Supposing him to have been in the company…

In the second chapter of Luke’s gospel account, we read of Joseph and Mary leaving Jesus behind in Jerusalem because they supposed that he was in their company (the group of folks traveling together). They travelled for a day, realized he wasn’t there, and then three days later they found him. What spiritual lessons can we learn from this account?

“And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” – Luke 2:43-46

The first thing we notice is that they went a day’s journey, but after they noticed he wasn’t with them it took them three days to find him. Brothers and sisters, whenever we depart from the Lord, it will usually take us more time and effort to get back to him than it took us to depart. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that sin easily besets us. Because of our depraved human nature, it is easy to pull away from God and difficult to find our way back.

Next, we consider the assumption that Joseph and Mary made about Jesus being with them. Many times we as God’s children make the same assumption (that Jesus is in our midst) just because we gather together in a building with the word “church”, “Jesus”, or “God” printed on the outside. You might be saying, “Wait; what about that scripture that says ‘where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them’?” Well, let’s read it carefully. (Before we try to figure out what the scriptures mean, we should check to see what they actually say.)

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:20

We notice that he promises to be in the midst of his children when they are gathered together in his name. But we don’t always gather in his name. Sometimes we gather together because we’re looking forward to seeing folks in our church and visiting with them—kind of like a family reunion—but we don’t have the Lord as the foremost One on our minds and hearts. Colossians 1:18 tells us that Christ is to have the preeminence in all things. We shouldn’t gather together just because it’s Sunday morning at 10:30 (or whenever you meet) and it’s the regular routine, but we should gather because we want to see our Lord. Do we gather on Sunday morning because we love this organization called the church or because we love the Lord who built the church?

When we take our eyes off the Lord, we may eventually be surprised to look around and realize we left his side. Then, we struggle trying to get back to where we were when he was first and foremost in our life when we enjoyed sweet fellowship with him. Let us never assume that he’s in our company but to instead be diligent in seeking him daily. When we keep our eyes on him in everything we do, we will know he’s in our company as we behold his glory daily.


Thoughts on Matthew 5:19

For a few moments, I’d like us to examine the second half of this verse:

“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:19

Specifically, we notice that Christ said that in order for one to be great in the kingdom it is important to both do the commandments and to teach them.

There are two parts to the last half of Matthew 5:19, but few of us do both. Some of God’s children focus a lot on doing the commandments and trying to please God, but leave out the part about teaching the commandments to others. On the other hand, some of us try to teach others the commandments while we leave off doing them ourselves. Our Lord didn’t just say to do one but rather to do both.

When we discuss teaching the commandments, I don’t believe that the Lord had in mind the notion of arrogant teaching as if we “have it all figured out”. When we teach in a godly way, we are encouraging people to join us in following the Lord; we are pointing people to a life of serving Christ out of love.

These days, it seems like few want to teach others because we hear over and over, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” (Matthew 7:1). In my opinion, this is one of the most misapplied scriptures of our day. It is used as a weapon whenever sin is pointed out. Brothers and sisters, it is OK to point out sin, even the sin of someone else. Scriptures like Matthew 7:1 teach us not to judge people in our own heart and not to think we are better than them, but such scriptures are not to be used as a reason to never point out sin. It seems that in the eyes of some today, the greatest sin is to speak out against sin. However, such an idea is foreign to the word of God. Jesus didn’t say, “You’re saved by grace, so now you can go live like the rest of the world and do whatever you want.” He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15). In Acts 14:15, Paul told the people of Lystra that he and Barnabas were preaching unto them that they should turn from their vanities unto the living God. Biblical Christianity preaches repentance, and church members are to “encourage one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).

The other part of Matthew 5:19 is that we mustn’t neglect to do the commandments ourselves. We have to do the commandments and teach others. When we try to teach others and fail to do the commandments ourselves, it is as if we are walking on the wide, broad road but telling others to take the strait and narrow path. We look very silly and hypocritical walking on the wide road and pointing other people to the strait path.

