Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 8, When The Lord Calls The Church Out Of The World

Today we are going to study one of the most exciting and comforting portions of the word of God as Paul describes for us the happening that is most commonly known as "the rapture of the church". The word "rapture" comes from the Latin "rapio", which was used in the first Latin version of the Bible. It means "to be caught up, to be carried away, to be snatched up, to be seized, to be taken away". Paul, however, uses the Greek "harpazo", a word that has the same meaning as the Latin and which indicates a sudden event, an event that takes place "in the twinkling of an eye". (1 Corinthians 15:52)

The apostle is not certain that the believers of Thessalonica understand how the removal of the church from the world is going to be accomplished, and there seems to be some confusion among them about how this is going to work for those believers who have already passed on. Today's passage should be a comfort to anyone whose loved ones in the Lord have already passed from this world. They are not going to be left out of the "wedding" of Christ and His bride (the church). While they lived, the rapture of the church was the moment they were waiting for, and they won't be cheated out of it simply because their physical bodies could not endure until that day.

The people of Thessalonica grew up in a pagan culture where mourning for the dead was a drawn-out process. Pagan mourning rituals involved useless practices and sometimes even self-harm in the form of cutting themselves. The problem with pagan religions is that they had no power to save souls; the persons involved in them could never have any comfort about his or her final destination, and those who mourned for them thought they could engage in rituals that would "help" the dead person to reach a final destination with the gods. Paul knows that since the people of Thessalonica grew up with false ideas about the dead, they might be confused about what happens to their Christian loved ones who have passed on. He writes our passage today so they will not mourn as those who have no hope.

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) He comfortingly says to them, "You don't have to grieve as if you won't see your loved ones again. They are not lost. You do not see them in the flesh now, but they have not ceased to exist. Their bodies are merely sleeping until Christ calls them out of the dust to reunite their resurrected, immortal bodies with their souls."

What is the proof that the bodies of believers will be resurrected? The proof is that Christ rose from the dead in an immortal body, and He promised to resurrect us in bodies just like His. As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." (1 Corinthians 15:42b-43) The body of Christ was sown (buried) and it was raised in power. Christ will never die again. We who belong to Him will also be raised in power, never to die again.

"For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." (1 Thessalonians 4:14) Where are the souls of the believers who have passed out of this world? They are in the presence of Christ. They are absent from the body and present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) When Christ comes for His church, the souls of these believers will come with Him to be reunited with their resurrected bodies.

The bodies of these believers will be the first to be "caught up" to Christ. They will rise before those believers who are still living. "According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16) Why do the bodies of the dead rise before the living are caught up? The Bible doesn't tell us, but this morning while I was studying our passage I found myself being very thankful that the dead are going to rise first. I have loved ones whose souls have already gone on to be with the Lord. My father died thirty years ago and my mother died twenty-three years ago. I witnessed both of their deaths. If I'm still living when Christ returns for the church, I want to be standing here on earth to witness their graves breaking open and their immoral, imperishable, indestructible bodies rising to be reunited with their souls. They deserve to rise before I do. They deserve to have their bodies be changed before mine is changed. Their bodies have been sleeping in the ground for a long time, and their turn should come before mine.

Can you imagine the shout of joy that's going to go up when the living believers see the bodies of their loved ones rising to be with Christ? Immediately after this amazing miracle takes place, all who are in Christ who still remain on earth will be caught up to be with Him, and with their loved ones, forever. "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18)

We miss our loved ones, but we don't need to mourn like people who have no hope. Christ, who is our hope, has made promises He's going to fulfill. Our believing loved ones who have left this world are present with Him in spirit. Their bodies will be resurrected, just as His body was resurrected. We will see them again in the flesh and we will be with them, in the presence of our Lord, forever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 7, How To Live In Order To Please God

In our passage today Paul gives practical instructions for Christian living. From the text we gather that he gave these same instructions while he lived and worked among the Thessalonians, but in an immoral world it never hurts to bring up this subject again. He knows that every day the believers are bombarded by temptations from the pagan society around them, by temptations sent from Satan, and by temptations of the human bodies that they live in. Because Christ has done so much for them, they owe Him the honor of holy living, As Paul said in his letter to the believers at Rome, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship." (Romans 12:1)

He calls to their mind the instructions he previously gave them when he was with them. "As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2) Timothy has just returned from Thessalonica with good news. The believers there are standing firm for the faith. They are doing what they've been told to do. Paul says, "You're doing what you ought to do. Good! Keep on doing it."

He's going to deal with two subjects today: sexual immorality and laziness. Neither of these things honors the Lord, so the one who follows the Lord must avoid them. He deals first with the subject of sexual immorality. "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6a) The Greek word Paul uses for "sexual immorality" is "porneia", from which we get the word "pornography". In Paul's day this word was used in a broader sense than it is today; it covered the whole range of sexual immorality. The people of his era didn't have magazines and websites where people could view dirty pictures, but they did have written pornography and artistic pornography. In addition, the pagan people of Paul's day had the attitude that "anything goes" when it came to sex. He's preaching in territories that are under the control of the Roman Empire, and ancient Roman was one of the most sexually immoral cultures of all time. Paul knows it can be hard to say no to sexual sins when "everybody else is doing it". He knows that when a person is surrounded by immorality it's possible to become so used to seeing it and hearing about it that nothing shocks him anymore. And when a person gets to the point that he finds nothing shocking or distasteful, the danger exists that he might be drawn into some of this behavior himself.

Paul knows what the people of Thessalonica are faced with in their daily lives, so he warns them that God's judgment is coming on those who live immorally. "The Lord will punish all who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:6b-8) No sin that we commit affects only ourselves. When we engage in sexual immorality, we are sinning against our own bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:18), but since "no man is an island", as the saying goes, our actions affect others. We are sinning against the person with whom we are having immoral relations. If we and/or this person are married to someone else, then we're sinning against the spouses. We're sinning against any children who are involved. We're sinning against the institution of marriage, family, and society as a whole. Paul says, "When you disobey these instructions, it's not me or any of the other apostles you're disobeying. It's God whose laws you are breaking, and it's God who will judge the breaking of His laws."

Next he moves on into the subject of being lazy, which results in idleness, which results in becoming busybodies and troublemakers. "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God's family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12)

It's interesting that Paul equates love with work. I think he's making a great point. Are we behaving toward our fellow man in an attitude of love when we refuse to take care of ourselves when we are able to do so? Aren't we making ourselves a burden on others when we don't take responsibility for ourselves? I'm not talking about people who have genuine disabilities, and neither is Paul. He and the other apostles had compassion on the sick and disabled and they healed those who asked them for healing. Jesus did the same thing for those who came to Him for help. Paul is obviously talking about those who could work but don't want to, for they are healthy enough to busy themselves by meddling and gossiping during the many hours of free time they have on their hands. King Solomon said quite a few stern words against laziness and idleness in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. He thought laziness was a terrible quality for a person to have. Paul will speak out against laziness several times in his second letter to the Thessalonians. When our time is not filled with honorable pursuits, we are in danger of filling our time with ungodly activities. If we don't have good honest work to keep us busy, we might find ourselves meddling in the business of others so that we can live vicariously through them. Not having meaningful things to do causes us to feel dissatisfied with our lives and that can lead us to feeling resentful of those who are leading busy lives, and in turn this could cause us to start gossiping about them. None of these behaviors honor the Lord.

We show our love to God and to our fellow man by obeying God's laws regarding sexual purity and by obeying God's laws about working to provide for ourselves and our families. We hurt not only ourselves but also those around us when we reject God's instructions for living. If we want to live lives that please God, we must do what He tells us to do. Then we can help others come to the Lord, for they will be impressed by our dedication to godliness. Does anyone want to hear the gospel message from a sexually immoral person or from a person who is too lazy to take care of his family? No, but they might want to hear the gospel message from a person who faithfully obeys the Lord. By living godly lives we have a chance at winning others to the Lord, and that is serious business. Souls are at stake! Do we want to miss an opportunity to help someone? Do we want to have to face the Lord someday and admit that we were such a bad example that our testimony for Christ was useless?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 6, Encouraged By The Faith Of Others

Paul is going to tell the people of Thessalonica how much their faith has encouraged him. We usually think of giving encouragement as saying helpful things to others. But we can encourage those around us just by living in faith. They will observe how we handle our troubles. Do we break down and give up when hard times come? Or do we stand firm in faith?

Paul sent Timothy to check on the church members of Thessalonica because he wasn't able to go himself. He was worried that opposition and persecution might have caused some of the people to become discouraged and give up. But now Timothy has returned from his journey, and what he saw and heard at Thessalonica encourages Paul.

