Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why and When

There is a contextual problem in reading the New Testament.  Without years of study, we typically don’t understand the who, when, and why of what we are reading. Unfortunately, because so many never make it through those years of study, they are left with a complete misunderstanding of what the New Testament story actually was. Many (even many of those who have studied) are left completely unaware that there was a story.  It easily becomes a huge example of scripture taken out of context. It causes confusion. It generates false doctrines. It helps to promote so many of the wrongs we see around us today.
Back during the time of Jerome (about 405 AD, and contrary to the opinions of many Christians living at the time), when the New Testament books were selected and placed in the order they currently exist, It was the common habit of publishers to place books by the same author in order of their length. A longer book was considered to be of greater importance than a shorter book, and therefore given preference. This policy was not changed when it came to scripture.  The order of the books was not ordained by God, but by the traditions of 3rd century Greek printers, and I submit that it has a huge impact on our understanding of the New Testament.

To read the New Testament as it is, is very much like taking a novel, cutting the binding off of it, and rearranging all the chapters in order of their length, then rebinding it. Yes, you will still get all the same information, but you lose the story. You lose the context in which each was written, and you don’t really understand what you have read.
This gives us our current problem. We may know the New Testament, but we don’t know the story. We don’t know what really happened to cause those letters to be written, or what problems they were intended to address.  We are stuck in the position of one who is reading someone else’s mail and attempting to apply it to our own lives, without understanding why it was written in the first place.

Here are the orders I am talking about.  Do you see how this could cause confusion?

Order as Presented in the New Testament:

Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Luke
Gospel of John
Acts of the Apostles
Paul's letter to the Romans
Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians
Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians
Paul's letter to the Galatians
Paul's letter to the Ephesians
Paul's letter to the Philippians
Paul's letter to the Colossians
Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians
Paul's 2nd letter to the Thessalonians
Paul's 1st letter to Timothy
Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy
Pauls letter to Titus
Pauls letter to Philemon
Letter from (*Paul?) to the Hebrews
James letter to the scattered Tribes
1st letter from Peter
2nd letter from Peter
1st letter from John
2nd letter from John
3rd letter from John
Jude's letter to the (universal) church
Johns revelation of Jesus Christ

Order as Written in Time:

Paul's letter to the Galatians
James letter to the scattered tribes
Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians
Paul's 2nd letter to the Thessalonians
Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians
Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians
Paul's letter to the Romans
Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Matthew
Paul's letter to the Colossians
Paul's letter to Philemon
Paul's letter to the Ephesians
Gospel of Luke
Acts of the Apostles
Paul's letter to the Philippians
Paul's 1st letter to Timothy
Paul's letter to Titus
1st letter from Peter
2nd letter from Peter
Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy
Letter from (*Paul?) to the Hebrews
Jude's letter to the (universal) church
Gospel of John
1st letter from John
2nd letter from John
3rd letter from John
John's revelation of Jesus Christ

* It is unknown who actually wrote this letter. Some believe it was written by Apollo, others believe it was Barnabas or James. You should form your own conclusion, even if that conclusion is that it doesn’t matter who the author was.

Placing the books in chronological order helps greatly, but is not really enough.  We need to see the who, and the why, and the when, and the where in order to really understand the story.  It is my hope and prayer that this helps in forming a better understanding of the New Testament.

Steve Ruyle

A.D. 30   9:00 am Sunday, May 29, The church is born.   The Holy Spirit descends on 120 people who had been praying in a rented room. As they burst out into the street, and into a huge crowd, some accuse them of being drunk. Peter responds with the gospel story and many are saved.
Who were those 120? We don’t know, but we can guess at their identities.  Twelve apostles we know of; then there was his mother, and Lazarus, and his family, and the guy who was let down by ropes thru a hole torn in the roof, and the four friends who tore the hole open, and maybe the man who wasn't blind anymore, and the woman who didn't bleed anymore, and the man who wasn't a leper anymore, and the list goes on and on. It is easy to come up with 120 possibles of who would have been there; people who had met him and had their lives changed, and their families. Anyway, can you imagine the testimony of those people, once filled with the Holy Spirit and finally seeing the truth, and then they all pour out onto a crowded street and explode with the glory of what they had seen.  In total, several thousand people are saved and added to the church that day.
A.D. 30-31 Church life begins. Imagine over 10,000 people living with "all things in common".
There are estimates of anywhere from 15,000-30,000 people in the church during this first year.
Remember that 10,000 were added in the first week.

One of those believers, a man named Joseph from Cyprus, sells his land and all his belongings, gives the money to the apostles for the benefit of the church, and spends his time encouraging the church. He is nicknamed Barnabas by the apostles. (Barnabas means ‘Son of Encouragement’.)

A.D. 31-33 Persecution begins. Arrests, floggings, etc.

A.D. 33-34 The first crisis hits the Jerusalem church. According to some members of the church, food is not being equally distributed among the believers. The church appoints a group of seven men to oversee the food distribution. The problem is resolved.  

A.D. 35-37 Stephen (one of the seven) is martyred. One man, a young Pharisee from Tarsus named Saul, guards the clothes of the executioners and shows full support for Stephen's death.  With the permission and blessing of the High priest, Saul then goes from house to house arresting both men and women, and having them put in prison. This has the opposite effect of what was intended. Rather than finishing off this troublesome group of Christians, the church scatters across Palestine. And everywhere they go, they share their Lord. The gospel is now being planted in hundreds of little towns. 

The twelve leave Jerusalem and begin traveling to establish these new churches. The half brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, begin to travel as well.

Phillip (one of the seven) travels to Samaria, raises up a church there, sends the gospel to Ethiopia via a eunuch who was the official state treasurer of Ethiopia. Phillip lives in Caesarea for the next 20 years.

At the age of 78, on 16 March 37 A.D., Emperor Tiberius quietly dies in a villa at Misenum. 
Gaius (Caligula), unstable as he is, now becomes emperor of Rome.
A.D. 37-40 Saul is given permission to go to Damascus Syria to search for and arrest any Christians living there.  While enroute, Jesus Christ appears to him and confronts him about his actions. This head on collision with Jesus Christ is a life changing moment for Saul. He is blinded. He then repents, believes, is baptized, and healed of his blindness. With his conversion, this period of persecution ends for many, but begins for him.

