Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Lampstand—The Corporate Testimony Of Jesus Christ (Pt. 4)

Last time we talked of individuals who had the testimony of Jesus Christ.  John on Patmos had this testimony.  The messenger who was showing John the things he wrote about in the Revelation had this testimony—so powerful a testimony of Jesus Christ that John was tempted to worship him.  He thought the man was Jesus Himself.

This is a very tremendous thing—individual men coming into the testimony of Jesus Christ.  But as great as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what God has in mind.  We admire great saints, but God is not satisfied with just one person here and there coming into this tremendous testimony.  His desire is that this testimony be revealed in something called the church, where all the members—every man and woman and boy and girl—are shining forth this pure testimony together as one Man.

Remember that in the Old Testament it was the tabernacle that was called the “tabernacle of the testimony.”  The tabernacle in the wilderness had a testimony—had something to reveal about God, something to say about God.  But the tabernacle was just a “figure” foreshadowing Christ—the corporate Christ, that is—Christ in union with His bride, His body.  Some very good teachings are available on this, showing how every aspect of the tabernacle speaks of Christ and His church.  The bread on the table of showbread, for example.  This speaks of the body of Christ.  Paul said, “For we, being many, are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10.17).

And the lampstand in the tabernacle.  John saw the Son of man walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.  And he said these seven lampstands were “the seven churches” (Rev. 1.20).  A single lampstand, then, represents the local church, which is to have the light and testimony of Jesus Christ shining in it.  (See also Rev. 11.3,4, Zech. Ch. 4.)

To some extent—certainly not in full measure, but to some extent—the church in Corinth had this testimony.  It was a lampstand in which the Testimony of Jesus Christ was shining.  As we read 1 Corinthians we discover the wick in the lamp needed trimming, but nevertheless the Corinthian church was a genuine lampstand shining forth the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Earlier we quoted the passage in which Paul said he had come to the Corinthians with “the testimony of God.”  How did Paul come to them with this testimony?  It was not the Torah Paul came to Corinth with.  It was “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” that Paul testified of.  And the result of his testimony was that the testimony of Jesus Christ was reproduced in the Corinthian church.

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1.4-9).

This is quite the thing.  The Corinthian church had the “testimony of Christ” confirmed in their midst—a living word expressed corporately, as well as the manifestation of the Spirit, the shining forth of Christ in the gifts of the Spirit—also a corporate expression.  It’s quite something, isn’t it, that this church that is given the reputation for being such a carnal church had a testimony like that.  “The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you…” Paul said.  That is awesome to read!  In other words, people coming into the Corinthian assembly became aware of Christ.

What was the evidence that the testimony of Christ the Anointed One was confirmed (established, made firm) in the Corinthian church?  It was that, as a result of the Spirit of Christ in their midst they were enriched “in all utterance, and in all knowledge.”  They had spiritual knowledge, and not only that, they could give it forth; there was a vital “discourse” taking place in their assembly—the sharing together of the things of Christ with one another.  And they came behind “in no gift.”  Paul brings these more fully into view in Chapter Twelve.  Diverse manifestations of the Spirit were abundant in the Corinthian assembly, and functioning together produced “the testimony of Christ.”  With a word, a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, an interpretation, a prophecy, a revelation, a healing… each one of the Corinthians in differing ways and differing measures participated in the Testimony of Christ.  All were involved in this (1 Cor. 14.26).

There’s a lot of emphasis on the ministry these days.  There are a lot of great pastors around.  Because of the Internet there are a lot of great messages available.  But it’s painful how little of the corporate testimony there is—of this “one loaf, one body,” of this lampstand wherein the Oil of the Holy Spirit is aflame and light shines forth, light shines forth in the lampstand—in a church, I mean, every single member being vitally involved in the shining testimony.  You hear of anointed preaching.  But where is the corporate anointing that enables all in the body of Christ to function vitally?  As it is, the saints are pretty much used to leaving it all up to “the ministry,” and the ministry for the most part are content to leave it that way.  But this kind of church order is short of the glory of God.  We must seek the corporate testimony for Christ’s sake—for the glory of His Name.  It’s only as this corporate testimony comes into being that the communities around us will see the glory of the Lord.