"But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters; in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7) We watch other people, don't we? I know I do. I watch my brothers and sisters in Christ to see how they cope with difficult circumstances so I can learn how to handle things that happen in my own life. I know a number of people who have been through things worse than anything I've been through, and I've seen how they've stood firm in the Lord. I've seen them rejoice in the Lord in the worst of circumstances. You know what that does for me? It encourages me to rejoice in the Lord in my own circumstances. It teaches me how to cope when it seems like the world is falling apart. I don't watch other people to see if they will break down and give up; I watch them hoping they won't break down and give up. People are watching us to see how we handle everyday life and how we handle difficult circumstances. Most people (even unbelievers) don't want to see us broken by life. They want to see us living victoriously in Christ. They want to know that the power of Christ is real and that He can give us the grace to get through anything. We can and we should encourage others by speaking helpful words, but we can also encourage them simply by how we live when times are tough.

Paul and his companions are so encouraged by the strength of faith of the believers in Thessalonica that their own strength is renewed. Hearing good news from Thessalonica has breathed new life into them. "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:8-10) He hopes to see them again in person and instruct them face to face. He has been a Christian longer than they have and he is more mature in Christ than they are. He believes, as an apostle and teacher, that they can benefit from a visit from him. He wants to help them grow and mature in the faith. They are still babies, in a way, so he's not insulting them by suggesting that they still need his fatherly guidance.

"Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you." (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12) The evidence that we are growing in Christ is that we love others. This is the proof that we are followers of Christ, for He said, "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

"May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones." (1 Thessalonians 3:13) Paul reminds them that the Lord could return for the church at any moment. They should be living in a manner the Lord can commend when He returns. The Lord Jesus promised it would go well for us if we are doing what's right even in His absence, and if we are still doing what's right when He returns. "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants of his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns." (Matthew 24:44-46)

Until the Lord returns, we are to keep doing what we're called to do. We mustn't get discouraged and say, "He isn't coming in my lifetime. Every day is like the one before it. Things are going to keep going on like this day after day. My circumstances don't seem to be changing and I feel like giving up." No, we are to encourage ourselves in the Lord as David did (1 Samuel 30:6), and we are to encourage each other in the Lord, and we are to keep on doing what the Lord gives us to do. People are watching us to see how we handle adversity. Do we want to be responsible for causing others to give up because we gave up? Instead falling into despair when troubles come, we are to meet together with other believers as often as possible so we can strengthen each other while we live in this wicked world, as Paul advises in Hebrews 10:23-25, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another---and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 5, It's The Little Things

Paul has been worried about how the believers at Thessalonica are doing. He's heard that opposition has come against them, so he reminded them in our passage yesterday that anyone who follows Christ will be met with opposition. Now he uses himself and the other apostles as an example of this: "In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know." (1 Thessalonians 3:4)

The Apostle Peter said the same thing to his readers that Paul says to the people of Thessalonica. Peter promised that anyone who wants to follow Christ can count on persecution. "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." (1 Peter 4:12) Peter says, "Don't be caught off guard. Satan is going to oppose you in any way he can, so be prepared. Anyone who follows Christ will encounter some form of persecution, so go ahead and expect it."

Yesterday we talked about the forms persecution might take. When we hear the word "persecution" we tend to think of the type of persecution the apostles faced, but following Christ may not mean that threats will be made against our lives. Persecution is usually far more insidious than that. Instead of being a threat that's obvious and out in the open, it's more often a long series of smaller events that Satan uses to try and chip away at our faith. Or it may be a particular temptation that Satan keeps confronting us with, such as addiction or immoral behavior. A lot of times, it's easier to stand firm in the face of blatant opposition than it is to stand firm day after day against the same old temptations. It can be more difficult to go to school or to our jobs every day, knowing there are people there who discriminate against us for our faith, than to refuse to deny Christ even if we were threatened with death. The devil knows it's the little things that build up and eventually get us down.

Paul is starting to feel down because Satan has prevented from visiting the believers at Thessalonica. I think that in his worry for them he began to imagine all kinds of bad things, so he sent Timothy to check on them. "For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and our labors might have been in vain." (1 Thessalonians 3:5)

We need to be as concerned about our fellow believers as Paul is about the believers of Thessalonica. He hasn't seen or heard from them lately and he anxiously wants to know how they're doing. They are always in his prayers, but he needs proof that they're okay. If they're not okay, he wants to help them to be okay. We need to check on our fellow believers and make sure they're okay, and not just when we hear that one of them is going through a terrible time. Remember, it's the little things that tend to build up and break a person. We can often get through a huge crisis better than we can endure a long series of small crises. Is there someone you haven't seen at church lately? Or do you get the sense that a brother or sister at church or at work or at school is struggling with something? Or do you know a person who has had a series of small but disappointing events in their life? Check on them. Make sure they're okay. Your encouragement may be exactly what they need right now.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 4, Destined For Trials

Paul speaks today of the recent visit of Timothy to Thessalonica. Paul had sent him to check on the believers there, for he was afraid the trials that had come against them might have discouraged them.

"But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you." (1 Thessalonians 2:17) Not being able to visit the believers of Thessalonica makes Paul feel like he's separated from close family members. He wanted to see them before now but has not been able to make the trip. We don't know exactly what circumstances have kept him from being able to return, but we are about to find out why he has not been able to return.

"For we wanted to come to you---certainly I, Paul, did, again and again---but Satan blocked our way." (1 Thessalonians 2:18) The devil didn't want Paul to revisit Thessalonica. He thought he could keep the church from growing in Thessalonica if he kept Paul away. He thought he could keep the Thessalonians from spreading the gospel to other regions if he could keep Paul away. But he was wrong, because by throwing obstacles in Paul's path all he did was cause more books of holy Scripture to be added to the Bible. If Paul couldn't visit a church, he wrote to the church members. These letters encouraged the believers when they received them, provided a source of continual encouragement as they referred to the letters over and over again, and provided a source of encouragement to all believers since. We wouldn't be studying Paul's letters to the Thessalonians right now if Satan hadn't made the mistake of preventing Paul from visiting the believers in person. Which brings me to a very important point: Satan can't do anything to us that God doesn't allow. God knew it was in the best interests of believers to cause Paul to have to write letters to them, so He allowed Satan to keep Paul from visiting them in person. Just think of how many books would be missing from the New Testament if Paul had not been driven to write letters! How many times have verses from Paul's letters comforted you? In attempting to thwart God's beautiful plans for the church, Satan only managed to help the church grow stronger.

"For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy." (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) Paul is quick to assure the believers that he would have visited them if it were within his power. He hasn't stayed away because he doesn't love them. On the contrary, he reminds them how much hope and joy their faith has given them. He tells them that on the day of Christ he desires no reward or crown for himself, for his reward is that these people came to faith in Christ through his preaching. His joy in these believers is so great that their salvation is reward enough for him.

It worried Paul that troubles and trials might have discouraged the believers of Thessalonica. He was afraid some might have given up in the face of persecution. So since he couldn't visit them himself, he sent Timothy to check on them. "So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God's service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials." (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a) I've heard people say, "If this was the right thing to do, it wouldn't be so hard." I've thought that myself at times, when I'm working toward something I believed the Lord told me to do and it seems like one obstacle after another rises up. But quite often obstacles emerge because Satan doesn't want us to do the right thing. When the Lord places a calling on our lives, the last thing the devil wants us to do is fulfill it. So obstacles don't necessarily mean we aren't on the right path. If we know we're in the will of God, we can't let obstacles discourage us. However, if we aren't sure the particular thing we're working toward is the will of God, obstacles can be God's way of getting us to stop and ask Him whether we're on the right path or not. In the case of the believers at Thessalonica, Paul knows they are on the right path because what they are working toward is growing in their relationship with Christ and helping others to find their way to Christ. Those are things that are always the will of God for believers.

Paul reminds the church members of Thessalonica that trials aren't a sign that they should stop following Christ; trials are a sign that they are in the will of God. "For you know quite well that we are destined for them." (1 Thessalonians 3:b) Paul told Timothy the same thing in one of his letters to him, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) Why do persecutions come? Because Satan doesn't want us to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. He wants to derail us. He wants to make our testimonies of no value. If he can get us to fall into some sort of shocking sin, he can keep us from effectively witnessing to others about Christ. If he can discourage us about standing firm in our beliefs, he can make us look just like unbelievers by tempting us to live like unbelievers. Then we are of little use to ourselves or to anyone else. We won't be fulfilling our calling---the same calling that was on the Thessalonians---to grow in our relationship with Christ and to lead others to Christ.