Saul immediately begins preaching Jesus Christ in the synagogues. After baffling the Jews and astonishing the Christians in Damascus, He disappears to Arabia, where he remains for about three years. During this time, he is taught the gospel by divine revelation from Jesus Christ. He then returns to Damascus and once again preaches Christ in the synagogues. The priests repeatedly try to kill him.  He travels south to Jerusalem and spends a couple of weeks with Peter.  The lord appears to Paul, telling him to leave. The message is confirmed by the church, and he is bundled off to Tarsus.  He then begins to travel throughout Syria and Cilicia to preach the gospel.

A.D. 40-41 Peter travels throughout Palestine. While in Caesarea, he has a vision showing that Jew and Gentile are one and the same, and that ‘What God has cleansed, let no man call unclean’.  Many of the ‘unclean’ Gentiles in Caesarea are saved and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Peter is amazed when they begin to speak in tongues. God has truly accepted these Gentiles as equals of the Jews. On that day, a church is planted in Caesarea.

A.D 41, Early in the afternoon of January 24, Caligula is assassinated by members of his own bodyguard.  Claudius becomes Emperor of Rome.

A.D. 41 Some of those Christians that scattered from Jerusalem preach the gospel in Antioch, Syria and a church is planted there. 

A.D. 42 Saul of Tarsus (while in Cilicia) has a profound spiritual experience. He is unsure if it happened physically or just spiritually. All he knows is that in some way he ascends to the "third heaven" and sees things that are unlawful for a man to even repeat.

A.D. 43 A prophecy of a great famine, covering all of the Roman world, is given to the church in Antioch by a man named Abagus. The Antioch church begins laying up a collection to relieve the church in Jerusalem. The church selects Barnabas and Saul to carry the money to Jerusalem.

A.D. 44 Famine strikes the Roman Empire. James the apostle (John's brother) is martyred by order of Herod. That same year, Herod decrees himself God, and is subsequently eaten by worms.  Julius Caesar is murdered. Barnabas and Saul arrive in Jerusalem with the money raised by Antioch.

A.D. 47 The church in Antioch is seven years old. A special meeting is held. Barnabas and Saul have been set apart by God to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. The church confirms the message from God, lays hands on them, prays for them and sends them out to plant churches among the gentiles. 

John Mark (Barnabas's younger cousin and author of the gospel of Mark) accompanies them. They visit Cypress, preach the gospel, are tied to a pillar, whipped and imprisoned.
(This was the first of many times Paul will be beaten) After the Governors sorcerer is blinded, and the governor is converted, they are freed. They then sail to South Galatia. Saul now takes the lead in the journey. He also now begins using his Greco-Roman name Paul, instead of his Jewish name Saul. They are shipwrecked as they sail from Paphos, Cyprus to Perga, and attacked by bandits in the Targus Mountains. John Mark gets discouraged. He is also disturbed that his cousin Barnabas is no longer the group’s leader. He leaves and heads home to Jerusalem. Paul views this as unfaithfulness and abandonment.

A.D. 47-48 New churches are planted in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
If you take their travel time into account, Paul and Barnabas spend less than 5 months in each of the new churches of Galatia. In each church they found, they leave no-one in charge, appoint no elders, but immediately abandon the new believers to the care of the Holy Spirit.  It should be noted that, at a later point in time, they do appoint elders in each of these churches.
A.D. 49 Paul and Barnabas are still away in Galatia when Peter visits the church in Syrian Antioch. While there, Peter enjoys dinners and fellowship with the gentile believers. A group of legalists arrive from Jerusalem with letters from James.

They are Judaizers, committed to keeping the Mosaic law and encouraging/requiring others to do the same. They persuade Peter to quit eating with the gentiles, as it is not only highly offensive to them, it is causing them problems with their evangelizing of other like minded Jews. Not wishing to cause problems, Peter ignores his earlier vision and begins eating exclusively with the Jews. 

When Paul returns, He publicly rebukes Peter for his hypocrisy. Peter returns to Jerusalem and tells of his journey to some in the church. He also tells of the new Gentile churches Paul and Barnabas have planted in South Galatia. At hearing this, a group of Judaizers, led by one unnamed man, (whom I believe Paul later refers to as his "thorn in the flesh") head for Galatia to visit the four churches and ensure they are keeping Mosaic Law. 

When they arrive in Galatia, they introduce themselves as being from, and carrying the authority of the Jerusalem church, and tell the new converts in Galatia the following:

Jerusalem is the home and focal point of Gods work on earth.
The twelve apostles are the only authority in the church, and were commissioned by Christ himself.  Paul has no such commission. Though Paul did once visit Jerusalem and was authorized by the apostles to preach the basic principles of the gospel which they had taught him, Paul has since modified that gospel to increase its acceptability, He left out the hard parts.
Paul’s gospel is untrue. You must keep the law and follow the practice of circumcision.
The lawless gospel he proclaims is not supported by the Jerusalem church or its leaders.
Paul even had the audacity to rebuke Peter to his face, thus proving he is a rebel and in engaging in an independent work. Paul is wholly inconsistent in his teaching and teaches only what his listeners wish to hear. We have heard him proclaim the law to the Jews, but he does away with it when speaking to the Gentiles.

Once the Judaizers leave, the four churches are greatly troubled. Some are now getting circumcised and seeking to be justified by the law. These are also urging others to do the same and criticizing/condemning those who refuse. Some of the church write a letter to Paul (who is still in Antioch, Syria) asking him why he failed to tell them the whole gospel, which includes circumcision and keeping the law. The letter both perplexes and angers him. 

The letter he writes back to the Galatians is a landmark. It is the Magna Carta of Christianity. Aside from being the first piece of Christian literature ever written, it is a monumental statement against legalism.  Paul answers every charge laid against him and his gospel by the Judaizers.  Sanctification and justification are by grace through faith and NOT by works of the law. 

Note: This is the only letter Paul writes that omits his normal thanksgiving greeting,
and actually accuses the Galatians of abandoning Christianity.

A.D. 49 Paul writes his letter to the Galatians.

(Stop and read Galatians now)

A.D 50 In Jerusalem, the Judaizers are blasting Paul over the matter of circumcision.
To resolve the matter, the church in Antioch sends Paul, Barnabas, and a few other men to Jerusalem to find out if the Judaizers represent the apostles, the elders or the church as a whole. Before leaving, and because of the crisis, Paul and Barnabas appoint elders in each of the churches. When they arrive in Jerusalem, they are received with joy by the entire church, and proceed to give a report of what God is doing among the Gentiles.

