When Truth is Out of Season

When Truth is Out of Season
Robert Wurtz II

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2–5 NKJV)


Paul is writing to encourage Timothy, who traveled to Ephesus to help out in the oversight of the church. In Acts 20, Paul had ended his three-year stay — warning the people day and night with tears that grievous wolves were coming to destroy them. Nevertheless, as he was departing for the last time, he commended the leaders to God and the word of His grace so that their faith and hope would be in God and not in men. At some point, Paul sends Timothy to tend to them and later writes 1 and 2 Timothy to fortify his resolve to stand for the truth. 


Towards the end of his letter Paul charges Timothy to Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” This urgency is reminiscent of the tears he shed while he was at Ephesus. There was no time to let up or tone things down. The enemy was at work day and night trying to knock Ephesus off track. Paul urges Timothy to be ready “in” and “out” of season. He had already told the saints that the Old Testament, in one sense, was written for our instruction so that we do not follow some of the destructive patterns of Israel. They were up and down in their faith and obedience. Therefore, Paul tells Timothy to be ready to preach The Word — whether the people were willing to receive it or not. This was the attitude of the prophets of old who served as God’s prosecuting attorneys — calling the Israelites back to the covenant agreement they had made with Him and the nations to turn from their evil ways. 


The Time Will Come 


It is a mystery as to why sound doctrine, at various times and places, goes out of style. It is understandable why unbelievers reject it, but why would people who name the name of Christ? Nevertheless, Paul said emphatically, the time will come. “Out of season” (for sound doctrine) will be the state of things. He encourages Timothy to preach the word. This is in the emphatic; not “a” word but “The” Word. Preach the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Do not alter it to their taste or preferences. Preach it as it is — unadulterated. This implies tremendous preparation in rightly dividing the word of truth. 


The tendency for teachers and preachers during these “out of season” times is to get discouraged, aggravated, or both. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah would weep over the people. Elijah called fire down from heaven. However, the operation of the Holy Spirit in this age is one of grace and mercy. Frustration may have driven the disciples to want to follow Elijah’s method and call fire down on the Samaritans, but Jesus said we are not of that spirit. Likewise, some may resort to angry preaching that denounces and upbraids, but loud volume and harshness does not work the works of God in this age. 


Paul states that they will “not endure sound doctrine.” The Greek word for endure means “to put up with.” I recall as a child hearing my grandmother say things like, “I’m not going to put up with your bad behavior” or “Stop acting out because I won’t put up with it!” Now, imagine a person’s inward attitude towards sound teaching and preaching as “I won’t put up with it! ” They view even the slightest challenge to their personal caricature of Christianity as an offense or a berating. These things are employed by Satan to get the man or woman of God to keep quiet and hold their tongue for fear of causing a stir. Paul’s remedy? Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. In other words, keep after it and don’t allow the peoples’ obstinacy and indifference to wear you out. 

Tickling Ears


Clement of Alexandria tells of speakers tickling (kneœthontes) the ears of those who want to be tickled. This is the temptation of the merely “popular” preacher, to furnish the latest tickle. (A. T. Robertson) In modern times we would say the speaker, like a salesman or politician, tells people what they want to hear. The one sells products; the other sells themselves. To do this they have to appeal to the lusts of the hearer. Marvin Vincent writes, “In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”


Walk into any bookstore and look around. There you will find a snapshot of the condition of mainstream Christianity. This is one of the places people go to “heap to themselves.” Likewise, look at the ratings of Christian programming and you will find what Vincent called “the demand that creates the supply.” Seeing this can be a great discouragement to people who are trying to be faithful to New Covenant truth. Paul could see through the prophetic lens these times vexing God’s ministers. None of it takes God by surprise. Paul sees it and speaks to it. This is why his encouragement in 2 Timothy 4 is so important. 

In modern times, God’s ministers risk being wearied by the onslaught of teachers who are telling people what they want to hear — rather than teaching them the rightly divided word of God. They are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, there is still a demand for good, solid, biblical, no-compromise, teaching and preaching. The Devil says, “If you can’t beat them — join them!” God says, Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 







Perfunctory Preparation and Performance (October, 2011)

Perfunctory Preparation and Performance
Originally Published in October, 2011. 
Robert Wurtz II


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John 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.


John 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.


This conversation with Peter was, in effect, a restoration. Jesus begins asking, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? This is a gentle rebuke for his having suggested that he loved the Lord more than the rest of the disciples. He then turns and states, in effect, if you really love me like you have said, prove it by feeding my lambs. This is an amazing revelation into the very center of the heart of God. The Lord was giving Peter a charge to keep. It would be the greatest responsibility of all. If he fails here he will prove he did not really love the Lord like he claimed. It will come down primarily to this one thing. Jesus had fed Peter with words that were spirit; now He is leaving this earth, and it’s Peter’s turn to feed His lambs. 



A Parting Charge from Christ


Our passage is frequently expounded to emphasize the use of two Greek words for love (agapao and phileo) as they change in the original text of the conversation. Nevertheless, I wish in this entry to examine a commonly overlooked emphasis on the part of our Lord. You will notice in the KJV that the word ‘feed’ is used three times. In the original Greek we have Βόσκε (bosky, feed) in verse 15 and 17 and Ποίμαινε (poimanate, tend) sandwiched in the middle in verse 16. The KJV obliterates the distinction here. The order is: feed my lambs; tend my sheep; and feed my sheep. But why? Was this just careless speech on the part of our Lord, or was He saying exactly what He meant? We know that there are no insignificant details in the scripture; however, this conversation with its shifting back from “feed” to “tend” to “feed” has puzzled many expositors over the years. We read in Trench: 


In Dean Stanley’s, Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, p. 138, the answer is suggested. The lesson, in fact, which we learn from this is a most important one, and one which the Church, and all that bear rule in the Church, have need diligently to lay to heart; this namely, that whatever else of discipline and rule may be superadded thereto, still, the feeding of the flock, the finding for them of spiritual food, is the first and last; nothing else will supply the room of this, nor may be allowed to put this out of that foremost place which by right it should occupy. How often, in a false ecclesiastical system, the preaching of the Word loses its preeminence; the feeding (βόσκειν) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the “acting as shepherd” (ποιμαίνειν), which presently becomes no true shepherding, because it is not a feeding (βόσκειν) as well; but such a “shepherding” rather as God’s Word by the prophet Ezekiel has denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.)” (Richard C. Trench; Synonyms of the New Testament). 




The Priority of Feeding


In Ezekiel 34, God denounced the “shepherds” that refused to care properly for the flock of God. They were self-serving and fleecing the flock. They shirked their responsibilities, and as a result, the people were carried off by the enemy. God came down on them with a severe judgment, and required the flock of God at the shepherds hands. That is to say, He held the shepherds accountable for the loss of sheep. 

