Based on the Sheepdog Church Security training module Safety Team Fundamentals 
From the Bible
This is Wisdom speaking:
But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil (Proverbs 1:33).
God’s flock is His people:
Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle (Ezekiel 34:22).
David protected his father’s flock from predators:
And David said unto Saul, “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, [or] a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him” (1Samuel 17:34-35).
What are “fundamentals”? A fundamental is (1) that which is foundational (fundamental) to the subject, that which it is based upon, and/or (2) that which is essential (necessary) to the subject, without which the subject could not exist or function.
So the fundamentals of Church Security are the principles on which it is based, and the organization and practices needed for it to work – in other words, the basics.
And what is Church Safety and Security? It is protecting the congregation, both members and visitors, from various threats (see Protecting the Flock below).
In the News
Winchester, Kentucky, May 18, 2019 – Security training for churches in the Winchester area were held at Central Baptist Church. Among the sessions were “Active Shooter Preparedness” and “Legal Matters to Consider.” Topics covered also included how to start a safety ministry, firearms safety, and children’s safety.
Upstate New York State, June 2011 – The Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church adopted a resolution which directed each local church or charge (churches under one pastor or governing board) to have a Safe Sanctuaries ministry.
Nashville, Tennessee, November 11, 2015 – Agape Tactical has been conducting live-action active killer response training in actual church buildings. More churches saw the need for safety teams – especially for defending against active killers – after the massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
Birmingham, Alabama, November 8, 2018 – Religious Product News republished an article from January 2015, “7 Critical Essentials for Church Security.” The information was from ACTIVE Network, a church software company. According to them, the seven essentials are (quoting the headings):
This is the first module in the Complete Training System, the key part of Safety Member Team Certification. It is the first, because it covers the basics of Church Safety & Security. The other courses are Active Shooter Response, Deescalating Disruptive Persons, Protecting Children from Abuse, Basic Use of Force Laws, Arson and Fire Safety, and Storms and Disasters.
The training is also available in live online Zoom classes, one every two or three weeks. The current semester ends on December 9, and the next begins in 2022 with Safety Team Fundamentals on February 6. The training program is available both for classes and for individuals.
Reports and Forms Bundle
A fundamental principle of a Church Safety Team is accountability, and accurate record keeping is key to that. The team members are accountable to the team; the team to the Safety Director, the Safety Director to the Safety Committee, the Safety Committee to the church, and the church to the public. By using forms and reports, set policies and procedures mean something because they can be enforced.
The Reports and Forms Bundle has three reports and two logs: Incident Report, Follow-Up Report, Suspected Child Maltreatment Report, Patrol Log, and Safe Access Log. Each form except Safe Access Log has this notation at the top: “Release of Information on Juveniles is Restricted.”
By clicking *HERE* you can get this bundle now. It is also one of the free Bonus Resources that come with Safety Member Team Certification.
Protecting the Flock
The mission of a Church Safety Ministry and its Church Safety Team is to protect the flock. A few of the threat areas are:
Theft and fraud
Abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults
Active killer attack
Vandalism and arson
Severe weather and natural disasters
Injuries and medical emergencies
Admittedly, in most churches (30 or more members) one person cannot protect the flock alone. A team is much better, and the larger the congregation and the more services, classes, and activities it has, the more team members it needs. Teamwork means coordination. A large Church Safety Ministry can be divided into safety/security and medical response teams with professionals (law enforcement/military or EMT/healthcare) in each.
Safety Ministry Organization
The most-used overall organization of a Church Safety Ministry (and the one recommended by Sheepdog Church Security) has a Safety Committee, a Safety Director, and a Safety Team (or Safety and Medical Response teams). This is the pattern which has proven to work best in most churches.
Members of the Safety Committee are church leaders and relevant professionals. Ideally, these would include members of various ministries of the church (such as Children’s Department and Youth Ministry), a medical professional, and someone in law and/or insurance.
The Safety Committee sets policies, adopts a budget, interacts with the congregation’s governing board, and appoints the Safety Director.
The Safety Director is usually someone with law enforcement and/or military experience. He or she establishes procedures for carrying out the Church Safety Ministry’s policies, procures supplies covered by the budget, maintains records, recruits and selects Safety Team members, and supervises the Safety Team.
The Safety Director also facilitates training of the Safety Team and schedules fire, severe weather, and active shooter drills for the congregation.
To most members and guests of the congregation, the Safety Team is the face of the Safety Ministry. These are the ones they see and the ones who respond when needed.
The Safety Team may include not only full members, but also ushers and greeters who have been trained in the safety aspects of their duties. This is important, since they encounter almost all who come through the doors of the church.
Duties of Safety Team members include watching and being a presence in the foyer, corridors, sanctuary, and parking lot. They also conduct patrols, assist those who need help, watch for safety hazards, and intervene when needed (such as through verbal de-escalation). If there is an evacuation (such as with a fire) or a move to shelter (such as with a tornado), Safety Team members will guide the congregants and aide those who cannot make it on their own.
Qualifications and Expectations
As with any job or position of trust, there are qualifications and expectations for members of a Church Safety Team. Since Church Safety Team members are really deacons, they must fulfill the qualifications for deacons, as Paul laid out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
True to spouse
Good parents and home managers
Above all, faithful believers.
Other qualifications will be covered more fully in another article.
Our mission as Sheepdogs is to protect the flock. This work is based on the fundamentals of a Church Safety Ministry.
There Is More
There are four articles in December. The other three are “Know What You Face” (Assessing Risk), “Building on a Foundation” (The Basics of a Church Safety Team), and “The 2009 First Baptist Church of Maryville Shooting” (Lesson Learned).
We’re all prone to “fan mentality.” It’s when you think or do something because of your attraction to an individual, brand, or style. For example, as a Cubs fan, I started watching Yankees games when Anthony Rizzo was traded there last July.
This fan mentality affects our interests in books, sports, merchandise, and more. But when applied to church, fan mentality undermines true Christian community.
There are many ways fan mentality conflicts with biblical ideas that belong to what we might call “flock mentality.” Here are three.
Choice vs. Call
With a fan mentality, one’s church involvement is often driven by an attraction to the pastor’s giftedness, the worship team’s vibe, or even the church’s theological distinctives. More often than not, if you join a church based on fan mentality, you’ll leave quickly when your favorite pastor retires or when you bore of the worship style.
Two important clarifications:
The problem is not gifted pastors, theological distinctives, or good worship vibes. The problem is a Christian’s tying church attendance to personal preferences.
The problem is not liking your pastor—he is, after all, God’s gift to your church (Eph. 4:11)—but placing yourself, and your “ideal pastor” preferences, as the central concern.
Fan mentality frames church in terms of personal choice. Flock mentality frames it in terms of calling. Fan mentality says choose the church with the most attractive person, style, or brand to you. Flock mentality says submit to God’s leading to the church you need. Church is about choice, but it’s about God’s choice to call you into his church—not your choice to pick a church that suits you.
Celebrity vs. Shepherd
The role of a pastor/shepherd is not to draw Christians to himself, but to point Christians to the true Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25) and help build up the body so it may “grow in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Ultimately, church is not about how great your pastor is, but how great God is.
Yet fan mentality is all too eager to cherish the greatness of individual men. It can make a near-divine image, a holy caricature, of a pastor. Viral YouTube sermons and bestselling book series can become idolatrous treasures for the fan who has staked a church choice on one man’s giftedness.
Flock-mentality members, in contrast, love their pastor not as a celebrity, but as someone who is one of them. They’re close enough to see his mistakes and hold him accountable; close enough to see his growth, and him theirs.
For this reason, the famous man preaching on your computer screen cannot be your main spiritual leader. The flock needs a physically present spiritual leader. Therefore, embrace a more incarnational form of spiritual leadership.
Spectating vs. Responsibility
You may consider me a bad sports fan, but I don’t enjoy Cubs baseball now that my favorite player is gone.
My relationship with the Cubs was based primarily on my fandom of Anthony Rizzo. When I attended games, I had no interest in hot dogs or the other fans around me. It was all about me watchingRizzo. This may be fine for a baseball game, but it does not work for the church.
In Ephesians 4:16, Paul explains that the growth of the church depends not only on the gifted leaders, but also on the gifts of the individual members of the body. The body of Christ is “held together by every joint with which it is equipped,” and it grows “when each part is working properly.”
Fan mentality deceives us into thinking we’re individual spectators in church. But the biblical ideal is different. Christ has given gifts “to each one of us” (Eph. 4:7), and the good works you can offer are not only wanted and needed for the growth of your church, but also prepared beforehand by God himself (Eph. 2:10).
Don’t let church become all about you watching the pastor. Embrace flock mentality and walk in your responsibilities of building up other members of the body, including both the sheep and the shepherd.
Be the Flock
The church is not a place we choose; it’s a place to which we’ve been called. We are called there not to cherish human fame, but to cherish Christ. And we’re called not to an individualized entertainment experience, but to use our gifts to build up the whole community.
Fan mentality is a widespread temptation—especially in a culture of consumerism and celebrity. But it’s deadly when we bring it to church. Instead of fans, let’s be the flock—gathering together out of reverence to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
Hoping to write blogs on regular things like “Daily Time in the Word” or “Beauty of Fellowship”. But I feel the Holy Spirit leading to release another dream. Believing this is for His Church..
Dream 1/19/21 : Just a still vision.. Two huge crystals. One was a bowl. I was told it was an amulet. Another was like an earth and I was told it was an omni amulet.
Upon awakening, I wasn’t sure what an amulet was. I googled it and learned that it is a form of magic to protect against danger and evil.. Onni means in all places and ways.
The omni amulet represents how the enemy is trying to cover all the earth in a spirit of witchcraft.. False truth.. An antichrist culture.. The bowl represents people.. Bowls are to be filled, so we can put things inside.. To eat and drink to live.. Many bowls are covered in spirits not of God.. Being filled with deceit, manipulation and idolatry..
We must be putting on the full armor of God.. Meditating on His Word day and night.. Overflowing with the Holy Spirit.. Authoritatively praying against the spirit of evil trying to cover all of the earth.. Pray that the spirit of God will cover all of the earth in His love, light and glory, in Jesus Name.. What life food are we filling our bowls with? May it be Jesus and Jesus alone.
I understand a lot of prophets didn’t get things as thought. May we not judge in unbiblical ways. People have lost faith because their words did not come to pass. This shows how much is looked to man and not God.. How much hearts need to be more devoted, learning in the Bible.. Hearing from the Holy Spirit ourselves. We are not to despise prophecies.
May prophetic messages be served and received in love and honor of Yahweh.. To build us up as His Bride.. To help keep our oil full and our lives on His narrow path.. Remaining faithful to Jesus. All is for His glory.
The Lord in His perfect love encourages and warns us.. This is an exciting time.. Do not fear man.. Beautifully fear God in reverence and awestruck wonder.. Our Father cares. He is working all things out in his ultimate kindness and goodness.. To reveal and bring breakthrough.. But it’ll be a ride..
