Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Another of the episodes Gary, Dale, Carl, and I recorded in Fort Payne, Alabama, recently. In this episode, we discuss an often misunderstood, misapplied, but absolutely vital Bible subject. This topic is anything but boring.
While in the exceptional care of the physicians of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, I met Dr. Alan Siqueiros as he was completing his Fellowship. He could tell I was depressed. My lung function was at 25% from my history of three pulmonary emboli. I had no prospects for a “normal” future. Yet, Dr. Siqueiros left me with some words of exhortation, since he was about to depart for Yale’s Danbury Hospital to do his Residency. “You’re a bright young man. You may not have the health you wanted, but you have a sharp mind. You’re still young. If I were you, I would focus on developing my mind and see where that leads.”
There’s something to be said about doing what you can with what you have at your disposal, isn’t there? The woman with the costly oil of spikenard did what she could when she took her costly oil and anointed Jesus’ head. When people complained she wasted something precious, Jesus told them to leave her alone since she had done what she could for Him (Mark 14.1-9). A woman in the first century had limited options for service and this was a risky step. Even so, she was motivated to do what she could with what was available to her. Jesus understood and appreciate her effort.
We all expect our trials to be swift, don’t we? We don’t anticipate the possibility that we may find ourselves in a situation where adversity persists and may not go away. If you have an illness, others may see your adversity and help. Even so, there are also those forms of adversities people face on their own since no one else notices it (e.g. unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse). So, if you are living with ongoing adversity, what can you do?
First, accept God’s sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12.1-10). You don’t have to enjoy adversity, but trust God’s grace to give you a reason to rejoice, even if only in His strength. His strength shines through your weakness, when you’re living faithfully.
Second, go ahead and do what you can, even if it’s just with a box of “costly oil of spikenard.” As we’ve seen, even a simple act has its place when used to God’s glory. Christ has entrusted us with the gifts we may use (Ephesians 4.7-8).
Third, don’t compare yourself to others. We each have our own cross to carry (Luke 14.27). And the execution of our duties produce the results God intends (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).
Lastly, keep going (Hebrews 12.1-4). We know that we will only receive the crown of life if death finds us faithful (Revelation 2:10).
The nature of your adversity may be ongoing. It may be something you feel you face alone. However, the sufficient grace of God, coupled with the tools with which He has entrusted all of us, permits even those living amidst adversity to live a fulfilling life leading to our eternal home.
Some things just don’t mix. Milk and orange juice, Auburn and Alabama fans, Coca Cola and Mentos. There is one particular mix that can sometimes be fatal. Blood pressure medicine can be a great thing, but when mixed with Advil/Ibuprofen it can harm your body and even give you a brain hemorrhage. If you mix two common household items, rubbing alcohol and bleach, you can create chloroform.
It’s safe to say that some things in life just don’t mix. Twenty to thirty years after the ascension of Jesus, Paul wrote to a group of Christians in Galatia warning them of the dangers of mixing two teachings. In Galatians 1:6, Paul says, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” He goes on to say in verse 7, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Paul is writing to the Galatians to answer a simple question: “What is required for a person to be saved?” Forget circumcision (Acts 15:1), forget additional teachings, what does GOD say? His answer can be summed up as this: “We need nothing other than what is found in scripture to walk in the Light.”
Paul addresses the problem in verse six, and he uses the word “amazed” (“thaumazo”) (cf. Acts 4:13; Mark 5:20). He was amazed because these Christians should’ve known better than to listen to these false teachers. Paul’s point is that if there is anything added to that which is necessary for the maintaining of your walk in the light, it is not necessary for salvation.
These Christians should’ve known better, but sadly we are sometimes the same way. We know what’s right and wrong, yet still choose poorly. We know how our speech should be as Christians, we know how we should act and how we should think, but more often than not we make the wrong decision.
The message that these Christians were to accept was that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the correct way to be saved. Any requirement outside of the plan of salvation was to be condemned. If that other requirement is the sinner’s prayer, it must be condemned. If that other requirement is a “new wave of salvation,” as some denominations teach, it is to be condemned. If that other requirement is a tradition not necessary for salvation yet enforced as such, it is to be condemned. We are only compelled to follow what is contained in God’s Word.
We do this because there is only one source of truth, as Paul goes on to say in Galatians 1:7-9. No one else (not even an angel) has the authority to add to what God has already completed. Scripture is our objective standard, the one source of truth that we can count on no matter what.
Every year there are new medical breakthroughs that may change how a doctor treats his/her patient. For example, doctors used to bleed their patients because they thought there was such thing as “bleeding out bad blood.” We know this isn’t the case today and that’s because as humans our knowledge is fallible and subject to change. This is not the case for Christians.
