Veiled Eyes

“Even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart”

2 Corinthians 3:15

Referring to Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, Paul illustrates how unbelievers cannot comprehend the Bible. They can read the words and know the stories but as through a veil, not seeing with spiritual eyes. This is one of the reasons we cannot argue or debate someone into the kingdom of God. To attempt to do so denies the power of God. Paul writes, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not our ability to present the Gospel in a clear way that will speak to the other person’s heart; it is the Holy Spirit applying the truth of the Gospel that we share. Oswald Chambers writes, “Never rely on the clearness of your exposition, but as you give exposition see that you are relying on the Holy Spirit.”

For the religious Jew of Paul’s day the Law was like a ball and chain. The rules and regulations of false religions, including some called “Christian,” keep captive with rules and rituals that give false hope. Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That is, liberty from compliance to a set of rules, regulations and rituals in order to receive eternal life.

Eternal life is a gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Gift (John 3:16, Romans 5:8; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). We give special attention to this fact at Christmas. If a person is not willing to humble themselves and receive God’s love Gift they deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to lift the veil from their eyes. They may think they know all there is to know but the veil will keep the reality from them. Paul writes, “It [the Gospel] is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). When the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit we see the reality that had been hidden and is revealed more and more. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Until we receive Jesus Christ we are looking at reality through a darkened veil and not seeing clearly. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Let us pray that many will turn to the Lord and see clearly without the veil of spiritual blindness.

Stepping Stones

“Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification”

Romans 15:2

Romans 15:13 concludes Paul’s explanation of what it means to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). The purpose of pleasing our neighbour is for his good and for his edification, not to satisfy fleeting earthly pleasures.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) explains who our neighbour is. Essentially it is anyone who is in need that we can help. Every unsaved sinner is in desperate need of help. Comforting him by telling him he is okay is not going to be for his good. His lost state needs to be revealed along with the remedy that is in Jesus Christ. What is for his good is that which is true; that which will edify or build him up is also truth.

Sharing the Gospel with a man I once worked with brought a rebuke that I didn’t love him because I told him that he came short of the glory of God and was a sinner before God (Romans 3:23) and that he needed Jesus Christ to take away his sin (John 1:29). It hurt me deeply that he thought I hated him. Sharing the Gospel of Christ with a lost person is the greatest act of love we can do for anyone. Not to do so shows indifference to his plight and hatred. The good news was that he did eventually take on board the Scriptures that I had shared with him and a month later received Christ’s forgiveness and new life. It took the truth of the Gospel to reveal his perilous state so that he was motivated to seek the remedy.

In Romans 15:3 Paul gives us the ultimate example of what it means to please our neighbour for his good and edification. Of course that example is Jesus Christ. “For even Christ did not please Himself” He always pleased the Father (John 8:29). Since Christ indwells us it is reasonable to expect that when the Holy Spirit fills us Jesus Christ’s nature and attitudes will be observed. We will please God through conforming to His will and obedience and not by fulfilling our own selfish desires. That is a “living sacrifice.” It is to God’s glory that we live in this way because it reveals the Divine Nature in His creation in a way that physical features cannot. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As Jesus has been for us, let us be stepping stones for others and not stumbling stones.

Birth Language

“How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born”

Acts 2:8

The first act of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was to enable the disciples to speak “the wonderful works of God” (v 11) in various languages as He determined. They spoke in the birth languages of the dispersed Jews who had returned for Pentecost (v 8). Jews from around the Roman Empire and other places had come for this occasion but they had different birth languages according to their place of birth. The message preached by the disciples most certainly centred on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God. We see this in Luke’s record of Peter’s first sermon in the remainder of the chapter. The disciples had just spent forty days with the risen Christ hearing Him speak concerning the coming Kingdom of God (1:3).

The fact that they heard the disciples speak in their own birth language (sixteen different languages are mentioned in verses 9-11) got the attention of people and caused them to listen to the message. Jesus often said or did things to provoke consideration of who He is so we should not be surprised that the first ministry of the Holy Spirit at the foundation of the church and through His church would do the same (v 12).

For centuries the church has sent missionaries to other countries, cultures and language groups to share the Gospel of Christ but we live in a changed world in which people from different countries, cultures and language groups are coming to us. Perhaps we should make an effort to learn their birth languages so that we can share “the wonderful works of God” with them in their birth language.

