Posted in theology

Would you stand next to a lightning rod?

By Elizabeth Prata

New York City. The Empire State Building as seen from the East River. Note its lightning rod. EPrata photo

Our teaching pastor is going through Acts. We got to a part where the scriptures introduced Barnabas. My teaching pastor spent some time relating to us the scriptures that demonstrated Barnabas’ character. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the New Testament is familiar with Barnabas.

Barnabas was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement.” It’s a great nickname. Son of Encouragement is way better than the nickname given to James and John- “Sons of Thunder” AKA Boanerges. Barnabas and Paul were together for many years, a pair that encouraged each other, supported each other, and went about on mission teaching and preaching having each other’s backs. Barnabas even affirmed Saul before he was widely known as a convert and still seen as a persecutor. (Acts 15:2, Acts 9:27). Look for how many times in the New Testament we read, “Paul and Barnabas.” As Kevin DeYoung said in his sermon Christians in Conflict, these two were like Batman and Robin.

So the other day I watched a clip of a storm hovering over a driving range. The range had been cleared, but one teenager wanted to get in one last swing. He drove his golf ball off the driving tee, and hurtling 88 miles per hour, in mid-air a lighting bolt came out of nowhere and incinerated it. The youth was amazed and scurried further into the safety of the covered roof. The video made the news.

The National Weather Service has a few things to say about lightning and thunder. “Lightning is an underrated killer, responsible for an average of 26 deaths per year across the country (10 year average).” The NWS motto is, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” because “if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, … No place outside is safe during a thunderstorm.”

Paul was a lightning rod. We know that the Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:16 that Paul must suffer for His name. In 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27 Paul recounted some of these sufferings-

I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Barnabas suffered also. Barnabas was with Paul at Lystra when the Jews stoned Paul. Acts 14:19-20

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Even if the people with Paul didn’t directly experience the stoning, they experienced trauma. Even if one stone had not landed on Barnabas, Barnabas had the agony of witnessing his friend being injured, watched him dragged bloody and unconscious out of the city, and thought his friend was dead! It must have been emotionally wrenching for Barnabas.

What if you’re a bit shy, and friends with someone who stands firmly on biblical doctrine? What if you’re friends with a podcaster who receives push-back for their stances? What if you are friends with someone who preaches or teaches or proclaims in the streets the ordinances of God? Will you stand with him or her? Or will you back away?

Counting the cost not only has application for the ones proclaiming, but for the friends within that person’s sphere, too. Will you stand with your friend and ignore your crumbling reputation because of his or her strong stances? Will you support by your friend, defending him even when others back away? Will you keep holding the lightning rod?

In 1752, when Ben Franklin was mulling over the issue of lightning and electricity, even before he did his kite experiment, Franklin proposed a lighting rod would be a safe way to attract the lightning and deliver it safely to the ground before it could harm anything or anyone. He called it the lightning attractor. These days, anyone who stands on biblical doctrine is a lightning attractor. We never know when or from what direction the strike will come from, but it will come.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12

The days are evil and getting more evil by the day. Here in the United States, there is an overt and aggressive push against anything Christian. It’s worse elsewhere in the world. Just saying a Bible verse out loud in public is often enough to draw the lightning! Counting the cost will come to mean counting whether or not to be a Robin to your Batman.

Well, when he arrived at the synagogue, he was invited to preach; and Barnabas and he sitting in the congregation were noticed by the leaders. Paul was invited to preach, and he did. His sermon blew the city wide open. It was the most devastating, shattering thing that perhaps had ever happened in the city of Antioch. The city had, like most cities, endeavored under its leadership to maintain some kind of a placid equilibrium and some kind of a balance, and that was absolutely shattered by the preaching of Paul. But before we would be too surprised, we would call to mind the fact that the gospel, whenever it is purely proclaimed in the midst of sin and wherever there are unsaved people, is bound to have results that are going to be shattering. (Source: The Troubling Gospel)

Bearing the above in mind, here’s an imaginary conversation between Paul and Barnabas.

Barn, let’s sail to Cyprus.
Hey, haven’t you been shipwrecked three times?
Yup.
OK, let’s go!
And Barnabas gets on the ship.

