The “Latter-Day” Saints

This, my 200th post, is a combination of a two-sermon-series preached at the New Hope Baptist Church in Covington, GA several years ago. Your comments are welcomed.

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 1)

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV

          Let me begin by saying that this sermon does not and will not have anything to do with nor will it in any way intentionally speak about the Mormon Church, which is officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No, I am not talking about nor am I referring to “those” latter-day saints. But, of all the times that I had previously looked at this text, it wasn’t until I was browsing through this neighborhood of the scriptures the other day that I made, what was for me, an alarming discovery! You see, all the other times that I read this text and heard it preached and expounded upon, I just assumed that this was a listing of the character traits of people in general in the last days. I mean after all, when you go through this list, it looks pretty grim and hopeless, therefore I assumed that it must be describing people, who obviously know nothing about God! But, the other day, when I looked at this text more closely, I was shocked to discover that Paul was not describing how the people of the world would be in the last days! No! This is a description of the people who will claim to know God in the last days! This is a description of church folks in the last days! Hence, this is how I arrived at my subject, for this is a listing of the character traits of the latter-day saints! It’s right there in the text in verse 5! Paul said that they would have a form of godliness. In other words, they will go through the motions of having church! They will be in regular attendance at the Divine Order of Service and Bible Class. They will claim and proudly wear the name: Christian! But Paul says that although they will have a form of godliness, they will deny the power thereof. In other words, they will pray prayers without believing in the power of prayer! They will be hearers of the word but will not be doers of the word. They will go to church and even support the church, but they will deny the power and purpose of the church. That is why Paul said that the times would be perilous! In the last days, the majority of those who will claim to be Christian will be Christian in name only!

          Now, it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is the basis of the English word “perilous” is the same word that is used to describe the two men possessed with demons in Matthew 8:28. The word means, “dangerous, difficult the deal with.” In the last days, the times will be difficult to deal with and here’s the reason why! First, it will be difficult times because men will have misplaced affections. In this listing, the first two characteristics in verse 2 and the last two characteristics in verse 4 deal with what men will be loving. Jesus said of those days; “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Bobby Blue Bland said some years ago: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city! Ain’t no love in the heart of town! Ain’t no love, and you know it’s a pity! Ain’t no love cause you ain’t around! Yes! The last days will be fierce, dangerous and perilous because even those who will claim to be Christians will have mis-placed affections.

          The first trait listed in the list of the characteristics of these latter-days saints is that they will be “self-lovers!” In the last days, there will be an obsessive preoccupation with the self! Although the greatest commandment is; to love LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. The worship of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost will be usurped with the worship of the unholy trinity of “Me, Myself and I!” In the last days, the affection and devotion due to God will be given to self. Therefore, “self” will be the “god” of those who will be lovers of self. Well, I think I ought to pause here and tell you that I believe the last days are upon us! Most of the problems that occur in the church today are rooted in selfishness! Everybody insists upon having their own way! Instead of praying and reasoning with one another for the good of the body, people try to tear up the church when they can’t get their own way! The root of most marital problems, problems in professional and personal relationships can be traced back to the domineering demands of self; the ego! That’s why the first requirement of true discipleship is the denial of self! When God is not properly worshiped, honored and given his rightful place in a person’s life, he is usually replaced with the self!

          Now, in the KJV, the second characteristic on the list is “covetous.” However, this is really an incorrect translation of the word Greek behind the text. The Greek word is “philarguros” which literally means “silver-lover.” This is not the same word that is normally used for “covetous.” One can actually be covetous without loving money, they do not mean the exact same thing. Friberg defines the term as, “having a greedy disposition loving money, wanting to be rich.” The term is found in the NT, only in this text and in Luke 16:14. The latter-day saints will be “lovers of themselves,” and “lovers of money!” All one has to do is just flick though the channels of so-called Christian television or browse through the bookshelves of any secular or for that matter, Christian bookstore today and one will find that “self-development, “self-realization,” “money,” “wealth,” “prosperity,” and “financial blessings” are the buzz words of the day! In the last days, the latter-day saints will be obsessed with pleasing themselves and obtaining money and material wealth!