We notice that while many were provoked to discover the truth and significance of what was happening (v 12), there were those who dismissed the event as people out of their mind (v 13). Paul informs us that being filled with the Spirit may appear to unbelievers as though they are drunk with alcoholic wine (Ephesians 5:18). Both experience a freedom from inhibitions but one is given over to the Holy Spirit and the other given over to the spirit of antichrist and Satan. The central message of all Christian preaching must be Christ crucified and risen (vv 30-32), and His coming kingdom, and that preferably in the birth language of the hearers.

Warning Every Person

“We speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts”

1 Thessalonians 2:4

When Paul wrote that God tests the hearts of His people he was not writing anything new. In Psalm 66 we find the same revelation. “You, O God have tested us” (v 10) with the result that they were refined as silver is refined. God not only allows but purposely creates or provokes circumstances by which what we think we believe is tested. The purpose is to expose what is really in our heart. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) so we are very glad that God reveals those areas where we are deceived or in error that He wishes to correct. He also reinforces areas where our hearts are right.

In this letter Paul wants us to allow the Holy Spirit to test our hearts. Tests will reveal where we are right and where we are not right. Allowing the Holy Spirit to test our hearts will reveal the extent to which the Holy Spirit has us. All true Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling but to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) means that the Holy Spirit has us. At its root this means a humble and teachable spirit toward God.

If we are trying to please men we will not share the Gospel with them. This may be because we fear what they may think of us, say about us or do to us. If we are trying to please God we will share the Gospel and let Him deal with their responses. This is the context of Paul’s letter, especially chapter two verses one to twelve. If we are seeking the praise of men we are not seeking the praise of God (v 6). The two are mutually exclusive.

From time to time I reflect on what this will mean when all the unsaved appear before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15) with Christ on that throne and myself and all believers with Him. How many unsaved will look over to me questioning why I didn’t warn them?

The Lord declared Ezekiel a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:17-19). Ezekiel didn’t ask for it. It came with the Lord setting him apart as a prophet to Israel. The church has been set apart to warn all peoples of the world of the wrath to come and of God’s wonderful Gift of life in Jesus Christ that is able to deliver them from that wrath. In Colossians 1:28 Paul writes, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Sharing Life Experiences

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1 John 1:3

John wrote this several decades after Pentecost and we notice that he writes that his fellowship with Jesus and the Father is still current. His desire is that all believers grow in appreciation the abiding presence of both the Father and Jesus Christ. In his Gospel John records Jesus’ words, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). We know that on trusting the Lord Jesus the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer but we may be less aware that the Father and the Son also want, not only to indwell, but also to make their home with us. That means living together as one sharing life’s experiences.

The nature of pride will attempt to divert us from personal intimacy with Jesus in a way that may appear spiritual but is not. It is possible that we may hide behind Bible knowledge, theological correctness or even ministry enthusiasm so that we appear spiritual but in fact have little if any intimacy with Jesus Christ. Bible knowledge, theological correctness and passion in ministry are very important but they are not an end in themselves.

When a young man is attracted to a young woman or a young woman attracted to a young man they would never be satisfied with just gaining knowledge about the other person. Knowing their likes and dislikes and other personal details may be helpful in the relationship but they are only a means to knowing the other person intimately, not the goal. An intimate relationship will require sharing time and experiences together and this will be the desire of their hearts.

I have known several Christians who are genuinely born of God and have a love for Jesus but when the conversation comes around to intimacy with Jesus they revert to Bible knowledge, doctrinal accuracy or ministry enthusiasm in an attempt to express their spirituality. These are the people to whom John has written this letter. No marriage would be at all satisfactory if the two parties never spent time together and shared life experiences. Neither will Christians be satisfied unless they are walking with Jesus, spending time and sharing life experiences with Him.

This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). This is only possible by spending time together and sharing experiences. We must resist the temptation to hide behind Bible knowledge, theological correctness or passionate ministry when we claim spirituality. They are not the measure. Abiding in (sharing our lives with) Christ is the measure (John 15:5).

“And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).

His Voice

Jesus said to them, “have you never read in the Scriptures: …” Matthew 21:42

This is just one of six times in Matthew’s Gospel that he records Jesus making this statement. It is quite an extraordinary thing that Jesus would say this to the chief priests, scribes and elders (vv 15, 23) who would have known the Scriptures better than anyone else. They most certainly had read and studied the passages that Jesus quoted to them and may even have memorised them. Their problem was that they had not understood them as applying to Jesus. They did not want to recognise Jesus as Messiah no matter what the evidence from Scripture or from His words and deeds. They did not want to recognise His authority.

