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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday AM
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS.
Paul had spent three years with the Believers in Ephesus “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon him through the plots of the Jews; not shirking from declaring to them anything that was profitable, and teaching them publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance (change) toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:19-21).
In this passage we catch a glimpse of Paul’s great concern and his heart for these Believers. We witness his love for the Lord and the Ephesian Church expressed with “words” but confirmed by good works despite the hardships which came upon him.
So, the question Bible students should be asking is “Why did our Apostle Paul plead for this church to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another, in love, being diligent to preserve the bond of peace?” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Paul’s saying this church is missing a vital “building block” and it’s hindering their walk. The words of Jesus Christ tell us what’s missing. When it comes to one’s calling, the words of Jesus to the Apostle Peter cut right to the heart of the matter. When all is said and done, it comes down to whether or not you love the Lord. The Believer who doesn’t truly love Jesus will not, in turn, love others.
If you’ll turn in your Bible with me to John 21:15, I’ll show you what this book says:
When they had finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "You know I love You." Jesus replied, "Feed My lambs." Jesus asked a second time, "Simon son of John, do you love Me?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "You know I love You." Jesus told him, "Shepherd My sheep." Jesus asked a third time, "Simon son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was deeply hurt that Jesus had asked him a third time, "Do you love Me?" "Lord, You know all things," he replied. "You know I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep (John 21:15-17 – BSB).
Now please turn to 1 John 4:20 where the Apostle John reinforces the Lord’s words:
If anyone should say, "I love God," and should hate his brother, he is a liar. For the one not loving his brother, whom he has seen, is not able to love God, whom he has not seen.
From these passages we learn love is a verb! Jesus inquired three times if Peter loves Him (once for each time Peter denied knowing Him on the night of His arrest). Three times Peter answered, “Yes.” His last response to the Lord’s query is noticeably more emphatic than the other two: “Lord, You know all things, You know I love You.”
Why didn’t the risen Lord accept his first response?
Jesus said, “And because lawlessness is to be multiplied, the love of the many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
The word love is an overused term today; it has lost its true meaning. It has reached the point where people use the word to express any positive feeling minus any real passion. I’ve noticed people will say “I love you” as they depart because they believe it’s expected of them or because they think the phrase pleases someone. Almost every day the media reports on a hit-and-run. Somebody ran over an individual with their vehicle and instead of stopping, they run away leaving the person dead or dying in the road. The love for others is growing cold. Recent statistics show since 1973 when Roe v Wade was enacted there have been more than 60 million abortions in the USA alone. Other than murder I can’t think of a more self-serving action than killing an unborn infant. The elderly in America suffer the loss of dignity and love as well. Only a few people in this country take care of an elderly parent. The majority are shipped off to nursing homes and the like, where they spend the remaining years of their life enduring loneliness. Thus, the phrase “I love you” has become nothing more than a rote experience, devoid of any real passion. Looking again at Peter’s third response, we find his spoken words to the Lord were ardent. His words revealed the passion within his heart and mind.
The heart and mind are mentioned thousands of times throughout the Bible. If we were to chase down each Bible passage that mentions these two vital organs, we would come up with many different definitions for them depending on how each word is used in the Bible text. Generally speaking, however, the heart refers to the part of a human that controls the emotions, desires, dreams, hopes and other intangible parts of our being. The mind typically refers to the part of a human that controls the intellect, reason, and thoughts. Both the heart and mind are required for biblical faith. This book says we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). The heart and mind must be engaged in the faith process because to have faith in God, we must believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Believing requires the mind, but to truly trust someone the heart must be engaged.
So, here’s the thing I want y’all to consider many people, including Believers, are guilty of doing little to nothing in support of the phrase “I love you” and that’s Jesus’ point.
As clearly demonstrated in this verse from the Apostle John, love is a verb: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… (John 3:16a). God did a whole lot more than just say, “Love y’all.” He loved us by giving the world the gracious gift of His Son while we were still the children of wrath (Romans 5:8-9; Ephesians 2:1-3).
Getting back to the Lord and Peter, please make a note of the fact Jesus doesn’t let Peter’s three responses rest on words alone, no matter how heartfelt they sounded. The Lord gave him instructions that when obeyed will prove Peter’s love for Him. In this we see a definite connection between obedience and love. In fact, obedience is often an observable expression of one’s love.
A young student in one of my classes once asked, “What’s the big deal with Adam and Eve eating a piece of fruit?” I answered saying: “The eating of the fruit didn’t upset the LORD God. Disobedience was the issue.” Today a teenager demonstrates love and respect for their parents by obeying the instruction, “Be home by curfew” (Exodus 20:12).
