Agents of Grace

Agents of Grace
Robert Wurtz II

For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.
(2 Corinthians 7:5–6 NKJV)

There are times when it seems that trouble is a relentless stalker of the saints. Paul encountered it on every side; from the “beasts” at Ephesus (As he called them. People who were bent on destroying the work of God); to carnal believers who left  the Corinthian church in a terrible state. Indeed, Satan was waging war on the two fronts of body and mind. The accumulated impact was tremendous. 

Paul used the plural pronouns “we,” “our,” and “us” indicating it was affecting him and the saints who were with him. They were “downcast” — a word that in the Greek (tapeinosmeans to be depressed or brought low because of grief or circumstances. It could be translated as “humiliated” since the verb form of the word means to exploit, oppress, or to break the spirit of a person. (TDNT) 

We generally think of Paul as a giant of a man who never had any weaknesses. What then do we do with these sobering words, “Our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.” Later in the epistle he adds, Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” (2 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV) For those who think of Paul as a biblical super-hero these passages are a bit disillusioning. Paul felt fear and he felt indignation. There is no sin in these emotions in their proper context. 

God Sees 

It’s easy to think of God as one who looks on in heaven observing all of our sins and mistakes. However, God is a compassionate Father who is watching us bowed down under the load of difficult times. He runs to the cry of His beloved children. Sometimes through a spiritual touch, sometimes through a special word from Him, and other times in the form of a faithful fellow believer. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.

Agents of Grace

Sometimes we need an inward touch. Sometimes we need a fresh word from God. Yet in particularly difficult times we often need that human touch… a person who comes to us, as the old-timers used to say, “on business for the King.” God’s ambassadors clothed in flesh and blood. God had seen Paul and his friends’ situation and circumstances from eternity past and arranged events in such a way that comfort came at the appointed time. Praise God. Bless His holy name. Just when we may be at a breaking point God graces us with a brother or sister in the Lord. Paul recognized the coming of Titus — not as a coincidence — but as Divine providence. No doubt his heart was lifted at the sight of this dear brother… knowing that he didn’t just show up, but had been sent. What an awesome thing to consider and appreciate in the moment.  


Started in the Spirit (Begin in the Spirit)

Started in the Spirit
Robert Wurtz II

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3 KJV)

In the winter months in the central United States we have our fair share of cold weather. Many places are colder, but we still endure temperatures that can make life challenging. One of those challenges is the simple process of starting an automobile. Generally a car is “started” by rotating the ignition key to the start position and when it starts the key is released and a spring rotates it back to its default position. Other cars have a either a push button or toggle type switch that is pressed until the car starts and then it is released. 

With this in mind I would like to draw a simple analogy from our passage that says, “…having begun in the Spirit.” All analogies break down at some point so we have to be careful how we use them. However, I just want to draw an illustration to help understand “starting.” First, the Galatian letter was written to people who had truly received the Holy Spirit. If you were to ask them, as Paul did the Ephesians, “Did you receive when you believed?” they would have answered “yes.” They would not have given proof-texts or anything like that. They would have answered according to their conscience experience. Secondly, Paul remind them that they have begun in the Spirit. This word suggests the start of their Christian life. This does not mean that they “began” when the Spirit came. They already existed long before that. It means that they started in the Spirit, whereas before they had been in the flesh (carnality and sin). 

By way of analogy, we can see in a sense how this plays out. When I go to start my automobile I switch it to turn the engine over. A small electric motor rotates the engine so it will fire and start running. If the engine does not start right away there is generally a reason why. Some people, especially in the winter months, turn their car over until the battery runs down because it does not start. Nevertheless, if the engine does not start, the button defaults back to the run position. It is dead. Unless your engine has started, the default state is “dead.” However, if the engine does start, then it defaults back to the run position and keeps running. The whole process is determined by whether or not the engine has started. 

Nobody ever yet held down the start button and then attempted to put the car in gear and take off. If they did, they would not get far. And nobody ever yet tried to help the engine out by turning it to the start position after it was already running. Likewise, if a person does not “start” in the Spirit, they will default back to “dead” in trespasses and sins. In the automotive world we call this a “no start.” There is a reason why they did not “start” in the Spirit. The best thing to do is go to God and have Him raise the hood and point out the problem. He will even fix it if we let him. The trouble is that most people refuse to raise the hood so God can get in there and do the work. When He does get in there they refuse to agree with Him concerning the problem. Hence, they keep running the battery down trying to start. Some even go to meeting to get a “jump start” and still can’t get started. Why? There is a problem under the hood and they refuse to have it fixed. In the words of Jesus… For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:20–21 ESV)

God is the ultimate mechanic. He can fix anything if we will allow Him. But we got to let Him under the hood. We have to believe the diagnosis and then approve the repairs. Best of all it’s free. The tow, diagnosis, and repair… no charge. The only thing you will be giving up is the old dead life. 