Ezekiel 34 ought to sober even the most hardened of preachers and teachers. This abuse of the flock by the shepherds would be embedded in the psyche of all the Jews. It was a common theme that even Jesus would take up. God had given the shepherds clear responsibilities, and they had sorely abused them unto their own destruction. This is a lesson worthy of note and shines forth again in the New Testament: My brethren, be not many  masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (James 3:1) The text is in the imperative, “Do not, so many of you, become teachers because you know we will receive a greater sentence in the judgment. “ How many teachers and preachers take that seriously? If a man will give an account for every idle word they speak on the day of judgment, what do you suppose will be the fate of those who have spoken for God recklessly? 



A Wake Up Call

An elderly minister (age late 70’s early 80’s) came to speak to our local assembly one Tuesday evening, as he had done many times, about his prison ministry. He was an aging giant of a man with a solid head of white. His hearing was almost gone. I cannot recall the text he spoke from — nor the contents of any of his previous messages. However, I shall not soon forget how he told of a dream he recently had. It happens that the Holy Spirit had spoken strongly and certainly to him in the night these words, “I am tired of your perfunctory ways.” The minister stated that he had to go find a dictionary to look that word up, because he did not know the meaning. What did he find? 



Perfunctory |pərˈfəNGk tərē| adjective (of an action or gesture) Carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection: he gave a perfunctory nod. Done merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and as a thing done mechanically; done in a careless and superficial manner; characterized by indifference; as, perfunctory admonitions.



Perfunctory Admonitions


The minister had no reason to lie and tell on himself. I doubt a man could make such a thing up. I could tell by the way he told the story that he was dead serious. He was troubled by the dream and wanted to pass on what God had said. Here is a dear man in his late 70’s to early 80’s still being expected of God to shepherd the people in his care with concern and excellence. 

Again James writes, Many teachers become not, my brethren, having known that greater judgment we shall receive. (James 3:1 YLT) God loved this minister enough to bring his actions to his attention so he could change. A minister may be tempted to just “coast along” in his old age as if God don’t mind, or as if God understands that he is tired and worn out from years on the trail. Not so for this minister; he still had plenty of life left in him and was fully able to discharge his duties. Those who teach/preach the word of God are going to be judged with a greater judgment. Again we read in Ezekiel, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezekiel 34:2)






Feeding Themselves

I have marveled at times as I would reflect on the “Perfunctory Ways” dream as I have come to remember it. I do not say this as a criticism at all, I merely want to demonstrate a point here. The purpose of his coming was to raise funds, and rightly so, for his ongoing ministry. Ministers should live of the Gospel. This is God’s design. Ministers are not to demand their rights to payment; but rather, the churches are to insure that the ministers’ right to support is Biblically upheld to the best of their ability. What did Paul say?

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV)


Double honor is generally understood to mean double wages. It is of the Lord that “the Ox who treads out the corn also partake of that corn.” Nevertheless, if a person is going to receive wages, they ought to be upholding their end of the deal — tending and feeding the flock of God. The pattern given to Peter was feed, tend, and feed some more. Surely, God does not long pay for perfunctory feeding. This brother had been warned of God in a dream that God’s estimate of his service in ministry was that it was “perfunctory.” Nevertheless, he still desired wages for his services. Obviously, he did not realize this was happening and God pointed it out. He mended his ways and went back to faithfully discharging his ministry. Nevertheless, what about others? What about men who go on taking a perfunctory course in ministry? 


Dean Stanley (1815-1881), former Dean of Westminster, made some comments along these lines that are worthy of note; “How often, in a worldly ecclesiastical system, does the preaching of the Word lose its preeminence; the βόσκειν (feeding) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the ποιμαίνειν (service), which presently becomes no true ποιμαίνειν (service), because it is not a βόσκειν (feeding). Understand that today the emphasis is often on everything but feeding the flock of God. It is on building programs, administration, singing, etc. The enemy seems to have no small list of chores he can enlist a minister to do in the place of preparation for feeding the sheep. 

Again, neglecting God’s Word is what the prophet Ezekiel denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.) Understand that real study is real work. If a man is successful at feeding the sheep, it is because of the great amount of laboring in the word that he is willing to do. A man may perfunctorily preach and teach, and it be little effort, but not if a man obeys God and executes the responsibility biblically. It is a tremendous effort. It is the most important thing — even more important than visiting the sheep. In fact, the same Peter that took the charge to feed the flock of God in John 21:15-17, also said this, It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. (Acts 6:2)  We could fill in the “serve tables” with any other lesser thing ____________. The Devil would do almost anything to marginalize the importance of feeding the flock of God that is among them.


Able and Willing to Teach


The overseer then must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2) and again, And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, able to teach, patient (2 Timothy 2:24). Before a man ever takes up the responsibility of elder or minister they ought to observe this one qualification. God is going to hold ministers accountable. He is not looking for administrators, but feeders of His sheep. 

The job of a minister is primarily to feed the flock of God. The job of the sheep is to support the minister. God expects everyone to do their part for the successof His churches. Notice our passage does not say to feed on the flock; that is to say, they are not to be made objects of greed; but rather, we as ministers are ordained to live “of the milk” of the flock (1 Corinthians 9:7). It is a reciprocal relationship. What did Peter go on to say? Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2,3) Our word for feed here should be translated “tend” the flock of which feeding is the primary part. 



Perfunctory Preparation 


A certain substitute teacher commented to her class that it was easy to sit for 45 minutes in front of the kids, but that her real responsibility was to sit in teachers meetings. The veteran teacher looked on and smiled as if to say, “Madam, you sure have a lot to learn!” In time the substitute would have to backtrack on the comments once she got settled in and realized that teaching full time, five days a week, was not the same as being a substitute that was called in a few times per month. Her distorted view of reality proved she had not rightly considered what she had signed up for. Her words gave her away. 

Jesus once told the disciples, For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:28) So it is with ministry. Jesus charged Peter primarily with feeding the flock; that is the primary effort employed in the building of a tower (as it were). It is serious business; life and death serious. It takes many hours of preparation to move from the perfunctory to the satisfactory. 



Summary


If you don’t like to study, you definitely have not been called to the ministry. If you think that preaching and teaching can be done with minimal effort, with little reflection, merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and unthinkingly; done in a careless and superficial manner, then you are on your way to being a perfunctory preacher and in the end will receive a greater judgment (sentence). God will not have it. 

A child may run the vacuum cleaner over the carpet three or four strokes, roll up the cord, put it back in the closet, and then tell mother he is finished; but that kind of perfunctory work is not fit in the Kingdom of God. Imagine the child boasting to his friends how easy it is to vacuum, while they look on in amazement because they vacuum their parents house rightly. Amazing! 


We don’t preach and teach just to discharge the duty. It is a high calling. It is to be taken as seriously as if you held a loaded gun on the people. God expects his servants to prepare and seek His face. He expects us to rightly divide the word of Truth. This takes time and energy. It takes serious reflection. It takes getting alone for hours at a time to prepare. It takes a close walk with the Lord. This is why God commanded that they that minister and labor in the word are to be supported. 


