Using God ... ?

by Frank Jones

"In Romans 1:22, Paul speaks of human pride in these terms: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Because of sin, we suppress the fact that God is the source of all that we have. We see ourselves as far more important than we are. … Therefore, we are constantly tempted to use God to suit our own sinful ends.

Perhaps it might help to frame the matter like this: When we become great in our own eyes, our estimation of God and his purposes is necessarily diminished. … A great God makes proud sinners uncomfortable, a diminished God less so. Given our sinful proclivity to exalt ourselves, the diminished God can easily become a means to an end. While such a God is still much bigger and more powerful than we are, nevertheless the smaller we make him, the greater opportunity to manipulate his power to further our sinful ends … , the diminished God exists to do whatever pleases us. On call 24/7, he is there to attend to all our whims and respond to our constant whining. This God is not to be served and adored, rather, he is a means to an end. Like the genie freed from his bottle, this God is there to answer our prayers and give us what we wish.

Sometimes we use God quite intentionally; other times we do it without even knowing it. The bottom line is that we use God to suit our own ends because we live our lives through the distorted lens of human pride. Inevitably, we see our own interests and agendas as far more important than they really are. From this distorted perspective God exists to enable us to achieve that which we have decreed, that which pleases us – the complete reversal of the two biblical passages just cited (Rom. 1:22; Deut. 8:11-14, 17). This, of course, is the height of human folly and the sad consequence of sinful pride.…

… Jesus’ messianic mission was not to serve as a walking emergency room or medical clinic. Instead his mission would take him to the cross, the very place the suffering crowds did not want to see him go. The multitudes who sought out Jesus didn’t care about the root cause of their suffering. They just wanted to be healed, right then and there. And they could not see, nor did they much care, how a crucified Jesus would save them from something much greater than sickness. … Sufferers don’t want ultimate solutions as much as they want immediate relief. These crowds saw in Jesus a means to an end. In their eyes, it didn’t matter why Jesus came, it only mattered that he had the power to heal them.

Because of human sin and pride, they saw in Jesus an opportunity to gain relief. They were using God without even knowing that they were doing so." (Using God, Kim Riddlebarger)

Jesus' Love to those in the World

by Frank Jones

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

"But clearly the inspired Evangelist is speaking here of Christ's love to his own that were then in the world, as distinct from that part of the one great family that had already gone home to glory; and to this point, therefore, our attention must for the present be confined. What, then, were some of those ways in which Jesus had specially manifested his love to his own that were then in the world as distinct from those who had already gone home? Indeed, his whole conduct towards them may be briefly summed up in these words: 'He loved them'. He always loved them; and there was not a single word that he ever spake to them, or a single action that he ever performed towards them, but it emanated from his love to them. ... And who can tell in how many ways Jesus loves his own that are in the world still - visiting them with his gracious presence, instructing and guiding them by his word and Spirit, preserving them in his providence, strengthening them by his grace, comforting them with his love, and maturing them for his eternal glory?" (Ross, Charles. The Inner Sanctuary: An Exposition of John Chapters 13-17. Banner of Truth, 8-9, 10)

An Attack of Literature?

by Frank Jones

"The kingdom of Satan would have little to apprehend from an attack of literature, or from any systematic mechanism of external forms. The outworks might be stormed, but the citadel would remain impregnable. 'The prey' will never be 'taken from the mighty, nor the lawful captives delivered,' by any other power than the Ministry of the Gospel clothed with Almighty energy. ... The Christian Ministry is a work of faith; and, that it may be a work of faith, it must be a work of prayer. ... Thus spiritual, enlightened, and encouraging views of the Ministry flow from the habit of diligent waiting on God. ... If then the candidate for the sacred office should never bow his knee, without making the momentum work before him a subject of large supplication, he will do well. But if he should add to his customary times of prayer seasons of retirement, consecrated to the sole purpose of contemplating the work, and separating himself to its service, he will do better. (Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry, 62-63)

