Great men in the society that we live in are referred to as "men of vision." It is ascribed to them as being able to look over the noise and the trouble and the difficulties, and somehow to see what was needed, what was necessary, and in many cases, what the future would hold. These individuals, with their perception of what the future held in store, frugally set their minds to make their vision a reality. They disciplined themselves in whatever development was required. They gave themselves over to little else but their dream. And they applied, probably, six of the seven laws of success. Because of that, attainment of their vision was guaranteed; and it was accessible.
A good example of this would be Henry Ford. Before Henry Ford brought forth the assembly line, people made automobiles in their back yard or at sheet metal shops. But Henry Ford had the vision of an assembly line, where cars could be produced quickly and efficiently and cheaply. And, from his vision, today almost everything that is mass-produced is certainly done on an assembly line.
Whether we be great or whether we be small, we all have visions of what we'd like to accomplish. For some it might be the building of that workshop behind the garage. For others adding a room onto the house, starting your own business, getting married and having children, putting them through college, redecorating, or planning a garden in the back yard. We all have visions of what we'd like to accomplish.
Without visions of what we'd like to fulfill, or to accomplish, life would be pretty monotonous and pretty dull—because God gave us the ability to imagine, to plan, to project our thoughts into the future and the ability, in many cases, to create what we've envisioned. This shouldn't seem strange to us because we are made in the image of God and He has visions as well. So today, I'd like to talk to you about two separate visions that should be of great concern to us at this end time.
Long before the world was created, God envisioned what He intended to do. Throughout all the ages, this plan has never changed (and never will) despite all appearances that might be of the contrary. There is one ten-verse sentence in the Bible that pretty much describes the overall vision of God and what He's done for us, [as well as] what our response should be, and what the culmination of His vision is. I'd like to have you turn over to Ephesians 1, and this ten-verse sentence that Paul put together was from verse 3 through verse 12. But we'll start in verse 1. In fact, the commentator said this was one reason why Paul was so difficult to translate [and] to understand.
Ephesians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here he starts to remind the brethren of the great vision that God has—the great plan He has for all of mankind. But he points it to them, because they are part of the group that this plan was designed for.
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.
Now Paul starts out by thanking God for His purpose—His everlasting desire and counsel for the saving of men—because that's what God's plan was all about (the saving of man). Paul felt that what God's done warranted thanks from us and appreciation; and that what God's vision did for man was to give him a basis for hope and confidence. When we understand what God is doing, it does give us hope and confidence.
Not only that, but we who are called should focus on what God's doing (His vision, His plan) and give thanks to Him continually for all He's doing. We are told to bless God; and now Paul tells us that, because of God's plan (His vision), we who are called are blessed with spiritual blessings—true spiritual blessings. Why? Because, you see, we are all personally included in God's vision, in His plan.
And we who are called right now are especially, specially blessed. We have the blessing of peace, redemption, adoption and we have the earnest (or, down payment) of God's Spirit that He's given us. Of all the people on the face of the earth, we are indeed the most blessed. As part of the vision that God had, we as the firstfruits have had all spiritual blessings bestowed upon us. We've been given the mind of God. That's a wonderful blessing! We've been given the understanding of God's nature, what He is, and what our future holds for us. Now, verse 4.
Ephesians 1:4 According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
Our calling, and these blessings, didn't come by accident. We were not an afterthought. We were the result of the clear intention and design of God. We, who don't think too much of ourselves, were called with the clear intention and design of God. We were chosen individually. We were selected from all the people on the face of the earth. And lest we think we are really hot stuff, remember what it says in I Corinthians 1:26-27. "God called the weak and the foolish to confound the wise." Yet He called us in love, for the purpose that He has in store.
Paul reminded us that we should hold our calling as exceedingly valuable, because we are a very important part of the vision (or the plan) that God has been working. He even shows us that before the foundation of the world, before the world was created...in fact, we are the reason why the plan was devised in the first place; and we are the reason that the earth was created—that the God Family might have more sons and daughters, more family.
