Thursday, November 24, 2016

Christian Service - Humble ministry (1 Cor. 4:6-8)

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Show me a preacher who has a high view of the Scriptures, preaching and living accordingly, and I will show you a humble minister. Therefore, Paul says here, ‘none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another’.
Paul acknowledges that he had been evaluating the ministry of both himself and of Apollos. This was for the benefit of the Corinthians, so that they may learn not to go beyond what is written. The point is ministers are to be evaluated on the basis of Scriptures (not some sentimental feelings). Mark the words ‘not to go beyond what is written’ which encourage us to know our boundaries are the Scriptures. This is a good place to learn the regulative principle of worship. We must not argue from silence and so be guilty of adding. Neither should we argue away what is written and so minimize what the Lord has said, effectively subtracting from the Word of God and from our basket of divine blessings!
Surface obedience to the Scriptures and the commands of the Lord is one of the wicked suggestions of the devil in order to ensnare us away from the Lord’s will for us. The devil teaches pride. But God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. The humble keep within the limits of the Bible, neither adding nor subtracting.
We know that Corinthians were proud of their human wisdom. They may have thought that they were very discerning in their choice of their favourite preacher. To be proud of one’s discernment is to lack discernment! Once one is wise in his own eyes, unbelieving the Word of God, then he effectively becomes proud and ‘puffed up’.
We must realize that there is a very close relationship between the sin of unbelief and the sin of pride. The relationship is that while the latter abandons Christ for idols, the former abandons Christ for self-gratification outside of the will of God. The battle for humility is the battle for the true Christian faith. No haughty or arrogant person will enter the glory that was purchased by the humble Saviour.
Humility is acknowledging that all you have are gifts that you have graciously received from Christ! First of all you are what you are by grace, for ‘who sees anything different in you’? All the temporary blessings are from God, for ‘what do you have that you did not receive’? And since you received it, how then can you boast as if it is a wage rather than a gift? Paul is simply saying that arrogance is not congruent with true Christianity. No one can truly preach the gospel in pride and arrogance. Once pride is let in, then the gospel message withdraws.
In condemning their foolish pride, Paul turns to sarcasm: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” There is an illogical retrogression from sufficiency to wealth, and then to royalty! Pride too soon forgets and disdains he who enthroned it!

Pride is a great hindrance to your improvement. For when you start reigning in your haughtiness you no longer think you need grace to become better or to listen to God’s servants who enrich you. Due attention to our obligations to divine grace would cure us of arrogance and self-conceit.
Preachers have no reason to boast, for what they preach is a humiliating gospel. The King whom they represent is a humble King. The sinners whom they are reaching have been humiliated by the sinfulness of sin.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Christian Ministry - faithful stewardship

What are the characteristics of Christian service?
From 1 Corinthians 4, I will present five characteristics of an effective Christian ministry and service. Each mark at a time, one-by-one. Today we begin with the first characteristic from verses 1-5

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Faithful stewardship is the first characteristic of Christian ministry. How are we to think of pastors and preachers in our midst? They belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given them to us as gifts. Paul has already said that all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas… all things are yours.  Preachers are to be respected or regarded as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. These ministers have arduous responsibilities as Christ’s servants who have been entrusted with the gospel. But they also have immense privileges as stewards of the mysteries of God.
God has made all believers and preachers in specific to be servants as of first and foremost, as His disciples. We must never mistake a servant, or an attendant or a slave, for his master. The master is over the servant and He is prominent over the most important servant. This is the way it must always be in our service of the Lord Jesus – Christ is the Master.
God has also made all preachers stewards or trustees of the mysteries of God. Paul always uses the word mystery to mean, what was hidden to the natural faculties for ages but is now graciously revealed. ‘Mysteries of God’, therefore, is the truths, which were hidden to a natural man, but are now revealed to the spiritual man by God. The ‘mysteries of God’ is the gospel. Preachers are to faithfully manage the gospel, and faithfully propagate it for the salvation of sinners. Only the good news of the crucified and resurrected Christ can save helpless sinners.
While success in the service is important, faithfulness is the first responsibility of stewards. People’s eternal destiny hinges upon hearing the true gospel and believing in Christ. Depth in faithfulness is what God will use in expanding the breath and the extent of our ministries.
But preachers are to be assessed and judged by Christ who is their employer rather than men. ‘Pastor roasting’ is condemned when Paul says, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. What Paul is saying is that outward critical judgment is discounted, whether by the Corinthian church, or by the human courts society around him or even by himself! He should only be judged by his employer and Master, even Christ.
Why is Paul saying this? We judge in a merely worldly manner, using only human and sometimes worldly standards in the assessment. Instead of making these unnecessary critical human judgments, we are to live in the light of the all-searching judgement that is to come on that great Day when the Lord will come. The Lord will bring the hidden things to light. He will disclose motives of hearts and every human pretense will be brought to naught. It is on this basis some will receive either commendation or condemnation from God.
Does this mean that we should not name and shame those who mismanage the truths of the gospel? Should we keep quite when there is apparent unfaithfulness? Is there a place for critiquing preachers? But Paul himself criticized Peter in Galatians for his conduct (Gal. 2:11-14). False teachers and their false teachings must be exposed (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). But if someone preaches the truth, and you know him to be a faithful minister, don’t purport to know his motive. This is what informed his statement in Philippians 1:12-18. The most important thing is that ‘Christ is proclaimed’ (v.18). We are to rejoice when the gospel is preached even from the most unlikely quarters or preachers.
Three points of application:
*   Here is a call to faithfulness more than a call to ‘success’. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2Tim. 2:15). We have to serve the people in good conscience before God. Aim to be blameless!
*   We thank the Lord that He will recognize and reward true and faithful servants of His church, who might never be recognized by the Church. Human approbation will not always do for a servant of Christ. Sometimes opposition and rejection is what will be the road of faithful ministers, yet they have divine approval, which is far better.