If we are going to live for Christ, we are going to meet with obstacles. We are going to be persecuted. We might not be risking our lives by following Christ, but we are going to risk other things. If we became Christians early in life, we might find ourselves excluded from certain circles at school or we might not be invited to some of the birthday parties of our classmates or we might not get asked on as many dates. In college we might have professors or fellow students who ridicule us for our faith. Later on, in the workplace, we might be passed over for promotions because we don't go out drinking with our co-workers or because our boss isn't a Christian and discriminates against us for our beliefs. We risk the loss of family members or friends after we become Christians, because some of them who are not Christians may turn against us. If the crowd we hung out with before our conversion goes places Christians shouldn't go and does things Christians shouldn't do, then naturally a distance is going to emerge between us and them unless they too convert.

It's going to cost us something to follow Christ, but if we really love Christ we are going to consider following Him worth the cost. The Apostle Paul lost his social standing, his wealth, his friends among the Pharisees, his religious/political position as a member of the Sanhedrin council, and possibly his relationships with family members. He was shunned by most or all of the people with whom he was close prior to his conversion. Eventually he lost his freedom and his life. But he loved Christ so much that he said he considered all his losses nothing but garbage. (Philippians 3:8) Paul isn't saying that it didn't hurt to lose all these things, but he's saying that Christ is more important than anything else he ever had. And the fact is, Christ is the only thing we have that we can never lose, for there's nothing else in this life that can't be taken away from us. We could lose our money, our homes, our jobs, our health, our loved ones, or anything else at any time. But nothing on earth or in hell can take Christ from us. He can't be taken from us in this life or in the next, so we owe Him the honor of making Him the center of our lives. He's the only One who can make this promise and keep it, "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 3, God's Wrath On Those Who Try To Keep Gentiles From Being Saved

Today Paul is going to talk about the problem of those who are trying to keep the gospel message from reaching the Gentiles. These are the same type of people who have caused trouble for Paul and for the other apostles and teachers. He warns that God's wrath is going to fall on anyone who tries to keep the Gentiles from being saved.

First he begins by speaking of the love he and his companions have shown the Gentiles at Thessalonica, then later he will contrast their behavior with those who are trying to keep the Gentiles from being saved.

He concluded yesterday by saying he works to please God and not man, and this is where he picks up today. "We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you." (1 Thessalonians 2:6-8a) In our passage today Paul will compare himself and his companions to children, to mothers, and to fathers. When they first came to preach the gospel in Thessalonica, they were as meek and humble as children. As the people there began to learn about and believe in Christ, Paul and his friends gently instructed them and looked after them, just as a mother gently instructs and looks after her small children. Later, as they began to grow in the faith, Paul and his friends became father figures to them, training them in godly and responsible living, just as a father trains his growing children.

"Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." (1 Thessalonians 2:8b) These teachers of the gospel lived and worked among the people of Thessalonica. Though they were apostles, they didn't consider themselves superior to anyone. Though many of them were Jews, they didn't consider the Gentile believers unclean. They treated these people as their equals by living among them, working among them, and eating with them.

"Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12) Like good fathers, these men set examples for their children in the faith to follow. These men worked hard and taught the believers how to work hard. These men lived godly lives and showed the believers how to live godly lives.

"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13) When the people of Thessalonica heard the gospel, they recognized it as the truth. They didn't think of it as just one more philosophy of man, but as the word of God. As a result, their lives have been transformed because the power of God is working in them.

Now Paul is going to make reference to some people who have been his enemy and who are now also the enemies of the Gentile believers. When he mentions "the Jews" it's important for us to keep in mind that he doesn't mean the Jews as a whole. Paul, a Jew himself, is the last person who would make anti-Semitic remarks. He's talking about the particular group of Jews who opposed Jesus and who now oppose the followers of Jesus. It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who wanted Jesus removed from the earth, but not even all of them were in agreement over this. We know Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin council, didn't cast his vote against Jesus. (Luke 23:51) There were likely other members of the council who didn't vote to hand Jesus over to Pilate. Some scholars think that when Luke says Nicodemus didn't consent to the decision of the council, it means that the council didn't invite members to the trial who couldn't be counted on to vote against Jesus. Either way, we know that Nicodemus and probably other council members didn't want to cause harm to come to Jesus. So when Paul talks about "the Jews" who killed Jesus and who killed the prophets and who are now troubling the church, he is in no way talking about all the Jews. Many Jews like himself converted to Christianity. Many more, who did not convert, were not interested in bothering the Christians but were tending to their own lives and going about their own business. Paul is only talking about those from among his own people who are actively trying to put a stop to the gospel.

"For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15a) Many of the Jews accepted the gospel message and formed churches. These "churches in Judea" were attacked and persecuted by some of their own countrymen who wanted Christianity wiped from the earth. A number of the apostles and teachers were driven from Jerusalem because of the intense opposition of some of the members of the Jewish religious organizations. Paul is saying, "In the same way that I and other Jewish believers have suffered persecution from our own people, now you Gentile believers are suffering persecution from your own people." Ever since Israel became a nation, not all her citizens were faithful to God. Those who didn't want to hear God's message through the prophets wanted the prophets to stop preaching, even if that meant the prophets had to die. In the same way, when the gospel came to the Gentiles, large numbers of them believed it and became faithful to the Lord. But there were Gentiles who wanted nothing to do with the Lord and they wanted to put a stop to the gospel message no matter what it took.

Some of Paul's own people who believed the gospel were still reluctant to believe that God would save the Gentiles. He has had to deal with an attitude that considers the Gentiles inferior and unworthy of salvation. So not only are some of the powerful religious leaders of Judea opposed to Paul's work among the Gentiles, but even some of his fellow believers don't think he should be preaching to Gentiles. In addition to all this, some of the Gentiles in areas where he's teaching are opposed to having Christianity come into their cities. Paul has harsh words of condemnation for an attitude that says someone is not worth saving. He warns that God's wrath is going to fall on anyone who tries to prevent people from obtaining mercy and grace. "They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last." (1 Thessalonians 2:15b-16)

It's bad enough for a person not to seek redemption for himself. But there's nothing more wicked than trying to block someone else's path to redemption. Paul says that the wrath of God is going to fall on these wicked people. It is a foregone conclusion that God is going to judge them. The fate of these wicked people is sealed unless they repent. They can't expect God to bless their cruel behavior in this life and they will have to stand before Him in the next life and answer for their crimes against their fellow man. The punishment that fits such crimes has already been determined by God and He will not hesitate to sentence them for their crimes.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 2, Bravery In The Face Of Opposition

Thank you for your patience on Wednesday when I wasn't feeling well enough to work on the blog. I felt so bad yesterday morning that just moving my eyes around to look at the computer screen was making me sick, but I feel a lot better now.

Paul is going to tell the believers of Thessalonica that he and his friends taught the gospel to them, not because they thought it would be accepted, but in spite of the fact that it might not be accepted. He reminds them of how terribly he had been treated at Philippi for preaching the gospel. He could have allowed that experience to keep him from sharing the gospel at Thessalonica. No one would have blamed him if he'd given up due to the fierce opposition to the gospel, but instead the Lord strengthened Paul and the other apostles and teachers so they would have the courage to keep sharing the gospel no matter what.

You will probably recall from some of Paul's earlier letters that there were people who stirred up trouble against him in the cities he visited. In some cities the trouble took the form of physical attacks. In other cities he endured assaults against his character. It's believed that there could have been some unbelievers in Thessalonica who were trying to accuse Paul of having impure motives. He simply asks his readers to consider this: Would a man with impure motives, who is out for selfish gain, keep doing what he's doing even though it has resulted in bodily harm to himself?

"You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in the face of strong opposition." (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2) We find the account of Paul's treatment at Philippi in Acts 16. People were converting and being baptized under his teaching, but a slave girl who had a spirit of divination kept following him and his friends around declaring (truthfully) that they were the servants of the Most High God who were telling people how to be saved. Paul, like Jesus, didn't want testimonies about his character given by evil spirits. Jesus often commanded evil spirits to be silent before He cast them out, for they were declaring His identity in a fashion that served not to bolster His claim to be the Son of God but that cast doubt on His claim. Who wants a demon as a character witness? People with any sense won't accept the testimony of demons, so in the cases of Paul and Jesus the demons were trying to prevent people from listening to these men. In annoyance, Paul finally turned to the girl in Philippi and cast the spirit out of her, causing her owners to become enraged because they were used to making money off her sad condition by forcing her to work as a fortune teller. They dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace where they stirred up the crowd to attack and severely beat them with rods, after which they were placed in stocks in prison until during the night they were miraculously released by God.