We have entered a time where evil has been tolerated for so long.. that it’s become normal for others.. And even celebrated.. Brothers and sisters ~ People must see Jesus living within us.. Hope of glory.. Dwelling in us as His believers.. Church, lets pray without ceasing and discern with wisdom from above.. Walk in the Holy Spirit.. Abide deeply in His Word.. Keep your hearts pure.. Make your entire life a sacrifice of praise to Him..
Our Abba didn’t create us to just sit back and watch the movie.. We are citizens of heaven, His babies. He is empowering us to partner with Him for such a time as this.. Seek His face with all your heart.. Worship and proclaim our Lord is Jesus.. Rise and thrive in our Saviors love..
I sometimes fear that there is a willful naïveté in the church with regard to the presence and work of Satan. One doesn’t have to look far into the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or the New Testament Epistles to discover the reality of the spiritual forces of darkness and to develop a theology of the assault tactics of the evil one. But it might surprise some to see what exactly these tactics are in their more subtle forms. There is one fact, in particular, about which we must be convinced––namely, the Gospel is always the central object of Satanic assault.
Stopping the advance of the Gospel is the singular goal of Satan and demons. It does not come, first and foremost, in the form of demonic possession––though that was certainly a primary manifestation of Satan’s counterfeiting work in the days of incarnation of Christ (Demon possession was a counterfeiting incarnational power at the fullness of time). But it principally manifests itself in 1) false religions, 2) political oppositions and persecution aimed at the church, 3) false doctrine, 4) hypocrisy, and 5) unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners.
These schemes are the common tactics employed by Satan to stop the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. The first two––false religions and political opposition aimed at the church––are brought against the church from without. The latter three––false doctrine, hypocrisy, and unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners––come from within. An appraisal of the church in our day will reveal that the majority of Christians readily focus on the former, almost without regard to the latter. The latter are the more subtle, making them more dangerous in some respects.
The Work of Satan in the Church
A professor in seminary challenged us to read the New Testament in a redemptive-historical manner with regard to the work of Satan. When we do so we discover that demon possession is mentioned less and less after the Gospels, and false doctrine is mentioned more and more. It is, as Paul told Timothy, “doctrines of demons” that come to the forefront of spiritual warfare. Additionally, Paul explained this satanic tactic to the Corinthians when he wrote:
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:3,4)
False doctrine is the principle way in which Satan seeks to gain a foothold in the church. It is not, as so many suggest, false religions existing without that threaten the life of the church–it is false doctrine within (Acts 20). The apostle Paul–who many would probably classify as one of those “paranoid reformed folks”–were he alive today–wept over the prospect of false teachers rising up from among the Ephesian elders after he would depart. As John Gerstner once put it, “The Ephesian elders were weeping because they would see Paul no more. Paul was weeping because false teachers would rise up from among the elders.” False teaching is a real and powerful reality in the church of Jesus Christ. However, false teaching is not the only tactic Satan employs within the church–false living is of great use to him as well.
In the book of Acts, the first instance of Satan’s assaults comes in the form of external opposition to the spread of the Gospel. It is the political forces of darkness rising up against the apostles, threatening them to speak no more in the name of Jesus. But, no sooner had they been delivered from this assault, there was another Satanic blow in the form of hypocrisy within the church. Ananias and Sapphira, we are told, allowed “Satan to fill” their hearts so that they might lie to the Holy Spirit. Concerning Satan’s working in this case, John Calvin wrote:
“Satan invented a plot to get into that holy company…under color of such excellent virtue; for he has wonderful wiles of hypocrisy to insinuate himself. Satan assaults the Church in this way, when he cannot prevail by open war.”
This is a trumpet call for us to watch over our own hearts against the hypocrisy that Satan wishes to employ in order to pervert the church. Pervert the church, lose the Gospel. There is an undeniable relationship between the truth of the Gospel and the truthfulness of the people of God. The truthfulness of the people of God is not the Gospel, but the Gospel is denied where there is hypocrisy and deceit. If we walk deceitfully we are giving the evil one entrance into our assemblies. Eric Alexander makes the observation that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin “was in pretending to a godliness to which they were strangers. Their sin was in being more interested in reputation than in reality. And that was like a dreadful blight which could have killed the early church. So God rooted it out vigorously.” Ananias and Sapphira––as well as Simon the Sorcerer––are examples of those who needed to be taken away from the church. And, it is important to note that in the case of Ananias and Sapphira it was God who took them out of the church. Satan had filled their hearts to corrupt the church, so God took their breath to purify it.
There are two small but important lessons that need to be learned with regard to the account of Ananias and Sapphira. The first has to do with the fact that Satan tried to get his way through the use of one couple, William Still observed:
“Satan only needs one individual in a fellowship to give him an opening, to let him in to wreak his havoc on the work of God.”
It doesn’t take a coup to destroy the church’s mission–it takes only one couple. There is an Old Testament parallel in the record of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7). Achan took and hid some of the gold from Jericho when the the LORD had told Israel not to keep any of the accursed things Because of Achan’s theft and deceit, the children of Israel were not able to defeat Ai. There is a warning here for us to keep our heart free from greed and deceit. But there is also the lesson that Satan uses the sin of one to bring devastating consequences upon the church.
Another lesson to learn from the example of Ananias and Sapphira is that Satan loves to work through marriages. This was the case with our first parents. Satan immediately sought to work through the marriage in order to bring sin into the world. This may be why the apostle Paul couches his teaching on marriage in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:20-22) in the context of the spiritual realities in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3 and 6:1-14). It is in the context of spiritual warfare that marriage is brought into focus. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and Ananias and Sapphira are all examples of the way in which the evil one seeks to gain an inlet into the church through marriages. Those who are married must especially be on guard against his assaults in this regard. Eric Alexander again observes:
The first warning note of danger in the church is seen in Ananias and Sapphira’s marriage. It is essentially a warning about marriage (even Christian marriage) where something is kept back from God. (Cf. 5:2, “with his wife’s full knowledge” and 5:9, “how could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?”) It seems, then, as if Ananias and Sapphira had sat down together and discussed the whole issue. They were really discussing the level at which they proposed to live before God and the extent of their consecration together to him and to the cause of the gospel. And in the process, they made a travesty of the marriage bond, which in the providence of God was intended to enable a man and woman to be helpers to each other, that they might live for his glory. But Ananias and Sapphira made it a concordat for abetting one another in robbing God of his glory, lying to the Holy Spirit and putting the whole church in jeopardy. Will you allow me to say to those of you who are married or contemplating it that here is a whole area which you need to bring before God, and the earlier the better.
There is still another way in which Satan comes into the church, with his schemes and attacks; it is by means of moving the hearts of Christians to be unwilling to receive repentant sinners. The apostle Paul charged the Corinthians to put the man living in unrepentant adultery out of the church. That man was handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (which is incidentally what it means to be excommunicated), he at some point had become the recipient of the grace of repentance and came back into the fellowship of believers. One might be tempted to think that all was well. The man had been taken captive to Satan’s wiles by lusting after another man’s wife, then he had been delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. He had returned to the house of God, and it would seem that Satan’s work was finished. But the apostle Paul warns the church that they must receive this brother, so that Satan would not get a foothold. The rationale for such admonition is found in Paul’s exhortation concerning the man who had repented:
I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Whatever else may be said about the ways in which Satan works in the church, of this much we can rest assured, the Gospel is the object of satanic assault. Satan loves to work through the hypocritical lives and censorious spirits of members of the church to pervert the grace of God in Christ in the message of the gospel. May we not be found ignorant of the devil’s devices. God has revealed them to us in the warnings, expositions, and examples of Scripture. We must give ourselves wholly to a consideration of what we find there and to our own hearts as we seek to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and live lives worthy of it.
Christians have debated for centuries over whether a truly saved person can lose their salvation. Probably the strongest Biblical passage for that position is Hebrews 6:4-6. This is what the text says,
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Now, exactly what does this passage mean? It seems to indicate that a saved person who has experienced all the blessings in vs.4-5 can in the end fall away and be lost. In this blog I want to refer you to two principles of Biblical interpretation:
1) Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture; and
2) Remember that context rules
Scripture Will Never Contradict Scripture:
That first rule of interpretation about Scripture not contradicting Scripture comes into play because there are other passages in Hebrews which seem to teach the opposite position. Let’s take a look at a few other passages which seem to teach that a born again Christian can’t lose their salvation, because they will persevere in faith to the end.
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:14)
This text speaks about something that has already taken place (have become partakers of Christ) if the following condition is met (we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end). The text is not saying that we will become a partaker of Christ if we go on to hold fast the assurance of our faith until the end. Rather, we have already become partakers of Christ if we go on to persevere in faith. Thus, a person who does not hold fast their assurance firm until the end never became a partaker of Christ. Thus Hebrews 3:14 seems to be saying the exact opposite of Hebrews 6:4-6. Now, two mutually exclusive positions can not both be true. Either one of them is wrong, or both are wrong, but both can’t be true. Either it is possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, or it is not possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, but it is one or the other.
Furthermore, Hebrews 10:14 says, For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (ESV).
If it is true that Jesus’ offering up of Himself on the cross has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified, then it is not possible for those same persons to fall away and lose their salvation. For those who are indwelt, regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit, they possess a perfect standing before God based on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it is “for all time”! They were not perfected until they fall away, but for all time.
Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us,
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen
This text mentions the “eternal covenant.” Well, in Jeremiah 32:40 we also read of the “everlasting covenant”, which I would presume refers to the same thing. What is the nature of the everlasting covenant?
I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
This covenant includes two things:
1) God will not turn away from them to do them good; and
2) Those with whom this everlasting covenant is made will not turn away from God because God will put the fear of Him in their hearts.
Now, if God promises that He will never turn away from them, and that they will never turn away from Him, what is our only conclusion? That these people will never fall away and be lost.
I’ve said all of this to highlight our first principle of Biblical interpretation – “remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.” It appears that Scripture is contradicting Scripture. But that’s just it. It must be only an appearance of a contradiction. Our understanding of one or more of these texts must be wrong, because God who inspired all of these texts is a God of truth, and doesn’t contradict Himself. So what are we to do? We need to go back to the drawing room, and decide if we have understood Hebrews 6:4-6 correctly.
In order to do that, let’s utilize our second rule of Biblical interpretation – “remember that context rules.” So, let’s go back and look at the context of this passage to see if we can uncover any clues as to its proper interpretation.
Hebrews 5:11-14 – in this section we discover several things about the recipients of this letter.
1) they were dull of hearing
2) they should have advanced to teachers by then
3) instead they needed someone to teach them the elementary principles of the Word of God
4) they were spiritual infants and unable to consume anything except for milk
5) they were spiritually immature.
Now, remember the whole situation in which this letter was written. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were being tempted to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism. That’s why all the way through the author keeps emphasizing the word “better.” Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than the Aaronic priesthood, He brings in a better covenant, a better hope, better promises, and is a better sacrifice. The author of this letter is urging these new Jewish believers not to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism, for that would mean their spiritual destruction.
Hebrews 6:1-3 – Here the author exhorts his readers to press on to maturity (vs. 1). In other words, they must make progress in their faith. They should have been at the point where they could be teaching others, but were still spiritual babies. They needed to mature.