Jesus Christ doesn’t mince words in John 14:21-24 and in many other places, He clearly explains the necessity for and the relationship between love and obedience:
“The one having My commandments and keeping them, he is the one loving Me. Now the one loving Me will be loved by My Father. And I will love him, and will show Myself to him" (John 14:21).
Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. The word that you hear is not My own, but it is from the Father who sent Me (John 14:24).
Adam and Eve is our first example in Genesis of those who verified they loved themselves more than they loved their Creator. The man and the woman’s lustful desires, fueled by their pride, caused them to disobey God’s single command and this led to their unrighteous behavior (1 John 2:16). Those of you who are raising children, or who have raised them, know a child who says they love you but routinely disobeys is prideful and demonstrating love of self.
Jesus gave Peter commands (not suggestions) to follow—“feed My sheep” thereby demonstrating the love he had repeatedly affirmed to his Lord. Now the question arises “What should Peter feed the nation of Israel, a.k.a. the Lord’s sheep?” The answer: everything Jesus said and did! In Acts 16:26-27 this is called “the whole council of God.” In other words, the Word of God, especially the gospel and sound doctrine, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, rightly divided. In essence, the risen Lord told Peter to feed His sheep – Me; “the word made flesh.”
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John14:6).
The Lord’s affirmation is all sufficient; meaning nothing more needs to be added. So, why are professing Believers ignoring their Bible, looking elsewhere for answers or solutions for the problems they’re facing? The fact that they are looking beyond God for answers to life’s problems reveals they don’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. These folks resemble the Ephesian Church for they are unstable; not grounded in truth. Because of their immature thinking and hardheartedness both groups acted like spiritual infants, children, tossed here and there by waves of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness, in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14, 17-19).
Please open your Bible at Ephesians 4:17-19.
The Christian’s (Love) Walk
In verses 17-19, Paul explains how the Ephesian Believers are not to live (walk). Paul calls them to evaluate and adjust their thinking and conduct (hearts and minds) in this darkened world, which being in Christ Jesus requires (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (4:17-19).
Paul’s rebuke to the Ephesian Church serves to demonstrate the fact that sound Grace Age (church) doctrine influences our mind and heart reflecting the manner in which we walk in this world. Paul’s comment “walk no longer as the (unsaved) Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” informs us some of these folks were not walking worthy. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were not saved. Just because people act like a pagan now and again doesn’t mean we should label them an unbeliever. Salvation is God’s business, only God knows the condition of an individual’s heart!
During our study of 1 Corinthians we learned this church was spiritually immature, carnal in their thinking and their behavior, but Paul said they were saved:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified (set apart, i.e. holy) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1-3).
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end (1 Corinthians 1:6-8a).
Paul said “the testimony of Christ was confirmed (established) in you…” Although many of the Corinthian Believers acted like spoiled children, they remained God’s adopted children. Their behavior did not alter their heavenly position. Their lifestyle affected their spiritual rewards, but they did not lose their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:11-14).
The Corinthian’s problem, like so many others, was they could not let go of the “toilet bowl,” i.e. the pull of this world (Luke 9:62). If you’re going to follow Jesus Christ, you must lay aside all immature thoughts and worldliness. These are mere distractions and offer nothing of eternal value.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Letting go of the world’s-systems; a.k.a. Satan’s playground (2 Corinthians 4:4) is absolutely necessary if you’re going to walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Biblically speaking, the world’s-systems originated with Satan after the LORD God put down the rebellion at the Tower of Babel. When the rebellious people finally scattered to the utmost parts of the world, they took with them every anti-God thought and form of false religion out into the world. A refined definition of the term world-system is those philosophies and values that perpetually influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God’s expressed will, i.e. His Word. To be brief, the world-system is mankind and society functioning without God.
Paul reminds the Ephesian Church of their former state outside of Christ in Ephesians 2:-1-3: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the power of the air (Satan), of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in (what) the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of (what) the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Paul said as unbelievers they were (spiritually) dead in their trespasses and sin… In God’s eyes, every person born into this world is a child of wrath. Expressed faith in the gospel instantaneously reconciles the individual and they become an adopted child of God. Reconciliation is at the very heart of the gospel. The word reconciliation means “to renew a friendship or to restore to a right relationship.” Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse explains this truth. If anyone was going to be saved (reconciled to God) it must be through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the only Person who can restore the lost individual’s relationship with God (Ephesians 2:12).
