The Stones of Covetousness

December 31, 2012 at 10:20 am | Posted in Habakkuk, The Stones that Don't Cry Out | 5 Comments
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The Lord Jesus was moving toward Jerusalem. Those who had plotted to tempt Him, to cause Him to fall into sin, to argue against Him and to try to prove Him a to be a blasphemer, and those who had tried to kill Him, had all failed – because His time had not yet come.

The Lord Jesus, Who had never allowed His followers to engage in a public demonstration for Him, allowed it this one time, and they treated Him like a triumphant King. Garments were laid on the animals and on the road. Palm tree branches were waved and spread before Him (John 12:13). He rode a “colt” (a young donkey) which had not been broken or trained by men, but which submitted to Jesus because He, as the “second Adam” and as God incarnate, had dominion over all creation.

And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.

Luke 19:35-36

The crowd was excited. Many of them had seen this Man – Jesus of Nazareth – perform miracles, heal the blind, even raise a man from the dead. Possibly others – even some of the Disciples – believed Jesus was entering Jerusalem to overthrow the Roman government there. This is indicated by their use of the messianic Psalm 118 (118:26).

And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

Luke 19:37-38

But there were also Pharisees in the crowd, and they were upset.

And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

Luke 19:39

In the Lord’s response to them, you might recognize a very common modern church expression:

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

Luke 19:40 (emphasis added)

This expression is used to encourage and exhort people to “liven up” – to get excited in worship – to “get free” – to “loosen up” – to sing louder and with greater emotional enthusiasm. This will be the plea of song leaders and worship ministers all across America this Sunday morning: “We don’t want the rocks to put us to shame – come on, please – if we don’t praise Him, the rocks will! You don’t want us to be outdone by a rock, do you?”

One of the things that happened often in Christ’s ministry on earth is that He would speak a great truth and people would put their own stamp of perception on it. Instead of hearing what He actually said, they heard what they wanted Him to say. When He said that the temple would be torn down, and in three days He would raise it again, they thought He meant the temple building. When He said that in order to see the Kingdom of God you must be born again, they asked Him how someone could get back into his mother’s womb. When He told people that those who eat of His flesh and drink of His blood would have eternal life they were offended at the thought of eating literal flesh. I wonder if Jesus’s followers knew the deeper spiritual meaning when He said, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out?”

I don’t know for sure, but I believe the Pharisees must have known. They were students of the Word. They knew the writings of the prophets. Surely they would have recognized the quote from Habakkuk:

Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.

Habakkuk 2:9-11

See, the followers of Christ wanted Psalm 118 – “Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord!” – but Christ’s point was, “What about Habakkuk 2:11? Thou hast brought shame to thy house! The very stones of the houses cry out!”

Is your house just a pile of stones (or bricks or wood or aluminum siding)? What is it about your house that cries out about the glory of God? About the salvation of Christ? I’m not talking about the materials out of which your home is made. I’m talking about what takes place in your home. If the praises of the Lord are not heard in our homes, we won’t have to worry about the paneling and the bricks crying out in praise. Oh, they’ll be crying out alright – but they’ll be crying, “Covetous! Covetous! I am a house full of furniture! Full of television sets! Full of computers! I am a house full of possessions – of material treasures – I am a monument to covetousness!”

Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

Habakkuk 2:19-20

Let’s make sure our homes are places where the Word of God is taught. Where the fear of God is evident. Where the love of God is shown. Let’s make sure our possessions “keep silence” before Him. The “stones of covetousness” which make up our homes don’t have to cry out, but if they are crying out already, how will we respond?

Next time, we will take a look another of The Stones that Don’t Cry Outthe Stones of Condemnation.

Waiting and Training

December 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms | 7 Comments
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Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.

Psalm 112:6-8

In difficult circumstances, you may have heard the somewhat cliched Christian advice to “wait upon the Lord.” It’s not bad advice, but, remember, when we are waiting on the Lord we are not just waiting on Him to change our circumstances. We are also asking Him to grant us the right response to our circumstances. In trying circumstances we are not just waiting on deliverance. We are building strength into our faith while we wait.

