That They May Know

“Now after three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them” Revelation 11:11

God’s two witnesses will be a thorn in the side of those who oppose Christ for three-and-a-half years. Those who want to silence them will be consumed by fire (v 5). As part of their testimony God will give them power similar to that which He gave to Moses and Elijah. They will cause a drought for the whole time they testify, turn water into blood, and strike the earth with plagues (v 6). No wonder many will wish them dead and attempt to kill them – but the Lord will protect them. John records that those who oppose Christ will make war against the two witnesses and eventually kill them but not before they have finished their ministry (v 7). We can be comforted by this in that the Lord takes care of His people until their work is done.

It will seem a triumph when the two witnesses are finally killed. Television, newspaper and other media will give this first event full coverage. Social media will run amuck with celebration for a few days (v 10) until God raises them from the dead (v 11). Television and newspapers will not headline this second event, however. Heads of government will endeavour to shut down social media conversation just as they do now with any news that is unpalatable to them.

Why will the Lord allow the two faithful witnesses to experience such opposition and the pain of death?

A purpose for the plagues in Egypt through Moses was so “that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:4). The same is true of this future event. Also it would appear that many Egyptians left their homeland with Israel in the Exodus (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4). The Egyptians had seen the destruction of their false gods and the revelation of the one true God and been moved in heart (Exodus 12:36). Those who left with Israel presumably had chosen to follow the God of Israel much like Ruth did years later.

The death and resurrection of these two witnesses was a final testimony to Israel first and to all mankind that Jesus Christ who rose from the dead is the one true God and has power to raise up and give life to whom He will. While the majority will harden their hearts there will be many who will repent and humbly surrender to the Lord. The book of Revelation reveals that multitudes will be saved during this time even though it may cost their earthly lives (i.e. Revelation 12:11). They will have discovered and now know the truth about Jesus Christ.

Stewards of Grace

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:10,11

It has been said that each person should find out what they love doing and then find someone to pay them to do it. From a worldly perspective that seems like a good idea. For the Christian it is a little different. We are to discover what spiritual gifting God has given us and then develop it by use. In doing this we will discover that we love expressing the gift given and in the process bring glory to God. That doesn’t mean it will be without cost and hardship.

I have been asked by family members what I would like as a birthday gift and then they may choose from the items mentioned. The Bible reveals that we don’t get that choice. Each one’s spiritual gifting is at the sovereign will of God. Keep in mind that it is a gift not a reward.

Peter, the last New Testament writer to mention spiritual gifting writes that spiritual gifting is for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Each one is to “minister it to one another.” Such gifting is not for the purpose of boasting in ourselves. That is pride and we know the origin of pride (Ezekiel 28). Spiritual gifting is not a reward for service but it is divine ability in stewardship to serve others. We will give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as to how faithfully we performed this stewardship.

Spiritual gifting is an expression of the Divine attributes of Jesus Christ and leave no room for pride or boasting on our part. The exercise of spiritual gifting is all to the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Paul and the other apostles all had spiritual gifting but exercised them for the benefit of the church and not for personal benefit. Often they paid a considerable price to enact this stewardship.

Peter writes, “… be clothed with humility” followed by, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:5, 6). If anyone boasts with regard to spiritual gifting it reveals that they are out of fellowship with Jesus Christ and speaking on behalf of Satan. Of all people, Peter knew what it was to be humbled by God and he became a good steward of the grace gift that God had given to the church through him.

Interest Bearing

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit …”

“Let each of you look out … for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3, 4

The first part of this quote is a description of the character of our world. What we observe is a society that manipulates people, their environment and circumstances for their own personal gain and advancement. Paul makes it clear that this attitude has no place in the Christian life.

Paul exhorts Christians to take an active interest in the welfare (physical and spiritual) of others and gives three examples in this chapter of this principle in action: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Among the saddest words in the Bible must be Paul’s lament, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ” (v 21). He is writing this of Christians. His experience was that most Christians were living as the world lives, being ambitious for advancement in the world. Paul’s sorrow was that many of the Christians with Him were immersed in the worldly culture around them instead of being immersed in Jesus Christ.

In contrast Epaphroditus had so given himself to ministry that he had become sick. Perhaps in attempting to make up for the lack of other Christians he had overdone it. That is a picture we see frequently in the church. A few give themselves in sacrificial service while the majority care primarily for their own interests.

