The Gifts Christ Gave to the Church

THE GIFTS CHRIST GAVE TO THE CHURCH

By Wayne S. Walker

     Human-founded churches have human heads—e.g., a pope, a president, or a moderator.  However, the church of the New Testament, in the universal sense, has no earthly organization, only heavenly.  The head of the church is Jesus Christ Himself (Col. 1:18-19).  As the head of the church, Christ gave certain gifts to it in order for it to function as He desires.  “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’  (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)   And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:8-11).  The purpose of this article is to look more closely at the gifts Christ gave to the church and how they relate to its functioning.

Apostles

     Again, Jesus Christ is the head of the church.  To help Him establish His body, to guide it in its infancy, and to reveal His word, He chose certain men known as apostles (2 Tim. 1:11).  It is important that we understand the work of the apostles.  An apostle is “one sent” to do a special task for another (Lk. 11:49).  The word can be used generally (Acts 14:14, Phil. 2:25), even of Christ (Heb. 3:1).  But most often it refers specifically to “the twelve” (Mk. 3:13-19).  After Judas hanged himself, he was replaced by Matthias, and Paul was later added to the number.

The authority of the apostles was given to them directly by Christ (Matt. 18:18).  They served as His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), stewards of His mystery (1 Cor. 4:1-2), and His representatives (Lk. 10:16).  One example of their authority is found in Acts 4:34-37 where early disciples brought money for the needy saints to the apostles’ feet for distribution.  Their basic work was to be witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:5-8).  Acting as ministers of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:4-6) or “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:1-7), they revealed God’s word (Eph. 3:3-5).  The result of their work is that they laid the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:19-23).

To be qualified as an apostle, one had to receive a divine call—not from man or through men (Gal. 1:1-12).  He must have seen the resurrected Christ of whom he was a witness (Acts 1:21-22).  Also he needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) and the inspired guidance that the Spirit provided (John 16:13-15).  In addition, the apostles had miraculous power to confirm their message as true (Mk. 16:17-20, 2 Cor. 12:12).  Since the work of the apostles was foundational in nature and pertained to revealing the word, confirming it, and establishing the church, once it was done it needs no repeating.  Hence, there are no living apostles today.  We continue in the apostles’ doctrine by following the message which they revealed (Acts 2:42).

Prophets

     In addition to the apostles, there was a special class of people in the first century church who assisted in guiding the church and revealing the word known as prophets (Matt. 10:41).  Since many claim to have the gift of prophecy today, we need to study the work of the prophets.  From Old Testament background, we learn that the word “prophet” is defined as one who speaks forth for another (Exo. 4:15-16, 7:1).  Thus, in the Bible it usually means one who speaks for God and reveals His will to others (Deut. 18:18).  It always includes the idea of supernatural inspiration, if not in fact, at least in claim (Jer. 23:16, Ezek. 13:2; cf. Matt. 7:22).

There were prophets in the early church, as predicted in the Old Testament (Acts 2:17).  One who is named was Agabus (Acts 11:27-28, 21:10).  There were some prophets in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1).  Judas and Silas are identified as prophets (Acts 15:32).  It is said that Philip’s four virgin daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9).  The work of these prophets was two-fold.  They are listed with the apostles in revealing the word (Eph. 2:20, 3:5).  They also taught in the church while the word was in the process of being revealed (1 Cor. 14:1-6).  The early church had to distinguish between true and false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).

In the Bible, a prophet was not just one who foretold the future.  Many times they did foretell the future, and when their prophecies came true, it was a sign that their message was from God, but their main function was simply revealing God’s will to people.  However, this gift was done away.  It was predicted even in the Old Testament that after the fountain would be opened for sin, the prophets would depart (Zech. 13:1-5).  Paul said in 1 Cor. 13:9-10 that when that which is perfect would come, that which was in part, including the gift of prophecy, would be done away.  We now have the perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25).  There is no need for prophets today because all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and will make us perfect for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The work of prophets has ceased!