A Living Picture of Grace (Aphesis and Paresis)

A Living Picture of Grace
Robert Wurtz II

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:16-17)

It has been said that Paul was God’s representative of His long-suffering to a high-handed transgressor. Not that he had committed more sins than any other, but his sins were of a degree that placed him atop the list. If there had ever been a man who provoked God to wrath, it was Saul of Tarsus. In Galatians 1:13, Paul acknowledged God’s estimate of him in Acts 9:23 saying, “I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and wasted it.” 

This man was making a career out of persecuting the Church. Our verb tense shows continuous action; that is, He was relentlessly having people killed and compelling them to blaspheme Christ. Our word for “beyond measure” in Greek is huperbole, from which we get our word hyperbole. In other words, Saul moved in an exaggerated form of persecution. While in its infancy, he mercilessly attacked the Church and did everything in his power to snuff it out. This is a faithful account of the facts — worthy of all acceptance. 

Our Greek word makrothumia, translated as “long suffering” is very strong. In fact, the word thumos is an emotion stronger than anger.

“Thumos is a tumultuous welling up of the whole spirit, a mighty emotion which seizes and moves the whole inner man. The restraint implied in makrothumia is more correctly expressed by long-suffering. It is a patient holding out under trial, a long-protracted restraint of the soul from yielding to passion, especially that of anger.” (Weust)

God’s mercy towards Saul was not only a demonstration of His mercy in terms of forgiving a person of their sins, but of the restraining force He was moving in that was more powerful than Saul’s zeal to destroy the Church. In other words, God was moving in an exaggerated form of long-suffering as He looked over Saul acting out. Where sin was abounding — grace was super abounding. 

Given “Time” To Repent

Some might say, “Well, if God is righteous and just, why did He not strike Saul dead?” This question has a two-part answer. First, there are two primary Greek words for our English word forgiveness; aphesis and paresis. R.C. Trench gives this comment:

“These two words aphesis and paresis agree in that whether the one or the other occurs to you, no reckoning of your sins is made; they differ in that when the former is given, you never pay the penalty for your deeds, but when the latter is granted, you suffer no punishment for your deeds as long as he who has the right of chastising your transgressions decides to leave them unpunished.” 

If God were to judge people for their sins the moment they sinned, there would be no one left to save. Paul deals with this in Romans 3:25. It’s not that God is not just; it’s that His forbearance (long suffering) is giving people time to repent. This is what Paul told the people at Mar’s Hill: 

These times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31 NKJV)

Notice the word ignorance in our passage. It denotes people who simply do not know better. They were blinded because of their love of darkness (John 3:1ff); by the god of this present evil world (2 Corinthians 4:4); and by God Himself (John 12:40). Theologians refer to this technically as the noetic effects of sin.  

Paul was moving in ignorance as well. He explained this in 1 Timothy 1:13 when he wrote, “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” This verse implies that Saul simply did not believe the claims of the Saints. This is not necessarily an obstinance in the face of the facts, but a genuine ignorance of who Christ truly is. This problem was solved on the road to Demascus. Had Saul continued to persecute after that event, his sin would no longer have been in ignorance, but would have been willfull. How we respond to Christ when He reveals Himself to us is the key. 

An End To His Blindness 

Paul was a living example of how the veil of blindness that is over the heart of many Jews is removed. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:15–16 NKJV) When Saul finally “turned” to the Lord, as a consequence of the revelation of Jesus Christ on the road to Demascus, he fulfilled the requirements of Acts 3:19. He was also given the commission of duplicating that experience in the lives of others. 

For I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:16–18 KJV)

Paul (Saul) was to testify of his experience at Damascus as well as other experiences he would eventually have. This was to bring about the same effect in the people who heard the testimony as it did in him when he experienced it. A witness is a person who has seen something they can testify about. When the Holy Spirit anointed him to tell his experience, the people had Christ set forth before their eyes. If the people respond rightly their eyes will be opened and they will turn in repentance and faith. If not, they will be hardened all the more. Paul gives the progression in Acts 28:27:

For the heart of this people is grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn and I should heal them.

Wrong Response

1. Harden the heart (towards God)

2. Refuse to hear (the witness)
3. Close the eyes (to the revelation)

Right Response

1. See 

2. Hear
3. Understand
4. Turn
5. Be healed  

God’s Long Suffering

There are people in the world who hear the Gospel and struggle to believe that God could ever forgive their sins. God set forth Paul as an example of His willingness to save even the vilest of people. He has tolerated and overlooked a lot of sin as proof that He is, in fact,  a loving and long suffering God. He sets on a throne of mercy — with rainbow round about. However, the day will come when the colors merge into a searching brilliant white, and the throne will be one of justice and judgment. If every transgression and disobedience are given a just repayment, how will we escape if we neglect so great of salvation? (Hebrews 2:1)   

Paul could have easily said, “while I was yet the Chief of sinners, Christ died for me.” He turned from his former life and received eternal life. This is the force of Calvary. Nevertheless, everyone who hears Paul’s testimony must likewise “see; hear; understand; turn; and he healed.” God has demonstrated His long suffering, but it will not go on forever. 

