Saturday, December 2, 2017

SAINT PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY - A QUICK COMMENTARY




“How to read the Bible” is an important question that should be asked by all serious disciples of Jesus. There truly is an “art and science” to reading the Scriptures. It is a science because there are certain laws that govern its interpretation. And there is an art to reading the Scriptures because the more you practice, the better you can do it.

Like any book within the canon of Scripture, we must concern ourselves with “context”. Who is writing to whom, when, where, and why are they writing, what is the historical setting that the book is written in, etc. First Timothy is a pastoral epistle of the Apostle Paul written to his son “in the Faith”, Timothy, who was the Bishop of Ephesus. (There are three pastoral epistles of the Apostle Paul: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.) These three pastoral epistles are descriptive of “the institutional aspects of the church.”But always keep in mind that the "Church" is not an institution, but a mystical reality that has institutions for earthly order.

Chapter 1: Paul, writing to Timothy (Bishop of the church at Ephesus), establishes the profound importance and significance of “sound doctrine”, aka. “The Faith” (1:2). “The Faith” springs from “God the Father, and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:2). Paul warns Timothy to not “give heed” to teachings that generate “questioning” (doubting), and controversies. The teaching focus of the Church should be “sound doctrine" (1:10) which is based upon “The Faith”, which edifies the church members in a life of charity, purity of heart, and a good conscience (1:4, 5). As in Paul and Timothy’s day, there are today those people “desiring to be teachers” who have swerved (wandered) from sound doctrine unto “vain jangling”, who mishandle the word of God. Paul refers to “sound doctrine” in verse 10 which can be equated with “Holy Tradition” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6), and with “The Faith” (Jude 3). The question to ask oneself is, “What is the “Faith” that Paul is speaking of, and “What are the “traditions” that Paul is speaking of?” The details of the “sound doctrine” are not spelled out in the text definitively, but it is understood that the Bishops have knowledge of the “sound doctrine.” The church inculcates the fullness of the Faith, even though the Bible does not give the details. Paul closes out his introductory remarks to Timothy with a Trinitarian doxology (1:17), and then makes it abundantly clear to Timothy that he is at war with false doctrine, and those false teachers who propagate unsound doctrine.

Chapter 2: Paul uses his introduction on the preeminence of sound doctrine as a spring board into the activities of the “institutional church” (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus had said, “I will build my church”, and Paul revealed by the Spirit that the Church would have foundations, that is, the church would be “built upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). In verses 1 – 8 Paul gives God’s design for public worship, “First of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made…”: that all men “be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:4). God desires that the entire church pray in one accord (2:8). Verses 9-15 continue the theme of public worship with directions on modest apparel, and how women are to relate to their husbands in the context of the church. A question you may want to ask is, “Do we as a church pray together in one accord for the needs of the world?”In the Orthodox Church this is definitely a fact revealed in "the Great Litany." Over 40 years visiting Evangelical and/or Charismatic churches, and I have never witnessed intercession in one accord for the world and its needs. If church is invented "on the fly" it departs from the divine order prescribed by Holy Scripture. If you are an Evangelical pastor you may want to borrow "the Great Litany" for your congregation to pray.

Chapter 3: Paul reveals that the basic form of church government is founded in “offices” of ordained ministry, that is, the “offices” of bishop (3:1-7), and deacon (3:8-13). A bishop (episkopos = overseer in Greek) is to be the recognized (ordained) pastor/teacher/priest of the local church, meaning the church that resides in a particular city or countryside. FYI, each local church possesses the fullness of Christ. This is what is meant by the word “catholic” as found in the Nicene Creed. Catholic means universal in the sense that each local church everywhere, and for all time is complete in Christ, and possesses the fullness of truth as Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body (Ephesians 1:19-22). This hierarchy of church leadership is the very thing that leads the believers in a community (like Ephesus) to be in divine order. The gathering of the believers in a locale is “the house of God”, “the church of the living God”, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15). The Church is catholic when it possesses the fullness of truth. This usage of the term “catholic” has no connection with the Roman Catholic Church.
    An important sidebar here is the topic of “truth.” The church is to be the foundation of “the truth.” And those who stand in the “office’ of “bishop” are responsible to "rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
    In verse 16 of chapter 3 Paul cascades from the churches responsibility to be the “pillar and ground of the truth”, into what the truth is, by quoting part of an ancient Christian credal hymn that clearly expresses the divinity of Jesus. Other such creeds are found in 1 Timothy 6:15; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 1:15-20. Creeds have been a part of the Church from the very beginning. The Apostles Creed was an early baptismal creed. The Nicene Creed has been confessed in churches weekly since the 4th century. A question you may ask is, ’Should a church have credal hymns whereby the saints can confess their mutual faith?” For my Evangelical friends, I think the practice of the Ancient Church confessing the Faith in unison via a creed, for 2000 years, is proof enough of its proper status as integral to divine worship.

