The Importance of Context

I have spent some time in the last couple of days listening to the debate between Jack Honeycutt and Michael Brawner as was mentioned here: http://brotherhoodnews.com/2016/10/24/10-baptized-debate/

The debate is on whether or not baptism in water is essential to salvation.  It was a two night debate.  It can be found here:

Part one – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mdkUTBNerA
Part two – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf851FqoMYg

On the first night, Mr. Honeycutt was in the affirmative position (supporting the necessity of water baptism) while Mr. Brawner was in the denial position (refuting the necessity of water baptism).  On the second night, they swapped roles.

Overall, the debate was very good and had a lot of good information.  However, something was said on the first night by Mr. Brawner that I waited for Mr. Honeycutt to respond to, but he didn’t.  I don’t blame him.  There was a lot of information and no possible way that either man could address everything that was said.  This particular point hit me hard, though, as a classic example of taking scripture out of context.

On the first night, Mr. Honeycutt gave his first 30 minute speech affirming the necessity of water baptism.  After that speech, Mr. Brawner had a 30 minute speech giving his denial.  During that first denial speech, Mr. Brawner asked the audience to open to 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 which he read while adding his commentary to it while reading.  Here is the full quote:

‘Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned’ Now, what kind of work is that that’s burned up?  We would say those are sinful works.  Things that are flammable.  We would say that these are the things that if works could condemn an individual and send them to Hell after they’ve been saved, these would be the works.  But notice what this scripture says, it says ‘If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss’ but what is going to happen to that individual?  ‘But he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.’  So, we see that that individual who is saved, they remain saved.  So, I’m getting back to works.  Works didn’t save.  Works do not condemn.  What saves is grace by faith.  And what condemns…is failing to believe.

Before the quote above, Mr. Brawner started by saying, “Work has never saved nor has it condemned anybody.”  And by reading what he quoted, it’s easy to get that idea.  However, he failed to understand those verses properly because he failed to put those verses in the proper context.  Let’s expand the reading to include verses 1-15:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

By including the context, it completely changes what we thought those three verses meant.

In this passage, Paul is dealing with a problem.  The problem is that division was already happening within the church with some saying “I follow Paul” and others saying “I follow Apollos.”

He goes on to explain that neither he nor Apollos is what matters.  That they are only servants.  He explains that he may have planted the seed, and that Apollos may have watered the seed, but that God is the one that caused the growth.  He explains that the person who plants and waters are working together toward the same goal, but each of them will receive a reward based on his work.  He then tells the Corinthians that they (the Corinthians) are God’s building.

He goes further in explaining that, like a builder, he laid the foundation by teaching the Corinthians about Christ, and that another (Apollos) is building on that foundation.  But that each person must be careful how he builds on it because the foundation is Christ…not another.  So, you have to build a building worthy of being built on that precious foundation.

It is in this context that we then must evaluate the final three verses of the passage.  It is clear from the context that what is being tested in verses 13-15 is the builder’s work, not the building itself.  In other words, the work of the various teacher’s is what is under test, not the person who was taught.

What this scripture is telling me is that if I teach another and they remain faithful, I will be rewarded (one of the greatest rewards is the feeling when you help someone you care about find God).  But, if I teach another and they fall away, I will suffer loss (the loss of a brother or sister and the heartbreak that comes from that), but I will not lose my own soul because a brother or sister fell away.

This passage has nothing to do with being saved or not saved by works (either of the law or of men’s hands), but is strictly talking about how the obedience of the student affects the salvation of the Christian teacher.  The short answer is, it doesn’t.  As long as the Christian teacher is teaching the full truth based on the foundation of Jesus Christ, his salvation is intact even if his student defects.

Taking these verses out of context teaches a heinous falsity.  Namely, that what I do in my body has no affect on my salvation.  This doctrine flies in the face of 2 Corinthians 5:10 which states:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

This scripture clearly teaches that my works do have a bearing on my salvation.  “Deeds in the body” = works.  “According to what he has done” = works.  James tells us that “faith without works is dead being alone.”  In contrast, Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that works without faith is dead:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

It goes on to say that everyone who hears Jesus’ words and ACTS ON THEM (does work) is like the wise man who built his house on a solid foundation of rock and when the storm came and the building was tried, it didn’t fall, but stood firm.  But, everyone who hears Jesus’ words and DOES NOT ACT ON THEM (does not work) is like the foolish man who built his house on a sandy shifting foundation and when the storm came and the building was tried, it fell.

It is clear from the Bible, that works will not save us.  No amount of work is enough to earn our salvation.  But, there certainly are works that can lose us our salvation and eternal life.

I would beg Mr. Brawner to reevaluate his teaching on the above passage and consider the context it is surrounded with.

And for the reader, please, always read the context or you may not know the doctrine you are being taught is a false one.

 

 

 

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Just What I Needed!

Yesterday, it was my sincere honor and privilege to baptize a dear friend into Christ.  She had been visiting with us for several months and participates in a Wednesday Night Bible Study that I conduct.  Over the past three months, I have gotten to know and care for her.

Yesterday, she made the glorious decision to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of her sin.  There is no better decision that she could have made.

About a week before, another dear lady was baptized into Christ by another brother.  As I congratulated her, she told me that one of my recent sermons had been on her heart and helped her make her decision.