“By one Spirit are ye baptized into one body,” said Paul.  I anticipate, then, that the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire—it is my conviction that this is yet ahead for us, though I know we have seen a measure of it in the past—is going to cause great shakings throughout the ten thousand denominations of Christendom.  God is going to bring into being local churches that function as one anointed body in which every member is vital—not just the pastor behind the pulpit.

And these local lampstands are going to be one in the Spirit with all other lampstands.  This thing called denominational Christianity is going to go up in smoke as a result of this powerful baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

And this baptism is going to cause great shakings in the “come-out-of-her” groups as well.  For, there is as much a sense of oldness about the come-outer groups and home fellowships these days as there is about the denominational system.  (I am encouraged by this; something new is at the door.)  In fact I would say there are many out there in the denominational system who, walking in the light they have, are walking a closer walk with Jesus than some of the “come-outers.”

Come-outers like to remind people that the true meaning of ekklesia is the called out assembly.  And they are the called-out ones, they insist.  But so was the Corinthian church a called-out assembly.  Just how far had they come out?  They were still in many ways carnal, Paul said, and walked as men. Because of it their lamp sent up a dirty, sooty flame.  There were divisions in their midst.  There was immorality.  And though they had been given abundant knowledge, they ended up priding themselves in the knowledge they had.  They thought they knew a lot.  Paul had to humble them on this account.  I think it is something like ten times in his first letter to the Corinthians that Paul—obviously deliberately—provoked them with the words, “Know ye not…?”  “Know ye not…?”  “Know ye not…?”

It isn’t knowledge that is the light that must shine in the lampstand, Paul said.  It is love that is light.

And so the great High Priest through His servant Paul had to trim the wick of this lampstand in order that the Testimony of Christ continue to shine brightly in Corinth.

The lampstand—a church—is a corporate witness.  Yes, each of us is to have a testimony which is the Testimony of Jesus Christ.  But the fullness of the Testimony of Jesus Christ is the corporate testimony.  Jesus prayed in His high-priestly prayer, “I have made known unto them Thy Name, and will make it known, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in THEM, and I in THEM.”  Them, He says.  I in them.  It is a corporate thing.  If Jesus is in you as well as in me, how can there be any discord or division between us?  Or between churches?

I know there has been much emphasis on “the baptism,” and the gifts of the Spirit over the past century or so—more specifically since the 1948 revival at North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from which the Charismatic movement got its beginnings.  They got that name from the charismata—the gifts of the Spirit.  It wasn’t really God’s plan, but it seems He permitted men to take the charismata back into their denominations instead of coming out of the denominations and by one Spirit being baptized into one body.  Of course they realize they must have unity—the Bible calls for unity among Christians.  But they are determined they will have unity their own way—they will have “the baptism” and maintain their denominations in the process.  It is frightening disobedience to the Spirit of Christ.  Deception—great deception—is inevitable.  We are seeing it already.

And so let us be very watchful not to get drawn into it.

But let us be filled with anticipation also.  Yes, deception abounds.  The beautiful realm of the gifts of the Spirit has become contaminated.  The lights that once burned brightly have faded and yellowed.  Charismatic is almost a dirty word these days.  But there is more ahead of us than behind us.  There is yet a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire ahead for us.  I believe we are yet going to see manifestations of the Spirit, manifestations of Christ, that will utterly—and literally—floor us, and cause us to weep… and cry for joy.  People will fall on their faces and worship God.

And I believe we are going to see a wondrous unity come forth as God baptizes us by one Spirit into one body.  We have known so much of division.  We have mourned and wept over it all.  Who of us has not anguished with Christ over the divided condition of the body of Christ?  But His word still stands.  “By one Spirit are ye baptized into one body.”  The fire of this baptism must, then—and will—consume all that is discordant with the Lord Jesus Christ.  A corporate testimony of Jesus Christ is going to come forth.

