Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Sale of Christian Music and Art -- A Robbers' Den?

Christ Cleansing the Temple
It's been accepted as common practice among Christian musicians and artists to sell their music and artwork, as we all know.  They charge a price for their music albums and for their concerts, as well as their paintings and even electronic images of their artwork.  In fact, they even require that you purchase a license just to display the lyrics to their copyrighted music during worship in Church! But is that right?  Is it right sometimes in certain circumstances, but not in others? What does the Bible say about it?

You will recall the passage of Scripture describing the time when Jesus went into the temple and drove out the merchants selling their merchandise and the money changers.  He told them that they had turned His Father's house into a den of robbers or into a place of business.

"And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, 'Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business.' His disciples remembered that it was written, 'ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.'"  (Joh 2:14-17)

Matthew's gospel states: "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He *said to them, 'It is written, '"My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a robbers' den.'" (Mat 21:12-13)

Selling Christian Music
What is the difference between those merchants selling animals to be used as offerings unto God and merchants selling Christian music for profit?  In many cases, it was the Lord who gave the songwriters or recording artists the songs of worship and praise.  He didn't give it to them for their own benefit to claim as their own or to sell for profit.  He gave it to them for His glory and for His kingdom and for His people to bring offerings of worship and praise unto Him.  In fact, many of the songs contain direct quotes from the Scriptures, such as the Psalms and the book of Revelation, which were originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, not by the modern songwriter.  

In many cases, these things are sold inside of Churches, but it makes no difference what the physical location is.  The Church is not just a building. Just because this is done in a public forum, like Christian bookstores and Internet shopping outlets, does not make it right.  The Church exists wherever two or three are assembled in Jesus' name.  So the passage I have just quoted is directly applicable to the sale of music and art.

I do believe as Keith Green did that when God has given us a gift and a ministry that we should not charge people, but rather accept offerings.  "In 1979, after negotiating a release from his contract with Sparrow, Green initiated a new policy of refusing to charge money for concerts or albums." -- Wikipedia.

Worship is not for sale!  Neither is Christian ministry! I am open to dialogue on this, but if you believe in selling Christian music, then please cite the Scriptures that you believe allow that practice.

Selling Christian Art
And the same goes for sacred Christian art, paintings or drawings of our Lord Jesus or scenes from the Bible. In some cases, this is simply putting the Bible into pictorial format, and selling it for profit. What's the difference between that and selling the Word of God or selling the Bible?  Even if there are indeed certain instances where it is appropriate to sell Christian art, it is wrong to prevent other brethren in Christ from even using an electronic image of that art for non-profit purposes, unless they pay a fee, even when proper credit is given to the artist and copyright is cited.  One godly, Christian artist friend of mine DOES allow the use of electronic images of his art with permission, as long as he is credited as the artist, copyright is cited, and a link back to his website is given.  I truly appreciate this brother’s gracious attitude, which is very generous, and I would be open to comments from my readers on this topic.

Should Christian artists charge only for their production and shipping costs, and accept only love offerings for their work as Keith Greene used to do with his music?  When would it be appropriate to charge a set price, and in what circumstances would it not be, according to God's Word?

Selling God's Word
Now that brings up another issue, which is the sale of Bibles.  I personally have no problem with publishers charging enough for Bibles to cover their costs in producing them, in terms of the printing and distribution.  But these days Bibles are exorbitantly expensive, when they should be relatively inexpensive or free.  In the front of my Bible -- and yours, too -- it says that it is copyrighted and that it may not be reproduced in any form without permission.  The Word of God is not for sale! According to the Word of God, nobody has the right to do so or to prohibit people from copying and distributing it.

Do you think it is ever appropriate for publishers to prohibit people from copying or distributing the Scriptures?  Do you think it is appropriate for them to make a profit from God's Word?  If so, based on what Scriptures?

Selling Prophecies, Sermons, Teachings, and Oil
What is the difference between selling Christian music, art, and Bibles, and selling sermons?  If the Lord gave you the sermon, you have no right to sell it for profit.  It is no different from selling your Bible teachings from the Lord. Yet how many are out there hocking their teaching sets on CD or DVD, or in books!  And what is the difference between that and selling bottles of anointing oil for a price?  How about selling pews or seats in church, as some churches once practiced?  Is it right to sell prophecies?  Absolutely not!  That's how false prophets operate, giving prophecies for a price, which is not too much different than paying a fortune teller.  So why have we accepted the worldly practice of selling God's gifts and talents like music, art, preaching and teaching?

Using Gifts and Talents to Generate Wealth
It is wrong to use the gifts and talents the Lord gave you to generate wealth for the purpose of fulfilling your heart’s desires or for your own plans and designs. It should be done in the name of Jesus, for the Lord, and for the glory of God alone. As we use our gifts and talents, we must avoid covetousness, which is “a strong desire after the possession of worldly things” (Easton's Bible Dictionary). It is “a strong or inordinate desire of obtaining and possessing some supposed good; excessive desire for riches or money; -- in a bad sense” (Webster’s). This sin is condemned in Scripture and listed among those that would exclude one from heaven (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; Matthew 6:20).

And you should not turn the house of God into a business or rob others, especially the poor, or take advantage of them. In fact, you need to consider that the poor may not be able to afford these things, but may benefit greatly from them. The kingdom purposes of God must be first, not greed, covetousness, or selfishness.  The Lord defines greed as having more than you need.  The Lord defines selfishness as keeping everything for yourself while others don’t have.

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mat 6:24)

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Ti 6:10)

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Heb 13:5)

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21, NIV)

If one is truly only charging enough to cover costs and provide a modest income for his family, that is between him and God. The Lord knows each heart, and each one will give an account to God for his own actions.

“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12)

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:33)

"Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'” (Lk 12:15; also see Mt 23:25)

It is wrong to charge churches and other non-profit Christian ministries for the mere use of electronic images or for the use of lyrics, or for the use of songs for non-profit ministry purposes, as long as proper credit is given and they are used for the glory of God, in Jesus name and not for generating wealth, producing new products for sale, or fulfilling one’s selfish desires.

We must be righteous and blameless in our conduct, and operate with integrity, not as the world does.  The Church is not a business!