Evangelists

     Another gift that Christ gave to the church is evangelists.  The word “evangelist” literally means one who tells good news.  Some people make unnecessary distinctions.  They say that a minister is a preacher who works with a local church, an evangelist is a preacher who travels around, and a missionary is a preacher who goes oversees.  However, God’s word does not make any such distinctions.  Philip was called an evangelist, but he had a house in Caesarea (Acts 8:40, 21:8).  What is the work of an evangelist?  Paul told Timothy, who was to “remain in Ephesus” (1 Tim. 1:3), to “be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).  Therefore, by examining various things that Paul told Timothy to do, we should be able to learn what the work of an evangelist is.

The primary function of an evangelist is to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2).  The word “preach” here means to herald or proclaim, as John the Baptist went “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Lk. 3:3).  The word needs to be preached because it alone is able to save our souls (Jas. 1:21) and to build us up (Acts 20:32).  The proper attitude to speak the truth is always in love (Eph. 4:15).  In preaching the word, he is to “instruct the brethren” (1 Tim. 4:6).  The King James Version says, “put the brethren in remembrance.”  Why?  Solomon tells us that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9).  The word of Jesus Christ does not change (Matt. 24:35).  Thus, there are many things of which Christians need to be reminded (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12-15).

An evangelist must “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3).  There always have been and always will be false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-3).  It is the duty of the evangelist to identify and rebuke them (Tit. 1:10-13).  Of course, the way in which this should be handled is with meekness (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  In order to fulfill his responsibilities, he is told to “meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them” (1 Tim. 4:15).  Certainly all Christians should search the scriptures (Acts 17:11).  But the evangelist has a special responsibility to “handle aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, ASV).  This demands a thorough knowledge of the word, and the development of this knowledge will require much time in study (1 Tim. 4:13-14).

In addition, the evangelist is told to commit the word to faithful men who then can teach it to others (2 Tim. 2:2).  There is ever a need for teachers in the church (1 Cor. 12:28).  We shall write of these later in this article, but many who ought to be teachers cannot because they still have need of someone to teach them the basics (Heb. 5:12).  Each individual should seek to grow (1 Pet. 2:1-2).  But the evangelist can help train teachers.  And he should also “be an example to [of] the believer” (1 Tim. 4:12).  Again, all Christians must “live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:12).  However, especially ought an evangelist show himself “a pattern of good works” (Tit. 2:7-8).  As a teacher himself, he has “a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1).  These passages help us to understand better the work of the evangelist.

Pastors

     The word “pastor” literally means shepherd.  Those who are told to pastor or shepherd the flock are also called elders.  We shall look more closely at the meaning and application of these words shortly.  However, we have noted that there were apostles and prophets in the first century church but there are none today for their work is no longer needed.  There were elders in the first century church (Acts 11:30).  And there are still elders today because their work is still needed.  Why is this so?  A Biblical study of the eldership (1 Tim. 4:14) will provide the answer to this question.

The word “elder” originally denoted seniority, the older of two or one older than others (Lk. 15:25, Tit. 2:2).  Among the Jews, it was used to refer to certain leaders of a city and then of a synagogue (Matt. 15:2; cf. Num. 11:16-23).  In the church it came to identify a particular work, called in the King James Version “the office of a bishop” (1 Tim. 3:1).  In fact, three terms are used to describe this function in Acts 20:17-28).  Paul called for the elders of the church at Ephesus.  Again “elder” means a senior, one older, advanced in life, and mature in training and experience with the wisdom that comes from age (1 Tim. 5:17).  He told these elders that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers or “bishops,” a word which indicates a manager, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent, hence a supervisor (Tit. 1:7).  These elders or bishops are then told to shepherd or “pastor” the flock, a verb form of the noun that is defined as a herdsman of sheep, one who leads, feeds, and tends a flock, thus a presiding officer, manager, or director (1 Pet. 5:2).