Why were we called? "That we should be holy and without blame before him." It wasn't because of any greatness on our part. But it wasn't random selection. It was with a clear, considered, and deep thought on God's part that He selected each one of us to be saved at this time for His purpose. So lest anybody feels 'down in the dumps,' God clearly thought what He was doing when He called you. It wasn't random.
Ephesians 1:5-6 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved.
As hard as it is to believe (because we tend, as I said, not to think much of ourselves—"Why did God call me? What did He see in me?"), this calling was made in great love. He had tremendous love for us individually when He called us. His proof of that love is that He gave His Son for us, as a sacrifice; and He is offering us eternal life. And to quote Albert Barnes, he said:
God has, in love, predestined us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will [or His purpose, or His plan, or the vision that He has for mankind].
And we have the confidence that this vision (this plan) of God is sure and never will be changed. God is set in His purpose. He predestined us. He set the bounds of His plan long before we were called. He pre-determined that we would be His. That's pretty scary to think about—pretty awesome.
Now some take the approach that predestination means that they can do whatever they want. If they are predestined, they can sin over and over again and just say, "I'm sorry." And that they don't have to fight 'the good fight' the apostle Paul did. You can read about that in I Corinthians 9. And [they think] that no matter what they did, they'd be saved. But we know this isn't true, because John Ritenbaugh has been commenting to us that our job is to yield and to cooperate with God, in what He is doing with us. And that's exceedingly important. And that is what the understanding of the plan of God should promote in us. When we understand what God is doing and that we've been called and that we are special to God, we should have gratitude—and that gratitude should be reflected in obedience to God.
It was God's vision (or, plan) to adopt us. We were predestined to be adopted as His children; and God wants us to stop and consider that. I have four points here:
You see, brethren, when you really stop to consider that we are part of what God is doing, with whatever trials we must face we are truly in the best position of any people on the face of the earth. This is how special we are. Of any beings that are living on the face of the earth, we have it the best. No matter what our trials are, no matter what problems we are going through, because we belong to God and He is working with us, we have it the best of anybody on the face of the earth.
And when Paul states that God did this thing "according to the good pleasure of his will," it means that He delighted in doing it. He really wanted to do it! He didn't do it out of constraint, but was well-pleased to do it. In fact, He couldn't wait to do it; just as, I'm sure, Jesus Christ can't wait to get a hold of the world again. Yet He couldn't wait to start to call us and to fulfill His plan. It was His vision to bring it to pass.
And this was all done to produce praise from us to Him—for His wonderful plan and for the unmerited pardon that was extended to us. By His vision that He put into action, we are to understand it, and we are to praise God for what He is doing in our lives. God is leading us to put away sin and to become holy. He's teaching us to be happy, instead of miserable. He's teaching us to have wonderful lives; and He's teaching us to become pure, by God the Father. This is His purpose for us. And He's saving us from death and giving us eternal life. This is all part of His plan. And God wants our praise to Him to be evidenced by obedience to His laws, which reflect His way of living (His way of life).
Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.
Now God's plan is to redeem us and eventually all of mankind from the consequences of sin—by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. And it is all done because of the abundance of His grace that He has toward us.
Ephesians 1:8 Wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence. [Or, understanding.]
Now this is something that, to me, is really amazing. We've been given the mind of God. We've been taught how to live. There have been people (kings, and prophets) throughout the ages who have longed to know what we know—and they don't. But God has given this to us. God's vision included great desire to fill us, liberally, with His wisdom that we might grow and develop godly character and become like Him—thus bringing honor to Him, for our changing and being like Him.
BARNES' NOTES says:
It was far-seeing; skillfully arranged; and carefully formed. The sense of the whole is, that there was a wise design running through the whole plan, and abounding in it in an eminent degree.
So Barnes looks at this (and he certainly wasn't converted; but he had much of God's mind) and he says, "Look at this plan. It's awesome. God is giving these people He's calling now His mind and all wisdom and all knowledge."
