Tell Us How You Really Feel!

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

Jude 12-13

As Jude begins to wrap up his indictment of the false teachers in the church, he uses a battery of metaphors to describe them, beginning with “blemishes at your love feasts.”  This is the only place in the New Testament where the expression “love feast” is used, but the practice is discussed in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.  In the first century many congregations observed communion in the context of a larger meal where fellowship among believers was expressed and the poor were fed.  Indications are that in the second century, these meals were separated from communion into two different occasions.

Other than that, I think Jude’s metaphors are pretty self-explanatory, and we easily can see his disdain for false teachers. In the next short paragraph, things get interesting…

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

Jude 14-16

This is one of Jude’s uses of extra-Biblical source I mentioned earlier; it might help you with this section to go back to it if you don’t remember it. Here Jude uses this quote from 1 Enoch, and in so doing, he is summing up his case against the false teachers. That these people have run well afoul of the Lord is made abundantly clear with the reminder that they are headed for a fiery judgment.

That there is false teaching in the world around us should come as no surprise. Since “the world around us” is generally understood to mean that which is apart from Christ and the community of believers is clear enough, so apart from Him what kind of teaching would we expect to find?  The thing that has Jude writing a letter of this sort is that these false teachers are within the Body of believers, passing themselves off as followers of Christ, while teaching people to rebel against Him.  Ah yes, this is a different matter entirely.

Do we have such people within the larger Christian community today? Before you answer that one, please keep in mind that Jude isn’t accusing them of making mistakes, being confused or being in error unintentionally. His whole premise is that they are deliberately trying to pry people away from the truth for the purpose of deceiving them into turning their backs on their relationship with Christ; serious indeed, the devil’s work.  So, do we have this problem today? If so, how will we respond to it?

Something to carefully consider.

In the next section, Jude moves into his closing in a wonderful way.

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Extra-Biblical Sources in Jude

Jude does an interesting thing in his letter, he uses a non-Biblical source as though it were from Scripture, and he does so not once, but twice in a 25 verse letter.  Why does he do that?  Should that place the letter in doubt as to its inerrancy? Let’s take a look…

We’ve already seen the first of these in verse 9 when he mentions the story of Michael the Archangel struggling with Satan over the body of Moses. No doubt you will recall that this is found in a paragraph connected with a series of Biblical examples and connected by “in the same way” an unusual context to say the least.  As I mentioned at the time, this story is found in a work called The Assumption of Moses written early in the first century. The second use of a non-Biblical account is to be found in verses 14-15 where Jude actually quotes from the Book of Enoch, sometimes called 1 Enoch, which was written by multiple authors in the second century B.C.

These two books are part of what scholars call the pseudepigrapha, which is comprised of writings that are attributed to Old Testament characters but actually written at a later date by other authors.  These works were well-known in the first century, and other New Testament writers may have been familiar with them, and may even have been influenced by them, but Jude alone quotes directly from one of them and identifies it as a prophecy. Many people have been disturbed by this over the years, and it has produced some interesting discussion. For instance, Tertullian ((A.D. 160-220) argued that 1 Enoch should be considered inspired since Jude quoted it.  On the other hand, Jerome (A.D. 342-420) reported that there were those who rejected Jude’s letter because he quoted it.  Personally, I think they might have both been operating under a false premise, that Jude quoted it as inspired at all; this isn’t necessarily the case.

Other New Testament writers quoted non-inspired authors because they considered them be to right and useful, if not inspired. Paul for instance, quoted three Greek poets.  In Titus 1:12 he calls the Greek poet Epimenides a prophet since Cretans accepted him as such. The particular quote “Cretans are always liars…” was also an accurate statement. He also quoted Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Aratus in Acts 17:28.

It’s quite likely that Jude respected The Book of Enoch and considered the “prophecy” to be an accurate one without accepting it as divinely inspired, just as we might quote C.S. Lewis or R.C. Sproul today in making a point. Indeed, I myself have quoted Harry Truman in my writings more than once, because I felt that the remark I quoted was one of great truth and insight: “The only thing worth knowing is what you learn after you already know it all.”  President Truman was no prophet and I have never suspected his comments were divinely inspired, and if I had been around back in 1948, I probably would have voted for Dewey, but he sure got that one right!