Think of times of difficulty as times of training. Athletes and soldiers train, but they do not train just to kill time before the big game or the big battle. They are working to make sure they perform well when the time comes.

He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.

Psalm 112:9 (emphasis added)

(As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever.

II Corinthians 9:9

The word translated as “horn” in Psalm 112:9 carries the idea of “power” or “personal influence.” Whenever God blesses you with money, power, influence, or favor, beware of falling into pride. Beware of the temptation to begin subtly looking for ways to receive worship. Look instead for ways to pour out your influence with one hand and point to God with the other.

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pointing-up

In fact, the hands we hold open to God to receive blessings from Him ought to be the quickest hands to point back to Him in the sight of others so that He is glorified.

The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Psalm 112:10

When the wicked see God blessing the righteous, they will be filled with hatred, but they will ultimately have only themselves to blame. God desires to grant the gift of righteousness to all who will humble themselves and come to Him by faith.

Reconciled

December 21, 2012 at 11:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It’s taken from Luke 2:14, and it’s my favorite lyric in any Christmas song:

Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” by Charles Wesley (later amended by others)

The idea of “peace on earth” is pretty wonderful to think about, but it’s something that we’ve never truly experienced in our lifetimes. From family squabbles, to school yard fist fights, to problems on the job, to different political, cultural, and societal groups at each other’s throats, to war in the Middle East, we sometimes just wish the fighting would stop and we could all get along.

But the “peace on earth” that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds a little over 2000 years ago was not really that kind of “peace.” In fact, some of the people to whom God was sending peace to the Earth in the Person of His Messiah were some of the same people who would be screaming: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” a short 33 years later.

Christmas is about something greater than God coming into this world to reconcile sinners to each other. It is about God coming into this world to reconcile sinners to Himself! A great price was paid so that God could bring us into mediated fellowship with Himself. We come into this world with two great needs: forgiveness and purity. We need forgiveness because we are at enmity with God from the get-go. And we need purity so that we can survive in the presence of a holy God.

The Baby born in Bethlehem on that famous night brought both of those things to us. Because He paid the price for your sins, God can and will forgive you if you trust in Jesus. Because Jesus lived every moment of every day of His earthly life in perfect peace, harmony, and obedience with God, He achieved the purity which He can impart to us.

That’s the real message and meaning of the celebration of the Incarnation, which our culture calls “Christmas.”

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

Colossians 1:20 (emphasis added)

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the (Good) News

December 19, 2012 at 11:45 am | Posted in Biblical Doctoring | Leave a comment
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The Deep End just keeps getting deeper. Things have really picked up during the second half of this year, and another milestone for all-time views was surpassed a couple of days ago. If you are a subscriber or a regular reader: Thank you. I am always surprised (and absurdly pleased) when someone is helped by one of the posts on this site, and I am grateful to God that He has allowed me to continue blogging. Any fruit that is produced is His fruit, and abounds to His glory.

In honor of this momentous occasion, and with many of my friends battling colds, flu, and even pneumonia at this time of the year, I thought it would be a good time to re-set the category called Biblical Doctoring, which started off with a series of posts under the acrostic D.O.C.T.O.R.

And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 5:31-32

1. Doctor’s Orders
2. The Doctor Who Never Fails
3. Satisfied Patients
4. The Great House Call
5. The Great Physician
6. Two “Right” Feet
7. The Remedy for Mood Swings
8. Diverting the Flow of the Word
9. Dr. Law and Dr. Grace (*)
10. The Crisis

* most-read post in category

The Slave (His Obligations)

December 17, 2012 at 11:26 am | Posted in Outcasts of Ministry | 1 Comment
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Last time we saw that:

1. The owner of a slave determines his usefulness.
2. The overseer of a slave determines his usefulness.

Now we will see that:

3. The obligations of a slave determine his usefulness.

As a disobedient, runaway slave, Onesimus incurred a debt, or an obligation, he could not pay. But after he was saved, when he became a servant to Christ, the Apostle Paul taught him that he must live up to his obligations. Onesimus owed a debt to Philemon – either for stealing or running away in violation of his legal bondage. Paul wrote to Philemon and basically told him that he did not want to impose upon him as a brother in Christ. Paul had ministered to Philemon and they both served the same Lord, so it would not have been out of line for Paul to simply ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus for Paul’s sake, and let him stay with Paul. But that’s not what Paul did. He sent Onesimus back, and told Philemon, “He may not be able to pay what he owes you, but…”

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Philemon vv. 18-19

We have all been in Onesimus’s situation. We all owed a sin debt we could never repay. Isn’t that a wonderful picture of what the Lord did for us on the Cross? And the promise and security we have as believers? “Put that on my account,” says Christ to the Father. “I’ve already paid it all.”

