The Person of Christ – Part Seven – Mark 7:1 - 8:8

 

 

We have spent some time examining the offensive nature of the ministry of Jesus and the ministry He calls His disciples too. Now, in Mark 7, we will see a major obstacle to the spread of the gospel, an overemphasis and dependence upon human tradition or human wisdom. And we will also see how Jesus breaks with human tradition that contradicts and conflicts with the truth of His word.

 

 

The Trouble With Traditionalism

 

In Mark 6 Jesus returned to His home town of Nazareth where we saw that people are offended by the offensive ministry of Jesus and the gospel (6:1-13). We saw that sometimes those who are offended by the gospel will go so far as to persecute and even kill those on the offensive for Jesus (6:14-29). Strength is secured by the fellowship of those on Jesus’ offensive (6:30-31). And finally, we saw how Jesus provides all that we need on the offensive He calls us to and sustains us through fearful encounters (Mark 6:32-56).

 

While Jesus continues on His offensive the scribes and Pharisees take offense at Jesus finding fault with Him in regards to His deviating from their human traditions. This opens the door to a very important teaching by Jesus on the trouble with human traditions. In Mark 7 Jesus explains the problem with overemphasizing human traditions, that is, The Trouble With Traditionalism.

 

Traditions Focus on Externalities

 

Mark 7:1-5 – “Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”  [1]

To understand what is going on here we need to examine a bit of the history of the Jews. Jews of Jesus day rightly taught that God had given the Law (or Torah) to Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20). But where the Jews erred was that they came to believe that the interpretation of the Law made by the Pharisees referred to as “the tradition of the elders,” was, in practice, just as important as the Law itself.  The “tradition of the elders,” later came to be known as the Mishna.

The Mishnah contains the oral interpretations of the Torah committed to writing in the second and third centuries and was later expanded in the Gemara in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Talmud is the Mishna and the Gemara together. [2]

The tradition particularly in question here is that of hand washing. Bible Teacher Jon Courson makes the following comments on the place of the tradition of hand washing in the lives of these first century Jews:

“The Rabbis taught that at night, the demon Shibna would often come and sit upon a man’s hands as he slept. They went on to say that if anyone ate with hands that had been sat upon by a demon, the demon could enter into him through the food and take control of him. Therefore, the Rabbis concluded, before eating one needed to wash his hands in the following manner:

You would take one and a half eggshells of water and pour it over your hands as they were pressed together uprightly, letting the water drip only to your wrists and no further. Then, you would flip your hands over, pointing them downward while yet another one and a half eggshells of water was poured over them. Finally, you would rub your right fist with your left palm, then your left fist with your right palm.

This procedure was followed not only before every meal, but between each course of every meal.” [3]

This is an example of what happens when men exalt their commentary of God’s word over God’s word itself, it leads to all kinds of unbiblical teaching. What was going on in this situation was that the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to impose their human traditions on Jesus and His disciples and Jesus would have none of it.

Traditions Add to and Even Oppose At Times, The Word of God

Mark 7:6-13 – “He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’8 “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.10 “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’11 “But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God),12 “then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,13 “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”  [4]

Jesus points out the problem with the religious traditions that the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to impose on Him and His disciples. He showed by an example how their traditions actually contradicted and transgressed God’s Law, His word (Mark 7:8-9). He shows how tradition and its focus on externalities were being used to thwart and contradict the Law of God. 

Jesus recited the fifth commandment which states God orders the honor of one’s parents (Exodus 20:12). Jesus includes the Biblical admonition that the one who curses his parents shall be worthy of the death penalty (Exodus 21:17). Jesus then contrasts and shows how the human tradition of the Pharisees contradicted this law. The Pharisees had implemented a tradition whereby if you owned something of great value you could label it “Corban,” which literally meant, “gift of God.” By doing this you could keep the valuable item in your home and enjoy it, but it was set aside for God in a way that prohibited your selling it or using it for other purposes. This may sound good on the surface, but what it led to was unrighteous manipulation. You see if someone, even your parents came to you for help or financial assistance, you could keep from selling off your property to help them by saying, “Well, I’d like to help you, but you know how it is, I’ve dedicated [Corban] everything of value in my home to God and can’t really sell it off to assist you.” Jesus said such a practice served to nullify God’s word (15:6).  

The issue here is one of the heart. Jesus closes his comments here by saying:

  • Mark 7:6-7 - “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”   

Jesus assesses the action of those who act in such way as “hypocrites.” A hypocrite is one who puts on a mask externally to hide their true intent, what they are truly like in heart. The human tradition keepers used the tradition of “Corban” to hide that in their heart they loved money more than even their own parents. God’s word of course puts love for parents as the priority. But by using “Corban” to excuse themselves from helping their parents they could seem to be desiring to help and loving in their hearts toward their parents, when actually “Corban” was a loophole to hang on to their possessions or money by avoiding helping their parents. Jesus saw right through them and used the word of God to expose them (see Hebrews 4:12).

This statement by Jesus also tells us that God’s doctrine is not man-made. Doctrine is teaching from God’s word. These traditionalists had supplemented God’s word and actually undermined its truth and authority by way of their human traditional teachings.

Tradition is an Add-On

What is “tradition”? In Mark 7:6-7 Jesus defines “tradition,” (7:5) as “the commandments of men” (7:7).  The implication here is that the only true guide for the believer is that which has been inspired by God, man-made “traditions” or “commandments” are unreliable and secondary at best. God’s word flows from the perfect, infallible, inerrant heart of God. God’s word in its unadulterated form is reliable and authoritative for life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God’s word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). But when fallible human beings come along side God’s perfect word and add their two cents worth of commentary and opinion, the truth and light of God’s word is often watered down, stifled, and at worst contradicted. Traditions add on to God’s word and the add-ons are imperfections. That is why God prohibits the add-on aspect of tradition.

In numerous places in the Bible God warns against adding on or altering His word. This is shown in the following passages:

  • Deuteronomy 4:1-2 - “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you.2 “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”  [5]
  • Deuteronomy 12:32 - “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”  [6]
  • Proverbs 30:6 – “Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” [7]
  • Revelation 22:18-19 – “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book;19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” [8]

There is nothing more frustrating than to be misquoted or have things attributed to you that you never said. Such a practice gives a false and misleading impression of the person being misquoted and it is a form of manipulation. God is serious about His word and will not stand for anyone altering it because in doing so His is misrepresented. Since the salvation and eternal destiny of humanity rests on the proper revelation of God and His truth, to alter it is to deter and thwart that which is of utmost import. God’s heart is to save sinful humanity and in His word and by His word He has shown the way of salvation. If someone comes along and changes His road map, if someone comes along and alters the signs, it misdirects those who would seek Him and presents Him as someone He is not. God will not stand for that. Human tradition that changes the substance and truth revealed in Gods’ word is a grave and serious sin that needs to be repented of. (See Jeremiah 14:14-15).

Tradition – A Question of Lordship

Why would any person rely on tradition or use tradition to alter God’s word and its intended purpose? It is a question of lordship. By altering God’s word with tradition and even contradicting it, the human traditionalist puts themselves in a position of lordship and authority over against God’s word. By doing this God’s word can be ignored or outright disobeyed while maintaining an appearance of religious dedication. The traditionalist is not satisfied or content with the word that God has given and they are not willing to submit to its authority and rule. The traditionalist in a very real sense has rebelled against God’s word and therefore His authority.

It is a question of lordship; are you going to obey God’s word as God has delivered it to us, or are you going to rebel against God’s word and put yourself in a position to be lord? When human traditions are used to create doctrine and practices that manufacture things God never intended or that contradict God’s word, that traditionalist has put himself or herself in a place that is superior to God and His word. That is the worst of sin and rebellion!

The Dangerous Consequence of Traditionalism

When men’s traditions take a prominent place in the life of the church or the believer, a great danger lurks. In the gospels and the New Testament we see a warning against exalting human traditions to the same level of authority as that of God’s word, the Scriptures. The apostle Paul also spoke of this danger and the consequence when he was inspired to write:

  • Colossians 2:8-9 – “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;”  [9]

Human tradition, the teaching of mere men, can “cheat” us if we give them the same authority as God’s word. The word “cheat” is translated from the Greek term SULAGOGEO (Strong’s #4812) and means, “to carry off booty, to lead captive, to rob, to kidnap, to spoil, to lead away from the truth and subject to one’s sway.” [10] That is what will happen if one depends upon human tradition. Human tradition rests on infallible humans and will also come up short of God’s infallible word. We need to remember the following about human tradition.

First, human tradition is “aimless” in comparison to the true gospel of Christ.  That is what Peter says when he is inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”  [11]

Tradition is aimless in as much as it does not depend on Christ or fall in line with God’s word. We need to give priority and preeminence to God’s word, not human tradition.

Second, human tradition is powerless to help us spiritually. In Colossians Paul goes on to write:

  • Colossians 2:20-23 – “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”  [12]

What Paul points out is that if a person could not right themselves with God and be saved through good works or human efforts (Ephesians 2:8-9), then once saved it is futile to return to human based traditions and worldly opinions to address one’s spiritual life. Paul points out these things have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed or self-reliant religion and false humility, etcetera, but are really valueless I the spiritual battle against one’s fleshly desires.

Jesus pointed out the problem with the hypocritical Pharisees was that they cleaned the outside of the cup in their lives, but left the inside dirty (Matthew 23:25-26). That’s the problem with human tradition and religion; it only addresses the external and cannot touch to the root of the problem, the cleaning of the heart.

An Appreciation for the Word of God

I can remember that long before I ever accepted Jesus as my Savior and was born again that I did indeed want to know God. I sought Him and craved to hear Him like the Sunday school stories from the Bible taught that Abraham, Moses, and others heard from the Lord. But God was silent for me because I looked in all the wrong places. I searched for fulfillment and meaning in many dead end places. Then the Lord reached out and touched my heart and saved my soul. That was an awesome experience for me and one of the greatest blessings for me was the Bible. Once saved and filled with the Spirit, I found that God was not silent at all but had provided a glorious message of love that spoke loud and clear about His love for me and truth and the meaning and purpose of life. Once saved the groping for meaning and truth stopped and I found the truth of God’s word. Wow! God has spoken; He has spoken in His word! Wow!