Offering Teachings, Poems, Art, and Songs for Free
I do not charge anything for any of my blogs, and neither have I monetized my blogs (you will notice that there are no banner ads or popup ads on my websites), although we certainly would gladly accept an offering if someone chose to do so. Rather than publish them as books and sell them, I have made my writings available to the public free of charge, and you can find them at Writing for the Master. The same goes for the songs we have written, which are available free of charge to the public at Jesus Reigns. Our children's poetry is also available free of charge to the public at Verses to the King, just as their artwork is free at A Brush with Life. and their photography is free at A Shutter of Awe.  Rather than seeing these as an opportunity to make money, we see them as a gift from God meant to bless people.  There are many others who share our perspective, such as The Gideons International, who give out free Bibles, as well as Rick Meyers, who freely gives away the electronic Bible known as e-sword.  

In turn the Bible teaches that the one who is taught the Word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. (Gal 6:6).  That means that people should give to support ministries that are blessing them spiritually.  I think it would be entirely appropriate and would please the Lord if those who read my articles gave an offering, even if it was a small one, so that our needs could be met and we could continue with our ministry. But there is no such thing as a mandatory love offering in order to receive Christian ministry.

Peddling the Word of God
I realize that the worker is worthy of his keep (Mt 10:10) and if a man preaches the gospel, he has a right to make a living from the gospel (1 Cor 9:14).  We may accept offerings and live by faith, trusting God to provide for us, as we share with others the gifts and talents He has blessed us with.  But that does not mean we have the right to charge people a set price for our music, artwork, prophecies, preaching, or teaching, unless it is simply to cover the production and shipping costs.  Charging a set price (over and above production and shipping costs) is just as ridiculous as requiring a mandatory love offering. Those who do so have made money their idol, and the practice of charging for these things is basically peddling the Word of God.  Paul said, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God." (2Co 2:17)

Buying the Gift of God with Money
Let's not forget what the apostle Peter said to Simon the sorcerer.  "Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.'” (Ac 8:20-23).

There is a parallel between the sin of Simon the sorcerer and what some people do today to sell their talents for money.

Confirmation from South Africa
After I wrote this article, I sent it to a sister I know in South Africa, named Susan W.  She is a former Muslim, who is following Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  I did not even know anything about the talent the Lord has given her with singing, but she has a beautiful voice, and many people have remarked to her about it.  Some have advised her to record her music on albums, and write her own songs, and sell them, but she has refused to do so. After she read this article, she wrote back to me the following letter:

"Dear brother Len,

"This article is very thought provoking."

"In my early years, I was singing in church and people loved my singing in praise and worship.  Many of the Pastors of the church that I attended, would never start preaching without asking me to present a worship song.  I sang only, after coming from the prayer closet. Many people asked me to record the songs and write my own and sell.  I resented that and I said that I could never use what the Lord has given me to make money with.  I remember a certain gospel musician from the country of my ancestors, the land of Kenya, approached me and she asked me to go ahead and record.  I resented.  I was even invited to go and sign in India but could not go because I did not have any financial means to.  I have never recorded and I do not sing anymore, but I sing unto the Lord on my own...I am His workmanship and I live to bring Him Glory and Honor."

"People are singing (the so called artists) and selling their music to have material gain.  Many years ago, I listened to a radio interview of a very famous established gospel (praise and worship) musician.  She said in the interview, that nowadays people are peddling their songs.  She said that she and her group would fast and pray before they could even produce a song and record it.  Seeking the Lord’s will and what message He wanted them to pass on.  Their music cassettes were affordable."

"If you listen to prophet Dr. David Owuor during his trip to Cameroon earlier this year, you will hear clearly that he is against peddling and he says if God has sent you somewhere to take a message, you do not need any money.  The one who has called you, will provide for you, because it is His work and not you sending yourself.  However, you can ask for donations, if anybody is willing to financially support.  Look for instance at Maurice Sklar.  He operates from this principle, too, if I am not mistaken.  Have you seen the late sister Choo Thomas and how she operated?  I got in touch with her in 2008 and was in contact with her all this while until she passed on.  She sent me her DVDs for free.  She was charging for her book Heaven Is So Real but to get the money for production only."

"There is no difference in what is being done by the so-called Christian Gospel singers (artists) than doing any other business.  They are not singing or preaching with compassion for the lost, but to make money for themselves and drive big cars, own huge houses.  Brother Len, people will burn in hell!"

Warning to Those Using Talents to Make Money
I hope that this has served as a wake up call to the Church about this worldly practice. There is a difference between accepting offerings as a workman worthy of his keep versus selling things to make money.  The Lord is against greed, covetousness, selfishness, merchandising in the Church, selling the gift of God for money, and peddling the Word of God.

Three years after posting this article, I saw a prophetic message given on September 4, 2017 by brother Sadhu Sundar Salvaraj, entitled Jesus Will Whip The Churches That Do Business In The Last Days, in which he confirmed what I have said in this article. He was in a church in India where offerings had been placed on the altar in earthen jars as was their custom, but the Lord came into the church with a whip and told him to tell the church that He did not accept their offerings. The Lord then proceeded to use His big whip to break the earthen jars in the spirit, although they did not break in the natural. And the prophet had the task of delivering that difficult message to the church that Easter morning. He emphasized that God's house is a house of prayer primarily, and the Lord is against merchandising in the church. He preached that we need to cleanse the churches of business opportunists who are doing so in the house of God, or else the Lord will come to our church with a whip. For the brief, twelve-minute message, see here.

I would like to close with a warning given to Samuel Oghenetega by the Lord Jesus Christ.  This warning is to those using talents to make money.  The Lord said, "Tell those using the talents I gave them to make money and their hearts' desires to stop or else I will take it from them and give it to another. I will cast them into the lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mt 25:14-30."  I did not say that.  The Lord did.  Stop fulfilling your own plans and designs. Invest your talents in His service.  Give your talents to God. If you have been practicing this sin of peddling the Word of God, selling your Christian merchandise in the Church or to the Church for profit, then I repeat to you the words of our Lord: Take these things away; stop making the Father's house a place of business!

To those who thought you could sell the gift of God for money, you need to know the Bible calls it wickedness. Your hearts are not right with God. As Peter said, you had better repent of this wickedness before Jesus comes, and cry out to God for mercy, in the hope that He may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For you are captive to sin. You may also need to make restitution to the poor people you have robbed. He still loves you, but He will not lower His standard of heaven for anyone.