At this, some of the circumcision party stand up and protest that the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law. A short lived debate ensues, then Peter stands up to give his take on the issue.

Peter agrees with Paul and argues that the Gentiles do not have to keep the law or be circumcised, that they are saved by faith alone. The church falls silent. Paul and Barnabas share with the church all the signs and wonders done by God in those churches that prove their gospel of grace to be true.

James, (the Lord's half-brother) then speaks and summarizes Peter's argument.

He agrees with Peter and Paul, and states that the Gentiles should only abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from eating blood, and from fornication. No other burden should be laid upon the Gentiles.  James's words are accepted and received by the whole church and consensus is reached.  The church then writes a letter containing these prohibitions to be read to the Gentile churches.  Here is that letter:

From the apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.  "Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,  men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  "Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth.  "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:  that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell."

Paul, Barnabas and two brothers from the Jerusalem church, Silas (also called Silvanus), and Judas Barsabbas, make their way back to Antioch, read the letter, and the church is greatly relieved and encouraged. 

In Palestine, the dispersed Jewish believers are suffering persecution from unconverted Jews and gentiles. In particular, the affluent are robbing them of their land and hauling them into court.  At the same time, the huge influx of Greek goods coming into the area is causing a class of wealthy merchants to emerge. Some of the Christians are seeking to become wealthy as traders, and in the church, the wealthy are being shown undue favoritism because the poor are afraid of offending them. Additionally, they hear vague rumors of the recent council in Jerusalem. They hear that, under Paul’s influence, the apostles have positioned themselves against the Law of Moses. They hear a corrupted version of Paul's teaching. They are told that Paul is teaching that you may live any way you wish and God doesn’t care as long as you have faith in his son’s ability to save you. Believing that this is the position of the church, many of the Jewish Christians begin to live very loose and worldly lives. They hurt one another with uncontrolled and critical speech. They openly discriminate against the poor and give preferential treatment to the rich. There is sickness in the churches. (Note that in the Jewish mind, sickness is always associated with sin.) Some are ambitious to teach and are either wholly unqualified or lacking the call and anointed to do so, and are teaching anyway. Word of this situation reaches James (the Lord's half brother) and he writes a letter to address it.

James writes his letter to his Jewish brethren. I.e.: to the scattered tribes.

(Stop and read James now)

Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the churches in Galatia. Barnabas wants to take John Mark again. Paul refuses, feeling that he deserted them on the first trip. The disagreement results in the two men parting company.  Barnabas and John Mark go to Cyprus. Paul decides to take Silas with him to South Galatia, if the church approves.  Silas has been in the Jerusalem church for 20 years.  The partnership is approved by the church, and the two set off on foot for Galatia. They first visit the churches in Cilicia and Syria, then make their way by land to the four churches in Galatia.  The churches have survived their crisis. Paul’s letter had been received and embraced, and the churches are standing fast on nothing but the Lord Jesus.

At Lystra, they notice a young man named Timothy.  He is well respected in the churches of both Iconium and Lystra.  Timothy has a Greek father and a Jewish mother.  Paul and Silas ask Timothy to accompany them. The church at Lystra approves, lays hands on Timothy, and sends them on their way. Because Timothy’s mother was a Jew, he will also be accepted as one, because he is a good speaker, and because Paul needs his support in the synagogues, He circumcises Timothy. This way the Jews will listen to him, and the benefit to the synagogues will not be lost. His doing so is in no way a contradiction to his gospel.

After their tour of Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia, Paul wants to head west into Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit stops them. They head north to the border of Mysia (northern Greece) and the Holy Spirit stops them again.

They go instead northwest into a Roman colony named Troas. There Paul has a dream calling him to preach the gospel in Macedonia.  In Troas, a gentile itinerant physician named Luke joins them for the journey to Macedonia. (This is the Luke who wrote the gospel of Luke)

They sail from Troas straight to Samothrace in one day, the next day they arrive at Neopolis and finally the third day they walk the 13 miles to Philippi. In Philippi they stay several days and on the Sabbath go outside the city to the river where they meet a group of God-fearing women by the bank of the river. One of those women was named Lydia. The Lord opens her heart to receive Paul’s message. A church is born in Philippi, and meets in the home of Lydia. She also opens her home to Paul and Silas.
While staying in Lydia’s home, it happened that as they were going to the synagogue, a slave-girl with a spirit of divination, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling met them, and following after Paul and Silas, kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."  She continued to follow them and do this for many days until Paul became highly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it did. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities, and said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."  The crowd then rose up against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
After their beating, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was ordered to guard them securely; so he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, He knew he would not be able to endure the punishment for allowing the prisoners to escape. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself, but Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!" And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."  and they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And together they ate and rejoiced at the jailer’s belief in God having saved his household.
The next morning, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men."  And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you Therefore come out now and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No! Let them come themselves and get us out."  When the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates, They were afraid. You didn’t treat Roman citizens this way and get away with it.  And so they came to the prison and got them, then kept begging them to leave the city.
After Paul and Silas got out of prison, they went back to Lydia’s house, encouraged the church that was there, and left town to continue their journey.
A.D. 51 Paul, Silas, and Timothy head west on the Roman road called the Egnatian Way and eventually reach Thessalonica.  A church is planted in the city.  A group of Jews stir up some trouble against one of the church members. Though the charges are dropped, Paul, Silas and Timothy are forced to leave town or face having this members property taken from him.

A.D. 51 They go 60 miles down the coast to Berea. Berea sees many converts, including a young man named Sopater. A church is planted in Berea. The Jews from Thessalonica who caused the problems there, hear of a church being planted in Berea, and so come to cause the same problems again. Paul is forced to leave town again.

A.D. 51 While Silas and Timothy remain in Berea, Paul goes alone to Athens. He finds an altar to ‘The unknown God’ and proclaims this to be the God he is speaking of. A few men accept his words and are added to the saved, but all in all, his words are foolishness to such wise people as the Athenians. There are few converts and a church is not planted there.

Paul again heads west and reaches Corinth. At Corinth he meets Aquilla and his wife Pricilla. They, like Paul, are tentmakers, and the three set up business together.