I have never lost that appreciation for God’s word. It has been said that the word of God is like the ocean, shallow enough at the shoreline for the youngest of believers to wad and not drown, and deep enough further out that the greatest intellect cannot touch its bottom. The reliance on human tradition as a supplement or even a substitute for God’s word betrays a lack of appreciation for God’s word and that is so sad. Peter opened his second epistle by expressing the reason why we should appreciate God’s word being inspired to say:

  • 2 Peter 1:1-4 – “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, 1 To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”  [13]

Our precious faith, our righteousness by God’s grace and peace comes in multiplied doses in the knowledge of God and Jesus, which is contained in God’s word. God’s divine power that gives all we need to live godly lives comes through the word of God. God’s word conveys exceedingly great and precious promises to live by so that we can conformed to the likeness of Jesus and escape the lusts of the flesh (See also Romans 8:29). God’s word provides all of this for us. All the things mentioned in the above verses are found in God’s holy word.

As soon as my daughter was able to talk we started to have devotions with her and read God’s word to her. The day came as she grew that she started to be able to read. I can remember her coming to me and with great expectation and excitement saying, “Daddy, I can read and now I can read the Bible!” Reading the Bible was so exciting to her. That’ s what reading the Bible should be for us, exciting! We should approach it with great expectations. Now understand that you have to be born again and have the Holy Spirit within to understand God’s word (1 Corinthians 2:14). Without the Holy Spirit in you to illuminate the word, it will all be Greek or undecipherable to you. But with the Spirit in you, the realm of the word of God is opened to explore. Wow! Awesome!

Now you may read the Bible but do you read it out of guilt? Do you read it out of obligation? Or do you read it with great expectations? We shouldn’t read and study the Bible with an attitude that we have to or else we won’t be good Christians; no, our attitude should be “Wow! I get to read the Bible, God’s message to me!” The Bible is a tremendous gift and blessing to us (read Psalm 119 and don’t miss the psalmist’s attitude). Francis Schaefer was one of the greatest intellects of his day and he was a Bible believing Christian. He used to keep his Bible on his night table by his bed at night and at times during the night he’d reach over and with loving appreciation, he’d pat the Bible with a thankful heart. That would be a good habit to start in our lives. Keep your Bible at your bedside at night and if you are stirred and awake during the night, pick it up and read it prayerfully in the Spirit. Sometimes just reach over and pat it thankfully. Learn to appreciate the Bible.

Reliance on human tradition and human philosophy arises from a lack of appreciation for God’s word and often a shallow study of God’s word. I know of some who left God’s word for the extra biblical teachings of some mystics or other sources or alternatives to God’s word. They left because they grew impatient with God’s word and were unwilling to plumb the depths of the revelation of God. For them God’s word just wasn’t enough. Such an attitude ultimately leads to spiritual dryness and death. If you look at the dead churches of our day you will inevitably find that the dead church is the church that at some previous point left God’s word and lost their appreciation for it. Even churches that are filled with people can be spiritually dead if God’s word is not respected and taught. We need to get back to God’s word.

Someone has said that seven days without God’s word makes one weak. That is so true. An unknown writer wrote the following description of God’s word and it conveys the blessings and truth contained therein:

THE BIBLE - GOD’S HOLY BOOK

This Book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, it’s precepts are binding, its histories are true, and it’s decisions immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.  It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Christ is its subject, our good it’s design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently and prayerfully. It is given to you in life, will be open in the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who trifle with its holy precepts.”

Appreciate God’s word and it will serve you well.

The True Meaning and Right Use of “Tradition”

The Bible does use the word “ tradition,” eleven times in the New Testament (Matthew 15:2,3,6; Mark 7:3,5,8,9,13; 1 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6)).  The word translated “tradition” in the New Testament is PARADOSIS (Strong’s #3862), which has a literal meaning of, “to hand down, giving up, giving over,” or passing on of something. [14]

Eight of the eleven times “tradition” is used refers to the misguided and misused “traditions’ of the religious Pharisees in Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus confronting the Pharisees we are immediately studying. The ninth use of the term refers to the “traditions of men” referred to earlier in our study in Colossians 2:8. All of these uses are negative in nature.

There are far fewer uses of the term tradition that are favorable. When tradition is used in a favorable manner it refers to an acceptable body of teaching passed on by apostles. The apostle Paul used the term “tradition” on occasion when referring to the teachings he passed on as we see when he wrote:

 

  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 – “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions [PARADOSIN] just as I delivered [PARADIDOMI] them to you.”  [15]
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions         [PARADOSEIS] which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”   [16]
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6 – “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition [PARADOSIN] which he received from us.”  [17]

This last verse makes a distinction between mere human tradition and that tradition that is inspired by God. Paul goes out of his way to emphasize that the tradition the flock at Thessalonica needs to follow is that tradition “received from us.” It is Paul’s and the other apostle’s “tradition” in particular that is authoritative because the “tradition” passed on by Paul and other apostles were inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). .

Another term which can be used in a way that connotes the idea of passing on a doctrine or teaching is the Greek term PARADIDOMI (Strong’s # 3860). PARADIDOMI has the literal meaning of, “to give something to someone; hand over; deliver up, be taken care of; to deliver.” This is a more general term and is used in regards to handing someone over to a court (Matthew 10:17), or imprisonment (Matthew 4:12). The term can refer to handing one over to death (Matthew 17:22), or to betray someone (Matthew 10:4; John 6:64,71). This word is used when John states that Jesus on the cross “He gave up His spirit”  (John 19:30). Paul uses the term to state how God “delivered Him up,” [i.e. Jesus] (Romans 8:32). When Paul states that Jesus “gave Himself for me,” he uses the Greek term PARADIDOMI (Galatians 2:20).

But PARADIDOMI can also be used to refer to the passing on of a tradition, testimony or doctrine as seen in the following verses:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3 – “For I delivered [PARADIDOMI] to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”  [18]
  • Jude 3 – “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered [PARADIDOMI] to the saints.”  [19]

In both of these verses PARADIDOMI is used to refer to doctrine or teaching that was handed down by the apostles.

Therefore, acceptable tradition, (or that passed on), is that which coincides and agrees with the teachings of the apostles or the larger body of the inspired word of God.

Tradition spoken of by the apostles was inspired material. The apostles were uniquely inspired by God to write that which the Spirit would have them write (John 15:26-27). The apostles based what they handed down to future generations of Christians on their eyewitness accounts of Jesus (2 Peter 1:16.19). That handed down by the apostles was classified as “Scripture” in the Bible (2 Peter 3:16). That handed down by the apostles has a once and for all nature about it (Jude 3). That passed on by the apostles was consistent with God’s truth and originated from their relationship with Jesus (Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 11:1-23; 15:1-3).

Human tradition is therefore that which falls outside of the inspired body of material handed down by the apostles. Human tradition depends upon humanity as its source. Human tradition is only permissible when it does not contradict God’s word. The traditions of the Early Church Fathers (Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers) offer interesting commentary on the early workings of the church and its history, but it is not inspired or to be given the same authoritative weight as that of the Bible. Any and all statements, orders, decisions, or commands coming out of the church from after the close of the canon of Scripture at the end of the first century up to the present and until the end of history must, like any other material, be scrutinized through the lens of the inspired word of God.

Didn’t The Church Determine the Canon AFTER The First Century?

There is a misconception, a false teaching, perpetrated by those in the church who seek to elevate themselves to a position of authority over God’s word. The “canon” (literally “measure”) of Scripture refers to those writings which are inspired by God through human writers. God’s word is not inspired because the church determined it was inspired, God’s word is inspired because when God gave it He inspired it. The church merely discovered the inspired works of God.

How Was The Canon Discovered?

In their great work, A General Introduction to the Bible, Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix explain the proper view of how the canon of Scripture came to be recognized. In their book they state:

“Canonicity is determined by God. A book is not inspired because men made it canonical; it is canonical because God inspired it.” [20]

 

Geisler and Nix go on to contrast the incorrect view and correct view of canonization in the following way:

 

INCORRECT VIEW                                         CORRECT VIEW

 

The Church is DETERMINER of Canon        The Church is DISCOVERER of Canon

The Church is MOTHER of Canon                The Church is CHILD of Canon

The Church is MAGISTRATE of Canon       The Church is MINISTER

The Church is REGULATOR of Canon         The Church is RECOGNIZER of Canon

The Church is JUDGE of Canon                    The Church is WITNESS of Canon

The Church is MASTER of Canon                 The Church is SERVANT of Canon

 

Geisler and Nix explain that canonization was discovered based on the following evidences.

 

1.)     Is it AUTHORITATIVE?   Did it come with the authority of God?  (E.g. “Says the LORD” Is. 1:18; Mk. 1:22)

2.)     Is it PROPHETIC?    Was it written by a man of God? (2 Peter 1:20; Heb. 1:1)

3.)     Is it AUTHENTIC?  Did it tell the truth about God, man, etc.? Bible does not contradict truth. (Acts 17:11; I John. 4:1-6)

4.)     Is it DYNAMIC?   Did it come with the life-changing power of God? (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23)

5.)     Was it RECEIVED?  Was it collected, read, used and accepted by the people of God? (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

 

These criteria are what tips off God’s people as to the peculiar and uniquely blessed writings that come straight from the heart of God to His people. Human tradition does not have the authority of God and at times, though written by men of God, do not always speak the truth of God. Human tradition is impotent in comparison to God’s word. Some men may have accepted human tradition, but the early church did not receive it as was the inspired canonical writings of the 66 Old and New Testament books.

 

When Was The Canon of the Church In Place?

 

Geisler and Nix go on to say the following about when the canon was set:

 

“The Old Testament canon was probably completed about 400 B.C. . . . At these councils (of Hippo -A.D. 393 and Carthage - A.D. 397) the New Testament canon, which was ratified, agreed with the present-day canon of twenty-seven books. It should be remembered, however, that the canon was actually completed when the last New Testament book was written.”  [21]  

 

Who did determine what the canon of scriptural writings was and that the canon was complete?

 

The Holy Spirit Determined the Canon of Inspired Writings of God

 

Geisler and Nix go on to explain the role of the Holy Spirit in canonization and inspiration:

 

The witness of the Holy Spirit. The recognition of canonicity was not a mere mechanical matter settled by a synod or ecclesiastical council. It was a providential process directed by the Spirit of God as He witnessed to the church about the reality of the Word of God. Man of himself could not identify the Word of God, but the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their understanding so that they could recognize God’s Word. Jesus said, ‘My sheep will hear My voice’ (John 10:27) . . . . In the providence of God, the principles were used to determine the extent of the canon, while the Holy Spirit gave assurance as to the reality of its message.”  [22]

 

Therefore, we see that canonization as well as inspiration is a work of the Holy Spirit, not the church. What happens when tradition is given the same authority as God’s inspired word? Let’s look at some examples.