Would you get on a ship with Paul? Will you hold the lightning rod? It’s one thing to hang onto it when skies are clear. Now that it’s stormy, will you not only stand next to it, but hold it? These are decisions you will no doubt need to make as time goes on. We bless Barnabas for being a faithful friend to Paul even though Paul’s sufferings often included his friend either witnessing dire events, or participating in them. Silas was jailed WITH Paul-

The crowd joined in an attack against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, (Acts 16:22-23a).

If you’re a Robin because you like to be in the background, you might sorrowfully find yourself stepping away from your friend. If you’re a Robin because you’re a Son or Daughter of Encouragement and enjoy being a support to someone else for the name of Christ, then you might find yourself on a wild ride like that golf ball hurled into the skies only to be struck by a bolt out of the blue. Will you get on the ship with Paul or wave goodbye from the shore?

Time will tell. But think on these things, and prepare ahead for the inevitable time of deciding.

Further Reading

Who was Barnabas in the Bible?

The Troubling Gospel

Lockyer’s All the Men of the Bible – Barnabas

Posted in theology

Jailed for the Lord – Paul in the ‘House of Darkness’

By Elizabeth Prata

Thank goodness for historians. In ancient Rome during the last days of the Apostle Paul, Sallust and Livy, for example, wrote of the notorious jail in Rome known as the Mamertine, dubbed so in the medieval period. It’s originally known in history as the Carcer, or the Tullianum, or at least, the lower half of the underground dungeon was. History does not record for a definite fact that Peter and Paul were at different times held there, but tradition and Roman practice indicate it was a strong possibility.

This essay is constructed in three sections:

Section 1: The prison itself. What was it like?
Section 2: Paul in Prison
Section 3: Facing Death

Roman Forum. Mamertine Prison was up behind the building with the dentil cornice. EPrata photo

What was the Mamertine Prison like?

The Mamertine prison was a prison in the Roman Forum where high-profile prisoners were kept, usually so they could be marched through the Roman streets during a triumph parade. High ranking commanders captured during war and other famous prisoners’ names are recorded on a plaque at the entrance. Since Paul was a significantly known public figure, it’s likely when he was imprisoned in Rome, this was the place he was kept.

The prison was deliberately constructed in the middle of the city and placed in the middle of that, into the Roman Forum, as a symbol of Rome’s power, authority, and as a warning. Crime had begun to rise as the city grew, and the Emperors wanted its citizenry to heed the consequence of crime. Hence the jail was visible and constructed so as to be fearsome.

Interestingly, Roman law did not consider the imprisonment itself as a punishment. Jails were simply a place to hold the captured or the criminals until execution, which was the punishment. Mamertine was a place of detention until execution. Barbarian Commanders captured in war were paraded and then strangled publicly, for example. Roman citizens, if unfortunate enough to have been detained for a crime, were taken outside the city on the Ostian Way and beheaded there, usually in private. Privacy in execution was a way to give a Roman Citizen his last dignity. Non-Romans were killed by any method; for example, sent to the beasts, used to the death in gladitorial games, or crucified as Peter was (tradition says, upside down). These executions were public for the spectacle of Roman power and for the amusement of its citizens.

Roman Forum. EPrata photo

The Mamertine, or Tullianum prison was a two-story underground prison. The upper chambers had light and air and was drier. The lower, which prisoners were let down through a hole for their fate, was dank. Historians say the word tullius meant a jet of water and since the prison was originally built as a cistern, this signifies the origin of the name. When the 6th emperor of Rome Servius Tullius arose, the origin story shifted to claim his name as the name of the jail. Below the well or cistern ran the sewer known as the Cloaca Maxima. Seepage from the sewer into the cells just above was common. In fact, they used to flush out the corpses of the incarcerated dead to the Tiber River in this way.

Once the door was shut there was little air, no light, and the cell was steaming hot. Just the name of the Mamertine drew shudders, as in this account from historian Sallust-

 “There is a part of the prison which is called the Tullianum, where you ascend a short way on the left. The Tullianum is sunk into the earth about 12 feet and is constructed of stone walls on all sides; above this is a room with a ceiling of vaulted stone. Foul from neglect, darkness, and stench, it is an altogether terrifying sight. … Sallust described “Its appearance is disgusting and vile by reason of the filth, the darkness and the stench.” Sallust, War against Catiline 55. “Execution of Prisoners.”

Prisoners who were held for trial were called in carcer from which we get the word incarcerated. If you were in the Mamertine prison, you were considered as dead. Sometimes, in fact, they threw you down to the lower cell and starved you to death. What a way to go, in the dark, forgotten, hungry, alone, and then you die the painful slow death of starvation, knowing your ignoble corpse will be flushed into the sewer as waste.