*   You are to labour now as one who will soon appear before the Judgement throne of God to either receive a reward (3.14) or to be saved through fire (3:15) or to be eternally condemned! Be careful in handling the Scriptures.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Old Testament Experience of the Holy Spirit

Undoubtedly there are tons of ignorance about the Holy Spirit in the O.T. Yet the Holy Spirit is more evident in the Old Testament than Jesus Christ! He is called by name more times than the second Person of the Trinity.
However, people take John 7:39 to mean that the Holy Spirit was not on earth before Jesus was glorified. But the passage simply means that the Spirit had not yet been given in full administrative authority. Before the Pentecost, He had not been publicly revealed on earth. But we know that all the believers, in every age, had been regenerated, sanctified and comforted and sealed by the Spirit even if His ministry had not been fully introduced – this happened on Pentecost day during His outpouring.
From this write-up we will find out that the third Person of the Trinity was present on earth and intrinsically involved in creation, providence, redemption, the life of the church and in the giving of the Scriptures. Unless the Spirit was involved in creation, He cannot be because we read in Genesis 1:1 that, “In the beginning God…” meaning, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; since God is Spirit (John 4:24).
There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory (1 Jn. 5:7; Matt. 28:19)

1.     The presence of the Spirit in the work of creation
In Genesis 1:2, we read,
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
What this means is that:
a)      The Holy Spirit was personally there in the beginning
b)      That He was personally involved during the creation so that when God said in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...” the Spirit was as much involved just as the Father and the Son.
This was particularly a reference to the Triune God and the Holy Spirit. The agency of the Spirit in creation is mentioned in other passages:
This is what Elihu told Job;
The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4.
Here is evidence that the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of creation.
Besides, the Holy Spirit is also active in the providence. For example when the wickedness upon the earth was too much, the Lord said,
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years." (Gen 6:3)
"As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. (Job 27:2-4).
But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. (Job 32:8).

The Holy Spirit is involved in our providential preservation.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. Psalm 104:30
John Owen says of the Holy Spirit in the life of Adam;
“Thus Adam may be said to have had the Spirit of God in his innocency. He had Him in these peculiar effects of His power and goodness, and he had Him according to the tenor of that covenant, whereby it was possible that he should utterly lose Him, as accordingly it came to pass. He had Him not by especial inhabitation, for the whole world was then the temple of God. In the covenant of grace, founded in the person and on the meditation of Christ, it is otherwise. On whomsoever the Spirit of God is bestowed for the renovation of the image of God in him, He abides with him forever.”
We observe three things in regard to the Holy Spirit and Adam and regeneration:
i)          The image of God wherein man was created by the Spirit. Proof of this is that at regeneration the Holy Spirit restores those abilities in the souls of God’s elect (Col. 3:10). The spiritual knowledge which the man lost at the fall is potentially restored by the Holy Spirit at regeneration.
ii)        The knowledge that the Holy Spirit gave Adam was great. How did Adam know that Eve was the ‘bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh’ when it happened when he was asleep, except by the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the Teacher? He knew who she was and her origin. He went on to give her a suitable name – this understanding came from the Holy Spirit.
iii)      The breath of life (Gen. 2:7) Adam was initially made a partaker of the Holy Spirit by the breath that God gave. If those words were to be interpreted in the light of the Analogy of Faith, they can mean nothing less than that the Triune God imparted the Holy Spirit unto the first man. For in Ezekiel 37:9-10 we have a vivid parabolic picture of the regenerating of spiritual Israel, so that when breath came upon the dry bones, they lived. In the same way, spiritual life can only be stamped by the breath that the Lord breathed on the disciples after His resurrection and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), whom they received on the day of Pentecost.
2.     The Holy Spirit and the nation of Israel
ü  The Spirit of God was given to Bezalel and Oholiab to fill them with ability, intelligence, knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work on gold, silver and bronze in the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 31:2-5).
ü  We know that even David was given the temple building plans which he gave to Solomon, by the Spirit (1 Chron. 28:11,12). Hiram who worked on the temple was also given the same abilities as Bezalel, but there is no explicit mention of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Kings 7:13,14)
ü  The Spirit was, poured upon the initial Sanhedrin (Num. 11:16-17) in order that they may be able to lead along with Moses the obstinate people of Israel.
ü  He came upon the Judges – Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 15:14, that is, Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Four times it is mentioned of Samson that he experienced the Spirit as recorded (13:25; 14:6, 19, and 15:14).
ü  He came upon the civic leaders and kings and was symbolized by their anointing (1 Samuel 11:6; 16:13). Moses’ Spirit-empowerment is made clear from the account of the seventy elders (Num. 11:7) and this can be further proved from Isaiah 63:10-12. Joshua (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9); Saul (1 Sam. 10:6,10; 11:6; 16;14) and David (1Sam. 16:13; Psa. 51:11; 139:7; 143:10; Matt. 22:43; Mk 12:36; Acts 1:16)
ü  He came upon the Prophets, sometimes temporarily as in the case of Azariah (2 Chron. 15:1-7); Jahaziel (2 Chron. 20:1,22,23) and see also  (20:14-17) and Zechariah (2 Chron. 24:20). Besides even Balaam, the Spirit of God came upon him (Num.24:2) even though he was a false prophet, in order to stop him from perpetuating a curse on the people of God. A military man called Amassai  (1 Chron. 12:18) also experienced this blessing. All these people above have been categorized as prophets because the activity involved was speaking a message of God to the people. Most importantly, Elijah & Elishah were filled by the Holy Spirit (2 Kings 2:15, 16); Micah 3:8; Ezekiel 2:2; 8:3.
ü  Nehemiah knew that God gave the people of Israel ‘the good Spirit’ to instruct them (Neh. 8:20)
This is not to say that the Israelites did not rebel or act against the Holy Spirit. For this is exactly what happened see, Isaiah 63:10 and Acts 7:51.
But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. (Isa 63:10)
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. (Act 7:51)
This was sad and unfortunate because, in this rebellion they rejected God’s blessing upon them and so they were punished again and again for they grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit.

