Sunday, December 29, 2019

Elders and Deacons



1 Timothy 3:1-13 This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy - one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins and ends this passage with commendations for those who aspire to serve as elders or has served well as deacons; it is a privilege to serve in either role. He describes these two roles within the local fellowship of saints, both having very similar qualifications, but very different roles (which are explained elsewhere in Scripture). Both are described as servants with responsibility, not rulers with authority. The Bible has authority in the church; the men do not.

The Apostles, forerunner of church elders, were to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word; deacons are to tend to the physical needs of the dynamic and diverse body of Christ. In Acts 6 the people did not vote for who would serve as deacons; they nominated seven godly men to the Apostles, who appointed the men to serve. This passage does not show a democracy in action as many Baptists falsely believe. It shows the active participation of the members, recognizing the role of those God had appointed to lead them. As the church matured, the Scripture shows us that elders had oversight on all the church did and deacons provided much more service than “waiting tables.” As there are spiritual issues behind every temporal matter a deacon might be called upon to help with, these men must be qualified and there must be a good rapport between the deacons and elders, so the body of Christ gets the best care possible.

Deacon. The Greek (diaconos) and English words refer both to one who serves the local church in this capacity as well as those who are simply known for being servants to the body of Christ. Deacons are not required to be spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, or teachers; they are required to be trustworthy and of moral character as they deal with matters of temporal importance and the related spiritual foundations. The health of the church depends on deacons functioning well, which requires the cooperation of the elders and the people. It is painfully apparent that many of us have lost sight of the completeness of the wisdom our Lord has provided us and the reason for it. How we serve Him and one another is be to the glory of His name and the good of His people.

Robert Boyt C. Howell laments “much confusion and division of sentiment regarding the nature of the office”; and he points out how so many miss the Scriptural teachings that describe the role of those who hold the office of deacon.

Nearly all the churches have made them ministers of the gospel. In the Roman Catholic church he is an inferior ecclesiastic, the second in the sacred order, who, with the permission of the bishop, has authority to preach and baptize. In the English church the Deacons are clergymen, but of the lowest grade; who can perform all the offices of priests, except the consecration of the sacred elements and the pronouncing of the absolution. In the German Protestant churches, when more ministers than one in the same congregation are necessary, the second, or assistant minister, is called the Deacon; and if there are two assistants the first is called the Arch-Deacon. In the Presbyterian church, the office is commonly merged with that of ruling elder, and, therefore, mostly disused. Where it is still retained, it embraces, as among Congregationalists and others, merely the distribution of alms. The Methodist and Episcopal churches in this country adopt, substantially, the practice of the English church, of which they are descendants. In the Baptist churches, the Deacons are not ministers who preach, on the one hand, nor mere distributors of alms on the other, but serve in a different capacity. They are a board of directors, and have charge of all the secular affairs in the kingdom of Christ

It is not unusual for Baptist deacons to have hire & fire authority over elders (a corollary error in this circumstance is the absence of a plurality of elders). In the end, nobody escapes unscathed! This all-too-common Baptist practice is blatantly taken from the modern business world, and puts the lower office of deacon as overseers of those called of God to be overseers, turning Scripture on its head.

We need to ask, is the Bible so unclear on the nature and duties of the office of deacon? Brothers, this is not the case! It is sin that keeps God's people from seeing clearly, not a lack of clarity in God's Holy Word. We must abide by what the Book reveals, and guard against traditions not found therein. If Scripture is not our guide, we are adrift on the sea of man's wisdom; and that is dangerous.

The qualifications of deacons differ from those of elders on the single requirement of elders, but not deacons, being able to teach the Word of God. Deacons are to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These bedrock character traits often neglected when selecting deacons, as people focus on the man's record of financial giving, business acumen, and abstinence from alcohol. While those traits can be easily measured, they cannot be found in the Bible as qualification for this office. The traits found in Scripture are not so easily quantified. It takes serious thought and hard work to determine if a man has a good reputation among his neighbors and work colleagues. It takes time and discernment to see if there be evidence of the Holy Spirit in a man. Who wants to put a man on the spot and see if he holds the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience? Can you even explain this requirement, much less investigate it? Installing men to serve the local church as deacons is sober work, not to be taken lightly or without serious prayer and reflection.

A deacon must be the husband of one wife. The literal meaning of the text is "a one woman man" - which means that if there was a biblical divorce and subsequent marriage, the man is not disqualified. If one holds that no divorce is biblical, the on-going sin in a second marriage becomes an on-going problem within the body. I see 2 reasons in Scripture wherein YHWH permits divorce, for unrepentant adultery or for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. The goal of marriage is for each to last until death parts the couple. But even redeemed saints can fall into sin and be stiff-necked for a season; and the One Who knows our frailty has provided a narrow window - much narrower than in the Mosaic Covenant.