Paul in prison- what do the scriptures say?

Paul was jailed numerous times and in a variety of conditions. His first was at Philippi, where he’d delivered a slave girl of her demon of divination and the owner was upset his method of income was gone. This was around 51AD. Paul (and Silas’) release was a supernatural event accompanied by an earthquake and an instant loosening of all the bonds and chains. The jailer was converted, and the next day the magistrates came and let Paul and Silas go (but asked them to leave the city). Paul went to Lydia’s house. (Acts 16:22-40).

Paul’s second jailing that we know of occurred in Jerusalem. It was prophesied beforehand that he would be jailed, (Acts 21:11) but Paul pressed on, knowing at the outset that Jesus had said Paul was to suffer mightily for the Name. (Acts 9:16). Jews, jealous of Paul, claimed (wrongly) that Paul was allowing Gentiles into the Jews-only part of the Temple, and stirred up a riot. (Acts 21:28). This was AD 57. Paul was removed to Caesarea for his safety, kept another two years, sent to Rome under house arrest around AD60. He was released in 62AD.

Paul’s last jailing was likely at the infamous Mamertine prison. He had been deserted. He knew this was the end. He had written before that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in by God’s providence. He had learned he could do all things through Christ. (Philippians 4:11-13). Whether enjoying a comfortable house imprisonment attended to by family, whether free and dining at Lydia’s in fellowship with the saints, or hunkered down in the sewage at Mamertine, hungry and alone. We do not know if the Lord visited Paul at the end, but we do know the Lord visited Paul at other times in his jailings, like in Acts 23:11. Bible Knowledge Commentary says,

23:11. The importance of this vision was not only in its comfort and encouragement (cf. 18:9–10) but also in the confirmation it gave of Paul’s plans to go to Rome. The gospel of Christ would literally go from Jerusalem to Rome by means of the Apostle Paul. This was the fourth vision the Lord gave Paul (cf. 9:4–6; 16:9; 18:9–10).Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 420). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Facing Death

But in reality, I think it must have been hard to maintain a positive attitude in that place. Only Luke was with him, which must have been a comfort. (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul hopes to see Timothy and also Mark. Paul was a super-Christian, but still a man. He had been buoyed personally by Jesus many times, supported by family at times, and enjoyed within his circle of beloved friends. But what thoughts go through a man’s mind when sitting in a jail cell knowing the end has come? He longed to be with Jesus, that is certain. But he just have wondered if his actual death would be prolonged or painful. He must have wondered how long he would languish in that dank place. He had been blessed with glimpses of ‘the other side,’ but must have wondered what would it really be like to be with Jesus eternally. Here is A.T. Robertson’s The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia entry of the end.

"When Paul writes again to Timothy he has had a winter in prison, and has suffered greatly from the cold and does not wish to spend another winter in the Mamertine (probably) prison (2 Tim 4:13, 21). We do not know what the charges now are. They may have been connected with the burning of Rome. There were plenty of informers eager to win favor with Nero. Proof was not now necessary. Christianity is no longer a religio licita under the shelter of Judaism. It is now a crime to be a Christian. It is dangerous to be seen with Paul now, and he feels the desertion keenly (2 Tim 1:15 ff; 4:10). Only Luke, the beloved physician, is with Paul (4:11), and such faithful ones as live in Rome still in hiding (4:21)." [Robertson's The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia entry continues->]
"Paul hopes that Timothy may come and bring Mark also (4:11). Apparently Timothy did come and was put into prison (He 13:23). Paul is not afraid. He knows that he will die. He has escaped the mouth of the lion (2 Tim 4:17), but he will die (4:18). The Lord Jesus stood by him, perhaps in visible presence (4:17). The tradition is, for now Paul fails us, that Paul, as a Rom citizen, was beheaded on the Ostian Road just outside of Rome. Nero died June, 68 AD, so that Paul was executed before that date, perhaps in the late spring of that year (or 67). Perhaps Luke and Timothy were with him. It is fitting, as Findlay suggests, to let Paul’s words in 2 Tim 4:6–8 serve for his own epitaph. He was ready to go to be with Jesus, as he had long wished to be (Phil 1:23)."