3.     The Spirit in all OT believers
That the Holy Spirit indwelt believers in the old covenant is without doubt, for how else could they have been regenerated? From where could they have received faith and repentance? How could they have been able to pray? Or do good works acceptable to God? It is the Holy Spirit who regenerated them and enabled them to be sanctified unto life, for we believe that everyone, whether a Jew or a Gentile is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They were truly converted for they bore the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit prompted them to true prayer, inspired spiritual worship, and produced fruit in the lives of these believers. For we have the same Spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13) as they had.
The Holy Spirit was given to the Old Testament believers prospectively just as forgiveness was given in view of the satisfaction which was to render unto God. In fact, no one can persevere in faith for one second without the ongoing internal work of the Holy Spirit – neither in the OT nor in the NT. Without the Holy Spirit constantly in and at work in their hearts, believers will immediately apostatize.[1]
4.     The work of giving Scriptures
In 2Peter 1:21, we read,
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was the one directing the human authors to write only that which is the ‘breath of God’ and only that, so that as it is – ‘they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’. The Holy Spirit superintended, overruling human weaknesses, errors and limitations so that what they wrote though distilled through human restrictions, it was the inspired Word of God. How else could sinful and finite human beings have known the Sovereign God except by His divine self-revelation?
 The Scriptures as the revelation of God, reveal God’s redemptive purposes and it only makes sense that God was involved at this level of revelation so that only what God intended to reveal to humanity was written. Just like the Person of the Son is the Word, so the Spirit is the agent through which the Word was written.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the one who empowered the might acts of those who served God over many generations. He is the Spirit who spoke through the prophets, inspiring their commitment to speak the truth and stand for justice. He is the Spirit who anointed the kings, and ultimately anointed Christ the Saviour-King. He is the Spirit whose coming in power was anticipated in words of almost unimaginable cosmic transformation. And he is the Spirit through whom the whole creation will finally be renewed in, and though who the whole creation will finally be renewed in, through, and for Christ[2].
Therefore, we can say with certainty that John 7:39 demonstrates that there was a difference between the experience of the Holy Spirit in the Old and the New Testaments believers. So what is it?
·         We can say with certainty that while the brothers and sisters of the OT were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, their experience in comparison to ours was limited to a certain extent.
·         Prior to the NT, the Spirit had relatively little truth to work with. But when Jesus Christ was glorified after He died, rose again, and ascended – then the Spirit had much truth to work with.
·         When the fullness of God’s revelation of Christ had come, then the fullness of God’s revelation of Christ could be poured out.
·         At Pentecost we see a new plenitude, perpetuity, pervasiveness, publicity about the Holy Spirit. We see His work more intensively, extensively and obviously.
·         The full extent is what we have and this means that we are more privileged than they were. Therefore, we ought to take more responsibility and seek to serve the Lord more than they did filled and led by the Holy Spirit.

[1] Geoffrey Thomas, the Holy Spirit, (Grand Rapids, MI, Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 23
[2] Christopher Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2006), 10