Our methods may change as time goes on, but our message and teachings will never change. Their author is our perfect, unchangeable, all-knowing, infallible God.
We need nothing other than what is contained in scripture to walk in the light. Paul tells them what is required for salvation. There is only one Gospel that helps to walk in the light. There is only one source that the gospel has come from. We have to decide which gospel we will listen to. Will we let man ruin what God has deemed perfect? Will we let someone else tell us how to be saved? Man, on his own, doesn’t know how to be saved.
God gave us one gospel through One source, now it is up to us to make the right decision.
Gary Pollard III
Grace is a touchy subject. As with many other words commonly used in religious circles, it has potential to be misused or misunderstood. My hope is that this brief study on grace will shed some light on a confusing subject.
First, grace is possible for all men to have (Titus 2.11). It has been clearly displayed and advertised to everyone. The word “appeared” in that passage is epiphane, which means “to make an appearance.” No one is exempt from grace if they follow the right steps to receive it!
Second, grace keeps us in good standing with God if we are walking in the light (I John 1.7,8). In Acts 2.47, chairo (pronounced ky-roe) is translated “favor.” In Luke 6.32-34 Jesus uses it in a very interesting way. He says, “If you only love those who love you back, what credit is that to you?” Credit is charis, the word for grace.
So what is grace? What does it mean to you and me? If we are walking in the Light – trying our very best to follow God’s commands and allowing our faith to be the driving force of our lives – God takes care of our sin problem. When we slip up and make a mistake, God removes it from our record. This does NOT mean that we can sin all we want and God will just overlook it (see Romans 6.1,2). It does, however, mean that God is not waiting to strike us out of the book of life the moment we make a mistake.
Grace is what happens when God wants to do good for mankind. Luke 6.35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, loan to others without expecting anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” The word kind in the bolded phrase is charis: grace. It does not mean the same thing for evil men that it does for the Christian, but it does help us to get a better sense of what this word means.
God is rooting for His children (Christians). He WANTS us to get through this life and die in Him (Psalm 116;15). He isn’t our accuser waiting for us to slip up so He can condemn us. He helps us along the way, He shows good will to us, and He gives us His grace so that we can spend an eternity with Him as long as we are walking in the Light.
When I was a student at Faulkner University, Schick Corporation sponsored a three-on-three intramural basketball competition known as Super Hoops. The school’s student activity director organized the tournament, and the winning team won a paid trip to the national tournament to compete for the national title. My senior year, four of us decided to form a team and compete for this coveted prize. We had a guy, Patrick Hunter, who was a slick ball handler and had been a point guard in High School. We had another guy, Bart Carter, who had actually played baseball at Mississippi State before transferring to Faulkner to become a Bible Major. There was me, more of an outside shooting threat if anything. But it was our fourth man, Mike Whisenant, who truly tipped the scales in our favor. He was a High School basketball star and was our big man. He also had a great shot, but we could depend on him to score inside consistently. Every team could have four players and you could rotate in and out to keep players fresh. But the guy who had to stay in, our workhorse, was Mike. It was certainly a team effort, but it was Mike who carried us to victory at Faulkner and punched our ticket to Atlanta. We got to stay at a very nice Hyatt hotel for free. We got meal vouchers, cool T-shirts, and I didn’t buy a razor for a couple of years. Although our glory was short-lived on the “national stage,” getting beat by Morehouse and then Valdosta State in a double-elimination format, we got to compete—thanks mostly to Mike’s skillset and abilities.
Perhaps that’s a crude way to illustrate a term used by Paul in Colossians 1:12, but follow me for a moment. Paul is in the middle of his prayer for the Colossians, telling them he wanted them (and by extension he wants us) to please God in all respects. The four ways to do that follow that imperative: bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks. Paul says to give thanks to the Father, “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” The word translated “qualified” here is only found one other time, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul says “our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” The same idea is conveyed in both passages.
Though I could not find the Greeks using this verb in an athletic sense, it literally means “to cause someone or something to be adequate for something” (Louw-Nida 678). The adverb form of the word appears many times in the New Testament, and means “sufficient in degree, sufficient, adequate, large enough” (Arndt, Danker, et al 472). Our word means to “render competent or worthy” (Zodhiates np). God is the cause of adequacy, the One who makes us competent and worthy to receive the inheritance. We have a part to play. We must be obedient, fruitful, knowledgeable, strong, and thankful. Without this proper response to God’s grace, we do not qualify for the prize. But, who is most responsible? Who do we most depend upon? It’s not us. It’s Him!
My illustration is feeble, but it helps give me a faint glimpse of what Paul is talking about. In an infinitely greater way, I owe my eventual, eternal prize to God’s ability and identity. But, because I want to please Him in all respects, I am going to work hard and with gratitude for the One who makes it all possible.