At any rate, I do not think Jude’s quotes should lessen our respect for the authority of his letter; his message is a vitally important one for us, as it was in the first century: Beware of false teachers!

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TLP Inspiration: March 25, 2019

Beautiful but Deadly

Good Monday to you from the Heartland…

There are some things in this life that are absolutely beautiful.  Some are alluring, some are natural while others are man-made.  They might catch our eye or arouse our senses.  They may seem entirely harmless… and they might be good in and of themselves…

…but they can be deadly.

Take this gorgeous tiger for instance, God outdid Himself in the design, it’s simply beautiful, but I don’t think I’d want to walk up and pat him on the head.

Kitty, kitty, kitty!

That beautiful creature just happens to be a killing machine…

More often, we become entranced by things of beauty and make them more important than they are in our lives.  I really enjoy old Victorian architecture; it is beautiful.  Every little detail can be a work of art, and nobody can say it’s immoral.  The question is how important will I allow it to become in my life?

I know people who define life by discovering Victorian treasures in unusual places, who live for the day that they can buy their very own Victorian… be careful what you wish for.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I can enjoy things, I can appreciate their beauty, but when a “thing” or a pleasure becomes the object of life, I will die spiritually just as certainly as I would die physically if I walked up to a sleeping tiger and patted him on the head.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: March 24, 2019

Title: This is Love

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:7-10

We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter.  It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology.  All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless.  In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

The last sentence in this text is the key: God loved us. In fact, he loved us while we were lost, and not loving Him at all.  Yet God loved us anyway; He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us.  Yes, you’re right, this has already been pointed out in this letter, but here it is again, as the core of everything else; that is how important it is that we grasp this simple concept.

How could God love us so much and in spite of everything?  Because God is love.

That being the case, we are to love one another, just as God loved us.  Nobody can do this unless God is in that person, which is to say that person is in Christ.  Loving one another as God loved us runs counter to every teaching of this world, as it also runs against our natural human inclinations.  Therefore, if a person does not love, it is because God is not in him or her.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

John is continuing his thoughts that we looked at in vv. 7-10, the central core of Christian theology, the part that everything else is built upon.  Simply stated, this love core flows like this:

  1. God loved us while we were still sinners.
  2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.
  3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.
  4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11.  God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step.  Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church.  This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step.  The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.”  OK, why did he choose to write that?  Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and through us all will see it.

Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you!  The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ; at least it should be.  Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

Do you ever wonder if it is a coincidence that the whole concept of Godly love has been corrupted and demeaned in our culture − after all, doesn’t society use the word “love” to mean just about anything other than Godly love?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:16b-18

This short text is tricky; we need to be sharp to get the full benefit of it.  “God is love.” OK, so far, so good, this part is easy.  Them John says, Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  For us to live in love is to also live in God, and when we do that, God lives in us because God is love: They are inseparable.  Here comes the curve: John is building again.  Because of the inseparable nature of God and love, living our lives in love will make love complete, and ensure that we will be confident on the day of judgment: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: OK, this one is really interesting… John finishes this way:

In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Did you catch that?  If we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in us.  This is because love and God cannot be separated.  If we live this way, we live like Jesus lived.  Jesus did not fear death, why should He? He knew exactly where He was going!  When we live in love, we need have no fear of judgment, for that love drives fear of judgment out of our lives.

When a person dies, the next step is judgment.  You might believe that we die and immediately go to judgment, or you might believe that we die and sleep until judgment day, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter.  Judgment is the next step either way.  Just as Jesus knew exactly where He was going, so do we, we are going to be at His side.

So what really happens?

When we go to judgment, there are two sets of books. There is the Book of Life and there are the Books of Deeds.  If your name is in the Book of Life, that’s it, you’re in!  If not, the other books are consulted, and you are judged by your deeds.  You don’t want to be involved in those deeds books!  The judgment is not a horrifying ordeal if you are in the Book of Life.  Your name is read and that’s it, “welcome home.”  What John is telling us here is that living in love means that our names are in the Book of Life.