Beloved, we must be encouraged in this dark hour to know that our Lord Jesus Christ is not finished yet.  He who walketh among the seven golden lampstands will not rest till His pure testimony is shining forth in every place.  And Jesus Christ Himself is seen in the churches!

The Testimony Of Jesus Christ–A Mistaken Identity (Pt. 3)

Last time we talked about the apostle John being in the isle of Patmos for “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  I think John is speaking of the testimony that back on the mainland got him in trouble.  Jesus had said to His disciples:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning… (Jn. 15.26,27).

It was the Spirit of Christ in John that enabled him to have the testimony of Jesus Christ.  John by the Holy Spirit was convicting those around him of sin—the same thing Jesus had done when He was here (Jn. 16.9).  Again it wasn’t appreciated.  It got John banished to Patmos.

But I think this “testimony of Jesus Christ” refers also to what Jesus had in mind to speak to John on Patmos.  He had much yet to say to John, and through John to us all—this prophecy we know as The Revelation of Jesus Christ.  This prophecy is what “God gave unto Him (unto Jesus Christ), to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1.1).  And so Jesus the Word of God, the faithful and true witness, is testifying of what God has now given Him.  It is a prophecy.

And He sent and signified it by His angel—His messenger—unto His servant John.

I believe this was the same angel that later in the prophecy John was tempted to worship, thinking this one was Jesus Christ Himself.  But the angel would not permit John to worship him.  He was not Jesus Christ, but had “the testimony of Jesus.”

See thou do it not:  I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19.10).

The Greek original has the article there.  “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of the prophecy.”  The same words are used in Rev. 1.3, which the KJV translates this prophecy.

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy…

It should say, “the words of the prophecy.”

We will speak more of this in a minute.

The word angel simply means “messenger,” and it takes discernment to discover whether it’s referring to one of the heavenly angelic order, or simply a man, a messenger sent by God.  Sometimes the distinction isn’t clear.  But in this case we’re told clearly, for the angel himself tells us clearly: he is a man: “thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren…” So we gather he was one of the saints beyond the veil.  (Very quickly here, this gives us a little glimpse that moving beyond the veil of this life does not mean idly sitting on a cloud playing a harp all day.)

John is tempted a second time in this same manner at the close of the book.

And I John saw these things, and heard them.  And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book.  Worship God” (Rev. 22.8,9).

So here was a man—a prophet—that John was ready to bow down to and worship.  And it happened twice.  John obviously was having trouble with this.  Here before him was a man so like Jesus Christ that John actually thought it was Jesus Himself.  And so he fell at his feet to worship him.

But the man forbade him.  His testimony was, “I’m a man just like you, John.  What you are seeing in my life is actually the Testimony of Jesus Christ.  What you’re hearing me speak—I’m only speaking what Jesus Christ is speaking.  What I am showing you–it’s what Jesus Christ is showing me.  It’s Jesus Christ you’re seeing.  It’s Jesus Christ who is prophesying.  It’s the testimony of Jesus that is the Spirit of the prophecy.”

The man called himself a prophet.  The prophecy he was involved in—the prophecy we know as our book of The Revelation—was nothing less than the shining forth of “That Prophet,” the Son of God Himself.  God spake in times past to the fathers through the prophets in various ways—a word here, a word there, a portion here, a portion there (Heb. 1.1).  But in these last days He hath spoken to us in a Son, who is the full, complete message of Himself, the outshining of Himself, the “express image of His Person.”  That is the Testimony of Jesus Christ.  He spoke only what the Father was speaking.  He did only what the Father was doing.  He revealed the Father.  He was so one with the Father that those who saw Him… it was the Father they were seeing.  Yet Jesus was not the Father.  He was the Son of the Father.  He was “the faithful and true Witness,” who by the Holy Spirit bore witness to and shone forth the Father in all He said and did.  That was His testimony.  “The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do…”  That is the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

And that’s what this man had.  “I am of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus…”  We’re inclined to think that it’s blasphemy that an ordinary man should have this kind of testimony—that those seeing him would mistake him for Jesus Christ Himself.  But here is at least one man from the past who had this very testimony.  No doubt there are many others.