There were elders or bishops or pastors specifically mentioned in New Testament churches at Jerusalem (Acts 15:6), Ephesus (Acts 20:17), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:12), and Philippi (Phil. 1:1).  In fact, elders are to be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23).  There must always be a plurality in each congregation (Tit. 1:5), never a single “pastor.”  And they are always over one church only (1 Pet. 5:2), never one “bishop” over several churches.  The qualifications for this office are found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  The reason there are qualifications for the eldership in Scripture is that we might be able to identify those men who are capable of doing the work of elders.  Indeed, elders have a work to do.  Being an elder is more than just an honorary office.  What is this work?

Elders are told, “Take heed therefore to yourselves” (Acts 20:28).  Surely all Christians must examine themselves (2 Cor. 13:5).  But this self-examination is especially important for teachers and leaders because they “shall receive heavier judgment” (Jas. 3:1, ASV).  Also, they must take heed unto the flock and watch for their souls (Heb. 13:17).  According to 1 Thess. 5:12, the elders “labor among” the congregation.  One example of this labor can be seen in Jas. 5:14 where those who are sick are told to send for the elders of the church to pray for them.

Next, elders are to take the oversight or “rule” (1 Tim. 5:17).  They are called “bishops” (Phil. 1:1) because they manage or superintend the affairs of the congregation.  An example of this function is found in Acts 11:27-30 where the funds from Antioch for needy Christians in Judea were sent to the hands of the elders, who then obviously oversaw their distribution.  Then, they are responsible for feeding or tending the flock (1 Pet. 5:2).  Like a shepherd provides physical food and water for his sheep (Ezek. 34:1-6ff), so elders should provide spiritual teaching.  In this they do the will of Jesus who is the chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25, 5:4).

In addition, elders ought to be examples (1 Pet. 5:3).  Again, all Christians are to be examples (1 Tim. 4:12), but as noted with evangelists, this is especially necessary in those who are leaders because of the influence of their position (Tit. 2:7-8).  Elders rule not by “lording it over” the flock but by leading through a life of faithfulness, purity, and service.  Finally, they will guard the church against false doctrine (Tit. 1:9-11).  In order for men to do the work of elders, but must perform all the duties outlined in scripture.  They cannot pick and choose which ones they want or think are more important.

Teachers

     When a local church is properly organized, elders will oversee with deacons to serve, and evangelists will preach.  But there is yet another work to be done.  In the church at Antioch, besides some prophets, there were teachers (Acts 13:1).  It is important that we understand the work of teachers in instructing the church.  In a sense, all Christians are to be teachers.  It is part of the great commission to be “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).  We have examples of teaching done by the apostles (Acts 5:42), Barnabas (Acts 15:35), Paul (1 Tim. 2:7), the elders (1 Tim. 3:2), and Timothy (1 Tim. 4:11).  There is a time when we ought to be teachers (Heb. 5:12).  One way in which some can teach is by “admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).

However, our original text indicates that there was a specific group of servants in the early church known as teachers and implies that this was a public function which, along with evangelists and pastors, would result in the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:12).  Not everyone falls into this particular category (1 Cor. 12:28-29).  In order for one to be a teacher, he must possess certain characteristics.  He must teach truth (1 Tim. 1:3), be knowledgeable (1 Tim. 1:7), be faithful (2 Tim. 2:2), be patient (2 Tim. 2:24), practice what he teaches (Rom. 2:21), and be diligent (Rom. 12:7).  Not everyone is able to be an elder or an evangelist, but all Christians can do the work of teaching in one sense or another if they will apply themselves.

Conclusion

     We all recognize that organization is essential wherever humans are involved, such as in civil affairs (Rom. 13:1-7), the home (Eph. 5:22-33), and business (Col. 3:22-25).  The same is true of the Lord’s church.  As we have previously seen, the universal church has no earthly organization.  Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23), and He chose certain individuals as apostles and prophets to assist Him in establishing the church and revealing His word.  However, local churches do have organization (Tit. 1:5).  There are several different kinds of denominational church organization which often bind several congregations together into hierarchies, presbyteries, districts, synods, associations, and other human-founded societies.

