God is on our Side

In the fifth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes God’s desire for reconciliation with those who are separated from Him.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Reconciliation between offended parties can be very tedious and difficult work. Many will tell you that unless both parties are truly dedicated to being reconciled, a disagreement or a feud can go on for years or even for life. This is true whether in personal relationships, or in those between whole groups of people or nations.

These words to the Corinthians confirm for us that God, on His part, is dedicated to reconciliation with us, the people of the world. This availability for reconciliation demonstrates to us God’s great love, for as the text says, He is willing to overlook our trespasses in order to restore our relationship. This is astounding considering that we are the ones who rejected God in the first place, and who have rejected Him with our sinful actions too many times to count.

It is a good thing that Jesus supports the concept of forgiving someone “490 times” in Matthew 18. It is a good thing that “God is love” according to 1 John 4, and that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered,” according to the famous love passage of 1 Corinthians 13.

Many people get this picture backwards. They think of themselves as the innocent party who was just minding their own business, when all of a sudden God marched up with a list of unreasonable demands that had to be met or the relationship would be severed. But scripture, as we have seen, just does not fit that picture. God is actually the one who is willing to overlook the past and invite us back into His arms. God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” according to 2 Peter 3:9.

We are going to have to humble our pride if we are to come to Him. We cannot portray Him as a demanding tyrant who forces us to jump through hoops for His own arbitrary reasons. Rather, God, like a loving parent, knows what is best for us and calls us gently and lovingly to follow the path of life.

The apostles found themselves as ambassadors on Christ’s behalf, literally begging for God’s estranged children to return to Him. God wants us to be with Him! He wants everyone to be with Him! He is on our side! So much so that He would not only overlook our sins against Him, but that He even sent His own Son to die at our hands, who even then prayed “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

God is pulling for us. His invitation to life still stands. In the words of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

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Teaching as Doctrines the Precepts of Men

 

It is common to hear people assert that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” and there is certainly some truth to that statement. At the end of the day, we have the ability choose for ourselves what we believe; no one can force us to accept something that we do not want to accept. But just because “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” that does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or true.

Paul told Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Apparently, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to handle the word of truth. Some interpretations of scripture are correct and others are just plain wrong.

In fact, Timothy was specifically warned that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” We can believe whatever we want about scripture, but in that case we may very well be preaching “myth” instead of “truth.”

Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable” would “distort” the things in Paul’s writings, “as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Sure, we can twist the scriptures to reach all kinds of different conclusions, but we may be doing so at our own peril if we are handling the word incorrectly.

So how can we make sure that we are handling the word of truth rightly, abiding in sound doctrine, and resisting the urge to distort scripture? Let’s consider some scriptures that can help us to answer that question.

 John warned his hearers that: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”   John’s admonition not to “go too far” and thus “not abide” in Christ’s teachings sounds a lot like the word’s of Paul to the Corinthians that they must “learn not to exceed what is written.”

“Going to far,” “not abiding in,” and “exceeding” what is written are all terms that indicate an addition of man-made concepts to what is actually present in scripture.

Thus, in Deuteronomy the Israelites were told “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Unfortunately the Pharisees did just that. They invented all kinds of extra requirements to add to the law.

This idea is repeated in Revelation, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

Jesus summed it up in a very simple and powerful way: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

It can be hard not to go beyond what is written when we want to have all the answers. It can be hard not to invent new “doctrines” which are really only human precepts when we want to build a systematic theology that can answer all of our questions. But we must have the courage to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent.

100 Facts about the Church of the Bible

100 facts about Christ’s church as demonstrated in the book of Acts.
From a 7 month bible study at the church of Christ in Mankato.

Chapter 1

  • Is a people who is waiting.
  • Is a people who have unity despite their differences.
  • Is devoted to praying together.
  • Trusts in God to guide them.

Chapter 2

  • Teaches the truth about repentance.
  • Teaches the truth about baptism.
  • Is supportive of one another.
  • Spends time together often throughout the week if possible.

Chapter 3

  • Has more to offer than the world would ever imagine.
  • Points out the sins of the world, yet with gentleness.
  • Takes every opportunity to share the gospel.

Chapter 4

  • Sometimes teaches a message that the governing authorities do not endorse.
  • Maintains the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ only.
  • Is full of members who are bold proclaimers of the word of God. 