First-century Corinth was one of the great cities of the ancient world. It was large (perhaps 700,000 people), prestigious, and affluent, the capitol of the Roman Province of Achaia, and the residence of the Roman Proconsul (governor).  It was located on a narrow isthmus, a strip of land about four miles wide, between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. Travel around the peninsula was long and dangerous, so most ship owners chose to portage their ships overland on skids.  This was faster, safer, and more economical. And so Corinth became a city of the world. Consequently, it also became a great center of trade and commerce.
For centuries, Corinth had been a thriving, wealthy, city of commerce. When the Romans seized the city in 146 BC, they burned it to the ground.  It is said by a number of historians, that after the fire, something new was found in the remains of one of the metal storehouses; a new type of bronze. I.e.: copper and tin mixed with gold and silver giving it unusual beauty and corrosion resistance. This became known as Corinthian Brass and was another of the reasons for the cities wealth.
Archaeologists have uncovered there one of the great “shopping malls” of the ancient world, the Agora. The streets were lined with shops selling the best of everything that was available in that day: Corinthian brass, Thyatyrian die, Italian tents, Phrygian slaves, Lyconian wool, Silician goats’ hair, Arabian horses, Phonician dates and produce, Lybian ivory, Babylonian carpets, as well as the local meat and liquor markets and all that is necessary to local “shopping.”  By 54 A.D. when Paul arrived, it could be called “the empire in miniature” as everything in the entire Roman empire was represented in Corinth. 
Architecturally, the city was beautiful and modern, with the famous “Corinthian columns” on buildings everywhere. In the center of the Agora was the Bema, the “judgment seat” — a high platform running 700 by 300 feet and made of white and blue marble. This platform was used for public speaking and for public judgment by the magistrates. It provides the background allusion for Paul’s exhortations and instruction regarding the “Bema (judgement seat) of Christ” in 2 Cor. 5:10, as well as other references in the NT.
Corinth was also a great center of entertainment, the home of the famous Olympian and Isthmian games held in its great amphitheater, seating some 20,000 spectators. This provides the background for Paul’s allusion of the Christian life as a race or other athletic event (see for example, 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Corinth, as a port city, grew large and prosperous and was well known for it’s immorality. Thievery was rampant. Bars and brothels were plentiful.  Services of any and every kind could be obtained in this city. In fact within the Roman world, the word Corinth had become common slang for immorality.  A Corinthian on stage was always shown as foul mouthed, a drunkard, a womanizer, or in some other way, immoral.  To play the Corinthian” meant visiting a brothel, and a prostitute was known as “A Corinthian girl”.
On a granite mound above the city stood the Acropolis — a fortress and pagan center of worship situated more than a third of a mile high. The Roman historian Strabo tells us that this Temple of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of “love” housed some 1,000 priestesses/prostitutes. These temple prostitutes sold their services day and night, as a part of pagan fertility goddess worship. This was the Corinth to which the apostle Paul took the gospel of grace, and where Jesus Christ chose to establish a portion of his kingdom.
Silas and Timothy join Paul in Corinth. The church has sent a financial gift to Paul via Silas. It will relieve much of Paul’s burden.  Paul temporarily quits work as a tentmaker to preach the gospel full time. It is during this time that he meets and preaches the gospel to a wealthy Roman citizen named Gaius Titius Justus. Gaius lives next door to the synagogue.

Timothy has brought news from Thessalonica. The Thessalonican church is being persecuted but is standing fast. It is also preaching the gospel. Many have visited them and been encouraged in their faith by them. However, due to the pressure they are under, some of the Thessalonian believers have returned to their pagan lifestyles; chiefly fornication. Someone has died recently, and the believers are grieving the loss. They have questions about what happens when they die.

Paul decides to write them a letter to comfort them, to help correct the ones who are straying from the way, and to counteract the common accusations of the Judaizers, before they are made. He also reminds them of the coming day of the Lord’s wrath and closes by exhorting them to take care of one another.

Paul writes his 1st letter to the Thessalonians.

(Stop and read 1st Thessalonians now)

Gaius Justus opens his home to be a meeting place for the church. Paul continues to preach in Corinth and before long, a group of believers are meeting daily in Gaius’s home to share their Lord with one another.
Paul gets word that the Thessalonians have misinterpreted his letter. They believe the Lords day of wrath is at hand, and many are very disturbed by it. Some have quit their jobs in anticipation of it, and are living off the other believers. Now having way too much time on their hands, they have become busybodies in the lives of the other believers.

Paul writes another letter to them to correct these issues.

(Stop and read 2nd Thessalonians now)

The money brought to Paul by Silas from Philippi has run out, and he has returned to full time tentmaking. Standing by his conviction that men should work for a living, and that the gospel should be free of charge, He refuses to take money from the Corinthian believers. He doesn’t want to weaken his gospel by being a burden on them.  His position is very simple. He believes that while it is perfectly lawful to receive payment for ministry, there is a higher and a better way. You can work for a living.

A.D. 53 Jews in Corinth attack Paul and accuse him of preaching an illegal religion before the local tribunal.  The case is considered to be an internal Jewish matter and is tossed out of court. Paul continues to live in Corinth for awhile longer before leaving for Ephesus. Paul stayed in Corinth for a total of 18 months. When he leaves, he takes Pricilla and Aquilla with him. At a stop along the way they temporarily separate. Aquilla and Pricilla go on to Ephesus; Paul sails to Caesarea and then journeys on to Jerusalem. Silas remains in Jerusalem. Paul returns to Antioch, Syria to rest before continuing to Ephesus. Timothy returns to Lystra.

A.D. 53-54 Aquilla and Pricilla have settled in Ephesus and begun visiting the synagogue to locate those who are seeking God; Jew or Gentile. They follow up with those who had heard Paul’s message when he was there and were impressed. They share the gospel with a man named Epaenetus, who receives their gospel as truth, meets his Lord that day, and becomes the first convert in Ephesus. He is also named as the first convert in Asia. Another man named Apollos comes into town and eloquently preaches Jesus Christ at the synagogue. He is a cultured Greek Jew from Alexandria, a charismatic personality, and a masterful orator.  He is a Christian; and although well founded in the Old Testament, his knowledge of Christian practices had a few gaps. He knew nothing of Christian baptism. He knew only of the baptism proclaimed by John the Baptist, and he had not been baptized.  They also gave him a letter of commendation to Corinth asking the church to accept him, and with that letter, he left Ephesus and headed for Corinth.

