Category Archives: Articles

The Murder Plot That’s Usually Forgot

(NOTE: I have been asked to write short articles for the church bulletin at our new work.  Each one is a “Did You Know?” article, focusing on little-known facts in the Bible.  We will be posting those here each week–starting today–for your enjoyment.  Also, we are still in the process of house-hunting, and helping to improve the property at Jesse’s parents, which has limited how much posting I’ve been able to do here.  Thanks for sticking with us!)

Did You Know?

He was quite famous, a celebrity in Israel. The people flocked to see him, and because of him, many people believed. But the chief priests wanted him dead. Surely you know who we’re talking about, right?  Well, let me give you one last clue: a week before the cross, even Jesus came to see him!

The man is Lazarus.

In John 12:9-11, the Bible says that the Jews came not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus.  His resurrection from the dead was so impressive to them that many of them believed in Jesus as a result of seeing and talking to Lazarus.  Here was undeniable proof of the power of Jesus, and confirmation that He was sent by God with a mission—He could be the Messiah!

This was unacceptable to the chief priests, whose rejection of Jesus had already caused them to contemplate murdering Him (John 11:47-53).  But now they had Lazarus in their sights, ready and willing to put him to death as well.  Their mood certainly didn’t improve when the next day, Jesus enters the city and people spread the word about Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead at Jesus’ hand (John 12:16-17).

The murder plot to kill Lazarus is often lost among the many details of Jesus’ final week, but happen it did!  Did you know?

-Bradley S. Cobb

House Hunting and Meeting Christians

We looked at a house for sale yesterday, knocked on the door, and the woman politely informed us her house wasn’t for sale (that’s another story). I started by introducing myself and my wife, and said I was the new preacher at the church of Christ in town. She said, “oh, in Branch?” I said, “No, the one in Charleston.” She said, “I didn’t know there was one in Charleston. I’m a member at Branch.” (that whole “didn’t know there was one in Charleston” is another story too…)

After a twenty minute conversation (during which she suggested we could just move in with her so she could have company and not be lonely), we finally left, with a promise that once we found a house, we would come visit her.

I am guessing, from our short talk with her, that she hasn’t been able to attend lately, because she can’t drive any more, and none of the members at Branch live near where she lives. So I think we might see if she’d mind if we picked her up for church at Charleston.

That whole conversation never would have happened if we hadn’t introduced ourselves as members of the Lord’s church.

Don’t hide your faith, brethren!

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Three)

Introduction

Easily one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament regarding the role of women in worship is found in 1 Corinthians 11.  Some people avoid it like the plague.  Others, however, flock to it to try to make it prove their side of the argument.  The funny part about it is that those who go to one extreme (women preachers) will hold this passage up as evidence; while those who are on the other side (women can’t speak, and they also have to have their heads covered) also hold this passage up as evidence.  What are we to make of this?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 11, and we will look to see what this passage has to say for us today, as well as how it fits into the question about the role of women in worship.

I Praise You…But (1 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and (that you) keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.  But, I desire you to know that the head of ever male is Christ; and the head of the female is the male; and the head of Christ is God.

Ordinances

The word “ordinances” is usually translated “traditions,” and while it usually refers to the traditions of men, Paul uses the word to refer to the things taught by the apostles.  But in every case, it describes an act that was done for a religious purpose.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, either by word or by epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Though it probably didn’t need to be said, we’ll say it anyway: Paul is speaking to Christians in 1 Corinthians 11, describing the things which he taught them to observe in religious service to God.  So, the context that we are looking at has to do with obeying that which is taught by God through the apostles in religious service to God.  This is why it is pretty much universally agreed that the context here has something to do with worship assemblies.

But…

Even though the Christians in Corinth (for the most part) were keeping the ordinances, there were some things that they didn’t understand.  The biggest problem with the Corinthian Christians was not lack of knowledge about the actions they were supposed to engage in, but the attitude behind it (see their treatment of the Lord’s Supper, and their desire to brag because of certain spiritual gifts).

The head of every man is Christ

Paul here immediately puts all the men (literally, males) in their place by saying that it is not up to them on how things are to be done in worship to God.  All Christian males are under the authority of Jesus Christ, and must answer to Him.  Just because a man may lead in an aspect of worship does not mean that he has the authority to change God’s divine pattern.

Paul is appealing to a higher authority than man—He is appealing to Jesus Christ.

The head of the woman is the man

One person told me that this is a universal law to be applied everywhere.  The conclusion to that doctrine is that, men, the most depraved man in the penitentiary is the head of your wife and daughters.  Not only does that violate the context, it also violates common sense.

It has been argued that this phrase should be translated “the head of the wife is the husband.”  And while that expresses a truth, it doesn’t fit the context.  And in addition to that, the same word “man” (Greek aner) is used twice in this verse.  If we are supposed to translate it as “husband” in one part, by what logic does the exact same word get translated differently in the exact same verse?  Look at the verse.  If we insert “husband,” then we would have to make the verse say, “The head of every husband is Christ…” which means that Christ isn’t the head of unmarried Christian men.  This cannot be the right interpretation, either.  And if we make this say “wife,” then we are forced into the conclusion that nothing in verses 3-16 applies to an unmarried woman or a widow—and by extension, that there is nothing in this passage that speaks to an unmarried man or a widower.

Remember the context in which this is spoken: in keeping the “ordinances” (religious directions) that had been delivered to them.  Thus, this is in the context of the church, when the religious directions were being observed.  In other words, this is during the worship assembly.  The Christian woman, in the worship assembly of the church, is to be in submission to the Christian males who are leading (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11-12).