Do Not Refuse the One Speaking

by Frank Jones

See to it that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven. (Her 12:25)

"Sinai, once definitive for relating to God, is now outmoded. These verses convey both a temporal and spatial contrast between the two speaking events, and they imply that the new covenant speech requires special attention .... God did speak from a mountaintop at Sinai, but that was in reality an act of condensing; he now speaks from the true heaven, Zion above. Since his new covenant speech comes from heaven itself, the warning is all the more serious. ... For the listeners of this sermon, the injunction not to 'refuse the one who is speaking' must have given the impression that the preacher before them demanded attention to his words. Such an impression was probably intentional: the preacher evidently saw himself standing before his addressees as God's spokesman, delivering his words." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Hebrews and Divine Speech, LNTS, 149.)

True Grace

by Frank Jones

Salt & Light Summer 1994

By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. (1 Pet 5:12)

The professing church of Jesus Christ is being led astray by a multitude of clamorous voices defining what is the true grace of God. Many people claim that the true grace of God is received by being baptized, joining a church, being sprinkled as an infant, following the Ten Commandments, believing a right creed or doctrine, or even by speaking in “tongues.” Yet the sole basis and authority of our life, the Word of God, states for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9) Salvation is by the grace of God through faith, and nothing we do can merit this salvation because it is not of our works. How can we know if we possess the true grace of God which takes us to heaven or the counterfeit, imitation, satanic grace that casts us unto the Lake of Fire?

True Grace Practices Holiness in Submission and Patience in Suffering

            Peter testifies that his epistle manifests the qualities and attributes of the true grace of God wherein every true believer is Christ stands. (1 Pet 5:12) The theme of this epistle is holiness in our behavior. (1 Pet 1:15-16) This holiness is seen by a heart attitude which responds by submission to our authorities and by suffering for His name’s sake. (1 Pet 2:11-12, 21-25; 4:1-7) True grace manifested in our hearts does not rail (habitually reproach or have injurious speech) on those whom our Lord has placed in authority over us. Does not our speech betray us as we speak venomously towards our federal, state, and local governments, our employers, our spouses, our parents, or even towards our neighbors, church or pastor? True grace rejoices in meekness (willing to be governed by God) and spends more time on her knees beseeching the throne of grace for our authorities than in criticizing their policies. We are to stand and speak out for the righteousness of Jesus Christ; not in railing but with a broken heart of the love of Christ. Also, true grace teaches us that the born-again believer knows that he has been called to suffer for righteousness sake, therefore he trusts in God concerning his circumstances. (1 Pet 2:21-23) The Christian life is not ease in Zion, but a fight and a struggle against principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:12-18) True grace demands God’s children to arm themselves with the mind of Christ so that they may live their life to the will of God, not to the satisfying of the flesh. (1 Pet 4:1-2) Do we possess the true grace of God in our hearts that habitually cries out for holiness in submission and patient endurance in suffering for Christ? Could it be we do not possess the true grace of God?

True Grace Teaches Us to Deny Ungodliness and Worldly Lusts

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world: (Tit 2:11-12)

            Too many people, who profess the name of Jesus Christ, habitually live in ungodliness and worldly lusts. Yet, the Bible clearly states that true grace teaches Christians to deny worldly lusts and ungodly practices. Can we not hear the Spirit of God that writes against those who have a lifestyle of: fornication, covetousness, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, thieves, drunkards, railers, revilers, extortioners, unclean persons, lasciviousness, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, and revelings? These shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 5:11; 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-6) Do we not understand that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisee (an external righteousness only) or we shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven? (Mat 5:20) Our standard is not a church, a pastor, or our imagination. Our standard is the righteousness of Jesus Christ the Lord, who is coming imminently to judge the living and the dead. (1 Pet 4:3-5) Is true grace habitually exhibited in our lives? Could it be we do not possess the true grace of God?