Source-  Robertson, A. T. (1915). Paul, the Apostle. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 2287). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

And so, Jesus gathered Paul to Himself to enjoy eternal peace and rest after so much suffering for the cause. Of all people, we can say of Paul, "Rest in Peace, brother".

Sources and further reading:

Visit Rome: The Mamertine Prison

Historical Background of Paul’s Final Imprisonment

A Dispatch from Rome: The Mamertine Prison

Posted in Sunday martyr moment, theology

Sunday Martyr Moment: Paul

By Elizabeth Prata*

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,

Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.

From the same link, the book’s purpose was fourfold:

  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
Paul

 

The Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome in AD 61. and there wrote his prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. His imprisonment ended approximately three years later during the year that Rome burned, which was in May AD 64. (See Acts 28:30). During his brief freedom, Paul may have visited western and eastern Europe and Asia Minor- he also wrote the first Epistle to Timothy and his Epistle to Titus.

At first, Nero was blamed for setting fire to Rome, so to direct the blame away from himself, he blamed the Christians. As a result, a fierce persecution broke out against them. During it, Paul was arrested and put back into prison in Rome. While in prison this second time he wrote his second letter to Timothy. It was his last.

Not long after, he was judged guilty of crimes against the Emperor and condemned to death. He was taken to the execution block and beheaded. It was AD 66, just four years before Jerusalem fell.

85729-the-martyrdom-of-st-paulxlmedium
The Martyrdom of Paul – Tintoretto, c.1556

*This essay first appeared on The End Time in June 2013

Posted in sing, theology

There’s singing, and there’s singing

By Elizabeth Prata

Paul was going about doing his business preaching the Gospel and ministering, and a demon-possessed slave girl kept following them and shouting that they were from God showing the way to salvation. Irked at having a demonic forerunner, Paul finally exorcised the demon from her. However, her owners seeing that their hope of gain was gone, had Paul and his companion Silas arrested and beaten. Paul and Silas were thrown into the inner prison. Continue reading “There’s singing, and there’s singing”

Posted in encouragement, theology

Can We really Do All Things Through Christ?

By Elizabeth Prata*

What Christian isn’t familiar with one of the New Testament’s most famous comfort verses?

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

It is good to be reminded that it’s His strength and not our strength which propels us along in sanctification. It is good to be reminded that He is our all, and that all is possible.

However too many people misunderstand and misuse the verse. It does not mean I can attain whatever desire I have through Jesus. And it doesn’t mean Jesus plops all things or all strength down into us fully formed and ripe for use.

Let’s back up a little and take a look at what came before that verse. There is more to it than what many Christians of today take the verse to mean.

Paul said several times that he learned contentment. Learned it. He had to work at contentment, and learn the skill of practicing contentment over his long road of personal tribulation.

The two verses which precede the all things of verse 13 are:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” [emphasis mine].

What Paul was learning is the power of Christ as the daily means of sanctification as he strove to holiness, and ultimately, contentment in all circumstances.

Paul had to consciously strive toward contentment through constant practice of cultivating it through reliance on God’s provision and promise. And he is not talking of self-sufficiency here, but of a diminishment of worldly desires as he strove to do all things God would have Him do in the name of Jesus.

Paul had many trials and difficulties. Paul isn’t saying that Jesus plopped down a supernatural contentment to his heart as he took a deep breath and relied on Him to do all things through Him. Not at all. As a matter of fact, Paul admits to dissatisfaction covetousness brings, in Romans 7:8. Through all his varied circumstances, Paul is saying, he had the opportunity to practice being content in the circumstances he found himself in, because those circumstances are divorced from earthly measures of contentment and joy. He had to learn it. This indicates an active participation on the part of the Christian.

Whenever Paul was low or high, had plenty or hunger, abundance or need, didn’t matter, because Christ was strengthening him in love, growth, joy and the other treasures we hold dear. If we divorce our joy or contentment from worldly things, what remains is Christ! Through Christ, all things are possible! Paul learned that. It took him a while and he had to work at it. But what glory for the Savior when we learn it.

So be careful what you are really saying when you say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Are you working at learning how to do all things, apart from our flesh and distinct from the baggage of worldly wants? No matter your circumstances?

Phil Johnson preached on it recently, and this little note is a summary of what I took away from his sermon. I found his sermon exposition to be tremendously enlightening and inspiring. For a full explanation of what that verse means, I encourage you to take a listen and /or look at the transcript.

