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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
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)
Hello, and welcome to HBS.
I want to begin by thanking you for your faithfulness to God and His word.
We ended our Bible lesson last week at Philippians 1:21 where Paul stated: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This declaration from Paul was not a cliché. Paul dedicated his life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ, and as he had opportunity to all men including the Praetorian Guard and Caesar himself. We also recognized the fact Paul was as human as any one of us, but unlike those folks who permit their circumstances to knock them off course Paul stayed the course set for him demonstrating his selflessness and single-mindedness regarding the gospel of grace:
Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel (Ephesians 3:1-7): Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed (surrounded) about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is (what) set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was (what) set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Please open your Bible at Philippians 1:22-24 and let’s read the passage once at least.
But if I live in the flesh, that is the fruit of (from) my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot (know) not. For I am in a strait betwixt (between; in the space that separates two persons or things) two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide (to bear or endure patiently) in the flesh is more needful for you (Philippians).
Previously in verse 1:21 Paul said, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain” a statement that stands in stark contrast to the brethren who preached Christ even of envy and strife and of contention (1:15-16) or the improper motivation.
In verse 1:22, he follows that statement with this “But if I live in the flesh, that is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot (know) not. Said differently this verse might read, “But should I continue living this will result in spiritual gain (fruit) from my labor for the Lord; yet which of the two I prefer I’m undecided.”
Paul has an important decision to make and both of them are desirable. If you’re thinking Paul is uncertain about which way to go then you are right. On the one hand he could choose life which presents the possibility of producing fruit for the Lord. On the other hand, he could choose dying which ultimately means he would then be home with Christ in glory (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12). He considered this the far better choice for him, but then to abide in the flesh (or to go on living) is more needful (necessary) for the Philippians and the other Grace Churches.
What does Paul mean by fruit? I’m glad you asked. According to our Apostle Paul one aspect of fruit is encouraging and nurturing a Christ-like character in the body of Christ. Let’s all turn to Galatians 5:23-26 because this is where Christ-like characteristics or the fruit of the Spirit are revealed in plain language: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance, against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory; provoking one another, envying one another.
Love is the first fruit of the Spirit because it is from this well-spring all Spiritual fruit flows. I remind the group Paul and his like-minded brethren preached Jesus Christ crucified out of love for the Lord and their fellow man, which is the proper motivation. Regarding love Paul wrote: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love; good will toward all), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing (1Corinthians 13:1-2).
I am reminded of a Bible passage from one of the twelve that applies here. Let’s all turn to 2 Peter 1:5-8. Here Peter urges the brethren to develop 7 Christ-like qualities:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor (what) unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Two terms are common in these two passages: love and self-control. To exhibit these Christ-like character traits in your daily walk with the Lord means to bear spiritual fruit in your life (Ephesians 4:1-3). I follow that thought with this thought, right character results in right conduct. As each true Believer lives a life of service to the Lord and to their neighbor, they produce fruit for the Lord:
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being (what) fruitful in every good work, and increasing in knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:9-10).
So, as we all grow in knowledge of the Lord, we learn what pleases Him and our fruitful works become aligned with that knowledge. When Paul said he was torn between the two possibilities of dying and being with Christ or living on (remaining), he said that living would result in fruitful labor or good works:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto (what) good works, which God hath before ordained that we should (do what) walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
But there’s more; those who respond, in faith, to the gospel of grace are fruit themselves. In Romans 1:13, Paul said he longed to go to Rome to have some fruit as a result of his ministry there: Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
Adding to this, in 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, Paul characterized the conversion of the household of Stephanas as the firstfruits of Achaia:
I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.
True Believers may also bear fruit with their lips, that is, by thanking God and offering praise to His name continually: By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).
I have one more to share with you. Believers also bear fruit when they give financial support to the ministry. Paul designated the collection of money from the Grace Churches in Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem fruit:
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain (Romans 15:24-28).
Let’s go to verses 1:23-24, but before we examine them I want y’all to consider this question. “Have you ever been caught between the horns of a dilemma?” Have you ever been in the place where you’re faced with two important decisions and you can only choose one? Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about whether to have bacon and eggs for breakfast or French toast. The example I’m about to offer is more in line with Paul’s quandary. You only have enough cash on hand to 1) pay the heating bill or 2) purchase groceries for your family because the cupboard is as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s pantry. Now let’s read the following Bible passage in that light:
…For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh (remain) is more needful for you.