Chapter 4: Here, in verses 1-10, Paul challenges Timothy (and all future bishops/pastors-priests/deacons) to do spiritual battle for the truth against the heretics and their seductive doctrines. A question you may ask is, “Is it biblical to reduce the Christian Faith to “Jesus only” with no regard for “sound doctrine”, the essentials of “The Faith”, or “knowledge of the truth?” The answer should be self-evident.
    The historical context in which Paul is writing to Timothy sees the spiritual landscape full of sects teaching a myriad of heresies, of which Timothy was responsible to expose, and to withstand with sound doctrine. He was to war for the truth (1:18) against “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” These first century sects propagated Greek Gnosticism, and Jewish myths that communicated non-Christian views of God, Christ, humanity, and the world (cosmos).
    In verses 11-16 Paul exhorts Timothy to accept his responsibility to both, “command and teach” the people under his oversight. Verse 12 reveals that the content of his spiritual life should parallel his teaching. Verse 13 introduces us to God’s design for “public worship” (The NIV gives some sound commentary I think – “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture”). Following the reading of Scripture is preaching and teaching. It should be remembered that for centuries Christians did not possess their own copies of the Bible. The Bible was read systematically as a part of corporate worship. This practice produced the lectionaries that provide daily and weekly readings of the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles. A question you may ask is, “Is a church service complete without public reading of Scripture?” In verse 16 Paul challenges Timothy to “take heed” to himself, that is, his own spiritual life, AND to “the doctrine.” It is “the doctrine” that will save (preserve) both Timothy and his congregation from the “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”

Chapter 5: In verses 1-16 Paul provides guidance for the church as concerns relationships within the family of God (Ephesians 3:14, 15). We are instructed to relate to older men as fathers, to older women as mothers, to younger men as brothers, and to younger women as sisters. Widows are to be cared for by immediate family. If no family exists the widows then become the responsibility of the church community if they meet the qualifications. A question to be asked is, “Are we as the church functioning as family?”
    In verses 17-25 Paul, again in the context of church polity, instructs Timothy in what way the members are to relate to those in leadership positions (those who would have had hands laid on them in ordination – Acts 14:23). Elders (Presbuteros in Greek): From the Greek comes the word presbytery, which means elders. Historically, presbyter was shortened to “prest” which gave way to the word “priest”. Originally, the local church had one bishop supported by numerous deacons. As a local church would grow in numbers, and the need for ministers grew, the bishop would ordain elders (priests) who would represent the bishop to the people. Church government has borne this form since the beginning; Bishop, priests (elders), deacons, and the people (laity), which share the priesthood with the elders/priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Paul guides that elders who rule well should be given double honour, “especially those who labor in the word and doctrine”; the material needs of the elders should be taken care of by the congregation (1 Corinthians 9:7-14); there are procedures in place for confronting elders; and ordination of elders should be a cautious process.

Chapter 6: Here we note that Paul instructs Timothy “how to teach” so that “God’s doctrine be not blasphemed” (6:1). All teaching should be judged firstly, in the light of the very teachings of Jesus Himself as recorded in the four gospels, and secondly all teachings should be scrutinized as to whether they contradict “the doctrine which is according to godliness” (6:3). Does the teaching lend to godly development, or does it feed worldly desires? Paul hones in on the subject of “mammon” (money, possessions, and things – see Matthew 6:19-24 and Mark 4:19). Paul chooses “mammon” as the proto-example of true teaching versus false teaching. Paul excoriates the false teacher as being “destitute of the truth”. Never let it be said that a pastor-teacher is destitute (poverty stricken) of the truth. Truth matters. A question that may be asked about a church is, “As a church do we desire truth, are we filling the people with truth?”
    In verses 13 – 16 Paul magnifies the divinity of Jesus again calling Him, “Lord”, and revealing that at His second coming He will be revealed as “the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” It should be noted that God (the Father) is distinct from the person of Jesus. And finally, Paul, in verses 20 and 21, reiterates that it is “The Faith” (6:21) that all teachings in the church should be scrutinized in light of. “The Faith” is what was committed to Timothy’s trust, and it is “The Faith” by which Timothy should judge any and all profane doctrines, vain babblings, and pseudo-science such as evolutionary theory.

The KJV versus the NIV (and other modern translations): Please take into consideration when studying the Bible in the English language that all Bible translations are not created equal. 1 Timothy is a classic example of the distortion that can take place when a translation is done poorly, or simply made to read easily with little knowledge of historical context, or done by people with an evil agenda. Since the late 1970’s The NIV has replaced the KJV as the Bible of choice in Bible-believing churches. My observation is that this reality has led to a dumbing down of the American church. I would strongly recommend that my brothers and sisters would begin to labor in the KJV or the RSV for both personal study, and teaching ministry; while using the NIV as a commentary for added insight. The original NIV (1978) is more reliable than the newer NIV's.

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE WAY OF ESCAPE

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13 KJV). 