How to Find Contentment in a World of Discontent

Pastor Johnson ends his sermon this way:

“By the way, verse 13 contrasts wonderfully with Jesus’ statement in John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” If the boundaries for “all things” that you seek to accomplish are set by the express commands of God and the righteous example of Christ, then there truly is no limit to what you can do through His power. That is the secret to true contentment. It’s not really a complex mystery. But the reason it is so difficult to learn is that it entails the mortification of our worldly lusts, our carnal ambitions, our selfish pride, and our ungodly attitudes.

 

quote content poor

*This first appeared on The End Time in January 2013.

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Do believers need the Gospel?

Paul opens his massive and majestic letter to the Romans with effusive rhapsodies of his love for the Roman believers and his gratitude for their faith- which he said is known the world over. He speaks of his intense desire to come to them so that he can be encouraged by their faith. Paul mentions them all the time to everyone. And so on.

First, we note Paul’s ministerial desire for his flocks and his obedient submission to his ordained role as Christian, pastor, sufferer. He is surely a super-Christian, if one such designation existed.

In the iconic movie The Princess Bride, Inigo is sailing a boat with all due speed in attempt to get away with a kidnapping. He looks back at one point and sees a distant boat on the horizon. The breeze is gentle and the night is long, so he has no worries. When he looks up again, he sees the boat is now close. And after a while, closer, then closer… This perplexing phenomenon causes him to utter the well-known line,

I wonder if he's using the same wind we are using.

It’s like that with Paul. We might say, “I wonder if he is using the same Spirit we are using?” and the answer would be “Yes”. I am awed by Paul’s fervor, dedication, diligence and deep obedience never having wavered. He died poured out as a drink offering, a rushing torrent of obedience and love spilling across the altar of his beloved Savior.

Then in verse 15 of chapter 1, Paul says this-

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:15).

Wait, what?

Hadn’t Paul confirmed the Roman believers’ solid faith, their well-known faith, their doctrinal and loving faith? Yes.

Some could interpret the verse as Paul being anxious to come minister to them, which is definitely true. But he didn’t say only that. He said he is eager to come preach the Gospel at Rome to Greeks and barbarians, to the wise and the foolish, “and also to you.” The Greek word for Gospel in this verse is euaggelizó which means bringing or preaching the full Gospel of Christ.

Some could interpret this as Paul’s eagerness to preach the Gospel indiscriminately to all, and that would also be true.

But do believers need the Gospel?

The answer would be “Yes.”

The Gospel is not a once-for-all mechanism that saves a person from the wrath of God and installs him into the kingdom as a child of God. Not only. It is the launching pad, and the eternal linchpin. It is the indispensable necessity for life eternal in the believer on earth and forever. The Good News is always Good News, and it continues being so, even for believers. Especially for believers.

The Good News is the fullness of Jesus, the encompassing message, the total plan of God, the victory of Jesus over sin, death, and hell. It is a message of resurrection, triumph, power, and abundant life. We all need this message, every day! Paul knew this. The Gospel is the mighty rushing wind of power and sustenance for every believer on earth who lives by the Spirit. We are reminded of the verse from 1 Thessalonians 1:5a

because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

Paul said in the very next verse, Romans 1:16 these famous and everlastingly glorious words:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,e as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The faith we live by is that Gospel, Good News of the savior Jesus Christ. We needed it when we were foolish, wise, Greeks, and barbarians. Now that we are saved, it’s a message “And also to you.” The gospel necessity never ends.

gospel

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Straining toward the goal

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Straining, pressing, racing, it all gets tiring. Sounds a lot different than the mystical notion of ‘let go and let God’ doesn’t it! Christianity is active. We study, pray, battle the flesh, exhort, preach, build up, and more. Here Paul is saying we must not give up!

The road might seem long but in the end we will look back from our vantage point in heaven and say, ‘that was but a vapor, our life on earth was but a mist of a moment.’ Even this evening I was looking at the Facebook photos of the 8th grade semi-formal dance going on now, and I see handsome and tall young men and lovely ladies who I knew in kindergarten. Their parents write captions such as ‘time slow down’ and ‘where did the time go, he was a baby just yesterday’.

The road might seem long but it’s really short, just over the next rise could come glory

Keep up the good work, sisters, of praying and working for Christ and raising young ‘uns and submitting and worshiping and battling and singing and phew, hang in there!