Upon his arrival in Corinth, Apollos begins arguing with and refuting the Jews in the local Synagogue. His knowledge, logic, and rhetorical skill are greater than any the locals have ever seen.  He also encourages the local believers to grow in grace.  As a result, some of the Corinthian believers, (mostly Greeks) form a party around Apollos. Paul was never this gifted as an orator nor was he as spiritual. (Oratory capability and knowledge were a reflection of spirituality in the Greek mind.)

About the time Apollos left, Barnabas arrives. So do Peter and his wife.  Peter, as was his habit when visiting churches, heals many of the city’s sick. As a result, a party forms around Peter, (The Jews were known for being awed by signs and wonders.)

In reaction to the splits forming in the church, some of the church declare that Paul is the
only apostle they recognize.  Others declare they are only of Christ and don’t follow men of any sort.  The church is splitting at the seams.  Sectarianism has found its root.

A.D. 54

While Apollos was still in Corinth, Paul and Titus leave Antioch for Galatia and then Ephesus, They have not been to the Galatian churches in 4 years. Paul has some goals for this trip.

He wants to:
  1. Establish a Jerusalem relief fund.  This will not only aid the poorest of the       churches, but will help to heal a rift between Jew and Gentile.  
  1. Train men to carry on after him. (He is over 50 now, and sees his end coming)
  2. Take the gospel to Rome and Spain.

Ephesus was one of the great Grecian cities of the ancient world. Not only a port city with a population of around 500,000, it was the capital of the Roman province of Asia (Asia Minor — now western Turkey). It was a center of political and commercial fame. Archaeologists have uncovered the huge amphitheater of Ephesus that seated some 24,000 people, the place where Paul and his associates are seen in Acts 19. 
Ephesus was also a center of pagan worship and boasted of the great temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” they would shout (Acts 19:34). It was also a center for the worship of the Roman emperor and his family.
Ephesus was typical of the ancient Greek cities with regard to morality or the lack thereof. Archaeologists have uncovered a large house of prostitution at a major intersection in the city.
Note that in his letter to the Ephesians Paul points out the shame of even mentioning the kinds of evil practiced in the society surrounding them, and he spends considerable energy exhorting the believers to moral purity that is becoming of one redeemed out of “darkness.”
Paul will remain in Ephesus for some two years and see the establishment of a church that is significant in its gospel impact. It was later the residence and place of ministry of the apostle John.

They visit and encourage the four churches, and give each instruction for the Jerusalem relief fund.  Along the way, they pick up Gaius from Derbe, and Timothy from Lystra.  The four travelers then make their way by land to Ephesus in Asia Minor.

When they arrive there, they meet the three brothers Paul has sent for; Sopater of Berea, as well as Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica. Paul will spend the next 3 years in Ephesus training these six men to act as his replacements. They are to spread the gospel throughout the Gentile world.

Shortly after arriving in Ephesus, Paul meets twelve men; former disciples of John the Baptist.  He tells them of the Lord Jesus. They receive the Lord, are baptized, and along with Aquilla and Pricilla, Epaenetus, Gaius, Timothy, Aristarchus, Secundus, Sopater, Titus, and Paul himself, become the Ephesus church.  Two more Greek men are soon added; Tychicus and Trophimus. And so the Ephesus church begins life as a community of 29 people. These two Greek men eventually join the six he is training, and so he trains a total of eight men.

Paul immediately goes back to work as a tentmaker and provides full support with his own hands for the men he is to train.  He also begins visiting the synagogue and preaching Jesus Christ.  After about 3 months, some of the Jews in the synagogue begin deriding not only him and his message, but ‘the way’ in general.  Paul washes his hands of them and rents a hall (The Hall of Tyrannus) to preach in.  Each day, he works on his trade from sunrise to about 11:00 am, (the end of the business day in Ephesus at the time) and preaches Christ; (training his six to eight apprentices) until about 4:30 pm.

For the next two years, Paul teaches daily on ‘the whole will and purpose of God’ in the Hall of Tyrannus. Meanwhile the church meets from house to house, in the homes of the Ephesus believers.  Paul often goes hungry or thirsty due to his own decision to be the sole supporter of these men he is training.

A.D. 54 Oct 13 Having been in power since 41 A.D., Emperor Claudius dies.  It is widely believed he was poisoned by his wife Agrippina to make way for her son Nero to become emperor.  As proof that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, it is only 5 years later that Nero has his mother killed.

Apollos returns to Ephesus and brings with him a former leader of the Corinth Synagogue, Sosthenes, now a Christian.  They meet with Paul and tell him of the problems being experienced by the Corinth church. The Corinthians are reverting back to their old lifestyles. I.e. that which still surrounds them: idol worship, fornication, and stealing from each other. 

Paul responds to this news by writing a letter to the church in Corinth.  (This letter is lost to us; we may only read of its implied existence.)

He asks them to no longer keep company with idol worshipers, fornicators or thieves in the church. He also tells them of the Jerusalem relief fund and asks them to set aside some funds for it. He explains his plan to visit them, followed by a visit to the churches in Macedonia, return to them, collect the relief fund, and transport it back to Jerusalem.

He then sends the Titus with the letter to Corinth. Titus helps the church to begin collecting for the relief fund, and then returns to Ephesus.

A.D. 55
Partially as a result of Paul’s letter condemning the old practices, and partially because of the flesh’s need to justify its actions and even cover itself in religious garb, the dualistic religious doctrine of Hellenistic Greece has begun to seep its way into the Corinthian church and be covered over with Christian religiospeak.  Dualism is being used to prove that since God is spirit, and it is the spirit of God that unites men with God, then what they do with their bodies is of no importance. Furthermore, since God’s spirit is eternal, and our bodies and this world only temporary, God is not concerned about anything we do while on this planet. Thus, sexual (and any other kind of) immorality is perfectly acceptable.  It is also claimed that since God is not interested in the physical world, there will be no resurrection of the dead.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Whats the difference?

About three years ago, while sitting around the fire pit in our backyard, a friend asked me a question.  “What is it that the early church had, that we are missing, that causes the difference between their experience and our experience?”  Answering that question took two years, and finally made clear what I was missing in all the years since I began the search to know Him.  It took another year for it to sink in enough that I could express it, and another two to post it here.  I hope it helps. 