In her excellent book about the many events leading up to World War I, Barbara Tuchman, in The Proud Tower, spends a chapter talking about the anarchist movements swirling particularly around Europe and the United States. It was the inspiration for several assassinations of important political figures, including one of our presidents—William McKinley. In the wake of the industrial revolution, many immigrant, uneducated, illiterate, and otherwise disadvantaged people, worked an incredibly high number of hours each week for less than living wages. They lived in deplorable conditions and had nearly no prospects of improving their plight or the plight of their children. A growing proposal around the industrialized world was to throw off all government and institute what amounted to a global commune with a total sharing of assets. It was not Communism because it did not want any organization or officials to rule and govern. Those who truly embraced the cause put total faith in man, in every case, to be noble and devoid of base motives like greed, power, and self-interest. It was anti-religious, anti-capitalist, anti-authority of any kind. Other than inspire attacks on famous people, the anarchists never came close to materializing their desired revolution. Rationale people knew there must be order and law.
Periodically, a similar movement rears its head even within the body of Christ. Christianity, in their view, is reduced to a single, undefined maxim: “Love Jesus.” While it can seem appealing, when it is viewed uncritically, it is unsustainable and self-defeating. When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment in the Law, He replied by saying it was a total love of God. He added that the second greatest command was loving others. Yet, throughout the gospels, Jesus expressed so many other specific commands for His followers that build upon that vital foundation. The men to whom He delegated authority to reveal His will and commands (John 14:26; 16:13) revealed His expectations of His followers. Pulpits and leaderships that deemphasize, avoid, or attempt to nullify these commands may be acting from high motives and noble desires, but they are more harmful than those anarchists of over 100 years ago. They encourage more than civil disobedience. They encourage disobeying the God who will one day judge mankind. Human governments may rule from corruption, self-service, and oppressive intentions, but God’s Word never does. What God commands for us is only for our good. How should we respond? We should humbly, reverently, lovingly, and totally submit to His reign and rule in our lives. May that be our highest aim!
Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord. It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10). His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too. It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).
Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons. Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant. There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God. The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.
How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time! As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind. The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father. Yet, the father allowed the son to depart. The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home. The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected. He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed. In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.
We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness. We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home! Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!
Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:
Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.
No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.
Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.
Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,
As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.
Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!
No, not Enid, Kenya, or Enid, India. Enid, Oklahoma. On November 4, 2009, a Wednesday night, Bill and Deena Carpenter were returning to their home from church services. Driving down the highway in their SUV, Bill at only the last second saw the 4,500 pound animal standing in the middle of the road. He attempted to evade the pachyderm, but the eight foot Asian elephant was too big to miss. The good news is that neither the humans nor the elephant were seriously injured. The massive mammal had escaped earlier that day from a circus set up at a nearby fairgrounds. It seems to me that there are a few important reminders to consider from this bizarre incident.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE OUT OF PLACE. Enid is an unusual place to (literally) run into an elephant. Elephants just do not roam our countryside in America. Some things are incongruous and not just elephants running free in Oklahoma. Worldly Christians, aimless shepherds, inactive deacons, scriptureless preachers, warring brethren, and the like are more out of place than an elephant on the lam in Enid!
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. When is the last time your friend or loved one warned you to be on the lookout for elephants on the loose as you drove home? You just do not anticipate the need for such a warning. Some things cannot be foreseen, can they? How many of our trials and difficulties came with clear, sufficient warning? Certainly some do, but many more do not! Furthermore, what a reminder that the second coming of Christ will not come with signs or prescient warnings (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Matt. 24:35). The problems and adversities of this life often cannot be prepared for, but that coming, great, and unexpected day can and must be anticipated.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT EVEN THE BIGGEST ISSUES CAN BE MANAGEABLE. No doubt, Bill’s life flashed before his eyes. As he yelled “elephant” at the last second, he might have had time to think that this would be his last word. Mercifully, all parties escaped serious problems. What at first appeared catastrophic now makes for the story to end all dinner-party stories! How often do our looming problems seem overwhelming and utterly devastating only to pass like a storm with dark clouds and thunder but no damaging winds, rains, or hail? Too many times, we are so paralyzed by fear and worry over our personal challenges that we miss opportunities for spiritual growth and development (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7; 1 Cor. 10:13). We do not face a difficulty too hard for the Lord to handle.
No, you almost certainly will never hit an elephant driving down the highway this side of an African safari. Yet, you will be called to be salt and light in this world, a challenge that may make you awkwardly stand out at times. You will face the unexpected, both now and ultimately. You will also face supersized but surmountable issues in life. Do what you can to prepare, then leave the rest of it in the omnipotent hands of God!