Hebrews 6:4-6 – Notice that vs. 4 begins with the word “for”, which tells us that the author is giving us a reason why the readers must press on to maturity. It is because if they have received great and precious privileges and blessings, and then have fallen away, they are lost forever. This is a very serious and solemn passage. The author of Hebrews is urgently exhorting his readers to mature in their faith and bear fruit of their salvation, because it is possible that some of them who do not do this may “fall away” and prove that they were never truly saved to begin with.
But you might be thinking, “Brian, how in the world can verses 4-5 be speaking of a person who is not truly saved? Well, let’s look at them. What are these great blessings they had experienced?
2) Tasted of the heavenly gift (probably the gift of the Holy Spirit- Acts 2:38)
3) Partakers of the Holy Spirit
4) Tasted the good word of God
5) Tasted the powers of the age to come
Notice that these readers had “tasted” several of these blessings. Is it possible for someone to taste something, swish it around in their mouth for a while, and then spit it out? Of course it is. No doubt these readers were participating in a Christian church in which the gospel was preached (enlightened, tasted the good word of God), and the power of the Holy Spirit was manifest (tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the powers of the age to come). So, if we were to boil down these blessings we could reduce them to two – the gospel was proclaimed and the Spirit was working. And these professing Christians had continually heard the Word and seen the Spirit work. Yet, there was still the possibility that they could “fall away” and find it impossible to be renewed again to repentance.
Many find the expression “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” to be ironclad proof that these people were truly saved. After all, they had already repented. However, in 2 Cor. 7:10 Paul says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Evidently there are two kinds of sorrow – one leading to salvation and the other leading to death. Just as there is a saving faith which ushers in a life of good works, and a non-saving faith which does not usher in good works, so there is a true repentance which leads to salvation and a worldly repentance which is merely regret for the misery their sin has caused them.
The author goes on to say, “since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Note the little word “and.” These people had once put the Son of God to open shame by valuing other things of the world more than Him. Then they professed faith in Christ and conversion. If they fell away after that, they would be doing the same thing they had done originally, by showing that they valued the rituals and laws of Judaism more than Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 6:7-8 – Notice again that vs. 7 begins with the word “for.” That tells us that he is going to explain what he meant in verses 4-6. Here he gives a little parable of two different kinds of fields. Both of these fields received abundant rains. However, only one field brought forth useful vegetation, while the other brought forth only worthless thorns and thistles. The first kind of field receives a blessing from God, while the latter is close to being cursed and ends up being burned. The author is explaining the person in vs. 4-6 who received the abundant rains of hearing the Word of God, and seeing the works of the Spirit. However, if he did not produce fruit in his life his end would be that of being “cursed” and “burned” (Mt.25:41). This brings us to the final piece of context which we need to examine.
Hebrews 6:9-12 – The author says in vs. 9, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” The author believed that his readers were the fruitful and blessed field, not the barren and cursed field. Notice how he puts it – “we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” Now, what are the “better things” he’s referring to? Fruitfulness and persevering faith! And, notice that these are the things that “accompany salvation.” When an individual receives salvation, he will produce fruit, and he will persevere to the end, which is exactly what Hebrews 3:14; 10:14; 13:20-21 and Jer. 32:40 all teach.
So, to sum up, I believe that Hebrews 6:4-6 is a strong, sobering, warning for any professing Christian who seems to remain in a spiritually immature condition, rather than pressing on to maturity, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and persevering in faith to the end. To any professing Christian who has heard the Word of God continually, and seen the powers of the Holy Spirit, and then falls away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Why? Because they have already received all the light they can receive, and then they have turned their backs on it, and deserted Christ to go back from where they came. They have proven that the things of the world are more valuable to them than Jesus. Thus, repentance becomes impossible for them. [ The author seems to outline an unpardonable sin of falling away which seems to contradict the teaching of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-31 ]
I hope this blog is more than an exercise in Biblical Hermeneutics for you. I hope it gives us all a needed and sobering reminder that true saving faith always results in a transformed life, and that we “must show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb.6:11).” None of us want to hear those terrifying words out of the mouth of our Lord, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”!
The Constitution has never been a hotter topic in America. And as battles continue to rage over the rights of citizens, the highest court in the land might end up getting another historic case.
This one involves the all-important First Amendment as well as freedom of religion, and a high school football coach who isn’t about to stop fighting for his rights.
That’s why he’s pledged to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.
It’s not uncommon to see coaches and players praying. They’ll often pray before games, for example, and players frequently praise God after good performances.
However, Coach Joe Kennedy found that he wasn’t allowed to conduct prayer sessions on the field with his players.
Back in 2015, the Bremerton School District told him he had to stop and when he didn’t, they suspended him. But even when Kennedy returned, he continued the practice — then he was fired.
School authorities claimed he was violating the religious freedom of students. And even though Kennedy tried to fight the case in the U.S. Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, it was dismissed.
So now, he’s taking the next step. From Fox News:
A former high school football coach challenging a ban on post-game prayers vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court after losing his latest court appeal Monday.
Joe Kennedy and his legal team have alleged the former coach’s first amendment rights were violated by the Bremerton School District in Washington state after he was issued an order to end his prayer sessions while on the field with players.
First Liberty Institute Chief Legal Officer Jeff Mateer said they “are confident the Supreme Court of the United States will right this wrong.”
The situation started with Coach Kennedy offering up silent prayers on the field, and the school argues he was never reprimanded for this.
But when other students started praying with the coach, the school had a problem. They argue that it was a violation of religious freedom, as they said in a statement:
The Ninth Circuit made the right call: The Bremerton School District was correct to protect the religious freedom of its students and their families.
The Constitution requires public schools to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students…that includes ensuring that student-athletes don’t feel compelled to pray or participate in religious activities to secure their place on a team.
The problem is, The Ninth Circuit ruled that as a “public employee,” he isn’t allowed to engage in religious activity.
That’s a big ruling, though, because it would apply to all sports coaches around the country who pray with their students. It would stop them all from praying on the field in front of fans.
The appeals court did say the school offered Kennedy “a private location within the school building, athletic facility, or press box” before or after the game.
But saying they’re not allowed to pray on the field as public employees is a big deal. It could change how school coaches around the country operate on a daily basis.
On top of that, it’s a critical rights issue — and the Supreme Court actually heard it before. But they previously returned it to lower courts because they required more facts in the case.
Well, whether or not they have more facts now, Kennedy and his team are going back to the High Court. Said Mateer:
Coach Kennedy has been denied the freedom to coach for over five years, but he’s never been a quitter. We will fight on.
A high school football coach is taking his case to the Supreme Court.
He was fired for saying prayers on the field with players. The school argued that this violated the religious freedom of the students.
But Kennedy claims it’s a violation of his First Amendment rights.
The Myth of Separation of Church and State – Dr. Andy Woods
The beginning of the video does not have any sound.
(When the word “church” is used, I’m referring to the church collectively, as a whole, rather than “all” churches.)
As war rages in the Middle East, and the potential for nuclear war intensifies, the church is asleep at the wheel. Many Christians mock difficult messages from the pulpit and the pen. They despise the heat of conviction and scoff at those who seek God unconditionally.
The present condition of the church leaves one to wonder if the lack of the fear of the Lord is contributing to her spiritually dead condition: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). A healthy respect of God (fear) is what our culture, and the church, desperately need.
We must turn to God’s truth and away from the broad road that leads to destruction. We must repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek restoration. We should not apologize for promoting the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Sadly, I’ve had similar conversation with emergent, post-modern, and liberal pastors. My concern is that this view is coming from leadership. They feel that we should avoid mentioning the fear of the Lord because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Just writing that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him…” (Psalm 147:11). Joshua encouraged the people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (24:14).
It’s clear from Genesis to Revelation that we are to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus spoke more on the fear of hell than on the glory of heaven. He thought it to be timely and urgent. “That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Savior, and I fear Him because He is my Judge” (A.W. Tozer).
The overall direction of the church away from the fear of the Lord is a sad reality. It is an indication that we may fear men more than God. Those who avoid teaching the fear of the Lord to soften the message are missing the balance. We are running from the very thing we need: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). Acts 9:31 says that the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that: the church was powerful and multiplied because they walked in the fear of God (not man), and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Anointing and fear go hand-in-hand. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out (not work for) our own salvation with “fear and trembling.”
We must lovingly proclaim the fear of the Lord again in our pulpits if we are to experience genuine change. Fear often motivates a person to repent. The fear of the Lord will cause an adulterer to seek forgiveness. It will motivate the prodigal to return. It will cause pastors to spend extended time in prayer for anointed sermons. When the fear of the Lord is preached the world will repent: “Falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). A true fear of the Lord saves man from himself. We should take His commands seriously…not legalistically, but reverently.
Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear one would have toward an abusive father, but rather, it’s the type of fear that involves respect and reverence for God. For example, we fear jumping off a 100-story building because we respect gravity. Fear, in this sense, is good and God-given; it protects us.
It is often through reverent fear that we come to Christ and redemption. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending, or securing an audience. The fear of the Lord offends, and rightly so. The goal of the church is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.
This morning, we come finally to the great text of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 18. Please open your Bible to that particular passage of Scripture. This is, of course, familiar to most of us as believers. We know it as the Rapture passage, the passage which describes the catching away of the church. It is in many ways the favorite text in this wonderful epistle that we’ve been studying here for months, and months, and months. And finally, we have arrived at the long-awaited time to discuss this great event. As we approach the text, I’ve entitled it: “What Happens to Christians Who Die?” What happens to Christians who die? I’m often asked that, even by Christians; in fact, usually by Christians. Questions like: after we die, do we go directly to heaven? Or, what happens to our bodies? The details of those kinds of questions are very, very important to us, and they can be troubling if we don’t know the answer. We want to know what happens after we die, and we would like to know what happens to the bodies of those we love when they go into the grave. Those are pressing issues and they were equally pressing issues on the young believers in Thessalonica.
Remember now, those to whom Paul wrote this letter had only been in Christ a matter of a few months and they had only had just a few weeks, really, of exposure to Paul’s ministry so they were very much babes. And they had become very troubled about this issue of what happens to Christians when they die. They believed certainly in life after death because it says in chapter 1 verse 3 that they had hope. There’s no question that Paul had told them about eternal life because he preached to them the gospel, and they believed it and they turned from idols. And so, we know they knew about eternal life. They knew that salvation was synonymous with living forever with God in heaven. And they also knew about the coming of Jesus, that Jesus was going to someday return and gather all His people together and take them to be with Him. They knew about that great gathering event.
And so, there were some questions in their minds about how that all sort of worked out, like if you die now do you miss the gathering? Apparently, Paul had made that gathering event so glorious, he had made that gathering event so wonderful that they were very worried that some of them might miss it, even though they would be living in eternal life, they would still be very concerned if they missed the gathering together. In fact, it was so much on their minds that when you go back to chapter 1, would you notice verses 9 and 10? As Paul describes them he says they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Now, there you have the three dimensions of their salvation: the past, turning from the idols of the past; the present, serving a living and true God; and the future, waiting for His Son from heaven. This was a waiting group. Chapter 2 verse 19, Paul refers to them as his hope and joy and crown in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming. So, they must have known that the coming was something very special. First of all, they would meet Jesus and they were waiting for Him. Secondly, they would be the crown and joy and rejoicing of the apostle and they were thrilled about that.