I ask the question, then.  Have you or I ever been mistaken for Jesus Christ?  You and I—are we so committed to speaking only what He speaks, and doing only what He does, that we too have the testimony of Jesus Christ?  Have we become so like Him in love, in holiness, in righteousness, in mercy, in patience, in humility… in all His graces… in the power and manifestation of His Spirit and Presence in our lives… there is such Light about us… there is such a shining forth of Jesus Christ Himself in our lives… that people around us are tempted to fall down at our feet and worship us?

Would that we too might have the same opportunity, like that man beyond the veil, to forbid it, and call others to worship God alone!

The Testimony Of Jesus Christ (Pt. 2)

Last time we talked of the Testimony in the days of the Old Covenant.  God’s testimony in the Old Covenant was the Law.

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel… (Ps. 78.5).

Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples (Isa. 8.16).

Under the Old Covenant the law and the testimony were equated, were one—and God bore witness to this with His Presence over the tabernacle.

Now let’s look at certain New Testament scriptures that talk of the Testimony.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2.1,2).

What an astonishing thing to say.  This man, a Jew steeped in the law and the prophets, comes to Gentiles with “the testimony of God.”  Which is?  The Old Covenant Law, the Torah?  No.  Not any longer.  Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  The New Covenant testimony of God is all bound up in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The scribes and Pharisees, Jesus told His disciples, sat “in Moses’ seat” (Mt. 23.2).  They felt confident they were the custodians of the testimony—the word of God, the Torah, the Scriptures.  And yes, it’s true: to them God had committed the oracles of God.  But when the True Oracle came into their midstthe living Word of God, this Man born of the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and thereby witnessing faithfully of His Father, doing only what He saw His Father doing, speaking only what He heard His Father speaking—this One became the faithful and true Witness—the testimony of God.

He was crucified for that testimony.

In The Revelation we find in a number of places the phrase, “the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  And we find it coupled with “the word of God.”

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw (Rev. 1.1,2).

I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1.9).

John is not talking of two different things for which he was banished to Patmos—expounding the word of God, and then going out and testifying, witnessing, about Jesus Christ.  What he is saying is that the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ are one and the same thing.  Someone may say they have the word of God, pointing to the Bible.  And indeed, Jesus the Son of God said the Scriptures were those that testified of Him (Jn. 5.39).  But it is He Himself who is the Word of God.  Merely having the words of Scripture or of doctrine is not the kind of testimony that got John in trouble.  Just as Jesus Christ the Word of God was crucified for the testimony He bore, it was “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” that landed John in Patmos.

Now we come to the thing that is of the utmost importance.  How was it possible for John to say he had the testimony of Jesus Christ?  Jesus was in Heaven when John wrote about being in Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus was in Heaven, how could He give His testimony here on earth?  And how could John have this testimony?  It was because John had the Witness in himself.

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness (the Testimony) in himself (1 Jn. 5.10).

The Witness?  What is this speaking of?

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn. 5.6).

This, really, is the greatest of wonders.  What can be more wonderful than to have Jesus Christ the Son of God Himself in us?  John had this!  He had the Spirit of Christ—the Witness—in Himself.  He had been born again, and had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire.  The Spirit of God, the Spirit of the living Word, dwelt in him.  No doubt John knew much of the letter of the word by memory—the Old Testament scriptures.  But beyond that, the living word of God was dwelling in John, abiding in him, as he taught in one of his letters.  “…The word of God abideth in you…” (1 Jn. 2.14).  He is speaking of the Testimony—the Witness—the Spirit of Jesus Christ the word of God.

It is the Spirit of God who has the Testimony of Jesus Christ the Word of God.  The Spirit of God here in the earth is the faithful witness of Jesus Christ the Word of God at the right hand of God in the heavens.  John had this Spirit—this Testimony.  And so John’s own testimony, because of the Spirit of Christ that dwelt in Him, was nothing less than the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

What about you and me, then?  Do we have the Spirit of Christ?  We are to bear that same Testimony, then, that same expression of the word of God that manifests the living Christ in and through our lives.