Paul will address this “lifeless” dimension of the unbeliever in chapter 4:18. But what is central to our study is what Paul has to say concerning the unbeliever’s relationship to the world and to the flesh. As unbelievers, we were the “captives” of Satan, enslaved to sin, under his dominion, and governed by his principles. We were, of course, unaware of our state or condition because he controlled us through the influence of the world and the flesh. Thus, we once walked “according to the course of this world” (2:2) and in accordance with the “lusts of our flesh” (2:3).
Today the world has convinced people Jesus is a myth, there is no heaven or hell, and there’s no such thing as sin. There’s only living the life! Therefore, they aren’t aware the things they choose to do or say are sinful, i.e. contrary to God’s expressed will. With each passing day, the inhabitants of this world sink further into lawlessness and their love grows cold.
Paul doesn’t use the term “born again,” but he did say the true Believer has been made alive to God; regenerated, in Christ (Ephesians 2:1). Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit within an individual who has been saved by faith (alone), in which He imparts eternal life into the Believer. This means eternity exists in you now for you are alive to God.
True Believers have been raised from their previous spiritually dead state, to newness of life. This means we are to renounce Satan, the world, and their dominion over us. This is what Paul urges every Believer to do in 4:17-19. We were also slaves to our own fleshly desires, but now as Believers we are to “put off” fleshly things and “put on” the things of the Spirit (4:22-24). But, I’m getting ahead of the lesson.
In verse 4:17, Paul introduces this teaching with a formal reminder of the importance of what he is about to say: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord…” The term “affirm” means “to bear testimony” or “to serve as a witness.” It is used elsewhere in the N. T. but only by Paul. In every instance he uses the term to convey a sense of importance and urgency. When our Lord sought to convey this same sense of importance, He used the expression, “Truly, truly …”
Paul adds spiritual weight to his declaration in verse 17 by saying the words he spoke were not just his. He said both he and the Lord affirm these instructions. In other words Paul’s commands are the Lord’s commands. As God’s called apostle to the Gentiles, he is the Lord’s spokesperson here on earth (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Now Paul lays down the command which the Ephesian Believers are to heed: “That you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk …” Several things are implied by this command, so we’ll examine them singularly.
1) Faith in Christ is more than “lip-service;” it demands a radical change in the Believer’s heart and mind for these direct their lifestyle choices or their walk. The words “no longer” and “also” indicate that Paul’s readers once lived the way he now commands them to relinquish, i.e. “let go of.” Paul commands them to cease living the way they used to live and live in a manner that glorifies God instead.
Applying this truth to today, we find many Christians with the mindset they are true Believers even though nothing has changed in their life. They believe this because at some point in time they said I believe in Jesus, walked the aisle, said a prayer, filled out a 3x5 card and joined a church, even though nothing has ever changed in relationship to Jesus Christ. True belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ will produce a life that glorifies God. No individual can come humbly to the Cross of Christ and not embrace change. We will not live perfect lives, but the lives we live will honor God. The indwelt Holy Spirit will ensure that he or she grows (matures) in the faith (4:13). There will be spiritual fruit in other words. The fruit may be so minute only God can see it, but there will be fruit.
2) Following up on #1, this command deals with the Ephesians new relationship to the world. Once, as a part of the world-system, they were separate from Christ, strangers, having no hope and without God in the world (2:12). But now, as true Believers in Christ, they possess a heavenly citizenship, they are members of God’s kingdom because they are also members of His one body (4:4). This means they have become pilgrims (strangers in a foreign land) in relation to this world (Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11).
3) This command deals with the Believer’s relationship to the culture in which they live. The Ephesian saints once lived like Gentile pagans and the majority of their fellow-Ephesians still live this way. Thus, the “pull of the world” is quite real. Following the crowd, going with the flow, conforming to the world is easier than overcoming it. There’s also less persecution from your peers and the world-at-large if you behave as they do (1 Peter 4:1-6). However, Jesus said following the majority is not a good idea: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14 - KJV).
4) Paul maintains the moral conduct of Believers is the outgrowth of their mental processes. An idle mind is the devil’s playground, so the dominant thought here, as we find elsewhere in Ephesians, is that sound Church Doctrine determines one’s conduct. People become what they believe. This truth is reflected in our Western culture. Immorality is running rampant due to godless philosophers and skillfully propagated by the so-called institutes of higher learning where expressions of faith in Jesus Christ are now unlawful, but you can speak about Allah to your heart’s content…
The Way Gentiles Walk
The final statement of verse 17 through verse 19 describes the way in which Paul’s readers once walked as Gentiles, the way in which their peers still walk, and the way in which the Ephesians saints must no longer walk.
… that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (a.k.a. lust).
