rejoice over you are terms of an ecstatic, joyful dance. God simply cannot contain Himself and dances for joy. The final shouts of joy is a single word of jubilation and triumph as follows a successful battle or the winning of a war.

Apparently, God knows all about joy and not only shares that attribute with His people but actually feels that joy to the highest degree when His people are faithful. What a picture of our God!

The New Testament Greek is a bit more similar to the English in almost understating the idea of joy. Chara is variously translated as joy, gladness, rejoicing, cause of joy, occasion of rejoicing, bliss, gladness, happiness. You get the point, but God still manages to let His lessons be seen through.

When the Wise Men visit the young Jesus in Bethlehem, the KJV, NKJV and NASB all say that they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. The Greek is literally, they joyed (rejoiced) with very much mega-joy! It seems that the joy in seeing the Lord is almost beyond the terms of human expression! It seems to harken back to Nehemiah’s statement that the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The joy of the Lord. Now THAT is joy worth possessing and sharing.

But let’s move on a bit and also note how joy takes on some very special meanings as the New Testament moves into the lives of God’s people now. Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

Joy is something that belongs, not only to God, but to Christ’s church, the Kingdom (from Acts 2 onward). In Galatians 5:22 Paul lists joy just after love as part of the fruit of the Spirit. You may also recall that joy and rejoicing are favorite terms for Paul to use as he writes to the always faithful and encouraging congregation of God’s people in Philippi.

Peter, in discussing Jesus our Christ says, though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). He goes on to say in verse 9 that the result or outcome of such joyful faith is the salvation of our souls!

There is one other form of that New Testament word, sugchairō, and it very specifically means joy that is shared. Luke uses this word for Elizabeth when, in her old age, her son, John, is born and her neighbors and relatives are all rejoicing with her (Luke 1:58).

There’s an old saying that is found in many languages and cultures around the world. It says that sorrow shared is halved and joy shared is doubled. God’s people have known that to be a fact all along. Paul told the Corinthians if one member suffers, all the members suffer with them; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with them (1 Corinthians 12:26). He goes on to define love as not rejoicing in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Joy is a trait, a power, a gift of God. Satan and sin have no joy but rather come to steal our joy. And joy shared with God and His people is even more powerful!

Before we finish, though, consider one more Bible verse about that marvelous gift of God. The elderly Apostle John would write, I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). What greater joy can there be on this earth than to love, be with and work alongside God’s people? What greater joy can there be than to share God’s love with another and watch them go to heaven with us?

Be faithful. Be prayerful. Be IN God’s word. And be joyful in all, for that is God’s gift to us!

—Lester P. Bagley

 

 

 

Persistence

Are you tired of being confined? Are you ready to get out and be with people? Are you missing seeing and being with someone? Do you remember that the Lord has been right there with you every moment? Are you still reading His word and listening to His direction? Never give up on the one who loves you most!

Persistence

Speaking of giving up, are you a stubborn person? Or are you persistent? Or perhaps, are you faithful? We sometimes associate the exact same traits with either a negative attitude or with a good and positive one. It’s important for us to realize that God does the same thing.

The New Testament talks a good deal about persistence and illustrates for us how it can be either a wrong attitude or a right one. The word epimenō means to continue, to stay, to persevere, to adhere to, continue to embrace, to persist in something. If you want to check all of its usages it is used in: John 8:7; Acts 10:48; 12:16; 15:34; 21:4, 10; 28:12, 14; Romans 6:1; 11:22–23;  1 Corinthians  16:7–8;  Galatians  1:18;  Philippians  1:24;  Colossians  1:23  and 1 Timothy 4:16.

Paul uses it in the negative sense when he asks, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1) For a Christian to persist in sinning can never be a good thing. Paul goes on in that chapter to point out that in Christ we are to live or persist in Christ rather than in being like we were in the world.

Later in Romans Paul calls us to observe both the good and bad, the positive and negative of “continuing” or persisting in God: Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:22-23)

If we persist, are stubborn about staying with God and following His word then God’s blessings will be on us. If we persist in being stubborn about disobeying God, then there is no hope for us. The choice is ours to have holy faithfulness or to have the unholy persistence that is sin.