What was the testimony of Jesus Christ the Son of God when He was here?  He did what He saw the Father doing.  He spoke what He heard Him speaking.  He revealed the Father.  He was the faithful and true Witness.  He bore witness of the Father.  He said:

He that hath seen me hath seen the Father (Jn. 14.9).

That was His testimony.  And correspondingly, He said:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me, and ye also shall bear witness… (Jn. 15.26,27).

What a wonder.  The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, testifies of Jesus Christ.  And because of the Holy Spirit we too are to bear this same precious testimony—which is nothing less than the shining forth of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself—as we too are faithful to do only what the Holy Spirit is doing, and speak only what He is speaking.

…So that—I tremble at this word—you and I by the empowering grace of God are ultimately able to say, “He that has seen me has seen Jesus Christ.”

Do you see why I am held in thrall by this phrase—the testimony of Jesus Christ?

Beloved, this ought to provoke us to a deeper seeking.  This is our greatest need—the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Because oh, how men need to see Him!  Many of us claim to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  No doubt we do—in measure.  But to what extent do we have this beautiful pure testimony of Jesus Christ among men?  Can we say yet that, “He that has seen me has seen Jesus?”  You say that’s blasphemy?  But that is the whole purpose of the Holy Spirit.  It’s only blasphemy if the Holy Spirit is not capable of fully and faithfully bearing witness to the Son of God.  Let me ask.  Does the Holy Spirit bear a pure and full and faithful witness to Christ?  It’s blasphemy to say He cannot.

But if the Holy Spirit bears this faithful testimony, so too shall those who are baptized—immersed—in the Holy Spirit.  We who have the Spirit of Christ—He is given to enable us to have the Testimony of Jesus Christ, to shine forth the Testimony of Jesus Christ—nothing less.

Why, then, do we so readily settle for less? Oh, how men need to see Him!

Remember, though.  The Greek word for testimony is marturion—from which we get our English martyr.

There is a price tag on this Testimony.  Jesus was crucified for this Testimony.  John was in exile in Patmos for this Testimony.  We who have this Testimony will also pay that price—even here in our so-called free Christian nations.

The Testimony Of Jesus Christ (Part 1)

I have been held in thrall for a long time by the phrase, “the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (You know the meaning of enthral. It means “to hold in or reduce to slavery, to hold spellbound.” A thrall is a servant slave, a bondman.)

And so—the testimony of Jesus Christ. It’s an absolutely captivating phrase. To live a life of liberty outside the thraldom of this Testimony is a life that has been sadly wasted.

The phrase, or a similar one, appears in the New Testament a number of times. But first we need to find out what “the testimony” was in Old Covenant days.

Stephen while giving the testimony for which he was stoned—it was the testimony of Jesus Christ—said this:

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen (Acts 7.44).

“The tabernacle of witness.” My interlinear shows the article in the Greek: “the tabernacle of the testimony.”

The tabernacle of the testimony was among our fathers in the wilderness, as commanded He who spoke to Moses, to make it according to the model which he had seen.

And so the tabernacle in the wilderness was called “the tabernacle of the testimony.” Why so? We find our answer in Exodus.

And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel (Ex. 25.22).

The tabernacle was called the tabernacle of the testimony because in it was “the testimony” that God commanded was to be placed in the ark—the ten commandments.  This “testimony” was placed in the ark, and therefore the ark itself was called “the ark of the testimony.” And because the ark of the testimony was in the Holy of holies of the tabernacle, the tabernacle itself was called “the tabernacle of the testimony.”

And so the “ten words” in the ark covered by the mercy seat—this was the testimony of God. They summed up the whole of the Torah, the Law. This was God’s testimony revealing who He was, what He was like, the kind of God He was. If Israel would keep this Law, this would be God’s testimony among men. By keeping His commandments, by keeping this Law, they would “bear witness” to God, to the kind of God He was. In this way men would come to see the kind of God He was.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me… Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy… Thou shalt not kill… Thou shalt not commit adultery…” and so on. Keeping these commandments—not just reciting them—would result in a true portrayal of God among men, a true testimony of God.