Ephesians 1:9 Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself.
Here is even more. God knew that for us to respond He had to make known to us what couldn't be known by us. We didn't understand God. We didn't know who God was. So God had to open our mind and He had to reveal to us—albeit through a glass darkly—what He was about. And because of that, God began to reveal what He was doing, to a people who didn't have the foggiest idea. He set His mind to reveal to us, in our calling, what had been hidden from mankind for all ages.
I couldn't help but think this morning, as I was considering this that we've been in the church for so long that we tend to take this for granted. You know, we just live this way; and it seems like it's always been this way. But, when you think back, it wasn't always this way. There was a time when you didn't know who God was. There was a time when you didn't know how to come in out of the rain. And so God called you; and, the moment He did, you started to understand things that were just too wonderful for you. So we've all been at this a long time; and we shouldn't forget how it was when we were called—and what a big difference it made in our lives.
The truth that He taught us was that we would be true, full members of the God Family; and that was just beyond us. And in His vision, why did He do this? Verse 10.
Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
In His vision, in the fullness of times (in the arrangement of completing or the filling up of times) when God says, "That's enough."—When He says, "This is completed."—God's intent is to gather all things together in one. And the phrase "all things" doesn't just refer to spirit beings or to men on the face of the earth. It goes even further than that. It means all things in the universe—all things being restored to a pristine condition. I can't even imagine what that would be like.
We know that, by the time the end of the age comes, the oceans will have been turned into blood. And they'll be restored. The animal life, the plants, the rain forests—all of these things being put into pristine condition. What does it mean to the heavens? Will the world be like the Garden of Eden then? I imagine it will, because Jesus Christ is going to do this. Of course, you can read about this in I Corinthians 15:24. When He gets it all prepared, He'll turn it over to God the Father.
So what he's saying here is that God would sum up, or complete, all things in heaven and earth. Through His plan, He will make one wonderful kingdom out of the entire earth. This is, again, a part of the vision that God has for man. The intent of His plan is to subdue and to unite the earth into one Family under God and that God might be the Father—and that God the Father might bring New Jerusalem to earth and dwell with man. All of this will be done by His Son, Jesus Christ. This is part of the vision that God has. This was part of His plan before the earth was even put together.
Ephesians 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will.
He works all things to fulfill His will, His intent. And that includes us! And we who are called by Him at this time (as firstfruits) have been favored by God's calling [and] are the first to have the inheritance that God's offering—which is to actual members, again, of the God Family. And to encourage us, Paul stresses that God works all things for us. His vision is to see that we make it. And you can read about that in Philippians 1:6, where he says, "I'll start a work in them and I'll finish it." So God is intent on finishing His will—that we might be the first that He's working with here [and] that He'll bring us to the future that He has for us.
He accomplishes all that is needed for our salvation. He's going to see to it that we get it. "According to the counsel of His will." Every object, every event, is under His control—as we've been hearing from John [Ritenbaugh], in his Providence series. It's all under God's control. Paul is encouraging the people then, and us today as well. And it's in accordance with His eternal plan. No one has power like God. This doesn't mean that we don't have freedom of choice; but, again, our job is to cooperate with what God is doing in us and to respond to Him in love and obedience.
Now, why did He do this? Here's the last part of that ten-verse sentence.
Ephesians 1:12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
I'll read this from THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE:
For it was his will that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, should cause his glory to be praised. (Ephesians 1:12)
And from THE LIVING BIBLE:
God's purpose in this was that we should praise God and give glory to Him for doing these mighty things for us, who are the first to trust in God.
When Jesus Christ returns, when mankind understands the purpose that God has for them and see that we've made it, they are going to praise God that we've gone through the process. That we've been faithful, that we've grown, that we've trusted God, [and] that we've obeyed is going to give them heart; and they are going to praise God.
Again, we praise God—we thank God—by yielding to Him and (I want to stress this) by upholding His standards, by displaying His character in us, and by reflecting His love with each other and with our fellow man. God expects this from us.