The requirement that deacons be tested first gives us a hint that we should invest the time and energy in examining would-be deacons; and not merely assuming these traits be theirs. This testing also provides the opportunity to see if his wife is sober minded and faithful, if his children are “managed well”. We must exercise the full measure of the biblical text to prove the men who would serve as deacons; they are care-takers of God's sheep and co-laborers with His under-shepherds. This is a high calling (those who serve well gain a good standing) and we cannot allow our lazy human minds to rest on our own wisdom, or the taking of shortcuts or reliance on the traditions handed to us by other men. Finding men who tithe and do not frequent bars is wrong-headed and too low a bar for the office our Lord established for the temporal care of His redeemed.

As we desire our men to provide for their families, spiritually as well as physically, our deacons are to help families in each arena, with boundaries in both. Neither the church nor either office therein can unreasonably meddle with a family. God has established three spheres in this age, with specific roles and limits. It's been said that to the state God gave the sword, to the church He gave the keys to the kingdom, and to the family He gave the rod of correction. We should not cross these boundaries without a clear biblical basis. Wisdom and care is needed if we are to tend to God's people without ruling over them as "Gentiles" tend to do.

Healthy church members let their deacons know ahead of time when they will miss, and explain why. They will be more inclined to assemble with another local body while away if they properly understand church membership. This exercise of membership responsibilities is representative of any number of other earthly matters that deacons are likely to get involved with, each of which most often reflects the spiritual condition of the person. Lack of attendance and interest in church life, neglecting to worship in giving money, and many other concerns can be prompted by earthly things: illness, loss of work, death in the family, etc. In order to be wise stewards of the office, deacons must not presume to know the cause without investigating it, learning from Job who investigated the cause of what he did not know (Job 29:16). This keeps us from the sin of presumption and all that tends to follow closely behind.

As we examine men who would and do serve in our churches as deacons; as we consider how we determine the role of the office and how we select these men, let us humbly petition our God for wisdom and grace to do what is right in His sight - aligned with His scriptures and not resting on our own wisdom.

Elder. This role can only be fulfilled by a qualified man who is called and equipped by God for this service. There is no possible interpretation that allows self-identified or unconverted men, or women to serve in this capacity; and yet many churches do just this. This latter error is always the first big step to total apostasy for a church, preferring fallen man's view of order over creator God's declared view.

As mentioned earlier, the only different qualification for this role is that an elder must be able to teach. In our English Bibles we see the words Elder/Presbyter, Overseer/Bishop, Shepherd/Pastor. Each pair of these words comes from one Greek word; Elder/Presbyter is from presbyteros; Overseer/Bishop from episkope; and Shepherd/Pastor from poimen. They are used interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church which has several important functions, each of which is designed by the Lord to insure the health of each local church. The terms elder and presbyter refer to a man’s experience; in the Word and in the church. Overseer and bishop convey the act of being a spiritual guardian or protector, while pastor and shepherd refer to the spiritual care and feeding of God’s flock. We see overlap among these three functions in 1 Peter 5:1-5, where elders are exhorted by the Apostle Peter to shepherd God's people with the right motive and attitude, serving as examples for the less mature Christians. In Acts 20:28, elders are instructed by the Apostle Paul to pay careful attention to themselves and the flock of God, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church. One aspect of being a faithful elder that is implicit in these passages is that of being among the saints, knowing them as a shepherd knows his flock and being known as the shepherd is by the sheep. A man who does not live among his church members, who lives at a higher station of life, who spends all his time with other preachers is not faithful to his call. The elder must be an able teacher of the Word (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 3:1-8) and a diligent servant of God's people (1 Timothy 5:17 & 18).  He must also be able and willing to rebuke those who contradict the Word of God within the local church (Titus 1:7-9), and he must be about training others to work alongside him as under-shepherds of Christ (2 Timothy 2:1-3). One who would hold this office must lead the church, serving as a proper example (2 Thessalonians 2:11 & 12; 2 Timothy 2:15), and the saints are commanded to submit to them, not being burdensome for them (Hebrews 13:17). Elders were given to the church, by God, to equip the saints for the work of the church, bringing them to maturity and the fullness of Christ so they would not be vulnerable to the deceptive schemes of the enemy (Ephesians 4:11-14). This means the biblical elder must feed God's sheep the whole counsel of His Word, not trusting his opinion or theirs as to what is true nor picking some Scriptures from which to teach and ignoring others. His teaching is to be tested in light of Scripture; not accepted nor rejected by personal whimsy or blind friendship. All of these responsibilities of elders are beyond any man's abilities, so the Bible reminds us that elders, like the Apostles who preceded them, must be men of prayer (Acts 6:4).

