By Roland W. Keith
Today we begin with a question: If you had to choose would you choose to be condemned by the world, or would you rather be condemned by God? One form of condemnation is temporal and therefore of relatively short duration, the other condemnation is eternal, therefore it is of infinite duration. For the mind given to rational thought the only reasonable answer is to select the path that is most beneficial to our own well-being, even if it means giving up immediate benefits real or perceived to receive those of greater value and duration later on. When it comes to our ultimate fate “a bird in the hand” does not constitute good decision making.
One of the things often left out of our evangelization efforts as Christians is the need to paint a realistic picture of the Christian’s life and responsibilities for those who are considering coming to God. We tell them of the benefits without mentioning the personal costs. Of course, we want to bring all we can to faith in the LORD God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ, but it is important to let them know what it means to follow Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?... So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-28, 33).
Most of us will not be called upon to give up everything for the Lord, but it is something we must be willing to do if it becomes necessary. We can place no person or thing above our love and loyalty to our Creator. So, what do those who would come to Christ need to know? First, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; see also 3:10-12). Second, to come to God we must be righteous, but because of sin we have already fallen short and deserve death (Romans 6:16). Third, there is a way to escape punishment. Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Himself to ransom us from eternal damnation (Romans 3:25; 5:18). By faith in, and obedience to, Him we can be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5, 13; 10:4). Fourth, which is the focus of our lesson, to be a Christian is to be at enmity with the world. While we live in the world and seek the best for it, the world will reject us, hate us, and at times even persecute us.
Jesus taught His followers that the world would hate Him and them without cause, telling them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-25). When one comes to Christ, they should do so with a clear understanding that their life is about to change forever. What they gain as a Christian is infinitely superior to all the world has to offer, but the path they are choosing is one strewn with difficulties, placed there by Satan, and the forces he has at play in the world. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
According to Peter there is no shame in being insulted or suffering for our faith, rather it is a cause to glorify God (I Peter 4:14, 16). In fact, as Paul taught by using Moses as an example, it is better to receive reproach and mistreatment in the name of Christ in the hope of His promises than to enjoy the momentary pleasures of this life (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moreover, as the Psalmist proclaimed, though the world band together to treat us unjustly, or even to put us to death, God is our eternal refuge and the punisher of those who do such evil (Psalm 94:20-23). We do not need to fear the world nor seek our own revenge for we have the promise of heaven before us and a guarantor of justice in the LORD (Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 41: 11-13). As Paul so succinctly put it, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).
It has often been said that our own mistakes and life’s hardships are our best teachers. Though there is something to be said for learning from the mistakes of others, it is an undeniable truth that the lessons we learn in the school of hard knocks tend to stick with us. Paul understood the value of keeping a positive attitude, remaining at peace, and using our difficulties to learn from and to grow stronger in our faith, telling the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:1-5).
Paul once reminded Timothy that all who live a godly life will be persecuted, but by remaining firm in their faith, following the example of godly men, and turning to the Holy Scriptures to complete us we will not only endure but we will succeed in every work that He gives us (II Timothy 3:10-17). It is to be known then that our success will come against opposition. There is no clear path to the goal line. And while we can follow the example of godly men, there is no greater example than the Lord Himself, as Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:19-24).
Christ is the great example for our lives. What He endured for us we can endure for Him because He is with us to strengthen and guide us. When we stand firm for Christ though suffering, when we defend our faith in Him emulating His patience and gentleness in the face of rejection and hatred, when we suffer for the good that we do, when we honor Him in overcoming adversity, we can do so without fear, knowing that He is with us no matter what the world does to us (I Peter 3:14-18). If we have the love of Christ, we can endure all things for His name’s sake (I Corinthians 13:7), and if we are willing to stick it out to the end, we have the promise of salvation (Mark 13:13).
At the beginning I asked a question: Would you rather face the condemnation of the world or of God? Think about the consequences of living for the world as opposed to living for God. Not just in terms of condemnation, but in terms of promises gained as well. What do you stand to gain and what do you lose in both cases? Try to go beyond immediate enticements to see the lasting consequences of your decision. Someone once said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” But, that doesn’t mean that what the heart wants is best for us. Many a person has wanted and pursued the wrong things in life. So, be logical and rational. Add up the pros and cons. What does the world have to offer in comparison to what God offers? Logic leads to only one rational decision. Is it the one you have made, in thoughts and deeds?
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Contentment for the non-Christian and the Christian may be the same in some ways, but in many ways it is different. We may find contentment in life because we are not overly ambitious and are satisfied with our lot in life or because we simply don’t need much to be happy. However, in our society such acceptance of our condition is hard to achieve for many since we are taught to be ambitious and to want more in life. In fact, the striving for worldly gain is an age-old ambition of man. Solomon wrote, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Throughout history the gaining of wealth, power, fame, and prestige have been honored and expected goals. To be satisfied with less or contented with our position in life is frowned upon as lacking ambition or motivation. True, to be the best we can be should be a goal for all of us. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to strive to have all we can have or gain all we can gain. In the Christian sense it means to be the best we can be, the most Christ-like we can be, in every situation. It also means distinguishing between spiritual gain and that which is temporal.
These two things — the temporal and the spiritual— are not mutually exclusive, but they are more often than not at odds with one another. It is a difficult balancing act, since in almost every case a person who is drawn toward the one is pulled away from the other. As Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8).
The apostle Paul was born into a prominent family, wealthy and influential enough to have their son seated at the feet of the nation’s foremost teacher and member of the Great Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. He was known by members of that council and trusted enough to receive letters of commission from them to round up Christians, against whom he cast his vote in capital cases when they were put to death. This means he may well have been a member of one of the lesser Sanhedrin’s, a rising star in their political/religious world. When you put all these things together Paul had a lot to lose in becoming a Christian. Yet, he did give everything up, separating himself to such an extent that years later when he himself was brought before the council he did not even recognize the current high priest (Acts 23:2-5).