Onesimus was useless as an earthly slave because he owed a debt he could never pay back. But as a servant of Jesus Christ, he had someone to stand in his place, in love, and say, “Charge it to my account.”

When the Lord Jesus spoke to His Disciples, He said,

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

John 15:14-15

A servant has to obey. Obedience is not really his choice. We might say that’s a big difference – a servant has to obey, but a friend doesn’t. However, it’s different when you’re a friend of the king. See, the king’s friends have a special relationship with the king. The king’s friends are his servants, but they have reached the level of friendship as well, because they have already shown they can be trusted to obey. With whom does a king share his secrets? His closest friends. When the king says, “Jump,” his servants ask, “How high?” But his friends don’t ask “how high,” because when the king says “jump,” his friends are already two feet in the air.

You can see an example of this in the case of Abraham, who the Bible calls “a friend of God.” In Genesis 18, two angels and the Lord came to visit Abraham in his tent in the heat of the day. He was nearly 100 years old, but for about 15 verses Abraham went into hyper-drive. Not only did he get busy ministering to his guests, but he encouraged everybody else to do the same. After a while, the two angels leave, and the Lord stays behind to share His secrets with Abraham – in other words, to talk with His friend.

We can also see David’s close friends (II Samuel 23:13-17) hear him sighing for a drink of water, upon which they risk their lives to go get it from a special well.

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14

One day in Heaven we’ll have face-to-face fellowship with the Lord, but I’m glad I don’t have to wait to have true fellowship with Him. I can be a trusted friend, and a useful servant now. But I have to remember that God is the owner of my life, not me. I need to be accountable to my overseers – to remember to be loyal to those God has placed in authority over me. Finally, I need to remember that I could never pay the debt for my sins. Christ Jesus had those charged to His account. But I do need to respond in love and live up to the obligations He has graciously entrusted to me.

A runaway slave in ancient times was an outcast. In modern society slavery is no longer legal, but a servant of God, although he might be an outcast in the world, can be a friend of God and a child of God. God the Father will in no wise cast out His children.

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

His Heart Was in the Right Place

December 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 6 Comments
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It has been estimated that somewhere between 70% – 95% of the people in the world are right-handed as opposed to left-handed. The right side was the side of honor and favor in ancient Hebrew culture and most of the time in the Bible (Exodus 15:6, Deuteronomy 33:2, I Kings 2:19, Psalm 16:8-11, Psalm 44:3, Psalm 89:13, Psalm 118:15-16, Isaiah 41:10-13, Matthew 22:44, Matthew 25:33-34, Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55-56, Hebrews 1:3, I Peter 3:22, Revelation 5:7). I am not certain of the reason for this, but it may be that (in recognition of the predominance of right-handedness among human beings) the right hand is the more dextrous, and therefore more “skilled,” hand when speaking generically.

One of the things we must not do, however, when interpreting and expositing Scripture, is to foist our modern colloquialisms on the ancient text in order to try to make it say something that it does not really say. This is one of the types of what is referred to as “proof-texting.” Here is an example:

A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.

Ecclesiastes 10:2

Does this verse mean that a Christian should be politically conservative rather than politically liberal? While we could argue that the verse might indeed have some bearing on that question, it would not be right to use the verse to “prove” that smart people vote Republican and fools vote Democrat. The idea of labeling politically conservative folks as those on the “right” or “right wing,” and politically liberal folks as being “left-wingers” or “on the left” probably comes from the days of the French Revolution, not the days of King Solomon.