          The next trait is that they will be “boasters.” The word literally means “empty pretender.” It is one whose mouth is bigger than his body. One who talks a big game, but is unable to back up his talk with supporting action. This is one who arrogantly presumes too much about himself. Akin to this is the next character trait. They will be proud with an overwhelming estimate of one’s means and merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt. Don’t you see this trait among the so called latter-day saints today? The spirit of humility is almost non-existent! Many church folks today are not bragging on Christ, but rather they are bragging on themselves! There are Pastors who are bragging about how many members they have and about how big their budgets and buildings are! However, while the emphasis is on building budgets and buildings, the ultimate calling of building people has been neglected and ignored! There is really no time and energy left to lift up Jesus because they are too busy lifting up themselves!

          Well, I’m just about to run out of time, so I guess I will have to break this sermon up into parts and try to finish the list the next time! So, let me close today with the blasphemers. Please note that according to the Bible, to blaspheme is not just speaking against God, but to blaspheme is to speak against God, Jesus, and the things and/or the people of God! So, when church folks talk slanderously about one another that’s actually blasphemy! How can you speak against of the people and/or things of God and not be guilty of speaking against God? The Lord has always identified himself with his own! The Bible says that the king shall say in that day: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

          Well, I really need to leave you alone now, I’ll pick up here next time! But, you need to check yourself to see if you are one of these latter-day saints! As for me, I believe I’ll be like the song the old folks used to sing! Just give me that old time religion! It was good enough for the Hebrew children! It was good enough for old man Daniel! It was good enough for Paul and Silas! It was good enough for my mother and my father and it is good enough for me!

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 2)  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV 

          Again, I would like to say that this sermon is, in no way, meant to cast any kind of negative light upon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. No! We’re not talking about those latter-day saints! But, as we look at this text, we discover that Paul is not listing the characteristics of the world, but rather of people who will claim to be saved! People who will be associated with the church and will wear the label; Christian! People who will have a form of godliness but will deny the power thereof. So, with that being said, let’s continue with the list. 

          We left off last time in the middle of verse 2 with blasphemers, so let’s begin today with the next characteristic. The text says that these latter-day saints will be disobedient to parents. In ancient society, respect for parental authority was extremely important, disrespect and disobedience to parents was not tolerated. Listen to how disobedient children were handled according to the Law in ancient Israel, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;  And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deut.  21:18-21 KJV). In ancient times, there was zero tolerance for parental disrespect and disobedience, but these latter-day saints will be continually non-compliant and rebellious to parental authority. The next characteristic is that they will be unthankful! They will be ungrateful, unpleasing and ungracious. No matter what they received they will never be thankful. Next, it says that they will be unholy. According to the Analytical Lexicon of the NT, this speaks of those who reject religious obligations, having no regard of duty to God or man. The Greek word used here is only used here and in I Tim. 1:9 in the NT. Hence, in context, the verse speaks of the time when those who are supposedly Christian will make no distinction between that which is holy and that which is not. They will make no separation of holy things and will treat holy thing as common. Then the text says that they will be without natural affection. The NASB says that they will be unloving, the NRSV says that they will be inhuman. According to Louw-Nida, this word pertains to a lack of love and affection for close associates or family. They will be without family love! For the latter-days saints, blood will not be thicker than water! The KJV translation of the next term is really a bad translation. The word truce-breaker means one who makes a treaty and then breaks it. But the Greek term that is behind this translation denotes not those who make a truce or treaty and then break it, but rather those who refuse to make a treaty period! The modern translations render it as, irreconcilable, unforgiving, implacable. The Greek word literally means, “without libation or drink offering.” Hence, it is indicative of one who is strictly unwilling to make a treaty, hence irreconcilable and unforgiving. The absolutely irreconcilable person, who, being at war, refuses to lay aside his enmity or to listen to terms of reconciliation. This person is unwilling to be at peace with others. The latter-day saints will be false accusers or slanderers! The root of the Greek word is the same as the term for the devil. The term is used to describe those who are given to malicious gossip. They will be incontinent, which means they will be without self-control, lacking in moral restraint. They will be fierce, untamed, not gentle, brutal and salvage. And then they will be despisers of those that are good. Not only will they not want to do right, but they will hate those who will want to do right! I’m talking about the latter-days saints! They will be traitors, meaning they will deliver without justification a person into the control of someone else. They will be betrayers and will abandon in times of danger. They will be heady, which means that they will be rash, reckless and thoughtless. They will be high-minded, which means that they will be conceited, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought. And then the text says they will be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. Their main pursuit will be entertainment and relaxation, things that comfort and pleases the flesh, to the neglectful detriment of the spiritual and the things of God. The Louw-Nida Lexicon renders the definition as, “pertaining to being fond of pleasure and enjoyment – given over to pleasure.”  