The old timers used to say that the minister carried a burden for the people. The messages they prepared were often tear-stained as they wrestled with God for a word for the sheep. The reckless shepherd leaves the sheep in weakness and frailty. Like so many of our hymns and choruses — so also the sermons. Prosperity, positive confession, and a host of other foolish doctrines masquerades as preaching today. Is that food worthy of God’s flock? Does it edify the people? God is going to hold the teachers and preachers accountable. For this cause may we that labor in the word; count the cost; and endeavor to move well beyond the perfunctory — until we can preach and hear, “well done thy good and faithful servant.”

How Shall They Hear?

How Shall They Hear?
Robert Wurtz II

For “WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF PEACE, WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” (Romans 10:13-16 NKJV)

I have quoted this passage at length in order to focus on the importance of “hearing” the Gospel. Certainly, there is a sense in which all people everywhere ought to know that there is a Creator. We know that the world is filled with people that should acknowledge the light that they have, but they suppress it. In fact, God has written His laws in the hearts of men and women, so that from birth, we all have a basic sense of right from wrong. Nevertheless, unless people are challenged in some way they will go on suppressing these realities. Paul reminds us that some are so hardened in heart that they do it and approve of others that do it as well. How will they hear? God’s method of challenging these sinners is through what Paul called, “the foolishness of preaching.” Not that preaching is foolish, but rather people (especially those who consider themselves educated) often view preaching as a foolish thing to do. Nevertheless, this is God’s method. 

Unless They Are Sent 

It stands to reason that there are realities that must be true before a person can be sent to preach. Saul of Tarsus is an example. Until his Demascus Road experience, he was not qualified- nor did he desire to preach the Gospel. In fact, he was at odds with God’s revealed Gospel in mind and in practice. To a lesser or greater degree, all unbelievers (the unregenerate) are in a state of disagreement with God when it comes to the Gospel. Saul went so far as to persecute those who believed and would have stamped out the preaching of the Gospel if he could have. However, when Saul was converted and became (as it were) Paul (as a new creation in Christ) he satisfied the first requirement for preaching the Gospel. 

Until Paul was truly born of the Spirit he was not in agreement with God from the heart and could never preach the Gospel. This is because the carnal mind is at enmity with God and cannot be made subject to His law. Bear in mind that I am speaking of the Gospel as it is known in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament and not the post-tent crusade, man-centered gospel as it has been known now for roughly a century. The unregenerate can preach the “modern gospel,” but they could never preach the Gospel of the book of Acts. So we have to make the distinction between the preacher of the modern gospel and the Preacher that Paul is speaking of when he says, And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”

The “Report”

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” (Romans 10:16)

Paul, referencing Isaiah, calls the Gospel message “our report.” The first aspect of the message is the revelation of the sinfulness of all men and women. This is argued extensively in the early chapters of Romans and was preached regularly in the book of Acts. It typically produced one of two responses: anger or trembling. When Stephen preached, the people got angry and stoned him. When Paul preached to Felix, he trembled. Paul heard Stephen’s message and later repented. We have no record of Felix repenting. So we see then that it is not enough to tremble at the notion that we have offended God and are accountable to him in the great Judgment. We have to repent (change our mind) and turn to Christ. We have to agree with what God has said about our sinful behavior and our sinful condition. 

Roman’s 10:16 equates obedience with believing the report (message). If a person does not believe they will not obey. This is an act of the will- not a matter of being convinced. God Himself has shown man the truth. Many people have received far more “light” than they should have ever needed to believe, but they go on in disobedience. The religious leaders even saw Lazarus raised from the dead; and rather than believing- they sought to kill him again. Amazing. But this is how obstinate man can be. This is how hostile to the truth of the Gospel some people are. 

A God and A Gospel that Sinners Will Accept  

 Israel was loaded with false prophets that told the people what they wanted to hear. How could these wolves in sheep clothing ever bring Israel to a place of repentance? They were too busy telling the people about peace and safety. The same is true today. Men and women have fabricated a “god” that will accept their sinfulness and be available at their beckon call. Grace has become a synonym for license to sin. Some people will go to their grave worshiping this god- because the process answers their inward need to worship their Creator. It is a placebo. It is false. 

Paul was greatly challenged by Jews that believed they were the elect and could not possibly be at enmity with God. They saw no need to repent under the deceptive religion they believed. We get the impression in Romans that many believed themselves above the common people because they were teachers of the law and of “babes.” In their mind this made them exempt from the very things they taught. They were born and raised Jews and therefore were God’s people by divine right. Paul thoroughly challenged this belief. 

In modern times we have a similar dilemma. Many people are born into Christian homes, and like the Jews, believe that this is what makes them a Christian. They would never admit this, but we have to account for the fact that historically the many children of true Christians are likely to have never undergone a true conversion experience. The Puritans experienced this in the 16th and 17th century in America and had to make compromises in church procedures to accommodate them within the churches. Paul would have challenged these peoples’ assurance-just as John the Baptist had done. God is able of stones to raise up children in Christian homes; nevertheless, this does not make the person a true child of God. 

We can train up a child in a way he or she should go, but this does not make them believers. This was Paul’s message in Romans. We all, no matter our upbringing, have to come to a place of Godly sorrow and true repentance. We have to acknowledge our sins just like everyone else. We have to repent of many of the sins that run rampant within churches and go completely unchallenged. In fact, we have to begin to see how many churches have established their rules of conduct in such a way that it allows children raised in church to fly under the radar. There are a lot more sins in the world than drunkenness and homosexuality (sexual immorality). Hypocrisy, greed, lying, gluttony, pride, and a host of other like things are often the very sins that answer to sinners rebellion. This is what the Pharisees and religious leaders (who thought they were elect) we often guilty of. When these go unchallenged-many people never see their sinfulness and therefore will never repent. Stephen was the type of preacher that could look at Saul (Paul) who was “blameless as touching the law,” and declare “you stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did – so do you.”

 How Shall They Hear?

If there is any question that I dwell on more than any other it is this, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Until we get some people truly born of the Spirit and called of God- there is no hope in our lands. We have “ministers” a dime a dozen- but where are the preachers like Paul and Stephen that will call the people to repent and believe the Gospel? How long must we go on wearying ourselves as did Israel with false prophet after false prophet? The only hope we have is for the preachers that are truly born again to preach the Gospel as it is supposed to be. Not ear-tickling, and not abusing the people, but ministering the “report.” I have no doubt that if men will do this God will back the words and we will begin to see real change in our lands.         

