Despise – Part 2

In a previous post, we explored why we should not despise those in the church (Romans 14: 10-13.) Here, we try to understand the Lord Jesus’s command:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Much is said of these ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. But what does this verse mean?

John Calvin, well regarded in some circles and not so well in others, said:

Beware of despising one of these little ones – As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones.

And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense. This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to [compete] with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones.

He goes on to explain the untenable position despisers put themselves in:

It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God.

Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.

And, in order to encourage the Church and thwart theological errors that are as common now as then, Calvin says:

The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds.

For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.

Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require.

Finally, he clarifies our relationship to the angels of God:

It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason, they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.

Let us always follow His command to: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and beware, for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And finally, to those who esteem the Church lightly, scripture declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly who are in Christ Jesus.

Guardian Angel

The Guardian Angel, 1656, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), In the Public Domain in the United States

Make Friends

The following saying has always held mystery for me. Parts of it make sense. It’s the idea of ‘casting your bread upon the waters.’ However, some of it almost sounds like buying your way to heaven.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, dismisses the notion of a ‘pay to play’ entry into heaven. Instead, he says:

Make to yourselves friends. Christ…teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.)…

The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of [benefit] to us in the sight of God. […The depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor.]

…Our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

Calvin’s explanation makes me reconsider the make-up of my own giving.

To the parts I did understand, Calvin says:

When you fail. By this word he expresses [our] time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration [of riches] will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer…life should make us take a firmer grasp. …Many squander what they have on superfluities; while others…deprive both themselves and others of the benefit…

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches…Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7, 22.)

[…Christ intends, by way of an unstated contrast,] that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every [case] allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. [This is] a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness.

Key to the right use of riches, then, is to neither squander nor hoard; using it not as an occasion for sin but, instead, for righteousness.

Clarifying what our attitude should be when giving, the Apostle Paul cautions:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

And we do well to remember that time really is money when it comes to charity:

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 (ESV)

Deeds of Christian Charity

Deeds of Christian Charity, 1575, Pieter Aertsen (circa 1508–1575), in the public domain in the United States

Now and Not Yet

I recently read Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism. In it, he surveys ways Christians understand (or misunderstand) end times prophesy. I recommend the book for those interested in working through what they believe about the end.

He treats the subject fairly, in my opinion, although he does have a vested interest in Amillennialism. Throughout the text, he explores the concept of multiple fulfillments over time of individual Bible prophesies termed: ‘the now and not yet.’

While reading, it occurred to me that everyone you meet has their own ‘now and not yet.’ Perhaps the following statement seems alien to you:

Though you have not seen Him, you love him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Certainly, it’s true that those alive today have not seen the Lord Jesus Christ. This is ‘a now and not yet’ for those who trust Him for salvation.

However, what struck me is that many do not love or even believe in Him. Consider this: perhaps it is not yet your time to believe and be saved from God’s wrath. But it could be, soon; perhaps even today.

Of course, you will be saved not because of anything you have done, but according to His mercy and purpose for you:

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— Romans 9:11 (ESV)

What am I trying to get at? Let’s approach it this way. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified [i.e., made righteous], and those whom He justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30 (ESV)

Paul speaks of a progressive reveal of those who become His children: from time in eternity past, through our lives, and to eternity future. One commentator points out (see note 270) how Paul describes this process in the past tense to show the certainty of its accomplishment because, by God’s decree, it is as good as already done. There is an element of ‘the now and a not yet’ for each of us as we journey through our lives.

To embark on the next step of your journey, you must believe that God exists and He rewards those that seek Him.

Then, consider:

…He appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

Do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:7 (ESV)

And He calls to us from heaven:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (ESV)

Please receive Him today and make your ‘not yet’ into ‘now.’ Come out of the darkness and into the light, for it has not yet appeared what we shall become.

The Now and the Not Yet, Amy Grant, YouTube

Salvation

There is much confusion about this concept nowadays. There needn’t be. Scripture is clear:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says:

Neither is there salvation in any other. …And assuredly Christ had showed this one token of his grace, to the end [that] he might be known to be the only author of life. We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he says that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance.

As if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavor to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof. Although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet he preaches of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can abide to hear; [and] if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name…Salvation (says he) is in Christ alone, because God has decreed that it should be so. For by name he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

Whereas he says under heaven…I do rather think that this was added, because men cannot ascend into heaven, that they may come unto God. Therefore, seeing we are so far from the kingdom of God, it is needful that God does not only invite us unto himself, but that reaching out his hand he offer salvation unto us, that we may enjoy the same.

Peter teaches in this [passage], that he has done that in Christ, because he came down into the earth for this cause, that he might bring salvation with him. Neither is that contrary to this doctrine, that Christ is ascended above all heavens, (Ephesians 4:10). For he took upon him our flesh once for this cause, that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life.

And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption; but the revealing of salvation is handled in this [passage], and we know that the same was so revealed in Christ, that we need not any longer to say, “Who shall ascend into heaven?” (Romans 10:6).

And if this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then should so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation be soon at an end, wherewith the Church is so much troubled…

The Visual Bible – Acts Chapter 4

Earn Your Place In Heaven?

Recently, two prominent personalities implied one could earn one’s way to heaven. I’ll let them say it in their own words. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is quoted as saying:

“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to Heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed,” he told the New York Times, citing his work on gun control, obesity, and anti-smoking laws. “I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in Heaven. It’s not even close.”

On April 15, 2014, in a Back of Book Segment: Life After Death with guest Pastor Robert Jeffers, Bill O’Reilly opined:

“I’ve always felt there is a battle between good and evil and if there is a heaven you have to earn your way in through your actions on Earth.”

Pastor Jeffers corrected the statement by quoting from the book of James.

And, of course, for those who are old enough to remember or are well–schooled in the classics, there’s Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

These things they say make me wonder…

But then I remember that He saved us, not because of good works we have done, but according to His own mercy.

I recall that entrance to heaven depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Finally, I know that we were ransomed from our futile ways, not with perishable silver or gold, but with Christ’s precious blood.

And, lest we think these assurances are merely cherry picked scriptures, He states, through His prophet, in a single passage excerpted here:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The dead are incapable of earning anything. Only by His mercy does He raise us to life that we might repent of our pride and circumspectly follow Him. And only His way leads to life eternal.

Heaven’s Peak by Greg Willis

Heaven’s Peak by Greg Willis (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)