The tragic thing is that Israel never did come to realize that this “testimony” in the ark was actually a testimony against them, as Moses later told them. For they never could keep this testimony, as much as they gloried in having it.

Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee (Dt. 31.26).

That was the Old Covenant testimony—a testimony that forever left Israel a guilty people with no means to relieve that guilt but by the blood of bulls and goats. How dismal if God had left things there. But He didn’t. When we come into the New Covenant we see the testimony of God linked up with a wonderful Name—our Lord Jesus Christ.

More next time. And you will see why I am enthralled.

Jesus And Idols?

It’s not likely that we modern-day Christians in the western world would be tempted to worship an idol of wood or stone the way they did back in Old Testament days, or still do in certain societies.  We like to assure ourselves we are not that primitive.  Even so, idolatry is a serious problem among many Christians.

Here from the New Testament are two verses revealing areas of idolatry that are very common.

“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10.7).

In other words, when we view life as something that is our own to enjoy unto ourselves, this is idolatry—the idolatry of self.  It is perhaps the greatest form of idolatry in the world.  People who would not be caught dead worshipping a wooden idol bow down with ready abandon to the worship of themselves.  It is they themselves who sit on the throne of their lives ordering all things.  They believe their lives are their own to do with as they see fit.  If they are sitting down they are eating and drinking.  When they rise up it is to play.  The idol temples of eating and drinking and play are filled day and night—particularly in our secular western world.

Here is another one.

“…Covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3.5).

“…No covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5.5).

How is covetousness idolatry?  Covetousness is idolatry because the heart is filled with a lust for something other than God.  It is a heart issue—the idols of the heart.  Do we not trust God to give us whatever is necessary to glorify Him in our lives—whether material or spiritual?  (Yes, it’s also idolatry to covet our brother’s spiritual blessing for ourselves.)

These two areas of idolatry are rampant out there in “the world.”  But because we Christians live in the world we are vulnerable.  Perhaps we are not abandoning Christ wholesale and turning to the idols of the world, although that does happen, I know.  The more serious problem is that we want Christ and our idols.  We want Christ and what the world has to offer as well—its pursuits and joys and toys.  So we have this phenomenon so common in our day.  I am fixated on prosperity—so I make a Christian doctrine out of it.  If I was a biker, now I become a Christian biker.  If I was into the rock scene, now I become a Christian rocker.  If I am into football in a serious way, now I become a Christian football player.  I love the glory of entertaining.  Now I will give Christian concerts.  I will be a Christian movie star.  We want to pursue the best the world has to offer, and be a Christian too, so we don’t miss out on God.  Of course we want God—but just to bless us in the pursuit of our own endeavours.

Jesus’ words still stand.  On one occasion when He saw the multitudes following Him He turned and said to them, “…And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14.25-27).  (How’s that for an evangelistic technique, by the way—telling the multitudes to go home unless they are prepared to take up their cross?)

We Christians are to walk a holy walk—in the world yet not of the world.  Nevertheless, it is not a stiff legalistic holiness that will draw the idolaters of the world into the worship of the true God.  It’s seeing the holiness of love—the love of the holy Jesus burning in the heart—that turns the idolaters to Him.  Jesus, who though He was “separate from sinners,” loved them deeply.  And they knew it.

Here’s a poem I’ve loved for a long time.  I’ve seen it quoted in part, but I found it in full one day.  It’s based on a passage in Hosea who back in his day decried with broken heart this chronic problem of God’s people wanting their idols along with their God.  It’s such a beautiful book—Hosea.  You touch over and over God’s love for His people—it’s He who is broken hearted—even as He pronounces judgments upon them for their waywardness.  And in the final analysis what is it that turns them back to Him?  (I confess I am far short of this myself—but am pursuing.)

“Ephraim shall say, what have I to do any more with idols?  I have heard Him, and (beheld) Him…” (Hos. 14.8).  That’s what does it!  Hearing Him!  Seeing the unmatchable Jesus!

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand, own Him?
Joyful choose the better part?