Chapter 5

  • Has its own scandals, but handles them appropriately.
  • Has favor with outsiders.
  • Is protected and aided by God.

 Chapter 6

  • Takes care of its widows.
  • Has a leadership devoted to the Word and prayer.
  • Appoints men to serve in various capacities.

 Chapter 7

  • Has members who really know the Bible.
  • Is sometimes slandered falsely.
  • Is willing to die for Christ.
  • Is amazingly forgiving.

Chapter 8

  • Is sometimes physically persecuted.
  • Must not be corrupted by money.
  • Conducts one on one Bible studies resulting in baptism.

Chapter 9

  • Should not write someone off, assuming they could never come to Christ.
  • Is called to accept and encourage all who would receive the truth.
  • Sometimes gains its most powerful evangelists in its most drastic conversions.

 Chapter 10

  • Has godly women who continually show kindness.
  • Is no longer under Mosaic dietary restrictions.
  • Is open to all people, Jews and Gentiles.

 Chapter 11

  • Is not “set in its ways” so that it cannot learn new information.
  • Are known as “Christians.”
  • Sends men to preach wherever there is a need.
  • Collects money to send to brethren in need.

 Chapter 12

  • Is affected by the senseless whims of an unstable world.
  • Gathers in each other’s homes to pray.
  • Sometimes cannot believe what God is doing.
  • Is sometimes under a wicked government, yet still grows.

 Chapter 13

  • Combines prayer and fasting.
  • Boldly condemns false teaching.
  • Preaches an interesting message.
  • Shakes the dust from its feet.

 Chapter 14

  • Can become the center of public controversy.
  • May have charismatic leaders, but they are only human.
  • Suffers many tribulations.
  • Has elders in every church.

 Chapter 15

  • Doesn’t automatically know everything.
  • Seeks God’s help in uncovering truth.
  • Sometimes has quitters.

 Chapter 16

  • Connects the old and the young.
  • Has women that convert their families.
  • Emphasizes the urgency of baptism.
  • Uses the status of its members for good.

 Chapter 17

  • Reasons from the scriptures.
  • Searches the scriptures daily to see if teachings are accurate.
  • Speaks to outsiders in a language they can understand.

 Chapter 18

  • Has both “vocational” and full time ministers.
  • Has individuals with incomplete knowledge.
  • Is gentle in correcting the genuinely mistaken.
  • Uses scripture as its authority on all matters.

 Chapter 19

  • Is concerned with the details of baptism.
  • Comes in congregations of all sizes.
  • May find more open hearts among the “pagans” than the religious.
  • Confesses sin and repents.
  • Operates in a crazy world.

 Chapter 20

  • Gathers on the first day of the week to break bread.
  • Is overseen by elders, who shepherd the church.
  • Must be on the alert for troublemakers.
  • Builds emotionally powerful relationships.

Chapter 21

  • Has counted the cost.
  • Is universal, even as individual congregations are autonomous.
  • Must be careful to get the whole story before jumping to conclusions.

Chapter 22

  • Shares its personal stories.
  • Has its sins washed away in baptism.
  • Will encounter individuals who are blinded by emotion.

Chapter 23

  • Does not violate its conscience, but does not think it is infallible either.
  • Respects those in authority.
  • Weathers the storms of outside groups in turmoil.
  • Has important roles for young people.

Chapter 24

  • May be falsely accused.
  • Has much in common even with those outside the faith.
  • Refrains from unjust practices.
  • Can make people uncomfortable.

Chapter 25

  • Will always have enemies.
  • Will always be a minority.
  • May be perceived by the world as boring or unimportant.
  • Must be patient and wait on God’s timing.

Chapter 26

  • Is unashamed of its belief.
  • Repents in deed, not only in word.
  • Makes a clear and personal evangelistic appeal.

Chapter 27

  • Issues a warning that is sometimes ignored.
  • Earns respect as time reveals the truthfulness of its message.
  • Becomes the natural leader in times of turmoil.

Chapter 28

  • Develops positive relationships with its neighbors.
  • Sometimes gets special opportunities to make an appeal to the lost.
  • Convinces some and loses others.
  • Makes the best of circumstances that are less than ideal.church-206650_640