 

From Persecution to Peace - The Origin and Overflow of Church Traditions

 

There are portions of the Church that over time have become inundated with human traditions to the extent that manmade tradition has been exalted to equal authority with God’s holy write the Scriptures. Human traditions often start with scriptures as a launching point, but then move from elaboration to embellishment to downright contradiction of God’s word.

At the end of the New Testament in the book o Revelation seven letters from Jesus to seven churches are recorded (Revelation 2-3). Out of the seven letters to churches only two are given a non-critical review by Jesus (i.e. the letters to the church at Smyrna and Philadelphia). The other five letters to churches by Jesus point out critical lapses in their spiritual state and method of ministry. To the church of Ephesus Jesus says they are very busy but have left their first love. To the church of Pergamos Jesus says they have compromised doctrinally, have become willing to let the ends justify questionable means, have allowed a professionalism to arise that separates clergy from laity. To the church at Thyatira He says they work hard but have allowed immorality to exist within. To the church at Sardis He says they are very denominational and very dead. And to the church of Laodicea He says they are uncommitted, undecided about their mission, lukewarm and distasteful to Him enough so that He will vomit them out of His mouth. What is critical to grasp is that this assessment was at the end of the FIRST century! In other words, the church had already drifted and shown great problems by the end of the first century.

Why is this important? Because it is proof that the Church cannot be depended upon as the final authority for the believer. If the Church is not the final authority then who or what is? I would contend (see Jude 3) that God’s word is our final and God ordained final authority in spiritual things and matters pertaining to God. We will see why this is true further on in our study.

But the point I wish to make here is that if the Church had been corrupted in so many ways by the end of the first century, in the subsequent centuries that followed, the church became worse! The question then arises, how did the Church become so corrupted, drift so far in so many ways from the word of God? When did the drift from God and His word begin?

In 312 A.D. the last of the persecuting Roman emperors Diocletian died leaving the Roman Empire fragmented between a number of contestants for the throne. The two most powerful were Maxentius and Constantine. In 312 A.D. the armies of these two figures met at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, which passed over the Tiber River.  Constantine was on the brink of being pushed out of contention for emperor by Maxentius.  At a critical moment in the battle, badly outnumbered, Constantine is alleged to have seen a vision of a cross in the sky with the Latin  words, “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES” [23]or “IN THIS SIGN CONQUER.” [24] As a result some contend that Constantine converted to Christianity. As to the authenticity of this conversion Earle E. Cairns writes,

“Though the vision may have occurred, it is likely that Constantine’s favoritism to the church was a matter of expediency. The church might serve as a new center of unity and save classical culture and the empire. The fact that he delayed baptism till shortly before his death and kept the position of Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of the pagan state religion, would seem to support this view. Moreover, his execution of the young men who might have had a claim to his throne was not in keeping with the conduct of a sincere Christian. Perhaps there was a mixture of superstition and expediency in his policy.” [25]

In further support of this view is the fact that Constantine who was badly outnumbered at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, saw that there was a group uninvolved in the war to this point. This group could tip the balance. Who was this group of people? Christians! As he professed their faith he drew them into support of his efforts. Needless to say, Constantine won the battle as a result.

Consequently, Constantine ended the persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire when in 313 A.D he granted the Edict of Toleration. Soon all Roman babies were required by law to be baptized into the Christian faith. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.  A coin issued around this time by Constantine had Christian symbols on one side and pagan symbols on the other. A marriage took place between the state and the church.  This was the beginning of the great and terrible drift from God and His word by His Church.

You see Constantine was presented with a problem. How could he maintain the political support of the pagan religious community as well as the Christian community? What he did was orchestrate a mixture of pagan and Christian religious practices that led to the polluting of the church.   

Dr. Raul Ries writes concerning this period:

“By A.D. 312, Constantine had become so affected by the idea of Christianity, that he made it the state religion. Everyone in the Roman Empire became a Christian by decree of the emperor. Obviously, that did not mean that everyone under Roman domination suddenly turned to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and embraced the teachings of the Bible. The decree simply re-labeled any existing religious practice as ‘Christianity,’ whether or not it had anything to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. FROM A.D. 312 ON, THEN, THE CHURCH BECAME MORE ROMAN AND LESS CHRISTIAN IN PRACTICE.  The true Christians, however, recognized what was happening, and began separating themselves from the official state religion. As they separated themselves, though, they began to be persecuted again. The church became polluted because of all the things that were imported from Romanism.” (Emphasis added.) [26]

Therefore you see that human tradition can oftentimes serve to clutter the truth of God’s word rather than clarify it.

A Major Theological Change – End Times Lethargy

Now that the church was no longer being persecuted the desire for the appearing of the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13) began to diminish. The church began to view the period of persecution leading up to Constantine’s reign as The Great Tribulation. They viewed the events of 312 A.D. as the beginning of the Millennium and believed that the church would establish the Kingdom of God. This resulted in a departure from the Biblical doctrine of the Rapture of the church. This theological shift based on human traditions adopted into the church led to and continues to lead to a lukewarm lack of urgency about the return of Jesus both at the Rapture and at the Second Coming. This is a dangerous condition for people to be in. Jesus warned about the need to be ready when He said:

  • Matthew 25:1-13 – ““Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.2 “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.3 “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,4 “but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.5 “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’7 “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.8 “And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’9 “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’10 “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’12 “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”  [27]

Oil in the Scriptures is a symbol of the Spirit (see Zechariah 4:6). Therefore, from this parable of Jesus we see that the reason for the foolish virgins lack of readiness was a lack of the Spirit in their lives. Perhaps Jesus was alluding to the dependence on human traditions rather than on the Holy Spirit in the church.

Jesus also said:

  • Luke 21:36 - “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  [28]

We need to be ready at all times and pray that you are ready at the return of Jesus for His church.

But you see when the Church changed its mindset of expectation for the return of Jesus to enjoyment of their newfound position in the world; it was the first of a set of dominoes that would topple in the process of drifting far from God and His word.

We see this full blown in the Church today especially in the affluent West. When believers are preoccupied with the things of this world, why should they be at all enthusiastic with the prospect of the imminent of Christ? In fact, I have heard people say, “Oh Lord come, but don’t’ come until I’m married!” And we might add that people would put off the return of Jesus for the sake of secular advancement, buying a home, raising a family, etc., etc. These are all good things but when Christians make these things the priority over their relationship with Jesus in their life, it saps them of their spiritual vigor and zeal for the things of God.  If the letters of Jesus to the seven churches represent historical epochs in Church history as well as local and various types of churches, then the final church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church, is surely a good representation of the state of the Church today.

Let’s look at an example of just how far from God and His word human tradition can get.

The Example of the Tradition of Christmas

 

In history, the false Babylonian religious system which traces it’s origin back to the Tower of Babel and Nimrod (Genesis 10) emigrated to the City of Pergamos (see Revelation 2:12-17), and then later to Rome itself.[29] The melding of Christianity and pagan Babylonian cultic practices resulted in a number of traditions in the church. An example of such a tradition is as follows.

In the pagan Babylonian pantheon Nimrod, “a mighty hunter against the Lord” (Genesis 10:9) married a woman named Semiramis.  While Nimrod was away or had died (the exact details are unclear at this point) Semiramis miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to a son who was named Tammuz. Tammuz was killed by a wild beast at around the time of the winter solstice (December 22-25). The story continues with Tammuz came back to life three days later. To celebrate this miracle a holiday was proclaimed for this time of year and a tradition was established the form of which involved the taking of a log, called a “Yule” (Babylonian word for “child”) and burning it in the fire. The fire burns the log and the log is replaced with a tree, an evergreen tree which is decorated with silver and stood up by fastening it with nails so it will not topple over. This is referred to by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 10:1-5.

·         Jeremiah 10:1-5 - “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel.2 Thus says the Lord:  “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. 4 They decorate it with silver and gold;  They fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple. 5 They are upright, like a palm tree, And they cannot speak;  They must be carried, Because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, For they cannot do evil, Nor can they do any good.”   [30]

The tree is to celebrate the miracle resurrection of Tammuz. The story of Semiramis and Tammuz is traceable through many different cultures:

·         Roman - Venus and Cupid

·         Greek - Aphrodite and Eros

·         Egypt - Iris and Horis

·         Phoenician - Ashtoroth and Tammuz

This pantheon is a diabolical counterfeit to God’s divine plan of salvation in Christ. Satan knows the Scriptures and seeks to undo God’s plan of salvation (e.g. Genesis 3:15).

The result of the melding of religions led to the change of the Saturnalia holiday which celebrated Tammuz’ resurrection to Christmas.  The same priestly robes and incense burning used by the Babylonian priests were kept and incorporated into the Christian celebration.  The title of Pontifex Maximus held by the Babylonian priests was also incorporated into the religious traditions of the church.

Another holiday incorporated into Christianity was that of Ishtar which celebrated the miracle birth of Tammuz. On this holiday people the colored of eggs to call to remembrance how Tammuz was miraculously formed in the womb of Semiramis.  The name of this holiday that was Christianized became Easter.[31]

Other traditions flowed from this mixture of religions. 

Troubling Traditions

 

Below are a number of traditions and the dates they were adopted by the Church. None of these traditions are Biblically supportable and many are contradictions of the Word of God. The Scriptures listed next to the traditions represent what the Bible has to say about such beliefs.