The word “strait” means: narrow; close; difficult. Paul’s saying he’s hard pressed. He feels as though he’s hemmed in on both sides. A traveler making their way through a narrow passage, with a wall of rock on either side, unable to turn this way or that, but only move forward would use this expression.
Paul’s saying, “I want to live for Christ Jesus, and yet, I want to die and be with Christ.” We’re not talking about a bad decision here. Paul’s two desires actually make this a good dilemma. If you’ll study his decision carefully, you’ll note it is between choosing Jesus Christ (in life) and Jesus Christ (in death). Are you still with me? I don’t want to lose you in the explanation. Paul said both decisions are desirable.
“…having a desire to depart…” Focusing on the word desire, we find it is translated from the Koine Greek word Epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah), Noun, Feminine, Strong’s Greek #1939, meaning: eagerness for; a passionate desire, or longing. So, Paul used this word to express the idea of longing or a strong desire.
Paul, an educated man, chooses his words carefully. From the statements “having a desire to depart” and “to live is Christ and to die is gain” we learn Paul believed physical death was not the end of his story. Once again, Paul’s dealing with facts. Eternal life with the Lord is his reality; it was not fanciful thinking. We arrive at this point because of his usage of the word “gain” for one. Seldom, if ever, do people refer to their death as a positive experience, but Paul did. If you know your scripture, then you understand Paul had a unique perspective of heaven. We pick up on this truth in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 where Paul mentions an event related to heaven, in third-person.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paul isn’t sure what happened. This means he doesn’t know if he was carried bodily into paradise or if his soul left his body and made the trip solo. Paul stated he was caught up into paradise (the third heaven – Revelation 2:7) and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter and this is why we’re here. Several books and movies have appeared on the scene in the last 15-20 years. One book you may be familiar with is by John Piper, a Baptist pastor, titled “90 Minutes in Heaven” a true story of Death and Life” 2004, per his book. After his car collided with a semi-truck, he was pronounced dead. However for 90 minutes he visited what he believes is heaven, where he hears beautiful music, meets old friends, and experienced bliss, before miraculously coming back to life. People believe what they want to believe, I tend to lean towards what the Bible says. Scripture reports Jesus Himself saying, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Then there’s our Apostle Paul who clearly stated he was in the third-heaven (where God is) and I note he did not stop and write a book about this experience. Instead, Paul said it is not lawful for a man to utter, “or speak of those things he heard and saw. One other thought worth mentioning is someone who said they had visited heaven and returned is reporting a new revelation from God. Jesus Christ clearly said in Revelation 22:18, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Now some people believe this passage only refers to the book of Revelation, however, in my opinion I believe you can apply this stern warning to the entire Bible.
I’ve happened upon one of those biblical “bunny trails” I often speak about, but I don’t want to veer too far off the course I’ve set for this Bible lesson. I thought y’all would benefit from this information and that’s why it’s here. One final note, the people who write about their near-death/heavenly experiences may not be telling an untruth. They may believe these things actually happened to them. The point I’m making is that’s not the truth we’re to look for. Although these things may be entertaining, there is only one power of God for salvation, and that my friends is the gospel of grace:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power (1 Corinthians 4:20).
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
Thus the Truth we’re to seek is found in the Bible and not in someone’s personal chronicle or some Hollywood production.
Getting back to Paul, he was granted temporary access to heaven, so this may assist our understanding about his personal perspective of eternal life. He was under house arrest, waiting to hear if the verdict would be thumbs up or thumbs down. So, it’s quite likely Paul’s indecisiveness stemmed from his unique knowledge of heaven and the things he heard and witnessed there. But then he’s also aware of reality, or the here and now, for there was much work (labour) to be done:
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:8-10).
We know Paul longed to take God’s gospel into Spain for instance (Romans 15:24). A lot of people assume he did titling it his fourth missionary journey, but there’s no record of this trip in the Bible, so I leave such things alone. What’s abundantly clear is Paul’s undecided about two desirable decisions “a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; or to abide in the flesh. In next week’s lesson we’ll learn which path he chose.
(To be continued)
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