Let’s put it another way:  We read about this day in Revelation 21:11 ff. If you are in Christ, living in love (they are the same thing) your name is in the Book of Life.  That being the case, you are not being put on trial or accused of anything at all, for your sins have been taken away entirely; they are as far from you as the east is from the west.  There is no sin to even discuss: Period.  That is why John can say here, that perfect love drives out all fear.  The love God has always had for you terminated all discussion and your appearance at judgment is a welcoming ceremony, you might say.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:19-21

This just about sums it all up, don’t you think?  God so loves us that He went to extreme measures in showing it, sending His Son to die for us… because so great was God’s love. (John 3:16)

If God loves us, and we in turn love God, then we must also love our brother or sister.  As you can see from these verses, there is no negotiating to be done.  In fact, John says that it is a command from God that we love our brother.  End of discussion!

Well… almost.  It may strike some as odd that God has commanded love.  It is really a fair question to ask if someone asked it… How can I be commanded to love?  I see my brother or sister, and I don’t feel anything for them. As I’ve written before words are funny things; they mean stuff.  In English, we only have one word: “Love.”  John wrote in Greek.  Greek has five words for our “love” and they mean different things.  The word that John used here is agapaō which is the word used in the New Testament for God’s love; it is not the word for romantic love. When we are commanded to love one another, this command has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions.  Instead, it has everything do with attitude.

To love your brother or sister in Christ means to put their interests ahead of your own. If your brother or sister is in need, we are to take care of their need before we take care of our need.  We are to be willing to set aside our cares and hurts to see to the needs of others… just like Jesus did.  If we see our brother or sister hurting, we do something about it. Jesus saw us hurting from sin and death, so He did something about it, setting aside His own personal needs… that is unless you’d claim that He really needed to be tortured and murdered, or that it was His idea of fun…

This is the attitude that makes the Body of Christ possible.  If we were to approach the Body (church) as our little plaything or as our chance to be important, or in the way humans often approach things, then the Body will fight and divide.  Hmm, we might think about that one! If we approach it as people who love one another and put others ahead of ourselves, the Body is the most amazing and awesome thing this side of Heaven, as they say.

So, can we do it?  Sure we can!  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  It begins with a commitment to follow Jesus, and it carries on when we are more satisfied in His presence than when we are any place else. Need help or guidance in this?  No problem; seek Him, and follow where He leads.  You’ll know what to do.

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TLP Inspiration: March 23, 2019

Misty Mornings

There’s something about a misty morning that grabs the imagination, don’t you agree?  The day is stretched out ahead of you, but it’s hard to see exactly where it will lead; will it be a good one, or will it be rough sledding?

It’s almost a metaphor for life.

What are those shapes ahead?  Where is this road; where does it go?  It looks straight and level, but is there a curve lurking that I don’t expect?

Misty mornings make a routine day seem a little mysterious; a little adventurous.  That might seem scary to some, but to me it’s more of an adventure than anything else; exciting!

Our days can be unpredictable, that’s for sure, but our destination is not. Our walk with Jesus Christ will lead us through some rough terrain, but it leads us to a glorious home.

Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

– Psalm 23:4-6

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Jude and Peter

Why are Jude 4-16 and 2 Peter 2:1-18 so similar?

There are many parallel passages in Scripture, but these two are more than just parallel, they are almost the same, close enough anyway that this deserves a look.  Over the centuries there have been many theories and discussions among scholars of various doctrinal views, and while I’m happy to let them speak for themselves, I guess I should toss my thoughts out for your consideration, and then let you decide for yourself what you think.  If your ultimate conclusion is something like “Who cares? I’ll just study His Word and do my best to be like Jesus” then you are probably wiser than the scholars…

It would seem to me there are four reasonable possibilities for this similarity:

First this could just be a coincidence.  Jude and Peter both wanted to address a similar problem and came up with almost the same discussion. Maybe God inspired them both to write the same thing… We should probably not assume that inspiration is quite the same thing as dictation, however.  This really isn’t likely when you consider how close the two passages are.

Second.  Jude and Peter could both have taken this material from a third document. Say for instance that Bob sent them both the same letter, and then each one re-wrote it and sent it to their friends.  If something like that happened, Bob’s letter is nowhere to be found, and have you ever heard of Bob?  (OK, I made that one up, but you get the idea) This scenario strikes me as pretty unlikely, especially since it would have made up nearly all of Jude’s letter.

Third. Jude could have read Peter’s letter and adapted 2:1-18 into his own letter; quite a few scholars like this one.  However, it is unusual for one writer to adapt something from another writer and shorten a passage in the process; they usually expand on the original.  Having some practical experience in this area myself, I can attest to the fact that unless the original is excessively wordy, that’s hard to do.