So, brethren, in these ten verses, we've seen God's vision put into action—with the creation, with our careful calling. We've seen where His plan will culminate—with a wonderful future for all of mankind. And we see where our response to Him should be, for all He's done and is doing in our life. We should praise Him and thank Him and cooperate with Him, as He works with each of us individually. This is the overall plan of God.
This is an overall encapsulation, in a sense, of what God intended to do. But throughout the Bible, God gives us individual visions, or plans, for our conduct. His vision for us, if obeyed, will cause us to build the godly character that we need—that we might inherit all the wonderful things that God has set for us. And, though we'd have to read the whole Bible to get it, I would like just to touch on a few of these. Turn over to Ephesians 4, if you would; and we'll read verses 1 through 4. We are special; and there are certain things that God wants us to conform to.
Ephesians 4:1-4 [Paul starts out...] I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, with all lowliness [There's part of the vision that God has.], and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling.
Now the word "calling," of course, has the connotation of being invited to participate in an event; but it also takes on the connotation of being summoned. This was no accident. You've been summoned by God to fulfill His vision. And you've seen the overall vision. We've been summoned by God for the specific purpose; and this purpose should be to complete the personal vision that He has for us. And this is what we should be focusing on.
This purpose is, indeed, found throughout the entire Bible. You can read it in Jude. You can read it in Colossians 3, and all the way through the Bible, the instructions that God gives us. I'd like to just sort of skim through Ephesians 4, 5 and 6 here. Quickly, verse 11, regarding the elders...
Ephesians 4:11-13 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for [Why?] the protecting of the saints [This is why God called the ministry.], for the work of the ministry [to learn to serve], for the edifying of the body of Christ. [Why?] Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
This was the vision that God had for the ministry.
Ephesians 4:17-18 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk [for us, it'd be "as the world"], in the vanity of their mind [or, imagination]. Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.
We don't have blindness; and God says, "You shouldn't be walking that way."
Ephesians 4:19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
God says that we shouldn't be this way.
Ephesians 4:22-26 That you put off concerning the former conversation [conduct] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind [that you change, that you overcome]; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore [What should you do?] putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor [This is the vision God has for us.]: for we are members one of another. Be you angry, and sin not.
Don't hold your anger, because then it goes into revenge after sunset. And then Satan has a chance to enter into your life, because you give place to him.
He says [verse 28], "Don't steal any more. Rather labor..."—working with your own hands so that you can give to others who have need.
Ephesians 4:29-32 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit [by disobedience. Yield. Cooperate.] Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice: And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
Ephesians 5:1-4 Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor. But fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints [those called by God and who partake in His vision]; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient [fitting]: but rather the giving of thanks.
Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord [Eternal].
Of course, that doesn't mean to be a doormat. That just means that there may be order in the house. Jesus Christ is over the man; and the man is over the wife.
Ephesians 5:22-25 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives...
So here's the other side. Your relationship isn't "Me, Tarzan. You, Cheetah." This means you love your wife, you serve your wife, and you care for your wife.
Ephesians 5:25-28 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
God gave us these wonderful helpmeets to help us in our families; and we should show them love, and tenderness, and consideration, and help them when we can.
Ephesians 5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church.
So, as Jesus Christ loved and served the church, we men are to love and serve our wives and to care for them.
Ephesians 5:30-32 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Because the marital relationship pictures that very thing: the Bride of Christ being married and being submissive.
Ephesians 5:33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as [he loves] himself [And I think all of us love ourselves. There's no question about it]; and the wife see that she reverence [respects] her husband.
He goes on to say, in chapter 6...
Ephesians 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents... [this is] the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
[With gentleness, instruction, kindness, teaching, correction when it's needed.]