The head of Christ is God

Just in case there were those in Corinth who wanted to question Jesus’ authority to make commands regarding the worship of His people, Paul informs them that the authority which comes from Christ originates with the Father.  In other words, these points are not up for debate or discussion—they come from the ultimate Judge and Lawgiver, God.

Praying and Prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

Most sermons and studies on this passage focus on the head “covering,” and often the writers and speakers gloss over (or completely ignore, in some cases) the idea of “praying and prophesying.”  But it must be addressed, for this is one of the passages that those who wish to promote women preachers cling to.  Are they right in saying this passage authorizes women to lead in public worship?

Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head.

Literally, Paul says “having down (from) head,” but it is not specified whether it is his hair or if it is a veil.  The purpose, though, for Paul mentioning this is that if he has his head covered (in whichever way it may be) in worship, it is a sign that he has a different spiritual head (authority) than Christ.

I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that the head covering was something cultural for the Christians in Corinth, and since the focus of this lesson is not on the head-covering, but on the “praying and prophesying” aspect, we aren’t going to dwell a lot on the covering in this lesson.

The word “praying” is the general word for such, and is the same word found in 1 Timothy 2:8—”I desire that males pray everywhere…”

The word “prophesying” is the same one used in chapter 14, and is a reference to miraculous speaking for God, or speaking words from God.

But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

Before we get into this, it needs to be said up-front that the exact same words are used for “prays” and “prophesies” in this verse as in the last verse.  In fact, this verse should be translated, “But every woman, praying or prophesying…”  So there’s nothing in these words themselves that make a distinction between the male and female.

But note that Paul tells the Christian women in Corinth that they are required to have their head covered so that they do not dishonor her head (the man/men leading in the worship).  This is a symbol of submission, of being under the authority of someone else.  I used to think this was talking about husbands and wives, and that a wedding ring was the same kind of thing, but I do not believe the context supports that conclusion.

So, how exactly is the Christian woman to engage in “praying and prophesying” while yet being in submission to the one leading in worship?  Let’s make some specific points very clear:

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself, for it is inspired by God.
  2. If an interpretation of a difficult passage of Scripture clearly violates the teaching found in an easy-to-understand passage of Scripture (in the same covenant), then that interpretation is false.
  3. This is even more clearly true when it is the same writer dealing with the same issue—and even more abundantly true when it is written to the same people…in the same letter.

There are those who point to this passage and say “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly, based on Paul’s words here.”

How does that match up with those three points we mentioned just a second ago?

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself—so if this passage teaches that women can lead in prayer and preaching in the worship assembly of the church, then we shouldn’t find anywhere in the New Testament that says otherwise.
  2. The Bible teaches plainly that it is only male Christians who are to lead in prayer in the church (1 Timothy 2:8); and that Christian women are not permitted to teach (this would include preaching) or to exercise authority over a Christian men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 3:15). Therefore, the interpretation that “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly” is false, because both points are contradicted in easy-to-understand passages of the same covenant.
  3. That passage (1 Timothy 2:8-12) is written by the same author, making it even clearer. But let’s make it abundantly clear by looking at not only the same author, but the same letter!  1 Corinthians 14:34, in the context of speaking miraculously (prayer and prophesying are both mentioned in this chapter), says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the law.”

Therefore, if our passage (1 Corinthians 11:5) permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then the Bible contains contradictions and cannot be trusted.

But suppose you don’t want to go that far; then how about this: If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then Paul was wrong (thus, uninspired) when he wrote 1 Timothy, as well as just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14; thereby throwing everything Paul wrote into question and leaving us with the impossible task of determining which letters are inspired and which parts are not.

But suppose you aren’t willing to even go that far (though those are the required conclusions to this doctrine).  If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then you can’t even know which parts of even this one letter are inspired—especially when Paul himself said that the command for women to keep silent was “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

To take that interpretation of the passage destroys the entire credibility of the Bible.  But let’s, for a moment, pretend that such an interpretation is accurate.  Pretend for a moment that it isn’t a contradiction of other Bible passages.  Look at the verse again and see what would be required for the women to lead in prayer or to prophesy (preach) in the worship assembly.

Every woman, praying and prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonors her (spiritual) head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

If we pretended that their interpretation is correct, then the text requires that the woman only does it when her head is covered, showing her submission to the Christian men who are leading in the “ordinances” … or else she is supposed to be shaved bald (a symbol of shame).  No one who argues for women to be able to preach and lead prayer in the assembly would ever suggest that she is supposed to show a sign of submission to the Christian men leading in the worship—How dare you even suggest such a thing!  You note the hypocrisy there, I hope, that they want to take half of the verse and shove the other half as far away as possible.

I would love to see someone try to explain how one can be in submission to someone during the teaching, yet still be the authoritative teacher over that person.  It cannot be done!

So what does this verse mean/permit?

There are some different interpretations regarding these two verses that attempt to reconcile Paul’s wording (praying and prophesying) with the specific commands regarding Christian women keeping silence in the church (in regards to leading in worship).

The first interpretation is that Paul is speaking about women praying and prophesying, but not in a mixed assembly, that is, in a women’s-only gathering (ladies’ day, ladies’ class).  Some might claim there is no historical precedent for these kind of assemblies, but turn your attention to Exodus 15:20-21:

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances.  And Miriam answered them, “Sing out to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea!”

