By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever watched a small child imitating one of their parents? One raises his spoon, the other raises his spoon. One brushes her hair back, the other brushes her hair back. One puts his boot up on the rail, the other struggles to get his leg high enough to get his boot up there too. Children imitate their parents because parents are their role models. The child loves his parents, admires them, wants to please them, wants to be like them— in everything. Jesus once said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). As Christians, no matter what our age, there is a certain child-like quality we must have. Even as we grow in wisdom, we must maintain our innocence, as Paul wrote, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19). And, as a child of God, we should imitate our Father and His First Born.
In his first letter Peter told his readers, “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” (I Peter 2:21). Jesus, Himself said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He is the first and greatest example of how we can please our heavenly Father. We are the disciples, He is the teacher, we are the servants, He is the Master (Matthew 10:25). When we heed His words, we act in the wisdom of His teachings, when we ignore His teachings or rebel against them, we act the fool, to our own detriment (Matthew 7:24, 26). To Paul our desire to emulate Jesus should be unbounded, even by death (Philippians 3:10).
Paul used himself as an example for those he taught writing, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Along with himself he also used his fellow evangelists, as examples of how to follow Christ, writing, “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. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (I Thessalonians 1:6-8; II Thessalonians 3:7, 9). His point here should not be lost on us. It doesn’t take an apostle to take up the mantle of Christ to show others how to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. As we grow in Christ each of us should become a pattern for the next generation; if we don’t many of them will end up turning away from the truth.
Christ and His apostles are our examples in word and deed (I Timothy 1:16; Acts 5:41-42). In like manner, teachers are our examples, our church leaders are examples (Hebrews 13:7), and each one of us becomes a proper exemplar when we act in obedience to God’s word (Philippians 3:17). It is our responsibility, therefore it should be our goal to set the pattern for one another, for new converts, for the children in our congregations, for our friends, our coworkers, and for our communities. It is not enough to simply point to a Bible and say, “look in there.” We are the living bricks of God’s holy temple (I Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22). We are a holy nation of people chosen to proclaim the excellencies of God and His Messiah (I Peter 2:9). One of the most effective ways to declare God’s truth is by exhibiting it in our own lives.
As James noted it is by being “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” that we prove that God’s word has been effectively planted in us, thereby demonstrating to others the power it has in the lives of those who trust in it (James 1:21-22). To deceive ourselves in to thinking we are being obedient to God when we are not doers of His word is to be false in our religion, leading to dire consequences.
So far, we have been looking at the positive examples in the New Testament and how to act in accordance with them. But the Bible is full of bad examples that were recorded for our admonishment as well. The Israelites were overthrown in the desert for refusing to trust in God (I Corinthians 10:5-6). First century Jews refused the truth out of jealousy (Mark 15:8-15; Acts 17:1-6). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates the fates of those who engage in unbridled sin (Jude 1:7). Paul made clear to the Thessalonians what the fate of those who reject God and His word is when he wrote, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (II Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Which examples we follow is up to us. The early Christians were devoted to God’s teachings and to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:41-42). Are we? They sought peace and mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:17-19). They sounded the word forth into the world of their day (I Thessalonians 1:8). Are we spreading the word? So active were they that their faith was made known throughout the ancient world (Romans 1:8). No greater compliment can be paid to a congregation of God’s people than to say that they are effectively engaged in taking God’s word to the lost of the world. Not that the work will always be easy. Persecution, even in severe forms, is a reality for many of the faithful around the world today, just as it was for the early church.
James encouraged his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Centuries before, the psalmist had written, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Looking for the silver lining when faced with oppression due to our faith can be a hard thing to do. But we must find a way to do it. Not for our own sakes alone, but for those who look to us for strength and guidance. We are not alone in the struggle. We have one another, and we have the Lord to strengthen and light the way for us. Nonetheless, it is good for us to count the cost of being a Christian (Luke 14:26-33). It is good for us to prepare ourselves for rejection from the world, and the possibility of discrimination against us because of our faith. As Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:12-13).
In the western world today the forces aligning against God’s kingdom and its people are increasing. It is not a far-fetched warning to say that if you have not experienced persecution for your faith the day may soon come when you will. When it happens what will you do? James encouraged his readers to emulate the suffering and patience of the prophets of old, encouraging them to remain steadfast (James 5:10-11). John reminded his readers to imitate the good, and not evil (III John 1:11). One thing is for certain— there is strength in brotherhood. We do not have to fight the battle or endure the attacks of the wicked one alone. Though what we ultimately decide to do is a decision that each of us will make for himself, we do not have to be isolated when we make that decision.
One way we can follow the example of the early church is to forsake not the assembling of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). We can temper the resolve of our faith with consistently studying God’s word, with an active prayer life, and fellowshipping regularly with like-minded believers. And finally, we can follow our Lord. As Paul told the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 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” (Hebrews 12:1-4).
