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Discipleship (9) – A Disciple Studies the Bible

"The Holy Scriptures, Which Are Able to Make You Wise for Salvation"

"The Holy Scriptures, Which Are Able to Make You Wise for Salvation"

How does a disciple of Jesus study the Bible? There is no one single, “right” answer to this question. Since people are different, they will study differently. Some are highly analytic; others are more intuitive. Some seek just the factual material; others gravitate to poetic soaring praise of God. All of these have much to commend them – and we should have some of each of these in our study of God’s word.

In spite of all our different temperaments and interests, there are principles that will help us to see Jesus more clearly in our study of the Scriptures. Focusing on these principles will probably help us more than memorizing “rules of interpretation” (or hermeneutics – the science of interpretation).

Principle #1: Be Systematic

Every part of the Scripture is given to us for a reason. While it is certainly true that some parts are more inspiring than others, all of Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for our teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16f). If all of Scripture is profitable, I need to spend time in all of it – and this demands a systematic approach. Adapt your system to your personality and interest. But make sure you include all of Scripture in your study.

Some parts of Scripture, however, are of greater significance to us as disciples of Jesus. It stands to reason that Jesus’ disciples will have more interest in those parts of the Bible that relate to him most definitely. By that, I mean the four accounts of his life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, if that were all we ever read, we would have little idea of how he came to be born of the virgin, why he died, or how we are to live as his disciples. In other words, our view of Jesus would lack context.

The Old Testament is context for the New Testament. It provides the context of a loving creator who is rejected by his people. Yet, his heart cannot deny his love for them. In his love, he pleads, threatens, cajoles and even punishes them – with little impact. He even asks himself, what more could I do than I have done for my people (Isaiah 5:4)? That is the background of his doing something more: send his Son who would give himself a ransom for fallen humanity. Without the context provided by the Old Testament, we cannot appreciate God’s gift as much as we should.

But the epistles are also the context for the life of the Christian. Every epistle is written to address a practical issue in walking as Jesus walked. If we neglect them, we will falter in our intention of following him. Note in the epistles how the practical instruction for living the Christian life is based on the great themes of salvation and redemption through God’s grace in Christ. The principles of grace are applied to life in practical ways – and demands are made that we see as impossible to meet until we focus first on Jesus and his gift of love.

Principle #2: Be Consistent

A disciple cannot afford to start and stop in his pursuit of the Master. He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven (Luke 9:62). A little time each day is better than large blocks of time spent studying the Scriptures – with large gaps in between them. Think of how we feed the physical body. If we had to eat enough for a week at one sitting, we would not be very healthy. Is it any wonder that those who try to gain their week’s supply of spiritual sustenance in one dose are weak and sickly – and that some have even fallen asleep? Israel was taught to teach their children when they lay down, when they got up, when they were in the house, and when they were on the road (Deuteronomy 6:7). God, our Heavenly Father, would like to communicate with us in the same way today.

Principle #3: Be Meditative

Think about what you read. It is the man who meditates on God’s law both day and night who is blessed (Psalm 1:1-6). Meditation here is not a transcendental trance induced by hypnotic repetition of some mantra. Rather, it is diligent thought that seeks to understand and apply the word of God as we read it.

Meditation will also involve prayer that will bring us nearer to God so that we might understand him. Alexander Campbell called this the “understanding distance.” This, he said, is the circle that has God at its center and humility as its circumference. (The Christian System, p. 5). When we think of God and his word, we of necessity think of ourselves as well. And it is only when we see ourselves with God’s eyes that true humility follows. It is this humility that allows us to become as little children and understand the things that are revealed to babes instead of to the wise (Matthew 11:25).

Principle #4: Ask Questions

This is really a part of meditation. Ask yourself questions. Ask questions of the text you are reading. Ask other disciples as well.

What questions should I ask? Who? Who is speaking? To whom? Of whom? What? What is said? What did the speaker mean by it? What did his hearers understand (or misunderstand) him to mean? Why? Why was it said? What in the context prompted this comment? So what? What difference does this make to me? How? How does this relate to the rest of the Scripture? How can I apply this lesson?

In looking for application, continue to ask questions: Is there a promise to be received, a command to be obeyed, a warning to be remembered, advice to be cherished, a glory in which to rejoice, a principle to understand, or an example to follow or avoid? The stories of the Bible are not just stories. They are the vehicles God uses to convey his truth to us. The Scripture offers a whole convoy of these vehicles. We understand his truth through the stories – but also through the commentary of the prophets and apostles. That is, we understand it if we ask questions.

Principle #5: Seek to Do God’s Will

This may be the most important principle of all. Jesus said, If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own (John 7:17). Without a genuine desire to follow Jesus, our study will bear little practical fruit. This is because Bible study is not an end within itself; it is a means to the end of becoming more like Jesus.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? If so, Jesus said you will be filled (Matthew 5:6). But notice that he did not say hunger and thirst for knowledge. Our hunger must be for righteousness (or Christ-likeness). Peter said we are to desire the pure milk of God’s word that we may grow by it in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2). The word of God, again, is not the end; it is a means to the end. If our study is to bear much fruit, we must keep our eye focused sharply on the end: becoming like Jesus in doing God’s will.

These principles will help us to get started – and they will help us to grow. Are they complete? No, but they are crucial. With these, the plowboy can know the true meaning of Scripture better than the theologian who seeks knowledge only for its own sake.

– (10) Teach Us To Pray

– (08) The Disciple And The Scriptures

Communion Meditation (10): To Be Like Jesus

To Be Like Jesus

“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” – Matthew 10:24-25

“To be like Jesus, To be like Jesus! All I want, to be like Him

All through Life’s journey, From Earth to Glory

All I want – To be like Him!”

Bread and WineI come to this Table to be with my Teacher, Master, and Friend. He is the Teacher; I am the learner; He is the Master; I am the servant though we are friends. I come to learn to be like Him.