There is another requirement of the man who would serve as an elder. While some read 1 Timothy 3:2 to mean a single man cannot serve as an elder, the view most compatible with Scripture is that an elder who is married must be in a biblical marriage and work at keeping it. Elders must be one-woman men, and they must lead their churches to defend marriage in the face of reprobates. 1 Timothy 3 goes on to say the elder must be sober minded and not quarrelsome; all the more so in defending God's people from unrighteous men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).

Being God's spokesman is no job for a new convert, one who is unsure of God's Word, unwilling to proclaim God's Word, unable to rebuke those who contradict God's Word, or unworthy of being followed as God's servant. The times in which we live are treacherous, with many professing Christians embracing abominable sin in order to be well thought of by those outside the camp of Christ. Christians are never to compromise God's truth for the applause of men (Galatians 1:10) and elders must be held to a high standard so that the Lord's name not be disgraced among the pagans and the local church not be led astray.

Ezekiel 33 & 34 describes watchman appointed by God with responsibilities to warn, guard, and care for the people of God. In these two chapters we see a contrast of the watchman with the shepherd: the watchman warns, the shepherd tends. In each passage, unfaithful watchmen and shepherds are contrasted with those who are faithful. Ezekiel 34:1-10 describes the failures of the leaders of Israel, showing what shepherds are supposed to fulfill. Shepherds are supposed to care for the flock. These men were feeding on the sheep; fleecing the sheep. These men had all the appearance of shepherds, but they were wolves. Pastoral ministry is hard work, not glamorous. Those who pose as celebrities, living the high life, are not pastors. Pastors should smell like sheep, walking in the mud and mess, scarred by the teeth of biting sheep. This is difficult but rewarding work. Every man should aspire to be a commendable man who leads his family as a shepherd leads the flock. He must diagnose and treat appropriately – you don't strengthen the stray, you strengthen the weak; you don't bind up the lost – you search for the lost. Each spiritual condition requires the correct spiritual remedy. The pastor must know illnesses and the people, else he cannot properly treat the sheep. Verse 10 in Ezekiel 34 shows the omnipotent hand of God rescuing His sheep from the teeth of the wolves. A true pastor will watch the flock like a man who must give an account to the God who has purchased the sheep with the blood of His own son. Because that is what God's Word tells us the truth about those who would call themselves “pastor”.

Even with the best of intentions, we can go astray from the narrow path of biblical truth. Over time, man has developed unbiblical structures, imagining that Bishop is more honorific and must carry more responsibility (by which they mean fame). Most men who preach call themselves “pastor” regardless of whether they shepherd the flock God has gathered there or not. One who preaches but does not work to know and care for the saints the Lord has put under his watch cannot rightly call himself pastor; he is merely a preacher. These words are not titles by which the men who serve are to be called, but descriptions of service they provide within the local church. Because God has given these terms to describe the roles of men He calls to the office, we must be careful to use them correctly.

Plurality of elders. Most churches in every denomination and across the spectrum of Baptists miss the point of Scripture on this point. The Bible repeatedly shows us that even the early churches that met in houses had two or more men serving as elders, a plurality of elders.

Acts 14:22&23 – Paul and Barnabas had traveled to Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, & Lystra, where they strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:17 – Paul passed by Ephesus to Miletus. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

James – Was written to the churches resulting from Saul’s scattering of the saints (1:1), this letter shows elders in the local church (5:14).

Philippians is addressed (1:1) to overseers (elders) and deacons in that church, in addition to the entire congregation.

Hebrews recognizes leaders (elders) in that congregation (13:7, 17, 24).

1 Tim – Timothy was recognized by the elders of his church for his calling as an elder (1 Tim 4:14) and a plurality of elders is seen again in 5:17.

In large and small fellowships, having only one elder can lead to a kind of “cult of personality” as a solitary man is seen as the public face and voice of that church. One man alone, coping with a job, his family, and the ministry is vulnerable to being drawn aside by pragmatism in what may start as an innocent desire to do all things well and unto the Lord but which soon go astray. If the saints YHWH has gathered and gifted in the local church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are encouraged to serve the body, those serving as elders and deacons will have a much lighter load and the local church will marvel to see the Lord working in their midst!

Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et. al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often undervalued. It is not, as one man said to me, a matter of money. It's a matter of caring for the people of God as He has shown us.

Baptists used to be known as "people of the Book." This topic of deacons and elders is one where many Baptists discard the Book and cling to traditions handed down by men. Brothers, this should not be so! We are servants with responsibility. The Bible is our only authority for life and godliness. We are to seek His will, revealed in Scripture, and not rely on our own wisdom or traditions.