The better interpretation of Ecclesiastes 10:2 has to do with those who exercise Godly wisdom. When our hearts are inclined to God’s wisdom, we will be more skillful and adept at handling the issues, problems, and challenges that life throws into our paths. Fools, however – those who reject Godly counsel and wisdom – will tend to flail around clumsily with whichever worldly concept happens to be popular that day, and muck things up big time.

What Ecclesiastes 10:2 brings to mind for me is not the idea of conservatism versus liberalism, but the expression we use when someone has good intentions, but accidentally achieves a bad result. We like to use this excuse for a person in that situation: “At least his heart was in the right place.” As Christians we know that our hearts can not be trusted to lead us in the right direction (Jeremiah 17:9), but we also know that God evaluates our behavior on the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12), more so than the outwardly visible appearance of our actions (I Samuel 16:7).

“Follow your heart;” “listen to your heart;” and “trust your heart,” are the mantras and messages of all kinds of Disney-entertainment-style idiocy, which is pervasive in our culture. If we are wise, we will train our hearts to stay on the right hand side of God – the side of His lovingkindness, power, protection, and provision.

Smart Phones and Marriage

December 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Biblical Marriage | 10 Comments
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We don’t want to give Satan any credit or compliments, and certainly not any praise, but we definitely must recognize that he is exceedingly skillful at certain sins: He has seemingly unshakeable pride. (Isaiah 14:12-14) He is a very accomplished liar. (John 8:44) And he is frighteningly subtle (Genesis 3:1), or what we would call “crafty,” or “sneaky,” or “deceitfully devious.” Here’s an example:

Have you ever praised God for your “smart phone” or other modern communication device? Maybe you’ve praised and thanked Him for giving it to you, or maybe even for a time when it’s come in very handy in a crisis, but have you ever praised Him for the design and technology that went into inventing and making it? It is our tendency to think of some computer genius like Steve Jobs when we think of the “inventors” of these types of gadgets and technologies, but do you realize that neither Steve Jobs nor anyone else is the real “inventor” of smart phone technology? In fact, all they did was copy ideas that God put in their brains and then claim them as their own.

Now, when I have said this to people, I have received a common objection: “How do you know this? After all,” they say, “my smart phone is morally neutral. It is true I can use it for great good (such as calling people to invite them to church or to check on them in the hospital) or I can use it for great evil (such as gossiping or downloading pornography). So how do you know that God and not Satan is the one who put smart phone technology into Steve Jobs’s brain?”

My answer is simple: Because Satan can’t create! He can only copy. He himself is a created being and he is not divine or sovereign like God. Satan is what my kids would call a “copycat,” even though he is the world’s most devious copycat.

Several lessons back, we studied the Fall in the Garden of Eden and the Bible made such a big deal out of saying that Adam and Eve were “naked and not ashamed.” Then, they sinned and they knew they were naked and they were ashamed. God put a curse on them and all creation, and He said there’s going to be trouble in the husband-wife relationship from now on: the wife is going to secretly want to usurp authority and the husband is going to want to shirk his leadership responsibility of leading in love. But, remember, I said that the curse was not a curse upon sexual desire itself. Why not? Because God made sexual desire before the Fall and sexual desire was and is good. Likewise, Satan didn’t invent or create sexual desire. He has just taken it and warped it and perverted it and tried to make a false facsimile copy of it.

Sexual desire is a God-given part of our nature. That’s why plain “concupiscence” isn’t described as evil in the Bible. The Bible makes a point of labeling “evil” concupiscence as evil. (Colossians 3:5) I am laboring this point in order to underscore the importance of fortifying the area of “sexual intimacy” where Satan is focusing his attack on our marriages.

Servant Movers (Character and Conduct)

December 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Previously we looked at the principle of commitment in servant leadership. Commitment will produce character. Character involves not only a person’s integrity (how he behaves when no one is watching), but it also goes into the perception people have of him based upon his integrity.

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Acts 6:3 (emphasis added)

Character produces conduct, and, for a servant leader, spirituality is more important than personality. Conduct, again, implies that we are going somewhere: a “conductor” rides on a train that is moving. A conductor on a non-moving train is not really a conductor. He’s a tour guide. As servant leaders, our job is not to lead people on tours of the church grounds or buildings. The person who helps people find a seat is an “usher,” but we have got to start “conducting:” getting them up and getting them moving.