With regard to what he had given up Paul told the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What would make a young man of prominence turn his back on all that he knew and had? Paul looked forward to the spiritual and heavenly promises of the Lord and traded all he had in the world for those things, telling the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). From the time of his conversion onward in his life Paul found contentment in his service to the Lord, without regard for the worldly comforts he was used to, writing, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
He learned to discipline his mind and body and to accept his circumstances as a temporary condition on his way to a place of love and perfection (I Corinthians 9:25-27; II Corinthians 5:2; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 12:22). In his mind he cultivated the wisdom of Christ, taking his concerns to the LORD in prayer (Philippians 4:4-7), and he passed that wisdom on, writing, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Paul’s words and actions reflected the teachings of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus also taught, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34). God will provide; whether it is feast or famine, God will give us what we need for our spiritual well-being. What He gives you may not be what He gives me because we all have different needs, but He will be there for us if we have faith. However, it is important to understand that our spiritual growth and accomplishments always come before that which is physical, as Paul noted, writing, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Timothy 6:6-7).
Paul had learned to focus on what was important— his spiritual wealth— and to avoid the temptations of the world, particularly the lure of money (I Timothy 6:8-10). He looked ahead to his inheritance as a child of God (Romans 8:16-17), knowing that no matter what his fate was in this life all was according to the will of God and worked in life for his good (Romans 8:27-28). We too can find the contentment Paul had if we trust in the Lord. If we put our faith in Him our sufficiency in life will come from Him (II Corinthians 3:4-5). The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:17-18).
True contentment comes to those who call on the Lord, trust in Him to guide their path in this life, put spiritual health and wealth ahead of the physical world, take responsibility for their own lives, living it according to the Lord’s word, and are willing to set aside worldly treasure hunting for the true treasure that is in Christ Jesus.
By Roland W. Keith
According to the dictionary mind is: “the element or complex elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons.” As a Christian concerned with the existence and effects of good and evil, I am most concerned with the last three elements of this definition. What one thinks. What one wills. And, how one reasons. Is our view of good or evil a construct or concept of our own mind? Do we “will” certain things to be true because of personal feelings on a matter? Or, do we use facts and logic to come to a reasoned understanding (truth)? In some religions and philosophies if you define what is good then evil ceases to exist, or neither exists. There are only shades of behavior— some more beneficial and desirable, some more detrimental and less desirable. In these views good or evil are simply judgments made and are defined only by the one doing the judging. What you may determine to be acceptable behavior, I may judge to be wrong, and vice versa. An example of this sort of reasoning is on full display in our society today in the disagreement on abortion. I say disagreement and not debate because we cannot debate someone who has willfully determined that abortion is acceptable and has thrown scientific fact, spiritual discernment, and reason out the window.
As a Christian I accept what science has actually proven. I do not have to accept scientific speculation as fact or the opinion of someone simply because they are a scientist. Less so am I compelled to conform to social mores that are contrary to God’s word. In fact, all true knowledge, whether it is scientific or not, begins and ends with God. Paul wrote, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” (I Corinthians 2:16). We have much to learn from God, but nothing we can inform Him of. Nor do we have the right to change or override His word or will. Good and evil do exist because God says they do: “Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22. Ultimately, sin is born of pride and self-seeking which drives men to deny or turn their backs on God (Proverbs 8:13; Romans 2:8-9; II Chronicles 29:6; Isaiah 32:6; John 3:18-20). On the one hand we have the will of God and on the other the mind and free will of man.
In Deuteronomy 30:15-18 Moses told the Israelites, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you… But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” Good and evil, spiritual life and death are things we choose for ourselves of our own free will. Jesus asked a group of scribes, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4). They were not born with evil in their hearts— their thoughts were their own. Nor are we born evil. We are born with free will into a world that is drowning in sin— our propensities for good and evil are at war with one another, which of the two we choose is up to us.
Paul, who was well acquainted with the will of man, wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). There is an old Cherokee parable about a man teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
When we seek the good, we bring forth what is good and when we seek evil, we produce evil (Matthew 12:35). Whether we are talking about an individual or an entire society we become what we seek. And, for those who know to do good and do not do it, or who allow evil to go unchallenged, it is sin (James 4:17). If we do not seek the Lord, or convince ourselves that the ways of the world are not so bad then gradually we will become one with the world and our thoughts and actions will reflect that (II Chronicles 12:14; Genesis 6:5; Romans 1:30; Mark 7:21, 23). If we want to overcome or change the world, we must do good (Romans 12:9, 21; Deuteronomy 12:28). As Paul attested it is not always easy, but if we are diligent seekers of truth and focus on the Lord’s guidance we will succeed. Solomon once wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life… Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:23, 26-27).
All most every generation has bemoaned the perils of the times. This is because Satan and sin are ever present in the world. The devil is tirelessly seeking to deceive the world, including God’s elect (II Corinthians 11:4). As Paul noted the world has been blinded to the truth (II Corinthians 4:3, 4), and the people have become “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Those whose minds are still open to the truth and have had their spirits renewed by the secret wisdom of God are the fortunate ones (Ephesians 4:17-24; I Corinthians 2:6-7, 13). Such were each of us who bear the name of Christ. As such we should come together in prayer and fellowship to achieve greater wisdom for ourselves and one another; with due concern for our Christian growth, we should be actively safeguarding our salvation with all vigilance (James 1:5; Ephesians 1:16-17; Philippians 2:12; Colossians 2:2-3).
