Wednesday, January 28, 2015


In my nearly thirty-nine years of ordained ministry, I have met lots of people who longed to return to what they perceived to be the “simplicity” and the “purity” of the New Testament churches.  When I was presenting my missionary ministry in churches across the U.S. and parts of Canada, I once spoke in a church that called itself “The New Testament Church.” It seemed to be a fine local church, with members who cared about evangelism and missions.  Still, I doubt that it was any more exempt from problems than was the first century churches the Apostles had to deal with.

To ask whether the first century churches had problems is like asking if they had people.  As someone has pointed out, wherever there are people there are problems. There are no problems on the moon right now, but when there were people up there, there were problems! "Houston we have a . . ."

The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that threats would come to the church both from within and without, as soon as he turned his back, so to speak:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30 ESV)

Among the problems Paul addressed in his epistles were the following:
·       Sexual immorality
·       Drunkenness
·       Fraud and lawsuits among professing believers
·       Arrogance and favoritism
·       Personality conflicts
·       Doctrinal errors
·       Abuse of spiritual gifts
·       A servant’s theft from a Christian master
·       Lack of forgiveness by a church toward a repentant member
·       Disgracing the Lord’s Table
·       Et cetera

Many of these problems troubled the Corinthian church and damaged its testimony.  But even that precious church in Philippi, the only consistent supporter of Paul’s ministry, had problems with unity and interpersonal conflicts.  Paul had to exhort two women in that church, women who had helped Paul in his ministry of the gospel, to resolve their differences:

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel . . . (Philippians 4:2-3a)

In reading again the Apostle John’s little epistle to Gaius (III John) I was impressed again by the presence in Gaius’s local church of a character all too common throughout church history: Diotrephes.  John describes this man pointedly:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. (III John 1:9 NKJV)

The original Greek text is even more pointed.  The phrase “who loves to have the preeminence” is actually a translation of one word – philoproteuon – “lover of preeminence.”  And that phrase comes before the name in the original:  “. . . but the preeminence-lover among them, Diotrephes, does not receive us.”  There is no type of person who causes more grief, who more enslaves a congregation, than one who insists upon being preeminent, being first in everything, being in charge!  I have seen this kind of person paralyze a church. 

The name Diotrephes was rare, occurring in secular literature only twice and only here in the Bible.  At the time of Homer the name, which means reared by Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, was reserved for people of noble birth.  Commentator G. G. Findlay observes that Diotrephes was likely from a high-ranking family. Diotrephes’ sin was pride of position, and whether he exercised his power through the office of elder or by “personal force” and “social status” (Findlay), he was able to hinder the evangelistic and missionary outreach of the church, probably the church at Pergamos.  He did not welcome the traveling missionaries and forbid the church to do so.  One might wonder how one member could wield so much influence or power, but I have seen a number of churches, especially small churches, controlled by one or two powerful personalities, especially when they are big givers!

The early churches also had false teachers who disturbed their peace and undermined their spiritual life. Paul warned about legalizers who substituted rules and rituals for a vital relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. (See Galatians, Philippians, & Colossians) On the opposite side were the libertines who “turn[ed] the grace of God into lewdness,” and in doing so “den[ied] the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 NKJV).  The book of Revelation warns against this type of licentiousness in Chapter 2, when it warns against the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and of Balaam, as well as the twisted teachings of one Jezebel in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20-21). 

Along the mystical, falsely “spiritual” line, the abuse of spiritual gifts, especially by those who claimed to be receiving special revelation from God, greatly disturbed the peace of the church in Corinth.  The quest for higher knowledge (Col. 2:8) and “worship of angels” (Col. 2:18), and asceticism (Col. 2:23) threatened the church at Colosse.

Did the first century churches have problems?  Indeed they did, and the problems look just like the problems churches have today!  Disruptive people, controlling people, misguided people, immoral people, and heretical people in the local church are not a new phenomenon. And the remedy is the same today as it was in the first century: church discipline guided by the Word of God and prayer. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


The New Year brings new light to the northern hemisphere.  After the winter solstice, days get gradually longer, just a minute or two a day at first.  A new year always takes me back to the Genesis account of Creation.  And it strikes me anew that the first Creation Day is occupied with darkness and light.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.  (Genesis 1:1-5 KJV)

More than any other expression of biblical imagery, darkness is used in a negative sense throughout Scripture, describing the nature of sin with its accompanying ignorance and folly and its inevitable consequence of judgment, gloom, and death.  At least sixty verses in the Bible contrast darkness and light.  Darkness also depicts the gloom of impending death and the grave. The Hebrew word for darkness (khoshek) occurs 23 times in the book of Job, as that godly man saw nothing but gloom in the midst of his trials.

Though Genesis begins with the earth in chaos and darkness, Genesis 1:2 affirms God's power over darkness: God speaks and there is light!  Only God can pierce the darkness of this world and bring light.  Only God can pierce the darkness in our lives and bring in the light of His grace.  The Apostle John, using the very imagery of Genesis 1, speaks of Jesus as the light:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)[1]

The darkness is no match for our Lord!  

Let me share some observations about the Bible’s use of light and darkness, along with Scriptures to support them. 

I.  God’s kingdom is the kingdom of light.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1:5)

Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15, 16)

II.  Satan’s kingdom is the kingdom of darkness.

A.     Jesus called Satan’s power “the power (or rule) of darkness” (Luke 22:53)
B.     Paul called Satan’s kingdom “the domain (or rule) of darkness” (Colossians 1:13)
C.     Satan’s demonic cohorts are called “the rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV)

III.  The judgment of God is darkness.
A.    Judgment in This Life
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. (Psalm 107:10-12)
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. (Proverbs 4:19)
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Psalm 82:5)

B.    Judgment in Eternity
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.  (2 Peter2:17)
. . . wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever(Jude 1:13)

IV.  Christ alone can deliver us from the kingdom of darkness.
A.    Jesus Christ took on the kingdom of darkness and defeated Satan on the cross.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
(Mat 27:45)
B.    Everyone who repents of sin and receives Jesus Christ by faith is transferred out of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light.
. . . giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  (Colossians 1:12-14)
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
(God sent the Apostle Paul) to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' (Acts 26:18)
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
 C.    The natural man loves darkness rather than light.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:19-21) 
V.  Christians are called to walk in the light as children of light.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
. . . for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Friends, have you been delivered from darkness and transferred into Christ’s Kingdom of Light?  If you are not sure, or you know you have not, call upon Him today! Turn now from the darkness of sin to His glorious light, and receive Him as Lord and Savior.
And Christian, are you walking as a child of light?  Are you letting the light of Christ shine through you? Let’s all make a new start this New Year!  Let’s commit ourselves to spending quality time in meditation on His Word and in prayer. 
 This present dark age is coming to a close.  The Apostle Paul declared, The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12) 

 (Note:  Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the English Standard Version. Alternate translations were chosen for accuracy to the original, in my judgment.  Bold print has been added in verses for emphasis.)

[1] Although the Greek word katalambano can mean “comprehend,” in this context the idea seems to mean “overtake” or “overcome.”  The same expression is used in John 12:35:  "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you . . .” (Emphasis added.)