A non-moving Christian is in trouble. Physically speaking, a lack of exercise leads to a condition called “atrophy,” which is weakness resulting from non-use. It’s the same way spiritually. Christians who don’t “exercise,” don’t grow in Christ.

As servant leaders, our conduct must be the conduct of men who are in love with Jesus Christ. Vance Havner once said, “A revival is the church falling in love with Jesus Christ all over again. We are in love with ourselves, in love with our particular crowd, in love with our fundamentalism, maybe, but not with Him.”

Here’s the solution:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

John 21:15

Feeding lambs is busy work. Leading necessitates moving. The Bible describes the Christian life as “walking” with God.

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

I Thessalonians 4:1 (emphasis added)

Worshiping, studying the Word, praying, witnessing may be done while sitting, standing, or walking in the physical sense, but they are not “sedentary” activities, spiritually speaking. Servant leaders need to feed God’s people and fight for God’s people. We feed them the Word, and fight against the enemy with the Sword of the Spirit.

Not Afraid of the Dark

December 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms | 3 Comments
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Psalm 112 is a post-exilic Psalm. The Psalms are not, as a rule, “in order,” although there are some exceptions where one Psalm will refer to the next.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Psalm 111:10

Psalm 111 progressively tells us to remember Who we’re dealing with here, so Psalm 111:10 is an admonition, and the blessings of heeding that admonition – the blessings of obedience – are found in Psalm 112.

Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.

Psalm 112:1

Psalm 112 is also in the form of an acrostic. I have to admit that I am a fan of acrostics myself: S.W.I.M.D.O.C.T.O.R.N.E.I.G.H.B.O.R.A.D.V.I.C.E.P.A.T.C.H. A good acrostic is not merely clever. It is something that helps our memory. Each line in Psalm 112 begins with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalm 112 is also a good encouragement to have a Godly home. As you can imagine, the emphasis is on the man of the house. At first glance it looks like it is all about health, wealth, success, prosperity, and happiness. I’m surprised it’s not a big hit on TBN, but I suppose the view that “faith” means not having any problems would have to be rejected based on the following verses:

Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion.

Psalm 112:4-5 (emphasis added)

Darkness and discretion are two key realities – even for the “upright.” Being right with God is not about never going through trials and difficulties, but in them God in His grace and compassion sends us caution and vigilance so that we might glorify Him.

He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.

Psalm 112:7-8

Notice that this passage does not say that those who are favored by God will not hear any evil tidings. It says they will not be afraid of evil tidings. Note that it does not say that he will not be afraid because he doesn’t have any enemies. It says he will not be afraid because his heart is fixed, trusting the Lord. What’s your desire upon your earthly enemies? To see them destroyed? (Old Testament) Or to see them saved? (New Testament)

The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Psalm 112:10

If you’ve ever had your enemy gnash his teeth at you (or on you – like Stephen), that can be scary, but God says not to melt away – because ultimately He will see to it that they melt away. The wicked shall perish, so let’s pray that God makes the wicked righteous so they won’t have to perish. That’s what He did for me!

Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.

Psalm 112:1

We cultivate fear of the Lord, and defeat fear of problems, by getting to know the Lord more and more. We draw closer and closer. When I draw close to God, I bless my family and my generation.

His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed.

Psalm 112:2

Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever. Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion.

Psalm 112:3-5

When God blesses us financially, He blesses us to be a blessing to others. To use a simple plumbing analogy, we are more like the faucet than the bathtub. If you start thinking of yourself as a bathtub and start to pool up your own blessings, God might very well cut off the water supply.

The Slave (His Owner and Overseer)

December 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Posted in Outcasts of Ministry | 8 Comments
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This is a continuation of a series of lessons entitled Outcasts of Ministry: The Addict, the Slave, and the Man Who Fell Out of Church.

The Slave

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.

Jeremiah 30:17

The people of Zion were considered to be outcasts, and part of what led to them being outcasts was that they had been taken into captivity. They had been enslaved by another nation.

Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.