          At this point in the text, the main list of the characteristics concludes. Note that the list began with the characteristic of being lovers of themselves and lovers of money and ends with the characteristic of them being lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God! Yes! The main problem with the latter-days saints will be that of misplaced affection! They will have a love for self, money and pleasures but have no love for family, others or God! Now, all the while they are doing this, Paul says that they will have a form of godliness! In other words, they will not quit coming to church! They will not stop offering up praises to God! They will go through the motions and the rituals of godliness. They will have a form of godliness, but it will just be a show! They will perform the rituals of the faith, but they will deny the power of the faith. Now, Paul warns Timothy to disassociate, to turn away, avoid, having nothing to do with such people. Those who are sincere are to withdraw themselves, as much as possible, from those who are hypocrites! 

          Now, I’m not going to deal with verses 6 and 8 because I really need to finish this today! So, let me comment on verse 7 and then I will conclude with verse 9. In reference to the women mentioned in verse 6, Paul describes them as, “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I believe that this is a description of the latter-day saints also! The latter-days saints will run from conference to conference, from workshop to workshop, from church to church, from this class to that class, always learning.  But, because they will be determined to remain in their sins, they will not be able to come to a full, saving, knowledge of the truth. People often erroneous apply John 8:32 which says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But when you really look at that verse, the very first word is “And.” That means that it is connected and predicated on what precedes it. The quote is only part of what Jesus said. The whole of what Jesus said is this, he said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” You can only be free unless the truth makes you free! The truth will only make you free if you know the truth! And you will only know the truth if you continue (remain, abide and dwell) in his word, thereby proving yourself to really be his disciple! 

          Paul concludes by saying that these latter-days saints will only go so far because their folly will be exposed for all to see! It will not be difficult to tell who is saved and who is not because the Bible says that a tree is known by the fruit it bears! Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them!” Now, we don’t need to know them for the sake of judging them, we need to know them for the sake of knowing the real from the fake, the sheep from the wolves, the real saints from the latter-day saints!

Inadequate Representation

Lately, I have notice a particularly distasteful condemnation of God, Jesus, Christianity, and the people of God by those who would claim to have a more “enlightened” knowledge of how life really works. I think part of the problem is that many of these people are judging God, Jesus, and Christianity based on how the proponents or adherents of God, Jesus, and Christianity act and live. And to be honest about it; if all I had to go by was the way some people who claim to be Christians represent God, Jesus, and Christianity, I would be disillusioned and disgusted also! For you see, although many of these people say they are rejecting God, Jesus, and Christianity, what they are really rejecting is the inadequate representation of God, Jesus, and Christianity. And the sad thing about that is that their rejection of the inadequate representation will cause them to reject the opportunity to truly know God for themselves!

Now of course, this is nothing new! God has always had a problem with inadequate representation. And many times, it was and is not just a case of inadequate representation, but more so, one of false and unauthorized representation! There are and have always been people who claim to represent God who don’t even know God! They use the name of God for their own selfish ends! And then, there are those who truly know God, but because of human imperfections, they often fail to adequately represent God in a correct and positive fashion. The Apostle Paul cites Isaiah 52:5 in the Book of Romans, saying: “For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24 ESV).  Those of us who are Christians must constantly be aware that our life and interaction with the world is more about the God we represent than about us! We serve as ambassadors for Christ and the Kingdom of God in this world. In the world of diplomacy and diplomatic relations, an ambassador never states his or her own personal opinions or views in an official capacity. As an ambassador, an ambassador only states the official position of the government he or she represents. Much of the confusion that is going on today is because too many Christians are stating their own personal opinions instead of the official position of the Government they are supposed to be representing!