There, the prophetess went with the women only and spoke with them, leading them in worship to God.  That was around 1500 years prior to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, so there is indeed historical precedent for a women-only assembly worshiping God.

The problem with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is that the context shows the men and women together (“the head of the woman is the man,” verse 3).  And what is the purpose of describing submission to the male Christians leading in worship if Paul’s describing a setting where no male Christians are present?

The second interpretation is that Paul is using the phrase “praying and prophesying” as a way to describe the worship service.  In other words, that all Paul is saying is, “But a woman, participating in the worship service…”  Most authors agree that “praying and prophesying” isn’t an exhaustive list, but includes everything that is done in the worship assembly—otherwise, you’d have the strange requirement that women in Corinth cover their heads only during certain parts of the worship (praying and proclaiming), but not others (like singing and the Lord’s Supper).

The idea, then, would be that Paul isn’t saying that the women lead in prayer or in prophesying (which would violate other passages), but that they participate in the worship by listening and assenting to the prayer and actively paying attention to the proclamation of God’s message.

David Lipscomb made a good point, which goes along with this idea (this is my paraphrase): Man cannot come to God without submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ (John 14:15).  In the same way, The Christian woman during the assembly cannot offer acceptable worship without submitting to the authority of the male Christians leading the worship.

Obviously, if there are no men present, then that no longer applies.

There may be other interpretations of which I am not aware, but this second one, I believe, is rational, logical, and in perfect agreement with what is said on the topic elsewhere in Scriptures.

Conclusion

This is somewhat reminiscent of the issue of “baptism for the dead,” in that once we know what it can’t be (by process of elimination, Bible-style), we are left with what it must be.

God’s word does not contradict itself.  God does not permit something in one part of the New Testament, only to forbid it in another.  That would make God a liar—something which is impossible.  Instead, we must take the totality of what Scripture says, and interpret in a way that harmonizes all of the passages dealing with any given subject.

There is nothing more important to which this applies than in salvation.  We have all messed up in our lives.  We’ve ignored the commands of God, we’ve sinned, and as a result, we’ve aligned ourselves against Him and joined with His enemy, Satan.  Satan, however, isn’t as powerful as he lets on.  In fact, he’s already lost the war, even though he’s still trying to take down as many people as possible in the process—like a kamikaze.  My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to invite people to join the winning side, to avoid the destruction that will come as a result of being God’s enemy.  We are to tell them about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so that they might have faith (Romans 10:17).  But though there are verses that talk about believing as a prerequisite to salvation, there are other passages as well—passages that do not in any way contradict the ones about belief—that show belief is just the first step in a proper response to the gospel.

One must also make the decision to change sides, to join Jesus Christ.  The person who makes that decision must state his belief in the Lord, and be immersed, baptized, by the authority of Jesus.  When that is done, the person has become a Christian.  Then comes the command to grow, to “study to show thyself approved to God,” to “walk in the light.”  We want to help you be right with Jesus Christ.  If we can help you, please let us know as we stand and sing.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Two)

Introduction

A Christian woman is a blessing to her family, to her friends, to her brethren, and to her Lord.  In the Bible, we can read of Christian women like Lydia, who showed hospitality to fellow-Christians (Acts 16); like Phoebe, who is called an “assistant” (Romans 16:2, MLV) or a “patroness” (Thayer) of the brethren; like Priscilla, who is called a “fellow-laborer” who had risked her own life for another Christian (Romans 16:3-4); like Lois and Eunice, who passed on their faith to a young man who became a missionary named Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5); and countless others whose names are not recorded in the Bible, but whose work helped to encourage and strengthen the saints, while also helping to convert sinners to Jesus Christ.

If not for the influence of Christian women, many of us in this room would not be here, meeting together, serving the Lord.

There are some, however, that would say, “That’s not good enough!”  Like Aaron and Miriam of old, there are those who try to argue that the ones leading have taken it all on themselves, and that they are just as qualified to lead.  These people run to Galatians 3:28 and say that “In Christ, there are no more male and female distinctions!”  Let’s take a look at that passage, and we’ll also look at some others as we consider the role of women in the church of Jesus Christ.

“Neither Male Nor Female…”

As is often the case, verses (or even phrases from inside a verse) are pulled from their context and applied to things that they were never meant to apply to.  We could mention several examples, but for the sake of staying on-topic, we’ll just stick with the point at hand.  Look with me at Galatians 3:26-29.

For you are all children (literally “sons”) of God by the faith in Christ Jesus, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Again, note verse 26, which literally says “sons” instead of “children.”  Under the Old Testament, it was the son—not the daughter—who received the inheritance.  Slaves did not receive inheritance.  Gentiles definitely did not receive the inheritance.  Yet, in Christ, all these groups have access to the inheritance through Jesus Christ.

Those who try to rip “there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in order to “prove” that both genders are authorized to perform any and every role/function in the church miss the point.  Male and female absolutely still existed, literally, in the church.  Jew and Gentile absolutely still literally existed in the church.  Free men and slaves absolutely still existed literally in the church.  Therefore, Paul isn’t speaking about the literal distinctions being done away with.

What he’s saying is that in Christ, EVERYONE can be an heir of the promise made to Abraham.  He’s not talking about roles in the worship—otherwise he completely contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told Timothy that God placed the leadership in worship upon the shoulders of male Christians (1 Timothy 2).  He’s not talking about roles in the family—otherwise he contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told wives to “submit” to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Just like becoming a Christian didn’t make a slave no longer a slave—see the book of Philemon—he still had a specific role to fulfill, being in submission to his owner (who might or might not have been a Christian).