I cannot come proudly and arrogantly; I can only come humbly, but eagerly. Am I better than others because I come every first day of the week and not less frequently? Am I proud because I am always here at the Table while I look down on others? Or does my heart grieve for those members of our family who are missing?

I come to Him as the thirsty deer comes to the living waters. I want to drink deeply of His presence as I eat His body and drink His blood.

My prayer is that, first, I may truly meet Him. He is here as my Host, but do I recognize Him? Am I overwhelmed with awe that He would invite sinful me to sup with Him?

Second, my prayer is that I may open my heart to Him and listen to His counsel. Surely He has some things He would like  me to know, since He invites me here. But am I willing to listen?

Last, I pray that I leave the Table a better person with a clearer vision of my mission in life. With a better attitude toward my brothers and sisters in Christ. With greater commitment to those who have not heard His invitation to the Table. With more purpose to be God’s blessing to all who are in need.

Next – Does Jesus Disappoint Me?

Previous – The Great Physician

Discipleship (8): The Disciple and the Scriptures

bible6The disciple loves his Master and looks to him for guidance in all things. But when the disciple is two millennia removed from the Master in time, a very practical issue rears its head: How can the disciple know his Master and learn from him? The Galilean fishermen could leave their nets and walk with Jesus beside the lake and over the hills and mountains of old Palestine. We do not have that privilege. How can we today be disciples of one who lived so long ago?

We Are More Blessed Than They

Yet, we today are more blessed than the people of the first century. Jesus told his disciples it is for your good that I am going away (John 16:7). Unless Jesus went away, the Counselor will not come to you. It was when Jesus went away that he sent the Holy Spirit from the Father, and that is for our good.

While Jesus was in the flesh, comparatively few people were able to see him, to be with him and to really know him. Today, any one who chooses to know him can spend countless hours in his company imbibing his teaching and coming to know him as an intimate friend. The few who met him were limited to what they could see, hear and remember. We are given all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples while Thomas was present, he said pointedly that those who have not seen and yet have believed are blessed (John 20:29). “Doubting Thomas” would not believe unless he could put his finger in the nail-prints and his hand into the spear wound. Jesus gave him that opportunity. Yet Jesus said faith without sight is blessed.

How can we believe without seeing? The things Jesus did in the presence of his disciples are written for us that we might believe and have life in Jesus’ name (John 20:30-31). This is why John wrote his gospel. In the gospel we are able to come to know Jesus and know the certainty of the things we have been taught (Luke 1:4). Because we can read the Scriptures which testify of Jesus, we can be his disciples today as certainly as were those whom he called to be with him while he was on earth.

The Chain of Discipleship

Those who were with him wrote these things for us. They were charged to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). These were Jesus’ final instructions to them. In a similar vein, Paul instructed Timothy to commit the word he had heard from Paul to faithful men who would teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul taught what he had received by revelation (Galatians 1:11-12). The original apostles were promised by Jesus that the Holy Spirit would remind them of all Jesus had taught and would teach them all things (John 14:26).

The sum of this is that the story of Jesus is communicated from him through the apostles to others. This chain is seen clearly in John 17. Jesus, praying to his Father, said, I have given them [the apostles] the word you have given me (vv. 8 & 14). Then v. 21 indicates that others believe through their message.

It is important to realize, though, that this chain does not depend on oral tradition, as much as unbelieving “scholars” would like to suggest it does. Rather, the original eyewitnesses of Jesus wrote for our learning.

Paul told the Ephesians that the mystery of the gospel had been made known to him by revelation – but that he had written it down so they could understand his insight (Ephesians 3:3-4). Peter told those to whom he addressed his epistle that he wrote to remind them of the truth they had received (2 Peter 1:12-14) so they would have it after his death. He assured them this was a not cleverly invented story but a true eyewitness account of Jesus (vv. 16-18).

Thus the chain of discipleship is anchored in the experience and testimony of the original disciples communicated to us through the word they have written. The Scriptures are the source from which we are able to come to know Jesus. The words of the most familiar children’s song sum it up:

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Without the Scriptures our knowledge of Jesus would be very tenuous. Non-biblical writings of the early church give us a lot – but most of what they give is what they quote from the Scriptures. The Scriptures are essential to our knowledge of Jesus – either directly, as we read for ourselves, or indirectly as others teach us the Scriptures.

Scripture Points To Jesus

Yet, we must remember that Scripture is not God. It tells us of God and his Son, but we do not worship the Scriptures; we worship God. The value of Scripture is that it points us to the Father and to his Son.

The Jews of Jesus’ day made a tragic mistake. They mistook knowledge of Scripture for knowledge of God. Though they were diligent in their study of Scripture, Jesus said God’s word was not abiding in them because they refused to come to the one of whom Scripture testified (John 5:38-40). Though they set their hopes on Moses and the Law, Moses himself accused them because Moses testified of Jesus in what he wrote, but the Jews would not believe that testimony (John 5:45-47).

The intellectual pursuit of the Scriptures is not an end within itself. We need to search the Scriptures. We need to hide the Scriptures in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). We need to meditate on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2). But we always need to remember Scripture is given by God to point us to Jesus.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would testify of me (John 15:26). It was the testimony of the Spirit of God that the apostles passed on to us in the Scriptures. This Spirit, Jesus added, would bring glory to me (John 16:14). It is this glory of the light of the gospel shining in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) that we must seek in the Scripture.

Sirs, We Would See Jesus

If we would see Jesus, we must look to the Scriptures. That is why it is so important that we become students of the Bible. Yet, we must use the Scriptures as a tool, not as an end within themselves. Our goal is to come to know Jesus. We come to know him in the Scriptures. So our methodology in approaching the study of the Scriptures must be one that will allow us to see Jesus throughout the entire Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.

We must get into the written word of God if we want the Incarnate Word of God to get into us.