There are many Christians who seemed to be embarrassed by the seemingly antiquated standards in the Bible. They suggest a more relaxed interpretation of the strict moral codes set forth in view of the current cultural climate. Some critics of the Bible even say that it is utterly ridiculous for modern man to be governed by principles from an ancient document! I find that argument a little humorous since many of those same critics have no issue with being governed by another old document called the United States Constitution and many of laws and ideas found in the Constitution came from the Bible!

But at any rate, I just want to say to those who are judging God by His children: “Just because some of His children act bad, that doesn’t mean He’s bad! In fact, some of the ones who are claiming to be His children are not His children at all!” And to those who are really His children: “Be more conscious of the fact that you are representing Him! All you do and say is a reflection upon Him! Don’t be like the people the Apostle Paul wrote about! Don’t be the reason the name of God is blasphemed (spoken ill of and cursed) among unbelievers in the world!”

 

 

The Baby with the Bathwater

Most have heard the proverbial warning: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The meaning of the expression is that one should be careful not to throw out or get rid of something good in an attempt to get rid of something bad. But that is exactly what I have been observing lately as I am reading more and more of people who are rejecting Christianity and the church because of the state of the church today.

Now I will admit, there are a lot of things that are amiss in the church today! There are charlatans in the pulpit and all sorts of shenanigans going on in the pew! It seems like there are more ‘profits’ than prophets and there are more pastors and church-people, trusting ‘in God we trust’ than trusting in God! But if you think this a new trend, you are mistaken! There has never been a time when there was nothing amiss in the religious realm! I’ve heard people longingly say that the church today needs to get back to the New Testament Church. Honestly? Have you actually read the Bible? The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters as a direct response to ‘church-mess!’ Jesus was rejected by the ‘church-leaders’ of his day and those same church leaders convinced a mob-crowd to petition for the freedom of a murderer and condemn Jesus to die on a cross! No! There never was a day when the church was perfect! So, for those people who are going from church to church, looking for the ‘perfect’ church; it doesn’t exist! It never has!

But just because the church or church-people are not perfect, that’s not a legitimate reason to reject what the church represents. Would you stop flying on planes just because some planes crash? Would you stop buying a certain brand of automobile just because some of your friends had a bad experience with the same make and model? In every barrel, there may be some bad apples, but does that mean you should stop eating apples?

There are some African-Americans today who suggest that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion’ and that it was invented as a tool to control the slaves. They suggest Jesus did not really exist and that he was a fictional character invented as a tool of white supremacy. Seriously? Now, I don’t propose to be an expert historian, but I do know how to count! In the Bible, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles; Chapter 8, there was an Ethiopian official (a Black man) who was visiting Jerusalem to worship. Now, why did this Black man from Ethiopia (Africa) go to Jerusalem to worship? And how did he know about the Hebrew God in Africa? Well, it was probably because his ancestors worshipped Yahweh; the God of the Hebrews, from the time of the Queen of Sheba (a Black sister), who learned about Israel’s God from her visit with King Solomon. By the way, there is a tradition that suggest Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba more than just silver and gold when he gave her “all that she desired,” in 1 Kings 10:13 and 2 Chronicles 9:12. (In case you can’t read between the lines; according to the tradition, the gift he gave her was opened nine months later!) So, this Ethiopian official already knew about the God of Israel, for he was reading from the book of Isaiah when Philip approached him. He was a little confused by what he was reading, so Philip explained to him that the prophecy he was reading was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified and raised from the dead. The Ethiopian believed in Jesus and was baptized! After which, he returned to Ethiopia and no doubt shared with his country the good news about Jesus. 