Attribution notice: Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. Christ Cleansing the Temple, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1875

Author's Note: If you disagree with this article, please pray about it and leave thoughtful, referenced comments that would be conducive to healthy dialogue. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Visitation of Jesus to Samuel Oghenetega, Australian Pastor Raised from the Dead, Holy Living in a Perverted World, and the other posts on the home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do you want to know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him. 

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
_________________________________________________

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Law is Good if Used Lawfully

In the Body of Christ, you rarely hear anyone teach about the Law, except to say that we are free from it, since we are under grace.  But there are few teachers of the Word, who seek to explain to us what place it has in our lives today as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.  I'd like to share with you from the apostle Paul's epistle how the Law is meant to be used.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

"But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted." (1Ti 1:8-11)

First of all, Paul taught that the Law is good, provided one uses it lawfully.  He himself used it lawfully (e.g.,  Eph 6:1-3; 1 Cor 14:34,37)! So there is a lawful way to use it for good.  The problem is that most people don't understand how to use it lawfully, being unable to handle it correctly, so they are unable to do any good with it, nor can they understand how anyone could do so.

If you are interested in a more detailed explanation about the role of the Law or the importance of obedience for the disciple of Christ, I recommend reading the following articles below, beginning with the ones in the left column:

Is Obedience Optional?
The Law of Christ 
The Law Fulfilled in Us
The Law Established Through Faith
The Cost of Discipleship
Faith Works!
Costly Grace
Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?
Did Jesus Nail the Law to the Cross?
The Obedience of Faith
Remember the Eternal Law of God
Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God
Aim for Perfection
Righteous Deeds and White Robes
Doing What is Right
Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice
Partaking of the Divine Nature
Walking in the Perfect Will of God
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Obedience by the Spirit
What Then Must We Observe
Listen to Jesus

Secondly, Paul taught that the Law is not made for a righteous person.  The reason is that the righteous person will have the Law written in his heart and will be living a holy and godly life that is spotless and blameless (see 2 Pe 3:14; Heb 12:14; 1 Pe 1:15-16).  A righteous person will be led by the Holy Spirit, who will always have us do that which is holy and good.

Thirdly, Paul taught that the Law is made for certain people, namely for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers.  Such people need to see in the law that the way they are living is detestable to God.  They need to see that God hates what they are doing.

Here is where (in my opinion) most Christians miss it.  They assume that all Christians, including themselves, are righteous people, who do not engage in such a lifestyle as Paul described here.  They assume that they are neither lawless nor rebellious, neither ungodly nor sinners, neither unholy nor profane.  But this is a big mistake!  If the people of God have gone astray, then they most certainly are practicing certain things that are either unholy, profane, lawless, rebellious, ungodly, or sinful.

In many of the divine revelations I have posted on Eternal Destinations, the Lord is warning His Church that we have gone astray, and He is calling us back to holiness, righteousness, and truth.  He is addressing things that are making his Church "dirty," like wearing ungodly attire and adornment, watching secular television, listening to rock, reggae, and rap, cross-dressing, worshiping idols, and not keeping Sundays holy.  Many people are hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church in these revelations. They are waking up, repenting, and getting right with God before it is too late.

However, there are many more believers who reject these revelations as legalism and deception from the enemy, as if the devil would want to call us back to holiness with God.  And when we try to show them that the things the Lord warned us about in the divine revelations are found in the Bible, including the Law and the Prophets, some of them argue that these Scriptures are not for those of us today, who are living under the New Covenant of grace.  They argue that anyone who cites a verse from the Law is being legalistic, and sometimes they even ridicule us. But they are badly mistaken.  The Law is good if used lawfully.

Lastly, in Paul's epistle to Timothy, he taught that the Law is also for "whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted." (1 Tim 1:10b-11).   I want to highlight this phrase, which Paul added in addition to the other things he already mentioned the Law was made for, namely "for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers."  Let's now look more closely at this "whatever else" phrase.

In this phrase, Paul taught that: 1) Those who are lawless and rebellious, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers are all living contrary to "sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." 2) The Law was made not only for such people as he specified here, but for "whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." The term "whatever else" covers everything else in that category without the need for Paul to specify it. 3) When the Law is used lawfully, it is not contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel, but rather it is in harmony with it. 4) When Paul said the Law is for such people and whatever else, although the word "for" is not in the Greek, it is implied.  And in saying the Law is for such people, he did not limit this to non-believers, who are outside of Christ.  He taught that the Law is made "for" all of these situations, regardless of whether the person calls himself a brother.  The reason the Law is established for such people, and whatever else is contrary to the gospel, is that it is a means of rebuking, correcting, teaching, or training in righteousness.

All of these are lawful purposes for which the Law is good to use, since Paul taught that the Law is good, provided one uses it lawfully.  The Law is a lamp, a mirror, and a safety net.

Putting it All Together
Those who reject the Lord's message to the Church in the divine revelations, and those who reject anyone citing from verses in the Law (e.g., to validate such revelations), fail to realize that living a lawless life, or an ungodly life, or an unholy life, or a profane life are all contrary to "sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God."  They also fail to understand that the sexually immoral, the homosexuals, the liars, and the perjurers are all contrary to "sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God," along with those who kill their fathers or mothers, and with murderers.  They incorrectly assume that no Christian, including themselves, would engage in anything that is "contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God."  They incorrectly assume that the Law would never be necessary as a means of reproof, correction, instruction, or training in righteousness for such so-called believers.  They forget that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16).

But I would like to pose a question.  Is it possible that a born again believer in Jesus Christ could become wayward and engage in the kinds of lifestyles that Paul specified in this passage?  And is it possible that a born again believer could do anything else that is "contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God"? Is it possible that even a pastor or elder could be deceived and could do such things?  I say the answer is most certainly yes, there are plenty of real-life examples we could point to, and the New Testament is full of warnings against such apostasy (see The Apostasy Parables and Drifting Away).

Don't be so quick to say, "I'm not deceived!"  Please let me remind you that the very nature of deception is such that if the person who is deceived knew he was deceived, he would no longer continue to allow himself to be deceived.  So it is certainly possible that you have been deceived, in which case you would not even know it, especially if the majority of so-called Christians are living their lives the same way you are.  But truth is not necessarily in the majority, so don't be fooled by the fact that so many are taking that wide road.  Don't be fooled by those who are conforming to the pattern of this world.