It is possible for us to put blinkers on at a superficial understanding of Scripture and become blind to a more complete comprehension that will give us a greater appreciation of what we are reading. How often does it happen that, having read a passage of Scripture many times over the years that we gain a greater appreciation of what is written? An oft repeated statement is, “I have read that many times but I never saw that before.” It isn’t that we misunderstood it before but that we now have a greater appreciation of what is written.

The reason Jesus frequently quotes the Scriptures and why Matthew records them is so that people might begin to make the comparison and connection of the Scriptures with Jesus. When they do, with honest and open hearts, the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth concerning Jesus.

If we are content with our early understanding of Scripture we will likely become like the scribes and chief priests and focus on outward religious performance rather than heart intimacy with Jesus. It is a trap awaiting any of us. Jesus is not a set of rules. He is a living Person with whom we may live every moment of every day. Jesus said, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He will make His home in our hearts. WOW!

The scribes, chief priests and the elders knew the Scriptures well but they did not recognise who Jesus is. As it was for them it is possible for us to understand a literal rendering of the Scriptures but not know the Lord Jesus. It is possible for us to know the Scriptures but not be intimate with Him. The answer to this situation is found in Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. It isn’t the one who hears the knock only but the ones who hears His voice that opens the door. What is the difference, you ask? The one who hears His voice recognises a familiar friend because of a previous intimate relationship; “they know His voice” (John 10:3-4).

Enter His Rest

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6

There are times when we wonder how the Lord Jesus is ever going to be able to complete His work in us. When young in the Lord it seems quite reasonable that He will do it but as time passes we realise that the greatest enemy to this completion is ourselves and we seem further behind than ever.

A spiritual war ensues when our will comes into conflict with the will of God. He never pressures us into conforming to His will or obedience. We will either respond willingly or not at all. Grudging obedience is still rebellion. We find many ways of convincing ourselves that we are obedient to the will of God when in fact we are resisting, grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit and hence God’s will for us.

How often have we gotten ourselves into a mess and then asked Him for help to extricate ourselves from it. There are two great errors in this. Firstly, that we are usually in a mess because we didn’t first seek counsel or direction from the Lord. Joshua made the mistake of presuming that the Lord was with him when he went against Ai but he didn’t check. He was soon in a mess and people died. Secondly, in our pride and arrogance we ask the Lord to help us. Think about this. Do we make the agenda or does the Lord? It may be that when we ask the Lord for help we are asking Him to enable us to complete our plans and goals rather than His.

Jesus Christ has His plans for His church and each living stone in it. He is the One who sets the agenda. He knows what He is aiming at and He alone is able to achieve it. When we take the lead it shows that He is not Lord to us. It reveals that we think we know better and can, with a little help from Him when we get in a mess, achieve the goal. Can you see the abomination of this; of the clay dictating to the potter?

As we grow in Christ we know that we have resisted, grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit but now we have come to the place of absolute surrender. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, we enter God’s rest.

“Lord, You lead, You direct, I will follow. Not by my hands and will but by Your hands and might. Show me when I am resisting You and I shall surrender. Show me when I have grieved You and I shall ask forgiveness and mourn over that sin. Show me when I am quenching Your Spirit and I will immediately repent and serve You.”

“Not as I will but as You will”

Fulfilling the Ministry

“Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Colossians 4:17)

People who genuinely desire to serve the Lord have this encouragement that Paul gave to Archippus. Since Paul had cause to write this we can safely assume that Archippus was frustrated or having difficulty in persevering. Anyone in leadership will soon discover that there are many things that will discourage them from fulfilling the ministry that they have received in Christ. The book of Nehemiah is helpful to us in this regard.

This ministry is not from our own design or desire and it is not from the Lord but in the Lord. It comes with the Lord Jesus, not apart from Him. We need to be careful that we are sure that it is the ministry for which we are set apart in the Lord that we are seeking to fulfill. When we have that assurance, and it will be tested many times, we will persevere.

There will be many tests. Some will come in the form of criticisms or corrections and others in the form of obstacles. The Lord may send messengers to correct us and we should heed them but also the enemy of God will send messengers to “correct” us so that we either speak a lie or do not speak at all.

How may we discern the difference? It might be an easy response to say, “By knowing and applying the Bible” but if that was such a reliable way of itself why do so many come up with error? People read and even study the Bible but come up with what others would consider horrendous heresy. The Jews of Jesus earthly days knew the Scriptures yet they condemned their Messiah as blasphemous. Jesus tells us that many who read the Scriptures are blinded by Him. The same is said of Israel by the prophets.

Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us into all truth. There are some today who claim to rely on the Holy Spirit for this but they still arrive at what others might consider to be horrendous heresies.