Our next post will have some practical suggestions for Bible Study that will help us to do just that.

– (9) A Disciples Studies The Bible

– (7) A Church Of Disciples

What Makes Satan’s Lies Believable?

Recently our preacher asked the above question. It set me thinking. We know Satan is a liar and that the Truth is not in him. Why, then, are we so gullible we fall for his lies? And, we do it time after time. We believe one lie, find our way out of it – only to fall for his next lie as well. We have a hard time learning to recognize his lies for what they are.

Here are some possible answers. The seed thought for most of these came from the preacher’s sermon; I am responsible for developing his ideas.

His Lies Are Plausible.

Any “good” lie has to be plausible to gain wide acceptance. I mean, it takes someone who is really “living on another planet” to still believe the earth is flat. Or that men have never walked on the moon. Or that most politicians are honest!

Of course, some people are extremely gullible and will believe anything they are told with an air of authority or knowledge. These are those whom Solomon, in Proverbs, calls simple.

One thing that helps in the “plausibility” of Satan’s lies is the prevailing intellectual climate of the culture. In other words, it is easy for us to believe what everyone around us believes. Most of us accept what is “generally known” to be true. Yet people are often mistaken – especially if a lie is repeated often enough and loudly enough.

The Fall of Mankind occurred when Satan lied about God, about the fruit, and about the result of eating the fruit. He still tells the same lies today, and people still believe them. One reason people accept these lies is that most folks around them accept them. It never occurs to them to question the lie, and so they accept it unquestioningly because it seems plausible to them.

Like Eve, We Want to Be Like God.

Of course, there is self interest in believing the lie. The lie elevates us to the position of God, and that is something we all tend to desire very much. Eve’s encounter with the Deceiver is recorded in Genesis 3:1-6:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Satan told her she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” God had called this tree, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” I do not believe that this “knowledge” was simply learning that there are two moral ways, one that is good and the other that is evil. Rather, this “knowledge” was the wisdom to determine for one’s self what is good and what is evil without reference to God.

This, of course, is what we humans desire at all times. “I know what is right and what is wrong – and what I am doing is not wrong!” We have a strong self-interest in having this power for ourselves instead of yielding it to God. Thus we are susceptible to the Devil’s lie that we can have this power if we but exert ourselves.

He Puts An Untrue “Spin” on the Facts.

His first words to Eve put a spin on God’s words that put God in a bad light. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” What did God really say? In Genesis 2:16-17 He had said to Adam:

You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

God’s first words were of Man’s freedom. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” There was a maximum amount of freedom with a minimum amount of restriction in God’s command.

Yet, the Devil made it sound as if  God’s restrictions out-weigh any freedom we may have as we follow His Word. That was his tactic then, and it is still his tactic now.

Unfortunately, many Christians play along with the Devil. Even Eve had added to the restriction God gave. God simply said, do not eat the fruit of the tree. Eve added, “and you must not touch it.” Now, if you were not going to eat the forbidden fruit, why would you want to touch it? Staying away from it would be a good idea. Nevertheless, she made the restriction God gave even stricter than God had made it.

It is not at all uncommon for people today to do the same, while in other areas moving as close to the limit as possible. For example, many extend the prohibition of drunkenness to prohibition of any alcohol at all. On the other extreme, we can all remember the declaration by then President Clinton, “I did not have sex with that woman!”

Does Eve’s “addition” to what God said reveal a, perhaps unspoken but very real, belief that somehow God was not being fair? If so, the Devil certainly knew how to exploit that feeling, as we can see as the temptation continued.

He Creates Doubt of God in Our Minds.

“You will not surely die. How did he say this? Did he emphasize the not or the surely? We have no way of knowing, but I strongly suspect it was the later.

If he said, “You will not surely die!” he would be directly contradicting God. Now the Devil is certainly capable of doing that – but this is something he usually holds off on until he has laid a lot of preparatory groundwork. He normally creates doubt of God first.

“Is it really as important as God is making it? You will not surely die, will you?”

Thus, he appears to sympathize with the person he is tempting.

Now, he is certainly a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), but that is not how he presents himself to us. Instead, as the master deceiver…

He Presents Himself As an Angel of Light.

He seems to be the voice of sweet reason and temperance. He even makes God appear to be the “heavy.”

God is the one who is putting all of these restrictions on you – and He is even doing it because He is afraid you will become as wise and as important as He is! Therefore, He is unjustly restricting your growth and development into your full human potential!

It must have been something similar to this, which “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess” was teaching in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29), as she misled the Lord’s servants into fornication and idolatry. Whatever she taught them, she claimed to be teaching them what the Lord called “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” In other words, she said there were deeper truths than God is letting us know, and we will learn these if we will only listen to the voice of the Tempter.

Another aspect of presenting himself as an angel of light is that he actually has led many to commit atrocities in the name of God as well – or at least into attempting to claim the name of God to justify themselves. He is not above claiming the name of God to justify some of the most inhumane and unhuman acts imaginable!

People have often in the past, and still do in the present, do and say the most ungodly things “in the name of God” – things that God has spoken against in no uncertain terms – as they seek to “purge” the church of any impurity. In this, they take on the task of the angels themselves as they try to rid the kingdom of God of all of the “tares” that are sown by the Devil in the first place! (See Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42.) In Jesus’ parable, removing the tares was a task assigned to the angels. Yet, this is something the Devil encourages us to do ourselves, and in a way that we can congratulate ourselves on doing the true work of God. When we do this, we become like Saul of Tarsus who became a destroying angel of vengence, but not an angel of God, until the Lord Himself brought Saul up short on the road to Damascus!

Of course he does the same thing today. To listen to Satan is sophisticated and suave – and may even be the true work of God. To follow God is hokey and “old-fashioned” – and is even made to appear to be compromising with evil.

He Appeals to the Worldly Culture.