In the end to imitate Christ is to consider what He endured for us, and to follow Him wherever it may lead us, trusting in God’s promises.
By Roland W. Keith
Can one fall from grace? Someone once explained to me that if a person dies unsaved, they never really were in a state of grace or truly saved to begin with. That’s like saying because I’m not currently in the Navy I never was a sailor to begin with. But, in fact I spent many years serving our country in the Navy, just as there are some people who spend many years in faithful service to the Lord with their name written in the book of life only to have it blotted out in the end because they turn their backs on the Lord at some point. Peter wrote, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment… then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment (II Peter 2:4, 9). God knows how to rescue us and secure our salvation. That is true. But the fallen angels’ positions in heaven were secured by God’s might as well; heaven’s armies have never been defeated nor ever shall be. Yet there are angels who have been cast into hell because they turned away from the surety of God to pursue something else.
Jude wrote, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:5-6). The Israelites were saved, only to perish outside of the land they had been promised because of their unbelief. We must understand, however, that this unbelief spoken of was not atheistic. They believed in God. They were daily witnesses to His might and existence, from their rescue in the land of Egypt to the cloud-by-day and pillar of fire-by-night, and from their daily rations of manna to God’s rumblings on the mountain. Their unbelief was a lack of trust that God would deliver, even though He always had. The angels on the other hand already had a proper place in heaven and chose to give it up in rebellion. Let us learn from these lessons. We always have free will, both before and after our coming to the Lord. Therefore, choosing to follow the Lord is a perpetual choice. We choose to follow every day. Sadly, at some point a person will occasionally decide to walk away from his salvation (II Timothy 4:10).
According to Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, had made shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1:18-20). Paul explained that “I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” This indicates that he had a hope that they would return to the Lord, but there was no guarantee. As we all know in a shipwreck while many may be saved, many more may perish. Simon the sorcerer is another man whose salvation was on the brink. Many have claimed that Simon was not saved, but if that was so then Peter’s response to his impertinence is very odd. Peter did not accuse him of falsity or advise him to seek true faith, rather he instructed him to “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” Simon was told to repent of his sin, to which he it seems quite sincerely beseeched Peter to “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 18: 9-24).
Perhaps no verses more clearly illustrate the need for us to safeguard our salvation than Galatians 5:4-7. Writing to members of the church Paul warns them: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” We cannot fall away from something we do not possess. These were people under grace in danger of throwing it away by returning to the Law. There are many warnings against falling away or reverting to sin in the Bible for those already in the kingdom (Matthew 13:37-43; I Corinthians 10:1-13). Once such caution was given by Paul when he wrote: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
Another such caution was given by Peter: “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. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire”” (II Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 3:13).
The possibility of falling away is a very real concern, especially for some within the brotherhood. Therefore, we must work to strengthen one another even as we look to our own salvation (Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 9:27; II Peter 1:10). There are many causes that can make us lose heart or turn aside— tribulation or persecution (Matthew 13:20-21), disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19), love of the world (I John 2:15-17), false teachers (Acts 20:29-30), among other things. So, how can we prevent falling away? First, we can do everything that we can to abide in the Lord and His word (John 15:6; 8:51). We can study His word diligently and learn to apply it to our lives (Acts 17:11; II Timothy 2:15), knowing that within the scriptures is the way of our escape (I Corinthians 10:13). When we falter, we can repent and renew our efforts (Revelation 2:5, 16).
We have to word, we have prayer, we have one another to lean upon. But, more than anything else, we must trust the One Who has given us His promises, as the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:1-3). Before departing from them Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). If we remain true to His word and we participate in the blood of Christ then we can put on the armor of God in order to withstand whatever Satan and the world throws at us (I Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 6:10-18). We can continually increase Christian character by following Peter’s admonition: “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. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” II Peter 1:5-10; also I Corinthians 16:13).
Lest we tend to get distracted by the cares of life it is important to recall these words from the Lord: “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). The result of falling away is eternal condemnation (Revelation 2:4-5; II Peter 2:20-2). The result of repenting and turning to God and thereafter remaining in His grace is eternal salvation as Jesus proclaimed in His revelation to John, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
By Roland W. Keith
It’s that time of year again. When one year ends and another begins, and in this case when one decade ends and another begins as well. It is that time when we look back at the past year with its accomplishments and failures, joys and tragedies, and look forward to the new year with anticipation, and make out our annual list of new year resolutions (which often looks a lot like last year’s). This year for the Christian I advise wadding up that list and doing something different. Consider the following list of practical things we can all focus on:
1. Love the Lord your God. And your neighbor, too (Matthew 22:37-39).
We know we are keeping the first commandment when we are diligently seeking to keep the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15). We know we are keeping the second commandment when we heed Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7). When we are patient and kind and learn to bear with others, we know we are making progress. And, let us not forget to show particular regard for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10).