When we consider the context in which Paul says “there is neither male nor female,” we are required to come to the conclusion that it means there are no class, gender, or race distinctions of any kind that would keep someone who has truly put on Christ in baptism from receiving the inheritance from God through Jesus Christ.

There is nothing at all in the context about worship roles in the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak;

Turn to First Corinthians 14.  I realize that it’s 40 verses long, but read along with me through the whole chapter.

(Read entire chapter)

Now I want you to take notice of three main points throughout this text.  First, I want you to look at the context—what is it that Paul writes about here?  He writes about spiritual gifts (miraculous gifts) including prophecy (v 1 and others), speaking in tongues (v 2 and others), interpreting tongues (v 5, 13), revelation (v 6), miraculous knowledge (v 6), inspired teaching (v 6), praying in tongues (v 14), and leading a song (v 14, 26).  These are all roles of speaking in the worship assembly.  They are what is generally referred to as leadership positions in the worship.  This is the context.

Second, take special notice that it is specifically in reference to the assembly of the church, when it comes together for prayer, singing, teaching, and encouragement.  Verse 4 shows that the purpose of prophesying was to “edify the church.”  Verse 5 says that speaking in tongues, when there is an interpreter to relay the message, is so that “the church may receive the edifying.”  Verse 6, Paul says “brethren (Christians), if I come to you,” that is, to them all gathered together.  Verse 19 says “In the church…”  Verse 23, “if the whole church comes together in one place…”  Verse 26, “Brethren, when you come together…”  Verse 28, “if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church…”  Verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”  Verse 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.”  Verse 35, “It is a shame for a women to speak in the church.”  The context is when Christians are gathered together for worship to God and receiving instruction from His word.

Third, I want you to, even more so than the others, pay super-special attention to this next point.  Paul says that the women are not permitted to “speak” in the church.  That word translated “speak” appears a whopping twenty-four times in this chapter.  Let’s look at them:

  • (verse 2) He that speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men, but unto God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks
  • (verse 3) He that prophesies speaks
  • (verse 4) He that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 5) I wish that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for the one who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues…
  • (verse 6) brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
  • (verse 9) unless you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you shall speak into the air.
  • (verse 11) If I don’t know the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian, and he that speaks a barbarian to me.
  • (verse 13) Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 18) I thank my God that I speak with tongues…
  • (verse 19) In the church, I would rather speak five words with my understanding…
  • (verse 21) In the Law it is written, “With other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people…saith the Lord.”
  • (verse 23) …and all speak in tongues…
  • (verses 27-28) if any man speak in an unknown tongue…if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
  • (verse 29) Let the prophets speak
  • (verses 34-35) Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak, as also says the Law…it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
  • (verse 39) covet to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

Do you notice the trend there?  The same word is used over and over in this chapter, and it is a reference to speaking in front of the congregation by inspiration (tongues, prophecies, songs, revelations, etc.).

Now, it is quite possible God had given some of the female Christians in Corinth the ability to prophesy (perhaps referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which we will deal with in another lesson), and Philip had four daughters who prophesied as well (Acts 21:8-9).  But even though they had the miraculous ability to do those things, God stated plainly that they were not permitted to use those gifts when the church was gathered together.  And if God was that strict on women speaking in the assembly when they had miraculous capabilities to do so, how can anyone possibly think that He’s lifted that restriction now that they don’t have the miraculous gifts?

Though the context is miraculous, the principle still remains (and fits perfectly with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2, that we looked at last week), women are not permitted to speak (that is, to lead in any aspect of the worship) in the church.

Now, look again with me at verses 27-28 of this chapter.

If any man speaks in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (or, one at a time); and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

Other than the him/her, this is the exact same wording as for the woman in the original.  Whatever it means for the man here, it means for the woman in verse 34.  This man is commanded to keep quiet from speaking in tongues if there is no interpreter.  It doesn’t mean he’s not permitted to lead a prayer in the normal language of the people at the close of the service; it’s talking about the speaking in tongues.  In short, THERE IS A CONTEXT!

So, when Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” he’s got reference to leading in worship.  The chapter gives all the different “speakings” that are under consideration—praying, preaching, teaching, interpreting, speaking in tongues, leading a song.  “Speaking” in the assembly is a role that God has placed upon the shoulders of male Christians.

But it’s almost as though Paul expected that statement about women exercising their gifts in the assembly to be taken badly by his readers, because right after saying it, he says:

What?  Did the word of God come out of you?  Or did it only come to you?  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are the commandments of the Lord. 

Then he says, (KJV) “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  A more literal translation might be, “If any man is actively ignorant (in this matter), do not recognize him.”

My brethren, those are some incredibly strong words from God.  Those who reject God’s commands regarding who is permitted to lead in the worship aren’t really spiritual; they are actively ignorant, rejecting the commands of the Lord; and they are not to be recognized as being right with God.

Invitation

Being right with God isn’t just something nice to be, it is absolutely essential to our holiness and happiness and hope.  You can’t be wrong with God here and expect to be right with God at judgment!  My friends, a home with God Himself is there for you if you will submit to His authority and do your best to follow His commands.  That might sound domineering, but it’s like saying “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  The law of God says that those who believe in Jesus have the power to become children of God (John 1:12).  These believers have to put their belief into action by repenting of their sins, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and being baptized in submission to His will.  Only those who have done these things are made citizens of that heavenly kingdom!  And after you become a citizen, “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  When you mess up, when you sin, when you fall away, God is merciful and will forgive you when you go to Him in prayer, confessing your sin and repenting of it.

