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"Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen.
Revelation 22:20

This is a Home Bible study. It exists to promote the Word of God as it's written, which means nothing added or taken away, and minus opinions.

The Bible is the only source of Divine Truth in the world today. Although it is helpful and informative in many ways, the Bible might not tell us everything we want to know but the Bible does tell us everything we need to know.

My role is to guide you through the Scriptures; to explain what this book says and in some cases what it does not say because this is just as important.

Ultimately, you have a decision to make concerning your salvation - no one can make it for you. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator God, has given everyone the ability to make choices - this is is called "Free Will." I pray you consider your choice wisely.

II Timothy 2:15

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

2 Corinthians (3:6a) (Lesson 07)

Home Bible Study©
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)

2 Corinthians (3:6a)                                                          (Lesson 07)            

Greetings one and all and welcome to HBS.

I thought the regular visitors would be interested in knowing that readership is growing.
Statistics reveal individuals from every part of the world are stopping by this web site.  I know some of these folks are only curious; they’re simply dropping by to look us over.  They’re “window shopping.”  However, other figures show many people apparently have found something admirable about our Bible study because they return week after week.  They are regular visitors to HBS and we are grateful to have them with us.

Whatever your reason for being here today please know the ground at the foot of the Cross is level:  For there is no difference of Jew and Greek; for the same Lord of all is rich (in grace) towards all that call upon him (for salvation) - Romans 10:12 – Darby Bible Translation.

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed (Romans 13:11).


Last week I chose to go down one of those bunny trails I spoke of a few lessons back - for your benefit.  I committed the lesson to showing you that our Apostle Paul was the first Believer saved by God’s grace (alone); which made him a pattern for those (coming afterward) who would believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

Just as the plans and specifications for the building of the LORD God’s Ark to save mankind from extinction were entrusted to Noah.  Saul/Paul was God’s choice to be the founder of Christianity.  The plans and specifications for building God’s Church were committed to Paul by the ascended, glorified Lord.  Paul made this truth known to the Corinthians in his first letter to them:  According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it… (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).  The foundation he spoke of was Jesus Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Paul also received the foundational truths or “secrets” re: the Body of Christ from the ascended Lord:  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery (secret), as I wrote before in brief.  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight (knowledge) into the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-11).

When reading or studying your Bible please be careful not to confuse this church in Ephesians with the church the Lord spoke of to Peter (Matthew 16:18).  That was a prophesied church and the plans for it are found in the Old Testament.  Its foundation was built upon our Lord as the nation of Israel’s Messiah.  The church revealed to Paul in Ephesians was a mystery, i.e. a secret and the plans and specifications for it were kept hidden since the foundations of the earth (Romans 16:25; Colossians 1:26).  This church is built upon the Lord Jesus Christ as the glorified Head of the Body of Christ; rejected on earth but exalted at God’s right hand (Psalm 2; 110:1).  Do this and you’re well on your way to rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 3:6a.

2 Corinthians 3

6: who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter (of the Law) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (v6a) Now, it stands to reason if you have something new then something old has either gone away or it’s in the process of being phased out.  Does that make sense?  Before we delve into what Paul meant by this expression, it would be a mistake on my part to assume y’all understand what a covenant is.  Please permit me to advance that remark one step further by saying unless you understand these covenants between the LORD and His chosen people, your understanding of the Scriptures will be incomplete.  You see, these covenants explain why the LORD does and says the things He says and does in Scripture.  If you understand these covenants everything God says and does falls right into place.  Said differently, this book starts to make sense.  So, we’re going to take a good, long look at God’s covenants with the nation of Israel. 

A covenant was an agreement or contract between men in the O.T. (Genesis 22).  In this case it’s between God and men (See Genesis 15 for example).  Generally, it is based upon certain conditions agreed upon.  Sometimes, as between God and man, it is unconditional but not always.  God’s covenants with man originated with Him, and generally consist of a promise based on the fulfillment of certain conditions. 

This book mentions 8 different covenants.  They all relate to the earth and each one introduces a new dispensation.  Six of them were given to individuals such as Adam, Noah, and Abram, and went into effect during their lifetime except the one given to King David, which took effect at the birth of Jesus.  Each one has a time element, i.e. it expires at a certain time and four of them are distinguished by a “sign.”

The Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:28-30 – 2:15-17)

This was a conditional covenant to repopulate the earth with an earthly race of people, the first of the pre-Adamite race becoming extinct, through the earth having been thrown into a chaotic condition (Genesis 1:2).  The man and the woman were instructed by the Lord God to subdue the earth, have dominion over the animal world, restrict themselves to a vegetable diet, till and nurture the garden in which they had been placed, and to abstain from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The punishment for disobedience was physical death and this would have happened to both the man and the woman immediately, if the LORD God had not intervened (demonstrated His Grace) and ushered in a new covenant, i.e. the Adamic Covenant. 

The Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19)

This covenant, like the previous one, was between the LORD God and the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden before their exile (Scripture doesn’t refer to them as Adam and Eve until Genesis 3:20-21).   This covenant ushered in the Dispensation of Conscience.  It was without conditions and contained both a “curse” and a “promise.” 

1:  The Curse was fourfold: 

As to the serpent, Satan’s “crafty” tool, the most beautiful creature became a repulsive reptile.  It still retains some of its former beauty today, but the LORD God condemned it to crawl upon its belly and to eat dust all the days of its life, whereas in the Garden of Eden it had walked upright like a man (otherwise why would the LORD God condemn it to crawl on its belly all the days of its life) and according to the Bible text it appears it could speak as well (Genesis 3:1-5).

As to the woman, her state had changed in these three ways: 

1) Multiple Conceptions.  As I read Genesis 4:1-2, I’m picking up the fact that she gave birth to both Cain (her first child) and Abel (her second child) during the same pregnancy.  I understand this meaning from the word “Again” in verse 2.   I also connect this meaning to what the LORD God said in Genesis 3:16:  Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children (KJV).  Note:  other Bible translations, including the NASB, have dropped the word conception from the text which alters the meaning of the passage greatly. 

By multiplied conceptions is almost certainly meant that there would be several children born at a time, i.e. twins, triplets and the like.  This would be necessary to rapidly replenish the earth, according to the LORD God’s plan (Genesis 1:28).  In addition, and as a matter of necessity, the children of the same parents intermarried, as there were no other human beings alive on the planet at that time.  

2) As the Bible text stated, the woman would experience a sorrowful motherhood, meaning child-birth was to be accompanied with much anguish and pain.   If sin had not entered the LORD’s perfect world, child-birth would have been painless and motherhood would have been a pleasurable experience - no doubt.  But as any loving mother can attest raising children today is both painful and stressful and the experience is unending. 

3) Headship of the Man:  the woman was created the equal of the man in the beginning, but because she was deceived by the serpent, causing his fall, she lost her equality and the man was given the headship over her (Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:3).

As to the man, the ground was cursed for his sake, (else he would live forever with a corrupted spirit and soul) and whereas before it had been a pleasure to look after God’s perfect Garden, now he would have to secure a living from the soil by the sweat of his brow or hard labor, which would bring about stress, and in the long run cause his bodily systems to run down, and eventually bring about his physical death.  People laugh about it, eventually shrugging off the thought, but the “Rat Race” causes stress and stress on one’s body causes physical death.

As to the ground, from then on it was to be cursed with “thorns” and “thistles” or in other words with everything that would make the cultivation of the earth difficult.

2.  The Promise.  The LORD God promised “the seed of the woman” (the Christ) would bruise the serpent’s head (this denotes a mortal wound) whilst the serpent’s “seed” would bruise Christ’s heel (a painful wound but non lethal).  Here we have the Promise that Christ would redeem the world from the power of Satan, thus restoring the human race and the Earth to their former condition before the fall (Romans 8:19).  This covenant reaches until the renovation of the earth by “fire.” 

The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20 – 9:17)

Mankind having proved themselves a dismal failure, for they, like Cain, were destitute of faith (Genesis 4:3-5) under the Dispensation of Conscience, the Lord God sent a world-wide flood to destroy the entire human race with the exception of Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-8).  After the flood Noah offered a sacrifice, which was well-pleasing to the LORD God, and He made an unconditional Covenant with Noah.  It ushered in the Dispensation of Human Government.  It contained the following provisions:

1)      God would not curse the ground anymore or destroy all the living (Genesis 9:11).
Noah and his descendants were to be fruitful, and multiply, bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein, i.e. repopulate the earth (Genesis 9:7).
2)      They were given dominion over all the animals of the earth, but this wasn’t the Edenic Covenant revisited – read on:  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; (and here’s the reason why) into your hand are they delivered (for food - Genesis 9:2).  This takes us right to provision #3.
3)      They were no longer restricted to a vegetarian diet; meat was on the menu!  But the LORD God commanded them to drain the blood from it first because He wanted to establish and for them to know that its life is in its blood (Genesis 9:3-4).
4)      The law of capital punishment was established.  One of the reasons the LORD God destroyed all life on this planet was the earth was filled with (every manner of) violence (There was no respect for human life in Noah’s day.  Society hasn’t sunk to that level yet, but I’m here to say we’re rapidly approaching the day.  Babies tossed in dumpsters or aborted because having it would interrupt someone’s lifestyle choice, Police officers gunned down in the streets, hit and run drivers leaving bodies all over the landscape… this stuff is in the news on a daily basis Genesis 6:11; Matthew 24:37).  With these words the LORD God let it be known all human life is to be respected; should you take a life, you forfeit your life:  Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man (and woman) (Genesis 9:6).  By the way, this law has never been rescinded, despite whatever judicial arrangements man may have made. 
5)      The LORD God said the earth and its inhabitants would never be destroyed again by flood waters.  The sign of this covenant is the “rainbow,” and the Covenant reaches until the renovation of the earth by “fire.”