 

·         Praying for the dead (A.D. 300) - Hebrews 9:27

·         The sign of the cross (A.D. 375) - Matthew 6:1-18

·         Worship of saints and angels (A.D. 394) - Exodus 20:1-6; Matthew 4:8-10

·         The Roman Catholic Mass (A.D. 431) - Hebrews 9:24-28

·         Worship of Mary (A.D. 500) - Exodus 20:1-6; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 1:47; 11:27-28

·         Priests wearing robes and collars to separate themselves from the laity  (A.D. 593) - Mark 10:45; Luke 22:24-27; Hebrews 8 and 10; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 2:6,15

·         Purgatory (A.D. 600)  - Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27

·         Title of pope given to Boniface III by emperor Phocas (A.D. 607) - Galatians 2:11-14; 1 Timothy 6:15

·         Doctrine of kissing the Pope’s foot (A.D. 709) - Romans 3:23; Revelation 19:10

·         Worship of the cross, images, and relics authorized (A.D. 786) - Exodus 20:1-6; Leviticus 26:1; 2 Kings 18:4-6; Isaiah 42:8; 1 John 5:21

·         Use of holy water (A.D. 850) - John 4:5-26

·         Canonization of dead saints by Pope John XV (A.D. 995)

·         Fasting on Fridays during Lent (A.D. 998) - Galatians 4:8-14; Colossians 2:16-17

·         Celibacy of the priesthood by Pope Gregory VII; priests and nuns forbidden to marry (A.D. 1079) - 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 27; 1 Timothy 4:1-3

·         Mechanical praying with beads, or the Rosary, invented by Peter the Hermit (A.D. 1090) - Matthew 6:7-8

·         The inquisition (A.D. 1184) - 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:15-17

·         Sale of indulgences (A.D. 1190) - Matthew 6:19-21, 24; Romans 3:24; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; 2 Peter 3:16; 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:7,18-19

·         Transubstantiation (A.D. 1215) - Hebrews 9:24-27

·         Establishment of communion wafer (A.D. 1220)

·         The Bible forbidden to laymen; only the priest could read the Bible; he would inform the people of God’s message (A.D. 1229) - John 14:26; 16:8, 13; 1 Corinthians 2:13-16; 1 John 2:27

·         Communion cup forbidden to the people (A.D. 1414) - Acts 2:42

·         Doctrine of purgatory decreed of by the Council of Florence (A.D. 1439) - Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27

·         Seven sacraments affirmed, including baptism, penance, holy communion, confirmation, holy matrimony, holy orders, and extreme unction (A.D. 1439) - 1 Corinthians 1:17

·         Ava Maria approved (A.D. 1508)

·         Jesuit priesthood order founded by Ignatius Loyola (A.D. 1534)

·         Roman Catholic tradition granted equal authority with the Bible (A.D. 1545) - Psalm 119; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17

·         Apocrypha l books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent; these books are not accepted as inspired literature by the Protestant movement, (they do have some historical value) (A.D. 1546) - Revelation 22:18-19

·         Immaculate Conception of Mary introduced (A.D. 1854) - Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 1:47; 11:27-28; Luke 1:47; Romans 3:23

·         Infallibility of the Pope declared (A.D. 1870) - Romans 3:23; Galatians 2:11-14

·         Public schools condemned by Pius XI (A.D. 1930)

·         Assumption of the Virgin Mary proclaimed by Pius XII (A.D. 1950) -; Romans 3:23

·         Mary proclaimed to be the Mother of the Church by Paul VI (A.D. 1965) - Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 1:47; 11:27-28; Romans 3:23[32]

 

When Constantine came to power in the fourth century, he called together those bishops who were willing and met with them. He established a basilica in Rome. Constantine entertained a group of monks from Haifa who practiced the mingling of Babylonian practices with Christian practices. From this group a monk by the name of DAMISUS was given the title of SUPREME PONTIFF by Constantine and named the bishop of Rome. From that point on all of Christendom would bow to the Roman pontiff. It was at this point, not until the fourth century, that the church was renamed the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. [33]

MARK THAT ACTION: Human traditions often contradict and conflict with God’s word; when they do they must be discarded for the superior authority of the truth of Gods’ inspired word. Jesus rebuked those who relied on human traditions that contradicted and undermined the authority of God’s word. Human traditions that rebel against God’s authority and misrepresent Him are blasphemous, sinful and need to be repented of. Jesus lived by the word of God supremely, so should we.

The Heart of the Problem With Traditionalism

Mark 7:14-23 – “When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand:15 “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.16 “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.18 So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him,19 “because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 “thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.23 “All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  [34]

Jesus then comes to the heart of the problem with men’s traditions. He says very particularly:

  • So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him,19 “because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 “thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.23 “All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:18-23)

This is a very clear a precise statement by Jesus stating the problem or trouble with traditions and relying on them for spiritual growth and direction. The trouble with relying on human tradition is that, traditions do not connect with the heart. Human traditions are ineffective in dealing with the rudimentary problems of people, which centers in the heart. Jesus says that while the scribes and Pharisees are all consumed with what goes into a person and how they consume things (i.e. ritual cleansing), the real issue is what comes out of a person’s mouth because that is what determines whether or not he or she is defiled (Mark 7:20).

In Matthew’s account of interaction it reveals that when Jesus had said this, the disciples came to Jesus on the side and told Him, “Master, do you know you really offended the scribes and Pharisees by your words?” (Matthew 15:12). The disciples were concerned with the offending the establishment, not a good sign of where they were with the Lord based on what we learned in Mark 6. Jesus stayed the course with them saying that that which is not planted by God would be uprooted (Matthew 15:13). He likened the Pharisees and scribes, who relied on human tradition to, “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14a). Jesus went on to say that such would wind up in a ditch. In other words those who rely on human traditions are spiritually blind and off track with God. Traditionalism leads to spiritual blindness. If you are going to depend on human traditions to find God and relate to Him, you will eventually fall into a spiritual ditch!

The Heart of the Problem

Jesus’ disciples didn’t quite get what Jesus was saying so they came to Him for further explanation. Jesus then teaches the heart of the problem. The problem with human traditions is that they do not get to the heart of the problem with people, which is, the heart (Mark 7:18-23; Matthew 15:17-20). It isn’t the ritual cleansing of one’s hands that determines one’s cleanliness before God, but it is the condition of one’s heart on the inside before God.

The Bible tells us that the problem with humankind is that their hearts are all fowled up. This is what God said through Jeremiah when he was inspired to write:

  • Jeremiah 17:9-10 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”  [35]

Read some of the other verses in the Bible which speak of the problematic heart condition of humankind:

  • Genesis 6:5 – “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  [36]
  • Jeremiah 5:23 – “But this people has a defiant and rebellious heart; They have revolted and departed.”  [37]
  • Romans 1:21; 2:5 – “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . . 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” [38]
  • Ephesians 4:17-19 – “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”  [39]

This is only a small sampling of the verses that could have been quoted to show the sinful condition of people’s hearts. If human traditions and rules are unable to deal with the heart problem of humankind what can?

The Heart of the Solution

Only God can heal and fix the sinful heart of a person. No work or adherence to a tradition can affect the condition of a sinful heart. God alone holds the answer to the sinful heart problem of people.

God is the one who “opens” a person’s heart so that they can see their need of salvation. This was the case in the book of Acts when Paul ministered to a crowd with a certain lady named Lydia. Read what God did in this woman’s heart:

  • Acts 16:14 – “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”  [40]

God is the One who opens people’s hearts. He alone can do the spiritual heart surgery required on the ailing heart of sinful people. Paul was inspired to write in this regard:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  [41]

The Bible tells us that God is able to do an actual heart transplant so that when we turn to Him through faith in Jesus, He gives us a new heart that is established and steady in Him. Read what the Bible says:

  • Ezekiel 11:19 - “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh,”  [42]
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 – “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”  [43]

All we need do to have this heart transplant done by God in us is to give Him our hearts. But what about after we’ve given God our hearts, how then should we live?

God’s Word His Spiritual Scalpel

God has given us His word so that our hearts might be operated upon as with a spiritual scalpel, His word. It is God’s word that is the powerful and authoritative tool He uses to work on our hearts to mold and shape and clean them of fleshly infection. This is stated in Hebrews where God has inspired the following words:

  • Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” [44]

We have seen that the heart of humanity is sinful and deceitful. It is God’s word that cuts through the sin and deceit and does so in a powerful way. Human traditions are like trying to use a butter knife in heart surgery, you will have a problem even breaking the surface of the skin. But God’s word is so sharp, so perfect that sometimes He will cut to the heart of the problem and you won’t even realize He has cut you until the healing occurs or He brings it to light in you.

There is no substitute for God’s word, not human tradition or worldly philosophy and any other alternative. There is no alternative to the word of God!

The Tragic Consequence of Church Tradition - Distraction from God’s Spiritual Surgery

If God’s word is a sharp scalpel, tradition is a dull knife that won’t even break the skin. All tradition does is cut nerve tissue, leave scars and creates a callous over the heart that desensitizes a person toe God and His word. In what way is this true? It is true because while a person is preoccupied with following traditions motivated by the manipulation of guilt and obligation, they are actually distracted from God’s operating room where He wants to do a spiritual surgical intervention that will bring healing and growth. Human traditions distract us from what is truly important in our walk with God.

You see human tradition is not only troubling because it so often contradicts, embellishes, and distorts God’s word, but it distracts us from God working in us by deceiving us into thinking He is working in us when He is not. By following human traditions that contradict and conflict with God’s word a person is removing themselves from God’s operating room where He can cut through the deceptions and self deluding rationalizations of our dark hearts. Human traditions take us off God’s operating table and put us on man’s operating table. That is like moving from the oversight of a master surgeon to a surgery performed by the three stooges! Who would you rather operate on you, the infinite, all knowing all powerful, all merciful and all loving God or puny, impotent, fallible, ignorant man? I’ll stick with God thank you!

Give God Your Heart

So what should we do, how do we get back on God’s operating table? God, in His word, calls us to give Him our hearts. We have to go to God and request His masterful and all effective heart surgery. When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment of God He identified the one calling for the giving of the entire heart to God. Jesus said this in a response to some religious traditionalists later in Mark:

  • Mark 12:28-31 – “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.31 “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  [45]

Humankind has a fatal heart condition that will lead to eternal spiritual death unless it is treated. God alone can treat the sinful heart. That is why salvation aims at the heart. The Bible states this in the following verses:

  • Romans 10:9-10 – “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  [46]

Once saved, the believer follows God with their hearts as the Bible states:

  • Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  [47]

God wants our hearts. And He wants His word to dwell richly in our hearts, which is the key response to countering the sin of traditionalism.

Triumphing Over Traditionalism - How Do We Avoid The Sin of Traditionalism?

We have seen the futility and impotence of traditionalism. Many have been sidetracked in their faith by giving too much attention and authority to the traditions of men rather than to the word of God. How do we avoid the sin of traditionalism? Very simply, we triumph over and avoid the sin of traditionalism by standing on and giving priority to the word of God.

 

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to rely on human tradition for guidance. God has given us His inspired word to guide and build us up in our faith. God’s word is sufficient, we don’t need to add to it! Therefore the following practical actions will help us avoid the sin of traditionalism.

 

Remember what Peter was inspired to teach when he wrote:

 

  • 2 Peter 1:3-4 – “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”  

God has given to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness . . . . ” How? “Through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises . . . .” Where is this knowledge of God? Where are these exceedingly great and precious promises? In God’s word! And when we go to God’s word we are led to become “partakers of the divine nature,” in other words, God uses His word to conform us to the likeness of Jesus, which is His plan and purpose for us (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). It is through the application of God’s word in and through us by the Holy Spirit that we are able to escape worldly lusts, that is, we are enabled to walk in the Spirit and not the lust of our flesh (Galatians 5).

But there are five things we can practically implement by the power of the Spirit that will keep us from getting sidetracked with human traditions and worldly philosophies.