In doing this, of course, he appeals to the culture of the world around us to reenforce his suggestions. It is to take the “everybody is doing it” argument and marry it to “those who are doing it are sophisticated and attractive.”

Really? When in all of human history has “everybody” been “sophisticated”? Of course, there is an exception. Everybody is doing it and is sophisticated except those old-fashioned ignoramouses who actually believe there is a God whom they should serve.

There is no real argument in that; there is only an assumed superiority and a slanderous charge against the finest people this world has ever known! It was in the name of God that countless people struggled long and hard to eradicate slavery and human trafficking. It was in the name of God that the civil rights movement in this country had its finest successes and finest hour.

He Preys on the Weak and Ignorant (ie, the gullible).

He knows when we are weak and vulnerable. It was when Jesus was hungry after fasting forty days that the Devil came to Him and tempted Him to make bread from the stones in the wilderness.

The devil is skillful in playing our weaknesses like a maestro violinist! He will tempt us to steal because our children are hungry – or to become immoral because we have had a disagreement with our spouse – or to deny Him, like Peter, because of the dangerous, jeering crowd around us. Then, when we yield, he is right there to accuse us to ourselves and before God!

“Look at you! Mr. Goody-two-shoes! You’re not as good as you thought you were are you? You’re just a common thief – or adulterer – or weak, yellow-livered coward. How can you call yourself a Christian?”

Of course, it is all a lie. But we fall for it, and give up. At least, we give up until we realize that the Lord has not given up on us. He still loves us. Jesus’ blood still cleanses us from all sin and the Holy Spirit is still with us to help us, if we will but allow Him to do so. That is, He is there to help us unless we have resisted, grieved, and quenched Him so that we no longer have the Spirit.

But by that time, we do not care. We no longer even feel guilt because the Devil has already got us back into his clutches and our hearts are hardened. But the Christian grieving over his sin and weakness is still safe in the arms of Jesus.

Let’s learn to recognize the Devil’s lies and send him packing when he comes our way!



After keeping this Topical Index for a while, I discovered that by putting the Categories (on the right side of each page), you can get a listing of all posts in that category simply by clicking on it. Since most posts have multiple categories, this gives a much more comprehensive index than the one I was creating here – with a lot less work on my part! So, I discontinued maintaining this topical index.

When an item is noted as a Series, the Link here is to the first article in the Series. The posts in the series are linked through “Next” and “Previous” at the bottom of each article. You may see a list of all series by clicking on “Series” at the top of any page. You may then select any series you want to examine from the list there for a list of all items in the series with links for each post.


Series: Traits of the New Testament Church. This six post series deals with the church in the New Testament. What made it different from the world around it?


Series: – Meditations from Matthew

A Pet Peeve About How We Observe the Lord’s Supper


A series of lessons on the meaning of discipleship


Our Helper: Tempted To Do Good


SERIES – Christian Leadership. Leadership consists of those things that give one influence in whatever capacity he is acting.


A Facebook Note By My Daughter (And Dad Is Proud!)

Note: These are real questions from real people that I have been asked to answer. I have many more of these that are not yet posted on this blog. Over time, I hope to add many of them to this site as well. See other “Subject” indexed material for posts not directly related to one of these questions.

Children and the New Birth: Is my five-year old daughter ready for the sinner’s prayer?

Communion: Why Do Christians Skip Communion?

Denominations: Is There a Holiness Denomination?

End Time: What will our bodies be like after the rapture?
End Time: Will the Believer’s Body Go to Heaven?

Ecclesiastes 9:12 – What Does the Saying “The Race Is Not To The Swift But To Those Who Endure To The End” Mean?

Faith: Does Surgery show a lack of Faith?

Family Is It Right for My Father to Pray My Baby Dies?

Family: Does the Bible Require a Married Couple to Wear a Wedding Ring?
Family: Is Inter-racial Dating Sin?

Family – Is It OK for a Married Couple to Have Anal Sex?

Family: Is It OK for a Married Couple to Use Porn to Enhance Their Sex Life?

Family: What Does the Bible Say About Remarriage?

God’s Holiness: Is There a Holiness Denomination?
God’s Name:
Is it right to use different names for God?
God’s Will Is the Will of God Always the Same?

Holy Spirit: Are Tongues A Sign You Will Go to Heaven?

Holy Spirit: Is Tarroting the Way You Receive the Holy Spirit?

Instrumental Music – What Does The Bible Teach About Musical Instruments In Worship?

Occult: Is Tarroting the Way You Receive the Holy Spirit?

Preachers – Why Do We Need Preachers?”

Solomon’s Temple – How Long Did It Take to Build & What Did It Cost?


Temptation – What Makes Satan’s Lies Believable?


Reconciliation – “Here Am I, Lord! Send Me!” – Christ

74 – 10/10/09
– SERMON: “Cross Bearing”

Since I work with Eastern European Mission, I will post from time to time about Christian work in that part of the world.

Churches Without Buildings
– An article I wrote that Edward Fudge Posted on His Web Site

DISCIPLESHIP (7): A Church of Disciples

City on a Hill

City on a Hill

I remember driving into Fort Worth one Christmas season. The surrounding country to the west is flat and virtually treeless. The city, lit up for the season, was visible for miles. The tall buildings of the city created their own “hill” – and the city could not be hid.

Jesus observed, after telling his disciples you are the light of the world, that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14-16). In Greek, the words you and your in this text are plural. This, with his refer­ence to a city that cannot be hidden, lets us know it is the church collectively, not the individual disciple, that makes an impression on the world as children of light. Individual candles may be hidden under a bowl; a city of lights cannot be hidden. It is this city of light, shining in the darkness, which causes men who see the good works of the church to glorify God.

This assumes, of course, that the light is shining before men, unhidden by clouds of sin that often darken our light and cause the lamp stand (which is the church in Revelation 2:5) to be removed. The light shining in our hearts is the glorious light of the gospel, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

What would the church be like if we were all disciples, not just Church Members?