Now, I mentioned this story because it takes place, soon after the Day of Pentecost in Acts 8. Therefore, Christianity was probably introduced to the Africans, who were already familiar with Hebrew religion, at that point. That’s Acts chapter 8. Sometime later, in Acts chapter 16, the Apostle Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia saying; “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” From that vision, Paul determined that it was God’s will for them to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. The significance of this is the fact that Macedonia was in Europe. When Paul went to Macedonia, it was the first time and the first place the Gospel was preached in Europe! Are you doing the math? The Africans, who already worshipped Yahweh, got the Gospel in Acts 8! The Europeans didn’t get the Gospel until Acts 16! Therefore, how can it be honestly said that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion,’ when according to the Bible, the Black Africans heard and accepted Christianity long ‘before’ it was introduced to the White Europeans? 

Did the White slave masters and the White church use the Bible and Christianity to justify and perpetuate slavery? There’s no question about it; of course, they did! But the problem wasn’t with the Bible or Christianity! The problem was the White man’s interpretation of the Bible and the distortion of Christianity. The same Bible and Christianity Southern Whites used to justify and preserve slavery; Black preachers and sympathetic abolitionists used to fan the flames of freedom and equality! The difference wasn’t in the Bible or Christianity; the difference was in the use and interpretation!

And that’s the same difference today! You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say, if you don’t follow the proper rules of hermeneutics, exegesis, and plain common sense! So, don’t blame or reject God because of the unauthorized dealers or bad ambassadors who claim to represent Him! If you do that, you’re throwing out the baby with the bath water! The bath water might be dirty, but the baby is alright! Yes! There are pimps in the pulpit and prostitutes in the pews, but the baby is alright! There are preachers for profit; pushing prosperity for their pleasure, but the baby is alright!

As long as there has been a world inhabited by free-thinking, fragile and flawed human beings, there has always been a distortion of the truth. But just because the bath water of distortions, deceit, mistakes, misinterpretations, and malice is dirty, that doesn’t justify throwing the baby (the Truth of who and what God is and His plan for us) out! Pick the baby up, out of the dirty water, and see how beautiful and precious it really is! Please! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

All ‘Power’ In His Hands!

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18 KJV)

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matt. 28:18 NKJ)

I recently posted a synopsis of this teaching about the ‘power’ God gave Jesus at His resurrection on my FaceBook page. But, because of its theological significance, I want to expand and explain it here.

You see, the bottom line is that historically and traditionally, we have and we do preach this text incorrectly! I’ve done it numerous times myself in the past! Now, it makes for a good ‘whoop!’ (Those of us who are African-Americans and grew up in church know what the ‘whoop’ is! For those who don’t know, it is the climatic celebration at the end of a preacher’s sermon. It is the part where the preacher begins to chant, moan, and sing the message. Now there are some pseudo-intellectuals in the Black community who say the ‘whoop’ is unnecessary and a sign of ignorance, but as of late, there are many preachers of European descent who are beginning to recognize and incorporate its communicative genius into their sermonic delivery! But, I digress! So, let me get back to my point) Yes! The traditional way we’ve preach it makes for good whooping material! I can hear it now: “Yes! When He got up early that Sunday morning; He rose with all power in His hands! Can I get a witness here? Power to raise up a bowed-down head! Power to make me walk right! Power to make me talk right! Power to hit a straight lick with a crooked stick! Oh! Y’all don’t hear me! I said; When He got up; He had all power in His hands!” Yes, that’s the way we preach it, but we’ve been preaching it wrong!

We’ve been preaching it as if the Greek word for ‘power’ in the text is dunamis but it is not! The Greek word in the text is exousia! Now, although both of these Greek words can rightfully be translated into English as ‘power,’ they have two different meanings! Dunamis has the meaning of ‘might, ability, and strength.’ Exousia has the meaning of ‘authority, privilege, rule, choice, government, and right.’ Jesus already had all dunamis-power! That’s the power He used to raise Lazarus from the dead! That’s the power He used to open the eyes of the blind, to turn water into wine, and to perform all of the miracles! We might ought to notice that the miracles are called; dumamis (mighty works) in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but they are called; semeion (signs) in the Gospel of John. No! God didn’t give Jesus all dunamis-power at His resurrection! Jesus already had all dumamis-power!