One of the first things I found when I began researching this was ‘the hymn of the word’.  History declares that John opens his gospel with part of a song from that early church!  This song, found in the gospel of John 1:1-14 describes the knowledge and experience of who Jesus was to them.  It is here that we begin to find the differences between their experience and what we experience today, and is when the teaching of those men began to sink in…

What we see in that song is that according to the early Church:

Jesus Christ is the Word of God; and is God.
Jesus Christ is life, and that life shines as the light of men.  
Jesus Christ is light of the world.
Jesus Christ is salvation.
We later see that he is also: the way, the light, and the truth.

It is not a coincidence that the early church, who; living their lives by his life, taking Jesus Christ as their everything; as their all in all, was known as the way.  The early church lived their life by his life; not by bible study, not by the inspiring sermon of the week or the illustrious theological works of the age, but by the life of their indwelling Lord.

Did they have teachers? Yes they did. Men who were led by the Holy Spirit and who taught ‘sound doctrine’.  What was that ‘sound doctrine’?  It was simply that Jesus Christ saved them, that His life alone could and did change them; that His life alone was the life of the church, that His life alone was worthy, and that their lives were now hid in his, and His life now existed in them, and that they could live by that life.  They taught the church to daily seek His face, to seek his voice, to seek his desires, and to live by His life.  They taught nothing more, and nothing less. There are no doctrines in the bible. There is only Jesus Christ.  

It was the Holy Spirit who taught the early church, and taught them in what one spirit filled man called the ‘School of Christ’. The Holy Spirit didn’t teach them things or doctrines but only taught them Christ. They were not taught church doctrine, not baptism, or its various forms, not sanctification, not prophecy, or unity, not obedience, not patience, not even kindness, but only Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of all those things.  

Did they at some point receive teaching in some of those things? Yes, but only because they had lost their way, (as we will discuss later) and needed to refocus on He who was important.

What do we hear today?
Today, you will hear that He is all of the above, but, if you listen more closely, those very things are then replaced with:

The bible is the Word of God.
The bible will show you how to live.
The bible is the light for your road.
The bible will keep you out of trouble.
God no longer speaks to us as he did in those days. Now we have to read the bible instead.

I once even heard a man proclaim that since all scripture was inspired by God, and since the bible is scripture, and since scripture was the word of God, and the Word of God is God, then it is obvious that the Bible is God. This is nothing but lunacy in the name of Christianity. While this is not the norm, it does feed on the prevalent thought of our time; that the bible has surpassed the indwelling Holy Spirit in its importance to our Christian lives.

This century takes the bible and puts it in the place once given to Jesus Christ alone.  And here we begin to see the contrast; the difference.  They were the people of Jesus Christ. They lived by his life and were known by the world as ‘The way’.  We have become ‘a people of the book’ and are known by the world as ‘bible thumpers’. Do you see the difference?  How should we live? It is Simple. You have within you His life. Live by it. This is the simplest truth in the universe, and one that is so completely missed.

Does a cat have to learn to meow? No. It is part of ‘cat life’.  Cats live by ‘cat life’.  Let me say this again. How should Christians live? It is Simple.  You have within you His life. Divine Life. Live by it. Live your life entirely by the divine life that is within you.  It reflects on every thought you make, and every action you choose. You have the capability to live your every moment by that life. That is what changed the world once. It can do so again.

Is it wrong to read the bible? No.  Absolutely not, the bible was written as a sign to point to Jesus. You would be offended if your loved one never bothered to read what you had written to them. And so you should indeed read what you have been given. Reading the bible is a wonderful way to see Our Lord. Is it wrong to make the bible your focus? It is death. Only Jesus is worthy of your focus.  

It is possible to study the bible for years and not know Christ. Yet, by knowing Christ, it is not possible to study a bible without seeing him on every page.  It is merely a matter of focus. Once you change your focus from bible study to knowing Christ, the book opens up its mysteries and study finally shows real fruit.

If you ever studied geometry, you know that no matter how complex a shape may be, it can only have one center. If that center is anything other than Jesus Christ, then it is the wrong center. Jesus said, ”My father is spirit, and if you want to know him, you will do so in spirit.”  You will live by His life. You cant be ‘bible centered’. You must be ‘Christ centered’.

Jesus also said something to the effect of “You read the scriptures because you seek eternal life, but they only point at me. I am eternal life, I am the truth, I am the Life, I am the way.
Everything you seek is in me.”  The Bible contains truth and points at the truth, it points at the way, it points at the light, it chronicles life, but only Jesus IS the way, IS the truth, IS the light, and IS the life.

We hear daily that the bible is the truth and is the way, and is the life. Go to the bible for your help. This is akin to a group of people who wander out of the desert looking for Los Angeles, and after finally finding a road sign with Los Angeles printed on it, They make camp there, and insist they have found their goal. Unfortunately, they never notice the other part of the sign that says; “230 miles”. The sign is not Los Angeles. It is not what they were looking for, and to claim it to be so, and to live there only brings injury and death. The Bible was given as a sign.  It points at Jesus Christ, and much like the Los Angeles sign, simply points the way to our final destination.  We must go all the way there. He is not only the way, but the destination as well.

Our modern tradition is to take the letters of the New Testament and think of them as showing the structure of the church. We see what the New Testament presents of the church and we take the offices mentioned and the structures and where we think they all fit together and we combine that with the history of the gospels and of Acts, and create what we consider to be the superstructure of Christianity. We then take that structure and the categorical doctrines it created, and the New Testament becomes - and has become for Christianity in general - a crystallized system of practice, a systematic theology. And in doing this, we miss and lose the Lord.

Do you see what I mean by that?  The Holy Spirit’s way is to take Christ and show Christ to the heart, and show that Christ is a heavenly order; not that the Bible forms a manual for a heavenly order, but that Christ is that order, and everything in the matter of order has to be kept immediately in relation to the living Person of Jesus Christ.

If it becomes some thing, then it becomes an earthly system; and you can make a thousand different earthly systems all built upon the Bible.  It will support any number of different systems, any number of different interpretations, and all are represented by Christian groups who are certain they have the truth. And the reason they all exist is that these ‘things’ have been divorced from the Person of Jesus Christ and have become just things.

Unfortunately, this happens even if the subject is “Unity”. Anything, even something that is part of the essence of our Lord, once divorced from his person, becomes a cause of division. There are innumerable things and teachings that have gone down this road and each is in part responsible for the sad state we see today.

Just a few of the things which have been taken from the Scriptures and have become things that people have gathered around are  "the kingdom of God",  "holiness", "eternal security", "spiritual gifts", "freedom in Christ", "grace",  "obedience" and ‘unity’.