A Church Where Each Yielded To the Other Instead of Insisting on His Own Way

One of the most distasteful things in church life is the political maneuvering for position and power that often occurs. We saw in an earlier post how James and John’s request for seats of honor in the kingdom created friction with the other disciples. Jesus rebuked this action and the reaction of the Ten (Mark 10:35ff.). All Twelve misunderstood the way to greatness in the kingdom of God.

Jesus did not achieve greatness through raw ambition – but through yielding to the cross. His disciples go in the same way. They achieve their goals, not through self-interest, but by looking to the interests of others. They do not act with selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility and love. In this, they follow their leader (see Philippians 2:1-4ff.).

Colossians 3:12ff lists qualities that should be seen in the disciples of Jesus – because these qualities were in Jesus. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love. These are the virtues of yielding that are the opposite of the unbeliever’s worldview – but which become second nature to those who follow Jesus.

A church with these qualities would be recognized as having the light of Christ within it.

A Church of Integrity

A church of disciples, not just members, would also be a church of integrity. Our God is a God of Truth. Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). This may mean many things, but it certainly means God has integrity. Without integrity, God could not be trusted; nor can we.

Ephesians 4:25-32 describes this integrity: Put off lying and speak truthfully. Why? You are members one of another. That is, you are all members of Christ’s body, bound to him and to each other.

To deceive one who is a part of yourself (and you a part of him) is to deceive yourself. A few verses later he adds, the thief must quit stealing and do profitable work so he can have something to share with those in need. Here is integrity at another level. Instead of being an economic parasite on the community, the disciple is one who supports himself – and also gives to those in need. This goes beyond armed robbery to every sort of “sharp dealing” that is shady. Feed the flock; don’t fleece the flock. You should pray for your church family, not prey on them by your wheeling and dealing that takes advantage of their trust in you as a Christian brother.

Such a church would be a welcome haven in a world of duplicity.

A Church Growing in Grace and Knowledge

A church of true disciples would be one growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). 2 Peter 1:5ff lists eight qualities in which we need to grow. Beginning in faith and ending in love, these form a “rainbow of love” around the disciple of Jesus. Verse 8 says we are to have these in increasing measure. That is, we are to grow in them. These eight are sometimes called “the Christian graces.” None of these is to stand-alone. Each is interwoven with the others. Together, they describe the very character of Jesus. Similar to the qualities listed earlier from Colossians 3:12f, these will mold the heart of the disciple into the heart of his Master.

A church of disciples would also continually grow in knowledge. As newborn babes, they would hunger for the milk of God’s Word so they can grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2). This, however, would not be knowledge for the sake of knowledge – but to find out what pleases the LORD (Ephesians 5:10). Such knowledge is also necessary to grow in the Christian graces.

Such a church would be vibrantly throbbing with love for its God, its members and its community.


Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a church of true disciples? But I must ask myself: Would I fit into a church like this? Am I a true disciple? Or am I a casual Christian?

What kind of church would this church be,

If every member were just like me?

The goal for this post is not just an exercise in imagination – but a challenge to become a church of true disciples. Would such a church be perfect? No, for true disciples admit their imperfections and are continuing to press on to the prize of the heavenward call of God in Christ (Philippians 3:14). But such a church would be a place where each person is challenged and encouraged to grow toward the image of Christ. It would be a place where fellowship would be more than social; it would be a true sharing of hearts in a way that would draw us ever closer to Jesus.

Such a church would truly be a city of light, set on a hill so that it could not be hidden.

Men would see it and glorify God.

– (8) The Disciple And The Scriptures

– (6) The Disciple And His Fellows

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Communion Meditation (9) – The Great Physician

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Matthew 9:12-13

Bread and WineSin-sick people come to this Table to eat with the Great Physician. At this Table, I must recognize that is what I am – one of the sin-sick in this sinful world.

That is who Jesus came to seek and to save. Not the righteous. Not the one who is in self-denial of his sinfulness. But the sinners. It was while I was still a sinner that He died for me.

In this Fellowship Feast with the Son of God who became Man I find healing from Him – because He is the Great Physician. In Him, God reaches down to me and lifts me up.

My relationship, or kinship with God is a healing one. He heals me of my hurts and brokenness. He lets me share in His wholeness as I become a partaker of His nature through the Holy Spirit He has given to me.

Out of His mercy, He makes me whole – and as I share His divine nature, I become like Him.

That is what He wants from me. He wants me to allow Him to change me from the sick, broken sinner that I am into the glorious likeness of His Son.

In finding His mercy, I learn to be merciful. That means, I give what He has given me to others. If I do not learn to do this, I remain weak and sickly – and could even fall asleep (1 Corinthians 11:30).

This means that I not only look to God for His healing gift to me. I also look to others around me to help mend their broken hearts, accepting them as God has accepted me. The absence of this was the problem at Corinth seen in how they treated this Table. They selfishly abused and neglected their brothers. They did not carry the likeness of the Great Physician.

Do I?

Next – To Be Like Jesus

Previous – The Feast in the Kingdom of God

QUESTION: Trouble with Kids from a Former Marriage

Dear ______,

Thank you for your Question: My cousin and I are over a marriage ministry within our church and we are facing problems with women having trouble dealing with their spouses’ kids from a previous marriage. What are biblical principles for raising children from a previous marriage?

You have come up against one of the reasons the LORD hates divorce (see Malachi 2:16). The harm done to children is incalculable, and people of our generation will have to give account to God for sins against their children.

You mention specifically women dealing with their husbands’ children from previous marriages. I presume that these children’s mothers are the primary custodians of the children. By that, I mean the children normally live with their mothers. Such children naturally view the current wife of their father as an interloper, which in some instances she may well be. It will be very difficult for the women with whom you are working to gain acceptance by these children. This is especially true if their fathers do not support her completely.