Monday, December 16, 2019

What is Your Standard of Righteousness?


From Webster's 1828 Dictionary: Righteousness, as used in Scripture and theology, in which it is chiefly used, is nearly equivalent to holiness, comprehending holy principles.

Is the Decalogue a standard of righteousness?

1. Do not make other gods.
2. Do not make idols.
3. Do not profane the name of YHWH.
4. Keep the Sabbath day holy.
5. Honor your parents.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not lie.
10. Do not covet.

Of the ten commandments, 8 are prohibitions against sin and 2 are commands to do something. The 4th command, as spoken by Moses in Exodus 20:8-11, provides instructions on how to keep it (rest from all work). The 5th command does not, merely giving a reason to obey.

Only God can know if a man worships idols or covets, though man may discern evidence of these sins.

How do these instructions establish righteousness?

Contrast the teachings of Moses found in the Decalogue with those of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 and consider: which truly describes righteousness? Perfect love, described in 1 Cor 13, is an attribute of Christ Jesus, alone among men. And He is our righteousness.

Consider what Jesus revealed as the greatest commandments: Matthew 22:37-39 (HCSB) He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." These two commands reflect a high standard of righteousness, one no mortal man can attain. Might these two words, which are NOT a summation of the Decalogue (see verse 40), be the highest standard given to us?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Do you anticipate your Jubilee?



Much of the on-going theological debate about the Sabbath is focused on the weekly day of rest given to national Israel and whether or not it was changed in day, scope, and application in the New Covenant. But the idea of Sabbath is much greater and more significant than this, though mostly overlooked. This neglect actually ends up making too much of the day and too little of the One Who gives rest. Consider how YHWH commanded national Israel to give the land which He had given them a Sabbath rest every 7th year:

Leviticus 25:1-7 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LORD. You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the LORD: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land. Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you. All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.

Note that, during the Sabbath year, the people of Israel could not take anything that was produced by plants that they had cultivated BUT they would live off the produce from those plants they had NOT cultivated - those that YHWH had provided. This reflects the same doctrine as the weekly Sabbath - rest from working to provide sustenance and trust God; the same message Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, wherein He was describing life in the New Covenant and told people that those therein should not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:25) This last sentence reveals that He was speaking of the New Covenant, where life is spiritual and eternal and IS more than food and drink and clothing. Certainly life in this age requires food and drink and clothing, and even these the Father provides richly.

So the nation of Israel was to work the land for 6 years, then give it a Sabbath rest, following the pattern and purpose of the weekly Sabbath. Throughout their history they failed to obey either of these commanded rests and their exile was directly related to this:

2 Chronicles 36:11-21 Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king and reigned 11 years in Jerusalem.  He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet at the LORD’s command. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. He became obstinate and hardened his heart against returning to Yahweh, the God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and the people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the LORD’s temple that He had consecrated in Jerusalem. But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the LORD’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy. So He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their choice young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; He handed them all over to him. He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the LORD’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned down all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles. He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the LORD through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled.

Israel had disregarded nearly ever commandment given them, had mistreated the poor, and worshipped the demonic idols of the pagan nations - which they were commanded NOT to do. Law incites people to sin by telling you what you may not do.

Did you catch this one thing in that prophecy: the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall. When Jesus spoke of every stone in the temple being overthrown, this scene where the Chaldeans burned God’s temple and tore down Jerusalem’s wall must have been playing in the minds of the Jews who heard Him. Even though YHWH had never commanded Israel to build a stone temple, He condescended to use it and honor it. Yet the stone temple, just as the stone tablets, were not super-spiritual and not everlasting; they and everything else in the Levitical religion pointed to One Who was greater than all and would make all things new.

The length of their exile was pegged to the yearly Sabbath they had forsaken. Jeremiah prophesied this, as we read in Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10-14 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation… “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

This was the declaration of God - national Israel will be punished for disobedience, the land will be left without human cultivation, and God's time-table would determine when and how restoration would take place. When the 70 years were up, Daniel prayed to God and confessed the sins of his people, knowing God would be faithful to keep His promise and return the Jews to Jerusalem. What Daniel didn't see clearly was that the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophesy would not be fulfilled until David's Son and Lord would complete His redemptive work. Acts 15:12-18 shows how Amos' prophecy about the rebuilding of David's tent was actually about inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom of God. All of which was told to Abram but forgotten by national Israel.

Lev 25 reveals the ultimate expression of Sabbath blessings for national Israel. Release of debt, freedom of slaves, etc. I will read much of this chapter to give us a sense of the weight of the laws governing Sabbaths and the relief this year of Jubilee promised.