Beyond that, they knew a few other things, look at chapter 5 verses 1 and 2. Paul says, “Now, as to the times and the epochs,” or seasons, “brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” They also knew about the day of the Lord. They knew about a time of coming judgment on the ungodly. They knew then that when Jesus came He would gather them to be with Him. And He would also judge the ungodly. They were waiting for Jesus to come. They were waiting for the gathering time.
Now, in their waiting they had become somewhat disturbed. Some of them probably feared that they had missed it, that it had happened without them. How so? Well, they were entering in to persecution and afflictions and some of them probably thought that they were going to be gathered before that happened. So, in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4 Paul has to say to them, “So that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this for indeed when we were with you.” We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction. And so, it came to pass, as you know.” He reminds them, now wait a minute, you shouldn’t be surprised by difficulty and persecution, I told you it was coming. But maybe there were some of them who thought they were going to be gathered together before that really took place. Certainly, they were living an immense expectation and would fear that they might miss such a great event. In fact, in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians Paul says, “We request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
Somebody had been spreading the word around, either by supposedly an angelic messenger, a spirit, or some fabricated letter from Paul that the great event had already happened and the day of the Lord had arrived. And so, there was an awful lot of concern, and loss of composure, and they were disturbed. Had the day of the Lord already begun? Had they somehow missed the gathering together? And then, the most imminent question was, what about the Christians who die? Will they miss it? It isn’t that they didn’t believe that they would go to heaven; it was: will they miss this great event? Will they somehow become second-class citizens in the future? Will we know them only eternally as sort of disembodied glorified spirits while we go in our glorified bodies so that they are sort of secondary? Or maybe we won’t even have communion with them at all, and there won’t even be a reunion with these two kinds of beings. All of these questions were in their minds. We can’t identify anything more specific than that.
But they were living in expectation of Christ’s return. They were so excited about it that the best way to describe their hope was they were waiting for His Son. They wanted the Lord to come. They knew it was the climax, the culmination, the great event that signaled the pinnacle of redemptive history, and they didn’t want to miss it.
It’s also interesting to note that they loved each other so much they didn’t want each other to miss it. And so, apparently they were feeling grieved as believers were dying, for fear that they would therefore miss this great event. It is with their grief and their confusion that Paul intends to deal. If you look at the text in verse 13, he mentions being uninformed or ignorant and the fact that you are now grieving about it. And then, in verse 18 he mentions the word “comfort.” His purpose was to eliminate their ignorance, thus to eliminate their grief, and thus to bring them comfort. Now, summing that up let me say this. The passage is more pastoral than it is theological. It is more intended to alleviate confusion, grief, distress, and bring comfort than it is to give a theological, eschatological delineation of every factor in the gathering together.
They were agitated. They were upset. They were confused. They were worried. They were fearful. After all, they’re baby Christians; they don’t know very much, they’re living every day waiting for the Son to come. And as some of them die in the months since Paul has left, their question is: what happens to those people? Do they miss it? And their love for each other is so strong, chapter 4 verse 9 says, “As to the love of the brethren you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren.” They loved each other so much they were grieving because some might miss this great event.
So, Paul writes to alleviate their grief, to bring them great measure of comfort. Their anticipation was very, very high about the return of Christ. And I believe it is fair to say that Paul had communicated to them that Jesus could come in their life time. If that was not what they believed, then the whole question is meaningless. Their concern was: they were believing Jesus would come at any moment, and as some were dying their fear was they’re going to miss it. The only reason they would have that fear, they would have that anticipation is because they believed it could happen soon. The major question then is: what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? And since they had the impression that He could come at any moment, they were deeply concerned about this issue. It may well have been that somebody could’ve suggested, “Well, according to the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:30, if some Christians fall into sin, some are weak, and some are sick, and some are asleep or dead, it may be that these people are dying because of sin in their life that we don’t know about. And God’s just laying them in the grave because of their sin, and only the ones who live a pure life are going to make it to the coming of Jesus. And maybe if they are resurrected in the future, it’s going to be some time after, and some lesser circumstance, and all of that.”
And so, Paul pens these verses. Let’s start at verse 13. “But we do not want you to be uninformed or ignorant, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” He says I don’t want you to be ignorant and as a result of being ignorant, grieving. I don’t want you to worry about those who died having missed the Lord’s return. You say, “Well, how did Paul even know they were thinking like this?” Back in chapter 3 verse 1 you’ll remember he mentions how he couldn’t endure any longer not knowing about them, and so in verse 2 he says we sent Timothy, and then in verse 6 it says Timothy has come back. And when Timothy came back, it says he brought us good news of your faith and love. I like that. Because back in chapter 1 Paul commended them for their faith and their love and their hope. But when Timothy came back apparently he only brought them good news about their faith and their love because their hope was a little messed up and it needed to be straightened out a little bit because they were so confused. So, Paul writes to deal with that confusion and its consequence, grief.
Now, would you note at the beginning of verse 13. We’re going to take our time with this, we’ll continue next week and maybe even finish it, but I want to do it very carefully because this is a very, very important passage and a very important subject. You’ll note at the beginning he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren.” That opening statement is Paul’s favorite way to change the subject. That’s his favorite way, either in a positive or a negative format to change the subject. Sometimes he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” such as here and in Romans 1:13, 1 Corinthians 10:1, etc. Sometimes he’ll also say, “I want you to understand. I want you to know,” like 1 Corinthians 11:3, Philippians 1:12 and other places. But whether he says I want you to know, on a positive side, or I don’t want you to be ignorant, it marks a change in the subject to a new topic with no direct connection to the one previous. And it’s rather emphatic. “But” marks a change in course, “brethren” is a call to attention which signals something they need to give their attention to. We’re done with that and I’m calling you back again to a new discussion, brethren. It’s a term of affection, obviously, and he had immense affection for them as the end of chapter 2 indicates when it says that he was burdened, bereft really, because of the great desire he had to see their face. And so, he turns the corner with the word “but,” he grabs their attention for the new subject with the word “brethren,” and then he says, “We would not have you uninformed or ignorant.” This then introduces a new subject. This introduces not only a new subject, but in this case new teaching, new revelation indicated in verse 15 “by the word of the Lord,” a revelation that he has received.
So, here he will deal with their ignorance which has led to their confusion and grief, restlessness and lack of comfort. And what is it that he’s going to talk about? “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.” Now, why does he use the word “asleep?” Why doesn’t he just say dead? Because sleep is the unique way to speak of Christians in repose, in temporary repose. By the way, the word “asleep,” koima to cause to sleep, is the word from which we get our word cemetery, which it was the early Christians optimistic name for a graveyard. It really meant a sleeping place. It really was a synonym for a dormitory, a place where people sleep.
Now, how is it that Christians are spoken of as sleeping? You’ll notice as I answer that question, first of all, that it’s in a present tense form, this participle here, and it has the idea of those who are continually falling asleep. That is, believers who fall asleep from time to time as a regular course of life in the church. They’re saying, “What about these Christians that just continue to die?” I mean, life is like that. It ends, right? And they keep dying. And he says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about what happens to people after they die.” Now, the word “sleep” in the Bible is used of normal sleep, a recovery process by which the body goes into rest temporarily. John 11:12 uses it in its normal sense. But the word for “sleep” is also used uniquely of Christians, and it’s used a number of times for Christians, now listen carefully, and it always refers to their bodies. It always refers to their bodies. The only part of us that goes in to any state of unconsciousness at death is the body. In John, you remember chapter 11 and verse 11, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, Jesus said, but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep. Now, everybody knew that Lazarus was what? He was dead; he had been dead for three days. His sister said, “By this time his body stinketh.” Decay had set in, he had been entombed, he was dead. From Jesus’ view he was only asleep; his soul was alive not bound in the grave, we don’t know where it was or what it experienced ‘cause the Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it does not pass out of existence since it is eternal and it is eternally conscious. But his body was at rest, and Jesus saw that as temporary. That’s why He calls it sleep. Sleep is something you wake up from. If you don’t wake up, you’re dead or you eventually will die. And so, Jesus sees the death of Lazarus as temporary repose of his body.
Look at Acts chapter 7, just to give you a full understanding of this. You remember when Stephen was being stoned it says in verse 60, “Falling on his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And having said this, he fell asleep.” He fell asleep. It was death from the human viewpoint. It was death from the clinical viewpoint. It was sleep because it was only temporary repose for his body. His spirit didn’t go in to unconsciousness. If you don’t think so, look at verse 59. He said, “Lord Jesus,” what? “Receive my spirit.” It was only his body that was to be in repose, to be asleep. A sleep, by the way, from which even his body would awaken, and that’s the main point that I want you to understand. When in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says of Christians, “Many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep,” he again refers to death for a Christian as sleep because it is the temporary repose of the physical body. In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians verse 6, it talks about Christians who saw the resurrected Christ; many of them remain until now. That is, to the writing of this epistle. But some have fallen asleep. There’s that same familiar concept. Verse 18, those who have fallen asleep in Christ. And then, in verse 51, “I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep.” Again, referring to Christians in death. Second Peter 3:4 mentions it, “Where is the promise of His coming for ever since the fathers fell asleep all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” There, it is the wistful anticipation of unbelievers that those who have died have died only a temporary death.
But for Christians the term is accurate, for it is a temporary thing. Even for pagans there will be a resurrection. There is a sense in which the pagan bodies only sleep, for they too will be raised. However, they will be raised to eternal damnation and death. And so, thus it is not appropriate to speak of theirs as a temporary death, therefore a sleep, but as a permanent death and not a sleep at all.
Now, let me go a step further. The term “sleep” or the concept of sleep does not refer to the soul. There is no such thing as souls sleeping. When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he had the anticipation of entering into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ. Nowhere does the Scripture ever teach that at any time forever the spirit of a person is ever unconscious. That’s what makes hell so terrible. It is consciousness in the absence of God forever. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful; it is consciousness of the presence of God forever. And you remember in Luke 16 as Jesus told the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man that when Lazarus died he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom and comforted. And you remember when the rich man died, he was immediately and consciously in torment and cried out for someone to give him water to touch his tormented tongue. You will remember that in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul looks at death for a believer, and in verse 8 he says, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” There’s no purgatory, there’s no intermediary condition, there’s no state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness, there’s no spiritual coma. To be absent from the body, to be present with the Lord. And in Philippians 1:23 the apostle Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” You’re either here or with Christ. There’s no intermediary condition for the saved. They go to be received into the presence of Jesus Christ. There’s no intermediary place for the damned. They go into conscious punishment and torment. But while that spirit of that dead Christian goes immediately into the presence of Christ, that body is asleep, it is in repose, it is in rest, it is in a dormitory, as it were, and a Christian in a graveyard is just sleeping in the dorm, nothing more.