The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3)

The Tower of Babel episode in Scripture, which took place at 2175 BC, was the turning point in human history (Genesis 11:1-9).  The Noahic Flood occurred around 2350 BC.  Only 175 years after this catastrophic event mankind, who were one people with one language and were led by the rebel Nimrod, rebelled against the LORD refusing to separate and repopulate the earth. 

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Bible account to some degree, but I wonder if you’re aware that every cult, every false religion in existence today originated at the Tower of Babel.  This was the origin of Satan’s plan to export false worship globally, or Satan’s invention to get people to worship the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25)!  The Tower of Babel was an idol, plain and simple, and it became the object of men’s worship, the point of their pride.  It spawned a complex of weird, mysterious religions that are still being practiced in the world today (Genesis 11:1-9).   

After their death, Nimrod and his wife Semiramis (the ancient queen of heaven) were confirmed by their priests as gods and given homage as Marduk and Astarte.  Numerous other gods were pattered and fashioned after Nimrod and his mother.  BEL/BAAL – was the primary name by which other nations were introduced to the worship of Marduk.  Baal means “lord” or “master.”  Under this name he was worshiped by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Syrians and to some extent by the Egyptians.  BAAL worship is sometimes associated with “Baal-zebub,” and is still known today as one of the name or “epithets” of Satan.”  - Nimrod, Mars, and The Marduk Connecty by Bryce Self

At that time there was no such thing as Jew or Gentile the human race was one unit (Genesis 11:1, 6).  Humanity was returning to its “pre-Flood ways;” meaning mankind was turning away from the LORD.  They were becoming idolatrous.  Mankind was also becoming violent again under the leadership of Nimrod, the son of Cush, a descendant of Ham.  The beginning of his kingdom was Babel… (Genesis 10:6-10). 

Archeologists digging around in the ruins of Nineveh have found tablets with the name Gilgamesh written on them; they date these writings around 2000 BC.  The information gathered from these tablets reveal Gilgamesh was arrogant, depraved, and ruthless, and the community was quite concerned about his vile, filthy behavior. 

The ancient historian Josephus says of Nimrod, “Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God.  He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah - a bold man, and of great strength of hand.  He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness.  He also gradually changed the government into tyranny-seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his own power.  He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach!  and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!  (Ant. I: iv: 2)

The nuns in Catholic, elementary school taught us the Tower of Babel was built so the people could reach God in heaven, but in actuality this Tower was built for protection, should God choose to flood the world again.  It also housed all these mysterious, false religions.  The comments Josephus made about Nimrod and his wife match the writings found on the Gilgamesh tablets.  Gilgamesh ruled by absolute power; he opposed Jehovah or YHWH, and did his utmost to get his people to forsake Him!

To remedy the situation, the LORD God decided to call out an individual who was a descendant of Shem and form a separated nation of people from him.  This man’s name was Abram.  He obviously had the qualities God was seeking, even though he too lived in an idolatrous household (Joshua 24:2).  God’s plan consisted of bringing about a nation of people from this one man, Abram, working with them closely, which included revealing Himself to them on a personal basis (in time, He intended to dwell amongst them).  The LORD God would establish a religious system, a priesthood, and introduce civil and moral laws because none existed at this time; people did whatever they saw fit to do.  Then one day, when the time was right, God’s chosen people would become a nation of priests leading the pagan world to the one, true living God (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9).  

Abram was a wealthy individual, living in the city of Ur of the Chaldees, in Mesopotamia, but He took God at His word and moved out from there to a place he had never seen, in faith (Genesis 11:31).  The Covenant made with Abram was afterwards enlarged and confirmed with his son, Issac (Genesis 26:1-5), and with his grandson Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel by the LORD (a name which means: wrestles with God - Genesis 28:10-15). 

As you spend more time studying your Bible, it will become quite clear the promises the LORD God made to the nation of Israel are earthly in nature:  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house (leave idolatry behind), To the (what) land which I will show you… Whereas the promises God makes to His Church, the Body of Christ, are heavenly in nature (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; Philippians 3:14, 20-21; Ephesians 2:6).    