These times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. (Acts 17:30)

A Priceless Mind

A Priceless Mind
Robert Wurtz II

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

It is sobering to think that Paul penned these words from an ancient jail cell. Understand that jail in the first century was far removed from modern times. In fact, the jail Paul wrote from would likely not have passed muster with the Geneva Convention. We treat animals better than Paul was treated. The cruelty and torture Paul experienced during his ministry is legendary. In an age where even the most vile criminal has rights; Paul  endured treatment more in step with a WWII POW camp. It is from this context that he offered us precious insight into the state of mind necessary to think rightly about ourselves and our life situations. 

It is one thing to be humbled; it is quite another thing to humble  ourselves. The one is forced upon a person; the other is done willingly and deliberately. No man humbled Jesus Christ; He humbled Himself. Paul is able to   contrast this fact with the situation he was in. Someone else chose Paul’s humiliating circumstances; Jesus chose to humble  Himself on His own terms. He condescended to man’s estate — from King of kings to Servant of servants. That is a mighty deep step. This is our example. 

At some point in the eternal past, many of the angels began following the Creation’s first politician. Indeed, Satan had unparalleled ambition. That’s where most men and women get theirs from. He wanted to ascend into Heaven and ascend to the throne. He wanted to be “like” the Most High  God. He had it all planned out. He was going to be like God. Really? Obviously, certain of the Angels, affected by his contagious, sin-diseased mind, had some serious misconceptions about God. Satan wanted the power and the glory, but not the mentality. Perhaps this is one of the reasons God has been using the Church to teach Principalities and Powers the manifold wisdom of God. They don’t know God like they need to. Heaven doesn’t provide the setting for God to demonstrate who He really is — but earth, with all of its fallen ness and suffering, is the perfect place. Indeed, it was the stage for the ages; not to perform as some play actor — but to put on a demonstration of godliness that will last for all times. 

God said, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness.” Satan knew God’s plan. He apparently thought that if he could change the image of man, he was changing the image of God. He was trying to redefine God, exactly like he planned. This hijacking of the image of God in man has been one of the primary works of the Devil. In fact, for thousands of years, he influenced man to make gods in his own image. That is to say,    after his own lusts. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ came to correct the image of man so it would once again reflect the image of God. Amen. 

When I read of Christ’s mentality in Philippians 2:5-8, I think to myself, God could safely hand the reigns of the universe over to such a person and never fear tyranny. Moses was a type of Jesus Christ. It was said of him that he was the meekest man on earth. A meek person will never abuse their authority, power, or ability. That is what separates them from everyone else. A meek leader will not view their powers as “a thing to be grasped.” That is, to grasp after and clinch once they have acquired it. Many men and women have abused their powers over the centuries. This is one of the greatest evidence’s of the mind of Satan being in men. When they get power, they abuse it. In fact, give a man or woman power and authority, and you will find out who they really are. 

The Devil’s Fear

If the Devil could have nightmares, they would involve armies of humans with lowliness of mind. Why? Because humility is one attribute that God will always respond to. In fact, God pours resources without number (grace), on people who serve the Lord and could not care less   if they were ever seen or noticed. People who have a right estimate of themselves are a battle ax against evil principalities and powers in the hand of God. Not false humility, but the mind of Christ manifest in the minds of men. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. This is not automatic; it  is something we must deliberately do — as surely as Jesus deliberately emptied Himself; put on robes of human flesh; and served with a towel draped around about, we must be also humble   ourselves. 

Paul stated on two occasions in his epistles (Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 2:3), that we are to walk in lowliness of mind. Trench says of this word (tapeinophrosune): “The Christian lowliness is no mere modesty or absence of pretension, nor yet a self-made grace. The making of ourselves small is pride in the disguise of humility. But the esteeming of ourselves small, inasmuch as we really are so, the thinking truly, and because truly, therefore, lowlily of ourselves.” In other words, we are small, so we need to recognize that fact. All things considered, we are nothing in ourselves. We can’t even stand or walk without grace. That’s not a figure of speech or a cliché; it is reality. 

It has been said that pride is the only sin of which the Devil will not make us feel guilty. This is very challenging. Another place the Greek word for lowliness was used is found in an early secular manuscript of the Nile River at its low stage, “It runs low.“ This is a powerful picture. Our estimate of ourselves needs to “run low” and realize that if we are anything at all it is the consequence of rain from Heaven. Expositors defines the word, “The lowliness of mind, which springs from a true estimate of ourselves — a deep sense of our own moral smallness, and demerit.” (quoted in Weust)     We are to have the mind of Christ in the genuine article as the antidote for pride. 

The Devil is still at work in the 21st century to corrupt the image of God in man. He even works to corrupt the saints. Nevertheless, Paul has written to us by the Spirit to have the mind of Christ. Many are deluded into thinking that God will be pleased with us in the same way the world exalts its heroes. Nothing could be farther than the truth. The world promotes attitudes and dispositions that God detests. Perhaps we could close this entry with the words of Peter — that though written specifically to women, apply to men as well in this regard.  

But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:4). 

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