God loves you and wants you to be saved. He’s giving you an opportunity right now to do it.  Won’t you do it now?

-Bradley S. Cobb

A Sketch of the Life of James A. Garfield

JimmieLibraryLogo

Sorry I am a bit late in getting this post up today, but here you have it.  🙂

Today, we are offering you yet another freebie, added to the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary.  This one is called, “A Sketch of the Life of James A. Garfield.”  President Garfield, as many of you may know, was a Christian, a preacher, a teacher at a “Christian school,” and helped to create The Christian Standard.

So, without further talking from me, here it is!

A Sketch of the Life of James A. Garfield

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eleven)

ApostlesLogo

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (part one)

The Conflict over John Mark

Paul, always concerned about the spiritual welfare of his brethren in Christ, approaches Barnabas one day with a great idea—Let’s go back and check on all the brethren in the cities we stopped at during our mission trip!  Barnabas was ready to go, and decided they should take John Mark.  Paul was incredulous.  Are you serious?  I’m not going to ask the church to help support someone untrustworthy like him. I know he’s your cousin, but we’re not taking him along!1 Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark along that he and Barnabas—who had been partners in the work for perhaps five years or more—stopped working together at all.2

After Barnabas left with Mark to Cyprus to strengthen the churches he and Paul had planted there, Paul chose Silas, a brother from Jerusalem who had accompanied him to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  Together, with the aid and blessing of the church in Antioch, they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.3

Circumcision

Traveling over land, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra—the latter being the place where an angry mob stoned him nearly to death.  In Lystra, Paul found a young disciple named Timothy who was already well-known and well-respected in both Lystra and Iconium (both places where Paul was heavily persecuted).4  This young man would end up being one of Paul’s closest companions and friends for the rest of his life.

In a completely PR5 move, Paul took Timothy (a half-Jew) and circumcised him.  He did this so that Timothy could have more influence with the Jews, access to speaking in their synagogues, and to show Timothy’s respect for the Law of Moses.  But at the same time, Paul shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, saying that Gentiles had no obligation to submit to any part of the Law of Moses.  Because of the clear instructions and expectations for the Gentiles, and the show of respect to the Law for the Jews, Paul became all things to all men, and the church grew daily.6

The Macedonian Call

Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and perhaps some others, traveled and preached through Phrygia7 and Galatia.8  He really wanted to go to the province of Asia (which included the massive city of Ephesus), but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him and told him not to go at that time.9 So instead, Paul heads north through the area of Mysia,10 and planned to enter the province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit had other plans, and told him not to go there.11  So, instead, Paul and company went down toward the seaport city of Troas, where he met a doctor named Luke.12

While in Troas, Paul received a vision from the Lord: he saw a man from Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Immediately, he described the vision to Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and they all agreed that this was what God wanted, so they made plans to sail to Macedonia to preach the gospel.13

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Colossians 4:10, NKJV.  The KJV says that Mark is “sister’s son,” or nephew to Barnabas, but the Greek work means “cousin,” and is so translated in every major translation of the past 150 years (ASV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, MLV, etc.).  The word eventually took on the sense of “nephew,” but not until many years after the New Testament was completed, according to Robertson, Vincent, B.W. Johnson, and others.

2 Acts 15:36-39.  They worked together for a year in Antioch before making the trip to Jerusalem with aid for the churches in Judea; upon returning (no length of time is given for this mission), they worked again in Antioch until they were sent on their missionary journey, which took at least a year (most estimate it as 1½ to 2 years); they came back to Antioch and remained there a “long time” before the circumcision controversy raised its ugly head; they went to Jerusalem, preaching along the way; they returned from Jerusalem, and “continued in Antioch”; and it was “some days” later that Paul made the suggestion of leaving.

3 On the first missionary journey, Paul had sailed to Cyprus, and then after crossing the island, sailed to Asia Minor.  On the second journey, since Barnabas had gone to Cyprus, Paul took the land route to Asia Minor, visiting congregations that he apparently planted, but which are not mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke’s purpose in writing did not include giving Paul’s every movement, but to give the history of the establishment of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and perhaps also as an aid for Paul’s legal defense before Caesar, showing his innocence in the matters of which he was accused.  So it shouldn’t be a concern that no mention was made of Paul and Barnabas visiting cities in Cilicia and Syria and planting the church there.

4 Acts 16:1-2.  This indicates that Timothy had been working with the churches in both cities, probably preaching.

5 Public relations.

6 Acts 16:3-5.

7 Acts 16:6.  Phrygia is in Central Asia Minor.

8 Acts 16:6.  “Galatia” was used two ways in the first century.  One referred to the Roman province, and the other to a larger area describing the people who lived in that area, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Luke is using “Galatia” to describe the Roman province, which was to the north.  This is certain because it was after leaving Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (ethnic Galatia) that Luke records them visiting Galatia.

9 Acts 16:6.  It is important to note that Paul wasn’t forbidden to ever enter Asia—he did go there later on during this very missionary journey, and stayed there for three years.  For a more detailed discussion of this forbidding, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, comments on this passage.

10 Acts 16:7.  Mysia is a Roman colony, never becoming an official province, that was at the north end of the province of Asia, along the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered the province of Bithynia.  Troas was the chief city in this region.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures on Acts 16:8.