The Abrahamic Covenant ushered in the Dispensation of the Family; it was unconditional, and contained 7 earthly promises:

Make him a great nation
Bless him
Make his name great
Be a blessing
Bless those who blessed him
Curse those who curse him
In him all the families of the earth would be blessed

By these statements the LORD declared that Abram and his offspring were “special” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).  God sovereignly extended His blessings to Abram and his offspring; He would bless those who blessed him and his offspring and curse those who opposed them.  The LORD God sovereignly declared that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through Abram.  Please turn to Genesis 13:14-17:

The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.  “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.  “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”

After the LORD God established His Covenant with Abram, He revealed more details about it.  From the Bible passage below we learn that included in “make you a great nation” promise was a “Land” deed.  The LORD told Abram that all the land that he could see and walk in would be his and his descendants forever.  That tiny speck of land we know as Israel today is not “the Land” the Lord God promised to Abram and his descendants.  But in truth, Abram’s land promises weren’t fulfilled until the reign of King David 997-995 BC.  We also find here the first mention of “earth” in God’s promise that He would make Abram’s descendants as numerous “as the dust of the earth.”

Please turn to Genesis 15:1-6:  After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”  Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”  Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”  And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the (what) stars, if you are able to count them.”  And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as (what) righteousness. 

Our Apostle Paul used this passage of Scripture to make his great argument of “justification by faith (alone).”  The LORD told Abram that He was Abram’s shield, i.e. protector and his reward.  In response, Abram asked the LORD how he was going to do what He had promised to do since he remained childless.  God restated His promise to Abram telling him that he would have a son from his own body.  The LORD God then took Abram outside and showed him the heavens above and declared that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  This is the first mention of a heavenly offspring in Scripture.  Abram’s response to this declaration was “he believed in the LORD.”  God’s response to Abram’s faith was to reckon him a righteous man.  Paul had much to say about this.

Now, let’s all go to Genesis 22:15-19 in our Bibles:  Then the angel of the LORD (this angel of the LORD here and in several other places in your Bible is Jesus Christ in the O.T.) called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not with held your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have (what) obeyed My voice.  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. 

This passage is rather unique in that it references both heavenly and earthly aspects of Abraham’s descendants (v17b).  This passage concludes Abraham’s willingness to obey the LORD God’s command to sacrifice his only son, Issac.

Heavenly and Earthly Promises

We reviewed the passages above because they form a template for the LORD’s earthly and heavenly promises and blessings.  You see, the Jews had no concept of passing from this life and going “right to heaven to be with the LORD.”  Their only knowledge re: things of heaven was through the “visions” of prophets who witnessed the glory and holiness of the LORD God and His throne (Isaiah 6:1-6; Ezekiel 1-3; Daniel 7:9-28, 10-12).  There is no biblical record of heaven as a destiny for the nation of Israel.  Instead, all of the LORD God’s promises to Israel are related to the earth.

I always teach of the 7 earthly promises contained within the Abrahamic Covenant 3 are prominent:

1)  The LORD promised Abram a “land” deed, i.e. a specific geographical area of land that would belong to his descendants forever. 
2)  The LORD said he would be the father of a great nation. 
3)  Included in the LORD’s promise to make Abram a great nation is the promise of a government and an earthly kingdom with God Himself reigning as their King – for the Messiah would be born from the seed of Abram (Luke 3:34; Isaiah 9:6). 

Through His covenant with King David, the LORD promised He would establish David’s line upon the throne and his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:8-17).  The Jews understood these promises and anticipated this kingdom (Luke 1:31-33, 46-55, 67-69), since God had described it in hundreds of passages through His prophets (Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:1-10; Ezekiel 37:1-28; Zechariah 14:9-21). 

Heavenly Promises: God’s Church, the Body of Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (where) in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
God’s promises to the nation of Israel, beginning with the Abrahamic Covenant and following in His additional covenants, were all earthly. These promises decreed a people, a land, and a kingdom.  God’s promises to His Church, the Body of Christ, are all heavenly.  Once again, the Jews knew nothing of these things.  They had no concept of dying and going to heaven, but our Apostle Paul used this type language in several of his letters to the churches.  Please turn with me to Philippians 3:20-21.

For our (what) citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all thing to Himself. 

Try as you might, you’ll not find language such as this in the O.T. or in the four gospels folks.  Jesus Christ never told the twelve they had “heavenly citizenship.”  These truths were a new revelation revealed to the Apostle Paul and are directed to members of the Body of Christ or those who believed Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). 