Leviticus 25:8-22 You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to 49. Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement. You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants. It will be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and each of you to his clan. The fiftieth year will be your Jubilee; you are not to sow, reap what grows by itself, or harvest its untended vines. It is to be holy to you because it is the Jubilee; you may only eat its produce directly from the field. “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you will return to his property. If you make a sale to your neighbor or a purchase from him, do not cheat one another. You are to make the purchase from your neighbor based on the number of years since the last Jubilee. He is to sell to you based on the number of remaining harvest years. You are to increase its price in proportion to a greater amount of years, and decrease its price in proportion to a lesser amount of years, because what he is selling to you is a number of harvests. You are not to cheat one another, but fear your God, for I am Yahweh your God. “You are to keep My statutes and ordinances and carefully observe them, so that you may live securely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, so that you can eat, be satisfied, and live securely in the land. If you wonder: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we don’t sow or gather our produce?’ I will appoint My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the previous harvest. You will be eating this until the ninth year when its harvest comes in.

Leviticus 25:39-43 If your brother among you becomes destitute and sells himself to you, you must not force him to do slave labor. Let him stay with you as a hired hand or temporary resident; he may work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released from you, and he may return to his clan and his ancestral property. They are not to be sold as slaves, because they are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt. You are not to rule over them harshly but fear your God.

Leviticus 25:47-55 “If a foreigner or temporary resident living among you prospers, but your brother living near him becomes destitute and sells himself to the foreigner living among you, or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, he has the right of redemption after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him. His uncle or cousin may redeem him, or any of his close relatives from his clan may redeem him. If he prospers, he may redeem himself. The one who purchased him is to calculate the time from the year he sold himself to him until the Year of Jubilee. The price of his sale will be determined by the number of years. It will be set for him like the daily wages of a hired hand. If many years are still left, he must pay his redemption price in proportion to them based on his purchase price. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, he will calculate and pay the price of his redemption in proportion to his remaining years. He will stay with him like a man hired year by year. A foreign owner is not to rule over him harshly in your sight. If he is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released at the Year of Jubilee. For the Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.

Those who are down and out, poor and vulnerable, are not to be mistreated - because they belong to YHWH. They could be forced to work for wages but not treated as slaves. At the appointed time, the year of Jubilee, they were to be released. Jews who sell themselves as slaves to Gentiles were to be redeemed, calculating the price based on the year of Jubilee. Twice they were reminded of how YHWH brought His people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand, how they are to treat people right because of their fear of YHWH their God. This was to keep them from thinking too highly of themselves and too little of one another.

Numbers 36:1-4 The family leaders from the clan of the descendants of Gilead—the son of Machir, son of Manasseh—who were from the clans of the sons of Joseph, approached and addressed Moses and the leaders who were over the Israelite families. They said, “Yahweh commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the Israelites. My lord was further commanded by Yahweh to give our brother Zelophehad’s inheritance to his daughters. If they marry any of the men from the other Israelite tribes, their inheritance will be taken away from our fathers’ inheritance and added to that of the tribe into which they marry. Therefore, part of our allotted inheritance would be taken away. When the Jubilee comes for the Israelites, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.

Jubilee meant return of inheritance, land that had been surrendered according to the law of the nation. It was the year of the Lord's favor! The nation had been given a weekly Sabbath, a 7th year Sabbath, and a 50th year Sabbath; the entire Sabbath structure was to teach them to trust YHWH for the things of this world that we need. One thing you might not know: until the early 20th century, mortgages in this country ran 7 years - because of the Sabbath land law given Israel. As part of the human reaction against everything of God, bankers thought it was smart to extend mortgages and see the size of loans grow accordingly. Houses got larger, more expensive, and took 30 years rather than 7 years to pay off. Look at how many people live over their heads in debt because they pay 30 years on a house, 7 years on a car, and 15 years on credit cards. Cars are not sold much on price any more, but on monthly payments. These terms are evidence of fleshly desires to have stuff and not to count the cost - only the ability, today, to pay for it each month. This is slavery.

Jubilee was the promise of being set free from these debts, set free from the laws that regulated Israel. Yet whether it was a mortgage that was refinanced, a car that was replaced, or another cycle of hard work until the next Sabbath, the temporal Jubilee could only whet one's appetite for the spiritual, eternal Jubilee that would mean true freedom for the souls of the saints. When you read Leviticus, does your soul ache for Christ? The Spirit intends that!

But did Jesus say or do anything that established Himself as our Jubilee, or is this idea a theological fabrication?

You recall, right after He was baptized by John, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Almost immediately after the temptation, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues, being acclaimed by everyone (Luke 4:15). Then He entered into the synagogue, as was His custom, in Nazareth - the city of His birth.