When our minds are centered on Christ and we remain bound together Satan cannot defeat us. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:1-4). If we refuse to be conformed to the world and seek God’s council, He will guard our hearts and minds and together we can and will overcome the world (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:22-25; Philippians 4:5-7). Chances are, if you have been a member of the church for very long, you have heard someone proclaim that we are not citizens of this world, merely sojourners passing through. There is much to be said for that mindset. It helps us to put our fleshly existence into perspective with our spiritual nature. Paul wrote, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:5-9).
Those who belong to the Lord do not live outside the world, so long as we are in the flesh, we just don’t live for worldly things (Matthew 6:21). We look outside ourselves for the true treasure of life and in so doing find ourselves concerned with the spiritual welfare of others as well (Philippians 2:4). Since we cannot conform to the world and the world hates those who refuse to submit to it, we find ourselves at war with its god. As soon as our mind grasps the possibilities the gospel offers us, we find it in peril. The world will entice us, berate us, threaten us, condemn us, even seek to destroy us if we take a stand for Christ. Even as sin wages a war for our minds (Romans 7:23), Satan, through the world, devises plans to devour our very souls (I Peter 5:8). Nonetheless, so long as we trust in the Lord Satan’s efforts are in vain. We have all the necessary tools and weapons that we need to defeat him.
Paul encouraged the Ephesians with these words: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). We too can stand firm against the perils that confront our minds, bodies, and souls. We can do so by our faith in Jesus Christ. In him we are more than a match for Satan and the world. For those who remain true to Christ and do God’s will Christ says, “come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
By Roland W. Keith
The gospel is called the word of life for at least two reasons— (1) It contains all we need to know to be granted eternal life in heaven (Ephesians 1:13), and (2) It is the springboard into the further teachings of Jesus Christ, the giver of that life.
Our Savior said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). In Mark, Jesus’ command was recorded as, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:15-16).
Jesus’ commanded His followers to spread the word. They were to proclaim the gospel, but more than that, they were instructed to teach all that He had commanded them, which would also include all that He would impart to them through the Holy Spirit after His ascension.
After an angel of the Lord freed them from prison, the apostles were instructed to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). They were being directed to fulfill the mandate given to them by the Lord, even in adversity. Years later Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). He would also tell the Romans, “For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:13-14, 17).
The word of life will enable those who hear, believe, and act on the word to walk on a new path in life, one with promises for the here and now, and beyond into eternity (Romans 6:3-4; 1:17; I Timothy 4:6-8). Jesus likened the person who accepts and obeys His word to a wise man, and the one who rejected His word to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-29). It has been said that if there is no God the man who believes and obeys the word of God has still made his life better for his faith, and in the end loses nothing; but, if there is a God the one who rejects His word loses everything. That would be foolish and sad indeed.
For those of us who do believe we are to stand up for the “faith of the gospel” “in one spirit, with one mind” (Philippians 1:27). We have a responsibility to uphold the word, not only in our hearts, but in our actions (Matthew 5:14-16). Paul was astonished to hear that the Galatians were being so easily led away from the truth and exhorted them to hold to the faith (Galatians 1:6-9; Ch.s 3-5). The necessity of holding to the word was also made clear to the Corinthians when Paul wrote, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
Such exhortation comes with the knowledge that we will be persecuted for our faith (II Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-20). When it happens, we must hold our heads up and demonstrate our faith and pride in our Lord (Mark 8:34, 38; Acts 5:41). Moreover, we must be willing to expose works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), remembering that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
At one point in our lives we all walked according to the world in varying degrees (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have all walked contrary to God’s will, at times perhaps even after we have put on the name of Christ, yet God has determined to save us if we will walk with His Son (John 3:16; Romans 3:23-26; James 1:18). We can be saved if we live by the word of life. We can be born again, as Peter wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:22-25).
By Roland W. Keith
Based on the title some readers may be thinking that philosophy and religion do not mix. Philosophers as a group are rather famous for advancing ideologies spanning culture, basic life, and sociopolitical realms based on personal and highly speculative values rather than objective observations or time-tested truths. However, philosophy is a broad term that as a discipline covers logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics and epistemology; its core value being in the study of the basic beliefs of an individual or group in pursuit of wisdom.
As Christians are we not interested in the validity of Christian reasoning (logic), the beauty of God’s universe and His divine plan (aesthetics), in good and evil and our moral obligation and duty to God and man (ethics), the nature of knowledge and its validity and the limits to what we know (epistemology), the theory and nature of being and existence (ontology), and the origin and natural order of the universe (cosmology) (epistemology, ontology, and cosmology = metaphysics)? Man was created in the image of God. It is our nature to want to know things, to be curious, to make sense of our lives and our place in the universe and beyond. Philosophy in a broad sense is our effort to know about ourselves, why we are here, and what it means to exist. In some way everyone is a philosopher; we all have a philosophy for life. The question for us is: how close does our philosophy align with God’s?
As Christians what should our philosophy of life be? In Ecclesiastes we read: “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:9-14). Solomon had tested both worldly knowledge and that of God. What he found was that book after book could be written, fact after fact can be gained to the point of weariness. Knowledge for knowledge sake does not necessarily satisfy, nor is there always gain in the effort. Trivial Pursuit is a fun game, but what value is it to life? In the end there was only one type of knowledge that he found of true value and it came from one source. “Fear God and keep His commandments.”
I like to read about history, science, and current events. And, I like a good novel (read any Tony Hillerman lately?). But if I spent more time on books in those interests than in the Bible then my thirst for knowledge would not be well spent. The Christian philosophy is the study of the beliefs of Christianity. That study will touch on many aspects of life and nature in general; it may lead us into word studies and forays into history to better understand the world we read about in the Bible. That’s fine, its even to be encouraged. However, our philosophy of life begins and ends with the divine word of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). God delivered His final covenant with man through His Son and those men selected to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That final covenant, the New Testament, is contained along with the rest of God’s inspired word in the Holy Bible. In truth Jesus is the ultimate philosopher because He actually has the answers to all the questions worth asking. All the questions about life and its meaning, about the universe and existence that others have pondered can be answered if we understand His philosophy. The Bible is the source of true wisdom. That which all true philosophers seek. It contains all the answers to life.