Idols, once they won thee, charmed thee,
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded, thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter pain and smart,
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

‘Tis the look that melted Peter,
‘Tis the face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw:

Draw and win and fill completely
Till the cup o’erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Miss Ora Rowan
(1834-1879)

Professional Sports–Idolatry

I’ll probably be in trouble for this one, but I commend it to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Tim Tebow is the U.S. football star who recently made quite a stir for having John 3:16 in the—what do you call it—the blacking below his eyes.  It was his way of openly declaring to all the world that he is a Christian.  Tebow also bows on the field and openly prays to Jesus for help throughout the game.  He thanks Him when he makes a great play.

Tebow is not the first in a major professional sport with a reputation for being a Christian, but the media have sensationalized him now, drawing worldwide attention to the man who bows on one knee and prays right there on the field.  Tebowing, as it has been dubbed, is the latest fad for thousands, many of whom are not even into sports.

Tebow’s fame recently went viral when he made a “miraculous” pass that won a game that landed his team in some kind of playoffs.  Suddenly the sports world exploded.  Did this man really have Jesus on his side?  Detractors howled against him; for others, expectations were high that his team was destined for victory.

But according to the news they were soundly trounced in the first game.  I didn’t hear if Tebow bowed and thanked the Lord for this as well.

Now, I don’t doubt that Tim Tebow is an upstanding Christian who is walking in the light he has.  He has the reputation for being a clean young Christian man in a day when clean is a dirty word.  That’s very commendable.

But I want to ask a question.  What is the difference between the kind of Christianity in which you can be involved in one of the world’s greatest forms of idolatry and still be a Christian—and the kind of Christianity that totally parts ways with all that?

Here is an account of what happened during the powerful revival that swept Wales in 1905.  It’s from a book called, “The Invasion of Wales by the Spirit” by James A. Stewart.

A sense of the Lord’s Presence was everywhere.  His Presence was felt in the homes, on the streets, in the mines, factories and schools and even in the drinking saloons.  So great was His Presence felt that even the places of amusement and carousal became places of holy awe.  Many were the instances of men entering taverns, ordering drinks and then turning on their heels and leaving them untouched.

Wales up to this time was in the grip of football fever when tens of thousands of working-class men thought and talked only of one thing.  They gambled also on the result of the games.  Now the famous football players themselves got converted and joined the open-air meetings to testify what glorious things the Lord had done for them.  Many of the teams were disbanded as the players got converted and the stadiums were empty….

The gambling and alcohol businesses lost their trade and the theatres closed down from lack of patronage.  Football during this time was forgotten by both players and fans, though nothing was mentioned from the pulpits about the evils of football.  In this country which had a general reputation of being ‘football mad’ the train for taking the crowds to the international trial match was found to be almost empty!  The people had a new life and new interests.

One of football’s sisters in entertainment—the theatre—was also abandoned at that time.

Theatrical companies made sure that they did not come to Wales as they knew that there they would go bankrupt.

What kind of Christianity is this?  Teams shutting down because the players turned to Jesus?  My.  The stadiums empty?  How awesome.  And how strange!  Hence my question.  What is the difference between that kind of Christianity, and our brand?  This.  The revival in Wales brought people so face to face with spiritual reality that these other things simply could not compete.  Professional sports and entertainment became exposed for what they actually are—the idolatrous and empty vanities of this world.  It wasn’t a matter of people being told they shouldn’t be involved in such evils.  Suddenly they were caught up in a current of “love, vast as an ocean, lovingkindness as a flood…”  That’s the first line of the hymn that became what was called the love song of the revival.  People were broken by an awareness of the love of God as revealed in Calvary’s Cross.  They abandoned their former pursuits.  Why go to the games?  Or the theatre?  What is entertainment when you have the love of God now, and the joy of the Lord?

Yet in our kind of Christianity you can apparently take Jesus to the games or the theatre with you.  Apparently He is glad to go along.  Our Jesus apparently hasn’t got what it takes to beat them.  So, you know how it is.  If you can’t beat them you join them.  If you are a movie star who becomes a Christian, now you become a Christian movie star.  If you are a terrific professional football player, now you become a terrific Christian professional football player.  The love of God that compelled Jesus to lay down His life on the altar of Calvary’s Cross is an embarrassment to this kind of Christianity, and entirely out of place.