Many a sermon has been based on this verse of Scripture found in Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. And mostly it is lifted out of its context and used to teach something other than its intended purpose. I must admit, that even though, sermons about overcoming temptation are extremely important and welcome, we must be careful that we do not miss the very point that the Apostle Paul is making. We must see that Saint Paul is showing 'the way' for us to "flee from idolatry" (verse 14). And that, "way to escape", the various forms of idolatry that tempt God's people to stray, is Holy Communion, the Eucharist, which he expounds upon in verses 16 and 17.

Saint Paul starts his thoughts on this topic (verse 1), sharing his fatherly care that we not be ignorant of the Old Testament stories that reveal God at work delivering His people. And too, we are not to be ignorant of the fact that "these things happened unto them for (our) examples: and they are written for our admonition (verse 11). 

Paul, the teacher of truth, reveals that the saving events that the people of God experienced while being delivered from bondage were in actuality a truly spiritual reality. The cloud and the sea baptized them unto Moses (Exodus 13:21); they "did all eat the same spiritual meat" (Exodus 16:15); "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (Exodus 17:6). The people of God were spiritually communing with God and Christ, via the sea, the Rock that gave forth water, and the manna. The sea, the Rock, and the manna were not just symbols of a spiritual reality, but literally communicated that spiritual reality to their souls and bodies.

"But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were for our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them..." (verse 5-7). Then Saint Paul lists (verses 7-10) the various forms of idolatry that overthrew the foolish people whom God had delivered, yet who still loved this present world: Gluttony, drunkenness, fornication, tempting God, and murmuring. These are the various forms of idolatry that brought destruction to those people that persisted in rebellion against the laws of God. 

With this Old Testament history now at the forefront of our minds, Saint Paul reveals that none of these temptations, these various idols, that are common to to all people, can simply overcome you; because God has provided a way of escape whereby you enter into communion with God and Christ and are divinely energized to bear the temptation, that is, gain the victory over it. Saint Paul introduces this "way to escape" in the verses that follow: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (verse 16-17). Saint Paul is saying, that just as the manna was spiritual food, and the water from the Rock was spiritual drink, so too the bread and the cup of blessing (wine and water) are spiritual realities that feed the people of God and actualize a literal communion with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Bread and the cup of blessing are not merely symbols of Jesus's body and blood, they are the very body and blood of Jesus that we partake of mystically just as the Old Testament saints ate and drank spiritual food and drink, and were made one with Moses. We participate in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are made one with Him.

When Saint Paul continues his teaching on "The Lord's supper" (Verse 11:20-34) we now can understand why it is he speaks of such dire consequences (many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep), for those who "eateth and drinketh unworthily" (verse 29), eat and drink judgment to themselves. You cannot be living in idolatry and eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord. This is what is meant by "whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (verse 27). We cannot play games with Holy things. If we do, their can be dire consequences. But on the positive side of things, if we partake of the Lord's body worthily, then we participate literally in Christ's divine humanity, and we are provided "the way of escape" from our temptations because Christ's divine humanity is mystically communicated to our souls and bodies by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We become partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

I encourage you to read chapters 10 and 11 several times straight through so that you will see the whole picture that Saint Paul is painting. The "Eucharist" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:19-20), aka, the "Thanksgiving", is central to Christian worship, and thereby central to the Christian life. The Eucharist is most fully experienced within the Orthodox Church which not only provides the historical context for the New Testament Passover, but also provides all the necessary spiritual disciplines that help you prepare to receive Holy Communion worthily. 

Therefore, examine yourself (11:28), and "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (10:12).

Monday, November 20, 2017

GOKOTTA (Zhyo - kOt - tah)

    Gokotta is a Swedish word, pronounced zyokk-koh-tah. Gokotta means the act of rising early just to go outside and hear the birds sing and appreciate nature. The Prophet David guides us with his words, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained...all sheep, and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field: the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea...O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8).     
This word, Gokotta, also embodies the Biblical admonition: "Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up" (Psalm 5:1-3). And, "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is" (Psalm 63:1). And again, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early" (Psalm 57:7-8; 108:1-2). And yet again, "Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I put my trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee" (Psalm 143:8).
    Being a person of intention, of purposeful action, is a sign of discipleship, that is, of Spirit-led discipline. To rise early in the morning with your meditation immediately upon your King, and your God, is the rhythm of the righteous. Again the Prophet David instructs us, "As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice" (Psalm 55:17). We followers of Jesus are to have a rule of prayer that we faithfully keep that corresponds to the cycles of the natural world. As the sun sets we are to pray. As the sun arises we are to pray. As the sun bears down on us at high noon we are to pray. 
     Each morning may we put first things first. Do not reach for your smart phone, or the remote control, or the computer mouse, or the newspaper, but reach for the Bible that is hidden in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Stand in your prayer corner, or step outside for a prayer-walk, and commune with your Father in heaven, with Jesus the Son and Word of God, and with the Holy Spirit. And God will help you, save you, have mercy upon you, and keep you, by his grace!!!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

WHAT IS THE NEW TESTAMENT?