Now, some reading this might be saying, “To preach that people should live up to a certain standard sounds like the Pharisees’ attitude that the Lord warned us against!” No, the Pharisees’ problem was that they were teaching but not doing; plus, they had added or taken away from God’s true commandments. Their problem was that they strained at a gnat and would swallow a camel. Jesus taught that we should live to a certain standard. He taught repentance. He didn’t just come to save sinners, but as he said, he came to call sinners to repentance.

I fully recognize that no one in the Bible was described in the same language as our Lord Jesus. No man will ever be as good as he was. But, there are plenty of examples of upright characters in the Bible. We read how Enoch walked with God. The word says of Job, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly,” (Job 1:22). David was a man after God’s own heart. We read that the parents of John the Baptist “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” (Luke 1:6). My dear brothers and sisters, this teaches me that it’s possible for us to live this way.

This doesn’t mean these people were good enough of their own works to earn a place in Heaven. The scriptures tell us that before God “there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” (Romans 3:12). I simply believe that the individuals in the Bible examples given above were on the strait path. I have known people in my life who I felt walked on that path most of the time. They had a desire to serve God with their words and actions. When we start doing that, then we can begin to teach others how we got there by pointing them to scripture as their guide, telling them to pray, and encouraging them to serve God and worship him with a church body where the truth is preached. I believe that first doing these things ourselves and then teaching others to do them is what captures the Lord’s lesson to us in the last half of Matthew 5:19. And doing so brings glory to God Almighty. May he always be praised from the way we live!

Speaking with tongues, healing, etc.

Brothers and sisters, we read of accounts in the New Testament of miracles being performed. The blind were given sight, the deaf were given the ability to hear, the lame made to walk, lepers were cleansed, and people were even raised from the dead. We also read accounts of people speaking in other languages (tongues). Do men still possess these miraculous gifts, or did they cease at a particular point in time? As always, let us look to holy scripture for our answers.

“According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.” – Micah 7:15

This prophesy from the Old Testament tells us of a time when marvelous works would be performed “according to” the days that the children of Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt (forty years). In other words, Micah foretold that marvelous things (great signs and wonders) would be done by the Lord’s hand for a period of forty years.

When we read the New Testament record, we see the period of great wonders beginning with Jesus our Lord performing miracles at the beginning of his ministry (at approximately 30 years of age). Those miracles continued during the Lord’s 3.5 year ministry, as well as with his apostles and those on whom the apostles laid their hands. The miracles ceased after the forty year period, as Micah had prophesied. By no accident, the end of the forty year period coincides with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Why did the miracles cease? Why were they necessary?

“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” – Mark 16:20

The apostles were sent forth to preach the gospel, and miraculous signs occurred. We notice in the text referenced above that Mark gives us the reason for the signs: to confirm the word. This is of vital importance to understand. At the time the apostles were preaching, they had the Old Testament only. The New Testament was still being written. Peter couldn’t say, “Ephesians, Chapter One says…” John couldn’t say, “Over in Colossians 4, Paul wrote…”. God confirmed that the sermons those men were preaching were true by granting special powers to them.

Once the New Testament was finished, scripture being complete, there was no further need for signs in order to confirm the word preached. In our present day, if the word preached harmonizes with the word written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and it agrees with holy scripture, then we have multiple witnesses agreeing with what was preached. There is no need for signs. God stopped granting those gifts in the first century A.D.

We also notice that scripture says, “the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom…” – I Corinthians 1:22. Signs were for the day in which the gospel was primarily sent to the Jews. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, in our predominantly Gentile churches, we confirm preaching by checking it against scripture.

Notice Acts 17:11: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” This teaches us that we are to study scripture to see if what is being preached is correct. We check the preacher not by whether he performs miracles but by whether what he says matches scripture.

Before we close, let us briefly look at the subject of “other tongues”. The word “tongue” in scripture often simply means “language”. When we speak of “another tongue”, we are referring to another language.

To understand the gift of other tongues that was once given, we must carefully read scripture. We notice that Acts 2:5 states, “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” We have a gathering under consideration which includes people of many different languages/nationalities.