He walked in and stood up, indicating He was ready to read. (Luke 4:17) The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written, in Isaiah 61, which details these Jubilee blessings and declared that His coming had fulfilled those promises! Isaiah 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at the point wherein prophecy was fulfilled at that time. The latter part of verse 2 will be fulfilled when He returns to judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new: and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.

Luke 4:20-21 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”

Luke 4:22-23 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth, yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. So all we’ve heard that took place in Capernaum, do here in Your hometown also.’” Jesus was not seeking to impress or please these people who were amazed at His words; He was rather abrupt with them. He went on to recite two incidents from their history. The first was where the widow of Sidon was taken care of because Elijah was sent to her, but not to any in Israel who were in great need. Secondly was the occasion of the Syrian leper, Naaman, who was cured of leprosy while many lepers in Israel were not cured. In both cases, God had miraculously cared for Gentiles while not doing so for many in Israel.

The point was not glorification of Israel; it was the glorious redemptive plan of YHWH that Jesus was beginning to unveil before them. All the jubilee promises from Leviticus 25 meant nothing to them. This man, by His very presence, threatened their plush lives and positions of influence. And for this they wanted to kill Him.

Luke 4:28-30 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. Again, we see Jesus focused on a mission that is not focused on the creature. Not only did He not try to impress the home crowd, He drew two incidents from Israel's history to show them YHWH had people from among the Gentiles, that national Israel was not the end-game for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews hated the thought - remember how Jonah reacted when YHWH told him to go to Nineveh? And so they tried to kill Jesus. But it was not His time - His work had only begun.

When John's disciples asked if Jesus was the promised one (while John was in jail), Luke 7:22-23 (HCSB) He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”

Jesus did send John reassurance but not in the way we might expect, not with words of fleshly comfort. He declared Himself as Lord of the Sabbath as His witness. He brought the age of the true Sabbath, the day of the Lord's favor! All who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him for rest! Lord of the Sabbath - not merely Lord of the weakly Sabbath, as if that one day a week were a worthy type of rest, in and of itself. The Sabbath rest given national Israel was much more than the weekly day of rest. Even as that day has eschatological meaning, unless we see and grasp the heavy weight lifted by the entire system of the Sabbath - 7th day, 7th year, 50th year - we won't appreciate what Jesus meant when He said He would set us free. Be not earthly minded, but set your affections on the heavenlies, wherein Christ is.

Jesus was crucified on a high Sabbath (John 19:31), emphasizing His role as the Lord who provides Sabbath/rest for His people. The rest promised in Canaan was a shadow of the rest we have when we come to Christ in faith. The relief promised in the Jubilee Sabbath was nothing more than a shadow of the rest we have when the Spirit of God raises us up from spiritual death to new life in Christ!

At the transfiguration, Peter was, in essence, recognizing Moses and Elijah as Jesus' equals - tabernacles for each! But God the Father shut Peter up and, with Jesus all by Himself - as the One Who had fulfilled the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) - told the apostles to listen to Him! When Jesus had finished the work He had been sent to do, the Old Covenant Law and the Old Covenant prophets had finished their course and were not worthy to have tabernacles built for them along-side of Jesus. If we have a right view of Christ, we will not want anyone or anything - such as undue focus on the Decalogue - to obscure our view of Him. This is the mystery of the Christian life - we are His and He is ours!

Speaking to those who wanted to live as Jews, under the Law of Moses, Paul wrote: Galatians 3:22-26 But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Everything in creation is under sin's power; the earth was cursed because of Adam's sin. This was to preclude any boasting by any flesh, to make salvation by grace through faith all the more evident. Before Christ came, Jews were kept by the law which served as a guardian - it kept the promised seed secure and pointed them to their Scriptures and the One Who was to come. When He came, the Mosaic Law had finished its course, the type had served its purpose, and the covenant in which that law functioned was swept away as the antitype came and ushered in the New Covenant with its new mediator, new priesthood, and new law. Gentiles, who were never under the Mosaic Law, are a law unto themselves, and do not escape the wrath of God. There is no refuge for man other than Christ Jesus! No matter which law binds up the soul of man, there is only One who can free him. Call upon Jesus - He is the Lamb of God Who takes away sin! Look unto Him, trust your weary soul to Him, believe on Him. He is the Jubilee for your weary soul.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus, ready, stands to save you
Full of pity, joined with power
He is able, He is able
He is willing; doubt no more

Come ye needy, come, and welcome
God's free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry 'til you're better
You will never come at all
Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call

Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him
This He gives you, this He gives you
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good

Monday, November 25, 2019

Brogden's Books

A famous preacher once said that the eye never tires of seeing something new. While new books by new authors can be valuable sources of insight and encouragement, we are poorer if we neglect the saints who went before us, when persecution was a constant threat.