However, New Testament churches are autonomous (Acts 14:23, 20:28); independent (1 Pet. 5:1-3); equal (2 Cor. 8:14); sufficient (Eph. 4:12-16); and identical in essentials (1 Cor. 4:17).  Since He is the head of the church, Christ is also the head of each local congregation (Col. 1:18).  The local overseers are known as elders or pastors or bishops (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:1-2).  Under their oversight, evangelists preach the word and teachers instruct in the truth.  And all members should participate in the work (Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12:27-31).  Not everyone has the same abilities, but everyone should do what he or she can.  This is how the church is organized according to God’s word using the gifts that Christ gave the church.

—-taken from Faith and Facts Quarterly; July, 2016; Vol. 43, No. 3; pp. 42-50

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“And Such Were Some of You, But…”

AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU, BUT…”

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  This article focuses on verse 11.

Some of these Corinthians had been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners.  But notice the past tense.  Paul wrote, “Such were some of you”—not “are” but “were.”  These Corinthians had been among the unrighteous who would not inherit the kingdom of God, but no more.  What stood between what they had been before and what they were now when Paul wrote?  We shall find the answer as we consider what Paul meant when he said, “And such were some of you, but….”

They were washed.  All of us know what it is like to get physically dirty while working in the garden or on the car so that we need to be cleansed or made clean.  We also become soiled spiritually and need to be washed because of our sins.  David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed to cover it up, so he prayed, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me….Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:3-7).  This “washing of regeneration” is made possible by the grace of God (Titus 3:5-7).  The agent by which this washing is accomplished is the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5).  But when are our sins washed away?  “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

Once the sins which separated them from God were washed away, they were sanctified.  This means to be set apart.  These Corinthian “saints” made up “the church of God at Corinth” because they had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).  They had been set apart from sin to belong to God.  How are people sanctified?  Regarding the apostles, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Those who obey the truth are separated from this world of sin to be identified as God’s people.  Thus, the result of this sanctification, according to Paul in 2 Timothy 2:19-22, is that “The Lord knows those who are His,” because everyone who names the name of Christ must depart from iniquity.  These are those who become vessels for honor, “sanctified and useful for the Master” by all fleeing worldly lusts.

Then, when they were set apart from sin to God, they were justified, which means being made right in the sight of God.  Paul said, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).  The basis for being justified is not doing the works of the old law but the grace of God (Romans 3:20-24).  The means by which it is accomplished is the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9).  However, it is also “by faith” (Romans 3:28, 5:1).  The faith by which we are justified is not a passive or dead faith but one that is demonstrated in doing the works of God (James 2:21-24).  This involves being buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-4).

As we consider being washed, sanctified, and justified, we must understand that these are not three separate processes but just three different ways of looking at the same thing.  Remember Paul’s list.  “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”  So it does not make any difference what we have done or how “bad” we have been.  If we are willing to turn our lives over to God in faith, genuine repentance, and obedience, we, like these formerly unrighteous Corinthians, can be washed, sanctified, and justified—or in other words, we can be forgiven and saved.

—in Search for Truth, 7/19/2015 (Vol. VI, No. 50)

Extortioners

EXTORTIONERS

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Instead of “extortioners,” the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version both have “swindlers.”  The term in the original comes from a word which means to plunder or pillage.  “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Hebrews 10:32-34, emphasis mine, WSW).

According to its literal meaning, an extortioner is one who is rapacious or ravenous like wolves.  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).  Hence, the term came to mean a robber or, more exactly, a swindler or cheat, and the crime was considered quite serious.  “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector’” (Luke 18:11).  Thus, it generally refers to one who makes his living dishonestly or unscrupulously at the expense of others.  This would include not only downright crooks, but also people such as gamblers, loan sharks, and others who would prey upon unsuspecting or unfortunate victims.