At His resurrection, God gave all exousia-power to Jesus! That’s the power to rule! That’s the power, the right, and the authority to be in charge! That’s the power to govern! That’s authority! That’s the power of right, as in the power of attorney; the power to transact business in someone else’s name! That’s the all-power that God gave Jesus at His resurrection! When God raised Jesus from the dead, God made Jesus the CEO of the Kingdom of God!

Notice also that, according to the Bible, Jesus didn’t rise up from the grave on His own power! No! In the act of the resurrection; Jesus wasn’t the actor, Jesus was acted upon or rather, Jesus was the recipient of the action: It was God who raised Jesus from the dead!

Now, at this point you might be asking: What difference does it make? Well, it’s a matter of biblical accuracy and correct theology because there is a difference between power and authority! Power is the strength, might, or ability to do something, whereas authority is the right to do it! It’s quite possible to have the strength to do something, but that doesn’t mean you have the authority to do it! You can also have the authority or the right to do something, but yet not have the ability or the power to do it! It’s possible to have power without authority and authority without power! But Jesus already had the power and when God raised Jesus from the dead, God gave Him the authority!

That means, Jesus has the right! He has the authority to make demands upon our lives! After He died and God raised Him from the dead; God put Him in charge! In Philippians 2:8-11, the Apostle Paul says: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV)

Now there are those who are refusing to bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today! But, in thinking about them, I’m reminded of an old television commercial for a transmission repair shop, I think it was Aamco. A lady brought her car into the shop to be checked because it was making so weird noises. The mechanic checked her car and told her she needed some work done on her transmission. When the lady heard how much it was going to cost, she decided she wouldn’t pay it. It was at that point that the mechanic told her: “Ma’am, you can pay me now, or you can pay me later!” Now he wasn’t offering her a service-now-pay-later plan. No! What he was telling her was that she could either pay a low price now and get the transmission fixed, or she could wait until the problem got worse and have to pay an even greater price later on! Well, you can either voluntarily bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord now, or you can refuse and be forced to bow and acknowledge Him as Lord later! You can bow now or you can bow later, but eventually every knee (even the demons in Hell) will bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord because God has placed all authority in His hands!

Who’s Step and Who’s Hand?

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.                                           (Ps. 37:23-24 KJV)

Have you ever noticed, as you are reading the King James Version of the Bible that some of the words are in italics? The biblical translation editors did this to indicate those words were not in the original manuscripts and were added by the translators to clarify meaning. Now, while clarity was the original intent of the translation editors, in some cases, the addition of the italicized words doesn’t clarify, but actually change the meaning of the text completely! I believe such is the case in Psalm 37:23-24.

Note, in Psalm 37:23, the sentence: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” The word: good is italicized, that means it is not part of the original text. The Hebrew actually translates: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord.” Now, this wouldn’t be much of a big deal if it wasn’t for the possibility of an alternate translation of the word “and” in the next phrase. The Hebrew particle conjunction that is translated as “and” in the KJV, can also be translated as; “when.” With these two possible variants, the meaning of the verse is completely different. The translation editors of the English Standard Version recognized this possibility and thus renders the verse: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.”

Now, the last part of the verse is a bit ambiguous in any translation. For instance; Who is “he” and who is “his?” Is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, He; the Lord, delights in his; the good man’s way? Or is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, he; the good man, delights in His; the Lord’s way? Even when the italicized; good is dropped and the “and” is translated as “when,” the verse is no less ambiguous! This is illustrated in how the New International Version (NIV) renders the verse as opposed to how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the verse. The NIV says: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” The NRSV says: “Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way.” In the NIV; the Lord makes firm the steps of the one (the man) who delights in the Lord’s way. In the NRSV, the Lord makes firm the steps of the man (our) when He (the Lord) delights in (our) the man’s way. Which version is correct? Well, grammatically and theologically; both of them are! The Psalmist states in Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (KJV) In Psalm 18:19, the psalmist said: “He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he (the Lord) delighted in me.” (KJV) There are various other places in the biblical text, where man delights in the Lord and the Lord delights in man. By the way, in the two verses of the Psalm I just cited and in the text under consideration, the Hebrew word that is translated as “delight” is the same.