True Grace of God Abounds in Sacrificial Giving

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; (2 Cor 8:1)

            Does not this condemn our supposedly “Christian” society that glories in her covetous heart and refuses to sacrificially give? That closes her ears to the cry of the poor. That shuts her heart to the millions of souls lost without Christ and will not give to the Great Commission through the local church. (Mat 28:19-20) Who will not read her Bible; believe it, practice it, and then go, and tell others of the marvelous grace of God. True grace, that was on the churches and individuals of Macedonia, gave while in deep poverty and in a great trial of suffering and affliction. Yet it was the abundance of their joy that abounded to their liberality. In fact, Paul was reluctant to ask for a gift from these particular churches because of their poverty. Yet these churches begged Paul to be part of the giving! New Testament Christianity teaches the attitude of contentment with the necessities of food and raiment (1 Tim 6:6-8) and a heart of love which abundantly gives. Do we stand in the true grace of God? Does our heart yearn to give or do we reach out in our desire to be rich and hoard for the last days of the wrath of God? (Jam 5:1-3) Could it be we do not possess the true grace of God?

True Grace and Salvation is in Jesus Christ

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Heb 2:9)

            True grace is the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Act 20:24) The truly saved have this grace abiding in them. (II Corinthians 9:14) True grace can be summed up in one word, Christ. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (Joh 1:17) No church or individual is perfect, yet there are certain heart attitudes that define the true child and church of God. They have Christ’s truth and grace living abiding, and working within them daily. They long to rejoice in meekness, desiring willingly to suffer for His name’s sake, growing in the denial of worldly lusts and ungodliness, striving for holiness, and abounding in the grace of giving. Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man. Jesus was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21) Christian, will you not grow in the true grace of God? You were not saved by the flesh, neither do you grow spiritually by the flesh, but by the Holy Spirit. As a true sheep of Jesus Christ, will you forsake the sheepfold of the local church and thereby not grow in the grace of God?

            If you do not possess this true grace of God, will you not examine your heart and have repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. (Act 20:21) Will you not lay aside your external “man-made salvations” of church memberships, baptisms, sprinklings, believing right creeds, speaking in “tongues”, and trying to obey the Ten Commandments. Behold Christ dying for you! O’sinner, be saved! Look unto Christ! Seek the Word of God. Know that the Word of God and the true church of God points only to the Resurrected Christ. Come to Christ He will receive you!

Where is the Salt?

by Frank Jones

"If the house is dark when nightfall comes, don't blame the house (that's what happens when the sun sets). The question to ask is "Where is the light?" If the meat goes bad and becomes rancid and inedible, don't blame the meat (that's what happens when bacteria are left alone to breed). The question to ask is: "Where is the salt?" Just so, if society deteriorates and standards decline till it becomes like a dark night or stinking fish in Western culture, there is no sense in blaming society, for that is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves and human selfishness is unchecked. The question to ask is: "Where is the church? Where are God's people? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing the world around them"" (Stott, John R.W.; Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today) 

Nature of Early Preaching

by Frank Jones

"As the only full-length sermon recorded in the New Testament, Hebrews gives us special insight into the nature of early Christian preaching and its theological character according to Scripture. By its shape and character the Hebrews sermon highlights the fact that preaching (at least for this NT writer) consisted fundamentally in proclaiming Christ through the exposition of Scripture and exhorting hearers to respond. The writer clearly believes that his proclamation of Christ from Scripture is rightly viewed as a 'word' from God (4:13; 5:11; 13:22). We might think that such a high view of the discourse rightly pertains only to this writer, given that his discourse was accepted within the canon of New Testament Scripture. He, however, views the function of 'speaking the word of God' as something that is characteristic of church leaders generally, rather than of him uniquely (13:7).