So, what is the Christian philosophy? Well, to get the whole story your going to have to read the book. But, I can tell you this much in the space I have— it’s the philosophy of love and sacrifice (Matthew 22:37-39; John 3:16; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; John 15:13). Its all about being there for one another (John 13:14; 13:34; 15:12; Romans 12:5, 10). Its also about forgiving and forgetting (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 17:3-4; Philippians 3:13). That doesn’t just mean forgiving and forgetting what others have done, but being able to forgive ourselves as well. In his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (3:12-15).
It takes a certain amount of maturity to realize that while we can never truly forget our past, we can learn from it and move on. We cannot allow what we can’t change to prevent us from reaching forward to better ourselves in the imitation of Christ. Before he became a Christian Paul saw himself as blameless before the law (Philippians 3:6), even as he was doing wrong. Later, he would tell King Agrippa, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9).
Paul was zealous for the traditions of his forefathers, to such an extent that it manifested itself in a raging fury that led to the violent persecution, even deaths of Christians (Galatians 1:13-14; Acts 8:1-3). However, when he became a Christian, he put his past behind him. He gave up everything that he had gained, including a certain amount of prominence and power, in order to follow Christ. In fact, he went from being the persecutor to the persecuted for the sake of Lord, writing, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).
Paul spent the rest of his life living according to the Christian philosophy and sharing it with others. At the core of our philosophy is the gospel of Jesus Christ— the fundamental understanding that the Creator of the universe sent His only Son to earth to die and thereby redeem sinful man, securing his eternal salvation by His good grace. Elements of that salvation include hearing the word, believing, repenting of our sins, confessing Christ before man, being baptized and continuing in faithful obedience. In our philosophy simply believing there is a God is not enough. We must take action, and do so in obedience to God’s will, not our own. Therefore our belief system requires the study and exercise of obedience (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8; Romans 5:19; 6:16-17; I Peter 1:22). This means those who follow it will seek to be more Christ-like (I Corinthians 11:1; I John 2:6; I Peter 2:21; Romans 8:29), living more godly lives (Titus 2:12; I Timothy 2:2’ II Timothy 3:12).
We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). Our growth is to be a continual effort that leads to maturity in understanding God’s word and our way of life (Hebrews 6:1; 5:12-14; I Corinthians 2:6-7). That way of life is distinguished by the self-control and discipline necessary to attain the goal of salvation (I Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul, Peter, and James all made a point of stressing the need to remain vigilant in our Christian walk (Ephesians 4:1; II Peter 1:10-11; James 1:12). Satan never rests. There will always be temptation in our lives, and though God will provide a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13), it is up to us to take that way. Our free will remains after our conversion. We must exercise it wisely.
A final word about the Christian’s philosophy of life. It is a philosophy that requires us to look up. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. The Christian accepts the fight and its risks for the glory of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8), looking forward to the reward (Colossians 3:24). Not only do we keep our heads up in this life, but we look beyond to what lies ahead, as Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
By Roland W. Keith
Nearly two thousand years ago eleven men gathered on a mountain in Galilee to meet with their Master. It was on that mountaintop that Jesus gave His appointed apostles what is known as the Great Commission, telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). This occasion was recorded in the gospel accounts of both Matthew and Mark, not merely as an historical event passed on in posterity, but as a living command. Christ promised to be with those fulfilling His directive “to the end of the age,” however, the men He spoke to on that day have all passed on, yet the end of the age has not arrived. So, to whom does Christ’s promise extend beyond those faithful disciples who watched Him ascend from this earth on that day?
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote, “For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:3-15). The responsibility to further the gospel of Jesus Christ has been passed on, from one generation of Christians to the next, and will continue to be forwarded until the day the Lord returns to this earth. Each of us has inherited the duty of fulfilling the mandate handed down by the Lord before His ascension. Whether we stand before crowds in a pulpit, or study one-on-one with a friend, or act in a supporting role we are all accountable for taking the Lord’s message of salvation “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).
As Paul proclaimed in his letter to Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). It was Paul’s goal to be a part of the great work to proclaim God’s word to “all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). The funny thing about spreading God’s word to all creation is that it is an unending battle. As one generation passes from the earth a new one is born that knows not the Lord. The work continues and must continue until time in this universe is no more. The question then becomes “How do we further the gospel and the continuing works of our Lord?” Today we will consider four ways.
The first is through fellowship. The spreading of the gospel is a partnership between individuals and congregations within the body of Christ, as Paul told the church in Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6; see also 4:15-16). The work of these faithful Christians in helping to evangelize the world has been memorialized in scripture as an example to the church in all ages. Whether it is in sending missionaries forward across the globe with funding, by providing Bibles and other teaching supplies, or by participating in local evangelization teams we all have a vital role to play in God’s plan of salvation. We just need to answer the call. Those who refuse to do their part or use the occasion to deceive others with claims other than the words of Christ are not worthy or our fellowship and will face a day of reckoning (II John 1:7-9; II Thessalonians 2:3-10).
To succeed God intended us to band together as one body to do His work (Ephesians 4:4-16; Romans 12:4-8; I Corinthians 12:12-31). However, to be successful in God’s eyes we must go beyond mere effort to an obedient and faithful adherence to God’s will in all matters (Colossians 1:18-23). Which brings us to our second point— we must further God’s word even when others oppose it. Paul regarded his imprisonment as an opportunity rather than a hindrance, writing to the church in Philippi: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14; see also Acts 16 &17). For him opposition was not only a chance to proclaim the truth, but to set an example for others laboring with him (II Timothy 3:10-12).