11 Acts 16:7.  Bithynia was a Roman province in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor.  The Holy Spirit (some Greek manuscripts have “the Spirit of Jesus”) forbade Paul to go evangelize there, but it wasn’t because God didn’t want the gospel spread there.  1 Peter 1:1-2 shows that someone had gone to Bithynia and evangelized, and that many were converted.  In AD 110-115, Pliny became governor of Bithynia, and in a letter to the emperor Trajan, wrote that there were many Christians in the area, to the point where most of the heathen temples had been abandoned.  See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Bithynia.”

12 The pronouns “they” and “them” are used until Paul arrives at Troas.  Once Paul is in Troas, Luke starts using the pronouns “we” and “us” (see Acts 16:10), showing that he is now part of their company.  The details of their first meeting and Luke’s conversion (most likely by Paul), we are not permitted to know, for this historian kept himself out of his writings as much as possible.  Luke is called “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.  See the section in chapter one on the “Companions of Titus” for a fuller discussion of Luke.

13 Acts 16:10.  The phrase “assuredly gathering” (KJV) means they all came to the same conclusion.  Luke uses the pronoun “we,” showing that it was the group that came to the conclusion, and the group that made plans to leave for Macedonia.  Obviously, it was at Paul’s urging, but they were all in agreement.

Kill the Cat!

RestorationMoments

The following anecdote is taken from Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers (soon to be in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing).  This is from the chapter on B.F. Hall.  Enjoy!

One night he (B.F. Hall) was much disturbed in the beginning and during the delivery of his discourse. A white cat had noiselessly, and no doubt innocently, followed someone into the meeting-house, and just as the Doctor entered the pulpit he spied the unfortunate truant. Immediately, and with much ado, he ordered that the cat be thrust out from among the good people who had come together to hear him preach, alleging, with more or less emphasis, that he could not possibly preach if he even knew that a cat was in the house, although it might be hid; that he hated cats and dogs immensely. A dear brother snatched poor pussycat, and, notwithstanding it may have wanted a corner ever so much, he flung it out the door violently, and as a presumptuous intruder.

When the Doctor took his text and began speaking, he seemed to be unhinged — altogether or largely out of kilter. He appeared to be thinking of the cat, fearing that it might make its appearance while he was engaged in preaching. And, sure enough, he heard the fatal mew. Stopping suddenly, snapping his eyes in a peculiar manner, he remarked with indignation, “Brethren, I was afraid of this when I commenced preaching; here is this abominable cat again; the devil has sent it just to ruin my discourse; I cannot, I will not, preach another word until you have killed that infamous thing, or put it in durance (imprisonment) vile.” The cat was again waited upon by someone, and was this time handled so roughly that it returned not again during the evening services. But alas! The Doctor was not able to overcome his embarrassment, or recover himself sufficiently to do himself justice, or speak to the edification of his hearers. It was clear to all that it was an uphill business to speak throughout his entire discourse, and all on account of a cat.

 

The Judge Who Objected to Muddy Baptism

RestorationMoments

The following story is recorded in Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers, in the chapter on John. T. Johnson.  This book will soon be available in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing.  But we thought this section was well worth sharing, and we hope you do too.  Enjoy!

In company with Elder R.C. Ricketts, a prominent preacher in Kentucky, John T. Johnson visited Little Rock, Ark., for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in its primitive purity and power.

After the meeting had advanced a number of days, and quite a number of persons had become obedient to the faith, an incident occurred of more than ordinary interest, and which I feel ought to be preserved. Judge Johnson, of the city of Little Rock, a brother of the evangelist, a prominent politician, had been attending the meeting nightly with his wife, but neither belonged to any religious body. Like many others, Judge Johnson had never given the subject of Christianity very much thought; perhaps owing to the fact that he was constantly engaged in the affairs of this life, and had no time, as he supposed; it may have been that he knew not what to do, because of the many sad divisions in Christendom. Through courtesy or curiosity, he and his amiable wife had been attending church and listening to the preaching of John T. Johnson and R.C. Ricketts. But sometimes it turns out that those who attend religious services through curiosity become deeply concerned for their souls’ salvation. This was the case with the Judge and his wife at the time of which we are speaking, although, I presume, neither would have acknowledged it.

One morning after breakfast, seated in the parlor with his brother, John T., Elder Ricketts, and his wife, the Judge filed several formidable objections to the course pursued by the preachers in the meeting they were then conducting. Of course he did this, be it understood, in the most polite manner possible; still, with honesty, and desiring, no doubt, that a change be made in the management of the meeting. When offering his advice, the Judge supposed he understood himself perfectly — knew precisely what he would do under given circumstances. But it is difficult to know one’s self. It is certainly not an easy task to divine what the strongest minded persons would do under heavy pressure of circumstances. “The best of men are men at best.” It would be well to remember this in all of our wise forecastings. The preachers had baptized several persons in the Arkansas River, and now the Judge had come to the conclusion that this ought to be stopped. And why? Because the waters were too muddy in which to administer this divine ordinance. “If I should ever be baptized,” he continued, “it will “never occur in the Arkansas River. I will never go down into that muddy stream of water — never. I would prefer to go to a beautiful clear pool of water near the city, should I ever consent to be baptized. Besides, I seriously object to your administering the ordinance of baptism, while the lawyers, doctors, and the reckless ones about the city, are lining the banks of the river, and some are engaged in talking and laughing and making unbecoming remarks. This is certainly not in good taste — is certainly not in harmony with my views of propriety or good order, under such circumstances I could not consent to be baptized. I must have pure, clear water, and only a few friends.”

“Very well,” said Bro. Ricketts, “we will go with you and a few chosen friends to some clear pool and baptize you whenever you are willing to make the good confession — whenever you are prepared to submit to this command of Christ.”