In Galatians Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2), and also, “For each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). Those who do minister need to be careful that they are not taken advantage of, too much, for too long; otherwise, they may come to a point where they cannot minister at all.

Those who minister need to be careful not to exceed the burden they should carry for another because it may be a burden God has given the other person to achieve His purpose in their lives. In our willingness to serve, we may actually hinder the work of God.

Evidence that Christians are seeking their own interests and not those of others may be seen in the way they evaluate a church. Quite often a church is evaluated on the basis of whether our needs are or will be met. We would do much better to evaluate a church based on prayerful consideration as to whether Christ would have us minister to others in that church. It is not my need that is under consideration, but the need of others.

Build up in Love

“I do not seek yours, but you.” “We do all things, beloved, for your edification” 2 Corinthians 12:14, 19

Peddlers of a false Gospel had, among other things, accused Paul to the Corinthian church of preaching for reward. In this letter Paul reminds the church of how he ministered among them when he was there. He took no money from them and neither did they provide for him in other ways. He writes in this letter that he either provided for by himself or he was provided for by other churches. He chose to forgo the right to their providing him so that he would not be accused in this way. Ending his response to the accusation he leaves his readers with these two primary motivations for ministry; he doesn’t want their money but he does want to edify the church.

His accusers were likely doing the very thing of which they accused him. This is a common ruse of Satan and those who serve him. Before they are rightly accused of some wrong doing they falsely accuse those they wish to discredit. We observe this in politics and business; in fact in any sphere of life including, sadly, the church. When a person thinks they are about to be exposed they accuse the other of the very thing so as to create confusion and attempt to divert attention from themselves.

Paul had been accused of using religion to manipulate people to serve him and gain reward when in fact this was the motivation of those who accused him. They were jealous of the people’s affection for Paul. In his reluctant defense Paul explains his motivation is not to manipulate to receive but to minister by giving and building up the church.

In 1 John 3:1 John encourages his readers to take time to seriously consider the kind of love that God has lavished on us. His kind of love is one that gives, not takes, and that is the kind of love that Paul had shown to the Christians at Corinth. He was saddened that they were so easily deceived by the peddlers of false teaching when they could easily have seen through their ruse.

His motivation for ministry is the only motivation that is faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, love expressed in these two things: desiring the eternal benefit of others (v 14) expressed in building up other believers through personal sacrifice (v 19; 13:10).

Pursue Love

“So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?” 1 Corinthians 14:9

This chapter begins with the words, “Pursue love” and follows a chapter describing the characteristics of God’s kind of love. This in turn follows a chapter describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifting to the church through members of Christ’s body.

The Corinthian church regarded spiritual gifts as a thing of which to boast as if they merited the gift. Further to this they argued that their particular gift was better or more important than others. The focus was on exalting themselves in the eyes of others. There is no shortage of such people today and, unfortunately, we contribute to their pride when we idolise them.

Pursuing love is described by Paul in this chapter. It means to develop and exercise our spiritual gifting in order to edify other members of Christ’s church. This is accomplished through communicating understanding of God and His word in a language easily understood by the hearers. The key words in this chapter are edification and understanding. Rather than attempting to proclaim Christ in a language his hearers did not understand Paul writes that in the church he would rather speak five words with understanding than ten thousand words in a language not easily understood (v 19).

Love will demand that we minister to others and that means building up, strengthening and encouraging other believers. Apparently a spirit of pride had overtaken the Corinthian church and self exaltation had erroneously become recognised as a spiritual blessing. Paul corrected this attitude to spiritual gifts when he wrote, “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (v 12). This is love in action.

To other Christians Paul described the difference between the spirit of manipulation and the spirit of ministry. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” That would be manipulation of others to serve one’s own pride. “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” This is the right attitude of mind. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is ministry to others out of love (Philippians 2:3-4). In the same chapter, commending Timothy for this right attitude and ministry, he comments of others, “For all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (v 21).

Paul gives to the Corinthian church, and to us, the principle to be applied, “Let all things be done for edification” (v 26).  He concludes his letter by writing, “Let all that you do be done with love” (16:14). That is how we pursue love.