Prayerfully consider whether you have been deceived into sin, into any of the categories Paul specified in this passage, or into anything else that is "contrary to the sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God."  If what you are believing is not true, wouldn't you want to know?  Read the divine revelations I have posted on Eternal Destinations, and diligently examine the Scriptures, including the Law and the Prophets, in order to see if these things are so.  Then if the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, repent to God, confess your sin, and ask for him to forgive and cleanse you.  And don't forget to warn others, so that they too might wake up spiritually and be saved.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. Richard Harrison's article called God's Ten Commandments.

Author's note I invite you to see these related articles of mine: Holy Living in a Perverted World"Is Obedience Optional?", "Faith Works!," "Obedience by the Spirit,"  "Righteous Deeds and White Robes,"  "Messages from the Lord for Catholics Worshiping Idols," "Carrying Your Cross or Cross Dressing?" "Zipporah Mushala’s Third Testimony of Hell,"and "Doing What is Right", as well as the other posts on the Main Directory for this blog.  And of course, you are invited to visit Eternal Destinations. You can access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus Christ personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what the God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
_______________________________________________

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What Then Must We Observe

In today’s culture, people observe many different things, including traditions and holidays -- both secular and religious.  Some sincerely devout people even observe the Law of Moses.  But what does the Scripture teach us to observe?  And what are we not to observe?  Let’s search the Scriptures and find out.

Do not observe traditions of men

First of all, we are not supposed to observe the traditions of men, which the Pharisees did.

“For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.”  (Mar 7:3-4)

The Greek word for “observe” in this verse and the following verses is “phulasso,” meaning “to watch, that is, be on guard (literally or figuratively); by implication to preserve. obey, avoid: - beware, keep (self), observe, save.” (Strongs).

While the Pharisees taught people to watch and obey and keep their traditions, the Lord taught that those man-made traditions actually nullified the Word of God by causing the people who observe them to break God’s commandments (see Mk 7:13).  And the elders in some churches today teach people to follow their beloved traditions, as if they have power to save them, but this is not true. We are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, not by observing traditions of men.  It is the gift of God; so don’t observe traditions of men. Follow Jesus.

Do not observe the Law of Moses
Although I teach the need for obedience to God’s commandments, not just adherence to the New Testament, I do not teach people to observe the Law. I do not teach the observance of ceremonial rites and sacrifices, nor the observance of days and months and seasons and years. We are not endeavoring to keep up the law of Moses in conjunction with the gospel of Christ.  This matter came up in the early church, and as we know, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem met to decide this matter.

“But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’”  (Act 15:5)

However, the council rejected that notion, and decreed the following decision proposed by James, a Jew:

"Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."  (Act 15:19-21)

The apostle Paul, also a devout Jew, agreed with that decision and later wrote to the church in Galatia:

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”  (Gal 4:9-11)

Again, Paul was saying that for the disciple of Christ, these things are weak and have no power to save. Since the church in Galatia had gone back to these things, he feared that his gospel work among them had been in vain.

A sister in Christ I know, whom I have written about in Zipporah Mushala’s Second Testimony of Hell, experienced hell and saw a man of God who was there for observing the Law.  When she asked the Lord in tears, "What is he doing here?” the Lord said, “My child, cursed is he that obeys the law as they insist on pleasing Me through works and deny what I did for them on the cross.”  I encourage you  to read that testimony.

Observe the decrees decided by the apostles and elders
Rather than observing the Law, we should observe the decrees decided upon by that first Jerusalem council.

“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.” (Act 16:1-5)

Notice that there were Jews in those parts in Derbe and to Lystra, as well as Gentiles.  And “while they were passing through the cities,” Paul, Silas, and Timothy “were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” That means we, too, must observe the decrees of the first Jerusalem council to “abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”  These decrees come directly from the commandments of God found in the Law.

Observe God’s Commandments in the whole Bible
As I have already mentioned, just as the apostles did, I also teach the need for obedience to God’s commandments.  The apostle John wrote: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”  (1Jn 5:2)

We are supposed to love God and observe God’s commandments.  That means we must obey the whole Bible, as our sister Rachael Mushala exhorted us in her Testimony of Hell.  The apostle John learned this from the Lord Jesus, who said that the ones who are truly blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.

“While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.’ But He said, ‘On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.’”  (Luk 11:27-28).  Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who do what the New Testament Scriptures say."  He said, "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it," and at the time He said this, not even one book of the New Testament had yet been written.  Since "the Word of God" refers to all Scripture, that means we must hear and observe what God says in His Word throughout the whole Bible.

Incidentally, we don't obey the whole Bible in order to be justified by God (i.e., made righteous), "because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20).  As the apostle Paul said, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Rom 3:28).  But through this faith that has already justified us, we uphold the Law, rather than nullify it.  "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." (Rom 3:31)

In the passage I cited in Luke's gospel, Jesus redirected the focus of the women in the crowd away from marveling at the blessedness of mother Mary, and emphasized something contrary to popular thinking, which is the blessedness of the obedient observers of God’s Word. In fact, this was one of the last things He taught before ascending to the Father’s right hand in heaven.  He said:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  (Mat 28:19-20)

As we go and make disciples, we are supposed to teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded the apostle and us to do. The Lord said, "Continue in My Word." (Jn 8:31)

We are to obey Jesus Christ
The apostle Peter taught that we should obey Jesus Christ.  All of the previous Scriptures I have cited (except Jn 8:31) used the word “observe” (Gr. phulasso).  But I want to close with this one Scripture that uses a different word, since it confirms and supports my point.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”  (1Pe 1:1-2)

This is the word hupakoe, meaning “attentive hearkening, that is, (by implication) compliance or submission: - obedience, (make) obedient, obey (-ing).” (Strongs).

Peter taught that we are chosen…to obey Jesus Christ.

The Difference Between Observing the Law and Observing God's Commandments
Since the Bible says that we must not observe the Law, and yet we must observe God's commandments, you may be wondering what the difference is between those two things.  I believe the main difference is that the observance of dietary laws, ceremonial rites and sacrifices is obsolete, as is the observance of days and months and seasons and years -- the requirements of the Old Covenant. These are types and shadows of the reality found in Christ under the New Covenant. So once you have come to know Christ, you no longer need these.  On the other hand, what counts is keeping God's commandments (see 1 Co 7:19).

