Sorting the Instruction 6

  • “Follow Me.” (Matthew 9:9)
  • “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
  • “You still lack one thing: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22)
  • “If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” (John 21:22)
  • “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Some of those commandments by Jesus to various people in the Scriptures you probably feel led to receive as though they were spoken to you. Some of them, you probably think He didn’t have you in mind when He said them. How do you decide?

If He said something to a Pharisee, would it not apply to you? He prophesied much woe to many of them. Yet, it was Nicodemus to whom He declared, “You can’t see the Kingdom unless you have been born again.” Even in this revelation, that once I have been born of God I am capable of seeing His Kingdom, there is no promise that I will see it. I have to want to see the hand of God in the earth if I am going to see it. Many people see His hand at work in miracles but cannot discern that it is Him, and therefore explain the mysteries away as natural things that we have not yet understood.

There is an old joke about using the Bible like the toy called a “magic 8 ball,” which is a black ball with a little window in it. To use it, you shake it while you are asking it a question, and when you hold it still with the window at the top, one of the multifaceted blocks in it floats up to the window with your “answer.” A man was seeking a word from the Lord and decided to open his Bible and take whatever he first pointed to as the answer. The first Scripture he pointed out was, “Judas hung himself.” The next one was, “Go thou, and do likewise.”

Study the Scriptures. Memorize them. Meditate on them. Discuss them with others. Pray for understanding and deeper revelation. Don’t shake them for a word without asking the Holy Spirit to direct you through them. Don’t be yoked by others’ rule books that they have written from them.

This He said to some Jews, who had the Scriptures memorized: “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5:38-40, NKJV)

Sorting the Instructions 5

If I were a soldier in a nation’s army, I would have been taught the basic tenants of how to act as a soldier in boot camp and other early training.

When an event arose that thrust me into a situation of my nation being at war, I would need those basic teachings to be well memorized, so that I moved in unity with the rest of the army as we functioned together in the war.

The even more valuable second layer of instruction would be the orders that proceeded from headquarters in the working out of their plan for victory. No matter how great my preparation was, if I was too fearful or rebellious to obey the fresh orders, I would be useless at best, and detrimental at worst.

Paul had warfare in mind when he wrote a letter to the churches at Ephesus. In their city, he had encountered some of his most effective and most dangerous wartime experiences. The advice he gave them regarding their continuing warfare in that area included what we call chapter 6, and a list of instructions we call putting on “the full armor of God.”

Most teaching on this Scripture gives great understanding of the armor pieces that he mentioned, and how spiritual application of the ideas could help us in our stands against the wiles of the devil. I can’t remember but two out of the scores of commentaries I have encountered that include verse 18 with 10-17 as part of the narrative. There, he wrote, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,…

His uses of the phrase, “In the Spirit” in other Scriptures are unquestioned as meaning under the guidance of the Spirit of God. Walking in the Spirit, beginning in the Spirit, being in the Spirit (Galatians 3:3, 5:16, 5:25, Romans 8:9). Here, we should have the same idea. “Praying always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A well prepared, well dressed, well armored soldier is a museum piece without a commander giving her/him orders that make them useful in the conflict, co-operating with the rest of the soldiers, unified against an enemy and for victory. Even when I do manage to listen to the Spirit well enough to sort out the instructions He has for me in the Scriptures, if I am not listening to Him for daily directions, I will be useless or detrimental in His plans in the earth.

Sorting the Instructions 4

Once upon a time I was debt-free. I had been in debt, having borrowed money for a home and a car, but I made sacrifices and wise choices for a while, eliminating the debt.

I was in the process of shopping for my first keyboard at that time. I had looked at a few, tried a few, and considered how much to spend. A friend who sold electronic equipment came to me and offered to sell me a keyboard at his cost if I let him borrow it for a three-day conference at which he was contracted to provide sound system and recording services.

I told him I was not done shopping, and he gave me a deadline by which to decide. He did not want to have to buy a keyboard that he would then never use again, but would have to if he didn’t come up with an alternate plan. I added that I also needed a sound system and mics and stands and cables and cetera. He promise his cost to me for whatever I bought by the deadline.

I asked the Spirit. I knew that I would have to borrow the money to get the stuff, which added up to nearly $3,000. Even though I was out of debt, I was recently out of debt, and had no saved money. I didn’t seem to get an answer.

The night before the day of the deadline, at 3 am I woke suddenly and felt that I should kneel by my bed and read Galatians. I got to the first words of chapter 5, which in the NIV, which I used at the time, read, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery.”

As soon as I finished reading verse 1, I felt that the Spirit said, “That is your answer. Buy the equipment.”

I thought, I just got out of a yoke of slavery to debt, and will have to resubmit myself to that yoke if I buy this stuff. The instruction in the Scripture seemed to say the opposite of what I believed I had heard the Spirit say. I started reading verse 2, and forced myself through verse 7, but kept hearing the Spirit in my heart say that the answer was in verse 1, and that the answer was: buy the equipment.