Jesus condemned the attitude that led to extortion and the practices that it engendered in the scribes and Pharisees.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).  Jesus does not tell us here exactly how they were guilty of extortion, but He does give us a clue in a previous verse.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation” (v. 14).  They probably held the mortgages to these widows’ houses, and when something happened that the widows could not pay, the scribes and Pharisees, who were supposed to be religious leaders and help people, would stand before the widows’ houses and make long prayers to show how “pious” they were, then promptly acted to cheat these poor widows out of their homes.  Why?  Jesus answered that question in a parallel passage.  “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness’” (Luke 11:29).

In contrast to cheating and taking undue advantage of others, God wants us to be upright and honest in all our dealings with our fellowman.  “Providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).  “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably” (Hebrews 13:18). Not only is honesty the best policy, but it is the only principle for Christians to follow in their relationships with others.  Let us always strive to be honest because those who are not will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These two verses do not claim to contain a complete listing of all the unrighteous, but they do identify some of the more prominent forms both in Corinth and in our day as well.  Why is this subject so important?  “All unrighteousness is sin…” (1 John 5:17a).  And “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a).  God’s justice demands that unrighteousness be punished.  You and I may not necessarily be guilty of any of the specific sins mentioned here, but we have all sinned (Romans 3:23).  The next verse goes on to give God’s remedy for sin in our lives, and our concluding article in this series will discuss it.

—in Search for Truth, 7/12/2015 (Vol. VI, No 49)

Revilers

REVILERS

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers…[will inherit the kingdom of God]” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Please notice that the word here is not “revelers,” as in Galatians 5:19 where one of the works of the flesh listed is “revellings” or “revelries.”  That too is a sin, but this is something different.  Instead of “revilers,” the New International Version has “slanderers.”

The word in the original language is defined as a railer or an abusive person, and comes from a term meaning to reproach.  In the examination of the blind man whom Jesus healed by the Jewish leaders, “Then they reviled him and said, ‘You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples’” (John 9:28).  Paul, describing his work as an apostle, said, “…Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure” (1 Corinthians 4:12).  And of Jesus in His sufferings we are told, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Basically, the word “reviler” identifies one who by his abusive speech stirs up hatred, anger, contention, and strife.  Notice what the wise man had to say about such people in the Old Testament.  “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18).  “A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention” (Proverbs 15:18). “As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife: (Proverbs 26:21).  There are so many ways to revile—murmuring and complaining (1 Corinthians 10:10); arguing and bickering (Galatians 5:15); gossiping and talebearing (1 Timothy 5:13); or simply speaking evil of others (James 4:14).

The New Testament certainly teaches us to avoid these kinds of things.  “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.  For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit’” (1 Peter 3:8-10).  Also, we need to live so as to give no occasion for others to speak evil of us.  “Sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Titus 2:8).  Remember that revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

—in Search for Truth, 7/5/2015 (Vol. VI, No. 48)

Drunkards

DRUNKARDS

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards…[will inherit the kingdom of God]” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  The word “drunkards” is translated from a term for wine which is the source of our English word “methyl” which is a kind of alcohol.  It is defined literally as drunken or intoxicated.  On the day of Pentecost, when the apostles spoke in tongues, we read, “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine.’  But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.  For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day’” (Acts 2:13-15).

Even the Old Testament warned of the problems associated with drinking alcoholic beverages.  Noah planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, and got drunk, and some very unpleasant consequences ensued (Genesis 9:20-21ff).  “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).  The word “wine” does not always necessarily suggest a fermented beverage.  Sometimes it can refer to fresh grape juice (Isaiah 65:8).  It has been suggested that whenever wine is spoken of positively in Scripture it means the non-fermented variety, as when Jesus turned water to wine (John 2:1-11).  On the other hand, when it is talked about in negative terms it identifies the alcoholic kind, as we see in Proverbs 20:1 and the following passage, which also issues a stern warning.