Our Apostle Paul characterizes the lifestyle of unbelieving Gentiles as a walk which is “in the futility of their mind being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God.”
The conduct of the Ephesian Believers before their conversion was the product of wrong doctrine, i.e. worldly philosophies and opinion (4:14). Paul used the phrase “futility of their mind” in describing this mental impairment. Futility does not mean stupid. Futile efforts are those which do not become visible or that produce something meaningless, of no eternal value. Opinions change over time. God and His Word do not (Malachi 3:6)! Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato were intelligent men and are highly thought of by many today. But Paul would call their thinking “futile,” because their beliefs and their philosophies failed to produce anything of eternal value.
For example: the unbeliever (as a rule) believes life ends at their death. Therefore, doing without and suffering is nonsense; it’s to be avoided. Living for the day and physical pleasure is pursued (1Corinthians 15:32). The Believer understands real life begins with faith and a relationship with Christ and it will never end. Because of this, they endure suffering in this life for Christ’s sake, with the assurance that we will enjoy the glory which awaits us for an eternity (2 Timothy 2:12; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 20).
Paul began with the positive statement, “walk worthy” (4:1). But here, in 4:17, his statement “walk no longer” takes on a negative aspect. Because the possibility of Believers back-sliding, “walking as we formerly walked,” is ever present, Paul’s saying you have to make a choice. Some choices bring us into “harm’s way;” other choices bring us closer to Jesus Christ. For instance, a person who decides to drink alcohol to excess, smoke cigarettes, or abuse drugs must understand these are all harmful and will quite possibly lead to a physical dependence or addiction. The world’s wisdom steps in declaring addictions are a medical problem, i.e. “a disease,” so the patient is not at fault. But God said drunkenness is a sin of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:17-21). Drug dependence is an immoral habit; it is acquired or learned from family members, friends, or the media, a.k.a. the world. There are countless ads running today which depict a “good time.” This involves having an alcoholic drink in one hand and a scantily dressed female in the other… not necessarily your spouse
The Choice that Glorifies God
The Believer in Christ understands that he or she has been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), that is ultimately, to bring glory to God. Consequently, all that we do should be to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The unbeliever sees all of their life revolving around their own self interests, resulting in self-gratification, so this is their primary focus. They view the idea of servanthood with contempt. They are to be served and not to serve. The thinking of the Believer is influenced by God’s revelation of truth in the Scriptures, while the thinking of the unbeliever is based only upon the individual’s perception of truth and reality. It’s no wonder therefore; that the mind set on the flesh is vastly different from the mind set on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-9). Paul calls for these folks to radically change (transform) their thinking (Romans 12:1-2), which in turn will change their heart (Proverbs 3:5-6, 4:23; Psalm 51:10; Philippians 4:7).
Here Paul identifies the root cause of the distortion experienced by unbelieving Gentiles:
because of the ignorance that is in them
because of the hardening of their heart
because of the hardening of their heart
After describing the mental condition of pagan Gentiles, Paul presses on to disclose the causes of their mental dullness. Their thinking is futile because they are ignorant. Ignorance here does not mean “stupid;” Paul’s not referring to their intelligence. Ignorance, as Paul uses the term, refers to the “knowledge” which unbelievers possess, in which they have placed their trust, and from which they base their decisions. Their thinking drives their behavior, in other words. It may be brilliant ignorance, but when compared with the truth of God, it is ignorance none-the-less. A person may be able to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity, but this knowledge won’t gain them access to God.
The mind of man and the heart of man are closely inter-twined. When Paul speaks of the “hardening of their heart” he refers to the impact which the hardened heart has on the minds of fallen men. Hardness of heart keeps one from seeing things as they really are. This was true of Pharaoh, who could not see the “workings of the LORD” in the plagues of the Exodus, even when his own servants pointed it out to him (Exodus 8:19). It was even true of the Lord’s disciples, who could not fully understand His teachings (Mark 6:52, 8:17; Luke 18:28-34).
Men and women who are excluded from the life of God do not reflect the righteousness of God in their conduct. So, Paul describes the moral outcome of the Gentiles’ mental decadence: “And they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (verse 19).
Those who are mentally blind become morally callused. They lose any sensitivity to what is right or wrong. Consequently, they enthusiastically give themselves over to selfish desires; the pursuit of things of the flesh (Romans 1:18-32).
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
Such men are not merely overcome by strong fleshly passions, they actively engage in the pursuit of their passions. They do not dabble in sin, they immerse themselves in it. They pursue the satisfaction of their fleshly appetites with a fervent passion. They are addicted to the pursuit of satisfying their fleshly desires. Jesus only gets in their way!
(To be continued)
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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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