I bought it, and borrowed the money to do so, because I was pretty sure the Spirit had spoken to me, but it took a few years for my mind to catch up with my spirit and have the instruction make sense. I was looking one day at the several hundred vinyl music albums I possessed. I recalled having sold three times as many as I still had to a guy one day for 25¢ each. The Spirit, in that context of thoughts, reminded me of His instruction from Galatians 5:1 about the keyboard. His instruction that day included the warning not to be yoked again with the bondage of music being idolatry in my life, not with the bondage of financial debt.

Sometimes your spirit will understand what your mind cannot yet perceive. Trust His Spirit to lead you. Ask Him what to do. Ask Him for understanding and wisdom. He wants you to have them, but on days you have to ask… (Matthew 7:7).

Sorting the Instructions 3

I have trouble not being surprised at the number of people who are frequently complaining about Scripture being taken out of context, yet who insist on yoking all of the family of God to a code of rules that includes every “command of Scripture,” with no regard for what a particular commandment’s context was in terms of the hearer’s location, issues unique to the congregation or believer to whom it was spoken, cultural relevance, or the absence of commands that are relevant to current cultural, locational, or individual needs for instruction.

Some of these rule-givers try to give them more strength to bind people by adding fear of failure to the mix. Some are even given with the threat of the lake of fire for failure to fully comply. It brings me to tears to see people who have been warned of the fires that wait for eternal torment to believers who don’t follow the denominational rules, including such impositions as men who have facial hair or short sleeve shirts.

One such victim whom I was teaching to read English was warned that he was going to burn forever for spending time with me, due to my anti-Christ moustache and the devilish short sleeve shirt that I was using to temp their ladies to lust after my arms. The most heart breaking effect of this foolishness is the number of people who believe it, and because they believe it, also believe they are not good enough to be part of the church, and therefore are lost in the earth in condemnation, refusing to come to Jesus for comfort and redemption.

Some questions that we painfully need answers to include: where to be involved in a congregation, what job to take, what ministry to invest in, whom to marry, how to raise my particularly gifted or challenged children, and how to respond to an abusive neighbor. The Spirit of God, Who inSpired the Scriptures, has the answers to all of those questions, and to any others that we have. He sometimes uses the Scriptures to reveal the answers.

The answers we find should not be considered as useful for building blocks with which to build any religion or a prison of rules on how to live. The answer in some situation today may not resemble the answer to tomorrow’s question. I may be told one thing regarding responding to different people or at different points in time, based on their needs or maturity, or on mine, and another day hear a different instruction.

In the Lord of the Rings story by J. R. R. Tolkien, there were several rings that had been given to different kings. They were made to control the kings, but given with the pretense that they were made to honor them. The most troublesome ring was called “the one ring to rule them all.”

The “one rule” in our lives might need to be, “Ask the Spirit.” He can use the Scriptures to answer us, or He might use any story we find ourselves in, unveiling the hidden answer as a parable. He may even use the jackass who is giving us a ride to work (Numbers 22:22).

Sorting the Instructions 2

Recently a strong believer was visiting my home when another believer happened to be present, casting demons out of a woman. I had given the man permission use my home to cast out the demons, but I was in my workshop, not realizing that he had arrived, and that the work was in progress.

The believer who happened by at the time of the exorcism came out to where I was, very upset over the method of exorcism that the other guy was using. It was not the method the second guy used, so it was, of course, wrong… He left in anger because I would not go in and stop the exorcist from getting rid of the demons.

It was not the method I use to cast demons out of people, either, but he seems to get them out most of the time, so I was OK. The situation reminded me of the story Luke shared in what we call chapter 9 of his writing, verse 49. Right after the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest, John told Jesus about a man they had seen while they were on the Kingdom-preaching mission they had just returned from, having been proving how great they all were. He had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The disciples stopped him from doing it, because he was not following them. Jesus responded that they should not have stopped him, because whoever was not against them was for them.

In Acts 19, Luke described an event that happened to a group of Jewish “exorcists.” The word used to describe them is only in the Bible in verse 13 of Acts 19. Strong’s dictionary of New Testament words defines it as someone who “binds by an oath or spell; a conjurer.”

There were seven sons of a high priest named Sceva who were practicing this witchcraft, which I believe to be an early form of what has come to be known as “Kaballah.” It is a very loose collective of writings and/or teachings by Jewish mystics that intend to explain how the world works and how to manipulate its forces or defend oneself from them.

When they tried to cast out demons “…in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches,” the demon replied, “Jesus I know, and Paul I have heard of, but who are you?” He then empowered the man he was possessing to beat the seven of them until they ran out of the house and down the street “naked and bleeding.”

I am suggesting that the contrast between Paul’s success at casting demons out of people and the wandering exorcists’ lack of success was hinged on knowing and listening to Jesus, not on knowing the rules on how to deal with demons.

Sorting the Instructions 1

If you have listened to me very long, you have, by now, heard me suggest many times that the Bible is not a book of rules, but revelation of a Ruler. One of the most powerful ways to prevent unity from emerging in the relationships of believers is to be more interested in rules than in the Ruler.

In Walmart recently I encountered a friendly woman who surprised me by being a servant of a local “Kingdom Hall.” The discussion began with a health concern that she had experienced, and how she was having trouble trusting physicians with it. I responded that I have more trust in some friends who like to see people healed in the name Jesus than I have in physicians myself. From that point on, every thing that I said was responded to with a prerecorded response from her headquarters in New York.