No one would have blamed Paul or Silas or any of the other men if they had turned back and gone home. Their health and their lives were at stake if they kept preaching the gospel. But Paul says that with the Lord's help, in spite of all the opposition, they "dared" to keep preaching the gospel. It takes courage to follow the Lord. It doesn't take any courage to go with the flow and blend in with the crowd. When we decide we're going to obey the Lord even if it goes against the flow, we are going to be met with opposition. However, God gives us the courage to "dare" to do what's right.

If Paul and the other apostles and teachers were sharing the gospel out of selfish motives, the hardships that came against them would have compelled them to stop. It wasn't in their own best interests, from a human standpoint, to preach the gospel. The proof that they were on a mission of God is that they kept preaching the gospel even though it might mean the loss of their freedom or the loss of their lives. "For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts." (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4)

If they were trying to please people, people wouldn't have become upset with their message. People don't get upset when they are told things they want to hear. People get upset when they are told truths they don't want to face. Earlier this week I had a customer at work scream at me and accuse me of being an awful person because I wasn't allowed by our home office to do what she wanted me to do. I didn't have any choice about refusing the request she was making. When I calmly tried to explain why I couldn't do what she wanted, she just flew into a rage and made a verbal attack on my character because she wasn't happy with my answer. (Don't worry, I've worked with the public for 30 years and I've heard it all by now and I don't let it upset me.) But this is an example of how people don't like it when they're told the truth if the truth is not what they want it to be. When Paul preached the gospel, some gratefully accepted it because they knew they weren't perfect and they wanted to be made right with God. They wanted to hear a message that told them how to be saved. Others became enraged by the gospel because it told them they aren't okay just as they are, that they are sinners fallen from grace, that they can't make themselves righteous, and that they need to accept and submit to the Lord. They didn't want to hear a message that told them they were in the wrong and God was in the right.

Paul has told us in some of his other letters about neglecting his own comfort and welfare while he ministers to others. He's done without enough sleep, food, and proper shelter in order to share the gospel with as many people as possible. So those who have accused him of preaching for personal gain are way off the mark. When he converted to Christ and began preaching the gospel, he lost his wealth and social status and many of the basic comforts of life. "You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed---God is our witness." (1 Thessalonians 2:5) If the facts of his life don't prove to people that his heart is in the right place, God will vindicate him. God knows he preaches the gospel with the right motives.

People won't always understand our bravery in the face of opposition. They may suspect us of standing firm for Christ not because we love Christ but because we have some sort of ulterior motives. We may not be able to convince them they're wrong and I'm not sure we should bother with focusing our energies on proving them wrong. The best thing we can do is what Paul did. He kept on doing what was right even when people didn't understand and even when they openly resisted his message. He kept on doing what was right even when his character was attacked. He knew that God knew his heart was in the right place. If Paul had been concerned with man's approval, he would have given up. But he was concerned with God's approval, and as a result God gave him the strength to do everything he needed to do. Sometimes we won't be able to convince people we mean well or that we have their best interests at heart. God knows our hearts are in the right place and we have to let His approval be enough. After all, He's the One we will stand before someday to give an account of our lives. He's the One who will reward us for the things we've done for Him. What will man's opinion of us matter on that day?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sick This Morning

I'm sorry I didn't get to do Bible study with you this morning. I've been coming down with something and it was making me sick to look at the computer screen. Hopefully things will go better tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Letters Of Paul The Apostle To The Believers At Thessalonica. Day 1, Your Faith Has Been Made Known

We are getting back into the letters of the Apostle Paul. It's believed he wrote the letters to the Thessalonians in the early 50s AD while he was in Corinth. 

According to what Luke told us in Acts, Paul and his companions weren't treated very well when they first tried to bring the gospel to Thessalonica. But some who heard the gospel from them did believe it, and now a growing and thriving church is present there. It is to these believers that Paul addresses his letters.

"Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you." (1 Thessalonians 1:1) Timothy was a companion of Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Silas accompanied him on his second missionary journey and was beaten and imprisoned along with Paul in Philippi. Having greetings sent to them by these three men who have suffered a great deal for the gospel must have provided a lot of encouragement to the church of Thessalonica.

As he so often does, Paul assures his readers they are always in his prayers and in the prayers of those working alongside him. "We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) When Paul says that he and his friends remember the work of the Thessalonians "before our God" I think he means that in their prayers they remind the Lord of the good deeds the Thessalonians are doing in His name. It's not that the Lord doesn't know what these believers are doing in His name, but it's a beautiful way to pray for them. When they pray like this, their love for the Thessalonian believers grows. They find themselves encouraged by the courage of the Thessalonian believers, so that they themselves are energized to work hard for the Lord.

"For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a) He says, "You are loved and chosen by God! The proof of this is that when you heard the gospel, you believed it. Your belief changed you and now you aren't who you used to be and you don't do the things you used to do. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you have turned away from your old ways of living and are living as new creatures in Christ."

"You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6) Paul and his companions set an example for the Thessalonians to follow. The Thessalonians followed their example in godly living, even when (by earthly standards) it didn't seem to be in their best interests. They were met with opposition for claiming the name of Jesus Christ, but they endured. Not only did they endure suffering, but they endured it with joy in their spirits, the kind of joy only the Holy Spirit can give. Have you ever rejoiced in the Lord even during terrible times? I have, and I can assure you that power didn't come from me. It came from the Holy Spirit. 

"And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia---your faith in God has become known everywhere." (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8a) After following the example of Paul and his friends, the Thessalonian believers became an example to others. As a result, their great faith in the Lord has become widely known.

"Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead---Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." (1 Thessalonians 1:8b-10) The changed behavior of the Thessalonians is a testimony in itself to the truth of the gospel. When people of the surrounding cities hear about how the gospel of Jesus Christ turned the Thessalonians away from pagan idolatry to the one true God, and when they hear about what holy lives these converts are now living, they can't help wanting to know more. They can't help recognizing the power it must take to change people so drastically. They say to themselves, "There must be truth in the gospel message. There must be power in the one called Christ. If not, how else can we explain what has happened to these people?"

Sometimes we can share the gospel without saying a word because our changed lives share the gospel for us. People far and wide were hearing about the transformation of those at Thessalonica who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. They want to know about this transforming faith. They are curious about the courage that enables believers to endure persecution. They want to understand a joy that transcends all earthly troubles. You and I can share the gospel not only in words but in actions, just like the Thessalonians did. I can't think of anything better that could be said of us than that which was said of the Thessalonian believers: "Your faith in God has become known everywhere."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 8, Mercy

Jude concludes his letter today by speaking of the mercy of the Lord and the mercy we should show to each other.

First he makes a few final remarks about the ungodly. "But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit." (Jude 1:17-19) No one should be surprised that the opposition to the Lord's truth becomes more intense as time goes on. We have been warned that in the last days "perilous times will come". (2 Timothy 3:1) These perilous times are brought about by the attitudes and actions of ungodly persons who will be "lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God". (2 Timothy 3:2-4)

Because believers have been warned about ungodly persons, we are to be on the alert for them, for some have "secretly slipped in". (Jude 1:4) Such people are "sleepers", who quietly join the church and go unnoticed at first but who gradually begin to influence others by introducing false or divisive doctrine.

The church can avoid being drawn into sin and heresy by remaining grounded on the truth of God's word and by keeping in close fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. "But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21) Jude counsels his readers in the same way the Lord Jesus counseled the disciples, "Watch and pray." (Matthew 26:41) While we occupy ourselves with the study of God's word, with prayer, and with building our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we are to keep in mind that the Lord could come for us at any moment. We are living in the last days, and we've been living in the last days ever since Jesus ascended to the Father. Like a bridegroom of old, Jesus has gone to prepare a dwelling place for us. Like the father of the groom, when all is exactly right with the dwelling place, God will say to Jesus, "Son, go get Your bride." Like the bride of old who doesn't know what day the bridegroom will appear to take her home for the wedding, we (the church) are to be ready to go at any moment. If we live each day knowing we could hear the voice of our Bridegroom any second, we are going to be far less likely to fall into sin.