Error comes when we neglect one or the other. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are perfectly harmonious. It isn’t a matter of balance either. It is all Scripture and being filled with the Holy Spirit that will lead us to a correct knowledge, understanding and application of God’s word and will. The regular testing along the way helps us to ensure we are making correct assessments and determinations.

When messengers come claiming to correct us it is imperative that we are able to discern the origin of the correction. Satan is not above using the Bible to confuse the servants of Jesus Christ since he did that to Jesus Himself.

Paul’s desire was that Archippus fulfill the ministry that he had received in Jesus Christ and no doubt he would pray the same for us. Therefore it is good that we “take heed” or give attention to fulfilling and completing that which we have received in Jesus Christ. Do not allow discouragement, frustration, laziness, doubts or fear keep us from fulfilling all that the Lord has given us the privilege of doing in His name.

Called to Liberty

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

The liberty that Christians have been given is freedom from the law and all its requirements. The law was given by God through Moses and is a description of at least some aspects of the Divine Nature. It is also therefore a description of our new nature He has given us which can be expressed now and will be fully expressed in the resurrection. The problem the law brings is that it condemns the one who chooses to live by it. It has no power of enablement to abide by it.

In the latter part of this chapter Paul gives a description of the Christian’s two options. He may be ruled by the lust of flesh and reap the character of verses 19-21 or he may yield to the Holy Spirit and reap the character of the fruit of the Spirit given in verses 22 & 23. Knowing the outcome of each we have the opportunity to choose.

If our lives are characterized by the works of the flesh then we conclude that we are under the power of the lusts of the flesh. On the other hand, if our lives are characterised by the fruit of the Spirit then we can be confident that we are walking in the Spirit. This is the same as being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and being in fellowship with Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3, 7) but viewed by a different ‘window’.

Because we are set free from the curse that the law brings there is the possibility that we will neglect or discard our knowledge of the commands of God. The law is itself good and has its purpose to unbelievers (Galatians 3:19-25) but it is still good and has its purpose for Christians. The law no longer condemns the believer because Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law on our behalf. What good then is the law to Christians?

Like the fruit of the Spirit the law is a revelation of the Divine Nature and is therefore also a description of what we are in Jesus Christ and how we shall be in eternity. Yes, the law is a schoolmaster for unbelievers but it is also a safety instructor for Christians.

As a ship comes into harbour needs markers to keep it safe in deep water so as not to run aground so the law is as markers to keep the Christian safe from shipwreck of his faith. So Paul writes, “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13). So the law is not a curse to Christians but a blessing for it shows us the way of safety and warns of dangers.

When the World Rejoices

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” 2 Thessalonians 2:7

There is a day approaching when the world will find cause for unrestrained joy. It will be the day that the Lord removes all believers in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul describes that day in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the lord.”

Jesus mentioned this day years earlier and His words are recorded in John 14:3,”I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

What Jesus and Paul are saying is that there will be a day when there are absolutely no believers in the world. That will be a day of rejoicing for the world but the rejoicing will be short-lived. In the verse at the head of this article Paul tells us that what is restraining evil in the world will be removed. That will be the opportunity for wickedness and evil to blossom unrestrained.

We are not left solely to our imaginations. Paul gives a brief outline of the character of the world in that day. It may appear to have already come but it is not yet the total character and full expression of what it will be. The presence of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s church still restrains wickedness and evil. The preaching of God’s word is contrary to the way the world wants to go and it currently acts as a restraint. The world is finding less opposition than in the past but there is still considerable restraint on wickedness through believers. When those who love Jesus Christ, teach His word and faithfully witness to the risen Christ are removed, those whom the Lord has given over to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) will have their day. What will the character of the world look like when all godly influence is removed?

Paul gives us a brief description in 2 Timothy 3:1-4. People will love themselves. This means that they will have no concern for anyone but “number one.” They will have a love for money and they will boast in their achievements full of pride. They will give no credit to the grace of God but take all credit to themselves. Children will be disobedient and rebellious toward their parents. People will be unthankful, unholy, unloving unforgiving, slanderers and totally without self discipline. They will be brutal toward each other, hate that which is good, treacherous in relationships, trampling over others and laughing at those they consider weak. Their one great love is themselves and this will be expressed in an insatiable love for pleasure with little or no thought for others or their Creator.

You may say this is a current description of our world. In many ways it is but there is still a restraint. Imagine what it will be like when there is no restraint! The good news in this account of the future world is that Jesus Christ will intervene to fulfill His covenant with Israel and redeem multitudes, both Jew and Gentile, out of this corrupt world.