It was painful to stay and difficult to escape. After excusing myself graciously and giving her the last word in the current argument, I blessed her and turned and walked away. She was still engaged. Her theological instruction, like all “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, was not to redeem the lost, but to win arguments. People who hate controversy and/or fear not being able to answer questions properly are particularly susceptible to their trained bullies.

Our King is raising up servants in His Kingdom from among His family members. He is training them in the skills of self-sacrifice, worship, and warfare as He leads them to redeem and restore the lost and the stolen.

Josef Tson is a hero from behind the now fallen Iron Curtain. He was the leader of a congregation in Romania. Once, after being able to escape Romania, he was asking some western believers for help with a mission of returning to Romania to distribute some books he had gotten translated for leaders there.

When questioned about the likelihood of success he expected if he returned, he responded, “”Success? Success? That’s a typically Western way of thinking. In Romania, when one becomes a Christian, one doesn’t think of success. You think of losing your job, losing your income, of beatings, slander, and possibly martyrdom. I’m called to preach the gospel in Romania. So I’ll go.”

His mission is to introduce wolves to the flavor of sheep’s blood, so that they can take it as a first step toward tasting the Lamb of God, and seeing that He is very good (Psalm 34:8, Matthew 26:26-28).

 

How to be Part of the Body

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more.

But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus: you took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new man, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No rotten talk should come from your mouth, but only what is good for the building up of someone in need, in order to give grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.                                                   Ephesians 4:11-32
(Holman Christian Standard Bible®© Holman Bible Publishers)

A popular means of attempting to control what we think or teach is to raise the rule against taking Scripture out of context. It seems reasonable to impose that restriction on how we use what is written in the Book. A problem that is exposed with it by the Scriptures themselves is the number of times those writing the Scriptures took passages they were quoting and applied them very much out of context. See examples in this article: Using the Bible.

Examples of popular non-contextual uses of Scripture include preaching from 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings. Chapter 13 is wedged between Paul’s instructions about the unity that should be present among the various manifestations of spiritual work by the one Holy Spirit in chapter 12 and its continuation in chapter 14 with regard to prophecy and tongues. The last verse of chapter 12 introduces chapter 13 as a “more excellent way” of walking in that unity as we learn to minister together as the church.

This passage (Ephesians 4:11-32) is another description of that “excellent way.”

Jealous or Envious?

Partly because of the popular American practice of using words wrongly, there is a debate over how exactly to define the words jealousy and envy. The argument includes what the difference between them really is. Most people have no intention of changing their minds on the matter, and just use them each as they like, including interchangeably in some cases. The discussion is not really very heated. Most don’t care…

If you are going to defend yourself from them, and if they are different problems, it might be wise to have 2 strategies; one for each actual problem. One version of the argument is that jealousy is realized when I have something that I already possess, but am in danger of losing it. That could be Tara’s attention. It could be last year’s best croquet player trophy.

Envy is contrasted in this argument as desiring something that someone else has. I want Tara, but she likes you. I want to win the trophy this year but you are better at croquet than I am. Worse, you are Tara’s pet, and she is one of the judges…

I don’t intend to settle the definitions issue, but I do have advice about defending yourself from both problems. The answer is, become more like Jesus! The path to success is, respond to difficult situations with answers that are sourced in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23).

The more generous you are with the things that you have, the more likely it is that when you have needs further up the road, when you have given your supplies away, someone will be there willing to share hers/his.

The more you honor people who have skills or abilities or have produced great art or other achievements, the more likely it is that you will receive honor for yours. The more you are able to grasp that by the time someone becomes famous for having great skills in some situation, they have traded their lives for that skill, the more likely you are to pay the price of learning or practicing to become skilled at something and be recognized for it. The more you enviously insult people others are honoring, the greater the danger that you are building a gallows pole for them that will be used against you (Esther: Haman & Mordecai).

Who is wise and understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and lie in defiance of the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.       (James 3:13-18  Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The Power to be Kind

Why is kindness so against our natures that it takes the power of the Spirit of God to have it in our hearts? Kindness is listed in Galatians 5:22 & 23 as a fruit of the Spirit. Kindness is part of Yahweh’s nature.

It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). It was His kindness toward Nineveh that made Jonah most angry against Him: after having sent Jonah to prophesy to them, and dealing harshly with Jonah until he obeyed, Yahweh changed His mind and stirred the city with repentance, and spared them the destruction. Jonah was “angry enough to die.” Yahweh was compassionate toward the 120,000 people living in the city who “don’t know their right hand from their left.” (Jonah 4).

Concern yourself with observing your actions toward and responses to other people – whether you are being kind. It seems to be important to Yahweh.

The Lord is Kind

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses.

By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (Holman Christian Standard Bible®© Holman Bible Publishers.)

He raised us up and made us sit together in the Heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the forevers of our future He could display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus! He created us in Christ Jesus so that the work that He prepared for us to do can be done, and our lives can bring Him much glory.

Cause us to succeed at it by Your kindness, Lord!