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13).  This verse reveals the “new truth.”  God has rescued the Believer of Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16) from darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  This kingdom, at the present time, is located in heaven; the kingdom is wherever the Son of God is.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians he disclosed to those Believers the wonderful hope that a new body awaits them in heaven.  The Creator God made us not just with spirits and souls.  He gave us bodies too.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “God likes matter.  He invented it.  Our present bodies, through which we enjoy many experiences, also are subject to pain, suffering, and to death.  But one day every Believer will have an eternal body fit for heaven minus these weaknesses – what a glorious hope (2 Corinthians 2:5-1-8).

The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is “circumcision” (Genesis 17, 9-14), and it extends to the end of time, which means it lasts all the way to the “New Earth.” 

(To be continued)

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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 20, 2017

2 Corinthians (3:1-6) (Lesson 06)

Home Bible Study©
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)

2 Corinthians (3:1-6)                                                        (Lesson 06)        

Welcome to HBS.  I want y’all to know, whether you are a Bible study group meeting regularly or an individual sitting there comfortably at home interested in knowing what this book says and what it does not say, my sincere prayer is you are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18).  Or, as I’ve been saying lately, you are learning at least one new thing every week.

Introduction to Chapter 3

The emphasis of chapter 3 is similar to that of the book of Hebrews.  It is a comparison between the Old Testament (Covenant) and the New Testament (Covenant).  Put another way, “How are sinful humans made right with a holy God in this dispensation?”

In times past, the first eleven chapters of Genesis reveal how the LORD God dealt with the whole human race.  In chapter twelve, however, God began a revolutionary, new, divine program or plan.  No longer would He deal with all of humanity directly.  Instead, He would deal with a specific group of chosen people, separated from the human race.  These people would eventually act as His intermediaries; they would be become salt and light to the Gentile world; a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:6).  It began when God sought out a man named Abram.  From this righteous man of faith came this new race of people who would be known as the Jews (Genesis 12, 15; Hebrews 11:8-10).  Through the Jews, and them alone, God would reveal Himself to mankind and from this race of people would come the Messiah – the Savior of all mankind (Genesis 12:3; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2:1-12; Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-2, 9:6-7. 42:1-6).

Under the Old Testament program (The Dispensation of the Law) the only way a Jew could find favor with God was based on obeying each and every one of the 613 commandments contained within the Law (Deuteronomy 6:5-17).  We know on this side of the Cross it was impossible for anyone to keep the Law because it was impossible to do so.  It would be like trying to empty a basin of water with a fork!   The LORD God set up a religious system requiring animal sacrifices to provide a temporary covering of sins in the O.T. and to foreshadow the perfect and complete (once and done) future sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10) for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (of sin) (Hebrews 9:22).

However, Scripture says:  it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He (Jesus Christ) comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; In WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. “THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’”  (Hebrews 10:4-7).

But now, after the conversion of Saul/Paul, the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:12-17), salvation is by faith (alone) in the gospel of Jesus Christ or trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord for the remission of your sins.  Our Apostle Paul was the first person saved under this new, divine program, thus making him the first member baptized into the Body of Christ and the first member of God’s one Church.  So, Paul’s salvation marks the beginning of the Church Age or the Dispensation of God’s Grace.

I want to spend some time on this, since Paul opened the door on the topic with these words but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (Romans 2:16, 16:25; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 15:1-4; Ephesians 3:3-9; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 1:24-27).

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians, chapter 3:1-6

Ministers of a New Covenant

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?  You (Corinthians) are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter (of the Law) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (eternal).

The defiant members of the Corinthian Church were denying Paul’s apostleship.  Yet the Scriptural facts are these:  Jesus Christ hand-picked twelve men from the land of Israel to be His apostles – these were the only twelve.  Later, in their humanness, they asked Jesus what they would receive for serving Him.  Jesus promised these same men they would sit on twelve thrones in the coming kingdom and would rule with Christ over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).  After Judas betrayed Jesus Christ and then later committed suicide, only eleven remained.  Matthias was scripturally appointed to take his place in order to bring the number back up to the required twelve.  We know God didn’t object to Matthias; in fact it was in keeping with God’s plan because in Acts 2:4 this book says:  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost (KJV). 

Therefore, it’s a mistake to teach the eleven erred when they chose Matthias as Judas’ replacement or that they should have waited for God’s man, Paul, to fill Judas’ place. 
According to this book, at this point in time Saul was intent on persecuting those Jews who believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah!  He also failed to meet the conditions to be an apostle as mentioned in Acts 1:21-22:  “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us (apostles) all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us - beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us – one of these (men) must become a witness with us of His resurrection. 