That which pleased God thousands of years ago, and which He commanded, is still pleasing to Him today.  These are the ways of God. He changes not."My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways." (Pr 23:26). Also see The Ways of Life.

If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, I recommend reading the following articles below, beginning with the ones in the left column:

Is Obedience Optional?
The Law of Christ 
The Law Fulfilled in Us
The Law Established Through Faith
The Cost of Discipleship
Faith Works!
Costly Grace
Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?
Did Jesus Nail the Law to the Cross?
The Obedience of Faith
Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God
Aim for Perfection
Righteous Deeds and White Robes
Doing What is Right
Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice
Partaking of the Divine Nature
Walking in the Perfect Will of God
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Obedience by the Spirit
The Law is Good if Used Lawfully

Putting it All Together
So we have learned from God’s Word that we are not supposed to observe the traditions of men or the Law of Moses.  We are not endeavoring to keep up the law of Moses in conjunction with the gospel of Christ. 

We "serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom 7:6). Becoming a Christian does not mean you become "Jewish", or follow Jewish customs, but that you become one who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:29), and there are marked differences in the way we apply the Scriptures to our lives, including the Law.  We do not follow the Jewish customs as if we were now Jews, but we follow Jesus. 

We are to observe the decrees decided upon by that first Jerusalem council.  We are to observe God’s commandments and the whole Word of God.  We are to observe all that Jesus commanded the apostles and us to do.  We must obey Jesus Christ, Who alone became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. 

Author's note:  If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Holy Living in a Perverted World, Michael Thomas Sambo's Revelation of Heaven and Hell, Garments of GodlinessIs Tithing Required?, Keeping Sundays Holy, and The Lord's Day, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, The Highest Form of Slavery, and the other posts available through the links on the Home page.  You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
_________________________________________________

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Compelled by Love

Although the Word teaches us to obey God’s commandments and pursue holiness, no longer are we compelled to merely observe the letter of the Law. The new law of our Lord Jesus Christ is free from that yoke, and has a different compelling force.

The Love of Christ Controls Us
As the apostle Paul wrote:

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2Co 5:14-15)

The word “controls” comes from the Greek word, “sunecho,” meaning “to hold together, that is, to compress (the ears, with a crowd or siege) or arrest (a prisoner); figuratively to compel, perplex, afflict, preoccupy: - constrain, hold, keep in, press, lie sick of, stop, be in a strait, straiten, be taken with, throng.”

The love of Christ controls us.  It has arrested us and taken us captive.  The Lord has laid hold of us, and captured our hearts.  We are His love slaves.

An example of this word “sunecho” is found in Luke’s gospel: “Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him and beating Him,” (Luk 22:63)

In the same way that the men were holding Jesus in custody for evil purposes, Christ’s love holds us in custody for good.

The Great Commandments
After all, God is love, and the greatest commandments are that we should love.  And [Jesus] said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Mat 22:37-40)

Jesus also said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  (Joh 14:15)

That was how He Himself lived.  He said, “But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” (Joh 14:31).  He demonstrated His love for the Father by His obedience to Him.

He said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (Joh 15:12-14)

"This I command you, that you love one another.”  (Joh 15:17)

What is Love?
So many people in the world today want to know what love is, because they haven’t yet experienced true love.  The apostle John wrote: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1Jn 5:3) Love for God is to keep His commandments. 

“And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.” (2Jn 1:6)

Illustration from Peter’s life
Before the cross, Peter had a self-confident righteousness that could say to the Lord, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away." (Mat 26:33).  But we all know he did deny the Lord, which proves He did not realize what he was capable of doing.  But after Jesus’ resurrection, He restored Peter. When He did so, He commissioned Peter once again as an apostle to serve on the basis of love.

“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He *said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He *said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’ He *said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He *said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He *said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He *said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus *said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (Joh 21:15-17)

Three times the Lord asked him if he loved Him.  And each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, the Lord responded by commanding him to fulfill the original call to shepherd His sheep. In other words, Peter was to demonstrate his love by obedience to the Lord, not by self-confident, prideful assertions of what he could do.

He First Loved Us
The apostle John taught us the basis of love.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1Jn 4:10-11).  It’s not that we loved God. It’s that He first loved us, while we were yet sinners, and sent His Son to die on the cross for us.  Jesus fully identified with us at the cross by bearing our sins without ever committing a sin Himself.  He became our substitute, and died in our place.  When you come to realize the love God has for you, then you are able to love Him and others, as you ought.

“We love, because He first loved us.” (1Jn 4:19)

Love Slaves
In the Hebrew economy a man could sell himself into slavery, but his master was required to release him in the seventh year. If the slave loved his master, he had the option to dedicate himself to his master for life. If he chose to do so, his master would take him before the judge, and he who would take an awl and pierce a hole in the slave's ear.  This would identify him with his master forever, as a bond-slave or love-slave for life. (Ex. 21).

The apostles were all love slaves like this.  Just observe how they identified themselves as servants, which comes from the Greek word “doulos,” meaning “a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): - bond (-man), servant.” So in the context of the New Testament, referring to a servant of Jesus Christ, this word means “one who is a servant by his own choice, of his own desire and will, out of devotion to His Master, submission to His Master, and love for His Master.”

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus.
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ.
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ.
Paul, a servant of God.

They submitted themselves to the willing and glad slavery of love.  Paul called it a labor of love, since it is love that prompted their labor (1 Thes 1:3).

Love Offerings
The offerings we give to the Lord under the new covenant are not driven by guilt or a need to be made righteous, but are given out of love. 

“Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God's compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you.” (Rom 12:1 GW)

It is in view of God’s compassion for us that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. In doing so, our lives become a love offering to the Lord.

The Letter Kills
Neither our competence nor our service is according to the letter of the Law, but by the Spirit.  “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2Co 3:5-6).  Nothing comes from ourselves, as if there were anything good in us.  Our holiness, our righteousness, and our service come from God.  For the letter kills, but it is the Spirit that gives life.

Rest for the Weary and Freedom in the Spirit
The holy life to which we are called does not make us weary and heavy-laden, as do dead works done for the sake of man-made religion.  When Christ calls us to Himself, He calls us to a place of rest. 