    Jesus introduces us to the 'New Testament' during the Last Supper the evening before his crucifixion. We read Luke's account found in the gospel of Luke 22:19-20, "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Then again, in the gospel of Matthew 26:26-28 we read Matthew's account of the Last Supper, "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." 


    What we have revealed to us in these Scriptures is the institution of the Eucharist (Eucharistia in Greek, aka the Thanksgiving). We refer to this as Holy Communion, and it is known in the Orthodox Church as the Mystical Supper. The Apostle Paul teaches us in his first letter to the Corinthians, 10:16, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" Paul adds to this revelation of Holy Communion with Christ Jesus saying, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (11:23-26). 
    The point I would like to make is that when Jesus introduces the reality of the new testament he does not say, "read this" or "study this", but he says "do this"! The New Testament is the eating of Christ's body, and the drinking of his blood. The New Testament is the Eucharist. Christian worship is to be centered upon the very command of Jesus himself when he said, "This do in remembrance of me." The New Testament was a sacrament (mystery) long before it ever started to become a document, according to the document. True worship, as found in the Ancient Faith of the Orthodox Church, is the foundation of the faith of Christ, not the Bible. And it is the bible that reveals this! You may want to ask yourself, "Why is the collection of twenty seven books, that we call the New Testament, called the New Testament?" It is because of their proximity to the Eucharist, that is, the New Testament! The Scriptures are guiding us into the heart of the Church. And what we discover when we arrive is the Eucharist, which is the actual communion of human beings with the undivided Holy Trinity; the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

2 Timothy 3:15-17 > You must know the reality of the Word of God > That the Holy Scriptures are truly God-breathed - Inspired by God the Holy Spirit > That the Scriptures are Faithful and True (Revelation 22:6)


2 Peter 1:1-21 > You must know that the Scriptures were Spoken by holy men who were moved by the Holy Spirit > That the Scriptures were not given a private interpretation, (the prophets - Apostles - Evangelists recorded the Voice of the Spirit in Scripture), but were truly written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit > You must know that the Scriptures are a "more sure word of prophecy", meaning more sure than actually hearing a voice from heaven like Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5) > The Scriptures can be trusted, believed , obeyed, and acted upon > And note the context of verses 16-21 by looking back to verses 1 - 15 > God is calling us to "partake of the divine nature"(verse 4)  > And how do we do that? By the exceeding great and precious promises (verse 4) and by the things that pertain to "life and godliness" that His divine power has given to us (verse 2) . It's by this knowledge that  the Grace and peace of God are "multiplied" to us - It is how what is written in verses 5-15 become a reality.

1 Peter 2:2 > We must "desire the sincere milk of the Word of God > We must realize the Word of God is our "necessary' spiritual food (Job 23:12)  > That the Scriptures are to be eaten and to become "the joy and rejoicing of my heart (Jeremiah 15:16) > The Word of God is sweeter than honey and the honey comb (Psalm19)

John 14:15-23 > Keeping the words of Jesus brings you into communion with the Holy Trinity.

Acts 20:32 > The Word of His Grace is able to build you up > Deuteronomy 6:3-9 - You are to love God, put God's Word in your hearts, and teach them diligently to your children by speaking them at all times; when you rise up, when you walk in the way, when you sit in your house, and when you lie down > Joshua 1:8 - You are to meditate on the Word of God day and night.

John 8:12-59 > "Love for truth is the cornerstone of spiritual life" > Truth is a person - JESUS CHRIST!!! (John 14:6) > The "Truth" Jesus is speaking of in John 8:31,32 is the "Truth" that He is the great "I AM" (verse 58) > It is through the words of the prophets (the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament) that the Jews could know that He, Jesus, is the "One", the "Messiah". > The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13-16) > The Truth is embodied in the Church, which is the "pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2,23) > The Household of Faith ie., the Church is built upon the Apostles and Prophets (their teachings both written and oral) and primarily upon the Teachings and Life of Jesus (Ephesians 2:19-22; Ephesians 4:1-16) > You are sanctified ie., glorified, divinized, transformed, transfigured, saved from sin, set apart from this worlds power, by the Words of Jesus, the Truth of Jesus - John 17:17-20 > The Mystery of Christ, which was revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit, can be understood "when you read" what is written in Scripture (Ephesians 3:4-6)

Acts 17:10,11 > We should be like the "noble Bereans" and "receive the Word with readiness of mind, and search the Scriptures DAILY" > "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" -
1 Thessalonians 5:21 > All of us, but especially the bishops(Elders/pastors), should "study" the scriptures (2 Timothy 2:14-18) and even more so the young preachers (1 Timothy 4:12-16) > "May the sun, on rising, find you with a Bible in your hands" (Evagrius - 4th c.)