  

Paul’s Warning

Paul’s Warning About “They”
Robert Wurtz II

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2-5 KJV)

In our previous entry I entitled, The Power of Paul’s Preaching, I closed the entry by demonstrating that Paul continued to preach the message of repentance from sin and faith towards God to the very end. In fact, he passed a solemn charge to Timothy that he carry on the work in like manner. Paul inserts into this charge a prophecy about a type of people that he simply calls “they.” They are characterized by three things:

1. They will not endure sound doctrine; i.e., reproving, rebuking, and exhorting.
2. They will heap to themselves teachers that tickle their ears and fuel their lusts.
3. They will refuse to hear the truth, but will turn to fables (stories and myths).

This prophecy is given as a future reality as the verbs are future tense. It is certain that Timothy could expect at some point to have to deal with “they”. I suggest that “they” would arise as a consequence of Paul being dead. This is akin to the warning Paul gave to the Ephesians that after his departure wolves would enter in, not sparing the sheep. In the absence of sound preaching, the lusts of men and women come to the fore and a band of so-called ministers rise to feed them. 

After Their Own Lusts

Markets are driven by demand. This is true in all walks of life. When demand for something dries up- the supply chain for it dries up. Flow is created by pressure; and in this case the pressure is lust. The Greek word for lust is the standard word for strong desire (epithumia). These people are not driven by God’s will or His word- but their own strong desires. Whereas the Kingdom of God is designed around God’s desires, these have traded God’s desires for their own desires. Nevertheless, they chose to remain in the churches. This creates a very serious challenge for preachers. Feed the peoples lusts; or preach for the glory of God?

Heaping to Themselves

The very fact that Paul told Timothy that “they” will heap teachers to themselves that tickle their ears- suggests that Timothy is going to be woefully outnumbered if he carries out Paul’s charge. It suggests that even in the first century there was a serious disparity between the number of true preachers and ear ticklers. “They” are able to vote out truth by majority. In other words, majority rules. “They” are deceived into thinking that the more people agree with their lusts the more likely “they” are to be right. Add to that the false idea that popularity equals authority and you have a recipe for wholesale deception.

In our times heaping can be done on an exponential basis. The television and Christian networks are loaded with speakers that have carved their niche in meeting the lusts of men. Simply put, they tell people what they want to hear. They almost never serve up news that would agitate their base. Therefore, their TV audience, radio listeners, and Internet mailing lists keep growing. Obviously not all are in this category, but clearly the majority are. In Timothy’s day “they” could heap a handful- today the sky is the limit with so much access to various speakers. 

An Encouragement to Timothy

Paul was telling Timothy what “they” were going to do and what their speakers were going to tell them. Fables. Falsehoods. Twisted notions. All sorts of things that distract them from the truth. Typically these notions seek to bless “they”, that is, the very people God is wanting reproved or rebuked. It means that Timothy would have to live with what Leonard Ravenhill called, “rejection.” Paul dealt with it too. even among professors of Christ. When Timothy got up to preach he could expect a house of reluctant hearers that seemed to merely endure his preaching; but then came the ear tickler and the house was full and the people anxious and attentive. He would have seen it and it would have grieved and vexed his soul. But then, we could expect, Paul’s words would come to mind.

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Almost as if Paul shot down all the arguments from the beginning. “They” are thronging the ear tickling preachers you say? ” But watch thou in all things. I know what “they” are doing but “thou” are to watch in all things. The word for “watch” here could be translated sober. “They” may be drunk on the elixir of this world and stagger at the lusts that are heaped up, but be thou sober in all things. “They” might be doing it, but you must not. You fill to the full your ministry and leave “they” and their speakers to God. No matter how insignificant you may think your contribution is- keep preaching the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
    
  

The Power of Paul’s Preaching

The Power of Paul’s Preaching
Robert Wurtz II

Moreover you see and hear, that not only at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger of ruin; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana will be despised, and her magnificence will be destroyed, whom all of Asia and the world worships. (Act 19:26-27)

Demetrius is expounding the effects of Paul’s preaching at Ephesus. He was hostile over it, and was trying to incite an uproar among the unbelievers. It is interesting to note that the Jews had long ago established a synagogue at Ephesus, and undoubtedly would have (at least in theory) detested idols and pagan practices; nevertheless, their presence had no meaningful effect as compared to Paul’s preaching. Ponder that fact for a moment. A synagogue in years was unable to do what one man had done in mere months. With this fact in mind I wish to consider the power of Paul’s preaching.

I have no doubt that one of the great needs in our times is to rediscover what exactly Paul preached. Men have come along and dissected his teaching, debated his doctrines, and distorted his message. What did the man preach? The Holy Spirit has gone to great lengths to make sure we put it all together, but somehow we have missed it in the main stream.

Benjamin Franklin one said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about.” Paul did both. In fact, he is without question one of the most famous men who ever lived. His writings are on the pages of the New Testament epistles, and his deeds are recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. Much of what we know of him is found in narratives such as our passage above. Other important information he provides in his letters. Taken together we find a man whose bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible; nevertheless, this Paul persuaded and turned away many people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God. 

Aiming At the Heart

The Lord Jesus talked about salt that had lost its savour as being effectively worthless. Salt that is ineffective is trod under foot. This is what was happening in Ephesus with the Synagogue. Here were people that knew God’s word, but they were not preaching it, or not preaching it effectively. Paul was different. His preaching had such an effect that he was nearly killed by angry mobs on numerous occasions. Understand that he was not trying to start a riot on these occasions, anybody can do that. All you have to do if spout off a bunch of reckless, inflammatory statements. This is not what Paul was doing. He was preaching repentance from sin, and that the people needed to bring forth proof of their repentance. He was opening the eyes of those who were blinded by the Devil- with a view to turning them from him and his ways. He reasoned with men and women, of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. As did Felix, many people would have trembled. Some may have even told Paul he was crazy as did Agrippa. Many, according to Demetrius, forsook their life of sin. Nevertheless, this was the effect of a man’s preaching (as the old timers would say) who aimed the word not over their heads; not at their feet, but directly at their hearts.

Effective Preaching

Paul understood something that we, must likewise understand, if we, the churches of God, are to ever be effective in ministry. We have to agree with the Holy Spirit in our preaching. If we do, He will back the words with conviction of sin. If we do not, He has little to go on but impressions He can make upon the conscience in other ways. God has ordained that people be changed by “the foolishness of preaching.” Why? Because even the weakest and most despised measures are able to affect change when the Holy Spirit is directly involved. Paul’s message matched the Holy Spirit’s mission; And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8) He has not come to give us goose bumps or esoteric feelings of a presence; He has come to convince, convict, reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. 

When Paul was before Festus, Felix, and Agrippa, he told these men exactly what he had been preaching since he was born again. He was on the road to Rome to die under Nero, but wanted the world to know, for all ages, what he preached. Luke recorded his words, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for our example and learning. I would encourage the reader to examine carefully Acts 18-28, especially his answers before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. There he spells it all out in black and white.