“Who has woe?  Who has sorrow?  Who has contentions?  Who has complaints?  Who has wounds without cause?  Who has redness of eyes?  Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine.  Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things.  Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: ‘They have struck me, but I was not hurt; they have beaten me, but I did not feel it.  When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?’” (Proverbs 23:29-35).

While it is true that these two Proverbs warnings are found in the Old Testament, they still are written for our learning and represent God’s wisdom on the subject.  Furthermore, we have similar warnings in the New Testament.  “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  W. E. Vine says that the term translated “drunk with wine” means “to make drunk or to grow drunk (an inceptive verb, marking the process of…).”  Thus, whatever is involved in the process of becoming drunk is condemned.  There are only two possibilities here.  One can be filled either with wine or with the Spirit—but not both.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:1-4).  The past lives of these disciples had included drunkenness, revelries (i.e., drunken orgies), and “drinking [i.e. cocktail] parties,” but no longer.  They had ceased from such sinful activities.  Why?  Because those who engage themselves in the process which will make them drunk will not inherit the kingdom of God.

—in Search for Truth, 6/28/2015 (Vol. VI, No. 47)

Covetous

COVETOUS

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous…[will inherit the kingdom of God]” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  The word translated “covetous” literally means eager to have more.  It is often understood to identify being desirous of what belongs to others but is usually explained generally as greedy of gain.  The noun form is defined as avarice.  About the best Biblical description of covetousness is found in Luke 12:15, where we read of Jesus, “And He said to them, “‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’”  When one comes to view the quality of his life solely in terms of the abundance of his possessions, whether he has much or little, that person is covetous.

There are actually two main words in the original language of the New Testament which are translated “covet.”  The one used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is always found in a bad sense.  It describes an attitude with its resultant actions which were judged to be extremely sinful by first century Christians.  “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11).  If a brother were found to be guilty of covetousness and refused to repent, he was to be withdrawn from just like what should be done with a fornicator, an idolater, or a drunkard.  That is how serious the sin is in the sight of God.

Covetousness was condemned in the Old Testament.  The last, but certainly not the least, of the Ten Commandments said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).  We see how covetousness leads to other sin in the example of Achan, who confessed, “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it” (Joshua 7:21).

Covetousness is also condemned in the New Testament.  “And He said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man’” (Mark 7:20-23).  Jesus said that covetousness comes from the heart and defiles.  God’s antidote to covetousness and the other sins it produces is to learn contentment.

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness [KJV–which while some coveted after], and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).  Very simply, the covetous will not inherit the kingdom of God.

—in Search for Truth, 6/21/2015 (Vol. VI, No. 46)

Thieves

THIEVES

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves…[will inherit the kingdom of God]” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  The word translated “thieves” here is the source of our English term “kleptomaniac.”  It means a robber, also an embezzler or pilferer; in other words, one who steals.  We have a notable example in the Bible of a person who was a thief.

“Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:1-6).

God has always condemned thievery or stealing.  In the Old Testament, one of the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel at Mt. Sinai through Moses was, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).  There are many different ways to steal, including burglary, committing fraud, shoplifting, purloining from an employer, pilfering, and embezzling.  Falsifying income tax forms is stealing from the civil government.  When I was a young boy still in school, I distinctly remember a sermon during a gospel meeting in which the visiting preacher made the point that cheating on a test by looking on another person’s paper was stealing answers.

God’s attitude towards stealing may be determined from the punishment for it that He gave to Israel.   “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.  If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.  If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double” (Exodus 22:1-4).  Today, thieves are put in prison and must pay fines to the government.  However, one wonders if all guilty thieves were made to make full restitution plus double, quadruple, or even fivefold, and keep working at it until they do, how much less stealing might go on.

What does the New Testament say?  “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).  To be a Christian and please God, one must not only refrain from stealing but also replace the wrong activity with a righteous one, honest labor and a spirit of giving rather than taking.  “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15).  Why is it important not to suffer as a thief?  It is because thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God.

—in Search for Truth, 6/14/2015 (Vol. VI, No. 45)