In verse 5, he says:
Servants, obey your masters...as you would obey Jesus Christ. "Masters", or supervisors (who are in the church), are to take care of their people because you take care of them as if you worked with Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 6:10-11 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
As I said, you can read any part of the Bible. It all instructs us as to what to do—about the vision that God has for us individually—that we might inherit the promises, that we might build the godly character that we need. And in this end time, brethren, we need to be extremely conscience of this; because He knows that if we apply ourselves to accomplishing what He asks of us, we will fulfill His plan for us. And we will receive the awesome reward that He has set apart for us.
Brethren, it is vitally important that we don't loose site of what God is doing and what He expects of us. If God has a vision that includes us (of what He wants to accomplish), so does our archenemy, Satan the devil. He has a vision concerning us that he wishes to accomplish as well. What is Satan's vision? Turn over to Isaiah 14, verses 12 through 14. Satan's vision, unfortunately, was to rebel against God. That was his vision—rebellion.
Isaiah 14:12-14 How are you fallen from heaven, [margin, O day star] Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregations, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
He will take over. [That is Satan's vision.] If there is one thing that God hates, it is rebellion. Yet Satan rebelled and he pulled a third of the angels with him. Another way to say that would be: "How have you fallen from heaven? Howl, O Lucifer. Howl at what you've done (and what's coming upon you)."
Just as we are part of God's vision, we are part of Satan's vision as well. God's vision was for us to become part of His Family; and Satan's vision—because of the potential we have—is to totally destroy us. We are going to look at some of what Satan does. If there is one scripture that would be 'a job description,' and a warning about Satan, it would be I Peter 5:8.
I Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.
We don't ever want to let down on this. We don't ever want to not understand this. The intent here is that we are to be sober and not to take our calling lightly. We aren't to doubt that God will take care of us; but, at the same time, we are to be vigilant. In other words, we are to watch what we are doing; watch what we take into our minds; watch what we look at. In other words, we are to be circumspect and to be constantly on guard. Why? Because Satan the devil, as a roaring lion, is seeking to devour. Another way of saying that—to see whom he may swallow up.
How does Satan fulfill his vision for us? Look over in Luke 4 verses 1 through 13.This is the tempting of Jesus Christ; and we can learn something from this.
Luke 4:1-12 And Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. [I imagine that was very true.] And the devil said unto him, If you be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. [We have to remember here that Jesus Christ wanted to be in charge of these kingdoms, to help those who were suffering and hurting.] And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give you, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will give it. [He said, "I have the authority to give this to you."] If you therefore will worship me, all shall be yours. And Jesus answered [because He could have gotten it right then, in an instant, rather than wait for God to do it] and said unto him, Get you behind me, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you be the Son of God [If you're so hot...], cast yourself down from hence: For it is written, he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you: And in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone. [Now here was a chance. He was approaching it from a vanity level.] And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
And [in verse 13] He told Satan to get lost; and Satan departed for a while. But he wasn't finished with Jesus Christ yet. Satan tempted Him in His weak areas—not that Jesus Christ had any, but where Satan thought He would be weak. While He was hungry from fasting forty days, he said, "Turn the stones into bread." In trying to tempt Him not to wait for God to give Him the kingdom, Satan said, "I'll give it to You right now. Just worship me." And then to tempt Him in the area of vanity, he said, "Throw Yourself down and God will bear you up." That certainly shows us that Satan understands scriptures completely, as well.
The principle to be seen here is how Satan attacks us. He approaches us in our weak areas. He goes for our weak areas. He approaches us initially in one or more of the three areas found in I John 2:16—the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Satan knows what pulls at us.
I Chronicles 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked [moved] David to number Israel.
Of course, David wasn't to number Israel. I don't know what was going through David's mind. I don't know whether he wanted to see how great his kingdom was. But Satan moved him to number them. Maybe David wanted to know just how great his kingdom was; and Joab tried to stop him, but David went ahead. And we read, in verses 7 and 8, that it greatly displeased God.
Among the books of the Bible, this is the first time that we see Satan named. As Mr. Armstrong said Satan is in this earth; and he is the prince of the power of the air. As such, he can broadcast vile, wrong, wicked thoughts into our mind. There's no doubt of it. But we have to be ready for that.