2. Evangelize the world.
That sounds like a big goal to consider practical, but it’s not. All we have to do is our part. Jesus told His apostles to “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 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). Paul looked at the missionary effort of his day and asked, “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 10:14-15). The fact is we are not all called to be missionaries, but we are called to support their efforts (I Corinthians 9:11-14; II Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:14-18; Titus 3:13). Moreover, while we may not be called to go into a foreign land, we should be involved in local efforts to spread God’s word beyond the walls of our place of worship, as Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” I Peter 3:15).
3. Show mercy to others, even as you are receiving mercy from God.
As Jude wrote: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20-23).
4. Strive for peace and unity.
We are to live at peace with all men if at all possible (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). Knowing the nature of the world this means that we must take the lead in this endeavor. However, it does not mean that we should let the world run roughshod over us, just that we must make every effort to be at peace. Within the church it is a different matter. As Paul wrote, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). According to Paul we must pursue the peace that leads us to mutual strengthening and uplifting (Romans 14:19), which cannot occur if we simply agree to disagree and go our separate ways. There is no unity in a house divided, even if the division is agreed upon (Mark 3:24). Under such circumstances while a remnant of the faithful may survive, many will be lost because they chose separation over a willingness and dedication to finding the common ground of truth. There is no such thing as our truth and their truth when it come to the truth of God. We must be one, therefore I encourage all to heed the words of Paul: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
5. Discipline and restore the wayward.
No one wants to see a fellow church member disciplined or disfellowshipped. We want to restore such a person, as Paul told the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Yet it is sometimes necessary to discipline someone hoping it will bear fruit in a change of behavior (Hebrews 12:11). It is a sad fact that the gentle touch doesn’t work with everyone. In fact, some see such an approach as a sign of weakness or something to be taken advantage of. Paul’s direction in such a case? “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11; see also II Thessalonians 3:6; I Timothy 1:20).
6. Comfort one another.
No one goes through life without getting knocked about a bit. Some of us more than others. And, sometimes it is easier for those who have suffered much in their own lives to have empathy for another person who is going through a difficult time. However, we should all look out for one another. Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
7. Support one another.
Supporting others goes hand-in-hand with comforting them. We can give support not just during times of suffering, but really all the time. Whether it is the big stuff like helping someone who is carrying one of life’s heavy burdens (Galatians 6:2), or just helping a friend move; every little bit helps. Do you encourage the new convert or anyone struggling to understand a scripture? Take a minute to discuss it with them (I Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 14:1). Even a small gesture can help build another up (Romans 15:2). For those of us who are strong in the faith it is our responsibility to be there for others; not everything can be left to our elders or the preacher. As Paul counselled, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
8. We should respect each other, especially those who work among us.
We should give respect to whom it is due (Romans 13:7; I Peter 2:18). This may not always be an easy thing to do, but part of a Christian’s responsibility is to obey those in authority over us, not necessarily to please man, but to please God (Colossians 3:22-25). However, for those who labor among us in the church our respect should be flavored with true esteem as Paul explained, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:12-15).
9. Hold firm to what God has given us.
For the Christian to hold firm means not simply to cling to something in desperation, but to gain such confidence in it as to master it and wield it in a productive manner, as Paul told Titus: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
10. We must prepare ourselves to persevere.
In His life Jesus endured much from the world, yet without sinning, and it is He Who is our example (Hebrews 12:3; Luke 18:1). When we follow in His footsteps we will not only grow in faith but begin to add the other Christian virtues to it (II Peter 1:5-8), which will make us strong and effective members of His kingdom. Such perseverance sustains us as we strive toward our ultimate goal, and enables us to draw others with us, as Paul wrote, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10; Luke 21:19).
In the end there are many practical steps we can take to make the new year a success. With that in mind I will leave you with a couple of Paul’s to-do lists for the Christian: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21). And, finally: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).
By Roland W. Keith
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
All around the world people have already began coming together to celebrate Christmas. For most it is a time to celebrate family with homecoming and gift giving. Others still see it as a time to honor its namesake, Jesus Christ. This latter group often laments the need to “put Christ back in Christmas.” I would argue that we need to put Christ back in our lives on a day-to-day basis, more so than on an arbitrary day designated as a holiday in His name. Nonetheless, any day we choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior is a good day. Still the Bible focuses on the death of our Lord more so than His birth. We are not commanded to pay homage to His birth as we are to memorialize His death (Matthew 26:26-29). It is in His death and resurrection that we are reminded of the great sacrifice God has made for us. However, it would be remiss to ignore Jesus’ birth altogether, considering that it was the most heralded birthday in history.