Matthew 7:24-27 > Build your house on the rock by being a doer of the words of Jesus - which means we do what Jesus taught in the very sermon(on the mount - Matthew 5:1-7:22) which he finished up with the challenge and warning about building your house/life on sand of disobedience or the rock of odedience!!! Jesus in-depth teaching on "the spiritual life" should be memorized and practiced in the community of saints, the Church. That's us. We do these things together!!! > "Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only - James 1:18-27 > Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119!!! > "The Scriptures were not given to have merely in books, but that we may engrave them on our hearts" (St John Chrysostom 4th c.)

John 15:1-8 > We are the branches, Christ is the Vine. God's will is for us to be "clean through the Word"(verse 3), Washed by the washing of the Word(Ephesians 5:26) > we keep His life flowing through us by obeying this command, "if you abide in me and my words abide in you" > We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds(Romans 12:1,2)

Ephesians 6:10-18 > We are to do spiritual warfare with "all kinds of prayer" taking "the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God" > We are to follow Jesus example - Matthew 4:1-11 - resisting the lies of the devil with "It is written..." > We are to "Let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly" by teaching and admonishing one another in "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs"(Colossians 3:16) - This is done primarily when we gather together to pray the "Psalms" or "sing songs of true worship".

Thursday, November 9, 2017

TRUTH

What is Truth? Truth is that which is true absolutely. Truth is reality in the ultimate sense. For Christians, truth is a person through whom we may know the truth of all things revealed(John 14:17,26); through whom we may come to a saving knowledge of truth(1 Tim. 2:4); through whom we may become "partakers of the divine nature"(2 Peter 1:4). This person is the true and living God, creator of heaven and earth, risen Lord and Savior of the world, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.

Jesus said. "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me".(John14:6). The author of the Gospel according to St John revealed that Jesus is the Word, and that the Word(Jesus) was with God(the Father) in the beginning; that the Word(Jesus) is God; that all things were created by the Word(Jesus); In Him, the Word(Jesus) was life and the life is the light of men; that the Word became flesh, a fully human being while remaining fully God; that the Word(Jesus) is full of grace and truth; and that all who would receive the Word(Jesus) would be given the power to become the children of God.(John 1:1-18).

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world...my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but the Father that sent me...the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bears witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me...I am from above...When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am...Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am"(John 8:12-59). In the midst of this ongoing conversation that Jesus was having with the Pharisees, many believed on him(v. 30) and Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"(v. 31,32). Jesus was speaking of becoming free from sin and its power(v.36). This freedom from sin was found in the Son of the Father(God). The Son is revealed in the words of Jesus which corresponded with the scriptures of the Jews(Old Testament), This is "the truth" that they would know as they "continued in (Jesus) word". The "Truth" is a person, the Son of the Father. Because the scriptures of the Old Testament had no place in these Jews they could not understand Jesus's teachings. The Jews had developed a parallel religion to the religion that had been handed down to them in Moses and the Prophets. Jesus called these false teachings "your tradition...the commandments of men"(Mt 15:1-9). And Jesus reveals the source of these false teachings, and the deceptions(lies) that they produce, and that source is their father, the devil, who is a liar and a murderer from the beginning(v. 43-47). Jesus is revealing that these Jews were followers of "the liar", that is, followers of Satan himself, and that they were abiding in "the lies" of the devil.

Jesus is revealed as the true God, equal to the Father, who is also the "true God"(John 17:1-5). We, who believe, have been given an understanding(an enlightened nous/intellect/mind/an unction/an anointing) that we may "know Him who is true", "and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life"(1 John 5:20). Titus reveals that we are "looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ"(Titus 2:11-14). Jesus is the "ultimate reality", He is that which is "true absolutely"(Eph. 4:21).

I would like to introduce ideas of St. Nektarios of Aegina here that Jesus is the fulfilment of what is known as "THE EXPECTATION OF THE NATIONS". The idea that from the beginning, from the time of the "fall of Adam and Eve", all nations were awaiting the arrival of a "Redeemer God" coming in human form Who would teach the whole truth in order to obliterate evil, bring peace, make brothers of all nations, and bring the kingdom of heaven to the earth. This promise was an anchor of hope throughout the centuries. Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews, Chinese, Indians, Persians, Arabs, even the inhabitants of the New World; all had stories, myths, prophecies foreshadowing a God-Man appearing to deliver the world from evil, from the great serpent. Confucius, Plutarch, Zoroaster, Socrates, Maurikios, Pascal, and many wise people spoke of this tradition of the nations.

The Holy Scriptures declare, "When the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ"(Gal. 4:4-7). God's Son, the Light of Light, broke into the darkness of this fallen world at the very perfect moment in human history. Jesus is this very "Truth" that all the nations were expecting.