Luke’s historical account of the early church is replete with examples set by Paul and others in how to deal with adversity for the sake of Christ. When Peter and John were brought before the council and charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, they responded by answering, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-21). A similar instance occurred later that apparently involved all the apostles. Once again when charged not to proclaim the gospel their response was the same: they must obey God. After conferring among themselves Luke records that the council reconvened, “and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:40-42).
To weather all such opposition from the world Paul warned that we must prepare ourselves (Ephesians 6:10-18; II Timothy 2:15; Titus 2:9-12). It is through preparation that we are able to achieve competence in any endeavor in life, including our service to God. By becoming a knowledgeable and competent worker we can further God’s work in a third way— by demonstration or example. Knowledge and experience lead to the type of strength and confidence that others will look to for guidance.
Paul followed the example of Christ and often referred to our Savior and himself, along with his co-workers imitation of Christ as examples for the church to follow, calling upon his readers to set that same pattern for others. In his first letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1:6-7). He encouraged those in Philippi to imitate him and in turn to keep an eye on those who walked according to that example (Philippians 3:15-17). He implored the same group to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27-28).
Finally, we further the gospel by proclamation. Simply put— we tell others about Jesus. In First Corinthians we read, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:21-24). We do not need a 160 IQ or a powerful voice or eloquent vocabulary to tell others the gospel. It doesn’t matter if we are nervous or afraid. All we have to do is trust that Jesus is with us in His word, and to proclaim that word in His name. God will take care of the rest (I Corinthians 2:1-5). Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
We do not need to, nor can we, compel others to believe the word of God. That’s not our responsibility. Our job is it to tell them the truth about Jesus and God’s wonderful plan. God gives the increase. As Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The power is not in us, it’s in the gospel. That is not to diminish our role as God’s servants. We have been entrusted with the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:4). But, as faithful members of His kingdom we seek only to do our part, trusting in Him. As Paul wrote, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself… it is the Lord who judges me.” (I Corinthians 4:1-4).
In the end we cannot always know who has truly been touched by the word through our efforts, nor is it important to know. God only asks that we go into the vineyard and work as honest and faithful servants. If we do that we do not need to look back at the “successes” or “failures.” They were never ours to begin with. Not if we have given our best. If we have done that we can have confidence in how the Lord will judge us.
By Roland W. Keith
Not every business leader, not every politician, not every military commander has come up “through the ranks,” during times of trial. Some ascend to the top of their respective fields without learning all the lessons necessary to fully appreciate the responsibilities, power and sacrifice that constitute true leadership. Not all learn what most of the great leaders throughout history understood— that leadership of the highest order goes hand-in-hand with personal sacrifice and service. Examples of truly great leadership are often studies of remarkable perseverance, humbling trials, and personal loss— all in service to some greater good to which the individual has dedicated himself. The central figure in the Judeo-Christian history of God and His relationship to man is one well acquainted with the duel role of the servant- leader.
In the very first verse of his gospel account Mark tells us that it is “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Later the Son would be acknowledged as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14). He is the natural ruler of the kingdoms of the world and the spiritual realm of man. Yet, how did this King describe Himself? Of Himself, He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A Heavenly King who would sacrifice His own Son, and a Son who would submit Himself in sacrifice to establish a kingdom for the redemption of man, as proclaimed in John 3:14-17, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Christ established His kingdom by doing for man what the Law of Moses could not do (Hebrews 10: 1-4), provide a once and forever solution to the divine requirement for justice. The claims and promises Jesus made were both proven and guaranteed when He rose from the grave, providing us with a full assurance that the man who sacrificed everything for us is indeed the long awaited Messiah who can lead us into the eternal promised land if we will put our faith in Him (Hebrews 10: 19-23). Many of the Jews in His own day rejected Jesus because He did not meet their vision of a deliverer and King. They did not understand the prophetic words of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1-12), who revealed their future King as a man Who would establish a kingdom by serving those He would lead through personal sacrifice, including the ultimate immolation in human terms. He died as an innocent man in order to pay the penalty for the guilty. As Isaiah said He was crushed for our iniquities, and yet, “it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (53:10-12).
From His place on the cross Jesus could already see His eternal offspring— the millions, the billions of souls who would be reborn into His kingdom and accounted as righteous. The will of the LORD has indeed prospered in His hands since that day. Jesus gave us an example and a path to follow as Paul noted when he wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5).
If we follow His lead and obey His commands, He will grant to us all the promises that await the citizens of His kingdom (II Peter 1:3-4). There is, however, a warning for those who might seek dual citizenship with the kingdom of God and the world: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (II Peter 2:20-21). If we accept Christ as King, we must be loyal to Him and His kingdom.
Jesus has been described as the suffering servant; a description supported by Isaiah. But He was not alone; there are many noted in the Bible who served the Lord and suffered for their efforts. Most of them came from the three classes of people who were anointed by the Lord for their work: prophets, priests, and kings. It turns out that our Savior is all three.
According to Paul, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The apostle also encouraged his readers to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:1-3). As a prophet Jesus declared the will of God, and it is in our own best interest to heed that call.
In addition to being a prophet Jesus has been appointed as the eternal, perfect high priest, according to Hebrews 2:23-28, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” Jesus is the only high priest seated at the right hand of God, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26; 8:1).
A Prophet. A Priest. And, a King. In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will display at the proper time— He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (6:14-16). As a king Christ is due the allegiance of all who seek a place in His kingdom. As the Prophet, Priest and King of the Most High God Jesus has, in a very literal sense become all things to all men. There is no other we can turn to for guidance, forgiveness, for truth, or for salvation. This is because Jesus is also God’s appointed Savior, the Redeemer of mankind. And, He is one other thing.