Now, the question comes: well, why is Paul so concerned to tell them about these Christians who have died? Verse 13 says, “That you may not grieve.” They were grieving about it. You say, “Well, now wait a minute, anybody grieves when a Christian dies, that they know and they love and they care about. Don’t Christians grieve, and don’t they sorrow, and don’t they lament, and don’t they shed tears when loved ones die? That’s normal, isn’t it?” Yes, very normal. And certainly the Spirit of God instructs us in Romans 12:15 to weep with those that weep. There’s a normal sorrow, reasonable, sensible release of the pain of separation and loneliness that God has designed for our benefit. He’s not talking about that. Follow along in the verse. He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like people who have,” what? “No hope.” I don’t want your grief to be that dead-end grief, that grief that comes to people because there’s no contemplation of reunion. I don’t want you to think that Christians ever say a final goodbye, because they don’t. That’s a great thought, isn’t it? You never say goodbye to a believer for the last time. There will always be another time. I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans grieve.
In Ephesians chapter 2, as Paul delineates the character of being lost, the essence of it, he says, “They are separate from Christ, they are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, they are strangers to the covenants of promise. They have no hope and are without God in the world.” Among those characteristics of the lost is that statement: they have no hope. They have no hope in life after death. They have no hope in reunion. Through the years I’ve had funerals, continue to have funerals of unbelieving people, or funerals of believing people where unbelievers are in the family and the hopelessness is terrifying. The terrible sense of finality: no reunion, no future, nevermore the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice, never again, finality. To be so consumed in life with a person, and then have the curtain drop so totally, absolutely, and finally is a cause for deep despair. The greater the love, the greater the pain, and it is the pain of hopelessness.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Weren’t there some pagans who could be numbered among ‘the rest’ there who taught life after death?” Yes, there were some of the mystery religions that might have espoused that. Some of the ancient cults that would have espoused that. There were some philosophers in ancient times who taught there was an afterlife. But nonetheless, the common teaching was that this was all there was, this was it. Catullus sort of wrote of the common view when he wrote, “The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets there is one unending night to be slept through.” End quote. People live with hopelessness for the most part. And I might add, that even people who were believing philosophers who taught an afterlife or who were in to mystery religions that taught an afterlife could never be confident about their wish for an afterlife because they had no indwelling Holy Spirit to vouch safe that reality to them. And so, their hope was subject to the whims of their flesh and a whimsical kind of hope that’s dependent upon the flesh is no firm hope, no sound hope, and so it’s safe to say they are without hope. Non-believing but religious people who are taught there’s a life after death can cling to the wish without having the affirmation of God that it’s true. And so, in some cases it may be worse than having no hope because it’s hope and no hope, hope and then no hope, and hope and then no hope, and it vacillates. Better to come to finality about no hope and get on with life. So, people live with hopelessness, and the hopelessness, the fear of never being again together, no reunion.
Paul says, “Look, I know you’re concerned about those Christians that die from time to time and I know you’re concerned that maybe they’re going to miss the gathering together and you loved them and you want to see them again and you want them to be there and they’re not going to be there. And you’re going to wonder: where do they go? And where are they? And how can we recognize them if they’re not there in bodily form? And it won’t be like it was, and will the reunion happen?” And he says, “Look, I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans who have no comfort in the promise of a reunion.” Reunion is here, beloved, it is. It is also in the very terminology of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1 when it’s called “our gathering together to Him.” As we are brought to Him, we are gathered together to each other. There will be reunion. There will be a gathering together. And he says you don’t need to fear, and you don’t need to grieve about it like people who are looking at a dead end. We need to get that somehow deeply embedded in our hearts, don’t we? That is our confident hope. Partings here are just brief.
Now, he says, “I don’t want you to be an uninformed people about the Christians who are dying. I don’t want you to grieve as the rest who have no hope. Now, in order to eliminate that and to comfort you, I’m going to tell you about the gathering together.” And this is what prompts his discussion of this great event. By the way, this is one of the three passages in the New Testament which are the key passages in delineating this event. John 14, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4, and we’ll be intersecting with all three as we go through this great text.
By the way, each time our Lord gave teaching through the Holy Spirit, each time this teaching came on this gathering together event at the coming of Christ, it was in response to certain distress. In John 14 the disciples were distressed and confused and discomforted. Why? Because Jesus was what? He was leaving. And in the middle of their distress, they were wondering what is going to happen to us, and so Jesus said, let Me comfort you, I’m coming back. In the case of Corinth, some were flatly denying altogether the resurrection and denying that there ever would be a gathering together. And the Corinthians were confused. Will there be one? Are You ever going to collect us together? Is there going to be a resurrection? And so, he writes 1 Corinthians 15 about resurrection, and verses 51 to 58 about this gathering together itself. And here you have the same thing. The Thessalonians are distressed and disturbed, maybe because of their lack of information, and also because of some misinformation being given to them. And so, in each case distress, doubt, confusion, even denial has caused the Spirit of God to put this down.
Now, I say that to say in all three cases it comes primarily as comfort. It comes as a pastoral message rather than an eschatological treatise. What is most interesting about it is if you look at the great eschatological passages of the New Testament, Matthew 24 and 25, and the book of Revelation, you don’t find a gathering together, this specific event, in either one of them. It’s almost like this was reserved as a point of comfort contact. It fits into the whole scheme, but those books which give you sort of chronological flow of eschatological events do not focus on this specific event. Here it comes in a pastoral way. It’s almost a very special, very private, very personal ministry of the Spirit of God to comfort troubled believers about their future.
So, this launches Paul then to discuss this event which we call the Rapture. You say, “Now, where do we get that concept, Rapture?” Go down to verse 17, the verb there “shall be caught up,” is the verb harpaz, snatched. Snatched. It means to snatch up, to seize; it means to carry off by force. And it has the idea of a sudden swoop of irresistible force that just sweeps us up. From a Latin word connected to this word comes our word rape, to give you the idea of the force, the seizure, the snatching concept. And so, there is coming a snatching away, a seizing by force, the swooping us off, gathering us together to the Lord in the future. And Paul says in order to eliminate your ignorance, and your consequent grief, and to bring you comfort, I’m going to tell you about it.
All right, now he’s going to tell us four things about it: the pillars of the Rapture, the participants in the Rapture, the plan of the Rapture and the profit, or the benefit, of the Rapture. Let’s at least look initially at the first one this morning: the pillars of the Rapture. What is it built on? We’ve got to have a foundation for this. It isn’t philosophical speculation, it isn’t religious mythology, it isn’t some kind of fable fabricated by well-meaning people who want to make folks feel good because of their sorrow. What is this great promise that Jesus is coming to gather us all together built on? He gives us three elements, to the three pillars, really: the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the revelation of Christ.
Let’s look at the death of Christ, verse 14. “For if we believe that Jesus died.” Stop right there. In this case the “if” could be misleading. It doesn’t suggest any doubt; it’s only there to indicate logical sequence, the logical sequence of believing, if you believe. And in this case that condition is fulfilled so you could say, “Since you believe that Jesus died.” Or, “Based on the fact that Jesus died,” that’s just simply laying down a premise. Since you believe in Christ’s death, thus and thus and thus and thus. And he follows with this statement. So, if you believe, or if we believe that Jesus died, that’s where it all begins. In order to believe in the Rapture and in order to understand the coming of Jesus to snatch away His church, you have to believe in the death of Christ. But what does he mean by that? Well, it was the death of Christ that paid the penalty for our what? Our sins. So, it was the death of Christ then that brought us into the possession of eternal life. It is because Jesus bore our sins in His own body, it is because He became sin for us, it is because in His death He fulfilled all the conditions that God required to pay the penalty for sin, it is because of that that we can be gathered together by Christ into God’s presence, right?
So, we have to start at that point. It was in His death that He fulfilled all the conditions. So, when Paul says if we believe that Jesus died, he’s not simply talking about the death of Jesus in some flat one-dimensional martyr kind of mentality. He is summing up in it the whole atoning work. If we believe, as it were, in the full implications of the death of Christ, then we know that judgment for sin has been satisfied, right? We know then that we, by virtue of that, have been made acceptable to God. And if we have been made acceptable to God, then there is a pillar on which the gathering together can occur. If we are not acceptable to God, He’s not going to gather us to Himself. If we don’t belong to His Son, by substitutionary death and faith in that person and work, then He’s not going to gather us together. But because in His death we are saved from death, we believe in the gathering together. In fact, Jesus died, and you notice he doesn’t refer to Jesus use the word sleep, Jesus died feeling the full fury of death in all of its dimensions as He bore in His body our sins, in order that He might turn death for us into sleep.
One writer puts it this way, “Death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ. It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church.” End quote. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church. Why? Because He paid for our sins. You say, “What does that have to do with it?” The wages of sin is death. If the wages are paid, then we no longer face death, only temporary sleep. The sting of death is what? Sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56. It’s like a bee, and when the bee stung Jesus and He died, the stinger was there and there’s no sting left. And so, there’s no death. We need to say, not So-and-so died, but So-and-so in spirit is alive with Jesus Christ and their body is asleep waiting for the gathering together. That’s what happens to Christians when they die. Their spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord, fellowship. Their body goes in to repose, sleeping. That’s the first great pillar. That hope is provided for us in His death.
Second one, verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” There’s the second pillar. When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father, it indicated that the Father approved the sacrifice of Christ and that in raising Jesus He would raise those who were in Him. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead He indicated that Jesus Christ had triumphed over death not only for Himself but for every Christian. And that’s why Paul goes on to say if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, “Even so,” now there’s the bridge, those two words, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” See, our resurrection and our gathering together at His coming is predicated on His resurrection.
I like what I. Howard Marshall at Aberdeen, Scotland wrote, he said this, “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” He will treat us the same way He treated Jesus. And when Jesus died, where was His soul? Well, it was alive, and it was proclaiming victory and triumph, and His body was in repose. But God raised that body and joined it to that eternal soul of the second member of the trinity, and that’s exactly what He’s going to do for you. When you die your spirit goes to be with the Father, and with the Son, and your body into the grave but God will take that body out of the grave in the same that He raised Jesus He’ll raise you to be joined with that eternal spirit into that final form like Christ. You’ll be like Him for you’ll see Him as He is, says John.
So, “even so” is the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and what happens to Christians when He comes. The resurrection of us all is linked to the resurrection of Christ. First Corinthians 15:23 says Christ the firstfruits and afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming. As God raised Him up, as it says in Hebrews 13:20, God will raise us up also. You remember John 14:19, Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” First Corinthians 6:14 says it directly. “God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Second Corinthians chapter 4 verse 14 says the same thing: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with You.” That’s our hope. The pillar of the gathering together, the death of Christ, the penalty of sin is paid and God is satisfied that we are righteous in Christ and He can receive us to Himself. The resurrection, which is God’s guarantee of Christ’s perfect accomplishment and the guarantee of our resurrection who are in Christ for He will treat us the same way He treated Christ. Namely, He will raise us from the dead.