Fulfilling the Ministry

“Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Colossians 4:17)

People who genuinely desire to serve the Lord have this encouragement that Paul gave to Archippus. Since Paul had cause to write this we can safely assume that Archippus was frustrated or having difficulty in persevering. Anyone in leadership will soon discover that there are many things that will discourage them from fulfilling the ministry that they have received in Christ. The book of Nehemiah is helpful to us in this regard.

This ministry is not from our own design or desire and it is not from the Lord but in the Lord. It comes with the Lord Jesus, not apart from Him. We need to be careful that we are sure that it is the ministry for which we are set apart in the Lord that we are seeking to fulfill. When we have that assurance, and it will be tested many times, we will persevere.

There will be many tests. Some will come in the form of criticisms or corrections and others in the form of obstacles. The Lord may send messengers to correct us and we should heed them but also the enemy of God will send messengers to “correct” us so that we either speak a lie or do not speak at all.

How may we discern the difference? It might be an easy response to say, “By knowing and applying the Bible” but if that was such a reliable way of itself why do so many come up with error? People read and even study the Bible but come up with what others would consider horrendous heresy. The Jews of Jesus earthly days knew the Scriptures yet they condemned their Messiah as blasphemous. Jesus tells us that many who read the Scriptures are blinded by Him. The same is said of Israel by the prophets.

Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us into all truth. There are some today who claim to rely on the Holy Spirit for this but they still arrive at what others might consider to be horrendous heresies.

Error comes when we neglect one or the other. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are perfectly harmonious. It isn’t a matter of balance either. It is all Scripture and being filled with the Holy Spirit that will lead us to a correct knowledge, understanding and application of God’s word and will. The regular testing along the way helps us to ensure we are making correct assessments and determinations.

When messengers come claiming to correct us it is imperative that we are able to discern the origin of the correction. Satan is not above using the Bible to confuse the servants of Jesus Christ since he did that to Jesus Himself.

Paul’s desire was that Archippus fulfill the ministry that he had received in Jesus Christ and no doubt he would pray the same for us. Therefore it is good that we “take heed” or give attention to fulfilling and completing that which we have received in Jesus Christ. Do not allow discouragement, frustration, laziness, doubts or fear keep us from fulfilling all that the Lord has given us the privilege of doing in His name.

Useful Contentions

“Then the contention became so sharp that they departed from one another” Acts 15:39

Wherever there are people there will be differences of opinion, debates and arguments that may lead to disputes, fights and even wars. It is the nature of fallen man. In Acts chapter fifteen we read of two different kinds of dispute within the early church. We shouldn’t be surprised that there were differences of opinion even in the church.

The first dispute was of a theological nature. This took place in the new church at Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching. This was the same church that had sent Paul and Barnabas out on their missionary journey. They now sent them with others to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders of the more mature church for a resolution. The matter was not resolved immediately and a hot dispute arose.

Peter shared his own testimony of God’s grace through him to Gentile people but that was of itself insufficient witness. What settled the matter was James referring to Scripture. This dispute was only settled when the Scriptures were taken as authoritative. We discover that the church council concluded that the Holy Spirit was the One who took them through this process to the conclusion. This is how theological disputes should be handled – let God speak by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

The second dispute is not theological in nature but has to do with personal preferences. It is possible to argue that either Paul or Barnabas was right or that both were right or both wrong but that misses the point.

The contention between Paul and Barnabas came primarily out of their different spiritual gifting and Christ’s specific call although other influencing factors should be noted. Paul was a dynamic aggressive leader whereas Barnabas was an encourager. Both were expressing themselves consistently with their gifting and calling but because these were different conflict was inevitable in some circumstances. This happens frequently in our churches and may be one of the main causes of contention. The problem isn’t that there are differences of opinion but in how we resolve them.

So how did the church at Antioch resolve what had become quite heated? The church, guided by the Holy Spirit, made the decision to double the missionary enterprise of the church by sending out two parties. In this each person was able to exercise their gifting and calling to the full. It should be noted that both parties still remained part of and accountable to the same church (v 40). They didn’t break fellowship with the church or with each other. Both were given the freedom to express their spiritual gifting and calling.

When people have different spiritual gifting or calling they will see things differently but that difference is so that they can strengthen and multiply the ministry not break fellowship. For Paul and Barnabas the different gifting and calling meant physically separating but they did not separate spiritually. Neither denigrated or minimized the other’s ministry. For us it will usually mean different areas of ministry within our church but for some it may mean a mission field elsewhere.