Christ has shown mercy to us. He called us out of darkness into light. He took our doubts and turned them into faith---a faith upon which we've staked our lives and our souls. We must remember where we came from and show mercy to those who aren't yet as strong in the faith as we are. "Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear---hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." (Jude 1:22-23) We have people sitting in our churches every Sunday who are plagued with doubts. They believe and they don't believe at the same time. We have to have patience with them while we encourage them in the faith. There are people all around us who are living far from the Lord and who are wallowing in sin. We must show mercy to them too, while taking care not to be influenced by them. This is why Jude says to be merciful but to let our mercy be mixed with fear. He knows that when trying to pull a person out of the mire of sin, there is a danger of splattering some of the mud on ourselves or---worse yet---falling into the mire along with the person we are trying to rescue. The Apostle Paul gave the same warning in his letter to the Galatians, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

Jude closes his letter by giving honor and praise to the Lord. "To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy---to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." (Jude 1:24-25) He says, "Thanks be to the Lord who saved us and is able to keep us saved. All the praise and glory belongs to Him, to the Savior who existed before the world began, who has redeemed us and who still is performing His redemptive work in us, and who lives forever to be our King and Lord!" When the Lord Jesus appears to the Apostle John and gives him the information that became the Book of Revelation, He will call Himself the One "who was, and is, and is to come". (Revelation 1:8) He has always existed. He exists now. He always will exist. One who holds such "glory, majesty, power and authority" can not only save us, but can also keep us saved. Jude has had to talk about some scary subjects with his readers because the devil has decided the only way to beat the church is to join it. But the Lord Jesus has already promised that the devil will never beat the church. (Matthew 16:18b) And we don't have to worry that the devil will beat us personally either, for the One who gave His life for us and who conquered the grave is able to keep us saved and to present us to Himself, as Jude says, "without fault and with great joy".

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 7, The Lord Is Coming/Information On The Real Enoch And On The Fake Book Of Enoch

It matters whether or not we serve the Lord. A day is coming when we will have to answer for how we have lived our lives. Jude has been talking about the ungodly, warning them that just as Old Testament wicked people met their doom, they will meet theirs if they do not repent. Today he's going to remind his readers that the Lord is coming and that wickedness is going to meet its just reward. He's also going to talk about a man named Enoch who warned the world that the Lord was coming to judge wickedness. We're going to discuss the real Enoch versus the one depicted in a a false book by the same name, and while we're at it we're going to talk about why the Book of Enoch is not included in most versions of the Holy Bible.

When we concluded our study on Saturday, Jude was saying of the ungodly, "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever." (Jude 1:13) Today he picks up there by saying, "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: 'See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.' These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage." (Jude 1:14-16)

First we are going to look at who Enoch was and why Jude feels his words are worth quoting. There were four Enochs in the Bible, but it is assumed by most scholars that Jude is referring to the Enoch of Genesis 5:18-24. He is the most famous of the four men named Enoch, for he was the great-grandfather of Noah and he was a man who did not die but who was taken up to heaven by God. Only one other man in the Bible was taken up to heaven without dying, and that was Elijah the prophet. (See 2 Kings 2:1-11) Was Enoch also a prophet? Well, we know that he made at least one prophecy, the prophecy Jude quotes in our portion of Scripture today. I think it's quite likely that he was a prophet. He lived during the centuries that led up to the flood, and just as God sent prophets to the nations of Israel and Judah for a long time before He sent them into captivity, I believe God would have sent prophets to the citizens of the world for a long time before He sent the flood.

The Bible tells us very little about the historical figure Enoch. We know that he was sixty-five years old when he fathered his son Methuselah. This made him somewhat of a young father for the long-living men of Genesis, who tended to be closer to 100 (or more) before fathering a child. And we know that, "After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years." (Genesis 5:22-23)

Then, mysteriously, we are simply told, "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." (Genesis 5:24) I'm a curious person and I want to know why God took him away and how God took him away. The taking away of Enoch appears to be connected with his faithfulness, since the author of Genesis is careful to keep reminding us of the faithfulness of Enoch. But the circumstances of this "taking away" are not revealed to us. The only other thing we are told about Enoch in the Bible is when the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: 'He could not be found, because he had been taken away.' For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5) Paul paraphrases Genesis 5:24 in Hebrews 11:5. So we see that when the author of Genesis (believed to have been Moses) says God took Enoch away, he isn't using a euphemism for death but is literally saying that God removed the living Enoch from the earth and took him to heaven.

The question is: Is Jude quoting from the Book of Enoch (not considered to be inspired Scripture) or is he quoting a prophecy the actual Enoch is known to have made? The answer is: We do not know. The Book of Enoch has a verse which says, "Behold, He comes with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against Him." This information is nothing new to anyone who has studied the Bible. We know God is going to judge the ungodly. The fact that whoever wrote the Book of Enoch tells us judgment is coming doesn't make the book inspired Scripture, for all of us who believe in God know that God is going to judge the ungodly.

Jude would have been aware of the Book of Enoch which surfaced around the 2nd century BC, but this may or may not mean he is quoting from the book itself. The book is part of a body of writings known as the "pseudoepigraphia". This is a collection of writings that claim to have been written by people who did not write them. The term "pseudoepigraphia" comes from the Greek "pseudo" which means "false" and the Greek "epigraphein" which means "to inscribe". In other words, they are "false writings". They are fakes. The apocryphal Book of Enoch which existed in Jude's day was not written by the historical Enoch who lived many centuries before the flood. There were a large number of pseudoepigraphical books in existence in the late centuries BC and the early centuries AD. The authors were attempting to create a following for their writings by falsely attributing them to real characters of the Bible. Most Christian denominations do not consider these works to be inspired Scripture and do not include them in their copies of the Holy Bible.

The Book of Enoch was long ago rejected from the Biblical canon for the same reason the other pseudoepigraphical books were rejected. First of all, these books tell a lie right off the bat by claiming to have been written by persons who did not write them. Secondly, they suddenly appear on the scene far loo late in history to have been written by whom they claim to have been written. (Where were they during all the centuries between the time the person actually lived and the time they became "discovered"? Why were these books never mentioned by anyone in between the time the person lived and the time the books surfaced?) Thirdly, they contain historical errors, such as the date given for the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in the book called "The Apocalypse Of Baruch". (Baruch was the scribe of Jeremiah, so the person who wrote the false book by Baruch's name was attempting to lend authority to his book by attributing it to Baruch. The real Baruch, who lived during the time Babylon conquered Judah, would not have made a mistake about the year it happened or about who was king of Judah at the time.) Lastly, they contain Scriptural errors---sometimes outright heresy. There are too many of these examples for me to reference here, but if you have free time you can Google why the pseudoepigraphical books were rejected as the word of God.

I have a book which contains the pseudoepigraphical Book of Enoch, and in places it appears to be legitimate because it throws in just enough actual Scripture and words that sound like they could be Scripture to lend an air of authority to it. It sounds enough like the Bible that it might fool someone who doesn't know the Bible. By and large though, what it reminds me of most is what someone might write down after having been on a psychedelic drug trip. If someone had taken acid for example, and had experienced hallucinations, and later on had attempted to write down an account of the things he experienced while under the influence, it might well read a lot like the account contained in the Book of Enoch. You will find the Book of Enoch quoted quite often on popular TV shows and in popular books having to do with the "ancient astronaut theory", but these TV shows and books also take true Scripture and twist it to suit their own needs (Ezekiel's account of seeing the Lord, for example, and the account of Elijah being taken up to heaven in 2 Kings 2). I've watched these shows and read these books for myself, and in them I always note Scriptural errors and the use of apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical books. They are using these fake Scriptures in order to deceive people into thinking the word of God says things it does not say. Those who don't know the Bible can be easily deceived because, in not being familiar with the inspired word of God, they are not going to be able to recognize fake Scripture when it's presented to them.

So is Jude quoting from the Book of Enoch or had the words of the real historical Enoch been passed down through the generations? We can't say for certain. If Jude is quoting from the Book of Enoch, is he giving it the status of inspired Scripture? Well, the Apostle Paul sometimes quotes the words of playwrights and poets in his letters, but Paul isn't saying that these men were given inspired Scripture by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the truth is simply the truth, and even a fake Scripture writer or an unbelieving playwright makes a true statement from time to time. Is God going to judge the world? We know He is. The real Enoch who lived before the flood knew it. Those who lived between the flood and the coming of Jesus Christ knew it. Those of us who have lived since the first advent of Christ know it. The person who wrote the fake Book of Enoch knew it. The truth is the truth, and the truth is that God---who is righteous and holy---must judge unrighteousness and ungodliness. If He did not judge wickedness, then He would not be holy. I couldn't serve a God who isn't holy. Just think about the horror stories we see on the news sometimes. Would we serve a God who isn't going to hand down punishment for the cruelty and abuse some human beings have perpetrated on their fellow humans or on the animals? I don't think we would, because a God who won't judge unrighteousness wouldn't be righteous Himself.