It may not be possible for these women ever to be able to function as “house-moms” during the time the children are visiting with their father. A “truce” between the step-mother and the child may be all that is possible. I can remember a divorced father saying to me in a moment of candor that he realized he was with his children only for “fun” times and that his former wife had to be “the heavy” with them. He also felt, though, that his former wife poisoned their children against him. She may, or may not, have done this – but the children’s attitude toward him caused him to believe she did. So ask yourself, if they have a bad attitude toward their father, how do you expect them to feel toward their father’s new wife?

Unfortunately, the Scriptures do not address this problem directly. Perhaps the closest we can find to this in the Bible are the children of polygamous marriages in the Old Testament days. While not all inter-family rivalry springs from polygamy, much of it did. Jacob and Esau did not come from a polygamous family. But think of Isaac and Ishmael, of the twelve sons of Jacob, of the sons of David and Solomon. There is enough said about the results of such marriages to let us know that polygamy is not good for children (or for wives and husbands, either!). The natural competition between siblings is multiplied many times when there are multiple “family groupings” within the greater family.

In the absence of specific instruction or example, we must rely on general principles. The first principle might well be that the children’s father will have to take the lead in the discipline of his offspring. The second principle is that he must do this in a way that does not provoke them to wrath. See Ephesians 6:4 for a statement of both of these principles in the context of the traditional marriage, not a blended one. In fact, raising children from a previous marriage must be approached much as raising your own children is – except with a great deal more difficulty that demands a great deal of tact and cooperation between the natural and the step-parent. Without that cooperation, I do not see how the step-parent alone can manage to cope – though I am also sure that some have done so successfully.

These are not easy principles even in the most perfect marriage. Children have a great knack for working one parent against the other. Their opportunities to do this multiply when divorce and remarriages have given them step-parents.

There are many secular books available on the “Blended Family,” but I am not familiar enough with the literature to comment on it. There are also books available written from a Christian perspective. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has some available. Again, I am not specifically familiar with his writing in this area, though I have valued some of his earlier books on parenting in general.

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, but this is the best I am able to do at this time. I just hope that some of these thoughts may be of some assistance to you in going forward. The best solution is to avoid the situation – but saying that is like urging someone to lock the barn after the horse has already run away.


God Calls Us into His Fellowship

God Calls Us into His Fellowship

We are not disciples of Jesus in isolation. When we become one of his, he adds us to his body or family (see 1 Corin­thians 12:13; Acts 2:47). As members of his family we have an important role to play, a function to perform. But none of us is called to LORD it over others. Only Jesus is LORD; he is head of the body. We are members of him and of one another. We belong to him; we also belong to each other.

A Simple Truth – So Profound We Miss It

James and John lost sight of this simple, but profound truth when they asked Jesus for a special favor (see Mark 10:35-45). Mark it down. When any disciple begins to seek “special favors” not offered to everyone, he has lost sight of his God-given place in the body. It is one thing to be called to a seat of great honor; it is another to barge in to the head of the line!

It is of more than passing interest that James and John came to Jesus apart from the other ten chosen apostles. The Ten heard about it; they did not hear James and John make their request. And when they heard about it, they were indignant. Do you wonder why? All Twelve were “in this thing together.” For two to seek special favor did not sit well with them. It didn’t sit well with the LORD either.

The LORD rebuked them all (the Ten as well as the Two) for their carnal attitudes in trying to get “a leg up” on each other. He then gave them an important lesson in discipleship: The least is the greatest; the first is the last; the last is the first; become great through service. In this, too, Jesus showed us the way. He did not come to be served, but to be a servant. His glory came through giving himself as a ransom for all.

Compare what he said here with what Paul said about him in Philippians 2:6ff. He was in the nature of God. He made himself nothing. He became a servant. He became obedient, even to death on the cross. But the story did not end there. Out of his humiliation, God gave him his glory. Verses 9-11 shout his praises to the highest heaven and call on every knee to bow before him. Why? Because God exalted him! Why did God exalt him? Because he humbled himself; he gave himself; he became a servant.

And this is what we are to do as well.

Present Ourselves as Your Servants for Christ’s Sake

How are we to relate to our fellow disciples? We are to be servants. I serve you. You serve me. I accept your service; you accept mine. Together we serve others. In this, we follow him and become like him. This is how Paul said he and Apollos always presented themselves – as your servants for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 4:5) while they preached Jesus Christ as LORD.

Forget about position. Let God concern himself with that. It is for the one for whom it is prepared (Mark 10:40), and God puts each member in the body just as he (God) chooses (1 Corinthians 12:18). All of our clamoring to be NUMBER ONE and THE GREATEST loses sight of the fact Jesus is the only one worthy of our praise and adoration. In our rush to curry favor and gain position, we elevate ourselves by judging others as inferior to ourselves in so many ways.

The fellowship we enjoy in Christ is not maintained by church rules and regulations. There is no human control to insure uniformity of action or opinion. We may look different, act different, come from many different cultures, and different in many other ways. What makes us one body in Christ is that He makes us one through the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit He gives to us.

Judging Others or Loving Others

Some, we judge because of their limited understanding of the niceties of the gospel and of true discipleship. In Romans 14:1ff Paul speaks of those who reject others because of what they eat (or don’t eat) or because of the days they observe (or don’t observe). In fact, this text leaves open the question of who has the greater understanding and who has the misunderstanding. He reminds us sharply that to look down on another is to judge another man’s servant. How would you like for someone who is not your employer to be the one to give you your annual job evaluation – especially if that person has already rejected some of your cherished ideas?

Some discount the force of what Paul says here by dismissing those things simply as opinions that did not matter. They did matter to the people who held those opinions. In fact, they had Scriptural arguments that, to them, were forceful. In other conditions, Paul sided with one of these over the other. He marveled that the Galatians were still observing days (Galatians 4:10-11). He recognized that eating meat, even meat offered to an idol, is not evil (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Yet, he would not allow these things to create divisions in the body of Christ – unless someone made it a condition of salvation. Then he called it preaching another gospel.