 

First, receive God’s word, as it is, GOD’S WORD! When the apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians he complimented them on their spiritual growth. What was the secret of the spiritual maturity in this relatively young church body? It was that they received God’s word as God’s word. Read what Paul was inspired to write:

 

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 2:13 – “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. . . . 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”  [48]

You can’t approach God’s word like a daily newspaper. God’s word is more than a novel or history book. The Bible is not a compilation of stories or just another book. No, THE BIBLE IS GOD’S WORD, FROM HIS HEART TO OUR HEART. The first step in growing in your faith and avoiding traditionalism is to value, appreciate, cherish, hunger after, and treasure God’s word in your heart. When you do that, you will have a built in safeguard against not only traditionalism, but also every other aberrant teaching that is in the world.

 

Have you ever received a love letter? If so, how did you read it? When I receive a love letter from my bride, I don’t only read it, I meditate on it, I pause and digest each word, I concentrate and take it all in so that I can squeeze all of the love out of it and drink it all in. That’s how you should read God’s word. God’s word is a love letter from God’s heart to our heart. God’s word is to be cherished.

 

Second, put God’s word in your heart. As the Psalmist wrote:

 

  • Psalm 119:11 – “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”  [49]

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”  “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”  “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”  Think about that verse, repeat it over and over and let the truth of it sink into your heart. That is what it means to hide God’s word in your heart. We need to absorb God’s word in every way possible, read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, eat it, and feast on it. The word in us used by the Spirit has a powerful impact on our lives. No tradition can match that affect.

Third, scrutinize everything and everyone by the standard of God’s word. That is what the Bereans did according to the book of Acts where it states:

  • Acts 17:10-11 – “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”  [50]

We need to be students of God’s word as Paul says to pastor Timothy:

  • 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  [51]

Fourth, regularly scrutinize yourself through the lens of God’s word. It is God’s word that helps us to know the truth about our hearts and where we stand with God, where we need to surrender to Him to work on us. Our heart is deceitful and will at times do everything to hinder the Lord’s work in it (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Our heart has a mind of its own, a will of its own, so to speak. The Bible calls that mind and will of our heart that is selfish and self-centered, the flesh. The Bible states that in our “flesh” there is no good thing:

  • Romans 7:18 – “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”  [52]

Our flesh is lustful (Romans 13:14; Ephesians 2:3). Our flesh works against the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:17). The flesh is the source of many evils (Galatians 5:19-21).  If we live according to our flesh we will corrupt and destroy ourselves (Romans 7:5; Galatians 6:8). The only way to deal with our flesh is to crucify it by the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:24). We need to walk in the Spirit not our flesh (Romans 8:1,4,12,13). God’s word is crucial to our having victory over our flesh.

Remember, God’s word is like a scalpel that the Spirit uses to perform spiritual surgery on our hearts. God’s word cuts away the rationalizations, excuses and resistance of our flesh, and lays us bare and naked before God so He can do His transforming work (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word tells the truth about our heart, it cuts away the fogginess and faulty reasoning of our flesh. If we are to grow in the Lord, we must regularly scrutinize ourselves through the lens of God’s word.

Fifth, God’s word is sufficient; we don’t need to supplement it with other “authoritative” works of humanity in order for it to be used by God in us to accomplish His will in us. There is nothing wrong with reading things other than the Bible. We may even read tradition from the church fathers. But God’s word must always be the primary and preeminent authority in our spiritual walk. The Bible is to be our authority in our lives. The Bible is from the heart of God and reveals His heart on matters of life, and is therefore sufficient to make us all that God would have us to be.  The Bible tells us this when it states:

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  [53]

God’s word is His prescribed tool to work His will in people. God has revealed precious promises (2 Peter 1:3-4) in His word and given us ALL we need to please Him in His word. It is God’s word that He uses to make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Humans do not have to supplement God’s word with their own brand of wisdom. Take in God’s word in an undiluted manner and He will accomplish all He has promised to accomplish in you.

Taking a Stand For the Priority of God’s Word Over Tradition

The importance of relying upon the Bible as ones’ sole spiritual authority over and above of human tradition comes out in this account found in the book Jesus Freaks:

“In the early 1500s, only scholars could read God’s Word. The only legal Bible was in Latin, which most of the common people could not understand. Since they could not read God’s Word for themselves, they had to rely upon what others told them it said.

It was illegal to own an English Bible or even memorize Scripture in English. In fact, in 1519, seven Christians were burned at the stake in Coventry, England, for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in English!

[An argument ensued between a Doctor of Divinity and the scholar William Tyndale.] Before long, the two men were arguing heatedly. Tyndale quoted Scriptures; the doctor quoted man-made traditions and church rules. Finally, the Doctor of Divinity shouted, ‘It would be better to be without God’s laws than without the Pope’s.’

Tyndale courageously replied, ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws! In fact, if God spares my life, I intend to make it possible for a common farmer, a plowman, to know more of the Scripture than you do!’ . . . .

[Tyndale began working on an English translation of the New Testament.] In 1526, Tyndale’s English New Testament began trickling into England. The Scriptures, now referred to as the ‘pirate edition,’ were made smaller than conventional books. This size was easier to smuggle into bales of cotton and containers of wheat being shipped into England.

As copies poured into England, they were eagerly bought and read by all sorts of ordinary people, who often sat up all night reading them or hearing them read. When the Bishop of London discovered the New Testaments, he bought as many as he could on the black market, paying full price for them. He declared, ‘I intend to burn and destroy them all.’ The merchant who had smuggled them into England gave the money to Tyndale, who then printed three times as many in a revised version. The Bishop of London had unknowingly become Tyndale’s foremost financial supporter! . . . .

Within the next ten years, Tyndale’s New Testament was widely distributed throughout England. Bible truths were now available to everyone, and many people discovered they could have a personal relationship with God based on His Word. At the same time, anyone caught with this illegal book faced severe persecution. Prisons were overflowing and thousands of Christians were executed. Weekly, reports of the persecutions would come to Tyndale, who remained in exile in Europe and continued his translation of the Old Testament. Two of Tyndale’s close friends were burned at the stake. Even church officials, once persecutors, became martyrs after finding the truth in Tyndale’s work.

[Tyndale was eventually abducted when a friend betrayed him.] Tyndale spent the next eighteen months in prison near Brussels, Belgium. With the help of Miles Coverdale, he was able to complete part of the Old Testament. During his stay in prison, his powerful preaching and the sincerity of his life greatly influenced those around him. The jailer, the jailer’s daughter, and others of his household accepted the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior.

On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was taken from his dungeon and strangled. Then his body was burned. His last words were a fervent prayer: ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!’

God honored Tyndale’s prayer. Within three years, the King of England gave instructions that a copy of the “Great Bible’ completed by Tyndale’s co-worker, Coverdale, including Tyndale’s New Testament, be placed in every church in England!

Tyndale’s translation was so accurate that 75 years later, when the King James Version of the Bible was published, it was based largely upon Tyndale’s work. In fact, about 90 percent of the words remain exactly as he wrote them!” [54]

We need to know and address the trouble with traditionalism and rely solely on God’s word for direction and edification in our faith.

The 3T Strategy

We need to adopt a 3T strategy. The 3Ts of the 3T strategy stand for TROUBLE, TRUTH and TRANSFORMATION. What I mean here is that we need to understand, there are troubles with tradition, there is truth in God’s word, and when you take God’s word to heart, it will transform you. There may be trouble with tradition, but there is always truth in God’s word, and if you take it into your heart, it will transform you. There is a big difference between Gods’ word and human tradition. Human tradition is second hand human opinions on spiritual things that may or may not be rooted in the truth of God’s word. Don’t risk missing the truth of God or getting cheated out of what God wants for you. God directly to His word and use this as your primary rule and guide for living.

Breaking With Tradition - Going to the Gentiles

The opposition to Jesus and His ministry was growing. Some, like John the Baptist, had been martyred (Mark 6:14-29). He had just had a discussion where He rebuked the traditionalism of the scribes and Pharisees (Mark 7:1-23). Jesus now left Gennesaret (Mark 6:53) for the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mark 6:24,31). This marks the first and only known time that Jesus ventured into Gentile territory to minister. This is new territory for Jesus and for His disciples in terms of ministry. In Matthew’s gospel account when Jesus sent the disciples out on their first missionary journey He directed them to avoid Gentiles and focus upon “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Now Jesus was going into Gentile territory, what gives?

 

What is happening here is that Jesus is breaking with human tradition. The word “tradition” conveys the idea of something that is repeated, to be expected, set in stone and unchanging. Now there are things that are unchanging, like God’s word. But there are other things, human established traditions for instance, which although they are given prominence and a sense of permanence, need to be broken up by God. Traditions can stifle and choke off the work that God wants to do. Tradition’s rallying cry is, “We’ve always done it this way and there is no other way!” When you start to think like that in regards to God’s work, you are setting yourself up for spiritual stifling, lethargy, and decay. What you learn when you examine the ministry of Jesus is that the work of God cannot be corralled, boxed in, or limited by formulas or human traditions. God reserves the supreme right and authority to work in ways beyond our understanding or expectations. The prophet Isaiah made this point when in the Old Testament the Lord says through him:

 

  • Isaiah 55:8-9 - “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”  [55]

God reserves the right to work in unexpected ways, ways we might not have thought of or considered possible. Indeed this is also what the apostle Paul is talking about when he is inspired to write:

 

  • Ephesians 3:20-21 – “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  [56]

 

In the remainder of Mark 7 (Matthew 15) the disciples and we will learn something about ministry with Jesus. What they will learn is expect the unexpected in the Lord’s ministry. We see this in a number of different ways in the rest of this chapter. Let’s see what unexpected ways God worked here.

 

MARK THAT ACTION: God’s word is God’s chosen sharp scalpel to work on the heart, everything else is dull like a butter knife. We need to give God our hearts and regularly in prayer come before Him with the word of God open before us and allow Him by the Holy Spirit to perform His spiritual surgery on our hearts. We need to guard against human traditions that contradict and conflict with His word. We need to break with human tradition.

 

Breaking With Human Tradition – God Works in Unexpected Ways by an Unchanging Word

 

In the remainder of Mark seven and really in the life of Jesus we see that He breaks with human tradition. Human tradition tries to put boundaries on the way God works. Human tradition tries to predict and create limited expectations about how God works. God will not be limited in any way other than to abide by His glorious word. What we see in the life of Jesus and what we need to follow is that he works in unexpected ways. He breaks with human tradition. We should too! When we open ourselves to consider that God works in unexpected ways contrary to human tradition, we open ourselves to great expectations and glorious surprises filled with His blessings.