A Final Message


When Paul had gone before Nero and was about to be (by tradition) beheaded, he sent a final message to Timothy, who was also a leader at Ephesus. He wrote:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2Timothy 4:1-5)

Paul is passing his methodology (modus operandi) to Timothy. In fact, he is charging him before God to do it. Paul is saying, in effect, “Do what I do… preach like I preach… say the kind of things that I would say.” Why? Because that is what agrees with the mission of the Holy Spirit. Compare these passages, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine… and again…  And when He (Paracletos/Comforter/Holy Spirit) is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8) Here, the Spirit, the Word and Paul agree. He wants Timothy to agree as well, and carry on the pattern. Understand that these are Paul’s last words. This is his death bed confession. His words here, as I understand it, would be admissible in a court of law as evidence. He is telling us what is most dear to his heart- the most important thing.

 

  

Longing For Perfection

Longing For Perfection
Robert Wurtz II


Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1, 2 NKJV)

The writer to the Hebrews is bringing to bear all of the previous points he has made in chapter five in order to call believers along with himself to perfection. As was the situation then, so also today, many Christians tend to live a substandard Christian life that does not allow them to understand deep spiritual truths. They were not applying what they had learned of the elementary things and as a result were unable to comprehend in a figure “strong food.” Some actually backslid to the point that they had to be taught again. 

Longing

Lurking underneath of this phenomenon is a missing attitude that should exist in every true believer; a longing for perfection. He is saying, in effect, ” Let us go on to the stage of adults, not babes, able to masticate (chew) solid spiritual food.” (Robertson) This is the sense of the Greek word for perfection. However, within this spiritual adulthood is a desire for perfection of expression of the Christian life; that is, the person of Jesus. True believers long to express fully all the characteristics of Christ’s godly personality. We should never be comfortable falling short. 

Obstacles to Perfection

If you listen to many modern sermons and songs, you will quickly realize that the emphasis has moved away from what the writer to the Hebrews is calling for. Both sermons and songs often suggest that we are “sinking into an ocean of God’s grace.” This would be true if we were pouring the right meaning into the word “grace.” Understand that grace is more than God’s favorable attitude towards us, it is His divine enabling. James says, “He gives more grace…” What for? To enable us to function as right representations of Christ under any circumstances. This is more than God having a woolly feeling about us. Nevertheless, the sense of many of the opiate sermons and songs is that God loves us and were drowning in grace, so we need not concern ourselves about our conduct. We are numbed to the reality that God is calling us to perfection. 

Evidence of Wrong Emphasis

It seems that as time goes on many God-fearing ministers are calling for God to send a revival into our land. The trouble is that the call is going into the ears of multitudes who have no inward sense of God calling us to perfection. So the call gets spun into all kinds of weird concepts. Whereas revival in the 19th century was clearly understood to be a move of God to bring people out of sin, and into a state where they could grow up into Christ, since the 1950s there have been so-called healing revivals, Charismatic gift revivals, laughing revivals, prosperity revivals, worship revivals, biker-boot revivals, and a host of other nonsensical things. Why? Because at some point along the path, professors of Christ lost their sense of Christian perfection, and now the emphasis is on everything from physical healing to spiritual gifts. It’s almost as if God is appearing in the east, and His people are facing the west. They are looking in the wrong place for the wrong things and He is not going to bless it. 

Regaining the Desire for “Perfect” 

The writer to Hebrews calls all of us, along with himself, when he states, let us go on to perfection. This is a call to grow-up beyond the elementary things such as repentance, faith, baptism in water and receiving the Spirit. He is not saying that we should leave off preaching these things, but that as individuals, we need to grow beyond them and into spiritual adulthood. Every child has to be born and grow up into maturity, but it would not be normative to have a person stuck in infancy or childhood. This is the writer’s point. Just as you grew up as a person… grow up as a Christian. Growing up means that we are then able to understand and walk in the deeper truths of the New Covenant. 

I must make a notation here and say that if the foundation of repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, etc. is not laid, there is no way forward. We must come fully into the New Covenant. God is not the type of person that would allow someone with the mind of a five-year-old to get behind the wheel of a car or do some other important adult things. Spiritual immaturity is one of the greatest problems for the churches today. People are simply not growing up into perfection, and as a result it is like living within a society where grown men and women have the mentality, aptitude and priorities of children. The writer gives the solution, let us go on to perfection. This implies a choice on our part. Will we keep telling ourselves that we are “drowning in an ocean of grace” excusing our immaturity, or will we honor God’s heart and go on to perfection.  


The Birth of the Bible Belt

The Birth of the Bible Belt
An excerpt from “Televangelicalism” 
Robert Wurtz II
        
        As with the spread of the Gospel in the first century, so also the Second Great Awakening owes its spread, in part, to religious persecution. James McGready (1763-1817) was a powerful preacher in North Carolina calling sinners to repentance. He had experienced revival on a local level in three different places. The trouble was that the revival began to upset their monetary endeavors, and soon a people more interested in money than mercy had had their fill of him. The secular residents sought to persuade him nicely to leave, but when that failed they ransacked his church and left a letter written in blood[1]suggesting that he leave town. It was at this time that he decided to answer the call of God to go west with the settlers to what is now Kentucky. This move would mark the beginnings of what has come to be known as The Bible Belt.
         The revival minded McGready is credited with organizing what used to be called camp meetings. They were very similar to what George Whitefield and John Wesley had done in the previous century. McGready would send out a call to folks to get in their wagons or on their horses and travel to a large open area to hear the Gospel preached. Men would split logs and make them into pews for an outdoor church effect. Sometimes a brush arbor roof made of timbers and branches would be erected, one of which was reported to have provided cover for some 5000 people. The minister would ascend on to a tall platform and commence preaching at the top of his voice. John McGee describes his personal experience of attending a communion meeting at Cain Ridge: “We loved, and prayed, and preached together; and God was pleased to own and bless us and our labors. In the year 1799 we agreed to make a tour through the Barrens, toward Ohio, and concluded to attend a sacramental solemnity in the Rev. Mr. McGready’s congregation, on Red River, in our way. When we came there I was introduced by my brother, and received an invitation to address the congregation from the pulpit; and I know not that ever God favored me with more light and liberty than he did each day while I endeavored to convince the people they were sinners, and urged the necessity of repentance, and of a change from nature to grace, and held up to their view the greatness, freeness, and fullness of salvation, which was in Christ Jesus, for lost, guilty, condemned sinners. My brother and the Rev. Mr. Hodge preached with much animation and liberty. The people felt the force of truth, and tears ran down their cheeks; but all was silent until Monday, the last day of the feast. Mr. Hodge gave a useful discourse; an inter mission was given, and I was appointed to preach. While Mr. Hodge was preaching a woman in the east end of the house got an uncommon blessing, broke through order, and shouted for some time, and then sat down in silence. At the close of the sermon Messrs. Hodge, McGready, and Rankin west out of the house; my brother and myself sat still; the people seemed to have no disposition to leave their seats. My brother felt such a power come on him that he quit his seat and sat down on the floor of the pulpit (I suppose, not knowing what he did). A power which caused me to tremble was upon me. There was a solemn weeping all over the house. Having a wish to preach, I strove against my feelings; at length I rose up and told the people that I was appointed to preach, but there was a greater than I preaching, and exhorted them to let the Lord God Omnipotent reign in their hearts, and to submit to him, and their souls should live. Many broke silence; the woman in the east end of the house shouted tremendously. I left the pulpit to go to her, and as I went along through the people it was suggested to me, ” You know these people are much for order, they will not bear this confusion ; go back and be quiet.” I turned to go back, and was near falling. The power of God was strong upon me; I turned again, and losing sight of the fear of man, I went through the house shouting and exhorting with all possible ecstasy and energy, and the floor was soon covered with the slain. Their cries for mercy pierced the heavens, and mercy came down. Some found forgiveness, and many went away from that meeting feeling unutterable agonies of soul for redemption in the blood of Jesus. This was the beginning of that glorious revival of religion in this country which was so great a blessing to thousands; and from this meeting camp-meetings took their rise. One man, for want of horses for all his family to ride and attend the meeting, fixed up his wagon, in which he took them and his provisions, and lived on the ground throughout the meeting. He had left his worldly cares behind him, and had nothing to do but attend on divine service. The next meeting was a camp-meeting. A number of wagons loaded with people came together and camped on the ground, and the Lord was present and approved of their zeal by sealing a pardon to about forty souls. The next camp- meeting was on the Ridge, where there was an increase of people, and carriages of different descriptions, and a great many preachers of the Presbyterian and Methodist orders, and some of the Baptist — but the latter were generally opposed to the work. Preaching commenced, and the people prayed, and the power of God attended. The nights were truly awful. The camp-ground was well illuminated; the people were differently exercised — some exhorting, some shouting, some praying, and some crying for mercy, while others lay as dead men on the ground. At this meeting it was computed that one hundred souls were converted. But perhaps the greatest meeting we ever witnessed in this country took place shortly after, on Desha’s Creek, near Cumberland River. Many thousands of people at tended. The mighty power and mercy of God were manifested. The people fell before the word like corn before a storm of wind, and many rose from the dust with divine glory shining in their countenances, and gave glory to God in such strains as made the hearts of stubborn sinners to tremble; and after the first gust of praise, they would break forth in volleys of exhortation.”[2]

