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JULY 2018

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For He was a Good Man

 

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24 KJV)


Paul and Barnabas

Many men had a part in the establishment of what we call Christianity today.  We know that there were twelve apostles of which one was a traitor.  Of the other eleven, Peter, James and John seem to be prominent.  When we come to the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter and Paul taking the lead in spreading the Gospel.  Peter was used to convince the Jews that the Gospel was for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews, but Paul was the instrument that God used to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles (or non-Jews).  But one other man was prominent in the early church and that was Barnabas.  He was named Joses and was surnamed Barnabas by the apostles. Barnabas means son of consolation.  See Acts 4:36.  As the son of consolation, he provided comfort and encouragement.  He refreshed the hearts of those around him.

 

This seems to be born out in his life as he sold land that he had and gave the money to the apostles to use as it was needed in the early New Testament church.  Obviously, he was living out the principles found in the Sermon on Mount.  He was laying up his treasure in heaven rather than on this earth. 

 

He vouched for Paul when Paul tried to join himself to the church at Jerusalem. (See Acts 9:27).  He sought for Paul who had gone to Tarsus because of persecution and brought him to the Antioch church in Syria where he could be publicly used of the Lord.  Barnabas went with Paul on a humanitarian journey that was designed to care for the poor in Jerusalem and he went with Paul on his first missionary journey.  But Paul and Barnabas had a fight.  And it had to do with showing compassion to Mark who had turned back during their first missionary journey.  Barnabas, true to form as an encourager, wanted Mark to go with them on their second missionary journey.  Paul didn't.  There are a lot of commentators who seem to know the reasoning behind the disagreement but all we really know is that Mark had turned back the first time when he went with Paul and Barnabas.  Many commentators point out that the story from this point on deals with Paul and not with Barnabas and so Barnabas must have been wrong.  They say he was likely showing favoritism to Mark who may have been his nephew. 

 

My Take

I think it was in God's plan to use Paul without Barnabas for whatever reason.  But I personally would rather be known as a Barnabas than as a Paul.  Barnabas had stood with Paul and helped him every step of the way in his early ministry and in his first missionary journey.  What Christian would have trusted Paul at Jerusalem after he had tried to destroy Christians if Barnabas hadn't stood by Him and commended Him.  Paul was confrontational and “stood for the truth.”  Barnabas was a nice balance to Paul.  He tried to encourage those that others didn't trust.  I don't know who was right and who was wrong, but I would rather be a Barnabas than a Paul.  To be perfectly honest however, I probably have played the role of Paul in personal relationships more than I have played the role of Barnabas.

 

Patching Up Relationships

One reason I think that Barnabas was probably right to encourage Mark in his service to the Lord when Paul wouldn't is because Paul realizes that he needs him when he is in prison in 2nd Timothy.  In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul tells Timothy, "Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry (2Timothy 4:11)."  Apparently, the relationship between Paul and Mark got patched up.  I wonder if Paul got his relationship with Barnabas patched up.  It seems to me that Paul could have deferred to Barnabas’ judgment in view of the encouragement he had been to Paul.  However, the dissension between the two was likely used of God to spread the Gospel more widely.  If the early church had not been persecuted, the Christians would likely have all stayed at Jerusalem rather than being scattered.  That scattering of the early Christians seems to have been the cause of the Gospel spreading to new communities. Act 8:4 says, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word."

 

But I would still rather be a son of consolation than a son of confrontation.  I would rather be a Barnabas than a Paul. . 

Meditation for the week of July 1, 2018

Pleasures Forevermore!

 

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalms 16:11 NKJV)

 

Pleasures for ever More!

Many people look for pleasure, that is for things that make them feel good, in different ways.  Some seek money, some seek honor, some seek power, some seek friends, and some seek entertainment and sports.   And I am sure that there are other ways to find pleasure.  But when we think about pleasure that is available in this life, it is always fleeting and temporary.  Even if some of the satisfaction that we get in life lasts for quite some time as friendships and marriages should, yet they are still “over” when we die.  And if the Lord prolongs His promised coming--die we must!  In 100 years everyone reading this will be dust.  Their lives will be over.  The pleasures they pursued will no longer be needed to satisfy.  Now even if there were no existence after death, that makes life seem futile to me.  The writer of Ecclesiastes summed it all up by telling us that he had tried everything and had learned everything and had possessed everything, but all was vanity and chasing after the wind.  King Solomon who is the writer, even tried other gods and all that did was make God mad and it caused the kingdom to be divided after his death.  But David who wrote the sixteenth Psalm says that there is a place where there are pleasures forevermore. This promised pleasure is not passing pleasure.  It is permanent pleasure. 