And here [in I Chronicles 21] he appears not just the adversary against man, trying to injure a man; but he appears here as the tempter. [Note: Some of the sermon is missing here.] I think every one of us can say that we've been tempted in that way. This time it cost Israel 70,000 men.
John 13:2 is talking about Judas Iscariot. I'll just paraphrase this. You won't even have to turn there, if you don't wish to. "During supper, the devil put the desire to betray Jesus Christ into Judas' heart." Again, following the principle that Satan works on our weaknesses, Judas' weakness was money. In John 12:6 we read that Judas didn't really care for the poor. And that he kept the bag for all the disciples—he kept the money. But he also stole from it. And so, Satan approached him from this standpoint. Satan played on Judas' nature, convincing him that the only way to gain wealth (or, to get ahead in just what his desire was) was to turn Jesus Christ in—which is exactly what he did.
In Acts 5, we won't turn there but Satan entered into Ananias and Sapphira in the same way, using the same ploy, and causing them to keep back part of their money and to lie about it. That, in turn, caused them their death.
Satan will also put wrong thoughts in us. Concerning our marriages, we'll feel wounded or damaged. Or, he'll put wrong thoughts towards those over us. We can't blame everything on Satan; but I think we need to be aware of where these thoughts come from and stop and consider this. And we must be aware of how Satan operates.
Luke 22:31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
This was one of Jesus Christ's disciples. And Satan said, "I want to have him, because I want to sift him (like Job was sifted). I want to put him through the mill. I want to put every test and trial I can upon him."
Luke 22:32 [Christ continues...] But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren.
Indeed, Satan did want Peter, as he wanted to wreck the lives (I'm sure) of all the apostles. I don't think it was just Peter. He'd already taken Judas out, and probably felt pretty confident about that. Now he wanted Peter; and I'm sure he wanted the rest of the disciples. Just as he wanted to destroy them, I'm sure he wants to destroy you and me as well.
What are Satan's other tactics, to show the nature that he has? Luke 13, just a few pages back.
Luke 13:10-11 And he [Christ] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
She couldn't even look at the sky, except by turning sideways. She was totally bent over, facing the ground all the time. I doubt that she could lie on her bed on her back.
Luke 13:12-14 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had headed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
He didn't understand what the keeping of the Sabbath is all about. It is to reflect love, and kindness, and appreciation, and thanksgiving.
Luke 13:15-16 The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound [in humiliation], lo these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
So here we see that Satan has no compunction about crippling, about hurting, about doing all these things. In Matthew 13:36-39, Satan is the one who places the tares among God's people, to cause strife. In the parable of the sower, in Luke 8, we read:
Luke 8:12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
In I Thessalonians 2:18, Paul points out that Satan works to hinder God's ministers in accomplishing what they need to do. Satan's demons possessed many in the time of Christ; and they possess many today—causing strife and agony. Some of these crimes that we hear about could only be because somebody was possessed by a demon, by some of the things they do to people.
In Revelation 2:10, Jesus Christ is giving instructions to Smyrna; and He says:
Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil [Satan] shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.
Satan is more than desirous of spoiling us, of ruining us, of testing us and causing us (if he can) to fail. The above picture is of a raging Satan who desires to destroy. It pictures a mind and desire of the devil to destroy each of us. But this example of his nature (which is a true example) is reflected in a different way as well—a way that can achieve the same results, of destroying us. For this, turn over to II Corinthians 11; and we'll see the other side of Satan, because Satan is going to come any way he can come.
II Corinthians 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
He just doesn't tempt. He just doesn't persecute. He just doesn't want to destroy. But he'll do it any way he can.
II Corinthians 11:15 Therefore it is no great thing, if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
Turn back to Genesis 3 verses 1 through 5; and we'll get a pretty good example of the subtle side of Satan.