And so, as it has worked out, some people who had an interest in holiness will group up around a holiness teaching, and they become the holyists, and it becomes an "ism", a sect, a denomination. Others split off; and form up around baptism teachings. Still others gather around spiritual gifts,
or ‘Gods sovereignty’, or ‘obedience’, or ‘salvation’ or fill in the blank with the doctrine or teaching of your choice.

In the end you get the thousands of denominations or sects that fill our world today.  That would be absolutely impossible if the Person of the Jesus was dominant.

What is the kingdom of God? It is Christ. If you climb inside of the Gospels, you find that the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ. Nothing else. If you are living in Christ, you are in the kingdom, and you know, as the Holy Spirit teaches you Christ, what the kingdom is in every detail. The kingdom is not some thing, in the first place. The kingdom is simply the church, the expression and manifestation of Christ. That is all; and the same is true of everything else.

What is sanctification? It is not a doctrine. It is not an 'it' at all. It is Christ. He is made unto us sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). He is our Holiness. He is who the father sees when he looks at us.

If you are in Christ and if the Holy Spirit is teaching you Christ, then you can see sanctification as Jesus Christ; and if you are not, or He is not, then you may have a theory and a doctrine of sanctification but that doctrine will separate you from other Christians, and cause problems in believer’s lives.  Keeping Christ as our sanctification is the only way to avoid this trouble.

What about baptism? Is it by immersion or sprinkling? And when different Christians show up in the church believing one or the other, which will you throw out?  Do you not see that baptism is really just Jesus Christ?  Nothing but him.  

All else is just an outward sign and tradition. Is it wrong to follow tradition? Not necessarily, but it’s the inner that matters most, not the outer. If all you have is the outer, why bother.  Get your baptisms daily for all it will do for you.  Stand in a park fountain where you can be immersed and sprinkled at once, then you can be sure all your doctrinal choices are covered. Its not about that. Its about Jesus Christ. Baptism is nothing more than being buried with Jesus Christ in his death and losing your life in his, only to find yourself raised in his resurrection. This is eternal glory.

What is ‘Eternal Security’? Is it ‘once saved, always saved’? No! Eternal security is Jesus Christ.  Mention ‘Once saved, always saved’ to a new believer and they immediately doubt their salvation, as they can still see the sin in their heart.  Mention ‘falling from grace’ and they know they have fallen, and you have magnified the problem. Both ‘once saved, always saved’ and ‘falling from grace’ are entirely man made systems, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the Lord Jesus.

They are merely another form of bondage to lash about the necks of believers and another ‘something else’ than Jesus Christ to be fed to Christians because systematic theology does not believe he is sufficient.
What can you say to a believer and not go down this road?  You can say that he has the life of Jesus Christ in him, and that life is eternal, and will live forever, and that nothing can ever change that, and that he can, for now and forever, live by that life rather than by his own.  You can tell him that in trying to do so, he will fail, and that it is ok. It was known in advance that he would fail. Just get back up and keep going. His Lord loves him and will never, ever, abandon him.

What is Unity?  It is a part of our God. How do we get it?  We seek to know the Lord Jesus.
We pursue him with all our hearts. If however, we pursue oneness for the sake of oneness, we completely miss the Lord Jesus and will ultimately divide, but if we stubbornly pursue the Lord Jesus, we shall ultimately be one.

As 20’th century Christians, we have lived our lives in Christian school studying systematic theology; studying all the attributes of God and attributes of Christ and the etymology of each word so we could learn what each of those things is, so we could change to become what he wanted us to be.  And in so doing, we have completely missed the only one who matters, and the only way that matters, because we were never intended to be in ‘Christian School’. We were intended to be in the ‘School of Christ’, where the Holy Spirit doesn’t teach us things; but only teaches us Christ.

Not only does our bent towards systems deny his ability to change us into what he wants, but because those ‘things’ we are studying, having been divorced from his person, will only be a shadow of the real person they are a part of, they lead us not towards him, but towards living in our own mind, and simply become another cause of division and problems in the Church.  

You cannot with your mind, know God. You cannot with your mind, become one with your father in heaven, and without that, you cannot see His bride for who she really is, nor can you help her in the fashion she most desires to get ready for her wedding day.

The best you can hope for from this method is to feed your understanding. I repeat, You CANNOT know spirit with your mind. Remember Jesus’s words. “My father is spirit. Those who will know him, will do so in spirit and in truth.”   The Holy Spirit shall lead us into all Truth.  What truth is that? More specifically, who is that?  It is Jesus Christ. No more. No less. Yes, Jesus Christ is not only the way, He is the destination.

It is a common belief in our day that people need a system to help them answer the questions that ‘Jesus as everything’ isn’t sufficient to answer. We are told that systematic theology offers some benefit to those who can’t grasp Jesus.  ‘All that stuff about Jesus as everything is true, but people don’t get it. They do however get systems, so they need a system to follow.’

Is it possible that a tool or a system could be used to show us something of our Lord, that we may not otherwise see? Yes it is.  But, is it possible for you, having begun by the spirit, to now perfect yourself by the power of your mind?  No. Your flesh is the only thing a system can affect. Only the Holy Spirit can affect our spirit, and he only shares one thing with us; the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Please don’t be too offended by this story. It is relevant.

There was a man who went to a baker to get some brownies. He ordered a dozen brownies and the baker got them from the case and bagged them up for him. On his way out of the store, he took one out and bit into it.  It had a wild and peculiar flavor. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good. It was just so different. There was something about it that was vaguely familiar but he was sure he had never tasted anything like it before.  He stopped, turned,  and asked the baker what was in them. The baker proceeded to explain how it was a very old family recipe. They used only the very best hand milled flour, the best chocolate, the freshest eggs, whole milk fresh from the cow this morning that had been kept just a few degrees above freezing until its use. Oh, and we add just a tiny bit of dog crap.  Seeing the look on his patrons face, he added, “Don’t worry, It isn’t much.”  

The question then becomes, “When you are talking about brownies is how much dog crap is too much dog crap?”  The answer of course is that any amount above zero is way, way too much.  The same thing applies when you are speaking of the things of God and of the Church.

Our dear brother Paul, in writing the New Testament, stated that Christians need food and that there are two types of food. There is Jesus Christ, who is good food, and there is everything else, which is crap.

This is what systematic theology attempts to replace Jesus Christ with. It (like brownies) may look good on the surface, but it is toxic to the believer, and toxic to the church. Don’t eat it.