 

The Frustrations of this Life

If one looks for joy or pleasure in drugs or alcohol or licentiousness living, pretty soon the thing that brought joy or pleasure will bring bondage.  Joy is the inner happiness or satisfaction that comes from things that we think will make us happy in this life.  Pleasure can give us joy.  The words are closely related.  I think that in the passage we are studying, the two words may be saying the same thing—they may be interchangeable.  I think the passage could just as easily read,  “In the Lord's presence is fullness of pleasure, at His right hand is joy forevermore.”

 

Prophetic Truth in this Psalm

Peter uses this Psalm in Acts 2 to show that it applies to the resurrection of the Lord.  David wrote the Psalm but David's body saw corruption.  The Lord's did not.  The path of life that is referred to in this Psalm seems to be a revived life according to some dictionaries.  The Lord is now sitting at the Father's right hand according to the writer of Hebrews, who says that in running the marathon of the Christian life we should be, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV).”  The Lord then is enjoying the pleasure that comes with enduring the cross, which was not pleasurable.  He was motivated by considering the joy at the end of his trial.  That joy involved being raised from the dead.  It involved the prospect of having a bride with Him in heaven.

 

Can we Apply the Psalm to those of us Who have been Redeemed?

Kind David wrote the Psalm and a lot of it applied to Him.  While his body saw corruption, I have not doubt that He was looking forward to a day when he would be raised from the dead. When David says, "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,"  he likely was thinking of both himself and the Lord.  When he says, "Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" he was definitely speaking prophetically of the Lord only.  The right hand is a place of power but it is also a place of privilege and favor.  We who are saved today are going to have the privilege of being the Lord's bride and we will enjoy the pleasure of the Lord's right hand for evermore.

 

Our Hope, Blessing, Pleasure, and Joy

These words are all associated with one whose sins are forgiven.  The believer's blessing is not necessarily found here in this life.  The writers of the New Testament write to encourage those undergoing persecution. One of those encouragements is the joy of knowing that we will enjoy the presence of the Lord in eternity.  I realize that eternal life begins the moment we  believe on the Lord but that life has trials while we represent Christ down here on this earth.  But eternal life is a not only a quality of life but a quantity of life and it is a life of pleasure, hope, blessing and joy for all eternity.  If all we have to motivate us is the passing pleasures of this life, if we don't really believe in the resurrection, if all is over and done when we take our last breath, then truly life is meaningless.  We may control corporations, we may have been leaders of countries, we may have amassed great wealth, but some day each of us is going to die. Then what?  

 

True happiness is not found in this futile meaningless temporary existence.  True happiness is found at the Lord's right hand.  We who have been convicted of our sin and have trusted the Lord for salvation will enjoy true happiness and  joy and pleasure that never ceases.

 

Meditation for the week of July 8, 2018

Truths that are Self-Evident

 

He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:29-31 NKJV)

 

Things that are not so Obvious

Our Declaration of Independence has these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  However, later in that document native Indians are called merciless Indian savages  After the constitution of the United States of America was adopted, the fourteenth amendment had to be added which allowed all people born in the US to be citizens of the US and the fifteenth amendment had to be added so that all citizens could vote. I am not sure that in a practical way those who signed the original constitution of the United States believed what they had fought for in the Revolutionary War.  Supposedly all men were created equal but all men were not treated as equals in the early years of the United States.  Obviously, those self-evident truths were not so self-evident.

 

Other Things that are Self-Evident

Those of us who think we have a handle on logical thinking would say that spiritually there are some things that are just as self-evident.  The Declaration of Independence refers to a Creator.  He is not defined but His existence seems to be obvious.  I believe the things that God created and the principles of science that seem to be so necessary for life, leave one with the obvious conclusion that there is a God.  Cars don't “just happen.”  Buildings don't appear out of nowhere.  Highways have to be designed and constructed.  In the same way, this world with its myriad of living creatures didn't just appear out of nowhere.  There had to be a designer and He had to be good at what He did.  To me this is self-evident.

 

If there is a creator, then there has to be accountability to that Creator.  When we read the Old Testament, we get the impression that if we do good (whatever that means) we will prosper.  If we are wicked we will not.  (see Psalm 1).   However, when we continue through the Psalms, we find out that often the wicked prosper and the good do not.   (See Psalm 37 and Psalm 73).   Job suffered because he was righteous not because he was wicked.  And in the New Testament we are constantly reminded that in the world we (who are true disciples) will have tribulation.  However we are told to be of good cheer, the Lord has gotten victory over the society that had become so evil that it rejected the Lord.  (See John 16:33). 