Both of these ladies made exactly the decision they needed to make.  They did exactly what they needed.

But, what they may not know is that their decision is exactly what I needed also.

First, I don’t want to take anything away from them or their decision by what I write below.  But, I hope through this post, I can encourage those who are striving to teach others the gospel.

Anyone who works to bring others to Christ knows that there are peaks and valleys in your endeavors.  You know that sometimes you wonder if your work is worth it.  It isn’t that you think about quitting…you press on, but you wonder if you are making headway with anyone or just standing still.  It is natural to critique yourself and feel inadequate in delivering a message as import as God’s will.  You intensely consider the words of Matthew 5:19:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

You also think about James 3:1

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

You wonder if you are one who shouldn’t be a teacher.

You feel down about your work.

Then someone comes to God, weeping and tender-hearted, and you realize that God, in his infinite wisdom, blesses not only the person who obeys, but also those who witness that obedience and the teachers, friends, and family members who have helped that person to find Christ.

And, it’s just like a booster shot only without the sting.  You are immediately back on the peak!  Is it any wonder that the Bible says:

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:10

So, for those who work to teach the Word, don’t give up.  It’s worth it!  Every time you struggle to answer a question, it’s worth it!  Every prayer you pray is worth it!  Every valley is worth just one peak!  One soul is worth the entire world and all that is in it!  And your endeavors have helped win that worth to God instead of Satan.

So, continue to work.  Thank God and live for those moments when your work is productive.  But, also remember that it is only God that gives the growth.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. – 1 Corinthians 3:6

Those moments are precious and powerful.  Thank you, ladies, for giving me just what I needed.

“Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
As the droplets on the fresh grass
And as the showers on the herb.”
Deuteronomy 32:2

 

What Bugs Me Most About This Election?

It seems like the current election cycle has been the most divisive of any I can remember and I really can’t figure out why.  There doesn’t seem to be that much difference between the candidates.

If I listen to both sides of the argument, I come away with the following: On one side, we have a liar and a potty-mouth.  On the other side, we have, well….a liar and a potty-mouth.  On one side, we have the worst thing that will ever happen to this country.  On the other side, we have…the worst thing that will ever happen to this country.  On one side, we have someone who is hostile toward women.  On the other side, we have…someone who is hostile toward women.  On one side, we have a rich person who uses legal means to not pay some taxes.  On the other side, we have a rich person who uses legal means to not pay some taxes.  Are you getting the picture yet?

This could go on all day but, suffice it to say, nobody seems incredibly excited about either candidate.  It is most certainly a hold-your-nose election.

But, that isn’t what bugs me.  What bugs me is that neither of the candidates seem to know God.  And, to me, that is the saddest thing I have ever written.

Now, I know that some who read this may already be thinking, “Brian, you precious fool (or if you are from the south, Bless your heart), don’t you know you aren’t supposed to judge?  It says so right there in Matthew 7:1.”  It sure does.  Thank you.  Now read a little bit further in that same chapter:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:15-20

I’m doing exactly what Jesus said to do…I see their fruits, I hear their words, I see their actions and I come to the conclusion that they are a bad tree.  Now, I could take the time to further explain Matthew 7:1 in the proper context, but I won’t take the time here.  If you are still fuzzy on it, please read this:

http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/CanWeJudge.html

Now, back on point.  It’s sad.  Really sad.  Why?  Because, it’s what I am without God.  I am not a good person.  I am a liar.  I am a thief.  I am a law-breaker.

I am a sinner.

And so are you.  I am not passing judgement when saying this.  I am just trusting that God told me the truth in Romans 3:9-18:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

And also what Jesus said in Luke 18:19:

Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.

There is only one difference between me and the candidates.  I have put my trust in God and in the power of His might.  I am not good enough.  I am not strong enough.  I am not worthy enough.

Only Jesus, through His sacrifice, is worthy enough to pay for my sins.  I owe a debt that I can never repay, but thanks be to God that He allowed Jesus to pay it for me.

And because He did that, I should feel compelled to obey His words, to repent of my sins, to not be ashamed of Him in confessing that I am His, to praise His perfect name, to submit myself to baptism which emulates His sacrifice and triumphant resurrection, to live for Him doing those good works which He has prepared for me to do, to teach others about Him, to live my entire life in service to Him…not as repayment, but as thanks…to worship Him loudly, proudly, and unapologetically, to help as many souls as I can into His glorious light, and to wait, with eager anticipation, for that moment when I will hear Him say “Well done.”

So, what bugs me the most about this election?  That I don’t personally have the chance to sit down with the candidates and teach them about Jesus.  To plead with them to listen to Him.  To beg them to follow Him.  To help them know Him.

I pray for a chance to do just that.  Will it help?  I don’t know, but when God asks “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”, I echo Isaiah’s answer:

Here am I.  Send me!

In the meantime, I will continue to pray for God to put people in my way that are searching for Him.  So, I make the following offer.  If you need to understand what God wants you to do, if you want to know Him better, if you want to follow Him and give Him your life, I will be happy, honored, and excited to help you understand His love for you and His desires for your life.  Please, please, please contact me.  I want to help!

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence

1 Peter 3:15