The next verse (Psalm 37:24) says: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (KJV) Note in this verse, the words; “him” and “with” are italicized; meaning they were added by the biblical translation editors and were not in the original text. As the verse stands with the italicized words, the meaning is that the Lord upholds the good man with his (the Lord’s) hand. Without the italicized words, the meaning is; the Lord upholds or holds the man’s hand, as is stated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB): “When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Once again, this is not a “this-not-that” case, but a “this-and-that” case! Both translations are theologically sound! Surely, the Lord holds us with His hand and I don’t know about you, but I also want the Lord to hold my hand while I run this race!

So, if both are correct and the italicized words don’t make a tremendous amount of difference, what was the point of this post? It was to point out the fact that too often we take for granted what people say the Bible says! We need to learn how to study the word for ourselves! Secondly, to point out the richness of meaning in the biblical text! Although the original authors had “one” meaning in mind when they wrote the text, that meaning is often obscured by language, culture, time, and context. Therefore, reading the Bible should not be just a devotional exercise, nor should it be just an academic exercise; it should be both! We should read the Bible with our minds and with our hearts! But most of all, we should read it, allowing the Spirit of God, through our diligent investigation of the text, to reveal the multifaceted deep thoughts of the mind of God!

Rightly Dividing 2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV) 

I was listening to someone teaching, not too long ago, from 2 Timothy 2:15. The thrust of the lesson was that one should study to make sure they correctly teach and/or preach the word of God. Of course, I had heard this text taught and preached countless times before, but this time, because the presenter did, what I thought at the time, such an excellent job with the text, I was prompted to go and take a deeper look for myself.

When I took a closer look at 2 Timothy 2:15, I discovered, what could be called, a comical irony! The very text that is so often used to promote diligent study and caution against mishandling the word of God has itself traditionally been mishandled! Let me show you what I’m talking about: Usually, the main focus or the main point of the teaching of this passage is that we should “study” to make sure we are correctly interpreting, teaching, preaching, and applying the word of God. And when we think of the concept of studying, we think of intense reading and careful analysis of the scriptural text. But, is that the concept Paul had in mind when he wrote these words to Timothy? Is that what Paul actually meant and said in the text? Well, not really!

The word the KJV translates as “study” is the Greek verb; “spoudason” and it literally means, “make haste, hasten” also “to exert one’s self, to endeavor, to give diligence, to be zealous, to be eager.” So actually, the term “study” is too narrow! The actual meaning Paul wanted to convey was for Timothy to quickly and eagerly make every effort to be diligent so as to present himself approved unto God! The idea Paul was trying to convey to Timothy directly and to us by implication is that the preacher/teacher, disciple, believer should eagerly make every effort to present themselves for God’s approval in correctly handling and teaching the truth or the word of God.

We might also note at this point, that Paul told Timothy to be eager or zealous to make every effort to present “yourself.” Therefore, such effort encompasses more than just correctly preaching and teaching the word! It also involves disciplining oneself in all other areas of the Christian life as well! It was inclusive, not just of his handling of the word, but also of his personal piety and interaction with other people. Being eager and making every effort to present one’s self approved unto God also includes making every effort to get the proper amount of rest, nutrition, and exercise so as to keep the body as healthy as possible.

Do you know of people who are correct in their preaching and teaching, but don’t apply what they preach and teach to their own personal lives? Such people are not being zealous or making every effort to correctly divide the word of truth. The power of the word comes, not just from correct interpretation, but also from correct application and demonstration! A sermon lived gives tremendous plausibility to a sermon preached!

So, there really is more to this verse than what we have traditionally gathered! Yes! Studying is part of the message, but it is not all! But, even if we restrict the meaning to just study, as we have traditionally done, just a simple Bible quiz given to many church memberships in America today would reveal that most church members, not only do not study the Bible, they don’t even read it! No wonder so many people are so weak and anemic in their faith today! No wonder there are so many who believe the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles!

The Difference Between Peter and James

I was reading some time ago and I came across in interesting passage in Acts. In Acts 12:1-3, I read: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” As I read further on in the text, I discovered that although James was killed, Peter was delivered from prison in a miraculous way! It was at that point I started asking myself questions: Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Did Peter have more faith than James? Did the church pray for Peter’s deliverance and failed to pray for the deliverance of James? What was the difference between Peter and James? 