 

So the first thing that is self-evident is the fact that there is a creator.  The next thing that is not so self-evident is that God is a just and righteous judge.  Because of the suffering in the world and the prosperity of many who are wicked many think that God is cruel.  However, I don't think God is cruel.  I think God loves His creation.  But I think it is self-evident that there is a real evil spiritual adversary called the devil.  That there is evil in this world is self-evident.  Some of it is so bad that mankind could hardly be that bad on its own.  But the Lord tells the religious rulers of his day that they were of their father the devil.  He says, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it (John 8:44 NKJV).  It is self-evident that more people believe the "liar" than believe the "truth" in our day and many of them call themselves Christians.  They are religious but they have never been "born from above."

 

One other Thing that is Self-Evident

This God who created us and who loves us whether we want to believe that or not is also going to judge us.  There is going to be accountability.  Paul preached that accountability to the philosophers in Athens Greece.  I believe that many are denying self-evident truths because they think God will overlook their sin  They think that when they die, they will not be held accountable.  That God will judge us righteously is not self-evident but I believe that to be true by faith in the Lord's promises.

 

The real problem with the Athenians had to do with worshiping man's make-believe gods instead of the “unknown God” that had died for their sins, had been buried and who was raised again the third day.  That “unknown God” did not come to condemn the world, but He came that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).  But the God of creation who has made Himself known in a personal way through the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is going to judge the world in righteousness.  People are going to be held accountable for their sin.

 

A question was raised by Abraham in the Old Testament.  He said, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right (Genesis 18:25)?”  For those of us who have confessed our sin and turned to the Lord for salvation, the punishment of our sin has  been born by the Lord at the cross.  For those who reject that sacrifice, it seems self-evident to me that to be righteous, the Lord will have to judge the Christ rejecter for his or her own sins.  To do otherwise would not respect the terrible sacrifice and suffering of the Lord on the cross.

 

Conclusion

It is self-evident that we have a creator.  It is self-evident that we are sinners and that there is evil in the world.  It may not be so self-evident that God loves us but He does.  Now the question is, how will we be judged when we meet God?   Will our sins be forgiven because of the death of Christ or will we have to suffer for our own sins for eternity?

 

Meditation for the week of July 15, 2018

I am Jesus!

 

So I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.' (Acts 22:8 NKJV)

 

Three times

In Acts 9, Paul's abrupt meeting with the Lord is recorded for the first time and we read these words “I am Jesus.”  In Acts 22:8 above we read about Paul telling this story to the Jews in Jerusalem and again we read those words, “I am Jesus.”  In Acts 26:15, Paul tells how he met the Lord to King Agrippa.  Again he says that the Lord told him, I am Jesus.”  The Lord introduced himself to a man whose conscience had begun bothering him.  He was persecuting a group of people who were worshiping a man he thought was an impostor.  Yet while he was being violent and trying to destroy those who were of “this way,” they were willing laying down their lives for their savior; and, in Stephen's case, he prayed for his persecutors.  Paul had hatred in his heart, these people had love.  Paul was being violent, these people were praying for those who hated them.  And now the Lord reveals himself to Paul and says, “I am Jesus.” 

 

A Complete Change of Direction

Paul was saved by grace and he makes that clear in his writings.  But he was also changed completely by what he witnessed when he heard those words, “I am Jesus.”  Paul was an example of one who was convicted of His sin (in this case the sin of rejecting the truth that Jesus is and was the Messiah), and then he trusted the Lord who was introducing Himself in an unmistakable way to Paul.  This changed Paul's mind.  This changed His life.  The person who claims to have met the Lord and who does not have it affect his life, is a person that probably never really met the Lord. 

 

When Paul asked the Lord to tell him what he wanted him to do, the Lord told him to go into the city and it would be told him what he should do.  You will notice that the Lord did tell him what to do.  He was to go into the city for further instructions.  We often want to know all that the Lord is going to ask us to do and we are not willing to just take His instructions one step at a time.  When Paul went into the city, Ananias  told him that he was going to be a special vessel used of the Lord to spread the Gospel to all men, not just to Jews.  But first he needed to be baptized (or immersed) to wash away his sins.  What did Ananias mean?  Surely, he was not saved by being baptized.  Paul in his writings makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord.  We are not saved by ceremonies or by works.  But Paul had publicly sinned by committing Christians to prison and to death.  Now he needed to publicly “wash away” those sins, that is he needed to publicly turn his back on what he once believed and did.  This was the first step in publicly identifying with his new master that he had called Lord on the Damascus Road. This washing had to do with his public testimony, not with his eternal destiny.  He got baptized because He was saved.  He didn't get baptized in order to be saved.