Here is a bit of encouragement from The Bible Knowledge Commentary,

3:12–14. Though Paul was a spiritual giant in the eyes of the Philippian saints, he wanted them to know that he had not yet attained the goals stated in verse 10. He was still actively pressing on toward them. He had by no means reached the final stage of his sanctification.

Paul’s salvation experience had taken place about 30 years before he wrote to the Philippians. He had won many spiritual battles in that time. He had grown much in those years, but he candidly confessed he had not obtained all this, nor was he yet made perfect (v. 12). He still had more spiritual heights to climb. This testimony of the apostle reminded the saints at Philippi—and it serves to remind believers today—that there must never be a stalemate in their spiritual growth or a plateau beyond which they cannot climb.

Paul pursued Christlikeness with the enthusiasm and persistence of a runner in the Greek games. Unlike the Judaizers, whose influence was prevalent among the Philippians, the apostle did not claim to have attained spiritual maturity. He was still pressing on, pursuing that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. Nor had he yet taken hold of it, that is, he had not yet attained perfection or ultimate conformity to Christ. But he was determined that he would forget the past and, like a runner, press on toward the goal. Paul refused to be controlled or absorbed by his past heritage (vv. 5–7) or his attainments (v. 8).

Vigorously and with concentration Paul sought to win the prize to which God had called him heavenward (v. 14). Again the Greek games must have been on his mind as he wrote of the prize. The winner in those games was called to the place where the judge sat in order to receive his prize. Paul may have referred to ultimate salvation in God’s presence, or to receiving rewards at “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10).

Lightner, R. P. (1985). Philippians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 661). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Posted in prophecy, Uncategorized

Bible Reading Plan thoughts: Romans 11 and the full number

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25).

John MacArthur on that verse in the sermon Has God Cancelled His Promises to Israel? part 6

The fullness of the Gentiles, that is when the full number of Gentiles are redeemed, the fullness of the Gentiles will bring the salvation of Israel. Follow now; the fullness of Israel will bring the kingdom.  So you have the fullness of the Gentiles and then they’re raptured out, God redeems Israel and when the fullness of Israel is redeemed, the kingdom comes.  And so with great joy does Paul predict this tremendous event that will bring about what it says in verse 26, “And so all Israel shall be saved,” after the fullness of the Gentiles have entered in.

At a certain point in earth’s history to come, it is promised to us that Jesus will lift His church composed of Christians dead and alive, into heaven to be with Him. Then he will hurl His stored-up wrath upon earth to punish the unbelieving nation Israel, and the sinful Gentile world. Some people say there will be no rapture at all. Others say that it will happen at the end of or in the middle of the time of wrath (AKA the Tribulation, or Time of Jacob’s Trouble). Since the rapture is in the Bible, and since it is a single even that is promised to occur, it can’t happen both before the Tribulation and at the end. Therefore one of those positions is right and one of them is wrong.

Scripture supports this stance that the rapture will happen before Jesus begins the last days punishments. Paul taught this in his treatment of the subject in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians 15:42-57, it’s in Revelation, as well as being taught implicitly throughout other books of the Bible.

The event is supposed to be a hope to believers, and an encouragement, said Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:18. When you look around the dark world with its sin and evil, take hope in the knowledge that Jesus has a plan. His plan includes filling a quota for His Church (Romans 11:25). When that occurs, He will remove His Bride from the wrath, because we are not appointed to it. (Revelation 3:10). We will appear before His Bema seat to receive rewards for our service to Him while we were on earth, (2 Corinthians 5:10), and then enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:7–10). Meanwhile on earth, the Tribulation will have begun.

It is a joy to understand that God has not cancelled His promises to Israel and will return His attention ot his chosen nation in due time. He will fulfill His promises, sadly, the wrath, then joyfully, the bliss.

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Feeling weak and weary? It’s OK. Even Timothy needed urging

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Has your zeal waned? I’m not talking about the normal subsiding of a fervency that first ignites in the heart upon salvation but then matures to a steady fire. I’m talking about the day to day, month to months or year to year faith that, if left untended or un-nurtured, diminishes to an ember, with cold ashes all around. Or the faith that is timid and retiring, waiting for igniting or just fearful.

It happens.

As we see in the verse above, Paul was urging Timothy to fan into flame his gift (of faith). One who already has a flame doesn’t need someone to urge him to fan it. Only someone who is dimming needs such encouragement. Paul knew this was true of Timothy, so Paul wrote to encourage Timothy to nurture his faith.