Fourth. Peter could have read Jude’s letter and expanded on it in his second letter to fit a slightly different situation.  I’m not a betting man, but if I were, this would be my choice.

 

I flipped through a few respected commentaries on this topic before I wrote this, commentaries from more than one doctrinal view, and I was amazed at how certain commentators will announce to their readers that such and such is an obvious fact as though they knew the answer for a fact; such confidence!  The only problem with this is that they don’t know it for a fact; no one does.  If you are a “regular” Christian, and by that I mean a “non-academic” Christian, as opposed to one with a wall full of degrees from seminaries, I have a valuable tip for you, ready?

Beware commentators, preachers and teachers who always “know” every answer and who cannot or will not admit that sometimes they are going with their best guess.  The truth is that there are some little issues, such as this one, that we just don’t know for certain.

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Woe!

 

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

Jude 11

Jude has been giving his readers a strong warning about false teachers in their midst, and in the process of doing so, he has made the case that these teachers are in danger of severe and lasting consequences; destruction, in fact. Here in verse 11, Jude turns up the heat another notch, using three more Biblical examples to illustrate his point.

The word “woe” is used many times in the Old Testament to indicate God’s judgment. In the New Testament, Jesus uses it in the same way in Matthew 11:21; 23:13-32; and Luke 11:42-52. Woe = judgment.

The first example in this verse is that of Cain.  This is particularly interesting in that we don’t usually associate the story of Cain in Genesis 4:1-16 as an example of a false teacher.  It’s hard to say exactly what Jude was thinking, but there are a couple of possibilities that come to mind.  By the first century, there was a strong Jewish rabbinical tradition that identified Cain as the first heretic, as discussed in the writings of Philo (20 B.C. – 50 A.D.). In this tradition, Cain’s way is portrayed as one of selfishness and sensuality.  It is also possible that Jude was thinking of Cain here as an example of one who brought harm to his brother, as he has portrayed the false teachers as men bringing harm to their brethren.  It is important for us to note here that heresy is much more than a sincere error in understanding. As was the case with Cain, it is the willful and deliberate disobedience of God with very harmful consequences to others.

The next example mentioned is Balaam’s error. This comes from Numbers 25:1-3; 31:16. Jude’s false teachers, like Balaam, have claimed to be prophets (“dreamers” v. 8) have led others into sexual immorality (vv. 4, 8)  and out of their own greed have rushed into error, committing idolatry by denying Christ (v. 4).

Finally, he cites Korah’s rebellion from Numbers 16.  Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and God, and promoting self by resisting authority is a characteristic of false teachers. (cf. Titus 1:10-11; 2 Timothy 3:19; 3 John 9-10)  Korah’s rebellion was destroyed by God with fire, and Jude has certainly made the case that the false teachers he is opposing will be destroyed by God.

Cain, Balaam and Korah are all examples of rebellion against God, and all three caused great harm to their brothers. All three faced destruction, and Jude’s whole point is that false teachers were doing the same thing, with the same consequences in the church.  It’s a worthwhile exercise for us to ask ourselves who brought this judgment upon these people.  Today we sometimes hear people complain that God is way too vengeful, that He is not a loving God because He wants to judge people harshly, they might even say that He is a vengeful and angry God always on the lookout for someone to smite.

Such statements are nothing more than the devil’s lie!  Our God is most definitely a God of love; He IS love!  Did God lead people into rebellion?  Did God not warn that these kinds of things bring problems?  Did He not send prophet after prophet to warn the people in the Old Testament? Did He not send His Son to die for our sins to save us?  Who chose the wrong path, God or the people involved? Who refused to listen to reason, preferring to stick their middle fingers in God’s face in reply to His pleadings that they turn around and come back to His love?

It wasn’t God who chose the path of destruction, that’s for sure; it was the people with their fingers in the air who made all of the choices. Why is Jude going on so about all of this? Is it because he’s oppressive, repressive and intolerant?  Hardly! He was God’s agent bringing God’s warning and pleading with the people to come back to God’s love. Did he succeed?  I don’t know, I’d guess that some responded and others did not.  A more relevant question is this: What will we do?

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