What is this crap? It is the ‘things’ that have been divorced from his person and they can only cause damage.

What does it mean to take him as our everything?  Take a look at something we call ‘fruit of the Spirit’.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:19-23)

What does this mean? What is love? Real love?  Real love is Jesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Real love is just Jesus. Anything else is just a shadow of real love.
Let me repeat that, because it took me years to get it.
Real love is Jesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Real love is just Jesus. Anything else is just a shadow of real love.

What is patience? Real patience? Real patience is Jesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Real patience is just Jesus. Anything else is just a shadow of real patience.

What about Real joy? Real peace?  Real goodness? The same thing applies. The same thing is true.  All of these things are attributes of our Lord, but seeing them in their fullness may only be done by seeing Him. There is no other way.

We were not asked to manufacture these attributes for ourselves, nor to pray that the Lord would increase our portion of them, He has already given us ALL of them, and each one in the fullest amount it can possibly be given, We were simply asked to live by the life that embodies them.

He doesn’t give patience or love or peace or kindness or joy as a thing, but he gives his son Jesus who embodies all these things. Do you see the difference?  Know him and know all these things, Seek these things instead of him, and you will get something far less.

Did you ever ask for patience and not get it?  What that prayer is really asking is “I know you have already given me your son, and He is the best you have to give, but I want something else.”.  Is it any wonder that such prayers are met with silence?

What is the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’?  Let me answer with another question. What is the fruit of an apple?  It is an Apple.  Again, What is the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’?  It is Spirit.  And again, what is the Fruit of the Spirit?  It is the same spirit that was the firstborn of the spirit. It is nothing else but Jesus Christ.

As I said earlier, He is not only the way, but also the destination.  Cease living by your life. Live by His life, not your own, and you (and we) will become known as part of the way, instead of as a bible thumper. It is a difference that changed the world once, and can do so again.

Where does the church fit into all this?  Well, ask him if he wants you to be a part of his church; if he wants you to meet with other Christians. Of course you can meet the Lord outside of the church. He will feed you outside the church, but you will ultimately (and probably secretly) crave for the feast you see the church having. Why?  He always feeds his people when they are in a wilderness. But the wilderness is a place meant for Christians to pass through, not to make residence. Why would you choose to be satisfied with rice cakes when surrounded by a great feast that is yours to enjoy and all you have to do is show up?

Think of a stomach. A stomach does not live on the food it ingests. It will absolutely starve to death on a diet of the very best food you can get.  The stomach does not live on filet mignon and fresh asparagus and twice baked potatoes. Not even French silk chocolate pie will do the job.  In order to be fed, the stomach must take all the food it has been given, process it, and give it to the rest of the body. The body then processes that food, and gives back to the stomach what it needs to live.

This is equally true of the food your Lord gives you.  Just like your stomach, It is imperative to your own health that you give away, to the body, those things your Lord has given you and that you allow them to give back the nourishment you really need. Remember that the church is the body of Christ and that you are a part of that body. Even when he feeds you directly, you cannot separate yourself from them for long and expect to grow.  

What is the Church? A group of people gathered together? No. What does Paul say? Paul doesn’t shy away from it. He has seen the Lord expressed as his church and states it for what it is.  ‘The Church is Christ.’  We have read that over and over and never seen it, so I’ll repeat it again. ‘The Church is Christ.’ This is the central point of Pauls teaching about the church. The great mystery spoken on in Ephesians. ‘The Church is Christ.’ It is the full expression of the Lord Jesus on the earth today, and is the real reason that Christians cannot get the food they need in the wilderness.

So, again, where does the church fit into all this? Well, First, there is no such thing as a ‘bible centered church’. The church, by definition, is centered on Jesus Christ. If it is not, then it is not the church, just another religious organization.  A church may only be centered on Jesus Christ. The church is the bride of Christ. She is not an it.  A church is not a denomination, nor a local portion of it.  She is not someplace you go. The very concept of ‘going to church’ denies who she is.

She is, for a lack of other words; the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose.  She is the reason for creation.  A woman does not become a bride so that she can sit around and read her grooms love letters. No. She does it to be with the author of those letters.  The universe was created for the church; not the other way around. Just as you possess a portion of your Lord, so do each of your brothers and sisters in the Lord, and it is your birthright to know Him through them.  Do you want to know the Lord? Then you will know him in and through the church. Remember Paul’s words? ‘The church is Christ.’  She is the full embodiment of Christ on the earth today. Even if they call it (going to church), it is your birthright to meet with other Christians and to know the Lord with them and through them.

Are you a simple brother or sister in the church? It is your birthright to be a part of the church. It is your birthright to take part in church meetings and to share that portion of Christ that was given to you. It is your birthright to know Him through your brothers and sisters in the church.  It is your birthright to share with your brothers and sisters those songs and spiritual wonders your father has given you; and to have them share the same with you. As you give away what you have received, you will find that you are being fed. You will also experience bad things. The people around you will fail, just like you do, just like I do. They will share with you not just the Lord you wanted but many other things you didn’t want and didn’t need. You will probably get a whiff of ‘those’ brownies more than once. I know I have bitten into more than my share. I have even served more than my share to other poor believers. The important point is this. The church is Christ. If you want him, this is where you will find him.

You will encounter problems; some of them will be so bad that they threaten to split the church into pieces. Cling to Him. Ignore everything else, and cling to Him. Focusing on anything but Him will lead to the same hurts and injuries and church splits we have seen for centuries. These are the same things that led our forefathers to kill one another in the name of Christ.  Walk away from those things; Treat them as if they were dead. Bury them in a grave, walk away from them and cling to Him. They are not important. He is. Not only you as an individual, but the church as a group must take Him as their everything. He can and will use these circumstances to grow you and to grow his church.

Eat Christ. Drink Christ. Breathe Christ. Live Christ. Live in Him. Live through him. Allow him to live through you. This is not only the basis of an individuals life, it is also the basis of a churches life. This is the big secret of the difference between 20 centuries ago and now. If we are to share their experience, Jesus Christ must become our All.

He must be our everything; our light, our way, our truth, our patience, our wisdom, our joy, our peace. Our all in all.  We must, individually and corporately, return to living by his life alone; to hear with his ears, to see with his eyes, to think with his mind, and to feel with his heart. Then, ultimately, we will find that we live in a church that speaks with his mouth.