And then, Paul specifically says it in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” What’s he saying? He’s saying: “Look, dear friends, you aren’t going to miss anything. Even the people who die aren’t going to miss it. Based on the death of Christ and its perfect work, based on the resurrection of Christ and the Father’s will, God is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” With Him means with Christ. When Christ comes in His glory to gather His people, those who have fallen asleep are going to be there. That’s the answer to the question. Now, what is this little phrase, “God will bring with Him?” With Him means with Christ, but what do you mean God will bring? Some say it means that God will bring with Christ from heaven down the spirits of dead Christians to join their bodies. You know, it says later that we meet in the air, and so that God will bring down from heavens their souls to meet the resurrected bodies coming up, and there’ll be a joining together at that point. Some people say it means, no, God will bring with Christ back to glory all those gathered together, living and dead. Once they’re gathered, God will bring them back to glory.
You say, which is true? Well, probably both. I don’t think we need to get carried away and be too technical. Some have even said what it means is God is going to bring the spirits of these believers out of heaven all the way down to earth and they stay on the earth. That’s one view. That view doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to come all the way to the earth, why meet in the air? That’s an unnecessary trip if we’re going back. Secondly, that doesn’t square with what the Bible says. You say, “Well, what do you mean?” Look at John 14 for a moment, verse 1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.” The disciples again were troubled because Jesus was leaving and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them. He says, “I’m going away, that’s right, in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare,” what? “A place for you.” Where? In heaven, in the Father’s house. “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” there is a logical conclusion, “I will come again and take you there.” Does that make sense? It does to me. “I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be also.” I’m going up there to the Father’s house and I am going to fix a place for you, and then I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to take you to the place I fixed for you where I am. That has to be heaven. So, we conclude then that when Jesus gathers believers together, which way are we going? Up. We meet in the air and we continue the heavenward movement. Yes, it’s fair to say that our spirits, the spirits of Christians who have died, come down to meet those bodies, but once the meeting takes place, we are gathered together to Christ. He gathers us to Himself, and He takes us to where He is, which is clearly in the Father’s house in heaven where He’s been preparing a place for us. There has to be, then, some time interval there before to return to earth for the establishment of the Kingdom. And so, when Jesus comes, he says God’s going to bring along all the gathered together, including those who have fallen asleep, God’s going to bring them all to Himself, along with Jesus Christ. That’s the gathering together. That’s the event. And he says that those who have fallen asleep aren’t going to miss it, so don’t grieve for those who are dying, and for yourself should you die.
Again, I remind you, it really is clear that they had reason to expect that Jesus could come in their life time, right? Or all of these questions wouldn’t have existed if they thought it was thousands and thousands of years down the road. Paul had given them the impression that it could come in their life time.
One other note that I just mention to you. The end of verse 14, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, the best way to understand that phrase is a sort of phrase of what you could call attendant circumstance. The use of dia here can reflect the idea that they died in a circumstance of being related to Jesus Christ. They died in a situation where they were related to Jesus Christ. So, all who have temporarily gone into repose in the graves as to their physical bodies in relationship to Jesus Christ are going to be there at the gathering. I just want to let you know, folks, that if you’re ever in Christ, you’re always in Christ. And you can be spoken of as being in Christ even though you’re asleep, your body is asleep. It’s a permanent designation. We have fallen asleep in Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 15:18. Those who died in Christ remain in Christ forever and ever, and will be risen in Christ, and collected with the rest who are alive. Now, that’s just the first part. The good part is yet to come when we see one more of the pillars and then the plan, the participants and the profit from this, but that will be for next time. Let’s bow in prayer.
While your heads are bowed for just a moment, I was reading this week about a little girl, five-year-old girl who was watching her brother die of a very, very painful disease. He was much older than she, and she loved him a lot. And after he died and the funeral was over she said to her mother, she said, “Mommy, where did brother go?” To which her mother replied, “Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.” She said, “Oh.” And that satisfied her little mind. Not long after that, she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend, and her mother was weeping and saying, “I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son.” Later in the day, the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, “Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?” Well, the answer to that question is no, nobody is lost when we know where they are. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes. That is the promise of Scripture.
Thank You, Father, for such a promise and such a hope. We pray this day that there will be no one in the hearing of this message who does not live in that hope. Father, we pray for those who have no hope, who look at death as a blind alley, a dark hallway, a dead-end street, have no hope of reunion, no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal joy. God, bring them to the Savior this day. Save them, Lord. Save them with Your grace, that they might have the hope of those in Christ, living and have fallen asleep, that someday we shall all be gathered together to be forever with Christ, to go to the dwelling place prepared for us in the Father’s house to be where our Savior is. How we thank You, Father, that that hope is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.
Everything gets politicized these days. It’s never been easier for churches to also get caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism.
So, what should a pastor do when their fellow church members see needs and want to meet them, see injustice and want to stop it, or see a good cause and want to support it?
First, we should rejoice! When a church does a good job equipping people to think and live as Christians in a fallen world, the people become like rivers overflowing the banks of the church gathered (the lake). The landscape changes when there are lakes and rivers. But not all lakes need to be rivers.
So what do you do when one person wants their passion to be the primary passion for the whole church?
There are no easy answers to this question because every church and every community and every activist is a different mix of personalities and passions. But here are some principles to keep in mind.
1. Demote the political sphere while encouraging your politically active members.
For too many in our society, politics is everything. In This Is Our Time, I write about the politicization of everything, where politics has become a religion. Our country is still faith-filled; it is just that today our faith is misplaced. Too often, it’s directed toward government, not God. And many of our frustrations come when we realize government can’t ultimately save us. It was never meant to. Peggy Noonan writes: “When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.”
All around us are people who believe the myth that politics is the only real place where you can effect change or transform the world. When you think that laws are the most important factor in changing the world, then every battle must be fought to the end. Otherwise, you’re sacrificing the cause!
The gospel challenges that myth. It tells us that the political sphere is just one area in which change can take place. It helps us put the political in a broader context, to realize that it is not everything. All gains are temporary, but so are all setbacks. Even if we lose a political cause, we can still be faithful. We are called always to witness, not always to win.
With all of this in mind, pastors should demote politics to its proper place, while simultaneously encouraging Christians who are active in their community. Understanding that the political sphere is not ultimate does not mean we should retreat. We cannot be indifferent, hoping to enter our houses of worship or our closets for prayer, as if holiness is all personal and private. No, the apostle Peter calls us to holiness and honor as a way of being on mission in this world. “Holiness is not supposed to be cloaked in the chambers of pious hearts,” says theologian Vince Bacote, “but displayed in the public domains of home, school, culture, and politics.”
2. Be aware of how quickly the uniting factor of a congregation can become a cause rather than the cross.
Once you have demoted the political sphere to its proper place and encouraged your church members to remain active, you should keep an eye on what is at the center of your preaching and teaching. It is easy for the unifying factor of a church to become what we do for others instead of what Christ has done for us.
A church’s unity for a cause can eventually displace the cross. The gospel is still there, but it’s no longer in the center. Something else is uniting the church – a political cause, social work, a community ministry.
Why does this matter? Because we want long-term fruitfulness in our communities.
When you put the gospel at the center, various ministry opportunities will come alongside as demonstrations of the power of Christ’s work on the cross. But when you put a cause at the center, various ministry opportunities may flourish for a time but then wither away, because they are no longer connected to the source of life that can sustain such activism.
3. Guard the platform of your church.
As a pastor, you’ve probably received multiple self-invitations to take “just a few minutes” of precious platform time to give a report or make a congregation aware of a need. Whether it’s people spreading Bibles around the world, missionaries coming home from furlough, medical missionaries providing essential healthcare or pro-life opportunities… everyone wants just a few minutes. Except for the congregation. They expect you to say “no” and protect them from the countless ministry opportunities that could be presented every week.
Do your congregation a favor and guard the platform of your church. Only put activities in the bulletin that correspond to your church’s mission and presence in the community. You can’t be a megaphone for every single thing people in your church want to promote.
4. Observe your church’s particular gifts and passions, and provide opportunities for community involvement.
Right now, our church is involved with tutoring elementary school students down the street. We’re helping plant a church in Cincinnati. We’ve celebrated when families have adopted children from overseas, and we’ve hosted fundraisers to help them offset the cost. We’re assisting refugees being resettled in our area.
These are ways that our church is ministering to the community. Enough people in the congregation were involved in the need for the church to realize it could help facilitate some of this good ministry.
J. D. Greear lays out three approaches to individual ministries – Own, Catalyze, and Bless. He explains it this way:
To “own” a ministry means we staff and resource it directly.
Those we “bless” are those we know our members are engaged in, but as an institution we have little interaction with them other than the occasional encouragement.
But the third category, “catalyze,” is where we put most of our energy. When we catalyze something, we identify members with ideas and ask them to lead us. We come alongside them, adding our resources, networking power, etc. We serve them. And that means sometimes they don’t do things exactly the way I would prefer. But in the long run, an empowered church catalyzed to do ministry will do more gospel-good in the community than if the church owns and staffs all its own ministries.
5. Publicly affirm and bless the kind of activism you want to see.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Lift up examples of people who are the kind of activists you want to see.
When you hear of people in your congregation doing good in the community, don’t be shy in letting the rest of the church know. What you celebrate, you become.
There are so many ways in which we can prepare our hearts for a time around the Lord’s Table. The cross is the focal point of the whole of Scripture, and therefore there are a lot of places you can go to choose for that heart preparation that looks at the provision of Christ.
One that you might not consider, however, is the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. And so, I want you to turn to that, the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. I really had prepared something else, but this afternoon I think the Lord gave me a little bit of clarity on what might be most helpful to you as we enter into a brand-new year.
Of all churches, we are the most blessed in many ways. We are so highly privileged. We have been given such immense blessing. So many gifted people, so much ministry, so much provision to feed our souls and to build us up in the knowledge of Christ, so many opportunities for service, we stand as a highly privileged congregation of people. And I know you know that very well.
And on the one hand, we have been celebrating that privilege all through last year. I feel last year was, from my standpoint, the greatest year in the history of this church. And I don’t expect that next year will be any less than that, but I will always look back on 2011 as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in my own assessment, in my own experience in the life of this church, since I came here in 1969, for many, many reasons. And I think, as we look at the future, we have no reason to assume that God is going to bless us any less as we remain faithful.
But the more highly privileged we are, the more careful we need to be, because I think the Lord is – the Lord is gracious, and the Lord is merciful, and the Lord is kind, and the Lord is good, but He is selective about whom He blesses.
And what you have in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 is a kind of a warning to a very blessed people – a warning to a very blessed people. The Corinthians were such a church. They had the privilege of being founded by the great apostle Paul, who spent an immense amount of time with them, building the foundations of that church, and then even after he left, continuing to shepherd and nurture that church with several visits there and quite a number of letters of correspondence back. He kept a rather direct hand on that church. In that sense, they were a highly privileged church, a church born in the midst of paganism at its apex. To think about Corinth was to think about the ultimate kind of idolatry, the ultimate forms of false religion, and the very ultimate life of sexual immorality.
And right in the midst of that paganism came the apostle Paul, and the Lord planted a church there. It became a remarkable church and a powerful church, and yet a church that, in the midst of its privilege, was living on the edge of danger and had to receive exhortation after exhortation lest they’d have to forfeit its privileges. That does happen.
