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That We Might Not Stumble

December 10th, 2015

These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.

John 16:1

The intent of Christ in His teachings in John 15 was that we might not stumble in our hearts toward Him, that we might not become ensnared in temptations and in our lusts or pride, that we might not be caught unaware of the spiritual dangers that are around us.

The word translated “stumble” is skandalizo, from which we get our English word “scandal.” It means to put a stumbling block in someone’s way, to corrupt someone’s loyalty to God, to plant distrust and doubt. It could also mean to be offended, to see in another something negative and, in our relationship with God, it would mean to find something that would hinder our obedience, that would discourage us and influence us not to obey His authority.

The Primacy of Life in Christ: Christ’s teachings are fundamentally positive and the primary message is life in Him. Christ’s words about not stumbling related to the statements about persecution He had just uttered, because the following verses pick up the same theme. But, yet, He used them also to remind us of the strength of the presence of the Spirit. He said: “These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:4). While He was with the disciples in the flesh, there was no reason to talk about the hard days to come. His main purpose was not to prepare His disciples for persecution but to introduce them to true life.

He was with the disciples for three years and the focus of His time with them was righteousness and the kingdom of God. Yet He did not avoid the subject of persecution either. He knew that in times of persecution - no matter how fleeting they may be, especially in light of eternity - they can be very intense and cause a believer to feel completely abandoned by God. And we often will “feel” abandoned, and question where God is and what has He left us all alone, even when we deal with minor frustrations. The psalmists were quick to complain when they felt that God was no longer with them,

Psalm 28:1: To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock: do not be silent to me lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.

But the focus of Christ’s teaching here and throughout His ministry is positive in nature. He assures us that the blessings of faith and obedience to Him far outweigh the difficulties of persecution. So He spoke these principles of spiritual life - He is the Vine and we are the branches - so that we might know that our strength is not in our circumstances but in the spiritual life of the Spirit of God.

The Fellowship of the Spirit: Christ also did not teach them about persecution from the very beginning because when He was with them the persecution fell mainly on Him. “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will scatter” was the thinking of the opposition to Christ (Matt. 26:31). But He left them after the resurrection and ascended on high, and the Spirit of Christ came to indwell the church and to empower us. So His teaching of life also prepared the disciples and us to realize that the Spirit of God will be with us in all of our challenges.

Christ said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Our pattern of life is the same as that of Christ during His life. The Spirit of God has now come into the world and just as Christ lived by the strength of the Spirit, now we His followers also live in the same way.

Hebrews 12:3-4: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

The Spirit guide us into all truth and applies in our lives the spiritual riches of Christ (John 16:13).

We have an enemy. The word in John 16:1 above, “be made to stumble,” is in the passive and this fact points out that there is some one in this world who seeks to cause us to stumble and fall away. Christ did not belabor this point in these verses, rather He only mentioned this reality - “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

There are two extremes we must avoid - denying the existence of Satan and attributing to him too much power. Both of these perspectives are lies. Satan does exist and we do battle with him. He is a force to be reckoned with, one that we should respect in terms of his power. Jude 9 points out that even Michael the archangel was careful in dealing with Satan and “dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” All our power against Satan and his kingdom comes from God.

But neither should we give him more power and more attention than he deserves. Christ mentioned the evil one in His prayer, but His prayer was not directed against the devil so much as it was directed to the Father. And this is the secret of life and of victory - praying to God, trusting in God, drawing near to God, and resisting or rejecting the devil. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:7-8).

Therefore: We are confident in Christ and in the presence of His life and His Spirit within us. We have a divine Source of life in our souls and we will always be with Him and He will be with us. Nothing can separate us from Him. We also have an enemy who will try to cause us to stumble, but we need not fear. Trust and receive God’s life, and do not worry about the devil. The Lord will strengthen us.