I don’t think anyone who loves Jesus could knowingly get involved in idolatry.  And I have no doubt in my mind that professional sports is abominable idolatry.  Yet countless Christians are involved in it either as spectators or players.  So it’s a matter of light—seeing that the entertainment industry—I include professional sports in the entertainment industry—has become horrible idolatry.  It is enmity against the holy God, who created man to love and worship and glorify Him alone.

There’s nothing at all wrong with a friendly game of hockey or basketball, or teaching children skills in sports.  But look what has happened to professional sports of every kind.  Surely we see this.  The money involved makes you nauseous.  It’s what God did when he gave Israel the quail in the desert.  They cried for flesh and he gave it to them till it came out their nostrils.  It was a judgment on them.  The same now.  The salaries they get now are decadent, to say nothing of the multiplied billions spent advertising a lifestyle that is brazen enmity against God.  My advice?  Run from it!  It is the judgment of a grieved and angry God.  And I believe we will yet see very severe judgments in the areas of professional sports and entertainment—these idols of Egypt.

Yes, it is idolatry.  When young men and women sacrifice their lives on the idol altars of money and fame, it is idolatry.  Lives that Jesus bled and died for on the altar of Calvary’s Cross go up in smoke on the idol altars—sacrificed to the enjoyment of millions still in darkness.  There they are by the millions—out in the stands watching the games, or in front of the TV.

The incredulous thing is, even the Christians have sold out to this.  It doesn’t seem to enter our minds to consider why it is that these millions in darkness are sitting together in the idol’s temple—the stadium or the arena or the living room in front of the TV—and to ask why it is that we Christians are sitting there beside them—or playing for them.

“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.
Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…” (2 Cor.6.16,17).

You mean, like the Lord Jesus Christ, I too am a temple of the living God?  But can you envision Jesus Christ Himself sitting in the stadium cheering for His team… or playing for those in the stands?

What’s In Your Scope? (Pt. 2)

Paul’s exhortation is that we “scope in” on the things that are unseen—eternal things—not on the things that are seen, which are temporal.

The same Greek verb skopeo is used a few other times in Scripture, though not often.  Here is one more instance that really speaks to me from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2.4).

There’s our word again.  Look—consider, heed carefully… scope.  This is what is to be in our scope, fellow Christian—not always our own things, but the things of others also.  The problems, the concerns, the needs, the hopes—of others.  I mentioned last time that when you are looking into a scope you are pretty much oblivious to all else.  That’s all you see.  That’s certainly the way it is when it’s our own problems and concerns that fill our scope.  We are more or less oblivious to all else.  In fact it becomes a kind of captivity, as I recall David Wilkerson once saying, when our Enemy has succeeded in causing us to be always preoccupied with our own problems, and the needs of our brother and our sister are scarcely on our radar.  That is great defeat to the body of Christ, Wilkerson said.

How wonderful and liberating, and victorious, then—when we are scoped in on the concerns of others.  Oh, to see this in operation in the body of Christ—the love that makes us as focused on the things of our brother and sister as we were on our own things—and they showing the same care for you and me.  It’s the liberty of love—release from the shackles of self, being freed up to serve others and their interests.

I also recall reading wheelchair-bound quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada saying that the thing she found most difficult about her affliction was the temptation to be always turned inward on herself.  She said she had to discipline herself strictly to keep from doing so.

Let us do the same.  We need to be earnestly seeking the Lord for the grace to “look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

It appears Paul’s friend Timothy was such a man.  Paul spoke highly of Timothy, telling the Philippians a little further on in his letter to them, “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally (that is, genuinely) care for your state.  For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil. 2.21).

What is the evidence that Timothy is seeking the things of Jesus Christ?  He genuinely cares for the state of the saints.

So—these two, which really are one and the same, I think.

1) Keeping in our scope that which is unseen, the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom that ruleth over all; and,

2) Being preoccupied with His interests—the things of others.

Let’s get these two in our sights with binocular vision—and keep them there!