You know the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. We’re warned by our Lord to change, to deal with the sin in their midst or He would remove their candlestick, or He would fight against them, or He would spew them out of His mouth. I suppose this would be the greatest fear of a pastor, the greatest fear of people in a church that they would be the unblessed who had once been the highly favored and the highly blessed. And that is why chapter 10 is in the New Testament, to give us fair warning about the possibility of falling from a place of blessing.
Let me read the first half of this chapter – less than the first half – down through verse 13. “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
“Now, these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try” – or test – “the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble” – or complain – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore” – and here’s the key verse – “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.”
That is a very dramatic portion of Scripture, and it refers back to an entire nation, the nation of Israel, privileged with the blessing of God, that fell under divine judgment. And it can happen to the most privileged. It happened to the people of Israel. Paul knew that he lived, in a sense, in the imminent reality that that could happen to him. If you back up one verse, into chapter 9 and verse 27, you read Paul’s testimony that “I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” – adokimos, tested and found inadequate, unacceptable.
Paul didn’t overestimate his spiritual powers. He knew that he needed to discipline his body, to bring it into subjection so that he didn’t forfeit his ministry by falling into sin. And that is essentially the key to the passage before us that I read, and it’s verse 12, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
The danger of being so blessed that you become overconfident, so blessed that you feel the privileges will never end, so blessed that you feel there’s something about you that is impervious or invulnerable. You cannot flaunt your privileges without living in serious danger.
The apostle Paul has many warnings to the church in his writings. This is a very general one, but it is a very, very important one. Apparently the Corinthian church ignored self-denial. They ignored self-control. They were beginning to exercise undisciplined liberties. They were living on the edge of disaster and the forfeiture of divine favor and divine blessing.
And so, the apostle Paul draws the illustration from Israel to warn churches – all churches, including ours – of the danger of being greatly blessed and greatly privileged, and taking that for granted. Pastored by the apostle Paul, familiar with the ministry of Peter, familiar with the ministry of Apollos. They give testimony to that as you read in 1 Corinthians. Recipients of divine revelation, recipients of the gifts of an apostle, and yet they were in danger of serious judgment.
In fact, back in the fourth chapter, verses 18 to 21, Paul was already warning them, at the beginning of this first letter, that if necessary, he would come with a rod, and he would deal with them. So, the message here is a very, very important message.
Verses 6 and 11 tell us that what happened to Israel was an example to the Corinthians, but not only an example to the Corinthians, but for all of us. Verse 6, “These things happened as examples for us.” Verse 11, “These thing happened to them as an example for our instruction.” Whose? All of us upon whom the ends of the ages have come. All of us living in the messianic era, the time after the Messiah has come.
So, what Paul draws out of the Old Testament experience of Israel is not only for the Corinthians but for all of us to learn the lessons of warning about thinking you stand when you may fall.
Now, I want to break this up just briefly as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, by talking first of all about the blessings or the assets in verses 1 through 5. Let’s just get a little idea of what he’s talking about here. “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea.” “All” is the key term. It is repeated five times in the opening verses, stressing the fact that the whole nation of Israel received the privileges of divine blessing. They “all” were a part of it. “All” who belonged to that nation were under the cloud. “All” who belonged to that nation passed through the sea. “All” were immersed into Moses. “All” ate the same spiritual food. “All” drank the same spiritual drink, drinking from the spiritual rock which followed them.
Now, what is he talking about here? Well, he’s simply talking about the tremendous privileges that came on the people of Israel when they were led out of Egypt and they were led to the land of Canaan. All the fathers of Israel experienced great spiritual privilege in being led out of Egypt. All were under the cloud. What is the cloud? Exodus 13:21, “The Lord went before them by day, in a pillar of cloud, to lead them, and by night, of course, it was a pillar of fire.” The whole nation was under that divine, miraculous leading by God. The whole nation passed through the sea – the Red Sea – the basic touchstone of deliverance from Egypt. They all experienced that. So, they were all called out by mighty power; they were all delivered through the sea; they were all led by God daily and even nightly.
Verse 2 says they were all baptized into Moses. That is a simple concept. They were immersed into his leadership. They were identified with him. It was Moses’ people; it was Moses’ crowd. They were one with their leader. That’s what that is saying. They were united, as a community, with one leader. So, there was not a division of leaders, and Moses was God’s chosen man. They all had, then, this divinely-appointed and divinely-prepared and divinely-gifted leader, and they were led as a united community. They all enjoyed that union with that great leader.
Now, these are all analogous to the experience of salvation. We have all been delivered from the domain of darkness, which is like our Egypt. We have all been led through the waters of escape. We have all been brought to a place where we’re under the direction of God. We have all been baptized into identification with our great leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the imagery here; that’s the picture here. We are all together as one people in Christ.
And the Israelites, verse 33, “They all ate the same spiritual food; they all drank the same spiritual drink.” In other words, God provided water for them in the wilderness; God provided food for them in the wilderness. You remember the manna from heaven and the birds that would hover off the ground and provide nourishment for them for the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. They were privileged, then, to be rescued, to be delivered, to be guided, to be united, and to be fed and nourished. And that’s analogous to the salvation experience of the Corinthians and us as well. We have all been delivered, entered into guidance under the direction of our Lord, united with Him as one, and our souls are constantly fed.
And then a most interesting statement in verse 4, “They were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” The spiritual petra, cliff, rocky mass. What was this? This is Christ, the rock was Christ. You know we’re going to start a series on finding Christ in the Old Testament; well, here’s one of the places, Exodus chapter 17. Christ was the rock.
In the leadership that we find that Christ extended to them, in their wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament, He is often appearing as the Angel of the Lord. That is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. He never allowed them to thirst; He never allowed them to hunger. He was there, assessing their needs and meeting their needs. In a way, we could say the manna and the water were evidence of the presence of Christ who followed them. He was the rock that followed them. He had not yet been incarnated into this world, but the eternal Son, the second member of the Trinity, was the caretaker of the people of Israel. All the redeemed are His, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
So, what are we talking about here? I’m just giving you an overview. “Being led through the sea,” that’s emancipation. “Under the cloud,” that’s guidance. “Baptism into Moses,” that’s identification with a new assembly and one leader. “Manna and water,” sustenance. And all of this provided for them and for us by Christ Himself. This is to talk about how blessed they were and how blessed we are.
Then the shocker comes in verse 5. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased” – with most of them, God was not well-pleased. Most of them? Yes – everybody but two: Joshua and Caleb. And they all died in the wilderness except those two.
Numbers 14:16 says, “Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to give it them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness.” And verse 5 says they were laid low, strewn – strewn in the wilderness, like corpses in the desert. They were what Paul feared being: disqualified. How tragic. Paul had a sensible fear that he, too, could lose his approved status for service – not is salvation, but his usefulness – if he didn’t practice self-denial and self-control. And I look at our church, and I say we are blessed – we are profoundly blessed; we are blessed more than any people that I know. No church has been more graciously treated by the loving Lord than this church.
And yet, I am sure there are many in our church congregation with whom the Lord is not well-pleased. In fact, there are many whose life and whose choices breaks His heart. We always stand on the brink of losing that blessing and that divine favor, if the Lord determines that that is so widespread as to remove us from the place of blessing.
What went wrong? What happened to the people in Israel that could happen to us? Let’s look from the assets or the blessings in verses 1 to 5, to the abuses in verses 6 to 10. This is very basic. “These things happened as examples for us so that we could not crave evil things as they also craved.” There it is in one statement. The loss of privilege is related to the craving of evil things. It’s basically the result of desiring sin, craving evil things.
What kind of things? What kind of craving? Well, he lays it out. Number one, you can look at it in verse 6, “Craving evil things” – and let’s just say that’s worldliness in a very general sense. Worldliness. The idea of the verb here is to be longing after evil things. And, of course, those are the things that define the world in which we live.
I’m not going to take you back to Numbers 11 and Psalm 78 where we have the record of the people of Israel longing after evil things. But there was perpetual warning against the indulgence of the lust that rises up in the fallen heart for the things of the world. And we are warned in the New Testament, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” 1 John 2. And somebody said long ago they were sleeping too close to where they got in. They had been freed. They had been led. They had been fed. They had been united with their leader. They had been blessed and sustained by God, but they became disqualified to go into the Promised Land because they failed to bring their hearts into full devotion to Christ. They were lusting after the things of the world.
You will notice in verse 7, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.” Idolatry. That hits the big button in Corinth. The Christians there were saying, “We can go back to our idolatry festivals; we can go back to the celebrations, the social events.”
Paul addresses this in the letter, doesn’t he? He says, “You can’t come to the Lord’s Table and the table of demons. You can’t do both of those things. Please, that’s verse 20. The Gentiles sacrifice to demons and not to God, and you can’t be a sharer in demons, and you can’t drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can’t partake in the Table of the Lord and table of demons. Are you going to provoke the Lord to jealousy?” They were going back to the social events and participating in the kinds of things that belong to the kingdom of darkness.
And we see that with Israel, don’t they? Barely out of Egypt and already they have defected in their worship of God and created a ridiculous golden calf and are bowing down to that golden calf – not only bowing down to it, but committing all kinds of horrendous sins in front of that golden calf. And so, that is the warning here – idolatry. They fell into idolatry; the Corinthians lapsed into the kind of activities that belonged to idolatry.
And further, verse 7 says, “The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play.” That’s taken out of Exodus 32. And what it’s referring to is that they literally engaged themselves in an idol kind of orgy, horrible kinds of behavior. I’m talking about sexual immorality. And that is further explained in verse 8, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.”
I mean it was an ugly scene at the foot of the golden calf. Exodus tells us that the people were actually naked; it was a horrible experience. God killed 3,000 of them in that one moment, and in all, 23,000 perished. That would have been a good indication that God was removing favor. In fact, you can read about that in numbers chapter 25. He killed 23,000. The next day, God even did away with a thousand more of them, disqualified from usefulness and blessing.
The next verse tells us that they tested the Lord. It says they tried the Lord and were destroyed by the serpents. That’s Numbers 21. They pushed to see how far they could go before the judgment of God fell. They went all the way to living on the edge. How much could they do and get away with it? How much would God tolerate? And as they went to the edge and stayed on the edge and God didn’t seem to react to it, they pushed it further and further and further and further.
Matthew 4:7 says, “You shall not put God to the test.” Those words come out of the mouth of Jesus at His temptation when Satan came after Him. You don’t test God even by diving off the corner of the temple to fulfill a prediction given in the Old Testament. How much can we get away with? That’s the wrong question. How much can we be like the Savior? How holy can we be? That’s the right question.
So, if we are to engage in the midst of our privileges, in those kinds of things, craving evil things, making idols in our hearts of all kinds of things in the world, and they don’t have to be actual deities. They become deities to us when we bow down to them. If we engage in immorality, and if we test the Lord by pushing the edges of what is allowable, we’re going to experience the same kinds of things that the people of Israel experienced. And you remember what happened in Numbers chapter 21 when they tested God; the Lord sent snakes. And, of course, you remember that amazing story of that judgment.