John 14-17, John 15 , , , ,

You Have Been with Me

December 9th, 2015

And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:27

The great difference of the followers of Jesus is that they have been with Him. We are not indoctrinated into the secrets of Christianity through concentrated training or by the means of secret seminars and highly pressured meetings. Rather we learn the secrets of God’s grace through an intimate connection and relationship with Christ that is established by His Spirit through the gospel, and is made ours through our own personal faith in Him.

The Early Apostles: Christ in this verse above, and through this entire chapter of John 15, has repeatedly stressed the necessity of His followers being vitally connected with Him - just like a branch is connected to the Vine. This is essential for spiritual life and for witness. The indispensable trait that was recognized by both the believers and non-believers alike was that the Apostles had been with Jesus (Acts 1:21-22 and 4:13). “From the beginning” traces their association with Christ back to the days of John the Baptist in the wilderness, when he had personally pointed the disciples to Jesus.

Mark 3:14 summarizes the entire idea of the apostles in people who would be with Christ and bear witness to Christ: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” This is the most basic and fundamental understanding of spiritual life and of ministry. The nature of the Christian life is first and foremost a relationship of spiritual intimacy with Christ and from that relationship we serve as witnesses.

The Spiritual Intimacy of the Church: As we read on through John 14-17, we see the prayer of Christ where he prayed not only for His apostles but also for those who would later believe.”I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). He also spoke clearly of the same intimacy with those who would believe: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

Initially in the early days of the Church Age, the Spirit was transmitted in some settings through the laying on of hands by the apostles (Acts 8:14-17 and 19:1-6), but this was not the case every where or even most places. Even in the earliest days of the Church, the Spirit came upon people most often simply through the preaching of the message and through their repentance and faith (Acts 2:38-39; 10:44-45; Ephesians 1:13-14).*

In fact, we see in Paul that though he was not among those early followers of Christ, he was called an apostle (Rom. 1:1) and came to be one in an unusual way. Christ had appeared to him personally, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:8). Yet the blessings of intimacy with Christ were not limited to the apostles, rather they proclaimed that all could come to Christ through faith. Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

Paul explained this principle in Colossians 3:1-3

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Paul could write to people he had never even seen and proclaim to them that the “riches of full assurance of understanding” were available to them. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and builds up believers in intimacy Christ and in the assurances of God’s promises toward us.

The Spiritual Witness of the Church: Now the Church of Jesus Christ operates today on the same principle as the apostles. Christ calls us to Himself that we may be with Him and that we may bear witness of Him in the world. The word “witness” was used throughout the New Testament, especially by John. It means to testify to what we have seen or heard or what we have received by divine revelation. John write, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). Our calling is not to merely serve and seek to testify through good works alone, rather it means that we open up our mouths and speak, that we take up our pens and we write (or our keyboards) and we tell the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Today, like everyday, we are to draw close to Christ in intimacy and we are to bear witness of Him in the world. Often we will do this with the witness of kindness among others, but we cannot be satisfied to do this alone. We must also preach the gospel that men might repent and believe and receive Him.”He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35).

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* Some have claimed that the Spirit came upon people at water baptism initially in Acts 2:38-39, but such an interpretation is inaccurate because it does not take into consideration the differences in the verbs used in the original language. “Repent” is plural imperative, meaning that all needed to repent of their sins. Repentance and faith are used in the New Testament as two parts of the same response to the gospel (Romans 10:9-10). “And be baptized everyone of you” is a singular imperative verb, meaning that baptism applied only to those who repented. This was further emphasized by the words “each of you” (hecastos humon in the original Greek). “All should repent and each of you who repent should be baptized” is the idea. And then the final verb returns to the plural, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” linking the reception of the gift to repentance, not to baptism. And this is what we see throughout the remainder of the New Testament, that the Spirit came upon those who repented and believed, not upon those who were baptized - Acts 10:44 the Spirit fell on those who believed while Peter was still preaching . Though water baptism is a command (Matt. 28:18-20) and believer’s baptism is the pattern we see in scripture, it is done out of obedience to Christ, and not as a means of receiving the Spirit of God. Salvation is “not of works” (Eph. 2:8) and water baptism is a work.

John 15 , , ,