Therefore, "THE CHRISTIAN FAITH is not a "religion" (except in the conventional everyday use of the word). It is the fulfillment of all religions in their search for divine truth and human meaning as inspired by God's law written on human hearts. In this understanding, God's Gospel in Jesus is the end of all religions as human constructions, however good and inevitable they are in their desire to deal with life's mysteries and to comprehend the ways of God (or the gods) and creatures in a demon-riddled, death-bound world."(Fr Thomas Hopko).

The Truth is found in "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God"(Mark 1:1). The "four Gospels" (aka  the"four Evangelists"), Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and the gospel according to St Paul(Romans 16:25,26) reveal the truth of God, of all things that pertain to our salvation(Gal. 2:5; Col. 1:5,6; Eph. 1:13; 1 Tim. 2:4-7). Note the continued connection of "truth" and "gospel" made in these scriptures. Jesus said, "Search the scriptures(Old Testament)(John 5:39), for in them you will discover who Jesus is, and therefore acquire "life"(v. 40). And at the Second Coming of Jesus you will experience "the resurrection of life"(John 5:29).

The "Truth" taught by Jesus, and the preaching of the Apostles, was handed down to the churches of God and is known as "Holy Tradition". "Holy Tradition" is defined as "the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church". (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Thes. 2:13,14; 2 Thes. 2: 15; 3:6; 1 Cor.11:2). From these verses we know that the "truth" was passed down both orally and in written form(Epistles). The Church became the repository of the "truth of Christ", aka "the Faith". 1 Timothy 3:15 reveals that "the Church" is "the pillar and ground of the truth". The foundation of Christian Faith is the Church, the Scriptures tell us this. (Interesting note here is that the very next verse(v. 16), St Paul quotes an ancient Christian creed or hymn. This shows us that the "Truth of the Church" was embodied in liturgical hymns as well as the oral teachings of the Apostles and the written Epistles of the Apostles. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13,14 we can see that the believers in Thessalonica "became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus". The believers at the beginning did not have copies of the New Testament as we do now. The churches were teaching from both, the Old Testament, and from what the Apostles were teaching about Jesus, both orally and in epistles. The church communities were Spirit-filled worshiping communities, praying the Psalms, singing hymns about Jesus, and spiritual songs that conveyed credal truth, and celebrating the Lord's Supper, sharing and having all things in common(Acts 2:42-47; 4:32; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:17,18).



Three things we know about Truth; 1) Truth is a person - Jesus the Messiah; 2) The Church is the "pillar and ground of the Truth" where the "life of the Holy Spirit" animates the believing community; and 3) The Holy Scriptures(OT and NT) are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and speak the Truth about Jesus the Messiah.


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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

THE FOUR DEFINITE ARTICLES OF THE EARLY CHURCH

   
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost three thousand souls received the word of God through Peter's preaching. These who gladly received the word were baptized, and added to the church. Then we read of four things these believers in Jesus were radically committed to: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Many well-meaning Bible believing Christians have endeavored to re-create the early church by applying this verse, and its four imperatives to their own group of Jesus-followers. A very important fact needs to be pointed out about these four imperatives which provided a framework for the church to be the church. For it is a fact that these four imperatives are four definite articles of the early church, and are the very articles that the Church has been framed around since Pentecost!
    The Greek New Testament gives us insight into exactly how the early church lived out its new life in the Spirit. Each of these four imperatives are preceded by the definite article "the". So, the verse should read, "And they continued steadfastly in THE apostles' doctrine and THE fellowship, and in THE breaking of bread and THE prayers." There are four definite articles that make up the superstructure of the Pentecostal Church, which is another way of saying the Orthodox Church, the Church which was born on the Day of Pentecost.
    Firstly, the Jesus-followers were to be devoted to growing in the knowledge of those teachings that the Apostles were articulating, which they had received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. All other teachings must be scrutinized in the light of THE Apostles' doctrine. There was a definite body of truth, that is, Apostolic teaching, that the new believers were catechized in. Secondly, these Pentecostal Christians were to continually be devoted to THE fellowship (koinonia, Greek), that is the communal life of the body of Christ, the Church. This would include most especially the gathering together for worship, and extend to having all things in common so that not one member would be without their needs met. Thirdly, these early Christians were to be steadfastly participating in THE 'breaking of bread', that is partaking of the Holy Eucharist. Breaking of bread is a New Testament idiom for the Eucharist. They were to never "forsake the assembling of themselves together" to commune with God via the bread and the cup of blessing. Last of the four, these faithful disciples were to be wholly devoted to THE prayers. Not just a spontaneous prayer meeting where folks take turns praying extemporaneously, but entering into THE prayers of the Church which had come to them from the synagogues and the temple. This very first group of Christians functioned in what could be called a Christian synagogue where they would offer the same prayers as their Jewish brothers, but with a Christified understanding of the "law of Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms."
    These four definite articles should be the framework of each and every local church so that each church is truly complete, not lacking anything.
   