If you’re familiar with the book of Acts, then you know there was an urgent need for the twelfth apostle, since the earthly establishment of the kingdom was to be offered at Pentecost (Acts 2:14, 3:19-21).  Now you have to do some reading in the book of Acts to gather this information but it’s all there.  When you reach Acts 7, you’ll find the religious leaders rejected Stephen’s (Jewish) testimony, but more to the point they rejected the Holy Spirit (v51).  God could have stepped in at that time and judged both the nation of Israel and the God-hating gentile world.  But God did something astonishing instead.  In fact, God did something extraordinary.  He saved Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, which was outside the land of Israel on gentile ground (Acts 9).  Saul was the zealous leader of the rebellion against the Messianic movement, but God saved him and appointed him an apostle to preach to all men, Jew and Gentile, “the gospel of the grace of God,” ushering in a brand new program or administration.

It was through our Apostle Paul that the present, Dispensation of God’s Grace was ushered in (Ephesians 1:9-13) and the Church Age began.  I mentioned earlier that I intended to go over this topic with y’all.  The best place to start is with Paul’s own words, i.e. Scripture itself, so please turn with me in your Bible to 1Timothy 1:12-17. 

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.  Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost (chief – KJV translation) of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.

I continue to point out, for your benefit, that I use multiple Bible translations, in my own personal Bible study and while compiling these Bible lessons for y’all; and for good reason.  The Bible passage above has been greatly misunderstood.   Most teach the main point of the passage is Paul’s admission that he is “the chief of sinners,” or put another way, he is the greatest sinner that ever lived.  In the translation above, The New American Standard Bible has added “of all” to ensure this point is driven home (v15).  But even worse than that is the New English Translation which adds, “…and I am the worst of them!  These Bible translations (and others) do not help the serious Bible student understand what this passage is actually saying.

Saul/Paul was a great sinner; he admits it (1 Corinthians 15:9), but was he the worst sinner, ever - I think not.  Caligula, Judas, and Nero lived during this time period and all three or any one of the three could arguably be rated a worse sinner than Saul of Tarsus.  But leaving that argument aside, it’s a mistake to think Paul’s sinfulness is the main point of this passage. 

The word foremost (chief) in the Greek language is Protos (pronounced:  pro’-tos), Adjective, Strong’s Greek #4413, and its primary meaning is – first in time, place, in any succession of things or persons.  It is found 156 times in the N.T. with our Apostle Paul using the term 29 times and each time it was used for this purpose.

If you read verse 15 of this passage straightforwardly it reads like this:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom “I am the first.  The reason translators have translated the word foremost to mean worst is they have no idea what Paul meant by his declaration that he was the “the first” of sinners.  They linked this statement to his comment in verse 13 without carefully considering the entire passage. 

Had they examined Paul’s statement in verse 16 carefully, it would have helped them discover their error.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the (what) foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as (what) an example (as a pattern) for those who would (thereafter) believe in Him for eternal life. 

Paul declared he was “a patternfor those who would believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.  Elsewhere Paul emphasized he was a “pattern” by his commands for Believers to imitate or copy him.  No one else did this; and I’m referring to Peter, James, John, Jude, etc.  It’s highly significant that Paul did.  What is a pattern after all if not a “blueprint” for something brand new, i.e. a first of its kind?  It’s quite clear the Bible translators didn’t understand what Paul meant by this, which is why they mis-quoted him.   To answer the question requires that we understand God’s revealed plan prior to Paul.  This is why we’re taking the time to “Dig Deeper” into this subject.

God’s Revealed Plan (a.k.a. The Abrahamic Covenant)

As I pointed out already in this chapter’s introduction, in times past, the first 2,000 years of mankind’s existence on this planet are accounted for in the first eleven chapters of Genesis and reveal how the LORD God dealt with the entire human race.  In Genesis chapter twelve, however, God began a revolutionary, new, divine program or plan.  No longer would He deal with all of humanity directly.  Instead, He would deal with a specific group of chosen people, separate from the human race.

The plan God revealed to Abram began with his call (about 2000 BC).  The LORD God made a covenant with Abram which basically consisted of these three things:  if he would put his faith in Him:  1) out of him would come a nation of people 2) He would establish him in a specific geographical area of land 3) and it naturally goes without saying the people would then need a government, but here’s the thing, God Himself would be their King.

Through these chosen people, God would give His covenants and promises.  The covenants revealed God would establish His kingdom on the earth and the Messiah would reign (Isaiah 2, 11; Zechariah 14:9).  In this kingdom, Israel will rule the nations (Deuteronomy 28:1, 13).  As for Gentiles, they would be blessed through Israel (Isaiah 49:5-7, 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23).  These blessings had a condition.  God’s blessings to Gentiles required Israel to become a nation of priests (Exodus 19:4-6).  To achieve this, the nation had to accept their Messiah.  When Israel’s Messiah arrived and presented Himself as their King, instead of recognizing Him, the Jews instigated His crucifixion.  In Acts, we read that while thousands of Jews believed Jesus was their Messiah, the overwhelming majority continued to reject Him–especially the nation’s religious rulers.  This rejection climaxed with Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7).  Saul of Tarsus was an eye-witness of his execution (Acts 7:58-60). 