He said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mat 11:28-30)

Life in Him is restful even as we serve Him, because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It’s so exhilarating and refreshing to realize that there is freedom in the Spirit. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2Co 3:17). 

Who we are and who we are becoming is all because of Him.  For the Spirit of God is transforming us into His image. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2Co 3:18)

We Fear the Lord
Although we are free in Christ, we are still responsible before God for our actions, therefore, we fear the Lord.  Paul wrote:

“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.” (2Co 5:9-11)

Paul knew the fear of the Lord, and that is why he sought to persuade men for Christ. He also made it his goal to be pleasing to the Lord in every situation.  This was how he instructed others to live, as well.  He wrote:

“Determine which things please the Lord.” (Eph 5:10 GW)

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” (1Th 4:1)

The Scriptures are full of admonitions to fear the Lord.  “Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast… Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness.” (Psa 33:8-9, 18)

It is in the fear of the Lord that we perfect holiness, as Paul said:

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Co 7:1 NASB)

Our freedom must never be used as a cover up for evil, as Peter wrote:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
(1Pe 2:16-17)

Our freedom must be exercised as love slaves (Gr., doulos) of God, who fear Him.  Paul also taught that we should not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the sinful nature, but use it to serve one another in love:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’"  (Gal 5:13-14)

Remain in Love
It is possible for love to grow cold and for us to fall from our first love. That is why it is our responsibility to stay in love with Jesus. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

“May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” (2Th 3:5)

The problem with the Ephesian church was that they forsaken their first love, as if they had fallen from a great height. The Lord said:

“’But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.’” (Rev 2:4-5)

For the Ephesians, their repentance from having left their first love was to be demonstrated by doing the deeds they did at first, when they were passionately in love with Jesus.

Jude wrote: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Jud 1:21)

Putting it All Together
No longer do we do anything out of compulsion to observe the letter of the Law. Rather, the love of Christ controls us.  If you love Jesus, you will keep His commandments.  We demonstrate our love by obedience to the Lord, not by self-confident, prideful assertions of what we can do.

The basis of love is that He first loved us, while we were yet sinners, and sent His Son to die on the cross for us.  When you come to realize the love God has for you, then you are able to love Him and others, as you ought.  You become love slaves of God, as the apostles were.  You submit yourself to the willing and glad slavery of love.  The offerings you give to the Lord are given out of love.  Your labor is prompted by love.
Your whole life becomes a love offering to the Lord.

Yet nothing comes from ourselves, according to the letter. For the letter kills, but it the Spirit that gives life. The holy life to which we are called does not make us weary but brings us into a place of rest even as we serve Him.

There is freedom in the Spirit. Yet we are still responsible before God for our actions, therefore, we fear the Lord.  We find out what pleases the Lord. We perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. Our freedom is not a cover up for evil or an excuse for carnal behavior. Our freedom must be used as love slaves of God, who fear Him.  It is our responsibility to stay in love with Jesus.

We should pray as the psalmist did: “May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (Psa 33:22)

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note:  If you enjoyed this post, you may also like The Highest Form of Slavery, Holy Living in a Perverted World, Faith Works!, Michael Thomas Sambo's Revelation of Heaven and Hell, Garments of GodlinessIs Tithing Required?, Keeping Sundays Holy, The Lord's Day, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, Zipporah Mushala’s Second Testimony of Hell, Pleasing the Lord, and the other posts available through the links on the Home page.  You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
_________________________________________________

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ebb and Flow of Ministry for the Lord

We have been based near Budapest, Hungary, serving as missionaries for nearly five years.  However, we are currently on furlough, away from the field, praying and seeking the Lord's guidance regarding where to be, and for the provision to fulfill the mission.

However, people today have various misconceptions about missionaries and some unbiblical expectations of them.  Some may expect that a missionary must stay on the field all the time and live in their host country permanently, as they did in the early days of missions during the nineteenth century.  Others may not see the need for missionary families to take time off the field.  Still others may look at a missionary’s role as if it were a job, which is very consistent and routine from week to week.  Yet in real life, a missionary’s ministry has a normal wax and wane.  Even Paul had an ebb and flow in his ministry, so it should not surprise us when missionaries experience this in their ministry. 

There was a period of three years from his conversion until his departure from Damascus (Gal.1:18)

He went from Damascus to Jerusalem, where he stayed for 15 days (Acts 9:26-29; Gal.1:18) Then he left to avoid capture, and sailed from Caesarea to the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9:30; Gal.1:21)

After a period ranging from 8 to 14 years, Paul traveled to Antioch with Barnabas (Acts 11:25; Gal.1:21-2:1 see below). He and Barnabas taught there at Antioch for a full year.

“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Act 11:25-26)

Paul then traveled to Jerusalem, staying for a short time. (Acts 11:27-30; Gal.2:1). He then returned to Antioch.

After their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and reported all that the Lord had done through them.  And they stayed there for a “long time,” which was probably a year or more.

“From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.” (Act 14:26-28)

When Paul went to Corinth, he initially worked with Aquila and Priscilla as a tentmaker, and every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to evangelize Jews and Gentiles.  But once his team arrived, he devoted himself exclusively to preaching. 

“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” (Act 18:1-5)

So he had periods of heavy travel from one place to another, periods of secular employment when he mainly evangelized on weekends, and extended periods when he stayed in one city for over a year, teaching the Word of God, such as he did in Corinth.

“And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Act 18:11)

That was in Corinth, and he did the same thing in Ephesus.

“It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.” (Act 19:1) “And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Act 19:8-10)

After his third missionary journey, he was imprisoned in Judea for 2 years.

“But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.” (Act 24:27)

When he finally arrived in Rome, he was imprisoned there for 2 more years.

“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Act 28:30-31)

There is Biblical and early church historical evidence to indicate that after his Roman imprisonment, Paul was released and traveled more, perhaps as long as four years, including a trip to Spain. (Clement of Rome in I Clement, and 2 Tim.) He later returned to Rome again, where he was eventually martyred in 64 A.D.

Putting it All Together
It’s evident that Paul’s life was a blend of periods when he stayed in one place, which sometimes lasted for years, and periods of travel abroad.  It included periods spent back at the sending Church.  Some journeys were made by choice and others were out of his control.  Even when the choice was his to make, he sometimes didn’t know where he was going next. 