When man fell from grace in the garden God had already determined not to wash His hands of us, but instead to provide us with an escape from eternal damnation, as Paul wrote to Titus, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7; see also I Timothy 1:15-17).
God sent His Son to earth to redeem mankind by paying the price for our sins in terms universally understood by man— He gave His life to save us; an innocent man paying for the sins of others. Jesus, Himself made this clear when He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In human terms Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to be executed for our crimes against God and man: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5; I John 5:11).
God prepared man for this momentous event by heralding the birth of His Son. Isaiah 7:14 records, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.” Isaiah also wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Centuries later, Luke recounted how the Lord prepared the young Mary for her role in God’s plan, writing, “And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:28-32). Her betrothed, Joseph, who was considering putting her away due to her pregnancy was visited by an angel as well, and told to have no fear in taking Mary as his bride, being told also, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
It is interesting that when the time for our Lord’s birth arrived God chose to proclaim His arrival to both the simple and wise of the earth. An angel appeared to shepherds in the field telling them “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (see full account in Luke 2:4-141). As for the wise, Matthew wrote, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him… After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).
In his gospel account John wrote, “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 1:14). Paul described Jesus as an indescribable gift from God (II Corinthians 9:15). On Christmas Day we will give gifts to one another out of love for family and friends or just human kindness. And though it is not a biblical command it may be nice during your Christmas celebrations to seek a quiet moment in the day to meditate on the gift that inspired the day— the indescribable gift of God’s Son, given to man out of the infinite store of God’s love. You may even want to recount the story of Jesus’ birth with those gathered around you (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25).
The day Jesus was born the world changed forever. No, sin has not gone away. The self-centered and destructive tendencies of man continue almost unabated. But there is a love in the world that wasn’t here before. Yes, love existed, as Jesus proclaimed, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). But the Law and the Prophets did not have that which is perfect. Many things were still a mystery to them. Today we can see more clearly (I Corinthians 13:9-13). The light of God’s perfect love has walked among us and left us that which exceeds the Law and Prophets— that to which they pointed. The grace of God as revealed in and through His Son.
On that day, over two thousand years ago a child like no other was born. He was both God and man. He is both our guide and path to salvation (John 14:6; John 8:12). He is the Lord of lords and King of kings (I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14), as the angel Gabriel told His mother, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
By Roland W. Keith
Much is written about temptation in the Bible. Jesus taught His followers to pray not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil (Matthew 6:13). And, shortly before His crucifixion He told Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26: 41; see also Luke 22:46). Considering that it was succumbing to temptation that led to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, it is easy to understand why it is one of the focal points of New Testament teaching. In fact, it is so important that one of Jesus’ responsibilities as Messiah was to lead by example in the fight against temptation, as Paul wrote: “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And also, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Victory over temptation and sin was summed up by James when he wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is a simple matter, but as we all know a difficult goal to achieve. According to various dictionaries temptation is: 1. the act of tempting or the state of being tempted. 2. something that tempts, entices, or allures. 3. a person or thing that tempts. 4. the fact or state of being tempted, esp. to evil. Humans are tempted by a person or thing that has some influence on them. Regarding this James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). We cannot blame God for our situation when we are caught in sin, or even when we find ourselves in the crossfire of someone else’s sin. God created the heavens and the earth, but man created the world we live in and we must take responsibility for it. James went on to say, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). God allows us to be tempted because He has given us free will, but He desires us to choose Him. He allowed Satan to test Job in the Old Testament account, and he desired to test Peter as well. According to Luke, Jesus informed Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
It is important to understand, however, that even as we are being tempted God is there for us. He gives us guidance and warnings in how to avoid the pitfalls of everything from sexual desire to the allure of money (I Corinthians 7:5; I Timothy 6:9), two of the greatest temptations that seem to plague man. The bottom line, as summed up by John? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17). The dictionaries say that temptation comes from without us— “a person or thing that tempts.” The Bible teaches that temptation is conceived from within (again, James 1:14). In his first letter John stated, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (I John 2:16). Sin is in the world— it permeates every place and time. But only because we allowed it in through through our own pride and desires. Yes, the devil and his servants are tricky (II Corinthians 11:15), still they cannot lead us where we do not want to go.
Fortunately, God enables us to overcome and be victorious over sin, as Paul explained it, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). God provides us with a plan to defeat sin. Peter wrote, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (II Peter 2:9). So sure is God’s Plan and guiding hand that James said we should “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Today we might say, “Bring it on! What doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger!” And even if it does kill this body, I have eternal life in Christ (Matthew 10:28; John 3:16, 36). Not matter what our earthly fate our eternal one is vouchsafed by our Creator, as noted by Peter: “who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (I Peter 1:5-6).