Genesis 3:1-5 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yes, has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die: For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Now here Satan is pictured as a sly serpent. Notice that he doesn't start out by proposing disobedience. He doesn't even give advice. He doesn't even urge Eve to take the fruit. But he does cause her to think in a way she hadn't considered before, as God said that she shouldn't eat. He makes the statement that causes Eve to come to her own conclusion to eat what she shouldn't. He says, "Is it true then that God has said you shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" Satan hints that something is wrong with what God has told them.
Why was the tree withheld from them? Why did He withhold it? Was God being unkind? Was God being unjust? This is the thought that Satan tried to put into her mind. Because of Satan's suggestion, Eve now viewed the tree in a different light than she ever had before. Before it was—"God said this and I trust God and all is well." But now the serpent picks up the pace; and he says, "Is it true that God has said you shouldn't eat this and touch it, lest you die?" And then he comes out with the bold answer, "You know, you surely aren't going to die, for God knows that the day you eat thereof that your mind will be open, and you'll be as gods and know good from evil." And Eve capitulated and fell.
I have to say that Satan is doing the same thing to us today—as he attacks the church doctrines that we all learned through Herbert W. Armstrong, who was God's apostle. He doesn't come out with a frontal attack, for the most part. But he comes forth with statements such as, "You know, Mr. Armstrong was a fine man. It was certain that he was God's apostle; and, indeed, he was a fine minister." And then, very quietly, "But you know, he didn't have all of the truth." Or you'll hear, "Since Mr. Armstrong died, you know new truth has been revealed to us." And then after that he [Satan] gets more involved; and they start to pour out what others write about Mr. Armstrong's human flaws, as if they discredit the truth that God taught us through him. Satan works this way.
It's interesting to know that this "new truth" (and I'm not saying that there can't be "new truth"); but the "new truth" we've been faced with divides God's people. [We're told...] "Mr. Armstrong didn't understand correct tithing. Mr. Armstrong didn't have the new moons right. And, of course, the church kept the postponements that were obviously all wrong—not to mention God's form of top-down government." Those are all wrong and this is the "new truth" that has come to many people [or, so they say]. So, Satan has subtly attacked God's messenger. He's been working to destroy the message, because without the message, confusion will set in. And it certainly has, as we can see by all the groups out there and by those who are staying home.
At the same time Satan was working on the ministry, because the ministry that most of us loved and appreciated in years past—because of what they taught us—has changed now. Those people are considered by many as vicious and self-seeking. They are now into power and control. And I can't say that some of that wasn't extant in the '60s; and as the church weakened, more of it developed. But, you see, the idea is to discredit the ministry; and we are all being painted (in many cases) with the same brush.
Why does Satan do this? Because to destroy the ministry was to send God's people away from organized teaching and to put them without a shepherd. And when God's people are without good shepherds, then serious problems and changes in doctrine develop immediately.
Proverbs 29 and verse 18 is a familiar scripture that we all know; and, hopefully, we'll see a little bit more depth in it this time.
Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.
Now, a modern translation would be—"Without prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint." I think that, in some of the churches today, some of them feel that prophetic speculations (with dates, places, and numbers) have to be made to keep the people interested and excited about the church. But this means much more than that. If indeed what is being prophesied comes from the Word of God, then that's all right and good.
And we do this every year at the Feast. We talk about Isaiah 35 and the desert being made into a spring, the lion lying down with the lamb and the bear with the calf, and the dumb being able to speak, and the deaf being able to hear, and the blind being able to see. And we talk about all the wonderful World Tomorrow; but it is all based on hard scriptures. These are prophetic scriptures from God. And we talk about what the Kingdom will be like.
But there is much more depth intended by this scripture than just prophetic speculation, as many of the churches do today. THE SONCINO JEWISH COMMENTARY (and you can tell that it's a Jewish commentary) says: The meaning of this verse, therefore, is that if the prophetical Books are not read and acted upon, the people will run riot morally. [So now we see that we're looking at how we conduct ourselves.] If, on the other hand, the Law of Moses as contained in the Pentateuch is followed [which implies that the first five books of the Bible are studied], they will bring happiness. [This isn't even talking about the New Testament.]