 

We all Need an Introduction

Paul was introduced to the Lord by the Lord Himself.  Some of us are introduced to the Lord by others.  But ultimately we have to meet him and hear his voice for ourselves.  We won't hear it on the Damascus Road.  We will hear it as we read the Word of God.  Meeting the Lord in a personal way is a great experience.  Many people say that they know the Lord but they don't ever remember meeting Him.  I remember the night that I was trying to figure out how to be saved and, through the words of a tract, I found out that I was waiting for God to save me when He had already sent His Son to the cross to do that.  I immediately realized that I had God's word for the fact that Christ had died for me and that I was saved.  Yes, I had believed all about that before, but that night I met the Lord and trusted Him.  I still have his word for the fact that I am saved  I met the Savior that night in a much less dramatic fashion that Paul did.  But I can relate to what it meant to him to hear those words, “I am Jesus.” 

 

There is a song that I love that goes something like this:

 

If I could only tell Him as I know Him,
My Redeemer who has brightened all my way,
If I could tell how precious is His presence
I am sure that you would make Him yours today.

But I can never tell Him as I know Him,
Human tongue can never tell all love divine;
I only can entreat you to accept Him;
You can know Him only when you make Him thine.

 

Meditation for the week of July 22, 2018

Context, Context, Context

 

Who "WILL RENDER TO EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.  (Romans 2:6-11 NKJV)

 

Seeming Contradictions

In the book of Romans, Paul is explaining the doctrines of the Gospel to Saints.  Saints are those who have been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus.  They are not some special class of believers.  All who are beloved of God are Saints.  They are saved.  They are born again.  The theme of the epistle is found in the first chapter.  Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Greek or gentile); as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. (Romans 1:16-17 NKJV).”  However, our verses above seem to imply that salvation is by good works.

 

Principles of Interpretation

We often say that there are three principles needed for Biblical interpretation.  Those principles are (1) context and (2) context and (3) context.  We must look at the context of the chapter, the context of the book and the context of the Bible.  Any interpretation that seems to contradict the simple truth of John 3:16 is a wrong interpretation.  We always let the simple or really clear Scriptures explain the difficult ones.  In this case the context of the chapter and of the book and of the whole Bible teaches that salvation is by faith in the Lord.  The just (or those who have been declared righteous) live by faith.  The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.  So then what is meant by the statement that eternal life is obtained by those who patiently continue in well-doing?

 

Today the Gospel is often presented as a “better way of life.”  It is presented as a simple decision.  It is presented as a prayer.  But the Gospel in Romans is presented as a turn from the wickedness that results when societies turn away from worshiping the God of creation.  In Romans the wickedness of sin is presented and Romans 3 says that we are all “guilty,” even those of us who perhaps have not sinned as described in the chapter because of the way we were raised.  However, I suspect that each of us would have to admit that in our hearts we wanted to do some of the things described in chapter 1 but we weren't given the opportunity.   When we are saved or when we become believers we are declared righteous, and we are  also people with a new master.  Romans 6 says we are no longer slaves to sin (or Satan) but now we are slaves to righteousness (or Christ).  So before we are saved, there should be conviction of sin—even with regard to the sins that we did not commit but would have if we had been provided the opportunity.  People should feel guilty about that sin.  And when they trust Christ they should have the burden of sin “roll away.”  The verses we are quoting above are not the means of salvation but the result of salvation.  And for those who do not continue in well-doing, Paul would seem to imply that they are not believers at all.  I personally do not think he is saying that believers never sin, but I do think he is saying that a believer should have a conscience about sin.  And while God can see the heart and He knows whether a person really loves Him or whether He is a pretender, He always judges objectively by what can be seen in a person's life.  So as a general principle, a person who is saved should patiently continue in well-doing.

 

Summary

All of us know of people who claim to be saved who do not show that in their lives—at least as far as we are concerned.  We often say that by their “fruits” we should know them. So can people that do not continue in well-doing be saved?  We know that all of us sin at times and need to confess that weakness.  We know that judgmental Christians can always find fault in others.  But I do believe that this verse teaches that there needs to be a change (that is, a conversion) when people trust the Savior.  We are not saved by continuance in well-doing, but because we are saved there should be a continuance in well-doing.  It is more important that we please God on this issue than that we please our fellow Christians.  So are we continuing in well-doing as a result of finding out that Christ died for our sins?  Has there been a new desire to please the Lord?  Are we really the Saints or holy ones like Paul is addressing in this epistle?

 

And as a point aside, it appears to me that Paul thought explaining the Gospel to Saints was appropriate and necessary and I suspect that it equipped them to both preach the gospel and to evangelize.  Some unsaved friends and relatives likely also heard the Gospel as this letter was read and studied by the Romans.

 

 

Meditation for the weeks of July 29 and August 5, 2018