Each of us, as Christians, have God’s promise that if we faithfully obey Him we shall overcome the world and receive His eternal blessings, as James wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
By Roland W. Keith
Repost from October 2017
In today’s world Christianity is under attack around the globe. Even here in the U.S., where religious beliefs are supposed to be protected by separation of church and state, opposing forces are applying ever-increasing pressure to drive the church out of existence, by questioning its relevance and validity, or by simply rejecting it as incompatible with the growth of liberalism and the secularization of western culture. For Christians here in America we must come to terms with the possibility that what is social and political pressure today may become full-blown persecution tomorrow. In light of that probability today’s focus will be on this question: “Are Biblical claims of the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fact or fiction?
If our faith is based on a myth or fable what is the world to think of us? As Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:14-19).
If Christ is not the Son of God then those of us who make such claims are out-and-out liars, or delusional fools. In turn, the writings in the New Testament, in which we base our hopes, are the words of false teachers cunningly devised to mislead man. Were the writers of these 27 works themselves self-deluded or deceived into believing a lie? Just a little over a month after Jesus’ crucifixion Peter proclaimed:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses… And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 2:22-24, 32; 3:17-19).
According to Luke’s account of this sermon Peter was stating a truth that was obvious, not just to the apostles, but to all in the audience. Those in Jerusalem had been witness to Jesus’ life, His works, and His death. Most importantly, over 500 of them had witnessed Jesus walking among them after His resurrection. This blunt reminder of what they themselves had seen and done compelled more than 3,000 of them to become Christians that day. On another occasion Peter would tell those in the house of Cornelius:
And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:39-43).
Many years later Peter would write to those who had never seen Jesus, but had believed the testimony about Him:
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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (I Peter 1:8-12).
To their generation things prophesied in the past, things previous generations had longed to see, had been revealed. Things such as what was written hundreds of years before by Isaiah:
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? (Isaiah 53:1-8).
King David would also prophesy of his descendant: “For dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet— I can count all My bones— they stare and gloat over Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18). Jesus, Himself, would speak of His own death, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48), and again, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
In his gospel account Matthew would remember Jesus’ ministry, writing, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21). For today’s scoffers who see many tel-evangelists making millions of dollars proclaiming their version of Christianity, they should understand this of the apostles, and other first century Christians— They had nothing to gain from their claims. There was no fame and fortune waiting for them. In fact, they were putting their lives on the line in teaching the messiah-ship of Jesus (Acts 4:1-22; 17:1-9), and eventually many of them would be put to death for their beliefs.
The early Christians were true believers, and based their hope not on a lie they were persuaded to believe, but on what they themselves had seen with their own eyes, or had been told by trusted eyewitnesses. According to Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:16-21, see also John 12:27-32).
The first century Christians trusted their own senses and the word of men and women who were putting their lives in jeopardy for their faith, with the hope of an eternal reward for themselves and all who would accept the word they were teaching (II Peter 1:3-4), based again on what they knew to be fact, as John wrote:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-3).
Their testimonies of the life of Christ and all that they had seen reflected Christ’s own claims: “And Jesus came and said to 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; see also John 12:46-48; 5:26-29).
According to these witnesses the followers of Christ are to proclaim Him as the world’s savior. A savior who is willing to forgive the sins of all who will come to Him and submit to His commands until the end of the age, when the universe as we know it will be destroyed and a day of judgment will come, after which new heavens, and a new earth will be established for His followers, and a place of punishment reserved for those who deny Him (II Peter 3:10-13; II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-34, 46).
Even with death staring them in the face many of these saints refused to relent and deny the Lord. As Paul noted, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered" (Romans 8:36). They were martyred by the sword, by the cross, and by lions in the coliseum. But they are not to be pitied. The writings passed down by many of them demonstrate men of sound mind and clear vision. They were not deluded or deceived. Rather they observed and weighed the evidence and came to a reasoned conclusion, and passed their knowledge on to us. And what they have given us is the truth. Moreover, that truth is worth all that we have to possess it, up to, and including, our lives.
By Roland W. Keith
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He 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). Christians have read or listened to the recitation of these verses so many times most of us probably don’t even stop to think about how unique this conversation is. I can’t claim to be God (well, I could, but I’d be lying). Neither can you. Moses didn’t make such a claim, nor did Buddha or Mohammad. It is one thing to claim spiritual enlightenment or to be a man of God, quite another thing to be bold enough to claim to be God. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. Moreover, by making that assertion He was saying that the nature of His existence was different from any other man.
All men are created beings, so made as to live eternally in the Spirit from that point on. By claiming deity Jesus asserted His eternal nature as an existence without beginning or end. We are created, He is the Creator. The man Jesus was born to a woman as we are, but the Spirit of God within Him was the second member of the Godhead. We are made in the image of God, but He is God. John wrote, “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). Of Jesus the apostle Paul would write: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18; see also John 1:3).