 

We do need to mention that while God works in unexpected ways that break with human tradition, He will never work in a way that conflicts with or contradicts His revealed, inspired, inerrant and inspired word of truth. God does not work in such unexpected ways that he goes beyond the parameters of His word in a way that contradicts His word. God works in unexpected ways within the parameters of His holy word. Jesus said:

 

  • Matthew 24:35 -  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” [57]

There is plenty of room within the ordered parameters of God’s word for Him to work I unexpected ways. Below are a few examples from the life of Jesus.

Why God Breaks Down Barriers of Human Tradition

Why does God go where we might not expect Him to go and minister to people we might not expect Him to minister to? There is one primary reason, God desires salvation for all and will use every means all the time to save a lost soul. Because of this He sends ministers in unexpected places to unexpected people with unexpected patience and unexpected processes.

In the Old Testament an old woman speaks to David about his estranged son Absalom saying with great insight of the Lord:

  • 2 Samuel 14:14 - “For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him.”

This woman knew and the Holy Spirit saw fit to have it recorded that God will use every means to reach out to the lost, (even those who have grossly sinned like Absalom).

This truth is verified further in His word where it states:

  • 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 

God desires none perish, though some will of their own choosing or indecision be lost. He sent His only Son Jesus to redeem and reconcile the lost (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

God, who desires that none will perish, will use all means (within the parameters of His word) to reach out to the lost. And in most of those efforts believers, you and I, are an integral part and means of God reaching out to the lost. Tow portions of Scripture come to mind in support of this truth. These passages are:

  • Romans 10:14-17 – “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,  Who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 – “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

In both these passages we see the essential, vital and privileged role believers play in God’s plan to reach out to the lost. He sends us out into to the part of the world He has sovereignly placed us to reach out to the lost. We are the ones through whom God pleads with and implores the lost to be saved. In the rest of Mark 7 we will see Jesus as our example in reaching out to the lost, all the lost and in every place, patiently with unexpected processes at times, to reach the lost.

 

God Works In Unexpected Places

 

Mark 7:24 – “From there He arose and went to the region of  Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know t, but He could not be hidden.”  [58]

The context for what happens in the rest of Mark 7 (Matthew 15) is that it occurs in Gentile Territory. Of this area that Jesus journeyed to the Pulpit Commentary states:

“These two cities lay on the coast of Galilee, and had never been really

conquered by the Israelites, though allotted to the tribe of Asher. There

was no very exact limitation of territory between Phoenician (of which they

were the capitals) and Jewish land, but there was a great moral distinction.

The Phoenicians were sunk in the grossest idolatry; the worship of Baal

and Ashtaroth reigned among them with all its depravity and pollution.”  [59]

Up until this point in His ministry, Jesus had focused upon the nation of Israel. But now He was headed for the territory of the Gentiles. This was what many viewed to be a godforsaken place. And yet we see Jesus going here and we see Him work mighty works here.

We should always be open to wherever God might choose to work. He may surprise us, (like He did with the disciples) with the places He decides to do a work. The region of Tyre and Sidon may have been seen as out of bounds for the Jews, but for Jesus there was a host of needs that needed to be met, a harvest of souls to be made in this dark territory.

We might be tempted to think, “God, you would never want to work here,” or “God you would never want to work there.” But we should be open to wherever God might want to work, near or far.

God Works in Unexpected People

Mark 7:25-26 – “For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet.26 The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” [60]

The woman is described as a Syro-Phoenician (Mark 7:26). She was a woman from a Gentile pagan land where idolatry and immoral pagan worship was the rule. And yet, Jesus did not see her as one beyond His grasp. Jesus was going to change this ladies life, though at first it may have seemed as though He didn’t have the time for her.

No person is beyond the grasp of God. We should not be surprised when God works in the most sinfully lost people. In fact, God specializes in lifting people up out of the depths of the miry clay of sin. Read what the apostle Paul wrote:

  • Ephesians 2:1-5 – “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),”  [61]

You can’t get any worse than being “dead in trespasses and sins.” And yet, these are the ones whom God reaches down to, lifts up in Christ, and transforms into a beautiful piece of art. That is what this above passage goes on to say:

  • Ephesians 2:6-10 – “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  [62]

Interestingly, the word “workmanship,” is translated from the Greek term POIEMA Strong’s #4161). POIEMA refers to, “that which is done, made, created; deed or act.” We get another English word from the term POIEMA, that word is poem.  Have you ever tried to write a poem? Poetry is not simply putting a few rhyming words together, it’s much more than that. Poetry involves meter and structure and a host of other technical traits. To write a good poem is not easy. But that’s what we are to God, we are His poem. We are God’s work of art. And what makes that work of art of God all the more spectacular is the stuff He uses to make it. God takes a fleshy human covered in the dirt and sludge of sin, a person that is dead and lifeless spiritually, He takes such stuff and works it into what He sees as a beautiful piece of art, something to behold. God works in people we might not expect Him to work in, but that is the joy of salvation. That God would take a sinner such as I, love me, mold me, make me into something useable and productive and purposeful, it simply is wondrous. That is the message of the following hymn entitled Such Love:

That God should love a sinner such as I, Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss, Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh, How wonderful is love like this!

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme, Although it meant His death on Calvary. Did ever human tongue find nobler theme. Than love divine that ransomed me!

That for a willful outcast such as I The Father planned, the Savior bled and died, Redemption for a worthless salve to buy, Who long had law and grace defied!

And now He takes me to His heart a son; He asks me not to fill a servant’s place; The ‘far off country’ wanderings all are done’; Wide open are His arms of grace.

Such love, such wondrous love! Such love, such wondrous love! That God should love a sinner such as I, How wonderful is love like this![63]

The apostle Paul knew of this wondrous life-changing love. Read some words of testimony from the apostle:

  • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 – “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”  [64]

God took Saul, a murderous persecutor of the church and transformed him into a born again apostle of God. That is what the wondrous love of God can do and it often happens in the most unexpected people.

But there is still more to learn about the unexpected ways in which God works in and through us. God often breaks with tradition and refuses to be boxed in to certain ways, certain formulas. As we have seen and will continue to see, the only thing that we can truly expect form God and the way He works, is to expect the unexpected. God breaks the traditional molds humanity attempts to put Him in. Let’s continue.

God Can Even Use An Atheist

The following story illustrates how God can work in unexpected ways through people who may even oppose Him and His work.

 

There was a Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist. Everyday, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her.  He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that.  Doesn't she know there isn't a God?"  Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying, "Lady, why do you pray all the time" Don't you know there is no God?"  But she kept on praying.

 

One day, she ran out of groceries.  As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what he was gonna do. AS USUAL, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "humph...I'll fix her."  He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the doorbell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do.

 

When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing, shoutin' everywhere!  The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You ol' crazy lady, God didn't buy you those groceries, I BOUGHT THOSE GROCERIES!"

 

Well, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord.  When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was. She said, "I KNEW THE LORD WOULD PROVIDE ME WITH SOME GROCERIES, BUT I DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS GONNA MAKE THE DEVIL PAY FOR THEM!"

 

God can work His will even through atheists. He doesn’t need human traditions to enhance His vibrant living truth in His word. He doesn’t need human traditions that stifle more than invigorate spiritual life in people. God prefers to have us experience His unexpected ways of working while we live moment by moment in a relationship with Him through Jesus His only Son in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

God Works With Unexpected Patience

Mark 7:27-30 – “But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”28 And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”29 Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”30 And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.” [65]

In Matthew’s account it records:

  • Matthew 15:22-28 – “And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”23 But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”  [66]

At first glance this account seems to put Jesus in an uncharacteristic light. A woman, burdened and weeping over the demon possessed condition of her daughter, comes to Jesus begging Him to intercede. What does Jesus do? How does He respond? The Bible states, “But He answered her not a word.” (Matthew 15:23). Silence, stone cold silence, not a word. In Mark it tells us that “she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (Mark 7:26). It wasn’t that Jesus permanently turned His back on her; it was that by His silence He brought her to a point of persisting in faith, which therefore clarified and solidified her faith.  God works with unexpected patience that serves the purpose of drawing out and building faith in people.

Have you ever felt that Jesus was silent to your prayers, to your requests? Why was Jesus silent to this woman’s begging? Why is He at times silent to us? Let’s see.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matthew 15:22) – Formulas Fail.

In Matthew it records that this lady came to Jesus and addressed Him with the phrase, “Son of David!” Why did she do that? “Son of David,” is a messianic title familiarly used by the Jews. This woman was a Gentile, a Canaanite, why would she address Jesus with this title. Perhaps she thought that if she addressed Jesus with these words, in this special way, He would be more inclined to respond to her. In other words, she was trying to use a formula to get what she wanted from Jesus. She likely viewed the title “Son of David” as the key to opening the door of Jesus’ merciful miraculous ministry. But Jesus saw right through this superficial attempt to get Him to work on her behalf. Jesus doesn’t respond to pat formulas, “He answered her not a word,” in response to this attempt.

Formulas fail. So often we try to approach by way of a formula. Formulas depend on a specific format of doing things. People who use formulas see the formula as a key to open the door of God’s graces. When we relate to God on the basis of a formula, we thing, “if I just do this . . .do that . . .then God will hear me, then He will respond to my need.” But God doesn’t teach us to use formulas, nor does He respond to formulas. When we look at the Bible we see that God is creative, He works in processes that are unable to be put into a formula format. There are some constants; God works through His word, by the Holy Spirit to change people. But when we look at how God works, His processes defy formularization. If we can’t approach God by way of formulas, how can we approach Him?

“Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) – Worship Works!

When the formula didn’t work, she threw herself down before the Lord and simply and sincerely worshipped Him. Formulas fail; worship works. That is what Jesus wanted to teach not only that woman, but His disciples and us as well. He didn’t want her to relate to Him in terms of her perceived wittiness and wisdom by way of a formula, no, Jesus wanted her to abandon herself before Him in worship.

Oswald Chambers often spoke of abandonment towards God. Read some of his insightful statements in this regards:

“The weakest saint can experience the power of Deity of the Son of God if he is willing to ‘let go.’” . . . “God can do what He likes with the man who is abandoned to Him.” [67]

“Jesus Christ always brings us back to one thing – ‘Stand in right relationship to Me first, then the marvelous doing will be performed in you.’ It is a question of abandoning all the time, not of doing.” [68]

Jesus wanted to bring this pagan Gentile to her knees so that she would not settle for and caught up in a pharisaic formula oriented way of relating to Him. The worship this lady was led into by Jesus is characterized by humble faith.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus responded to this woman by telling her that it was not good to throw the food (i.e. His spiritual message) meant for Israel (i.e. the “children”) to the “little dogs” (i.e. Gentiles or non-Jews). This might have deterred a person of pride. A proud person would have said, “Well, here I humiliate myself before You and throw myself at your mercy and all you do is offer me further rejection!” A proud person would have responded that way, but not this lady. This lady had been brought to a humble faith that was willing to be associated with the lowest of creatures, “little dogs.” Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs. There is some debate as to whether or not the words used here by Jesus speak of house pets or puppies or simply dogs generally. But that is neither here nor there; the point is that this woman humbly put her faith in Jesus to persist in her request.