Barnes’ Notes:

The idea is, that Timothy was to use all proper means to keep the flame of pure religion in the soul burning, and more particularly his zeal in the great cause to which he had been set apart. The agency of man himself is needful to keep the religion of the heart warm and glowing. However rich the gifts which God has bestowed upon us, they do not grow of their own accord, but need to be cultivated by our own personal care.

We all need that exhortation. Fan into flame the gift of God.

OK. How? What are the actions we should take when we sense our spiritual walk is slowing?

In the Spurgeon sermon Our Gifts and How to Use Them, we note that to stir up one’s faith requires action.  Spurgeon here has some ideas. The following are excerpts from the above link ‘Our Gifts and How to Use Them.’

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And this brings us, secondly, to the consideration of HOW WE ARE TO STIR UP OUR GIFTS.

EXAMINE YOUR GIFTS
First, we should do it by examination to see what gifts we really have. There should be an overhauling of all our stores to see what we have of capital entrusted to our stewardship.

STIR UP YOUR GIFTS
The next mode of stirring up our gift is to consider to what use we could put the talents we possess. To what use could I put my talents in my family? Am I doing all I could for the children? Have I labored all I ought for my wife’s conversion; my husband’s conversion? Then about the neighborhood: is there nothing more that I could do for the salvation of my poor godless neighbors?

… Are you doing all you can for Jesus? Come, answer like an honest man! Having done so, I have more for your self-inspection! Will you examine yourself in every relation in which you stand? As an employer, stir up your gift in reference to those you employ; as a servant, stir up the gift towards your fellow servants; as a trader, and stir up your gift in reference to those with whom you come in contact… If our churches were in a right state of spiritual health, men would not first say, “What can I do to make money?” but, “What can I do to serve Christ, for I will take up a trade subserviently to that.”

ACT IN AND THROUGH YOUR GIFTS
But, next, stir it up not merely by consideration and examination, but by actually using it. We talk much of working, but working is better than talking about working. To get really at it, and to do something for soul-winning and spreading abroad the glory of God is infinitely better than planning and holding committees. Away with windbags! Let us get to acts and deeds! … Work, work, and the tool that is blunt will get an edge by being used! Shine and the light you have shall grow in the very act of shining! He who has done one thing will find himself capable of doing two, and doing two will be able to accomplish four; and having achieved the four will soon go on to twelve, and from 12 to fifty! And so, by growing multiples, he will enlarge his power to serve God by using the ability he has.

IMPROVE YOUR GIFT
We have for years endeavored to stir up the young Christians of this congregation to educate themselves. … I think every man ought to feel, “I have been Christ’s man with a talent; I will be Christ’s man with 10 if I can; if now I do not thoroughly understand the doctrines of His gospel, I will try to understand them; I will read, and search, and learn.” We need an intelligent race of Christians, not an affected race of boasters of culture—mental fops who pretend to know a great deal, and know nothing! We need students of the word, adept in theology like the Puritans of old!

PRAY OVER YOUR GIFTS
—that is a blessed way of stirring them up, to go before God and spread out your responsibilities before Him. … It stirs one up to preach with all his might when he has laid before God in prayer, his weakness; and the ability which God has given him, and asked that the weakness may be consecrated to God’s glory, and the ability accepted to the Lord’s praise. Should we not do just the same, whatever our calling is—take it to the Lord and say, “Assist me, great God, to live for You; …

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End Spurgeon. Don’t you love his bluntness? ‘Don’t just talk about working, actually work. Away with windbags!’ Lol.

Does the flame of faith in your bosom need fanning? It is not sin, not yet. Fainting youths and weary soldiers give opportunity for stronger brothers to come alongside and exhort and encourage. Perhaps that strong soldier will need fanning one day, and you can return the favor. In addition, we are pitiful human creatures, stained with a sin-drenched mind always attempting to get the better of the Mind of Christ that is given to us. Or, our timid hearts stray to the back of the crowd. Or, our spotted souls seek to grow the spots instead of slay them.

The battle is long and the fight is tiring. It was for Timothy. What a blessing the Bible includes the weaknesses and flaws of our fainting brethren who came before us. See? You’re weak. I’m weak. It happens.

If you need fanning, no matter. Stir up your gifts, the basis is which is the gift of God of faith and repentance, the gift of knowledge of our own sin, and so seek to revive that flame to a burning love giving light and warmth to fellow soldiers and to the cold and wandering lost.

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