There’s another sin here that is indicated in verse 10, and that seems like an one to put in this category because these all seem so severe. How about this? Complaining. “Nor grumbling” – or complaining – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” How did that get in here?
The term in the original language means to give expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. It’s complaining, being dissatisfied and verbalizing it. Exodus 16:2 says, “The whole congregation grumbled” – murmured, complained. Complained against God. They were sitting in judgment on God on the way things were. You have it in Numbers 16, and almost 15,000 people died because they complained. And it says in Numbers 16 they were killed by the destroyer, the judgment angel. The rabbis called him Mashit. He is the one who slew the first-born in Egypt. He was the one ready to slay in the plagues, 2 Samuel 24; he destroyed the Assyrians in 2 Chronicles 32. The death angel. And here, the death angel executes complainers. Complainers, grumblers, murmurers complaining against God.
So, there are the abuses that came to be the experience of the children of Israel: worldliness, idolatry, morality, presumption, living on the edge, and complaining. And they are results of lack of self-denial, lack of self-control, lack of godly pursuits. They are abuses of freedom and abuses of privilege, flirting with the world in its idles, flirting with the world and its morals, pushing the patience of God to the limits, complaining when you don’t get what you want when you want it will result in tragedy – tragedy.
So, the admonition comes to us, then, in verses 11 and 12. “Now, these things happened to them as an example, and they are written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
The ends of the ages, as I said earlier, the messianic period. The last age is before the kingdom. The Lord has come, and the ages of the – the age, I should say – of the Messiah, the last day began when Messiah arrived. Again and again, there are warnings in the Scripture, but none is more poignant and powerful to me than this one.
A number of times, in the book of Revelation, as I mentioned earlier, there are warnings given to the church. And one of them that comes to mind is to the church at Sardis in chapter 3, where it says in verse 3, “Remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. And if you don’t wake up, I’ll come like a thief, and you’ll not know at what hour I will come.” Watch, be alert. You can’t live any way you want to live and continue to enjoy the pleasure of God and the blessing of God.
Again and again, a fortress is stormed successfully because its enemies thought it was safe. And by the way, the Acropolis in Sardis was built on a jutting spur of rock, believed by the people who lived there to be impregnable. When Cyrus came to besiege Sardis, he offered a reward to any soldier who could find a way to get up this parapet and destroy the city. The soldier, according to the history, says – his name was Hyeroedes – was watching one day, and he was trying to figure out if he could get this reward by figuring out a strategy. He saw a soldier of Sardis drop his helmet accidentally over the edge of the cliff. He watched how that soldier came down to get his helmet, and he marked the path how he went back. That night, he led a band up the cliff by that path, went in unhindered, and took the entire city.
There is a necessity to be watchful in our lives and watchful as a church. We are concerned about sin in the church, and that’s why the Lord’s Table is so very, very important to us. Not only are we concerned about sin in the church for the sake of the sinner in the church, the person who will suffer the consequences in his or her own life, but we are concerned about sin in the church for the sake of the church, for the sake of the testimony of Christ. I can’t think of anything worse than to have the candlestick removed and to have the Lord fight against Grace Community Church; to have the Lord spew us out of His mouth because we have become complacent, and we’ve indulged our fleshly desires.
We have been so profoundly blessed that we could think we stand in an impregnable way, like verse 12 says, but we need to take heed that we do not fall. And that means personal vigilance in every life.
I understand the implications in my life of any kind of a fall. I think the leaders of this church understand the implications in their lives of any kind of a fall, any kind of lapse into any form of evil craving, immorality, any kind of idolatry, any worshiping of anything other than our God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. We understands that, and we understand the dangers of pushing the liberties in this culture. And there are lots of ways that you can push your liberties in this culture and expose yourself to things that are evil and that do not build you up. We understand all of that. We know the danger of that at every level. The Lord has been gracious to protect us as we submit ourselves to the standards of the Word of God, as we do what Paul said, beating our body into submission so that we don’t become disqualified.
We also understand – and you need to understand – that it can happen at the level of the people, and it can be equally devastating to the life of the church. To be highly blessed is to be put on notice to make sure you watch carefully your own life. And I say that to every individual here.
One of the reasons we come to the Lord’s Table is to examine our hearts and make sure everything is where it should be – all our priorities – so that we would never be the reason why God would bring disfavor on our beloved church.
Then in verse 13, the passage kind of wraps up. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.”
That’s a very, very important, encouraging, final word because after you go through the first 12 verses, especially when you’ve read verse 12, and you say to yourself, “Wow, I don’t want to be the cause of God’s disfavor on this church. I don’t want to be the reason that He turns away from this church. I don’t want to be the reason that He fights against it. I don’t want to be the evil influence. I don’t want to be the leaven that leavens the lump. I don’t want to be the one whose sin becomes the point of divine judgment.”
But how in the world can I survive in this world? How can I overcome the world? How can I deal with the temptations that the Devil has placed into the system in which I live? And we are living in a wholesale evil system at a level that has never been known in human experience in the history of the world because of what media can produce. How do I survive?
You don’t need to live in total fear. You don’t need to live in panic. You need to live warned and thoughtful and careful, but not as if the system around you and the enemy of your souls and your flesh is more powerful than you, or than He who is in you. Because verse 13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” What does that mean? Anthrōpinos – bearable for a human being; that’s what it means. In other words, you’re never going to be able to say, “I got into immorality, I got into idolatry, I began to crave evil things because it was too much for me. The Devil is more powerful than I am. It was way too potent a temptation. It was a supernatural temptation. It was a demonic temptation. It was a multiply demonic temptation. I had no defense. I was overpowered.” You know the old Flip Wilson line, “The Devil made me do it”? And what kind of a match am I for him?
And this is saying to you, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man. That is to say it is humanly bearable, it is normal; it is not superhuman, it is not supernatural; you cannot claim to be overpowered by anything. We all face the same things, and we can deal with them. We can’t blame God; we can’t blame the Devil. Further, he says, and this is even more wonderful, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able.” Not only is any temptation you ever have normal, human, and bearable, but even among the temptations that are normal and human and bearable, the Lord knows what you can tolerate. Particularly you, individually you, and “He will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able.”
For some of us, that’s the reason we don’t have more money than we do, or more fame than we do, or more of whatever we don’t have. The Lord knows nothing is superhuman. Everything is resistible. And furthermore, God knows us as individuals, and He knows what we fall easily prey to and will not allow such things to happen.
So, in temptation, we are at an advantage because we will never be tempted in any way that is beyond what is humanly bearable. In the midst of that temptation, God is controlling those temptations so that none comes to us for which we will not be able to win or to triumph. Furthermore – this is the next step in this wonderful promise – with the temptation, we’ll also be provided by God the way of escape so that you may be able to endure. Nothing superhuman, nothing more than you can handle. And God knows what you can handle. And always a way of escape – ekbasis, the way out. The way out. That is God’s promise. There is always going to be a way out.
We pray that, don’t we? “Lead us not into temptation, but” – what? – “deliver us from evil.” Those are the two things the Lord – “Do not lead us into temptation which we cannot bear and, with every temptation, show us the way out.” And He promises us here to do that.
So, having warned the church, on the one hand, to be careful because we are so immensely blessed and privileged, I also want to encourage you, as a church, that nothing that’s going to come your way is superhuman – nothing. Not Satan and all his demons collectively together. Furthermore, God knows what you can handle and will make sure that you never have a temptation you cannot handle, and in every one of those temptations that does come, there will always be a way of escape so that you can endure the temptation and come out triumphant.
Bottom line, you’re not going to have any excuses. I know you desire for this church what you desire for your own life, and that is to continue to enjoy the blessings of God. And we can do that; we don’t have to fall. We can learn from the example of the people of Israel. We can learn from the example of the disobedient Corinthians. We can learn even more from the testimony of Holy Scripture, that the Lord is there in the midst of all of our temptations to show us the way out.
Thinking back to Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful wandered off the path, you remember, of the King’s Highway to the Celestial City. And they fell asleep in a field called Doubting Castle. Remember that part of the story? And it was guarded by the giant Despair. And the giant catches them, and he drags them into a dungeon, and he puts them in the dungeon, and then he locks them in the dungeon, having beaten them brutally just short of death. In fact, they are so beaten and battered that they want to die, and they would have chosen, perhaps, to kill themselves. They languished in that place for days and days, until they realized what they really possessed. And then John Bunyan writes that Pilgrim says, “What a fool I am to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may be free. I have a key in my shirt called Promise that will unlock any door in Doubting Castle.
What is Bunyan saying? When the believer reaches total despair, despair for his life, despair for whether God loves him and cares for him, despair in the battle of sin, he turns to the promise of God. And the promise is that in every temptation there is a way of escape, and God will provide that way. Let’s bow together in prayer as we come to the Lord’s Table together.
Father, the Word is so powerful, so clear, so compelling, so true, so encouraging – never lowering the standard, but never generating hopelessness. The standard is so high of holiness and virtue and obedience, and it could crush us under the weight of our own inadequacy, and yet You minister mercy to us in that final verse and say, “Fear not, it’ll never be more than you can handle.” The Lord knows what you can take, and there’ll always be a way out. That puts the responsibility clearly with us to remain in the place of blessing, to learn from the warnings of the past, and the defections of the past, and the tragedies of the past.
Lord, we pray that You would keep us faithful. May we do what Paul did; may we beat our bodies into submission so that in preaching to others we don’t become disqualified ourselves. May we discipline our bodies. Give us self-control based on loving You with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, wanting to honor You and glorify You and enjoy Your blessing.
As Jude put it, may we keep ourselves in the love of God, in the place where love showers us. And that’s the place of obedience.
As we come to this Table, we know that we face a time of the confession of the sins that are in our lives, and those little sins that maybe haven’t reached an epic proportion where they would cause serious damage to our own lives, our own families, our own relationships, and our own church. But those little sins can become epic if they’re not dealt with – those sins of thought, in particular, where the heart conceives and brings forth sin.
So, help us, Lord, to deal with sin at its first appearance in the mind, in the heart, in the attitudes, in the thought life; to deal with it there so that lust never conceives to bring forth sin and we never put ourselves in a place of disqualification and the forfeiture of blessing and privilege.
We thank You for the centrality that the Lord’s Table has always had in our church and how our people have always come and focused on this because they understand the call to holiness. Thank You that you’ve given us clarity in the matter of disciplining sinners in the midst who will not repent, and You’ve used that to provide warning and purging through the years.
And so, we’ve been continuing to enjoy Your blessing. We don’t want that to change ever till Jesus comes. So, now we examine our own hearts, and we want You to show us anything that’s there that displeases You, and may we deal with it immediately. Purify us and open up to us a clear understanding of what displeases You, even in these moments, and may we confess it and turn from it.
We are reminded in Scripture to come to this Table, having examined ourselves – examined ourselves – so that we don’t make things worse by eating and drinking judgment to ourselves, by coming to this celebration of the provision of Christ for our sin while holding onto sin at the same time. That hypocrisy will bring about serious disciplining in our lives. So, we ask, Lord, that You would lead us and guide us even now, as we meditate, as we pray, and as we offer our praise to You around Your table, in Christ’s name, Amen.