Herein is an example of what James was inspired to write in his epistle, which states:

  • James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” [69]

This woman was learning what faith in Jesus was all about and it took patience for that lesson to be learned.

“For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

In Matthew it records that Jesus exclaims, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” Jesus gave the woman her request when she learned the lesson of faith. We need to stop coming to God in a manipulative way. We cannot think that God blesses us on the basis of any good we do. That is the message we see here. Formulas fail, worship works! [70]

The KJV Bible Commentary states:

‘She knew what could be hers, even as a Gentile and, thus she became an illustration of millions of Gentiles who would later be blessed by the Messiah of Israel. Great is thy faith. Jesus again commends Gentile belief (cf. 8:10).” [71]

Jesus is looking for us to approach Him in faith, not formulas. That is why He initially responded to this woman with silence.

The Silence of God

Have you ever experienced the silence of God? Have you ever been seeking Him on something like the woman of Canaan and He is silent? Perhaps He’s trying to teach you something. Perhaps God is trying to teach you to cast aside your formulas and manipulative machinations and simply sincerely worship Him. The silence of God is meant to purify our faith from the futility of formulas. That is what Jesus did with the Canaanite woman. If God is silent toward you right now, perhaps He is trying to purify you from a formula; perhaps He wants you to come to a place where you simply sincerely wait on Him in worship.

Patiently Waiting In Worship Through God’s Silence

If we learn anything form the account of the Canaanite woman, it is that Jesus led her to a place of worship and His response followed shortly thereafter. Jesus wants to lead us to patiently wait on Him in worship and this is done through the silent times of God. The Bible is filled with mention of waiting on God during such times:

  • Psalm 62:1-12 – “Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation.2 He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.3 How long will you attack a man? You shall be slain, all of you, Like a leaning wall and a tottering fence.4 They only consult to cast him down from his high position; They delight in lies; They bless with their mouth, But they curse inwardly. Selah5 My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him.6 He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.7 In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, And my refuge, is in God.8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah9 Surely men of low degree are a vapor, Men of high degree are a lie; If they are weighed on the scales, They are altogether lighter than vapor.10 Do not trust in oppression, Nor vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them.11 God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.12 Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy; For You render to each one according to his work.”  [72]
  • Lamentations 3:25-26 – “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him.26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord.”  [73]

The book of Psalms is the worship book of Israel. The psalms were initially sung amongst the people. Psalm 62 is a song of worship sung while waiting on God to act. Don’t run from God’s silence; wait on Him in it by worshipping Him.

In the book of Acts we have the account of Paul and Silas being imprisoned for delivering a girl from a fortune-telling career and therefore her masters rose up in arms because of their loss of profit. A riot ensued and the two disciples had their clothes torn off their backs, were beaten with rods and thrown in jail (Acts 16:16-24). They must have been hurting and there was no indication of any audible word from the Lord. God was silent during this sequence of events. What did they do? Read on:

  • Acts 16:25-34 – “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”  [74]

Paul and Silas worshipped God in the silence. They were so much in a spirit of worship that when the opportunity to escape the prison presented itself via and earthquake, they did not cease the opportunity. Instead they used the situation to lead the jailor and his family to salvation in Jesus Christ. That earthquake had to have been unexpected on their part. When they were thrown in the jail they couldn’t have expected the jailor who put them in the stocks to be converted. And certainly the dungeon where they were was no place for a worship service! But these disciples had come to learn to expect the unexpected, and as a result God used them to do His work.

God Works Through Unexpected Processes

Mark 7:31-37 – “Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.32 Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.33 And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.34 Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.36 Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” [75]

Who could have expected Jesus to perform miracles in another Gentile territory? Miracles are never expected, but especially not in a heathen territory! But Jesus did do miracles here. Jesus moved from the region of Tyre and Sidon on into the region of Decapolis (Mark 7:31). Decapolis was a confederation of ten Gentile cities that had its own currency, government network and military. There was a huge monument to the pagan god Zeus and Aphrodite and Roman style coliseums where entertainment occurred.

He had been rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth and few miracles were done there because of their unbelief (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:53-58). But here, in Gentile territory, Jesus not only did miracles, He healed multitudes causing them all to marvel and glorify God. Again we see that Jesus works in unexpected ways and here we see, just as we did with the Syro-Phoenician woman, that formulas fail.

Some who have a formulation mindset might look at the way Jesus healed this deaf and dumb man and respond by saying, "That’s it! If we are going to heal the deaf and dumb, we need to put our fingers in their ears, spit, and touch their tongues!” The folly of such a formulation is obvious. God may heal that way, but He doesn’t obligate Himself to always heal that way.  God works in unexpected ways and we need to be open to the way He wants to work, in the name of Jesus, in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Unexpected Provisions

 

In Mark 7 we have seen that tradition is trouble because it does not get to the heart of the problem and need of humanity. We have also seen that God’s truth is revealed in His word and that is the only supreme reliable authority for the believer. Everything and everyone needs to be screened and viewed through the lens of God’s word. In Mark 7 we saw how human tradition often contradicts and conflicts with God’s word of truth. Jesus showed us the way to deal with such faulty human tradition, we need to break with it. Tradition attempts to put God in a mold and limit His activity to only that which is expected. In Mark 7 we saw that Jesus works in unexpected places; He works in and through  unexpected people, He works with unexpected patience and  He works in unexpected processes. In the beginning of Mark 8 this theme is continued in that we will see that Jesus works by way of  unexpected provisions. Christian we need to expect the unexpected

 

God Provides Again and Again Through Unexpected Provisions

 

Mark 8:1-8 – “In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them,2 “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.3 “And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”4 Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.”6 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude.7 They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them.8 So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments.”  [76]

 

The parallel account of this passage in Mark is found in Matthew 15:32-39 where it states:

  • Matthew 15:32-39 – “Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”33 Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?”34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.”35 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.36 And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude.37 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left.38 Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.39 And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.”  [77]

These two accounts are virtually identical. Jesus provides for their needs in much the same way as when He fed the five thousand earlier in the gospel accounts. (Please review our study in Mark 6 for insight into the manner in which God provides for our needs.) having said this, there is an issue that liberal critics of Bible raise with this account.

 

Stupid Disciples?

 

Because of the disciple’s reaction to Jesus some liberal critics have asserted that the feeding of the four thousand here is simply a convoluted repetition of the previous feeding of the five thousand (Mark  6:32-44; Matthew 14:13-21). They assert this because they can’t understand how the disciples could have forgotten that Jesus a few days earlier provided for the feeding of the five thousand. Are the disciples that stupid? No, I don’t think stupidity is the reason for the disciple’s reaction on this occasion.

 

There are too many differences in the two feedings to assert that they refer to the same event. In one you have 5,000 plus people fed, in another you have 4,000 plus people fed. In one you have 5 loaves and two fish, in another you have 7 loaves and a few fish. In one you have people sitting down on “the grass” (14:19), meaning it was likely spring or early summer, in the other account they are told to sit down on the “ground” (15:35), literally bare ground meaning it was likely later in the year. The feeding of the five thousand took place in the north of Galilee and the feeding of the four thousand took place in the eastern part of Galilee. These differences make it unlikely that the two accounts are of the same event. There were two feedings of two great masses of people.

 

Why did the disciples say, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” (In Matthew - “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?”) Were their memories so bad that they had forgotten Jesus feeding the 5000? Their memories were not likely bad and they weren’t likely just plane stupid. No, I believe there is a much more human explanation. It is more likely that the disciples just couldn’t fathom God repeating the same miracle again; it was just too good to be true!

 

“How Much More” - God Blesses Abundantly On A Regular Basis

 

When God works, He works abundantly; there is no limit to God’s grace and provision. This second group ate and they were all filled, (literally gorged!) God is like that; He loves to bless His people. Jesus taught this when He said:

 

  • Luke 11:13 - “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”   [78] (See Matthew 6)

That little phrase, “how much more will,” makes all the difference in the world. Many people make the mistake of gauging God through their personal experience with their own earthly fathers. But that’s like gauging the magnificence of a space shuttle craft through the experience you had with a paper airplane. You can’t get an accurate idea of the infinite heavenly Father by looking at Him and projection your experience with your finite earthly father, no matter how good, and holy he was or is. Earthly fathers do play a critically important role in giving their children an understanding of fatherhood and that is to some extent projected onto our Heavenly Father, but only to a limited degree. The truest and only reliable perspective on our Heavenly Father is what He has revealed of Himself in the Bible. And what we see in the Bible of God is the “HOW MUCH MORE.” God is able and willing to do so much more than we can ever expect or imagine Him to do.

 

Every Good Gift Comes From God

 

When we go to the Bible to see what God is willing to provide us with, we see that it states every good gift comes from Him:

 

  • James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  [79]

EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from God. That is true whether or not you are a believer. Think of all the good things we have in our lives each day. We awake to another day of life, we have another day with loved ones, hopefully a job, we have food to eat, clothes to wear and a place to stay, (usually, and if not, God wants to provide it). We in America want for little if anything and we live under the mistaken notion that what we have comes from our own productivity. Baloney! Every good thing we have comes from God.

 

“Oh, How Great Is Your Goodness”!

 

And what is incredible is that God provides for us over and over and over, again, and again, and again! The Bible goes on to say:

 

  • Psalm 31:19 – “Oh, how great is Your goodness, Which You have laid up for those who fear You, Which You have prepared for those who trust in You In the presence of the sons of men!”  [80] (See Psalm 145:9)
  • Psalm 36:7-8 – “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.”  [81]
  • John 10:10 - “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  [82]
  • Romans 8:31-32 – “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  [83]
  • 2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”  [84]
  • Ephesians 3:20-21 – “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  [85]

Whatever good there is in the world comes form God, no one else. You may not have expected this to be so, but it is. In reality we must expect the unexpected from God because He regularly does that which we could not even begin to imagine Him being willing and able to do. God surprises us every day, expect it.