He is the only Son of God (John 3:16; Mark 1:1). As a Son He was obedient to His Father and humbled Himself to become a man. As a man He learned obedience through suffering. And, through perfect submission He became the source of salvation for all who will in turn and humble themselves before Him (Hebrews 5:8-9). The scriptures tell us that the LORD was pleased with His Son and raised Him up above all others who had been sent before Him, making Him the final word in His revelations to man (Mark 1:9-11; 9:2-7).
Jesus once asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). It is this confession, or more accurately the truth of Peter’s confession, that Christianity is founded upon (Matthew 16:18), as Paul confirmed when he wrote, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). On another occasion Paul would note that the prophets and apostles were a part of that foundation, but the chief cornerstone, the true foundation that everything else is built around is Christ, with each Christian being a part of the structure as a whole (Ephesians 2:19-22).
It is an amazing thing to consider that the Prince of Heaven would take on the likeness of man (Philippians 2:5-8), and come to this earth as a servant in order to give His life as a ransom for someone like me.
By Roland W. Keith
In today’s study we are going to examine five elements of spiritual growth, all of which in many ways begin and end with knowing and understanding the word of God. Jesus said, “It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Bread may sustain the body, but it is the word of God that edifies the Spirit within us. The Savior had much to say about the word of God and its power. It is the word that delivers us from eternal death into everlasting life with God (John 5:24). Moreover, He equated His true family with those who hear and keep the word and are thereby blessed by His Father (Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28), offering a stern warning to those who would reject Him: “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).
Peter wrote of the need to grow in the “grace and Knowledge” of Christ (II Peter 3:18). Unfortunately, many people in Christendom today are easily led astray because they trust in their teachers without understanding the need for diligence on their own part (Acts 17:11). It is our responsibility to safeguard our own salvation and to look out for one another (Philippians 2:12; John 13:14, 34-35; Romans 12:10; 15:14; I Corinthians 12:25). In his second letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). We cannot be spiritually complete without an intimate knowledge of God’s will for our lives; a knowledge we cannot truly gain until we have studied and learned to comprehend God’s word for ourselves.
Once we have gained a true understanding of God’s will through a thorough study of His word we must add action to that knowledge, as James wrote: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25). Knowing something is not the same as doing something. Christians are to be men and women of action, not simply breathing repositories of data.
How long have you been a Christian? How involved are you in the Lord’s work? Growth is the natural result of birth. From the time of our conception our bodies are growing, but when we are born into the world our maturation process requires us to be aware of the creation around us and to learn with all our senses. If that natural progression is stunted or we are somehow deprived of it, we cannot function properly in the world. Such individuals often die at a very young age; others remain childlike throughout their lives, requiring constant care. For the newborn Christian there is also a natural progression toward spiritual maturity. There comes a time when we should become mature, independently confident servants of the Lord, able to distinguish good from evil, thoroughly equipped to handle all challenges to the truth (Hebrews 5:12-14; II Timothy 2:15; 3:17; Ephesians 4:16).
When we grow to maturity in the word that process leads us to the development of what can be described as Christian values or characteristics, such as Peter wrote about: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (II Peter 1:5-9).
True Christian maturity also produces tangible activity on our part, as Paul explained to Timothy: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (II Timothy 2:21). As Christians one of our goals is to make ourselves ready to serve the Lord, to become “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). God uses His word to craft us into what we should be— productive members of the body of Christ who desire to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In Titus we find this admonishment: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). When we are doing the Lord’s work our efforts are beyond reproach. In fact, when we are following God’s plan all that we do will be profitable for those we are working with, as well as for ourselves. Whether we are studying God’s word with an interested party or doing works of benevolence our efforts will not return to us empty (Titus 3:8, 14), as Paul told the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).
The Christian who is growing will also find himself increasingly taking advantage of his right to communicate with his God. The Bible makes it clear that our Heavenly Father hears, and answers, our prayers giving us the things we ask for— if those things are in accordance with His will (Mark 11:24; I John 5:14). Although some today teach that God wants us to be rich, or have whatever we desire, that is not a Biblical teaching, as James made clear when he wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Prayer is not a candy machine that dispenses whatever we want. It is, instead, an avenue to take our needs and concerns to the Lord, to pray for others, to praise or thank the LORD, and to ask for what we are lacking as Christians among other things. James provides a good example of what we might pray for, writing, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6; see also Matthew 5:44; Mark 14:38; Luke 6:28; 10:2; Colossians 1:9).
Finally, the mature Christian understands the value of worship. She understands that we worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), that it is essential for us to meet together and not neglect one another, nor the Lord (Hebrews 10:25; Ephesians 5:19), and that when we are gathered together in His name He is there among us (Matthew 18:20). Our growth as Christians is largely our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). Though we have overseers appointed over us to see to our welfare (Titus 1:5-9; I Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:28), they do not have the power of compulsion. Even God does not compel us against our will. We are free to choose the Christian life and we are free to reject it; we are also free to walk away from what we had once embraced, a sad state that Paul described with the following words: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
To avoid such a state as Paul detailed to the Hebrews it is of the greatest benefit to develop and exercise all the elements of spiritual growth as outlined in the scriptures. Jesus once asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). There is no loss we can suffer greater than the loss of our own soul. Many people joke about it in an off-hand, glib manner. That is because they do not truly understand what that loss entails, or they simply do not want to think about it. For the Christian it is a different story. We do know what awaits those who walk away from God. Therefore, we are without excuse. God is here to help us every step of the way, He has in fact already given all He can to save us, beyond measure (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:20-21). But in the end the chose is ours. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth and welfare. On the day of judgment, we will stand alone before the throne of God— unless we have an advocate to call upon. On that day if we remain faithful, we will be able to call upon the name of Jesus and have Him come to our defense to receive our final verdict: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
by Roland W. Keith
In His letter to Titus Paul wrote, “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10). The first time I can recall reading that passage I wondered how do we “adorn the doctrine of God?” Since then I have even read some commentators describe it as dressing up or decorating the word of God to make it more appealing to those we are trying to evangelize, which sounds dangerously close to telling them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear, something we are warned to reprove and rebuke, not to use as a teaching method (II Timothy 4:1-5). Of course, the answer to my question is made clear when we read the verse in its full context.