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go” (1 Co 16:16).

This shows that he expected to stay for a while in Corinth, and possibly remain there for the winter.  It also shows that he was desirous of support from the Corinthians, since he said, “you can help me on my journey.” It also shows that he was not sure where he would go next after that, since he said, “Wherever I go.”

Likewise, when missionaries travel with their families overseas for several years, they need to have periods home on furlough, away from service on the field.  Often missionaries take furlough every year or two years for a period of months.  This is time for them to receive ministry from others, be refreshed, encouraged, share what God has done through them, and get fresh direction and support to continue their mission. Usually while they are on the field, they do not receive any pastoral care, so when they are home, it is important that the Church visit and care for them, before the time comes when they will go away overseas again for a period of time.

Therefore, from this study, we can see how the Spirit of God directed the apostle Paul’s life.  It’s like our Lord said, "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Joh 3:8)

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14)

There is a normal ebb and flow that happens in the ministry of a missionary.  It’s not a job that a missionary does for forty hours a week for fifty-two weeks a year.  It’s a ministry, and the Holy Spirit directs it, not man.

If someone had tried to draw conclusions about Paul’s missionary calling coming to an end during any of his long stays in one place, such as Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Judea, or Rome, they would have been badly mistaken.  Once the Lord calls a person by His grace to be an apostle (“sent one”), he is always an apostle.  It’s the same with any calling that one may have from the Lord.  “For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Who he is in God doesn’t depend on his geographical location. 

So I hope this has helped you to better understand the life of a missionary, so that you can better minister to them and support them.  Often missionaries have left everything to follow the call. That means they have sold their home, their earthly possessions, and they have left their professional careers, as well as their friends, family, and church, in order to obey the Great Commission.  They are not able to just jump back into their professions as if they had never left, so they still rely on support while they are off the field. 

They are not machines, but human beings, who need time away from the field.  And when they do take State side furlough, it’s not time to drop your support of them, but rather to continue it and even look for additional ways to support them further, not only financially, but also in other areas you may not have been able to offer while they were overseas.  Take an interest in them, and invite them to come and share their testimonies.  When you do it for one of the least of these brethren, you do it for Jesus.

If you are a missionary who is currently experiencing a period of ebb, be encouraged, because it does not mean God is through with you.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The "Path of the Missionary" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.

Author's note: I also recommend Opportunities to Serve the Body of Christ.  You can access the Main Directory for Working God's Way, or my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Righteousness by Faith not Law

 Although the Law and Prophets have not been abolished, and none of the commandments have passed from the Law (Mt 5:17-19), observing the Law does not justify anyone.  We are justified by faith in Christ alone.

How False Teachers Sneaked In
The apostle Paul tells how false teachers entered the Church in Jerusalem during the first century, teaching justification through the Law.  Paul says that prior to the time when this heresy was introduced, he and Barnabas had brought Titus, a Greek believer, to Jerusalem with them. He met privately with those among the apostles and elders that were of reputation, so that he could share with them the gospel he preached among the Gentiles. Yet none of the Jewish apostles or elders there required Titus to be circumcised.  They apparently had no problem with Titus remaining uncircumcised.

But then some false brethren sneaked into the Church, while Paul was there with Titus, to spy out the liberty that they had in Christ Jesus, in order to bring them into bondage. They wanted to push Paul and Titus back into observing the Law as a means of justification.  Yet Paul refused to yield in subjection to them for even an hour.  Paul states:

“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” (Gal 2:1-5)

Peter's Fall from Grace
Although Paul and Titus did not give in to these false brethren, who were Judaizers, they apparently affected the apostle Peter, also known as Cephas. He made the mistake of going back to the Law for a while.  The apostle Paul tells the story of what happened:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14)

We learn from Paul that these Judaizers came from James, and were known as the party of the circumcision.  But prior to their arrival in the Church, Peter used to eat with Gentiles. Remember, the Lord revealed to him that he was not to call anything unclean that He had called clean.  The Lord had sent Peter to the Gentile home of Cornelius to preach the gospel and they had all been baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Peter had learned from the Lord that it was not a problem for him to associate with Gentiles.  It was only after the entrance of the Judaizers into the Church that Peter yielded in subjection to their heresy. 

When he left his base in Jerusalem to visit Antioch, where Paul was based, Paul noticed that Peter began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  Out of his fear of what the Judaizers would say of him if he associated with uncircumcised Gentiles, he withdrew from them, even though they were justified believers in Christ. As Peter set the bad example, the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  It was at that point that Paul saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel and knew he needed to confront Peter publicly to his face.

Paul said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  In other words, Peter had been living like a Gentile himself, rather than like a Jew as he actually was.  And now through his behavior among the Gentiles he was compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews.  He was compelling them through peer pressure to observe the Law, when Peter, himself a Jew, was not even observing.  This was clearly hypocrisy, which nullified the grace of God.

What Paul said to Peter in that confrontation teaches us many things.  He said:

"We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." (Gal 2:15-21)

Paul’s first point was that he and Peter were biological Jews who knew that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.  Even they had believed in Christ Jesus, so that they might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law.  Both Peter and Paul knew that no flesh will be justified by the works of the Law.

Paul’s second point was this: “If, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!” He meant that when a Jew, like he or Peter, seeks to be justified through faith in Christ, they would become aware in the process that they are not observing the Law.  They would be conscious of the fact that they were sinners, breaking God’s Law.  Even so, it did not mean that Christ promotes sin.  He never will. 

Rebuilding What You Have Destroyed
Then Paul likened their Law breaking to the literal process of breaking or destroying something. He said, “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” In other words, if he or Peter would begin to go back and try to reconstruct, or put back together, the Law that they had broken when they sought justification by faith in Christ, they would only be proving that they themselves had in fact transgressed the Law and broken it in the first place. 

Dead to the Law
Therefore, he was saying that they should not do so. Instead, it was through the Law that Paul died to the Law, so that he might live to God.  Paul knew that the Law itself would declare him a lawbreaker if he sought to rebuild it after he had broken it.  So he could never turn back to it again, once he sought justification through faith in Christ.  He had died to the Law, so that he might live to God.  There was no other way.