The Cane Ridge Outpouring

         The Cane Ridge outpouring (1801) was characterized by fellow men and women of God coming together for the cause of Christ. The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists united together in the work, meeting together, praying together, and preaching together. As the people would gather together from all over the countryside, scores of ministers from multiple denominations would be spread along the field preaching day and night on stumps to crowds in the thousands. This went on for several weeks. Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) gives an account of the meetings and his conversion at sixteen years old, “I have seen more than a hundred sinners fall like dead men under one powerful sermon[3], and I have seen and heard more than five hundred Christians all shouting aloud the nigh praises of God at once ; and I will venture to assert that many happy thousands were awakened and converted to God at these camp-meetings. Some sinners mocked, some of the old dry professors opposed, some of the old starched preachers preached against these exercises, but still the work went on and spread almost in every direction, gathering additional force, till our country seemed all coming home to God. To this meeting I repaired, a guilty, wretched sinner. On the Saturday evening of said meeting, I went, with weeping multitudes, and bowed before the stand, and earnestly prayed for mercy. In the midst of a solemn struggle of soul, an impression was made on my mind, as though a voice said to me, “Thy sins are all forgiven thee.” Divine light flashed all round me, unspeakable joy sprung up in my soul. I rose to my feet, opened my eyes, and it really seemed as if I was in heaven; the trees, the leaves on them, and everything seemed, and I really thought were, praising God. My mother raised the shout, my Christian friends crowded around me and joined me in praising God; and though I have been since then, in many instances, unfaithful, yet I have never, for one moment, doubted that the Lord did, then and there, forgive my sins and give me religion.[4]

The Enormity of Sins
Perhaps a more candid testimony was given by J.B. Finley who writes, “I had lived thoughtless and wicked, resolving and re-resolving upon mending my ways, but continuing the same, or, rather, growing worse and worse, till I arrived at the twentieth year of my age. About this time a great revival of religion broke out in the state of Kentucky. It was attended with such peculiar circumstances as to produce great alarm all over the country. It was reported that hundreds who attended the meetings were suddenly struck down, and would lie for hours and, sometimes, for days, unconscious; and that when they recovered and came out of that state, they would commence praising God for His pardoning mercy.” Finley had determined that although many others had fallen under the weight of their sins, he would not fall. He determined that he would not be emotionally driven or scared into religion. In this resolution he prided himself and headed to the meeting. Soon his mind was sobered and his resolute attitude began to waver. He described the setting: “We arrived upon the ground, and here a scene presented itself to my mind not only novel and unaccountable, but awful beyond description. A vast crowd, supposed by some to have amounted to twenty -five thousand, was collected together. The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time, some on stumps, others in wagons, and one — the Rev. William Burke — was standing on a tree which had, in falling, lodged against another. Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy in the most piteous accents, while others were shouting most vociferously. While witnessing these scenes, a peculiarly strange sensation, such as I had never felt before, came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lip quivered, and I felt as though I must fall to the ground. A strange supernatural power seemed to pervade the entire mass of mind there collected. I became so weak and powerless that I found it necessary to sit down. Soon after, I left and went into the woods, and there I strove to rally and man up my courage. I tried to philosophize in regard to these wonderful exhibitions, resolving them into mere sympathetic excitement — a kind of religious enthusiasm, inspired by songs and eloquent diatribes. My pride was wounded, for I had supposed that my mental and physical strength and vigor could most successfully resist these influences. After some time I returned to the scene of excitement, the waves of which, if possible, had risen still higher. The same awfulness of feeling came over me. I stepped up on to a log, where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity. The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least five hundred people swept down in a moment, as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens. My hair rose up on my head, my whole frame trembled, the blood ran cold in my veins, and I fled for the woods a second time, and wished I had staid at home. While I remained here my feelings became intense and insupportable. A sense of suffocation and blindness seemed to come over me, and I thought I was going to die.” Finley fled the scene again trying to escape the power of conviction that was after him. He felt that the pressure of his sins being brought to bear upon his heart and mind was so great, that he would die if he did not find relief. At last he went out into a field near his home and cried out to God so loudly, that the neighbors came out to see what was going on. Upon seeing him a Dutchman picked him up and carried him into the house and laid him on the bed. Finley recounts the story: “The old Dutch saint directed me to look right away to the Savior. He then kneeled at the bedside, and prayed for my salvation most fervently, in Dutch and broken English. He then rose and sung in the same manner, and continued singing and praying alternately till nine o’clock, when suddenly my load was gone, my guilt removed, and presently the direct witness from Heaven shone full upon my soul. Then there flowed such copious streams of love into the hitherto waste and desolate places of my soul, that 1 thought I should die with excess of joy. I cried, I laughed, I shouted, and so strangely did I appear to all but my Dutch brother, that they thought me deranged. After a time I returned to my companion, and we started on our journey. O what a day it was to my soul!”[5]