The Judge replied: “Understand me, I am not saying that I ever intend to become a member of the church. I do not know that I will ever join any church. I am only telling you that I do not think it proper to baptize in the Arkansas River, and that I never could, under the circumstances, consent to be, as others have been. Again, should I ever join the church — and I may or may not — I trust to be able to control my feelings a little better than some who have come forward during this meeting and confessed faith in Christ. They have shown great weakness in weeping like children — at least it seems so to me. Should I ever be induced to go forward and confess Christ, I hope I shall have manliness enough about me to do so without shedding a tear.” “Come forward, Judge, in your own way; if you are a believing penitent, and fully prepared to obey the Gospel from the heart, in order to the enjoyment of all the blessings promised, we care not as to the manner,” rejoined Bro. Ricketts. The following remarks were offered by the Judge in closing: “You and my brother may suppose from what I have said that I purpose becoming a member of the church. I confess that I understand the teaching of Christ and the Apostles as I never did before. I see a fitness, beauty, and adaptation in the plan of redemption which has been hid from me heretofore. But I have not at all determined to join the church. I am fully persuaded that it is the duty of all persons to attach themselves to the church of Jesus Christ, but I am not prepared to say I am ready to do so now. I trust you will not look upon what I have said to you as meddling; pursue your own course. Still, I am convinced that there is far too much feeling manifested by those who confess Christ and obey him in your meeting, and that you ought, if in your power, to suppress it.”

Bro. Ricketts added that he thought there was no improper excitement in the meeting. There had been no shouting, no clapping of hands, no swooning or fainting. No unjust means had been used to compel persons to become the disciples of Christ. The Gospel had been presented in its fullness, so far as the speakers were enabled to offer it to the people. “This glorious Gospel is God’s power to save those who believe and obey it, and, mark you, there is no power like it in this world. All persons are not alike in their make-up. Some, in renouncing sin, weep bitterly; others show but little feeling. This is owing to the difference in the emotional nature. And there is no need in our attempting to regulate these things; they must take their course. But few persons know themselves.”

The following night the Judge and his wife came to church and sat a little nearer the pulpit than usual, the wife placing herself on the end of the bench and next the aisle; the Judge occupying a place near the center of the house and directly in front of the pulpit. At the conclusion of the discourse, and while the invitation song was being sung, the Judge’s wife stepped forward and gave her hand to Bro. Ricketts. She took her seat on the front bench preparatory to making the good confession. The Judge, seeing this, could bear up no longer; so, stepping right over the benches, forward he came, and, weeping as a child, seated himself beside his wife, the great tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks. Making the good confession with much feeling, he remarked in the hearing of many, “I am now ready to go down into the muddy waters of the Arkansas and be baptized in the presence of the lawyers, doctors, and all who may be inclined to witness my obedience to the faith.” How few know themselves.

 

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Ten)

ApostlesLogo

Paul’s Defense of His Gentile Ministry

While Paul was in Antioch, working with a congregation made up of both Jew and Gentile Christians, some men came from Judea, and began to teach the brethren than unless they were circumcised, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.1  This threatened to destroy not only the congregation in Antioch—which had a great number of Gentile Christians—but also all the work Paul had accomplished in his first missionary journey.  The teaching those men were bringing undermined (1) the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul and Barnabas on the mission; (2) the validity of the prophets—including Paul and Barnabas—in Antioch, who received and delivered the message from the Holy Spirit; (3) the confidence of the congregation in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, since they had sent these men and most likely financed a good part of their journey; (4) the good name of the congregation in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas as “apostles,” representatives of the church at Antioch; (5) God Himself, who had confirmed the apostolic message by miracles; (6) the salvation of a vast number of people, both in Antioch and across Asia Minor.

With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Paul and Barnabas’ argument and debate with these Jews was “not small.”  Paul no doubt showed from the Old Testament Scriptures that salvation was open to the Gentiles as Gentiles—not as proselytes to Judaism, but still these Judean teachers would not back down.  The disturbance was so great that the church sent Paul and Barnabas, as well as some of the other brethren, to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to get an authoritative answer to the question2—even though Paul knew what the answer would be before they ever left.

As they made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, financed in their journey by the church at Antioch, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, and Paul declared to the Christians they met about the conversion of the Gentiles—in other words, he was sharing the good news about the salvation of Gentiles in Christ while he was on his way to a big event whose purpose was to determine if these Gentile converts were really saved.  Paul knew what the decision would be, and shared the joy with others before the apostles and elders gave their decision on the matter.  This news which he proudly spread to the churches in Samaria brought great joy—the Samaritan Christians wouldn’t have had the same prejudices against Gentiles as the Jews.3

Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the church, the apostles, and the elders.  They shared the good news of how God used them as missionaries, but instead of bringing joy to all the people like it did in Samaria, it got some people upset.  Some of the Christians who were also Pharisees stood up and basically denied that the Gentile converts had ever really be saved, because they hadn’t been circumcised, nor did they follow the Law of Moses.4  This caused the apostles and elders to convene a public hearing on the matter.5

After much discussion (or questioning, ASV) on the matter, in which the Pharisees would have been able to present their case, Paul watched as Peter stood and affirmed that the Gentiles had no obligation to follow the Law of Moses to be saved.  Then Barnabas and Paul6 stood, “declaring the miracles and wonders that God had worked by them among the Gentiles,” re-affirming what Peter had said: that God showed His approval of Gentiles coming into the kingdom without the Law of Moses.7  After James gave the verdict, and a letter was written to send to the Gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas (along with Judas and Silas) went back to Antioch to share the good news—their salvation was secure, and sealed with apostolic approval.