    

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

THE RULE OF DOING ALMS

***The "Sermon On The Mount"(Mountain) is the New Law of God given by Jesus and is a parallel to the Law of God given by Moses in the Old Testament. You see in Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus giving us illumination of the laws of God that Moses had articulated. The laws of God were not done away with, but given a new and deeper, spiritual meaning. This portion of the "Sermon On The Mountain" will be addressed in a future post. I would like to share with you a series of 3 posts on Matthew 6:1-18; 1)The Rule Of Doing Alms, 2) The Rule Of Prayer, and 3) The Rule of Fasting.***

Matthew 6:1-4 > "Take heed that you do not do your alms*** before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore WHEN you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily (truly) I say to you, they have their reward. But WHEN you do your alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing: that your alms may be in secret: and your Father which sees in secret himself will reward you openly."

***Alms > Greek is eleemosune = merciful; from eleos = compassionate, tender mercy > Doing alms is doing "acts of mercy" > The NKJV translates alms as "charitable deeds" > Strongs Concordance defines alms as compassionateness, beneficence > When we say "Lord have mercy" we are saying "Lord have steadfast love" (see post on LORD HAVE MERCY) > The NIV translates alms as 1)"acts of righteousness" and 2)"when you give to the needy" > I think doing alms includes giving to the needy, but also includes many other acts of mercy; visiting the sick and the suffering; visiting those in prison, clothing and feeding the poor, providing water to the thirsty: taking in the stranger and the homeless(Hebrews 13:1,2; Matthew 25:31-46), helping the orphans, the fatherless and the true widows(James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:3-6) > All these "acts of mercy" are "acts of righteousness" and ties in perfectly with Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." Living "the Life of the Kingdom" is to live "as Jesus lived", laying down your life continuously for all of mankind. >

1 John 3:16-18 > This is how we know the love of God and how we know "if" the love of God lives in us > Are we laying down our lives for the brethren? we who have this world's goods(KJV, NKJV), material possessions(NIV), do we shut up our bowels of compassion(KJV), do we shut up our hearts(NKJV), do we not have pity(NIV)?

James 2:14-26 > Read the entire book of James realizing that James is writing to the Church about the dynamics between the rich and the poor. James is laying out the tensions and temptations that we face in our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ > How should we relate to one another? > And, how do our actions reflect on our relationship with God? Are we phonies? Are we true disciples? Is our faith dead or alive? > James 2:17 says, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being alone." So verse 15 and 16 is the "litmus test". Do you turn red with the acid of parsimony, or turn blue with the alkalinity of love?

NOTE: Jesus does not say "If you do alms" but "WHEN you do alms". The three "rules" or "practices" that Jesus prescribes  as basic to the spiritual life, ie. the life of "the Kingdom of God" are
1)Doing Alms, 2)Prayer, and 3)Fasting. > On all three accounts Jesus says, "WHEN", not "if", you "do alms...pray...fast". Whether you practice these three "disciplines", ie "disciple-deeds", is not optional, but a command, they are not a devotional choice, but an "obedience". > But how are these to be understood?

2 Corinthians 8:9 > Living the "Kingdom Life" is to live the "life of Christ" (Galatians 2:20,21) > To literally "renounce the world, then detach from the world, then become exiled from the world" (Matthew 16:24-27) > Knowing that you are no longer of the world(John 15:19; John 17:5-26); you are "strangers and pilgrims abstaining from fleshly desires..."(1 Peter 2:11); arm yourself with the "mind of Christ", to spend the remainder of your life doing the will of God(1 Peter 4:1-7) > You are in this world, but you are not of this world > Jesus gave us the ultimate example in 2 Corinthians 8:9 - "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich" > If we are truly to be like Christ then we will become poor so others can be enriched. > NOTE: This verse is often twisted(by TV preachers)to teach the exact opposite of what it is actually communicating!!! We are told that this verse is saying we are to be rich, when it is really saying we are to be like Christ who sacrifices his riches and becomes poor so that others can be enriched!!! Of course God has chosen to bless everyone with a different amount of this world's goods requiring that we all work out our own salvation with fear and trembling(Philippians 2:12) > Jesus taught, "No man can serve two masters...you cannot serve God and Mammon."(Matthew 6:24) > God can be your master or Money(Mammon) can be your master, but not both at the same time!!! > Where is your heart/treasure?(6:19-21) > Is the light in you darkness, or is the light in you true light?(6:22,23) > Do you hang on to everything you can , or do you trust your heavenly Father to provide for you as you provide for those in need?(6:25-34)