[1] Kenneth Keulman., Critical Moments in Religious History.  1994. P. 129
[2] Richard D. Dickenson., A History of Methodism.1885. P.490
[3] Peter Cartwright.,  The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher, Volume III., 1857. P.45
[4] William Francis Pringle Noble., 1776-1876, a Century of Gospel-work: A History of the Growth of Evangelical Religion in the United States. 1876. P.278 
[5] Ibid., Noble, P.282

Partakers of the Divine Nature

Partakers of the Divine Nature
Robert Wurtz II

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3, 4)

The late G.W. North once stated that, “It’s not preparation of the message- it’s preparation of the messenger.” When God got ready to begin this great building project known as the Church, He had to prepare His ministers. This preparation began with around three years of intensive training that we find recorded in the Gospels. Here the disciples learned what God is like by living with Him day and night. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. His teachings, His behavior, His disposition and attitude were all demonstrations of the personality of God. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, God spoke in various ways to the saints of old by the prophets, but now He is speaking directly by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). This means that Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard of what it means to be righteous, holy, godly, humble, meek, compassionate, merciful, benevolent and all other important qualities. He demonstrated, as His walk of life, how His disciples are to love righteousness and hate lawlessness. He is the living expression of what it means to walk in the Spirit. As the tree of life clothed in flesh and blood, He yielded the fruit of the Spirit in every circumstance. He taught the disciples by example to live by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). 

The Divine Nature 

They heard Him, they watched Him and they received from Him; but they were not yet ready for the great task at hand. Before Jesus ascended into heaven in the book of Acts, the disciples were instructed to wait on the promise of the Father. This promise was the baptism in the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist foretold and Paul the Apostle explained. Paul said in Ephesians that there is “one baptism,” and that baptism is when we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. John the Baptist was clear that Jesus would baptize not in water, but in the Holy Spirit and with fire. This great baptism in the Holy Spirit was initiated on the day of Pentecost after several week of preparation before the Lord. It was in an “upper room” that the Church was born- the Temple of God made without hands. It consisted of the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20) and the one hundred and twenty “living stones” that were present (1 Peter 2:5). Upon receiving this experience the one hundred and twenty were finally qualified to be witnesses unto Christ (Acts 1:8). 

A tale of five firsts

Every first occurrence in the Bible is worthy of our attention. Acts 2 marks five great “firsts” I wish to look at briefly: the first baptism in the Holy Spirit, the first evangelistic message, the first response to that message, the first counsel given to anxious sinners, and the first addition to the Church. 
The first baptism in the Holy Spirit not only equipped the one hundred and twenty to be the first evangelists, but it radically changed their spiritual condition. They that were in Adam were now in Christ and all the benefits of the cross was made effectual to them. Peter had failed miserably at his first real attempt to be a witness, even swearing with a loud oath. The Peter after Pentecost was nothing like the Peter before Pentecost. He was suddenly enabled, by the Spirit, to be Christ-like. On top of this radical change was a boldness that allowed him to do our second “first,” preach the Gospel. 
Peter prepares for the first major evangelistic message that would set more stones in this Temple project. He begins by explaining to the people some of the things that were going on with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They assumed the people were drunk, but Peter took that misunderstanding as an occasion to expound upon the prophesies related to the events of the last fifty days. He boldly preached Jesus Christ to the people (Acts 2:22f) and then he fearlessly set forth their sins for having crucified the Savior. His message then opened a door of hope showing the people that it was all predestined of God. Christ’s death was for the redemption of fallen humanity. 
The people then showed forth the first response to a post-Pentecost evangelistic message: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV) The Holy Spirit was at work convincing them of the truth that Peter proclaimed. They knew that they were guilty before God. They understood that they needed to do something, so they asked. Notice that Peter did not manipulate the people or put words of repentance in their mouths. It was very simple. He preached, the Holy Spirit convicted, and the people enquired as to what they needed to do. 
Peter is the first person post-Pentecost to counsel anxious sinners. They responded wanting to know what they should do and he responded saying; Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Peter begins his counseling session with the imperative, repent. The word of repentance is the first word of the Gospel. Although some would suggest repentance is not necessary for salvation, even using Paul’s epistles to explain such a need away, we have Paul’s own words to testify to the contrary; I declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance (Acts 26:20). It is a historical fact that Paul preached repentance everywhere he went; and not just repentance in a modern day sense, but repentance in the John the Baptist sense. Secondly, Peter instructed the enquirers to be baptized in water. This is an act of obedience that none need to understand in order to do it. Peter did not explain baptism because the people already understood baptism. Thirdly, Peter told them that they will receive the Holy Spirit. If you will repent and be baptized in water, you will receive the Holy Spirit. We will not explore the details and implications of this, but the basic pattern will be followed throughout the book of Acts. The scripture summarizes the rest of his counseling session saying; And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40 NKJV)
Lastly, we have the second response of the people: Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them (Acts 2:41 NKJV). A staggering three thousand souls (living stones) were added to the Temple. This is God’s estimate. It all began when Peter learned of Christ for three years and later prepared himself to receive the Holy Spirit. The minister was ready, the message was powerful, the people were cut to the heart, they enquired what to do, the minister gave counsel to the anxious, the ones that gladly received the word were baptized (suggesting others did not gladly receive it), and by inference three thousand received the Holy Spirit becoming living stones in the Temple. 
The fruit of this type of evangelism was that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42 NKJV). These folks were truly born again of the Spirit. They had an appetite for the things of God and a desire to fellowship with believers. They continued also in prayers, evidence that they were living now under His Divine guidance.     

Walking in the Fear of the Lord

Walking in the Fear of the Lord
Robert Wurtz II

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (Acts 9:31)

Our passage in context gives revelation of the state of the churches immediately following the conversion of Saul, who had vexed the people of God persecuting them until they had no rest. Four things can be said about the churches at this juncture:


1. They were edified (built up)

2. They were walking in the fear of the Lord
3. They were walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit
4. They were being multiplied

The reaction to the radical change of Saul to Paul was so great that the people once again were walking in the fear of the Lord. This one reality stands out in the list because it came about as a spontaneous reaction to the awesome wonder of the transformation of this man Saul, but is also dependent upon individuals to fully acknowledge what God had done. This was nothing short of the marvel that captivated the people of the city when they saw Legion clothed and in his right mind after a lifetime of nakedness and self-mutilation. They knew that the Finger of God was in their midst. For only God in all of His regal power and authority could have changed the Chief of Sinners into a Chief Apostle in an instant of time. Selah. 