For the writer of Hebrews, the word of God is supremely expressed in the person of the Son, so it is no surprise that he moves seamlessly from proclaiming the word of God to inviting his hearers to approach the presence of God through Christ. There is a real sense that the proclamation of the word of God facilitates a personal encounter with God. When preaching is set in this light, it is natural that the writer should present his preaching as an event carrying judicial implications. As hearers of God's word encounter God (who is both Judge and Saviour) through his word, they must respond rightly in faith or face the danger of losing out on salvation. At the same time, however, this proclaimed word offers access to the heavenly rest of God. The context in view for the Hebrews sermon is the gathering of God's people. This point is not merely a matter of practicality, nor is it theologically incidental; rather, the proclamation of the word of God to the assembly of God's people is the special means by which God's people hear God address them from heaven. And as the gathered people of God listen to God's word in scattered locations throughout the world, they mirror -- in a limited but profound way -- the heavenly assembly of which they are a part." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 117.)

The Sermon Called "Hebrews"

by Frank Jones

"Hebrews is a sermon intended to be read aloud in the Christian assembly

Most New Testament epistles have at least some affinity with the sermonic genre in that they were generally designed to be read out to the Christian congregations. But Hebrews calls itself a 'word of exhortation' (13:22), which was a term used in contemporary Judaism and early Christianity to refer to the sermon in a synagogue or church gathering. It is used in this way in Acts 13:14-15, where Paul and his companions are invited to preach in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch: 'After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement [or 'exhortation'] for the people, say it."' Quite clearly, Paul (along with his companions) is being invited to deliver the Sabbath-day sermon. In a later Christian context, a fourth-century liturgy designates the sermon 'words of exhortation' (Apostolic Constitutions 8.5).

Added to the designation the writer gives his sermon, the form of the discourse indicates that Hebrews is no ordinary letter. It lacks a traditional epistolary opening, but rather launches straight into the substance of its 'preaching', setting it apart in form from other New Testament letters as more markedly sermonic in genre. A number of features of Hebrews indicate its fundamentally 'oral' rather than written character: the writer's use of the first person plural (which 'enables the speaker to identify with his listeners while addressing them with authority'); frequent references to speaking and hearing, rather than writing (2:5; 6:9; 8:1; 11:32); and the regular alternation between exposition and exhortation. As noted above, Hebrews is arguably the earliest extant full-length Christian sermon. [fn4]" (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 104-105.)

[fn4] Vanhoye (1989:3), who has perhaps devoted more attention to the structure and genre of Hebrews than any other recent scholar, concludes that '"The Letter" to the Hebrews is simply not a letter ... it belongs to the genre of preaching. In fact, it is the only example we have in the New Testament of the text of a sermon which has been preserved in its entirety.' Arguably, the designation 'letter' remains appropriate for Hebrews because the category of 'letter' in the NT is probably broad enough to encompass a written sermon like this one (so, rightly, O'Brien 2010: 21). But Vanhoye's conclusion that Hebrews is fundamentally a sermon is surely correct and is now widely accepted. Cockerill's (2012) recent commentary on Hebrews reflects this conclusion; he regularly refers to the author as 'pastor' and to the discourse as the 'sermon' (and sometimes also to the intended recipients as the 'congregation').

Creation of Faith

by Frank Jones

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)

"Preaching is by its very nature the declaration of a message that is designed to be heard. And since faith comes about through hearing the word of God, there is a fundamental correspondence between the act of preaching and the creation of faith. Paul is not simply suggesting that preaching is the best way of achieving the intended result of faith (as though his concern were merely pragmatic), but that preaching is the natural, appropriate and God-ordained means of producing faith, by its nature having a fundamental correspondence to the character of faith." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 69.)

Authoritative & Educational Preaching

by Frank Jones

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

An extended quotation and explanation of 2 Timothy 4:1-2 has been copied below. It is my prayer that thinking through the explanation of these verses will have a strengthening effect upon those in the ministry of God’s word and a call to hearers of his word to demand appropriate ministers and teachers in their churches.