The New Testament frequently uses this same word for an extended stay with someone. When Peter baptized Cornelius and the other first Gentiles of the church, they asked Peter to stay with them. On several occasions Paul stayed an extended time in one place to preach or with those he’d recently converted to Christ. If someone staying and living in your home with you and your family is persistence, then do we see God’s picture of Him staying and living with us in our lives?

In Colossians 1:21-23 Paul tells Christians that, although once unholy apart from Christ, we are now holy and blameless and beyond reproach if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel  that you have heard. That kind of persistence is what we also call faithfulness, the kind that lasts and is truly stubborn in the right way.

One last passage to note is 1 Timothy 4:16. As Paul encourages his younger co- worker to stick to the job of serving Christ he says, Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Being faithful to God is not an easy task for us here on this earth. The history of humanity is strewn with those who gave up, the quitters that failed God. We need the positive stubbornness that persists, keeps on following Jesus no matter how hard, no matter what happens. We are called to be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10) in order to receive that Crown of Life.

Paul sums up this persistent, stubborn, faithful way of life like this: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

—Lester P. Bagley

Focus on God

How’s your Bible reading going? Many people have said they are eating too much while basically confined to home. But has anyone ever read and studied too much of God’s word? Ever heard of anyone spending too much time with God? Now’s a perfect time to catch up with the one who loves you most!

Focus on God

Focus is something that is important to all of us. Recently the young man working on our air conditioner commented that he had to stop and put his glasses on so he could focus on and read the tiny print on the unit. Many of us appreciate the problem! The tiny print that I once could easily read is an illegible blur now. And if it’s something important to see, then we are willing to do whatever is necessary to actually be able to see and read it!

Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, that’s focus! Peter would echo the challenge (1 Peter 1:13) as he tells us, Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without being focused completely on God here and now, we will never be ready to focus on Him when He comes again.

Jesus commented on the negative side, the failure to focus on God, by reminding us of Isaiah’s prophecy, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 quoting Isaiah 29:13) If we fail to focus on God and honor Him with our all, then we are nothing more than bad actors (cf. Matthew 15:7).

Have you ever noticed that when you are focused on one thing you cannot really focus on something else? The same is true of God. When we focus on Him, we cannot be focused on things that don’t matter!

The Psalmist (Psalm 46:10) tells us that God says, Cease striving [be still] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10). The word we translate as cease striving or be still is the word for surrender, to give up and Jewish commentary (Targum) renders it as cease from war [with God]. Do you see the Psalmist’s picture? God wants us to stop fighting Him, arguing with Him and just focus on Him, put our trust in Him.

And when we do it God’s way, here’s the result: Because he has focused [KJV, set] his love on me, I will deliver him. I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him. I will be with him in his distress. I will deliver him, and I will honor him. (Psalm 91:14-15)

When we are focused on God, They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7). And we can say, My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! (Psalm 57:7)

Paul offers this challenge for us as Christians, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking [set your heart on, keep focusing on] the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on [focus on] the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4) Our focus has to be kept on Christ, on things above or we miss being who we are called to be.

Focus is something we repeatedly have to do. Every time we get distracted, look somewhere else, we must refocus to return to the important task at hand. Paul also understood that. We have not arrived! We must consciously, consistently return to the job. Paul says it like this: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do [focus on]: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to [focusing on] what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

When we are not focused on God, we make mistakes. Peter warns, Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Satan is always focused on us. If we take our focus off of Jesus then we can no longer resist, our faith is in danger! That’s why the Hebrew writer keeps pointing us to Jesus as superior in every way, including faithfulness (focus!): Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, keep your focus on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1).

Focus is vital to us all and spiritual focus is eternally important. When we keep our focus on our God and Savior we do more than just survive. With the correct focus, we are completely victorious super-conquerors (cf. Romans 8:37). Indeed, we can do all things through him [Christ Jesus] who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

Never take your eyes, your faith, your hope, your focus off Jesus!

—Lester P. Bagley