Jeremiah 30:10 (emphasis added)

Being called a slave has a negative connotation in society today. One sibling says to another, “Could you go to my room and bring me my shoes,” and the reply comes back: “I’m not your slave!” Therefore, it might sound strange to us when someone invites us to become God’s “slaves.” The most common word in the Bible for a slave is “servant.” Historians estimate that in New Testament times approximately one-third of all the inhabitants of Greece and Italy were slaves. There were millions of slaves in the Roman Empire. Many of the first believers in the New Testament were slaves. Slavery in the United States is illegal today (unless you count some of the housewives or church custodians I know!) But when it comes to being a slave, or a servant, there is no shame in being a servant of the Most High God.

For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.

I Corinthians 7:22

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Romans 1:1 (emphasis added)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

James 1:1 (emphasis added)

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:

II Peter 1:1 (emphasis added)

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

Jude v. 1 (emphasis added)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Revelation 1:1 (emphasis added)

Even the Old Testament saints carried this designation:

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

Revelation 15:3 (emphasis added)

I want to look specifically at the account of a man named Onesimus, who was a slave in the earthly sense and a slave in the spiritual sense. He is found in the Book of Philemon. The Book is called “Philemon” not because it was written by Philemon, but because it is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a Colossian believer who owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus ran away. We don’t know the reason why. It may have been because he had stolen something from his master, or it may have been because Philemon, as a Christian, had become too lenient on him, and Onesimus took advantage of the situation to plan his escape. Philemon made his way to Rome, which would have been a good place to hide, but there he encountered the Apostle Paul, who led him to Christ.

Paul himself was a prisoner at Rome, but he had a certain amount of freedom to spread the Gospel, and apparently he treasured his relationship with Onesimus. The name “Onesimus” meant “useful,” and the name “Philemon” meant “one who kisses.” If you have ever been made a little uncomfortable by a fellow church member who was little too touchy-feely and huggy-kisssy in his greetings to you at church, you may be surmising that this was the real reason Onesimus ran away!

Despite bearing the name “useful,” though, as a runaway slave Onesimus turned out to be anything but useful to his master. Conversely, as a servant to God, Onesimus became extremely useful. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to make something of a play on words about this in his letter:

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Philemon v. 1

Onesimus escaped from his own bonds, and ended up helping Paul – and the work of the Lord – in Paul’s bonds.

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

Philemon v. 11

Paul wrote to Philemon as if to say, “Old ‘Useful’ was useless to you, but he’s been useful to me – he’s finally living up to his name!”

Whether someone is a slave (servant) to Christ, or whether someone was an earthly slave with an earthly master – and Onesimus was both – three main things determine a slave’s “usefulness:”

1. The owner of a slave determines his usefulness.

See, before Onesimus was saved by Jesus, he wasn’t just owned by Philemon. He was in a greater bondage than the bondage of earthly slavery. Just like you and me, he was a slave to sin, and in a sense he was owned by Satan.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

I Peter 1:18-19

If you are truly a Christian, that means you were “redeemed.” “Redemption” is the act of purchasing a slave out of slavery. There is a price that was paid for your redemption. It wasn’t a monetary price, and it certainly wasn’t your own good works. Redemption in Jesus Christ doesn’t cost us anything, but it is not free. The price of redemption for the unforgiven sinner, the slave of Satan, is the precious blood of Christ. As the once-popular hymn says, “What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

A slave owned by the devil, bound with the cords of sin, is completely useless to the work of the Lord, but a servant of God, rightfully purchased, set free, and then lovingly owned by the One Who created him in the first place, is very useful.

2. The overseer of a slave determines his usefulness.

An overseer is under a slave-owner, but over the slave. An overseer is responsible for watching a slave work on an everyday basis. A slave knows who his owner is, but he knows his overseer personally. Before Onesimus was saved, when he was a servant in the household of Philemon, he had an earthly overseer. After he met the Apostle Paul, and became converted, Paul in a sense became his “overseer.” As servants of God – even though we serve Him directly – He has placed overseers over us.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:17

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

I Thessalonians 5:12

As an earthly slave, Onesimus betrayed his overseer by running away, and maybe worse.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

Philemon v. 18

But as a servant of God, Philemon was a great blessing to his overseer.

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Philemon v. 13

Next time we will see that the obligations of a slave also determine his usefulness.

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