Brogden’s Books is my humble effort to bring some older works back to life, in modern English and style, for the 21st century reader. These books will cover a variety of topics, doctrines, and periods in history - in paper, Kindle, and ePub formats.

Please check back from time to time to see what’s new - from the old, dead guys who faced many of the same issues we do, and have far fewer tools to work with while researching and writing.

Pick up and read!

Here are the first three books offered:


The History of the Sabbath, Peter Heylyn: https://www.amazon.com/History-Sabbath-Peter-Heylyn/dp/0998655929

Gospel Blessedness of the New Covenant, Thomas Collier: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0998655910

Ill News From New England, John Clark: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0998655937

This book isn't old and the author ain't quite dead :-) https://www.amazon.com/Captive-Word-God-Particular-Perspective/dp/194569811X

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Man in Romans 7


The Man in Romans 7

In order to rightly understand what Paul taught in the latter part of Romans 7, we need to understand how he described two groups of people earlier in this epistle.

In Rom 3 & 4, Paul is teaching his kinsmen of the flesh why being Jewish is not enough, how children of promise are true Jews. In Rom 5:1-5 he is teaching - again - how those Jewish Christians were reconciled to God: righteous in faith, rejoicing in Christ and our afflictions, grounded in love, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.

In what follows in chapter 5 is an ongoing contrast between unconverted Jews and converted Jews, with an abbreviated history of sin - contrasting the first and last Adams. Throughout this chapter, the redeemed are described as righteous, justified, full of grace, saved from wrath, reconciled to God, having eternal life. The unconverted are described as helpless, ungodly, enemies of God, dead in sin, under judgment, condemned. Quite a difference - worth noting.

Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul's argument from the previous chapters, where he encourages the redeemed Jews (this is still his primary audience) are exhorted to walk in grace, not sin. These people are called dead to sin, joined with Christ, crucified with Christ, free from sin, alive to God, under grace, slaves of obedience and righteousness. He tells them - and us - not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, for, he says, "sin will not rule over you because you are not under law but under grace." (vs 14) We have new fruit resulting in sanctification and eternal life; we have a new master, grace - no longer slaves to master sin.

The unconverted man in Romans 6 has everything in common with his counterpart in chapter 5; he is in bondage and domination of sin, a slave to sin, ruled by death, obedient to sin, unrighteous, and ruled by sin; under law. This man is obedient to sin, under law not grace, a slave to sin - leading to death, weak in the flesh, morally impure, lawless, producing the fruit of death. Sin is his master, not grace.

The contrast between the unconverted sinner and the redeemed sinner is striking and it's consistent: the one man is fleshly and full of sin, under the law and breaking the law; the other man is full of the Holy Spirit, rejoicing in all things, dead to sin and the law, producing good fruit unto eternal life.

A couple of observations: contextually, Paul has been describing his kinsmen of the flesh. The man in Romans 7 is a Jew, even though all people can identify with the spiritual struggle portrayed. The pious Jew  would see God's law, instructions, Scriptures as good and holy even while he would be unable to comply with them.

When we then read about the man in Romans 7:13-24, who does he sound like? Let's look at a list:

vs 13: dead, sinful
vs 14: of flesh, sold into sin's power
vs 15 & 16: double minded
vs 17: full of sin
vs 18: no ability to do good
vs 19 -21: captive to evil
vs 22: he agrees, he knows the law of God is good
vs 23: he is a prisoner of sin
vs 24: he is a wretched man

While you and I see some of our Christian life in what Paul wrote about in this passage, it's clear that this man has nothing in common with the redeemed man Paul described in chapter 5 & 6; but he has everything in common with the unconverted man in those chapters.  The context of the epistle indicates Paul is describing a Jew, not a Gentile, and a Jew that is struggling under a law he knows is good but without the ability to obey from the heart and produce good fruit unto eternal life. The man in Romans 7 does not have the Holy Spirit, but he is of the flesh, captive to evil, a slave to sin, producing fruit unto death.

The change to present tense does not mandate the view that Paul has changed course and began talking about himself as a Christian. It may very well be nothing more than a literary device to make the plight of the man all the more gripping. He is in a very dangerous condition! Present tense does not mandate the view that this man is Paul as a Christian. The description of the man and the larger context of the epistle provide a more sure guide to interpret this passage.

As with all Scripture, we learn from this passage. But we have no more reason to insert ourselves into this passage than we do with Jeremiah 29:11.

If you disagree with this assessment, fine. I do not intend to argue about it here.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Romans 2 Teaches New Covenant Theology


Romans 2:12-16 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

(Note: what follows is not a complete exegesis of this passage; it is focused review of the stated topic.)