Scripture goes on to state that as men began to preach, “every man heard them speak in his own language.” – Acts 2:6. This is a critical point.

We continue reading: “And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” – Acts 2:7-8

Of great concern in studying this gift of other tongues is to understand that those in the congregation each heard the preaching in their own language. They were not observing men acting out of their minds and speaking gibberish, as is true of some in our modern day who claim to have the gift of other tongues. What was of utmost importance was not the gift itself but that the preaching was understood.

The reason for the miraculous gifts given to men in the past was *the preaching of the gospel*. The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be the central theme of our worship. The Apostle Paul makes this same point in I Corinthians 12. May the gospel and preaching of the cross continue to be the primary reason we gather together as a church body.

The State of the Union

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address this year, but nevertheless I can tell you the state of the union—it’s broken and not a union at all. A union is united. We are divided.

We are divided because our nation as a whole is no longer pursuing the unmovable, unchanging God. When a nation pursues the Lord Jesus Christ, its people move closer and closer together because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We, the citizens of the so-called “United” States, are pursuing our own lusts and pleasures, and such things are ever-changing. When everyone is chasing a moving target, there is chaos. United, we stand; divided, we fall. In my judgment, we are certainly falling.

What is the answer to the problems our nation faces? May I suggest that it is Jesus Christ our Lord? And, brothers and sisters, it is up to us as individuals to put the answer into place. Each of us has the obligation and privilege of daily pursuing Christ as the chief joy in our lives. In doing so, we will unite a divided nation.

A contradiction in Galatians?

Brothers and sisters, let us consider two passages of scripture which seems to contradict each other, and we will attempt to make sense of them.

“…by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” – Galatians 2:16

“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” – Galatians 5:4

The first passage, Galatians 2:16, says that no flesh shall be justified by the law.  Yet the second passage, Galatians 5:4, speaks of those who are justified by the law.  Do these verses contradict one another?  I don’t believe so.

A key to understanding these passages of God’s holy scripture is knowing the definition of the word “justified”.  It does not mean “to make just”; rather, it means “to declare to be just”.

Galatians 2:16 tells us that no flesh shall be justified (declared to be just) by the law.  This is in God’s sight.

In contrast, the folks in Galatians 5:4 were justifying themselves (declaring themselves to be just) in their own mind because they believed they had followed the laws of God so perfectly.

Galatians 5:4 also says that Christ had become of no effect to them.  This was again in their own mind.  They had fallen from grace, not in an eternal sense but instead here in this life.  They were still children of God and are in Heaven today, but while they lived on the earth they had lost the benefits of Christ and his marvelous grace.

We can learn the lesson of “what not to do” from the brethren referenced in Galatians 5:4.  May we hold fast to the truth of God’s word and his grace so that we may never lose the joy of our salvation!

Cleaning our insides

I’d like to consider five verses from one of the psalms and briefly show forth a lesson I believe we can learn from this bit of holy scripture.

“He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.” – Psalm 18:19-24

Brothers and sisters, first allow me to say that if any one of us ends up spending eternity with God, it will be due to the Father having elected us, Jesus our Lord having redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit cleansing our soul to make it fit for eternal heaven. Had it not been for him placing his Spirit within us, we would not have a desire to serve him. Afterward, however, he does reward us for our obedience to him. I believe such timely blessings in staying on the strait path are what David is referring to in the verses quoted above.

That being stated, what I’d really like us to consider from these verses is the emphasis David places on being clean before God; cleanness before men is not referenced. Note how David says that he was upright before *him*. While it is important to be clean before men, we mustn’t forget that being clean before God must come first.

What did our Lord tell the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 23:25-26? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” He says to start with the inside first. The outside will almost completely take care of itself as you focus on keeping your heart right before God.

We should be concerned with sins that maybe even no man will ever know about.

“…cleanse thou me from secret faults.” – Psalm 19:12

When David says, “I kept myself from mine iniquity” in the scriptures under consideration, is that not a key to our success in keeping our lives clean? The Apostle Paul wrote, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” – I Corinthians 9:27. We must keep our bodies under subjection, exercising self control. Should not a disciple keep himself disciplined? In doing so, our God has promised that he will reward us.