In Chapter 1 of his letter to Titus, Paul writes that an overseer (and all Christians for that matter) must hold firm to the word, rebuking those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). The second chapter begins with Paul instructing Titus to teach according to sound doctrine (2:1). Finally, in Chapter 2:11-12 we are told, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). We are not to dress-up the word of God to make it more appealing, rather we are to adorn ourselves with the word of God— in our habits and actions, so that the world will see the word of God reflected in us. As John put it to abide in the word is to have the Father and Son; those who do not abide in the word do not truly have a relationship with God (II John 1:9).
It is a hard fact for many Christians to accept but we are not responsible for the world’s behavior. Whether they accept the gospel or reject it is a choice each person makes on their own. We are only responsible for giving them the opportunity to know Christ, and to reason with them insofar as we can. But if they turn away to follow other beliefs and reject the word we bring them that is beyond our power to control (See again II Timothy 4:1-5). Concerning those who reject the truth Jesus said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5). We have an obligation to take the gospel into the world and share it with as many people as we can, but we have no power or authority over the free-will choice they make with regard to the word— we cannot make anyone believe what they will not to.
If we are dutiful, studious followers of Christ then we are well-equipped and prepared for the Lord’s work (II Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 6:10-18). We have in fact adorned ourselves with all that we need to go forth in the world to do our part in God’s work, and we are well-protected against the advances of the devil and his minions. Being prepared also means being forewarned. The world is not our friend, nor can it ever be so long as we are faithful members of the Lord’s kingdom (James 4:4). We are in very real terms mortal enemies. Only in death will we be truly free of the world and its temptations. Only then will we be beyond the reach of its dark master. We are protected, but we remain subject to our own free will, which is why we are warned to protect our own salvation so often in scripture (Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 2:1-3; I Peter 2:2, 10-11; Jude; Ephesians 6:10-18).
If we wonder what being adorned with God’s word looks like we can compare some of the world’s adornments to those of scripture by reading Galatians 5:19-25: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Those who live by the Spirit are in step with the Spirit. To be in step we must live according to the word that God delivered to us through the Spirit. If we dedicate our lives to God’s word and His service our lives will be transformed, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). The truly religious person separates himself from the world in personal behavior, because the focus of their life is the spiritual welfare of the world, not the secular goals that others pursue. Does that mean we turn our backs on all forms of worldly success? No. It means that the focus of our lives is driven first and foremost by God’s will and not our own. According to James the Christian seeks to “keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
The Godly prepare their whole lives for the return of their King, as Paul wrote to Titus, we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14). We may achieve great financial success in the world, even fame and fortune, but for the true Christian the first goal is always the kingdom of the Lord (Matthew 6:33). We cannot, as Elijah put it limp “between two different opinions” (I Kings 18:21). Our hearts cannot be divided between the world and heaven. Jesus directed John to write these words to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelations 3:15-16). The Christian who is not on fire for the Lord or trying to divide his loyalties between the world and the church will find himself rejected by the Lord.
We adorn ourselves with the doctrine by worshipping the Lord in “Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), with worship that is acceptable to the Him (Hebrews 12:28-29). When we are gathered in His name, it is for two reasons— to edify ourselves and build one another up in our faith, but more importantly it is to bring glory to the Lord with a form of worship that conforms to His will, not man’s (Hebrews 10:25; Romans 12:1; Matthew 15:9; John).
We are adorned with the doctrine when we do the works of God for which we were created as His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). As workers in the Lord’s service we can do no better than to follow Paul’s directive on the matter: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). It is in our service to the Lord that many of us find our greatest reason for rejoicing (Philippians 4:4-5). Who does not feel joy and find satisfaction in strengthening a brother, or being there for a sister in her hour of need? Who would not thrill to have someone they are studying with come to the Lord as a result of that study?
There are many things we can do in life that are worthwhile and are therefore worthy of our time and effort, but none so valuable as the time we give to the Lord. None so critical as when we wear His armor into the world to fight the good fight. Again, we would all do well to heed the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (I Timothy 6:12). What letter of recommendation are we writing for ourselves as servants of the Lord? Paul told the Corinthians that they were his letter— those that he had brought to Christ, that he had labored to strengthen, that he had guided, and risked health, life and limb for. That letter he informed them was written with the Spirit of God, on human hearts (II Corinthians 3:1-3). Do we not have the same word that Paul had to work with?
Jesus told His followers, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:13-15). We too are followers of Christ. Have we lost our saltiness? Or do we wear the doctrine, the armor of the Lord, with pride? Are we lighting the path for others, or are we blending into the shadows of the world?
What do our letters of recommendation say about us? How many hearts have we written on with the Spirit of God? Some letters may be long, some may be short. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we write them. I already know what I want the last two sentences of mine to read, “Lord, I did my best to touch others with Your word and to keep it Mat 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
Mat 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Mat 5:15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
myself. ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’” (II Timothy 4:7).
By Roland W. Keith
For those of us who have made a study of the life of the apostle Paul one thing stands out— he was a confident man. Whether he was persecuting Christians or trying to convert the world to Christianity he did everything in the confidence of his convictions, so much so that when standing before the council for preaching in the name of Jesus he told them, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1). Even when he railed against God in trying to destroy the church Paul was a man of integrity, zealous for God and the traditions of his forefathers (Acts 24:16; 22:3; Galatians 1:14). It may be that God chose Paul to carry the word into the Gentile world, precisely because of these personal attributes. As the Lord told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name” (Acts 9:15-16).