In the first chapter of Genesis when God said “let there be light,” or “let there be a firmament…,” etc. He did not call these things into existence, but rather gave the command for these things to be brought forth by His Son. Creation was a collaborative effort of the Trinity, as we can see from Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image,’ followed in verse 27 by, “So God created man in His Own image.” Paul also noted: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (I Corinthians 8:6). Like an architect and builder working hand-in-hand the members of the Godhead created the universe and us. Given our Savior’s role in the creation it is an amazing thing to consider that when we went astray Christ would come to earth to fulfill His part in the Father’s plan to redeem us by taking on the fleshly limits of His creation, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Man’s sin was manifested in the flesh and required a legal remedy in the same realm. God created the law to expose man’s sin and convict him for his violations of God’s commands. The just punishment for sin is a death sentence for the guilty— both physical and spiritual. However, God developed a plan that requires only the physical death of the sinner but frees him from eternal spiritual punishment. To set man free God required a perfect sacrifice, that is a spiritually innocent man who would give his life for others in a selfless sacrifice of love. Once again Father and Son would collaborate. They created man together, and together they would extend the offer of salvation to him, when Jesus died on the cross. As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “But we see Him Who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).
Jesus’ sacrifice was a propitiation for man’s crimes against God (Hebrews 2:17). He lived in every way as a man yet overcame sin and death for us (Hebrews 14:15-16). Through His selfless act He enacted the “law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:1-3), freeing all men who come to Him from sin and death, setting us at liberty in His kingdom. Other than knowing that He lived as a man and was tempted in every way as we are we cannot know what it was like for Him to walk the earth as fully God and fully man in one being. We cannot in entirely understand the nature of what it meant to be Messiah. What we are able to comprehend is that which God chose to reveal to us, which is enough for us to come to the truth and to walk in it.
Jesus Christ is the Exalted One. “The” as in the only one. There is no one else that we should follow (Mark 9:7). He accomplished all the Father gave Him to do on our behalf, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). In the early history of mankind God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but two thousand years ago He sent His Son to earth to deliver His final testament. Jesus was the word made manifest and perfected by His obedience (John 1:1-3, 14; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8). Today God still speaks to us through Jesus’ words and all that was passed on through the Holy Spirit and recorded by the inspired writers.
When Jesus came to earth, He was not just another prophet, another man made in God image, delivering His message. He was the exact imprint of His Father fully knowing and understanding God’s will and able to deliver it as no one else could. Only through Christ could the LORD achieve His determined end for man. The being entrusted to uphold the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3), was the one chosen to save man. As Paul wrote: “and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” Ephesians 1:19-23).
Among all the humans who have or will ever live Jesus Christ is the preeminent one (Colossians 1:18). By obeying Him alone can we approach the Father (I John 2:1-6). It is through His nature that our own can be seen by the Father as perfected (Hebrews 5:9; 12:23). He is our savior, our example, our high priest, and our intercessor (II Timothy 1:10; I Peter 2:21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25). All true wisdom comes through our seeking God, and Jesus is the one who can lead us to Him. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Why should we believe such claims? Because we have eyewitness testimony. Witnesses that no one has been able to impeach for two thousand years. Their very words have been inspired by God to make their claims sure. At the end of his epistle John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name… This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 20:30-31, 21:24). We have God’s own handy work proclaiming His existence (Romans 1:19-20), and the testimony of those who knew Jesus personally and bore witness to His life (I John 1:1-4).
So profoundly different was the nature of Jesus that His actions during the last hours of His life moved one man to ask to be remembered by Him after death (Luke 23:42), and another one observing His behavior and the events surrounding His death to exclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
By Roland W. Keith
As Turkey Day approaches I thought I would write a little on what we as Christians have to be thankful for. As I started researching scriptures it became clear there are far more things on the list than I can write about in a page or two and do scripture justice, so instead I’m just going to make a list of reasons to be thankful with accompanying verses. It is not an all-encompassing list, but I hope it gives you food for thought.
1. We should be thankful because our God is good and loving.
1Ch_16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
1Ch_16:41 With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psa_54:6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
2. Jesus gave thanks for the food He was about to share, and so should we.
Joh_6:11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
Act_27:35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.
1Ti_4:3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
1Ti_4:4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
3. We should be thankful that our LORD is a righteous and just God.
Psa_7:17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
4. I’m lumping some important stuff together here, but we should be thankful to our God, Who has extended His grace to us, and is worthy of our trust and faith.
2Co_4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Psa_28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
Col_2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
5. We should be thankful that God has turned His wrath from us, and that He provides us comfort instead.
Isa_12:1 You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
6. We should thank the LORD for the victory He has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ!
1Co_15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Ch_16:35 Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
7. We should be thankful that God has given us a place among His saints, gathering us together from among the nations of the world to enroll us in His kingdom.