Judgment is coming. And when it does, we want to be among the redeemed of the Lord, not among those who must stand before a holy God with no Defender. At one time we were all lost. We may have wallowed gleefully in sin, or we may have been cruel and deceitful to others, or we may just have refused to allow God to be Lord of our lives. But we were all lost and we all needed a Redeemer and Defender. We needed Christ to make us new and whole. Judgment is coming and we don't want to face it alone with the stain of our sins still on us. We want to face it as the regenerated people of the Lord, whose sins have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, who have been saved by faith in Christ. We want to be those whom Paul is talking about when he says, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation." (Colossians 1:21-22)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 6, Selfish Shepherds

Jude talks about selfish shepherds in today's passage. In the Bible we often find religious leaders referred to as "shepherds". They are supposed to lead the flock (the congregation, the body of believers) in ways that are righteous. But unfortunately this isn't always the case.

The Lord had harsh words for the religious leaders of Israel who were not properly shepherding the people, "'Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!' declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: 'Because you have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:1-2) In Jude's day there were those who had crept into the church with false doctrine, and some of these people had risen to positions of power in the church. This gave them an opportunity to lead the church members astray. This is something we have to look out for in our own times as well.

The Lord rebuked the religious leaders who were only out for themselves, "Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?" (Ezekiel 34:2b) In Jude's day there were men who preached the gospel for monetary gain. They charged admission to those who wanted to hear them, plus they exploited their followers monetarily so they could live lavishly. We've seen the same things happen in modern times. There have been unscrupulous evangelists who have persuaded people to give up everything they have to contribute to the ministry. Some of these evangelists preached the true gospel message and some preached only pretty words. But either way, their goal was to make themselves rich, not to lead people to Christ.

Jude promises his readers that God's judgment is coming against those who have selfishly shepherded the flock. God is not going to allow such behavior to go unpunished. "These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm---shepherds who feed only themselves." (Jude 1:12a) At communal church meals or when observing the Lord's Supper, these unscrupulous shepherds are sitting with the flock as if they are just like everyone else. They talk the talk, but their hearts are far from the Lord. They are affiliated with the church to fulfill their own needs, not to fellowship with or minister to other believers.

These pretenders go through the motions of being alive and active members of the church, but they are spiritually dead on the inside. They can't help others because they are unregenerated themselves. "They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted---twice dead." (Jude 1:12b) When a farmer's crop needs rain, he rejoices when he sees clouds forming. But if those clouds bring no rain, his hopes are dashed. Clouds without rain are no help to dry ground, and people who only pretend to be spiritual are no help to those who thirst for the Lord.

We know that those who have chosen to remain separated from the Lord in life are going to be eternally separated from Him after death. God isn't going to force anyone to be near Him who doesn't want to be near Him. But just as there are different rewards for the righteous, I think there are different levels of punishment for those who reject the Lord. The person who simply never wanted to know Him may just experience an eternal existence far from Him. But the person who not only never knew Him, but also prevented others from knowing Him, may face the worst judgment of all. Jude seems to be suggesting this when he says, "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever." (Jude 1:13)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 5, Three Old Testament Bad Guys/The Ability Of Animals To Recognize Angels

Jude gets into some deep subjects in his short letter. He's compared those who are ungodly to some Old Testament characters already and he's going to compare them to three more characters today. We are going to study why he talks about bad guys like Cain, Balaam, and Korah

We are also going to take another look at a subject we touched on yesterday: the ability of animals to be aware of the spiritual realm. In yesterday's passage Jude remarked that people who refuse to honor and acknowledge the authority of God and His faithful angels have lowered themselves spiritually to a level far below the least intelligent creature in the animal world. Not all species share the same level of intelligence, so this is why Jude said that even the creatures who operate on only the most basic of instincts are more spiritually aware than the person who does not recognize God's authority over him. Lest anyone think I'm walking on shaky spiritual ground by proposing such a theory, today we are going to study solid Biblical evidence that backs up the idea that animals are aware of and are obedient to their Creator.

We are only going to look at one verse from Jude's letter today because there's so much information contained in this one verse that it will take our whole blog time to look at it. He says of the ungodly, "Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion." (Jude 1:11)

Cain is the first bad guy mentioned in the Bible. His sin was one of the worst a person can commit: murder. Not only did he murder a man, but the man he murdered was his own brother Abel whom he should have loved. Abel was a godly man who had done nothing to deserve Cain's hatred. Cain hated him because God accepted Abel's sacrifice which was made in faith, and God rejected Cain's offering which was not made in faith. (Hebrews 11:4, 1 John 3:12)

Each of these men brought the Lord an offering based on his occupation. Abel kept flocks, so he brought the Lord an offering from the flock. Cain tilled the ground, so he brought the Lord an offering from his crops. The main reason the Lord accepted Abel's offering and rejected Cain's is because Abel's heart was right with God but Cain's heart was not. Abel brought his offering in the right spirit while Cain was only observing the outward rituals of religion. There may also be a deeper reason for God's attitude toward the brothers' offerings. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, which showed he recognized the authority of God over his life, that he knew he was not able to live a perfect life, and that he trusted that God was able to offer him the redemption he needed. Cain's offering was more like a firstfruits or harvest offering; the first fruits or vegetables from his garden were brought to the Lord to symbolize thankfulness for a good harvest. But Cain's heart wasn't thankful. I think in his mind he said, "I did all the work for this harvest. I tilled the soil. I planted the seeds. I pulled the weeds. I gathered the crops. Why must I thank God for my own work?" These two men are an example of faith versus works. Abel knew he wasn't perfect and couldn't achieve righteousness on his own. Cain thought that as long as he worked hard and made a show of honoring the Lord he was alright. Jude says woe to anyone who thinks the way Cain did.

Next we move on to this character called Balaam. He was a real prophet (though not of the people of Israel), a prophet who believed in the one true God. However, his heart was not right with God. The King of Moab, seeing how Israel was conquering the peoples of the promised land, wanted Balaam to prophesy against Israel (put a curse on them). The king was willing to pay a hefty sum to persuade Balaam to speak out against Israel. Balaam, because he was interested in "profit" as Jude says, wanted to do it but made a show of needing to consult the Lord first. He didn't really want the Lord to tell him "no", but the Lord did tell him "no". When Balaam told the king what the Lord said, the king responded by offering even more riches. Balaam was a greedy man. Again he appealed to the Lord about going to Moab to obey the king. The Lord, knowing the wickedness of Balaam's heart, gave permission for him to go but said he must not speak any words the Lord did not give him. The Lord was angry with Balaam's greed and three times on the journey the Lord placed an angel in Balaam's path to show him the error of his ways, but Balaam was spiritually blind because of his greed and didn't realize the Lord was trying to intervene in his life.

While Balaam rode his donkey on the road to Moab, God placed an angel in his path. Balaam, having drifted so far from his relationship with the Lord, didn't know the angel was there. But the donkey knew it and turned off the road into a field. After beating the donkey and getting it back up onto the road, the angel appeared again as they passed through a vineyard. The donkey pressed tightly up against a wall, causing an injury to Balaam's foot, and Balaam finally managed to get the donkey back on track only by beating it in anger. Later the angel blocked the way on a very narrow canyon path. The donkey stopped in its tracks. There was noplace for it to go to avoid the angel, so it lay down and refused to move. Balaam flew into a rage and began beating it with his staff. It's at this moment that the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak (nothing is impossible with God!) and the donkey rebuked Balaam and asked, "What have I done to make you beat me these three times?...Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" (Numbers 22:28,30) The Lord used an animal, which normally cannot speak, to bring the prophet to his senses. As the donkey reasoned with its master, Balaam saw the error of his ways and saw the angel on the path. He told the Lord he was sorry and offered to turn back, but the Lord said to go ahead and speak only the words He gave him. Balaam goes to Moab and pronounces a blessing on Israel instead of a curse.

So are the animals aware of God their Maker? Do the animals recognize the authority of the One who made them? Are the animals obedient to their Creator? Yes they are, and Job sums the matter up for us by saying, "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:7-10)

Lastly we find Jude mentioning a man named Korah. In Numbers 16 he led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, rejecting their God-given authority over the children of Israel. In rejecting the people God had put in authority over the people, Korah was rejecting God Himself. Jude uses Korah as an example of those who, in Jude's day, rejected the ministering of God's faithful angels, rejected the teachings of the apostles, and rejected the leaders of the church. In refusing to bow to the authority of people God has placed in charge, these people were refusing to bow to God. In the Old Testament we find God destroying Korah and his followers. Jude's words are intended as a warning to those who do not submit to the Lord's authority, for their end will be as dreadful as that of those who rebelled in the days of Moses.