A casual read of this paragraph has caused many to get confused about Paul’s use of the term “the law;” it requires careful thought and analysis of what he is saying here and what is revealed elsewhere. Much of Paul’s use of “the law” is clearly meant to refer to the Mosaic Covenant and the Law of Moses. Those without the law are Gentiles: everyone who was not a Jew in Paul’s day, and includes all people in all ages who were not part of national Israel. It was clearly Paul’s kinsmen of the flesh who had “the law” in this paragraph.

Lost Gentiles are not without a law; God’s universal law convicts them of certain truths. We in the New Covenant are not without law; but we are not within the Law of Moses.

James gives the same counsel as Paul: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25) We see reference to a different law than that of Moses; one that is given to the church, not national Israel. He picks this up again in chapter two, My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. (James 2:1) Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9) This phrase, love your neighbor as yourself, is the second great command, taken from Lev 19:18. It is the other side of the coin which also conveys the greatest command: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, cited from Deuteronomy 6:5. On these two commands, neither taken from the Decalogue, hang the Law and the prophets – all the scripture then in hands of man. This shows us that while the Law of Moses is not our master, certain truths that apply to all of God’s people are found in his books. Jesus draws out two and declares them to be supreme to the Old Covenant, the essence of the New Covenant – love for God and one another; love as defined and portrayed in the Bible, not as our culture as deceitfully defined it these past few centuries.

Paul clarifies this in his letter to the Galatians, wherein he gives another term for the perfect law, the law of liberty, the royal law. These are not different laws we must figure out, they are different terms for the same divine concept, in simplicity for those in Christ, contrasted to the endlessly complex scheme developed by the nation of Israel. The New Covenant is contrasted with the Old Covenant in several places, the most familiar one being in Hebrews 8 where the old covenant is described as obsolete and ready to vanish. In Galatians 4 the old covenant is described as earthly Jerusalem and represents slavery while the new covenant is heavenly new Jerusalem wherein lies liberty. We, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise, children of the free woman. And our apostle gives us clear counsel on how to keep this law. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2) This is the love of God expressed in the body of Christ – we love Him by loving one another, and this is an example of biblical love – confronting a brother caught in sin. Not exactly what the world presents as love, is it?

While only the redeemed truly love God, even we are unable to love Him with all that is within us, as the first commandment requires. In the age to come, unstained and not tempted by sin, we will be able to fulfill this law. We can, however, love one another because Christ first loved us. This must be a deliberate focus as our fleshly desires will work against us. There can be no fatalistic “let go and let God” into our lives for He tells us to work out our own salvation (here meaning the present tense “being saved” that characterizes our daily walk) with fear and trembling. As one preacher put it years ago, “The path of least resistance makes both man and rivers crooked.” Seek after the Lord – He will make your pathway straight!

You will hear simple rules such as “if it’s not repeated in the NT it applies” and its corollary, “if it’s not repealed by the NT it applies.” These are easy to remember but not at all accurate. Tithing is seen before the Mosaic Covenant and required during it, including those Jews who lived in last century of that covenant, during Paul’s time. Such activity is taken note of the NT but not once is tithing taught by word or example as a New Covenant rule. Without understanding the rule of covenants, one cannot comprehend what rules apply. As Martin Luther summed it up, we follow Christ Jesus, not Moses – and Moses stands with us, accusing those who think their feeble attempts at keeping the Law of Moses will merit favor with YHWH (John 5:45).

The ancient preacher agrees with his New Testament brothers. He gave this advice as the sum of all he had written: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Jesus said the same thing: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

Note these tangible actions of loving one another in Christ. This is fulfilling the law of Christ, the law of liberty, the royal law – the focus being on truly loving one another within the body of Christ in response to being loved by Him. This is the same thing Paul, James, and Peter have taught.

After feeding the five thousand, many followed after Him because He fed them. Seek after the food that leads to eternal life, He told them. They then asked Him What must we do to be doing the works of God? (John 6:29) Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  This is the law of Christ – believe in Him, love Him, love one another.

Many Christians are struggling to keep the Law of Moses, having a faulty guide for interpreting Scripture. The right view of man and his need of Christ, with the biblical record of the faithfulness and sufficiency of Christ Jesus will provide the guardrails we need to keep from thinking the heavy yoke of the Old Covenant is ours. Acts 15:10 has Peter rebuking Jewish Christians who taught this: Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Jesus, on the other hand, said Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

There is an old covenant, and old law, and a heavy yoke that was given on stone tablets to a people with stone hearts who worshipped in a stone temple. There is a new covenant with an easy yoke, a spiritual law written on tablets of flesh, given to people with hearts of flesh who worship as a spiritual temple; our Savior bids us find our rest in Him.

All will be made plain on the day of judgment, when God brings this age to its end.