Col_3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Psa_106:47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
8. We should thank the LORD for setting us free from sin and its destructive power.
Rom_6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
9. We should be thankful that we have a God to Whom we can turn with all our concerns.
Php_4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
10. We Should thank God for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
1Th_1:2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,
2Th_1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
1Th_3:9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,
11. We can be thankful that God is with us in every circumstance, and that our eternal fate is in His hands.
1Th_5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
12. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day let us do so with a proper understanding.
Rom 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Rom_14:6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Rev_7:12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
By Roland W. Keith
What is the difference between wisdom and folly, or common sense and foolery? Perhaps the primary distinction is that of discernment. The ability to analyze a situation and act with keen insight and good judgment. I once heard a man describe another as being “born without any common sense.” While some individuals may be born with a better natural disposition for attaining good sense, it is not actually, or not entirely, dependent on heredity. Discernment is to a large extent a learnable trait. Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the Hebrews, writing, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
We can learn good judgment. As in all skills some may become proficient in its use while others may struggle at times, but all can achieve a discerning heart. The first lesson of discernment for the man of God? “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Solomon also wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). Man is not wise enough to navigate the natural world without the need for guidance, let alone the spiritual one. However, if we are sensible enough to follow the path that God has laid out for us, though we may occasionally stumble, God will uphold us along the way (Psalm 37:23).
For those of us who are seeking to know and follow the way of God there is a growing knowledge that many in the world are not interested in the Lord’s wisdom, or any path for that matter, which does not allow them to do as they please. Concerning such people Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21). In his letter, James compared such folly to true wisdom, writing, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:14-17). Paul wrote that we should put such things away from us (Ephesians 4:31).
We have all heard that a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, or as Paul said it, “Bad company ruins good morals” (I Corinthians 15:33). We often think that we can rub shoulders with those of the world without being affected, but that simply isn’t true. We influence them, and they us. The question is when we are out and about in the world are we letting the Lord’s light shine through us, or are we allowing ourselves to be unduly influenced by them? And, what about our children? Do we allow them to venture into situations that put undue pressure or temptation on them? Or, are we preparing the soil of their souls and implanting the word of God within them so that they will develop honest and good hearts?” (Luke 8:15). Are we raising up healthy trees that will bear good fruit or spiritually diseased trees that will produce bad fruit?” (Matthew 7:17-18).
The Bible is full of examples for those who failed to exercise discernment. The account of the old and young prophets in I Kings is a prime example. When the king invited the young prophet to his house the prophet replied, “for so was it commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, “‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” Later when he also turned down the invitation of the old prophet, we read, “And he [the old prophet] said to him, "I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.'" But he lied to him” (13:9, 18). The young man went in and ate with him only to find that his disobedience to the Lord would cost him his life (13:19-26). He had trusted the word of a man over the Lord’s command with tragic results.
In the New Testament Martha, a diligent hostess and housekeeper, was worried about serving her guests, not discerning that under the circumstances the opportunity to listen to the Lord teach was of greater value (Luke 10:38-42). It is possible to allow us to fill our minds with so many concerns that they affect our discernment, just as it is possible that one may affected out of neglect or ignorance. It is also possible to fail in our discernment out of willful disregard, as noted by Jesus’ condemnation of some of His listeners on one occasion: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:23-25). These were experts in the Law and religion of the Jews who had no excuse for their failure to act with Godly wisdom.
One of the saddest examples of a failure to exercise discernment was recorded by John: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:4-43; see also I Samuel 15:24). These were believers who knew the truth, knew the Law and what was right and yet still acted contrary to good judgment because their love was misplaced. Just as sad is the fact that two thousand years later such actions within Christendom are in fact not uncommon. Inside and outside of the body of believers are those who refuse to love the truth and perish (II Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Solomon noted that “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16; see also Proverbs 16:13). The spiritually prudent are ever watchful and strong in the faith and their determination to do God’s will (I Corinthians 16:13). Jesus said that if we seek, we will find (Matthew 7:7). His brother encouraged us to ask for wisdom, knowing that God gives to those who ask (James 1:5). Knowledge, understanding, common sense, discernment— none of these are beyond our grasp. If we prayerfully seek them in our studies of God’s word we will find them, and the ability to comprehend them will be granted to us. As Solomon wrote, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of His saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).
Paul told the Philippians, “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” (4:8). When we focus our thoughts on high spiritual things trusting the Lord for strengthening and guidance and we examine His word daily we will certainly grow in our faith and spiritual strength (Acts 17:11; Proverbs 23:23).