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 15:1.  Several questions arise when considering this event—first and foremost among them How/why did these teachers from Judea get access to the church?  We cannot doubt that they were sincere in their belief, and it is not likely that they attempted to be stealthy about it.  However, this shows the wisdom of not letting someone teach without first knowing them.  This responsibility falls on the elders.  Secondly, these men were teaching that unless one was circumcised after the manner of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.  Yet the covenant involving circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses, going back to Abraham (Genesis 17:13).  Additionally, Moses wasn’t too good at remembering to circumcise (Exodus 4:24-26).

2 Acts 15:2.  Paul was inspired, as was Barnabas and the other prophets in Antioch.  As such, their answer should have been sufficient to put the matter to rest.  However, Paul’s status as an apostle was not as well-established among the Judean Christians at this point, so it was decided to appeal to a universally-recognized authority among the Christians—the apostles.  It’s interesting that the apostles and elders were mentioned as authoritative in the matter.  It is quite likely that the elders there included many of the 70 men that Jesus sent forth during His earthly ministry.  These were leaders among the first church of Christ (in Jerusalem since Pentecost), and were given great respect by those in Antioch.

3 Acts 15:3.  This final point was brought out by J.W. McGarvey in his original commentary on Acts.

4 Acts 15:4-5.  Some have questioned why it is that this argument was even brought up in the first place.  After all, didn’t they know that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and fulfilled in Jesus Christ?  Did they not know that God’s New Covenant was in force?  What were the apostles teaching them anyway, if they didn’t know this extremely basic concept?  Part—perhaps even most—of the answer can be found in understanding that the Law of Moses was not just a religious law, but also a civil or national one.  At the death of Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, the Law of Moses ceased to have any religious power.  But at the same time, it was the law of the land, and so faithful Jewish Christians would be obliged to follow the Law of Moses as the national law, except in instances where it could have violated the law of God.  This is why the Jewish Christians would celebrate the Passover, observe the Sabbath, keep the Jewish dietary laws—because it was the law of the land, which is to be obeyed unless it causes one to violate the law of God.  So Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem, would have never stopped observing the Law of Moses, even after becoming a Christian.  So, since they never stopped observing the Law of Moses, it was very difficult for them to comprehend being right with God without the Law of Moses.

5 Public as far as the church is concerned, at least.  Verse 12 says that there was a “multitude” in attendance, which would have been more than just the apostles and elders.

6 This reverses the order used throughout their missionary journeys, probably showing that Barnabas took the lead in speaking.

7 Acts 15:6-12.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Nine)

ApostlesLogo

Returning to Antioch

Paul must have been quite the sight as he entered into Derbe.  But people listened to what he and Barnabas taught, and many obeyed the divine commands.  After an apparently persecution-free visit there,1 they returned to the scene of the stoning, Lystra, and met again with the souls who had obeyed the blessed gospel, encouraging them, grounding them in the truth, and warning them that they will have difficult times ahead of them—but that the eternal reward is worth the tribulation here on earth.  How powerful this message must have been when coming from the one who had been viciously attacked and left for dead by an angry mob!  He tells them that even though he was nearly killed, it was worth it for heaven!  Then, from among the gathered disciples, Paul and Barnabas selected and ordained men to serve as elders.2

Departing from Lystra, he returned to Iconium—the same city that he had to flee from in order to avoid being stoned earlier; the same city that was home to some of the very Jews who had chased him to Lystra and actually caused the stoning that left him looking dead.  This shows incredible boldness on the part of Jesus’ own chosen apostle.3  There, he and Barnabas did as they did in Lystra: encouraging the saints to persevere under pressure, and selecting and ordaining godly men to serve as elders.

Doing the same thing in Antioch of Pisidia, they then returned to Perga (where John Mark had left them) and preached the gospel there before going to Attalia and sailing back to Antioch of Syria, from which they had been called by the Holy Spirit in the first place.

Once they returned to Antioch, they gathered the church together and reported all the things that had happened to them.  You can imagine the smiles when Paul shared the joyful news of the obedient believers; the looks of surprise and horror when they described the priest of Zeus and the crowds in Lystra trying to worship mere men; the shock and compassion when Paul’s near-death experience was mentioned.  They were certainly pleased and encouraged by the response to the gospel by the Gentiles, and welcomed these two men back as beloved brothers in Christ.  Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch “a long time” after returning.4

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 It seems most likely that, after believing Paul to be dead, the Jewish persecutors thought the matter over, and went back home.  Paul probably didn’t make his entrance into the city a public event or spectacle, and his departure was probably the same way, giving the persecutors no reason to stay.  Thus, they wouldn’t have heard about Paul’s work in Derbe until much later.

2 Acts 14:21-23.  See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the characteristics that the chosen men had.  There are those who claim that these are simply guidelines, suggestions for those who want to serve as elders; but the Scripture says that an elder must be those things, possess those character traits.  If a man doesn’t meet those qualifications, then he can call himself an elder all he wants—but according to God, he isn’t an elder.  Instead, he is a usurper of the divinely-given office, and will have to give an account to God for his usurpation of authority that doesn’t belong to him.

3 It is possible that the return visits to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia did not involve public preaching, but were instead private, inconspicuous visits.  Paul would not have wanted to push his persecutors into repeating their murderous attempt at Lystra.

4 All of these events can be found described in Acts 14:21-28.