God’s revelation in the Old Testament through the covenants and His prophets consisted of the revelation of the Messiah, rejection of the Messiah, God’s judgment, and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.  God summarized these events in Psalm 2.  God’s judgment or wrath is known as the Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:14-18) and Peter expected it to occur soon (Acts 2:14-21; Joel 2:28-32).  But God did an astonishing thing.  He interrupted His revealed, prophetic program or plan for an unknown period of time.  In mercy, He delayed His righteous judgment, the Day of the Lord, and instead, He did something entirely unforeseen and unprophesied.  God initiated and revealed a new plan–a plan of grace.  Saul of Tarsus became God’s steward of this new, previously unrevealed plan; a parenthetical period of time we know as the Church Age.

Paul the Chief of Sinners - “the first

Saul of Tarsus was a religious fanatic.  He thought he was serving God by arresting, persecuting, torturing, and killing Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah.  From a perspective of divine justice, he deserved death.  But God did not kill him; He saved him.  And in saving him God commissioned him to be “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) to preach the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in which one is saved by faith (alone) apart from the Law of Moses.  In addition to revealing this gospel by faith (alone), God revealed several other Church Age doctrines to Paul, which had been kept hidden since the foundations of the earth by the Creator God (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Paul called these doctrines “secrets;” or mysteries. 

Paul’s salvation (which came about 6 years after Pentecost) and the revelations he received from the risen Lord were what Paul had reference to when he spoke of himself as “the first.”  Paul was the “first of sinners” in the sense that God saved him to inaugurate a whole new program.  As “the first,” Paul was God’s prototype.  To Paul, God revealed the “gospel of the grace of God” in which one is saved by faith (alone), i.e. by simply believing that Christ died for one’s sins, was buried, and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  This gospel was entirely different from “the gospel of the kingdom” introduced by John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:1-2, 4:17, 9:35). 

I always go by what this book says, and it says that the twelve were not saved by believing Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures.  They knew nothing about Jesus going up to Jerusalem where He would be spitefully treated, spit upon, suffer, and then be put to death, even when Jesus explained this to them (Luke 18:31-34).  This book says Peter was saved by believing Jesus was the promised Messiah (Matthew 16:16-17). Martha was saved the same way, believing Jesus was the promised Messiah (John 11:25-27).  How is one saved today?  Is it by believing Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 3:16; Acts 8:34-37)? No, a person is saved today by believing Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). 

The gospel Peter proclaimed for salvation on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38) was not Paul’s gospel.  Peter did not tell the Jews on the day of Pentecost to believe Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, in order to be saved.  Peter had no knowledge of this gospel until much later when Paul revealed it to him (2 Peter 14-18).  The gospel Peter proclaimed at Pentecost was “the gospel of the kingdom” which required repentance and water baptism.  A vast difference exists between this gospel and Paul’s gospel.

To get a handle on the change God initiated with Paul consider Peter’s experience with the Roman centurion Cornelius.  God, in a vision, commanded Peter to go to Cornelius’ house.  Peter went, but he went there reluctantly.  I picture him mumbling, grumbling, and stalling all the way there.  Why?  I’ll tell you why, Cornelius was a Gentile.  According to the Mosaic Law, Jews did not associate with Gentiles; it was forbidden.  Prophetically speaking, the Gentile’s salvation or blessing was to come after the nation of Israel had accepted her Messiah – this hadn’t happened yet!  But despite his uneasiness and reluctance to complete this task, based on his need to observe the Law, Peter eventually obeyed God.

Read through Acts 10:34-48 and note how Cornelius was saved.  Compare his salvation experience to what happened at Pentecost.  At Pentecost, the order of salvation was: 1) Repentance 2) Baptism 3) Receipt of the Holy Spirit.  With Cornelius it was 1) Belief –implied 2) Receipt of the Holy Spirit 3) Baptism.  

Why the difference?  Acts 10 comes after Acts 9. Cornelius was saved after God saved Paul.  Cornelius, by the preaching of Peter, was saved in an entirely different way than what Peter had proclaimed at Pentecost.  Peter had just begun to warm up in his message to Cornelius when suddenly, Cornelius was saved.  Peter did not utter a single word about repentance or water baptism.  Cornelius just believed and received the Holy Spirit immediately.  Peter and the Jews with him were stunned.  It had never happened that way before.  What was going on?  I’ll tell you what was “going on.”  Paul was “the first;” Paul’s salvation and apostolic commission opened up a whole new plan of salvation.  Did Peter understand this?  Not at all; it would take many years for Peter to understand the significance of this event (Acts 15:11). 