To sum up our entire passage today, Jude is urging everyone to get his or her heart right with God. Going through the motions won't save us; God knows what's in our hearts. Trying to obtain salvation by works won't save us; salvation has always been by faith. If works could save us, why was there a need for the sacrificial system of the Old Testament? If works could save us, why did Christ give His life for us? Refusing to let God be the Lord of our lives will bring us to a bad end, just as it brought so many wicked characters of the Old Testament to a bad end. Disobeying the Lord will bring no true satisfaction to our earthly lives and it will bring us nothing but eternal separation from Him after we leave this life. Who wants to be separated from all that is good and loving and peaceful, in this life or in the next? We can take a lesson from the animals, as Jude and Job have told us. The animals didn't fall from grace. It's only the human race who has disobeyed God, and it's only the human race who needs to come to Him in faith and obedience and allow Him to make us acceptable in His sight.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 4, False Prophets/The Good Example Of The Archangel Michael/The Ability Of Animals To Recognize Angels

In his denunciation of ungodly persons and false teachers, Jude gives us a good example to follow. The ungodly of his day (and of all eras) rejected the authority of God and had no qualms about saying horrible things of God's faithful angels whom He created to minister to mankind. Jude will show us that even the high-ranking archangel Michael didn't dare to speak out against the fallen angel Satan, but left Satan's judgment up to God. Jude will tell us that when we reject the authority of beings superior to us, we are making ourselves lower than even the least intelligent creature on the earth.

First Jude talks of the bad example of the ungodly who claim to have license to live immorally because of dreams or visions they've had. Then he rebukes them for despising authority. "In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings." (Jude 1:8) When he says "in the same way" he's referring back to the passages we studied over the past three days which make comparisons between the sexual immorality of his own day and the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In claiming to have had dreams and visions from the Lord, these ungodly men are false prophets. They can't be true prophets of God, for God would never tell them it's alright to commit sexual immorality. We know they are indulging in sexual immorality because Jude tells us they are polluting their own bodies. The Apostle Paul refers to the same type of bodily pollution in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." We don't often think about the possibility of sinning against ourselves. We know that when we disobey God's laws and commandments we are sinning against Him and against our fellow man. But when we sin sexually we are actually sinning against ourselves. We are doing a grave disservice to ourselves in a number of ways, for sexual sin affects our physical bodies along with our emotions, our minds, and our spirits. God has not given His blessing on any sexual union except the one that takes place within a monogamous marriage. Any other type of sexual activity has the potential to infect us with disease, to make us feel depressed and emotionally dissatisfied and disconnected, and to create a spiritual distance between us and our Creator due to living in opposition to His laws.

It's bad enough that these pretenders are polluting their own bodies and influencing others to do the same. But they are outspoken against anyone or anything that has a higher level of authority than they have. In their hearts they actually despise God and do not want to submit to His authority over them. Since they have little regard for Him, they have no regard for the ministering spirits (the angels) that He created. Jude says they "heap abuse on celestial beings". Some scholars interpret this as meaning they are being abusive to the apostles and leaders of the church. The reason they say this is because Jude uses the Greek word "doxa" which has been translated in the NIV as "celestial beings". This Greek word can mean "glory, honor, splendor, majesty". It can also mean "to accept a common belief". So we can see how some scholars believe Jude is saying that the ungodly reject the glory of God, refuse to give Him honor, do not stay true to the word of God and to the message of the gospel, and are abusive to those who are preaching the truth. While no doubt these things are true of the men whose character Jude laments, it appears that they do dare to speak out against God's angels. We know this because as we study verse 8 in context with verses 9 and 10 we will find Jude pointing out that even the archangel Michael, who holds a great deal of authority over the heavenly armies of God, did not even dare to do such a thing. Michael, as a faithful angel of God, may have had the right to verbally rebuke a fallen angel, but he did not.

"But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 1:9) We don't know how Jude has been made aware of this altercation between Michael and Satan. There was an apocryphal book known as The Assumption Of Moses (also known as The Ascension Of Moses) which was in existence in Jude's day. Only fragments of the book remain, but it is believed Jude was very familiar with what it contained. In quoting from it, he treats the material as factual, thus granting it the status of inspired Scripture. I am very wary of all the apocryphal books of the first century AD, and there is good reason why most of them have not been included in the Bible, but in this case I can only assume that the Lord's brother Jude would not quote from an apocryphal book unless he knew that the dispute between Michael and Satan really took place.

In Deuteronomy 34:5-6 we read about the death of Moses, "And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is." We are told that the Lord buried Moses, but this doesn't have to mean that He buried him personally with His own hands. When someone in authority orders a subordinate to perform a task, it is the same as if the person in authority performed the task himself. Jude seems to be saying that God sent the archangel Michael to bury the body of Moses. While Michael was performing this task, Satan showed up to argue with him.

Why would Satan want to tangle with Michael over a dead man's body? A number of reasons have been suggested by scholars and theologians. The most prevalent theory is that that Satan wanted the location of Moses' body known so Israel would revere Moses as a god. Having so recently come from the idolatrous nation of Egypt, the danger was very real that Moses' body might have become an object of idolatry. There's nothing Satan wants more than to be worshiped himself, but if he can't achieve that, he thinks the next best thing is to persuade man to worship anyone or anything but God.

Even Michael, who was performing a task on the orders of God, did not personally heap accusations or words of condemnation on Satan. If someone of Michael's status didn't rebuke the wicked Satan, then man has no right to speak out against God's faithful angels, as apparently some were doing in Jude's day. Jude predicts a dire fate for them. "Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do not understand by instinct---as irrational animals do---will destroy them." (Jude 1:10) He says, "Even the animal kingdom recognizes and respects the spiritual realm, but these ungodly men have reduced themselves to a level lower than animals who possess less intelligence than man. They are living so far from their Creator that they have no respect for God's ministering spirits."

Tomorrow we will go further into the subject of what animals know of the unseen spiritual realm when Jude brings up the Old Testament character of Balaam. Balaam was supposed to be a prophet, but he had drifted so far from the Lord that he did not see the angel blocking the roadway. His donkey, however, did see the angel. This sight stopped the donkey in its tracks. God created man with a higher level of intelligence than any other creature on earth. He did this so we can commune with Him. When we refuse to use our intelligence to acknowledge Him and have fellowship with Him, we are lowering ourselves to a level lower than any animal, lower than even the simplest of creatures that possesses only the most basic of instincts. In Balaam's case, his donkey was smarter than he was, because Balaam in his greed had fallen far from God and had lost all spiritual discernment. Jude says that's what has happened to the ungodly men of his day.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 3, Ungodly People And Ungodly Angels, Part Two

In yesterday's passage we found Jude making a mysterious statement about a group of angels who are imprisoned in chains until the day of judgment. We discussed what is the most prevalent theory about this, which is that these angels are the ones from Genesis 6:1-2: "When human beings began to increase in number on the earth, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose." In was in those days that the wickedness of humans became so great that the Lord could not tolerate it, so He sent the flood to rid the earth of those whose thoughts were "only evil all the time". (Genesis 6:5b) Yesterday we talked about a possible reason why the sin of these angels who mixed with humans was so bad that they had to be arrested and kept in custody until the judgment---it could be that they were turning the human race into beings who were incapable of seeking or accepting redemption.

The reason so many Bible scholars and theologians think Jude may be referring to the sexual sins of the angels of Genesis 6 is because the placement of his comment regarding these angels comes in the middle of a passage that has to do with sexual sins. He has been talking about people of his day who have perverted the grace of God by using it as a license for immorality. (Jude 1:4) Then he mentions the angels who did not stay in their place and who are in prison. (Jude 1:6) And today he compares the sin of these angels to the sins of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion." (Jude 1:7a) The citizens of these towns were wicked in matters other than sex, according to the prophet Ezekiel, who says that the people of Sodom were "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things." (Ezekiel 16:49b-50a) So we see that these people were prideful about themselves. We also see that they had no compassion on their fellow man, for they had plenty and refused to share it with the needy. The "detestable things" they did in the sight of God may refer to their sexual sins, but Ezekiel says it was for all their sins combined that the Lord "did away with them". (Ezekiel 16:50b)

However, it is their sexual sins that Jude speaks about in our passage today, and he compares their sexual sins to those of the angels who are currently in chains. In what ways can these things be compared?

Well, for one thing, neither these wicked angels nor the people of the area of Sodom and Gomorrah reverenced the Lord. The angels left their proper positions, given to them by God, as "ministering spirits" to human beings. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews that the job of the angels is to be ministering spirits "sent to serve those who will inherit salvation". (Hebrews 1:14) So when the angels decided to harm human beings instead of helping them, they were saying to God, "We will not obey You. We will not fulfill the purpose for which You created us." In this same way, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah turned their backs on God in their pride and in their plenty and said, "We will not obey You. You created us to obey You, but we refuse. We will do as we wish."