1 Timothy 6:5-11 > This passage is self-evident, almost too clear to believe > You brought nothing into this world, you certainly will take nothing out > Contentment is the issue, and what can help us is focusing on the topic of this post > by making "almsgiving" a spiritual practice, that defines who we are in the Kingdom of Life, we are cured of these temptations > If you carefully read the above passage - 1 Timothy 6:1-5 - you will see that we are warned to withdraw from those who teach "that gain is godliness"(verse 5) > We are to ignore those teachers who "teach otherwise, and do not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine according to godliness"(verse3) - We are told here by St Paul that these false "teachers of gain" "are proud, knowing nothing...men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth(verse 4,5) - Prosperity teachers are to be ignored, for no matter how slick their schtick, they do error, they twist the beautiful truth into an ugly lie. And the result, if you buy into their lies? They will plant in your heart the seeds of "desire to be rich" and "you will fall into a temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful desires, which drown men in destruction and perdition(verse9) - AND WHY IS THIS SO? "Because the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, THEY HAVE ERRED FROM THE FAITH, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows"(verse 10) > The answer, the antidote to their poisonous doctrine - "FLEE", "O man of God, FLEE these things; and FOLLOW AFTER righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH, lay hold on eternal life.(verse 11,12). Phew!!!

Saint of Interest > St John the Merciful,  aka, St John the Almsgiver, was a 7th century bishop in Alexandria Egypt who is known for his, you guessed it, his almsgiving. Read more about him at:

www.orthodoxwiki.org/John_the_Merciful

www.oca.org/saints/lives/2013/11/12/103286/-st-john-the-merciful-patriarch-of-alexandria

Sunday, October 29, 2017

THE RAPTURE VERSUS HOLY SCRIPTURE

Could it be that the great apostasy that will come upon the world shortly before the second coming of Jesus Christ will be fueled by the popular myth of a "pre-tribulational rapture". Christians who have believed the lie of a "secret evacuation" from the earth before the terrible days of the "Great Tribulation" will doubt their faith in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Christians who live in the West in ease and prosperity have been sold a fable that there lives will be lived out free of the horrors of the "Great tribulation". Television evangelists and Pastor-authors propagate the lie of a "secret rapture". John Hagee, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Perry Stone, and on and on it goes.
Jesus praying to His Father said, "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one". (John 17:15)
The historic teaching of the Church has always been that the second coming of Christ is a singular event at the time of the end, the day of the Lord, when the dead will be raised, and the judgment will take place (John 5:24-29; Matthew 25:31-46). The Church Fathers never mention a "secret rapture" that would take place prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. It wasn't until 1830 that such a doctrine was contrived and later made popular via the Scofield Study Bible. Today this innovative false doctrine is mainstream among tens of millions of Evangelicals and Charismatics. And even culture at-large is steeped in this lie through the "Left Behind" books and movies.
The passage of scripture used so often as the basis of the "pre-trib rapture" is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. This passage is clearly teaching about the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of believers. Both those who have died (fallen asleep), and those "who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord" will be "caught up" to meet the Lord in the air!!! This catching up is clearly the resurrection of the believers at the second coming of Jesus Christ. "The word translated as "caught up" is a form of the Greek verb harpazo. The Vulgate, the official Latin version of the Bible used by the  Roman Catholic Church, translates the Greek verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 as rapiemur (from the Latin verb rapio, to sieze and carry off), hence the English word rapture." (T.L. Frazier, p.146, A Second Look at the Second Coming, Conciliar Press). It is true that we will be "caught up" at the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is the resurrection promised by Jesus Himself. The trump of God will sound, and the archangel will shout (Daniel 12:1-3), and the saints will meet the Lord in the air.
St John Chrysostom in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 asks, "If He (Christ) is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within. And upon the coming of an affectionate father, his children indeed, and those who are worthy to be his children, are taken out in a chariot, that they may see and kiss him: but those of the domestics who have offended remain within". (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Thessalonians, Holily 8). After we meet Christ in the air, we escort Him "into the city" (to the earth) as He continues His descent. Jesus then judges humanity, and the saints remain forever with Christ in His eternal kingdom. The shout of the archangel alerts the saints that the King is coming, and the saints go out to meet their King in honor, then escort their King to the earth in clouds of great glory.
This same idea is communicated by Jesus himself in his teaching the parable of the "Ten Virgins" in Matthew 25:1-12. The Church is the bride of Christ, a chaste virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2), who, upon hearing the cry, "Behold, The Bridegroom Cometh", goes out to meet Him, and all of those "that were ready" went in with Him to the Marriage (Revelation 19).
In Matthew 24:40-42 Jesus teaches that at His coming "one will be taken, and the other left". The leap is made by Pre-trib Prophecy teachers (with some twisting of scripture mixed with false presuppositions) that this passage depicts a "catching up" before the second coming. But just a few verses before this in Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus proclaims that His coming will be "AFTER THE TRIBULATION of those days".
Other passages that are "used" to teach a pre-trib rapture are John 14:1-3; Revelation 4:1; 1 Corinthians 15:50-53; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8; Revelation 3:10. The only way a Christian pastor can come to the conclusion that these passages teach a pre-tribulational rapture is if they are first steeped in dispensationalism and thus come to the text of Scripture with tainted glasses that cause them to see things that are not there.