“…he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6

Our reward in serving God is not eternal heaven, for that is ours by God’s work alone. But here in this life we will reap untold joys when we press into the kingdom, starting with internally cleansing our hearts and minds of wickedness and applying ourselves unto good works that Christ might be glorified by us, undeserving though we are.

Government programs to help the poor: Good or bad?

Seven simple truths to show that government programs to help the poor are denying truths of God’s word and basic logic.

Truth #1: We will never get rid of poverty.

“For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” – Mark 14:7

If Jesus said we will always have the poor, you can take that to the bank. The reason we will is because sin will be here as long as this earth remains.

But, the existence of sin and poverty does not excuse men from their responsibility.

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.” – Proverbs 3:27-28

Truth #2: The Spirit of Christ which dwells within his children will compel them to be charitable to their fellow man.

“The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.” – Proverbs 21:25-26

Some people will argue that we need government programs, because they wonder who would care for the poor without such programs. The answer is that *God’s children* would care for them!

The fact is that some of us want government programs because many of us are lazy. It is easier on ourselves to rely on government to do our charity work than to do it ourselves as God has commanded us.

Truth #3: God will protect and help the poor, even if men do not.

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.” – Proverbs 22:22-23

“He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” – Proverbs 22:16

God sees all and knows all. He will deal with the oppression of the poor when it occurs. The answer does not lie with government.

“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” – Proverbs 15:3

Truth #4: Once you start a government program, it’s hard to get rid of it.

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” – Ronald Reagan

The simple answer to this problem is to *never* initiate government programs which are intended to force citizens to be charitable. This brings us to Truth #5.

Truth #5: Individuals should be free to give as God’s Spirit leads them rather than being forced to give.

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” – II Corinthians 9:7

This scripture plainly says that charity should not be forced upon us, and instead individuals should give freely as their conscience dictates.

Truth #6: Grace will always out perform law.

Laws created to force charity by taxing the citizens and redistributing that money to others will always do less for the poor than when people give directly to their neighbors out of the goodness of their hearts.

Did you ever notice the number of times scripture references the term “neighbor” and how that is someone to whom we’re supposed to be kind and charitable? Charity should start in our own homes and then spread to our local neighbors. God knows the needs of those with whom we come in contact; he will direct us through his Spirit to know when to give and how much to give, if only we will listen. By us following the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the poor will always be in a better condition than when helped indirectly by government tax-and-redistribute programs.

Truth #7: There has never been a more effective and efficient system for reducing poverty than the free market system and free enterprise.

The primary reason that Truth #7 holds true is that in a free market system, God’s children are free to exercise Truths #5 and #6.

Naysayers will tell us that the government has a responsibility to help the poorer among us. However, the truth is that government doesn’t have responsibility; *people* have responsibility. Government without people is nothing more than buildings, papers, desks, and empty chairs. Our government is of the people, for the people, and by the people. The question is, how can we as *people* exercise our responsibility to our fellow man most effectively? Through government, or as individuals?

As we saw in Truth #6, charity on an individual level is much more effective than forced charity. One reason for this is that there are overhead costs in charity through government. For the government to run a program to help the poor, we have to pay the people who run that program. Our federal government and state governments have so many programs that thousands and thousands of people are employed by those programs. This results in the waste of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The dollars to run government programs come right out of our pockets and could be used to help more people. And while some will argue that eliminating these government programs would result in lost jobs for those involved in that industry, the truth is that the free market would adjust and there would be jobs for those people. The dollars that are wasted through overhead in our current system would still be in circulation and could be spent to employ such individuals in a more productive industry.

I leave us with one final quote from the late, great economist, Milton Friedman: “A society that aims for equality [of outcome] before liberty will wind up with neither equality nor liberty. And a society that aims first for liberty will not end up with equality [of outcome], but it will end up with a closer approach to equality than any other kind of system that has ever been developed.”