What happens when a person decides not to obey the laws of God? Very often he decides not to obey the laws of the land either, or the laws of common decency. On the night before God rained down fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, we see that all semblance of law and order had broken down. The men of the city were trying to beat down Lot's door so they could drag the angels out of his house in order to sexually assault them. It wasn't just a few men of the city who regarded no laws of God, no laws of the land, and no laws of human decency. The Bible tells us that it was every man of the city, both young and old, who came and demanded that they be allowed to have their way with Lot's guests. (Genesis 1:4-5) Did these men know Lot's guests were angels? Were they trying to mate with beings they were never meant to mate with, just as the angels of Genesis 6 were trying to mate with beings they were never meant to mate with? We don't know who these men thought the angels were. It could be they were in the habit of assaulting all strangers who came into town. It could be that the angels (who appeared in the form of human males) were more attractive than most human males. It's hard to say, but the behavior of the men of the city proves to us how utterly lawless they were and how far their society had broken down. When people feel it's alright to break down a man's door in order to drag his guests out of the house and rape them, they have lowered themselves to a level below any creature on earth. They have become depraved beyond belief.

Lot begged the men of the city not to do such a thing. We don't know whether he realized yet that his guests were angels, but we do know that he felt responsible for protecting them while they were "under the protection of my roof". (Genesis 19:8b) It's at that point he offered his two virgin daughters to the men outside his door. Some critics of the Bible accuse Lot of cruelty for doing this, but I tend to agree with the scholars who think he was trying to buy some time to think what to do, knowing the men had no interest in his daughters. He knew they would refuse his offer because by this point in time the men of the city had experimented with every sexual act they have been able to think of. Regular relations with a woman no longer held much interest for them. Relations with each other had become boring to them too. They want these strangers, even if they have to take them by force, because they have never been with these strangers before. There's something about the strangers that they find different and compelling. They will do anything it takes to get to them, have their way with them, and probably (if the strangers had been humans) kill them in the process.

Just as God never intended for the angels to mate with humans, He never intended for humans to engage in sexual activities except with the person to whom they are married. In the Bible we won't find God's blessing on any sexual union except on that between a husband and wife. As the Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral." Marriage has God's blessing. There is nothing sinful about a husband and wife having marital relations with each other. When we have any type of sexual relations other than in a union which has the blessing of God on it, we are abandoning God's best plan for our lives, just as some of the angels abandoned God's best plan for them.

What is the outcome when humans refuse to acknowledge God's authority over their lives? What happens when humans turn their backs on God and decide to serve only themselves? Jude says what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as an example to us of the judgment that awaits those who don't allow God to be Lord of their lives. "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7b) The wickedness of the people in Genesis 6, the wickedness of the people of Lot's day, and the wickedness of the people of Jude's day was the outward symptom of what was wrong in their hearts. They did not honor God as Lord. They did not think they had to obey the Lord's commands. In their hearts, they were gods, and the only laws they wanted to obey were the laws of the carnal mind and of the flesh. It was the continual unrepentant condition of their hearts that put them in danger of eternal condemnation, for we've all sinned. Jude isn't saying that if we have sexual sins (or other sins) in our past that we are destined for destruction. We disobeyed the Lord before we came to Christ and we still sometimes make mistakes. But Jude warns that the person who continues living in unrepentant sin, and who has no regard for the Lord, and who does not fear the consequences of the breaking of the Lord's laws, is endangering his eternal soul. What's in the heart comes out through the actions, so he cautions his readers that if their actions don't reflect who they are supposed to be in Christ, perhaps they are not serving Christ but themselves. This is how they are to recognize their own problems of the heart and the problems in the hearts of the false teachers who are trying to take advantage of the grace of God by telling the saved that they can live any way they please.

We can't live any way we please, not if our hearts are right with the Lord. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Christ paid a great price to redeem us. We belong to Him, not to ourselves, so we must live in a way that honors our Redeemer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Letter Of Jude, The Lord's Brother. Day 2, Ungodly People And Ungodly Angels, Part One

Jude continues to speak of the reprehensible behavior of the ungodly. He said yesterday that they are secretly slipping into the churches. They look just like everyone else in the congregation. They dress the right way. They say the right things, at least at first. But, so slowly that the church members don't realize it's happening, they are infiltrating the church with lies. They are hindering those who are interested in finding their way to Christ, and they are dragging some who are already saved back into sin.

He's also going to make a mysterious statement about a particular group of angels whose sin was so grievous that God put them in prison where He's holding them til the day of judgment. We are going to be looking at this subject today and tomorrow.

Jude begins by saying this of those pretenders who claim to belong to the Lord but instead are serving the flesh: "They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 1:4b) Grace doesn't give us a license to sin, but there were those who taught that it does. They may have been saying something like this, "Since you are saved by God's grace through your belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, don't you have forgiveness for your sins of the past and of the present? Isn't Christ's sacrifice enough to cleanse you of your future sins too? Then what does it matter what you do? You are living under grace and you don't have to follow a set of rules. Your soul belongs to Christ, but your earthly body belongs to you. Do what you want with it." There were in Jude's day doctrines which taught a distinct separation between the body and the spirit, as if only what is done in the spirit matters. These false teachers claimed that nothing we do in the body matters because the body is going to perish and return to dust. They believed it was only what we do with our spirits (what we believe in our minds and feel with our hearts) that has any eternal significance.

Jude says these people have perverted God's grace. They are trying to take advantage of the grace of God by living according to their carnal natures in direct opposition to the gospel message. Christ didn't give Himself for us so we could wallow in immorality. He gave Himself for us so we could be transformed into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). As new creatures we are not to live in captivity to the flesh but are to live according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christ never taught that it was alright to live immoral lives, so to claim that it's fine to live wantonly in sin is to deny Christ the place He rightly deserves in our lives---as our King and Lord.

Jude now delivers a stern warning against believing false doctrine by reminding his readers of the fate of those who rebelled against God in the wilderness after He rescued them from Egypt. "Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." (Jude 1:5) God delivered all of Israel out of Egypt, but not all of Israel gave their hearts to Him. Those who rebelled against Him received the punishment they earned for themselves. In the same way, Christ died for all, but not all have given their hearts to Him. Those who rebel against Him will be like those who died in the wilderness, never having made it to the promised land. God's promises are for those who belong to Him. The promises belong to those who have made Him their King and Lord, not for those who live in opposition to His holy principles.

It's not only human beings who face the wrath of God for opposing Him. Even angels are judged for rebellion. If God is willing to punish angels, He won't hesitate to punish humans. "And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling---these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day." (Jude 1:6) This is a mysterious statement. We know that Satan and the fallen angels which are known as "demons" are not bound with chains. If this were so, then Satan could not be roaming the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8). If this were so, then Satan could not have tempted the Lord Jesus in the wilderness and he could not tempt us today. If the fallen angels are imprisoned, then how could we explain the incidences of demonic possession in the four gospel accounts? If no fallen angels are loose, then no one was possessed, and this would mean that Jesus did not perform exorcisms. So Jude has to be referring to a different group of angels than Satan and those who followed him in his rebellion.

The group of angels chained in darkness is likely the group of angels who, in Genesis 6, are known as the "sons of God" who married and had children with human women. The crime of these angels was so heinous and so against the plan of God for mankind that He could not allow them to remain free until the day of judgment. They had to be stopped immediately and permanently.

If the angels who mated with humans are bound with chains, then we can assume that their crime was far worse than that of Satan and his followers. We know the angels who mated with women apparently did it out of lust, for the Bible tells us that they found human women beautiful. But what was going to be the far-reaching result of such unions? Would the entire human race have become creatures who were not redeemable by the grace of God? Humans are quite capable of making "gods" of themselves; how much more would they have believed they had no need of God if they were a blend of humans and angels? Would there have been any limit to their wickedness? If God is going to harshly judge humans who hinder others from being saved, how much more is He going to judge angels who tried to render humans incapable of being saved? Satan, though he tries to tempt us to sin and tries to offer us anything in place of Christ, can't change the fact that God created us with a need to know Him. As the saying goes, we were fashioned with a "God-sized hole in our hearts". But what the sexually immoral angels did may have had the power, over time, to change the human race in such a way that we felt no need to know our Creator.

The matter of angels marrying human women is a complicated and controversial subject. It's going to take us more than one session to look into the matter, so we will pick up here tomorrow where we will find Jude comparing the sin of these angels to the sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.