How did Paul die to the Law?  He explained, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” When Paul was baptized into Christ, he died with Christ.  At that point, as a dead man, he became dead to the Law and freed from it.  And from that point, it was no longer Paul who lived, it was Christ who lived in him.  He lived by faith alone in the Son of God, who loved Paul and gave Himself up for him.

This must be our practice as well.  We must die to the Law when we are crucified with Christ.  Then it is no longer we who live, and since we are dead, we cannot observe the Law.  All we can do is live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.  Then it is no longer I myself who lives, but Christ who lives in me.  It’s His life in me that’s setting me free and making me holy.

We must not go back to observing the Law, which is hypocrisy, since we do not actually observe the whole Law, but only certain parts. Doing so nullifies the grace of God, and those who do so stand condemned like Peter (2:11).  Paul explained how it condemns us when he wrote to the Galatians:

“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”  (Gal 3:10-14)

His first point was that everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them is cursed.  He who practices them shall live by them. It’s all or nothing.  If you seek to perform some things in the Law for the sake of justification, but not all, then you are cursed.  The fact is that the Law justifies no one in the sight of God.  So it is a futile effort to seek to be justified by the Law.  Therefore, don’t put yourself under a curse by trying to be justified that way.

What should we do then?  Since we know the Law is not of faith, our justification will never include observing the Law. The righteous man shall live by faith. Our faith must be in Christ alone.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. Instead of going back to observing the Law as a means of justification, putting yourself under a curse, rather live by faith in Christ.  He became a curse for us, when He hung on that tree, and redeemed us from the curse of the Law.

Freedom in Christ by the Spirit
Praise God, we are free from the Law! So let's not turn back again to observing it and be enslaved by it all over again.  We do not need to be circumcised or observe special days and months and seasons and years. (see Gal 4:9-10)

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal 5:1). However, we must not use our freedom as a cover up for evil.  As Paul wrote: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Gal 5:13)  And as Peter said, "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves." (1 Pe 2:16).

It is possible to be justified by faith in Christ and then live according to the sinful nature, pleasing the sinful nature, and committing acts of the sinful nature.  But those who live like that will ultimately be destroyed, if they don't repent, as Jesus and the apostles taught.  Paul listed some examples of the acts of the sinful nature, and warned that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (see Gal 5:21).

That is why I have already been teaching all along in my other articles that we must obey God and keep His commandments.  What matters is the keeping of the commandments of God (see 1 Co 7:19). But this is done by faith in Christ, as we live by the Spirit, walking in love, living for righteousness, not through the flesh.  As Paul wrote:

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law."  (Gal 5:16-18)

Living by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit is a matter of sowing seeds to please the Spirit, in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit and ultimately reap eternal life. As Paul said:

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Gal 6:7-8)

Apart from Christ you can do nothing.  It’s only His life in you that will please the Father, not what you can do for God.  Our obedience must never be an attempt on our part to be justified. But a true disciple will obey the Lord’s commandments, and the Holy Spirit does take from the Law as He leads us in the way to live that is pleasing to God. That is part of being led by the Spirit, taught by God, allowing Him to speak to us through the whole Bible. It is not seeking justification through the Law.

The Risk of Abusing God's Amazing Grace
In fact, the Lord Jesus Himself respected and fulfilled the entire Law.  And now because He lives in us, He works His desires, which are still the same, except for the sacrifices, rituals, ceremonies, food and drink ordinances, observation of special days, week, months, and years, and the separation of Jews and Gentiles. Actually we must fear God even more now than they did under the Old Covenant, because we are being led and evaluated by The Holy Spirit.  Therefore, there is greater risk of abusing God's amazing grace.

This is what the Lord told brother Yong-Doo Kim, whom I have written about previously in my article, Baptized by Blazing Fire -- a Korean church's testimony.  Brother Kim wrote in Baptize by Blazing Fire Book II:

"When God gives us a chance, we must take it, no matter what. Jesus said, 'That particular saint mocked God and troubled the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if she does not mourn and sincerely repent, she will not be entering heaven.  If the judgment of the congregation members is hard, then how much more will I judge the Pastors who are committing adultery? The ministers must repent to the point of death. Currently, the ministers of today are mocking God, they say, "These are the days of grace, and the gospel sets us free, just repent and one will be forgiven unconditionally!" These are the days one needs to be in fear more than the days of the Old Testament.' The Lord warned us that the day is coming when we will all have to give account for our deeds."

Brother Kim continued, "As I write on this chapter, I am experiencing many hours of dismay and dissension. Jesus said, 'Do we then nullify the law by this faith. Not at all! Rather we uphold the law.' (Romans 3:31). In fact, we are living our daily life within the Lord’s amazing grace. However, living in His grace does not mean our sins just disappear. We are abusing God’s grace if we do not repent. A daily repentant life is the fastest and shortest route to God’s mercy and compassion."

Furthermore, when the first century apostles and elders in Jerusalem met to decide the case regarding the Judaizers requiring circumcision of Gentile believers, their final written decision contained provisions taken directly from the Law.  They ended their letter to the Gentiles with the following instructions: "You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." (Act 15:29).  Let's not abuse God's amazing grace!  

The Obedience of Faith
I encourage you to read the other articles I have written on the need for obedience in Working God's Way and Eternal Destinations, especially the following ones, beginning with the first three articles in the left-hand column:

Is Obedience Optional?
The Law of Christ 
Faith Works!
The Law Fulfilled in Us
The Law Established Through Faith
The Cost of Discipleship
The New Covenant
Costly Grace
Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?
Did Jesus Nail the Law to the Cross?
The Law is Good if Used Lawfully   
The Obedience of Faith
Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God
Aim for Perfection
Righteous Deeds and White Robes
Doing What is Right
Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice
Partaking of the Divine Nature
Walking in the Perfect Will of God
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Obedience by the Spirit
What Then Must We Observe?

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Images courtesy of an article called Seeking After Righteousness by Latter Days Ministries (NOT the Mormons or Latter Day Saints).

Author's note Also see The Spirit's Law of Life, The Spirit of the Law, as well as Zipporah Mushala’s Second Testimony of Hell, in which she saw a man of God in hell for relying on His obedience to the Law to save him. And see my other articles called, Obedience by the Spirit, and Baptized with the Spirit. My daughter has also written an article called   You can access the Main Directory for Working God's Way, or my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."  Now I'd like to ask a very important question.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.