Others we judge because of economic standing. James 2:1ff speaks of this travesty against the gospel. My brothers, as believers in our glorious LORD Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. To toady up to the rich man while pushing the poor man aside springs from evil thoughts, not from a disciple’s heart shaped by the Master’s hand.

Peter confessed that he once judged men and their relationship to God by their national origins. See Acts 10 for the story. When he arrived at the house of Cornelius he started by stating his Jewish prejudice: You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But he stated this law (which he had followed carefully all of his life up to this point) only to say that God had overthrown it through the gospel of peace sent through Jesus. Now, he said, in every nation those who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by him. A sad footnote to this beautiful story is that Peter fell back into his old prejudice and was rebuked for it by Paul (see Galatians 2:11ff.). This is a grim reminder that we must always be careful about judging others based on their national or racial origins.

When we judge anyone based on opinions they may hold (even when they hold them strongly), on their economic standing or national origin – we have moved away from the truth of the gospel into another gospel. By doing this, we can even forfit our own relationship with the LORD. In following Him, we must come to love one another.

God Seeks Relationship

What is the point of all this? Simply that under God all disciples are equals. All disciples are sinners saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Because he has loved us and saved us, we are to love one another (1 John 4:7-12). Love originates in God for God is love.

If God is love, he is the greatest lover. He wants relationship. He created us to love him and to be loved by him. But what do we do? Before Jesus came into our lives, we were being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3). It is he who teaches us to love: to love God and to love one another – even when the “other” hates us and is an enemy (see Matthew 5:44).

In the most fundamental sense, this is the very reason he came. The first commandment is to love God; the second, to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40). This restores God’s purpose in creation. This renews our fellowship with God and with one another. This is what salvation is all about as God blesses us by turning each of us from our wicked ways (Acts 3:26). When he does, we learn to love one another.

When we obey these commands (that is, to love God and to love each other), the world will see that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35). As our hearts are changed into his image and purified by God’s love because we are seeking him above all others, people will see him living in us. They will see the difference Christ’s love makes.

To love each other is the mark of disciples of Jesus. This brings us closer to the heart of God than anything else we are taught to do. The world sees Jesus living in us when we love one another. That is what discipleship means – and it makes a difference in the way we live and treat each other.

Right relationship with God demands right relationship with our fellows on earth. Discipleship is demonstrated by loving one another as he has loved us.

Where Do We Get This Love?

How do you love people when they are unlovable? You learn to love the same way God loves you. He did not wait until you deserved His love. It was while you were still a sinner and His enemy (Romans 5:6-10). His love reached to you and saved you when you actually did not care for Him at all! But He did it because He loves you. But in verse five of this chapter, Paul says, “…God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

People can see the difference that this love make. Eastern European Mission is a Church of Christ ministry providing Bibles and Christian literature to the old Soviet Union and its satelites. For the past two years I have been working as an area Representative for EEM as a fund-raiser in Florida.

When it looked as if we might have an opportunity to begin teaching the Word of God in Youth Camps built to indoctrinate kids in Communism, we were ecstatic. One of the camp directors was a woman named Lyudmilla. She directs a camp that caters to orphanages. She named it Mayak, which means (lighthouse), a name she chose because of its spiritual implications. One of the things she wanted to be sure we would teach in her camp was the kind of love she could see in Christian people. Denise Baggett, director of our camp activities, explained to her that this was what we wanted to do, but told her, “You need to realize that this is God’s love and is based in His love for us we see in the Bible.”

Lyudmilla replied, “I know that, and that is what I want.” She realizes this is the only hope for these children. But she first saw love in action in the lives of Christian people.

To grow in discipleship, let us forget position and grow in service, which comes out of love for God and one another. This is the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives, a Spirit He gives us when we become one of His.

– (7) A Church Of Disciples

– (5) The Disciple And His Master

DISCIPLESHIP (5): The Disciple and His Master

Jesus, Though He is LORD, Still Serves His Disciples

Jesus, Though He is LORD, Still Serves His Disciples

The relationship between Jesus and His disciples is more than the normal teacher-student relationship, even when the student commits himself to the philosophies of the teacher. Jesus’ disciples look at Him as their LORD.

This is a major difference in the relationship between Jesus and His disciples and other teachers and their pupils. Among the Jews, a great Rabbi might have those who followed him or sat at his feet – as Saul of Tarsus sat at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 23:3). Though these would learn from their Rabbi, they did not consider the Rabbi as LORD. Jesus’ disciples did – and still do. (I put the word LORD in all capitals because this is the convention followed by most translations to identify the Old Testament word transliterated as Jehovah or Yahweh in a few others. Several Old Testament prophecies that use that word LORD are applied to Jesus in the New Testament.)

Jesus Is LORD

Since they looked to Jesus as LORD, their attitude toward Him was very different from the normal student-teacher relationship. When they considered themselves in relation to Him, they were servants or even slaves. This is the way He taught them to think. As LORD, He did not “lord it over” them – but He taught them to acknowledge Him as LORD just the same.

For example, when He washed their feet (John 13:1-16), He used the fact they accepted Him as LORD to teach the lesson that they should follow His example – and wash one another’s feet. They also called Him “Master” and “Rabbi.” As their Master, He was their LORD; as their Rabbi, He was their teacher and guide. But because He was LORD, He was much more than a mere teacher.

The Jewish Rabbi had students; Jesus had disciples. The Rabbi’s students may respect and revere him; they did not worship him. Jesus’ disciples did. The Rabbi’s protégé might aspire to become like the Rabbi – in that he would have students of his own who would look to him in the same way he looked to his Rabbi. The disciple of Jesus, though his goal is to be like his Master, knows that he can never reach that pinnacle because Jesus is much more than mere man; He is LORD.