It would take a man of tenacity and toughness to succeed in bridging the two worlds of the Jews and Gentiles in order to bring them together as one in Christ (Ephesians 2:13-22). That such a man would suffer in his efforts was an unavoidable part of the job description (II Corinthians 11:22-33).
Many years after his conversion Paul would write, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). Suffering for Christ had taught Paul to distinguish between need and want, between the power of the Spirit and the desires of the world. Among the things that he had learned was the joy of knowing Christ and the sufficiency of God’s mercy and grace, and the right of the Lord’s followers to approach the throne of God with boldness and confidence to receive more when in need, in the assurance of passing every test with the faithful execution of God’s commands (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:1-12; I Thessalonians 2:1-4; I Corinthians 7:19).
How did Paul gain such confidence? As noted, before he was a zealous follower of God (Galatians 1:14), who had studied the law at the feet of his generations most noted scholar, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul instructed his readers in how they could prepare themselves to face everything that Satan and the world would throw at them, equating it with a soldier preparing for battle by putting on the appropriate armor and taking up his shield and sword (Ephesians 6:10-18). Included in that instruction was the need for prayer, preparation in the knowledge of God’s word, and perseverance in effort. The reward for the determined soldier of God? Nothing less than his own salvation and that of those he helped to free in the fray between good and evil.
For those who serve their King faithfully Paul wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39). Paul’s confidence was unshakeable. He was fully convinced that no matter how fevered the battle became, no matter what the enemy did to him, the Lord would ultimately rescue him and usher him to safety (II Timothy 4:18).
The apostle John also had something to say about our trust in God. When we compare his writings to Paul’s, we see revealed two vastly different personalities. Paul was the bull of the woods, a man of action, with the battle scars to prove his mettle. John was the apostle of love. His confidence came from allowing Christ to perfect His love within us. Where love reigns fear is banished, replaced by our confidence in the Lord and the surety of His promises. When that love is achieved one need never shrink back from God in fear or shame. We stand uncondemned in our own hearts, knowing we have kept the Lord’s commandments, and with such knowledge we can stand before the Lord with confidence (I John 4:17-18; 2:28; 3:21; 5:14).
The Lord’s brother James also spoke of confidence. Jesus had once said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matthew 13:57). Indeed, none of Jesus’ brothers believed in Him growing up, or even throughout His ministry (John7:5). In fact, they thought He was crazy! (Mark 3:21). Apparently, it wasn’t until His resurrection that they finally came around and were noted to be in the upper room with their mother and the other women who followed Jesus, along with the apostles waiting in devotion and prayer. Speaking from the perspective of one who had grown up in the same house with Jesus, refusing to believe until unbelief was no longer an option James’ advice? Banish doubt from your mind (James 1:5-6) and have faith.
For the Christian faith and confidence should go hand-in-hand. John said, “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). However, the Bible speaks of two types of fear. One is the fear of evil, or the “spirit of fear” that does not come from God (II Timothy 1:7), which is what John was alluding to. The other is the fear of the Lord. King David spoke of the first when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). It is this fear that we overcome with faith and confidence. David’s son, Solomon wrote of the second type of fear in Proverbs 14:26: “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence.” The first form of fear is born of dread. The second is born of awe and reverence for God, His power and glory, and His mercy and love. One saps our confidence away, the other is our basis for trust and spiritual strength. As the Psalmist wrote: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10).
It was such understanding that led Paul to write, “So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6). It is this combination of fear and confidence, containing all the love of God and faith in Him that compels His followers to seek and attain the spiritual heights that are possible when we give our all as workers in service to His name (II Timothy 2:15). Those who reach such heights will not be ashamed to be found doing the Lord’s work or to be called a follower of Christ (II Timothy 1:12). The struggle for most Christians is in seeking those heights and maintaining them. How do we find and strengthen our confidence, thus securing our reward (Hebrews 10:35-36)?
Put on the armor of God that Paul spoke of (Ephesians 6:10-18). Study and work hard (II Timothy 2:15). Assemble with the saints encouraging and strengthening one another (Hebrews 10:23-25). Endure persecution (I Peter 5:10). Pray (I Thessalonians 5:17). And follow Paul’s example. Even when everyone around him deserted him he refused to lose faith, writing, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth” (II Timothy 4:16-17). Paul did everything listed above in this paragraph, yet one thing that he did came above all others— he put his faith in God, trusting in Him for deliverance (II Timothy 4:18).
Paul was determined to honor Christ even to the point of death (Philippians 1:20; II Timothy 4:6). He encouraged everyone to share in the suffering for the gospel (II Timothy 1:8-9). He did not want to be like others, but he did want them to be like him— in following Christ (Acts 26:28-29). Paul was belittled and beaten, chained and held in contempt, yet he was never ashamed of who he was or Who he belonged to (Romans 1:16). He was justly proud of the example he had set for others in following Christ (Philippians 1:14), ceaselessly encouraging those he taught. In his second letter to his young protégé, Timothy, he wrote, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (II Timothy 1: 6-7).
None of us has had a miraculous gift imparted to us. Nonetheless, we do have God-given abilities that we can flame into a fire of action. We can exercise our abilities in the spirit of power, love and self-control that we have developed in applying the Bible’s wisdom to our lives. We can be a part of the church’s work in making known the manifold wisdom of God’s plan of salvation— a plan that was fully realized when Christ Jesus rose from the dead and subsequently established His church (Ephesians 3:10-12). And we can do all these things in Christ’s name with complete confidence so long as we are willing to hold onto that confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.