After Cornelius and his household were saved, Peter went his way and continued to preach “the gospel of the kingdom.” In the meantime, God gave Paul the revelation to lay the foundation for an entirely new program in which sinners, both Jew and Gentile, were saved by faith (alone) apart from the Law of Moses.  The ascended Lord revealed to Paul the Church, the Body of Christ, in which Jews and Gentiles were equal “in Christ.”  But why had God commanded Peter to go to Cornelius’ house, a Gentile, if Peter did not understand what had happened?  God always has a plan and He doesn’t always fill us in on the details (Deuteronomy 29:29).  He would use this experience Peter had with Cornelius and his household 15 years later to help Paul at the Council of Jerusalem.  But that’s another story.

Paul: the Founder of Christianity

Paul wrote this to the believers in Corinth:  According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). 

Paul wrote a similar message to Timothy:  Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (1 Timothy 1:16 - Authorized Version).

In both passages, Paul acknowledged God’s mercy and grace to him.  As noted above, Paul, in his letter to Timothy, declared he was the “first” and a “pattern” for those who would soon be saved, if they believed.  We find a similar, parallel text, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  He wrote the Corinthians that he was the “architect” who laid the foundation.  What does an architect do?  He designs the building and lays its foundation.  Is the foundation the first part of the building or the last?  It is the first.  One cannot start a structure without a foundation; it constitutes a new beginning.  

What was that foundation?  The foundation was Christ Himself and the truths He revealed to Paul (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).  Paul called these truths “secrets.”  The truths he received from the ascended Lord were just that–“secrets”– information God had kept hidden until He revealed them to Paul.  These “secrets” form the content of the revelation the risen Lord gave to Paul as “the first.”  After Paul learned these truths, he communicated them to others so “another” could build on the new foundation established by these truths.  Paul issued a warning in the latter part of the verse: “But each man must be careful how he builds on it.” Since Paul’s teaching came directly from the Lord, those who build on Paul’s foundation (1 Corinthians 3.11), must be careful to follow his teaching.

Returning to the text, the Corinthians were wrong in their assumption that Paul was not an apostle, merely because he was not an original member of the twelve, or that he should have arrived in their city with a letter of commendation, or should have asked them for a letter a commendation (3:1) upon leaving them before ministering in other areas.

What greater letter of commendation could he have had than the Corinthian Church itself – the largest of all the churches he had planted - do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you (v1)?   Furthermore, Paul said, “You (Corinthians) are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (v2-3). 

In other words, there’s no substitute for a “living testimony;”these Believers had been saved to serve (Romans 12:1-2).  They had been won over to Christ Jesus to tell others about Him and it’s in this way they were written on the apostle’s heart, not with ink, or on tablets of stone, but with “the Spirit of the living God.”

Paul goes on to say, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (v4--5).”  Paul understands what he just wrote may be misconstrued as bragging by some of the Corinthians, after all it is no small thing to say, “You are my letter of recommendation;” due to our efforts “you are known and read by all men.”  No doubt a certain minority of Believers in Corinth would assume the worst of Paul but he was not a braggart and this isn’t what he was saying. 

Paul was highly educated and an extremely intelligent man; He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees but he did not rely on his training in bringing people to Christ Jesus; he said, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (6a), meaning Paul and his co-workers didn’t consider themselves sufficient for the great task of changing lives for Jesus Christ only the Lord is sufficient for such a great undertaking (Acts 16:14). 

Food For Thought

Too many people refuse to be used by God because they judge themselves to be “not yet ready” to be used by Him, but in a sense, we are never ready or worthy.  If we were, the sufficiency would be in ourselves, in our abilities and talents, and not from God.   Paul himself said, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:1).  When things got tough, Paul relied on God’s grace to see him through.  Paul knew that in himself he did not have what it took to be a competent apostle and spokesperson for the Lord but he did not rely on himself or his abilities; he relied on God:  Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God (2 Corinthians 1:21).  We all should thank God everyday that our Apostle Paul did not rely on his abilities or his strength but on God and the Holy Spirit to see him through each and every day to the next (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Permit me to close this lesson with these uplifting words from a spiritual leader of olde:

“Brethren, if Paul is not sufficient of himself, what are you and I?  Do you indulge the dream of self-sufficiency?  Be ashamed of your folly in the presence of a great man who knew what he said, and who spoke under the direction of the Spirit of God, and wrote deliberately, ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves…’”  “Our sufficiency is of God; let us practically enjoy this truth.  We are poor, leaking vessels, and the only way for us to keep full is to put our pitcher under the perpetual flow of boundless grace.  Then, despite its leakage, the cup will always be full to the brim.”  Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

(To be continued)

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