This charge is commanded of men of God in the presence of God-Father and God-Son. The gravity of the command cannot be overstated. There is an appearance and a kingdom to prepare God’s people thereunto. At the Bema judgment, this charge will be required upon all those who have entered the preaching and/or teaching ministry of the gospel. Sober commands indeed.

At the end of chapter 3 Paul impressed upon Timothy the sufficiency of Scripture for his ministry (3:16-17) so that, unlike the false teachers mentioned earlier in the letter, Timothy will stick with Scripture as the all-sufficient basis of his ministry for the long run. Then follows the charge of 4:1-2, which spells out the precise way in which Timothy is to use this sufficient Scripture.

The charge is made up of five verbs in the imperative (‘preach the word’, ‘be ready in season and out of season’, ‘reprove’, ‘rebuke’ and ‘exhort’) followed by a prepositional phrase that qualifies them (‘with complete patience and teaching’).  Although each of the five imperatives carries its own weight and meaning and could seem like one of a series of stand-alone instructions, the leading charge to ‘preach the word’ plays a dominant role, not only by being first but also by being amplified by the second imperative “be ready in season and out of season”, and by the prepositional phrase with [didache] at the end of this verse’. If the five imperatives were really stand-alone instructions (rather than the four relating closely to the first), the second charge would carry little meaning; the charge ‘be ready’ as a stand-alone charge immediately begs the question: Be ready to do what?

If the leading imperative ‘preach’ (keryxon) is qualified by the four imperatives and the prepositional phrase that follow, each of these then communicates something of the nature of the preaching that Timothy is to engage in. To obey the charge to preach will require Timothy to be ready (epistethi) ‘in season and out of season’, not least because sound teaching will not always be welcome (4:3). In his preaching, Timothy will have to ‘reprove’ (elenxon; that is, correct false understanding or sinful behavior), ‘rebuke’ (epitimeson; that is, call his addressees to turn from ungodliness) and ‘exhort’ (parakaleson; that is, call the people to believe and live out the truth he proclaims). He is to do all this with ‘patience’ (makrothymia), because it will take time and perseverance for his addressees to accept and respond to God’s word. And he to preach with ‘teaching’ (didache), because his reprovals, rebukes and exhortations will only carry weight and be effective if they are grounded in a clear articulation and explanation ofwhat the word of God says. Preaching the word cannot be reduced to teaching it (in the sense of simply explaining the meaning of the word as a purely didactic activity); it involves the urgent call to respond that is signified by the imperatives ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort’. At the same time, preaching for Timothy will always fundamentally involve teaching and can never happen apart from teaching.

The character of preaching is presented here in 4:2 is of an ‘authoritative and educational’ proclamation of God’s word. Timothy will patiently teach the meaning of God’s word and urge people to make an appropriate response to it. (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 55-57. I have omitted the reference footnotes within the quotation.)

God Speaks through Words Once Spoken

by Frank Jones

"Before issuing the well-known charge to Timothy to 'preach the word' (2 Tim. 4:2), Paul reminds him that the Bible is 'breathed out by God' (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture has its origin directly in God such that the words of the Bible are God's words. However, the striking thing we discover as we look more broadly through Scripture to discern the theological character of the word is that God continues to speak today through the words that he once spoke. Scripture is not simply a depository and record of words that God spoke at some time in the past; it is the script that he continues to speak today. Scripture presents itself as a living thing." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-theoglocial Study, NSBT. Intervarsity Press, 2017,9)

Failure to Obey Jesus is Disobedience to Moses

by Frank Jones

"Stephen proclaims the one to whom Moses pointed. A similar point is made by Peter in Acts 3. Peter, like Stephen, proclaims the one Moses spoke about. More than that, Moses said that ‘you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people’ (3:22–23). Thus failure to listen to Jesus is disobedience to Moses and will incur the judgment of God." (italics mine. Thompson, Alan. Acts of the Risen Lord, 177).