As LORD, Jesus Is To Be Obeyed

There was never any question of who was LORD and who were the disciples. Nor was there any question of what that meant. Jesus’ words were not to be debated or questioned; His words were to be believed and obeyed. Why do you call me ‘LORD, LORD,’ and do not do what I say? was Jesus’ question to His listeners early in His ministry (Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21). It was important to do what He said because He was giving the very words of the Father – but He gave them as one who spoke with the full authority of the Author, not as one repeating what He had heard from another.

Thus, hearing and obeying His words is a matter of eternal consequence. Mere hearing is insufficient. The man who hears without obeying is like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand; the man who hears and obeys is like the man who digs deep to build his house on solid rock.

What Made the Difference?

But Jesus expects even more than full obedience. He expects full acceptance of Himself as LORD. Faith without obedience is dead – but obedience without faith is deadening. Some, who might have accepted Him as a mere teacher, were unwilling to go the full distance to accept him as the true Bread that came down from heaven.

Until someone accepts who Jesus is, he is always likely to argue with what Jesus says. Thus, in John 6:41, the Jews began to grumble about Him because he said “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Because they would not accept His LORDSHIP (the one who came down from heaven), they would not accept what He said they should do (eat His flesh and drink His blood). Therefore, they left Him (v. 66).

But the Twelve were different. When Jesus asked if they would also go away, Peter asked, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Then followed his confession: We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God. This is roughly equivalent to his confession recorded in Matthew 16:18ff where Peter confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It was this faith that made them willing to accept what Jesus said they should do. In contrast, the rich young ruler would not accept what Jesus said do because he could not bring himself to confess Jesus’ true relationship with God (see Mark 10:17-22). Jesus gave him the opportunity to turn his request for what to do to inherit eternal life into a confession of the source of eternal life. But the young man would not confess Jesus as being “good” after Jesus said only God is good. That is, he declined to confess Jesus as being God – but that is what would be necessary to find the eternal life he sought. Instead, he went away because he valued his wealth more than a relationship with Jesus. Had he believed Jesus to be God, would he have turned away?

It is recognition of Jesus as LORD that is at the root of what John calls “the doctrine of Christ” in 2 John 9. Though there is debate over whether this refers to doctrine about Christ or the teaching of Christ Himself, the context is fairly clear. Verse 3 calls Jesus the Father’s Son. Verse 7 speaks of deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. Contextually, the doctrine of Christ is the doctrine concerning who Christ is.

Linguistically, either interpretation of 2 John 9-10 is possible. If you take it to be the teaching Christ brings, however, the context also identifies that teaching. Verse 5 speaks of the new command that we have had from the beginning. What is that command? That we love one another. Then verse 6 reiterates, As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

It is a real stretch to make 2 John refer to any obscure teaching that one can torturously read into something that Jesus or His apostles said or wrote. Yet, this is how some use this text to condemn any who do not agree with them on just about any issue.

When we simply believe Jesus is LORD, we will obey Him by walking in love. We will recognize that this is how He lived; we will want to live as He did.

Do We Ever Obey Men?

In wanting to grow as disciples, it is tempting for us to turn to men to get a definition of what it really means to be a disciple. The “Discipling Movement,”* popular in many congregations and in various evangelical fellowships a few years ago, was strict and definite in prescribing what it takes to be a disciple. Many became emotional wrecks because they could not meet the requirements imposed by their human leaders. [*This movement is known in churches of Christ as “The Boston Movement.”]

On the other hand, human leaders can also rationalize the radical demands of Jesus so much that His call for genuine discipleship loses its force and power.

For example, take Jesus’ statement, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25). Many destroy the force of what Jesus is saying here by fanciful explanations. Some talk about a smaller gate in the city gate for pedestrians, which a camel could go through only by removing its load and going through on its knees. This is a pretty picture of humility – but there is no evidence such a pedestrian gate is ever called “a needle’s eye.” Others talk about the similarity between the Greek word camel and the word for cable – and say Jesus is talking about a ship’s cable, not a camel with four legs and a hump.

Jesus explained Himself when the disciples asked, Who then can be saved? What was His explanation? With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. What happens is that by rationalizing, we try to make it possible for man to save himself – but that is impossible for us. Salvation is a work of God.

Each of these is an extreme to be avoided. Men are likely to impose human rules. This adds to the Word of the LORD. Men are also likely to relax the force of what our LORD says to us. This takes away from His Word. Both are wrong; we need to recognize that Jesus is LORD, and we are His disciples.

This is one reason the apostles warned against lining up behind men. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 more than the oneness of the body is in view. To turn from being a disciple of Jesus to be a follower of Paul, Peter or Apollos was to turn from the one who died for you and in whose name you were baptized. In other words, it was to turn from a relationship with Jesus as LORD to follow mere men.

Whether the Corinthians were actually naming these great Christian leaders as the ones they were “of” is open to question. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul suggests he used himself and Apollos as examples to show how futile it is to follow any man. The apostles always presented themselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (1 Corinthians 4:5). Notice that his relationship to Jesus as LORD took priority with Paul in all of this.

Is there ever a time to listen to men? Of course. But only when they are pointing us to Jesus. The eunuch asked Philip for help to understand the Scripture – and Philip began with that very passage and preached Christ (Acts 8:34f). Paul said, follow my example – but only as I follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are to imitate the faith of our leaders (Hebrews 13:7), for these spoke the word of God to us. They point us to Jesus – whom the author hastens to add is the same yesterday, today and forever.

We obey men only when they lead us closer to Jesus. If they obscure him or make him more distant, avoid them like the plague! These are those whose god is their stomach (Philippians 3:19).

Disciples of Jesus avoid such men because disciples want to serve and follow none but Jesus because He is LORD.

– (6) The Disciple And His Fellows

– (4) The Cross In The Life Of The Disciple

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