Unity attained and maintained

In our last three entries (Obstacle to the Outpouring, Obstacle to the Outpouring (Part 2), and The Sin of Uzzah) we explored the teachings of Christ as He prepared the disciples and the people for the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. We emphasized the utter importance of unity and forgiveness from the heart. The disciples were held together by the Prince of Peace whilst upon the earth, but when Christ ascended they would need to hearken to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in order to maintain that same unity. If the disciples would have had a falling out we would have never read a ‘book of Acts’. They were men of different perspectives that were at times at total odds with one another. A great example of this was Matthew the Publican and Simon the Zealot. Simon would have hated publicans and likewise publicans probably hated Zealots. Why? Because their political and religious views made them mortal enemies. It was nothing for a Zealot to desire to kill a publican, but when Jesus was near the men did not strive. They forfeited their mind and agenda and adopted Christ’s. In an environment like this it’s not about who is ‘right’ or who is ‘wrong’ it’s about endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

When God came near the reaction was fear

The fear of the Lord is a most unpopular subject, but a cursory study of the Book of Acts reveals that the people were many times brought to fear the Lord because He was near. Sometimes people think, ‘that was all in the Old Testament and we live in the dispensation of grace, etc.’ That is not what the folks in the book of Acts believed. Beginning in Acts 2:43 we read, And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. The Greek verb for ‘came’ is egineto and it is in the imperfect middle voice, meaning that fear kept on coming upon every soul. Waves of the fear of the Lord kept sweeping over everybody. This kept the people in check. There was no place for flippancy. Nobody built a golden calf after this move of God; but they did have a Nadab and Abihu moment when Ananias and Sapphira were smote dead back to back in Acts 5. The result? And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:11) The renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson added this comment to the verse, “The whole body of believers in Jerusalem and all who heard of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira (beautiful, her name means) were in awe and dread. It was already a dangerous thing to be a follower of Christ unless one was willing to walk straight.” (RWP) Then we have the dreaded event in Acts 12:23 where Herod had set himself against the churches as if he were a god. And although Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula (also known as Gaius), Claudius, and Nero were acting out doing the same things or worse in Rome, presuming themselves to be as gods, the Holy Spirit had not been out-poured in Rome and God’s presence was not near. When God comes near judgment is swift. 


And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
(Acts 12:21-23)


If tradition is to be believed Herod lived 5 days after he was smitten, as his flesh produced worms leading up to his death. (Josephus Antiquities 19.8.2) Why? He gave not God the glory. We have a key statement that helps us understand this event in 1 Cor. 1:29 when we are told that God suffers no flesh to glory in His presence. The key here is ‘in His presence’. Men may covet their own glory and boast of their own achievements, but when God is near He moves swiftly upon those, to whom like Satan, exalt their throne above the stars of God. The very fact that people keep on acting out in our times must surely be evidence that God is not near as He was in the book of Acts. Men do not fear Him as they once did. The focus is on almost everything ‘but’ the fear of the Lord. All evidence of the times we are living.

Fear when near


When God is truly near, that is to say, when a person is filled with His Holy Spirit in the genuine article they will greatly fear the Lord. And fear is not too strong of a word. It doesn’t need to be qualified or balanced. It needs to stand once and for all on its own feet. We try to balance these things with words like love and grace and mercy and end up making the concept of the fear of the Lord of none effect. God doesn’t need us to balance or qualify His concepts. This is an important thing to say because believers often cannot entertain two equal truths such as the love of God and the fear of God at the same time. One is usually preached at the expense of the other. This ought not so to be. 


The people in Acts 2 experienced an ongoing flood of the fear of God upon them. It effected how they thought and how they lived. One problem we do not have today is people paralyzed with the fear of God. No need to straw-man a concept and do service to the Devil. Fear has often been replaced with arrogance and flippancy; the very things that God spent some 1500 years teaching us not to be in his presence. And ‘in His presence’ for a Christian does not mean ‘in the meeting’; it means 24 hours a day and 7 days a week as we are the very temples of the Holy Spirit. This is why it is said of them in Acts 2 they were walking in the fear of the Lord. It was their manor of life. It is the beginning of wisdom.

The Danger of Jesting 

This entry would not be complete unless we made an application to show what is meant by the fear of the Lord. An old time preacher from the 1800’s one stated that “God never uses a jester to search consciences.” A jester is a person that makes jokes about things they should never joke about. Let me quote a passage from Ephesians to demonstrate.

 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:1-7)

The first part of our passage summarizes the first 3 blog entries I linked to in the beginning of this article. We are then given a list of several sins that are not to be named among us either “one time after we have become saints” or “once we have become saints.” In either translation, we need to reverence as we read these words as these things are unbecoming of saints. The list is as follows:


1. fornication (sexual immorality)

2. uncleanness (impurity)
3. covetousness (lusting for _____)
4. filthiness (obscenity)
5. foolish talking (corrupt communication that does not edify. speaking as a fool)
6. jesting (immoderate talk to make a joke)

To show that God is in view in these passages as the offended party Paul adds, but rather giving of thanks. Who deserves our thanks? God. Who is listening to our words? God. We must never joke about God or the things of God or speak of Him in an irreverent way. God is not a man. Solomon the great man who built the Temple and witnessed the Glory and Fire of God stated, Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2) Solomon went on to say in the very end that Fearing God and keeping His word are the whole duty of man. God is the Judge of all the earth. God will not always move in spite of foolishness. He demonstrated this in Israel. He will bring judgment in some way- the worst of which is to depart all together. 


The sin of irreverence

The world has a concept that says the solution for polution is dilution, but in the Kingdom of God one cannot speak of God irreverently and then dilute it with hours of praise. It is a total contradiction. Moses did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people and as a result was disqualified from taking the people into the land. He gave the people the impression that God was as a man that can be trifled with. God said it plainly to him:


And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. (Numbers 20:12)


Moses disobeyed God before the eyes of the people. This situation is exemplary. A man was raised up to fulfill a purpose and after 120 years of God working with Moses, had to disqualify him. Why? He defied a direct order from God and it sent the wrong message to the people. Jesus said in one place, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Why? Because Lot’s wife defied God as judgment was falling over her head. Peter told us to sanctify the Lord always in our hearts. (1 Peter 3:15a) This means that God is exalted into His rightful place in our heart- separate and other from anything and anyone else. If we fear the Lord we will be prepared to face men giving an answer for what we believe with meekness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15b). Reverence begins in the deep recesses of our own hearts. 

Irreverence is a terrible sin and one to be feared as one would fear being a fornicator or an idolater. Just because God is among a people does not mean He is approving all that is going on. When The Lord truly comes His people will walk in the fear of the Lord. They will sanctify the Lord in their own hearts FIRST and then sanctify Him before the eyes of the people second. Flippancy and irreverence is like a dead fly in a bottle of priceless ointment. May the Lord once again come upon His people to the place to where they experience a reverential fear like those of Acts 2:43, Acts 9:41 or even an Acts 19:17 that we might rightly exalt Him in this evil and adulterous generation. Amen. 
   

 










      


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