 

Under The Spout Where The Glory comes Out – Keeping Yourselves In The Love of God

 

Now you may be thinking, “Hmmm, that doesn’t seem to be my experience. I don’t relate to God with any expectation or see His abundant blessing regularly. What’s wrong?” There is an old hymn in which there is a phrase, “I’m under the spout where the glory comes out!”  There is a place we need to be in order to experience the fullness of God’s blessing. This is not to imply there is a work on our part to secure God’s blessing. God’s blessings are based on His loving Fatherly nature, not our work. But there is a place we need to be to experience God’s fullness.

 

But the Bible does speak of keeping yourselves in a place to receive God’s blessing. When we look at the book of Jude it states:

 

  • Jude 21 – “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”  [86]

In this verse wee see the most strategic area in the letter of Jude, and the key to understanding a very practical and rewarding set of truths. Jude tells us the pitfalls of past believers and how they missed out on God’s blessings. Then he tells us the practical steps to keeping ourselves in a position to receive the fullness of God’s blessings. Let’s briefly look at these.

Pitfalls That Prevent Us From Experiencing the Fullness of God’s Blessings

There are six pitfalls that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

First, lack of faith prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

  • Jude 5 – “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”  [87]

God miraculously and powerfully saved Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Egypt had been at the time the most powerful empire on earth. God brought various plagues that showed the impotence of the idolatrous pantheon of gods Egypt relied upon and the power of Yahweh, the God of Israel. But once they were brought out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and to the threshold of the Promised Land, the people shrunk back form what God wanted to give them through unbelief. How much we do miss out on because of unbelief! William Carey once said:

 

            “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

 

The result of that exhortation was a mighty revival and the expanse of the gospel through modern missions. Unbelief can keep you from God’s blessing; belief in God can open the floodgates of His blessing.

 

Second rebellion prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.  

 

  • Jude 6 – “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;”  [88]

The angels who aligned themselves with Satan in his rebellion against God represent the nature of rebellion, which moves us out of the will of God where He desires to bless us. The angels couldn’t have had it any better, being in the constant presence of God. But at some point they stopped appreciating what God had blessed them with and rebelled against His plan for them. We too at times become impatient and rebel against God’s plan for us. The result is missing out on God’s perfect and full blessing.

Third, lust prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

 

  • Jude 7 – “as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”  [89]

Lot lost everything, his home, his integrity, his wife and nearly his life. It was lust that moved him closer to the vile and immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lust can draw us away form God and His plan for us. Lust can become all consuming, just ask the one addicted to pornography or sexual sin (See Genesis 18-19).

Fourth, hatred prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

 

  • Jude 11a – “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, . . .”  [90]

Cain was religious and believed in God, but on his own terms. He rejected God’s plan of redemption by blood. When his brother Abel was blessed by God for accepting humbly and in full surrender God’s spiritual plan, Cain struck out in a hateful rage and killed his brother. Hatred will drive you to do things you’d never think you were capable of. Hatred will get you outside of God’s will and place of blessing very fast.

Fifth, greed prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

 

  • Jude 11b – “Woe to them! . . . [they] have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, . . .”  [91]

Balaam was willing to corrupt an entire nation, Israel, so that he could pad his pockets with greedy gain (Numbers 22-23; 31:16). And he did all of this despite of God’s clear command to not bring a curse against Israel. Greed will cause you to disobey God and go your own willful way, and it will get you out of the flow of God’s blessed love.

Sixth, jealousy prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

 

  • Jude 11c – “Woe to them! . . . [they have] perished in the rebellion of Korah.”  [92]

Korah became jealous of the blessings God had poured out upon His servant Moses. The result was opposing not only Moses but also God and the consequences were fatal for Korah, his family and his followers. Jealousy is rooted in dissatisfaction and a failure to appreciate what God has given you, and will get you out of the place of God’s blessing.

The Practical Ways To Keep Yourself In A Position To Receive God’s Blessings

There are three simple things you need do to keep yourselves in the love of God.

First, understand you are “beloved.” God loves you and will look out for you. He has gone to the extreme to show His love for you. You can trust that love. As the Bible states:

  • Romans 8:31-32 – “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  [93]

You are believed; trust God’s love to bless you.

Second, be built up in His word. You won’t be aware of God’s blessing or where to find it unless you are regularly in His word and His word is regularly in you. You need to get into His word. Read what God told Joshua just before Joshua stepped over into the Promised Land of God:

  • Joshua 1:8 - “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” [94]

Disciple, get into God’s word and you will be blessed.

Third, pray in the Holy Spirit. God speaks to us in His word; we speak to God in prayer. Prayer is our declaration of dependence upon God. We need to regularly, moment by moment, rely on God and His will in prayer. And we need to pray in the Spirit. That means when we pray we need to seek the Spirit’s guidance and empowering. The Spirit helps us to pray as it states in Romans:

  • Romans 8:26-27 – “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” [95]

When you pray in the Spirit, God will lead you to where He wants to bless you. Disciple, pray!

Conclusion

God works in unexpected places; He works in unexpected people; He works in unexpected processes; and He works with unexpected provisions. Disciple, expect the unexpected. Such was the example of the founding of Applegate Christian Fellowship, a Calvary Chapel affiliated church. The story of how the church was started illustrates what happens when one is open to expect the unexpected.

“Jon Courson stood on the banks of the Yale Creek in the Applegate Valley of Oregon. This husky fellow was silhouetted against the vibrant green all around him, as his thick mane of red hair shone in the summer sun. Before him stood the members of a colony of young people who had built a tree-house community in the Applegate hills. They were standing in the nude in the middle of the river waiting to be baptized and resembled aging nature children as their long hair blew and glinted in the sunshine.

Jon felt conflict over whether or not to make an issue over their nudity. He went with his gut sense, and decided to overlook it. This group before him had for years been a community of pot-growers whose tree-house community was on a large tract of land they owned. Their marijuana harvests had made large proceeds for them while their ‘Nirvana Community’ had looked for enlightenment through Eastern Yoga and Native American shamanism. But the bubble of their dream had burst. Just when they had built their ideal community, a gaping vacuum appeared within their hearts. This huge utopian experiment had not satisfied their souls. . . .

With wave of mounting inner joy, Jon baptized each one of them in the name of Christ. They stood on the banks dripping and smiling ear to ear. That evening they would gather up all their marijuana and burn it up in a huge bonfire.

Jon, meanwhile, was overseeing a church being built from scratch in a region of Oregon so sparsely populated that no demographically oriented church planner would ever try what Jon was attempting. Applegate was a region containing verdant mountains, forests, and clear rivers with a widespread population of fewer than a thousand . . . .

When Jon first came to Oregon, he had only five couples attending his fellowship. He had left a thriving Calvary Chapel that he and his brother had started in San Jose. But he was certain the hand of God was directing his move.

Before Jon moved to Oregon, during a teaching retreat with the Christian couples, there were two prophetic visions about the coming harvest. The first vision was of fire descending on Applegate Valley and then spreading beyond. The second vision of massive thunderheads pouring out rain foresaw the end of Oregon’s long drought. And a further message in this was that God’s grace would be released when the first rains came. Jon was reluctant to accept these visions as prophecies and was by no means sure he would leave San Jose for Oregon. Interestingly, the day Jon began his first Sunday service there, the rains came flooding down. He also sensed in his heart that God’s grace was being released.

Today Applegate, Oregon, is still a community of only a thousand people. But its Calvary Chapel fellowship, Applegate Christian Fellowship, is known throughout the region. Its church membership is actually three times the size of the town’s population – three thousand members – all coming in from surrounding communities. They are now meeting in a large church facility of 40,000 square feet that they built together . . . . In the summer, they meet in a large grass-covered outdoor amphitheater near the main church building . . . .

Jon has experienced the fire and the rain of this harvest. He will tell you flatly that it is a miracle . . . .”  [96]

Disciple, expect the unexpected and God will use you too!

 

 

 

 



[1][1]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[2] David Hl. Stern Jewish New Testament Commentary, Calrksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Pubs., Inc., 1996) p. 92.

[3] Jon Courson, Tree of Life Bible Commentary – Matthew  Vol. 2 – 14-28,( Jacksonville, OR: Tree of Life Publishing, 1993) p. 27.

[4]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[5]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[6]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[7]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[8]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[9]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[10]Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.

[11]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[12]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[13]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[14]Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.

[15]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[16]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[17]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[18]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[19]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[20] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, (Chicago IL:Moody Press,1968) p. 136-147).

[21] Geisler and Nix, Ibid. p. 161, 192,194

[22] Ibid. p. 146

 

[23] Marvin L. Galbreath, 20 Centuries of Christianity, Light and Life Press: Winona Lake, IN., 1970,. p14

[24] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, Academe Books : Grand Rapids, MI., 1981, p. 124.

[25] Ibid., Cairns, p. 124.

[26] Raul Ries, Ibid., p. 57

[27]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[28]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[29] Rev. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Loizeau Brothers,:Neptune, N.J. , 1916, pgs. 225-256.

[30]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[31] Jon Courson, Ibid.

[32] Raul Ries, Ibid., pgs. 58, 75-76

[33] Pastor Joe Focht, Straight From the Heart,  Tape #1537 Revelation 2:12-17

[34]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[35]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[36]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[37]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[38]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[39]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[40]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[41]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[42]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[43]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[44]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[45]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[46]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[47]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[48]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[49]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[50]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[51]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[52]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[53]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[54] DC Talk and Voice of the Martyrs, Jesus Freaks, (Tulsa, OK: Albury Pub. 1999) p. 210-213.

[55]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[56]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[57]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[58]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[59] H.D.M.  Spence and Josseph S. Exell, Eds. The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 15 MATTHEW (Mclean, Virginia: Macdonald Pub.,Co.) exposition of Matthew 15:21.

[60]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[61]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[62]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[63] Robert Harkness, 1877-1961 Worship In Song (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Pub. Co. 1972) #220

[64]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[65]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[66]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[67] Harry Verploegh, Ed., Oswald Chambers The Best From All His Books (Nashville, TN Oliver Nelson Books, 1987). P. 1. From Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and The Psychology of Redemption.

[68] Ibid. Volume II, p. 1

[69]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[70] Jon Courson, Tree of Life Commentary – Matthew Volume 2, (Jacksonville, OR: Tree of Life Pub. 1993) p. 37

[71]Jerry Falwell, executive editor; Edward E. Hinson and Michael Kroll Woodrow, general editors, KJV Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994.

[72]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[73]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[74]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[75]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[76]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[77]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[78]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[79]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[80]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[81]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[82]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[83]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[84]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[85]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[86]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[87]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[88]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[89]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[90]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[91]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[92]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[93]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[94]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[95]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[96] Chuck Smith, Harvest, (Old Tappen, New Jersey: Flemming H. Revel Co., 1987) pgs. 91-94.