Now before I go on, I think it would be well to caution that it is usually bad hermeneutics to formulate any doctrine or principle based solely on the Book of Acts. The reason is because Acts is a record of the beginning of the church. There are things that happen in the “beginning” that don’t need to be and can’t be repeated! The doctor may have had to slap our butts to get us to breathe the first time, but after that, there was no need for a continuous butt-slapping! So, there were things that happened in Acts, at the inception of the church that have not been and really have no need to be repeated. For instance, there are some who teach today, based on Acts, that we should tarry or wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the reason the disciples waited, per Jesus’ instructions, in the Book of Acts for the coming of the Holy Spirit was because, prior to that time, the Holy Spirit had not come to dwell within men. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person to empower them, but after the task was completed, the Holy Spirit would leave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised that after he had left, the Holy Spirit would come, not only to be with the disciples, but to be “in” them. So, the waiting on the Day of Pentecost was for the fulfilling of that promise. However, there is no need for the believer to “wait” anymore for something that has already happened! The Holy Spirit came to indwell within believers on the Day of Pentecost, but He did not leave! He’s still here! So, there is no need to wait for someone who is already here! The Holy Spirit is NOT the Second Blessing or some additional blessing from God for the believer. He is essential and fundamental to the believer’s relationship and standing with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (KJV) Having or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not optional or additional; it’s basic and essential! Every believer has or is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit is not in them; they are not a believer or they are not saved at all! But, I digress, so let me get back to my point! I just brought that out to illustrate the danger of formulating doctrines or principles solely from the Book of Acts.

Was it a matter that Peter had more faith than James? I think not! I think it was just a matter of God’s sovereign will! There are those who teach today that faith can overcome any obstacle and that faith has the power to overcome any negative situation. But, faith cannot and will not, change, circumvent, or subjugate God’s sovereign will. Now, we need to understand that when it comes to the will of God, there is God’s sovereign will and there is God’s permissive will. We could look at it this way; God’s sovereign will is God’s overall and unchanging purpose. God’s permissive will is the minor flexible details of His sovereign will. God’s permissive will is subject, to a certain extent to our faith and our actions, but God’s sovereign will is steadfast, unchangeable and uninfluenced by our faith or actions.

The killing of James and the deliverance of Peter was a matter of God’s sovereign will. And in like manner, there are things that happen in our lives that are beyond the scope of our faith and actions. They are beyond our ability to influence by our faith or actions! I know there are some who teach today that people can control what happens to them by their faith, but that’s not completely true! Often those same people will use Hebrew 11 as a “proof-text” to validate their point. They cite the first thirty-five (35) verses as proof of over-coming faith. There is a summation of “over-coming” faith in Hebrew 11:33-35a, where the author wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. . .” I stopped at 35a because that’s where most of the “faith-teachers” stop! But beginning at 35b, we have, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story! Beginning at 35b, the rest of the chapter reads: “. . . and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:35-40 KJV) Were the believers cited in the first 35 verses more faithful than the others cited in the last five verses? No! Not according to the text! All were faithful; but some were delivered and some weren’t!

The difference between Peter and James was that, through His sovereign will, in Acts 12, Peter was delivered like those in Hebrews 11:1-35a, but James was numbered among “the others” mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40. But in the end, the difference between Peter and James was not of any real ultimate importance, because (for the record) Peter was eventually killed also! By the way, whether or not we are presently delivered or healed from some affliction or disease is not of ultimate importance in the grand scheme of things (It is to us because, naturally, we want to be delivered and healed). In the end, we will all leave this world! Faith might heal us of a disease or illness presently, but faith cannot and will not cancel our eventual death! Because of his prayer, repentance and faith, God’s permissive will added fifteen years (15) to King Hezekiah’s life (1 Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-5), but after that, Hezekiah died! What was the difference between Peter and James? James died then; Peter died later! What is the difference between believers who are healed and those who are not? It’s a matter above all of our pay-grade! It’s a matter of God’s sovereign will! From a purely human point of view, the only difference is; some die now and some die later, but eventually; we all will die!