In the end, spiritual discernment in the fullness of its strength will depend on our own effort, our trust in the Lord, and our openness to the truth. Yet, more than these, it will depend on our love for the LORD. We will be like the rulers of Jesus’ time who loved the glory that comes from men more than the glory that comes from God or will we love God the most? Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me” (John 14:23-24). Our spiritual discernment, even our earthly discernment, will ultimately be as strong or as weak as our love for God. It is that love that will drive our effort, or lack thereof, to grow in the wisdom of God and hone our ability to discern all things aright.
By Roland W. Keith
Christ was made to suffer for us; that is, He took human form to establish the Father’s plan of salvation, and that plan required Him to suffer the punishment due one who has violated the law. Though He had not transgressed the law personally, He suffered the world’s rejection and death on the cross in our stead, taking the penalty reserved for us upon Himself. Paul explained His sacrifice with these words: “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:9-10). The man Jesus was made perfect because He remained obedient to His Father’s command, even under duress, even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). In achieving that perfection in human form, He became the author and source of eternal life for all who would follow after Him (Acts 3:14-16; Hebrews 5:8-9).
As a result of Christ’s victory over Satan and death caused by sin God sees each Christian as His own child, like Jesus, and as such fellow heirs of the promises made through Him. However, as Jesus suffered for us, we must in turn be willing to suffer with Him (Romans 8:17-18). No suffering is wanted, but considering what Christ accomplished on our behalf, and the eternal glory that awaits us, it is a small thing on our part to act in obedience to the Heavenly Father in emulation of our Savior’s Own submission to His will (Romans 8:17-18). In his first letter Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:1—2, 12, 16-17).
Not only should we be willing to suffer for the name of Christ, we should not be surprised when it happens. Persecution is just a part of the path we take as Christians. Those who hate the truth will try to obstruct its spread, particularly where it interferes with their own willful desires. When it happens, we must be prepared to put on the implements of our spiritual warfare and to soldier on (Ephesians 6:11, 13; II Timothy 2:3). It is our duty to share in the suffering attached to the Lord’s name, entrusting our eternal welfare to Him, even while we place our hope in the reward that awaits us at the end of our lives (II Timothy 1:8, 12; Revelation 2:10; II Timothy 4:8). James and Paul remind their readers that others before us have suffered as we will (James 5:10-11; Hebrews 11:32-40), but if we resolve to have the steadfastness of Job, we can and will reap the blessings attached to such faith and perseverance.
Paul had much to say to say about the afflictions that will be suffered for the sake of the truth, writing, “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). The apostle to the Gentiles endured much during his life in ministry, but for strength he kept his eyes on the Lord and the glory of what awaits beyond the physical realm, writing also, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4: 8-10, 17-18).
There is something else for us to consider. Whether you are a Christian or not life will give most of us our share of vexations, hardships and suffering in varying degrees. Looked at in the proper light life should be seen as a joyful experience (always look for the silver lining), nonetheless, there will be tough times, and for some dark times indeed. Those of faith should view those times from a different philosophical vantage point than the nonbeliever. We have something beyond those times to look forward to. We also have a source of inspiration and strength to draw upon during those moments that others do not have. We have the avenue of prayer to unburden ourselves, the word to guide us, and our Christian family to console us. We above all others are blessed beyond measure even in the worst of times.
At other times we should regard our situation in a prudential light. Peter wrote, “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” (I Peter 2:20-21). It is one thing to suffer for our own bad behavior, and quite another to suffer as the Lord did— for doing what is right. When a Christian suffers for God’s word He or she is trusting in God’s promises— that whatever we suffer here in this life will pale in comparison to an eternity in heaven with Him. It is that faith and hope that bolsters our resolve and positive outlook when enduring our suffering for the good (I Peter 4:19).
There is one arena of suffering that none of us want to spend time in. As a child I do not no anyone who wanted to disappoint or provoke a parent to the point of needing to be disciplined. Regardless, everyone I know was disciplined as a child. Some of us repeatedly. Such measures are a form of suffering all their own. Self-inflicted and administered by one whose love and approval we were continually seeking. Yet the one executing our suffering did so with loving hands for our benefit. Paul wrote, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:6-13).
The form of misery a child endures at the hand of a parent as a corrective to bad behavior should lead to introspection and positive change when coupled with proper training and reinforcement for good behavior. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant. Just as our earthly parents punished us so the LORD may find it necessary to discipline us from time to time. We should feel the disappointment of letting God down. However, when handled with a determination to do better and a resolve to avoid future failures and a reliance on God’s perfect guidance it will always lead to our spiritual growth and strengthening.
No matter what form of suffering we may pass through the words of James remain true: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). When we turn to the LORD and cry out to Him He will ultimately deliver us (Psalm 34:17-19). He may allow us to suffer for a time as a way of purifying and refining us but He will draw us to Himself in the process: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:10). Therefore when we are suffering, for whatever reason, let us turn to the Lord and seek His guidance and strengthening knowing that is there to bring us through whatever trial we are enduring.
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.