Adam Clarke [writes]:
Where divine revelation and the faithful preaching of the sacred testimonies are neither reverenced nor attended, the ruin of that land is at no great distance. But he that keepeth the law, happy is he. So our Lord, "Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it."
This is talking about the whole Word of God. This isn't just something prophetic. But then, again, when you think about it, the whole Word of God is prophetic. It talks about what we're going to be like; what we should be like; what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.
THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE—Where there is no one in authority, the people break loose, but a guardian of the law keeps them on the straight path. (Proverbs 29:18)
This is the function of the ministry.
THE LIVING BIBLE—-Where there is ignorance of God, the people run wild; but what a wonderful thing it is for a nation to know and keep His laws.
You see—this includes the whole Bible. The vision that is being discussed here is the plan of God for us. This is the vision that Satan wants to discredit, that we might flounder—that we might "cast off restraint", as it says in the scripture. It is God's vision for us, individually, to come and to build valuable godly character. This is what Satan hates, because this means that we will become part of the Family of God—which he can never join. He truly hates us and will do all he can to shred us, if he can. And, indeed, he wants us to cast off restraint and to let down prayer, and fasting, and good study, and deep meditation—that we might fall by the way side and be choked by the cares of the world.
I can't remember where the scripture in Hebrews is; but it reminds me a boat being tied up to the dock, and the rope slips. For a while, the boat sits there. But, as the tide starts to move, the boat slowly starts to drift away until it's out over the horizon and can't come back. This is what Satan wants. He wants us to let down. This is the vision that Satan has for us. Not only that, but he's placed us in a world that he's caused to run amuck and a world that promotes all that we must fight against. And God knows it. He's fully aware of this; and He expects us to overcome, because Satan constantly attacks us.
Satan understands this: "He who overcomes will inherit." And, therefore, he doesn't want overcoming. He understands that "he who endures to the end shall be saved." We had a sermonette by a deacon here recently; and certainly he brought out the aspects of persecution, of torture, things like this. But the main part of the sermonette was pointed toward steady, day by day, enduring—not letting down. Therefore, these areas of overcoming and of enduring to the end are the chief areas of Satan's vision (that he'll work on us, to destroy us)—that we might let down in enduring and that we might let down in overcoming.
What do we do, in our defense against Satan? There are quite a few answers in the Bible; but I chose two that God put down. God had Peter and James have the answer for us, to help us out here. I gave this in a sermonette recently, but turn over to I Peter 3:15. I learned something with this. 1st PETER was being written to those who were passing through severe trials and were being persecuted. Peter was working to comfort them. He was reminding them of being "the elect of God", and that they have a "living hope" and should rejoice at the promise of their inheritance that sits out there in front of them. The setting of the verse in I Peter 3:15 is found in verses 12 through 14. We'll just read those.
I Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord [Eternal] are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
He says, "When you are in trial, and discomfort, and you're in trouble—God hears your prayers."
I Peter 3:13-15 And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good? But and if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy [blessed] are you: and be not afraid of their terror [threats], neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
It's the process of being ready to give an answer that is so important. That verse came from Isaiah 8:13-14. Because of time, I won't turn over there. But paraphrased it says: "Sanctify, or hallow, the Lord of hosts and let Him be your fear—and let Him be your dread." What he's saying here, in other words, is "Respect, awe, and reverence God that you might not cast off restraint. Let God be your fear. Let Him be your dread (not the world around you, not Satan) that you might not cast off restraint. Realize that He has the power to save or to take life, and let that fear cause you to resist the temptation that Satan throws at you. If you do this, then God's going to be a sanctuary for you; and, for those who are against you, He's going to be a stumbling stone." That's basically what it says in Isaiah 8:13-14. Now to sanctify (or to hallow) God's name, one has to come to understand His utter holiness and the greatness of God. You can't just think the thoughts. You have to come to understand it. I don't know of any way to do this except by study and prayer—prayer that God will open your mind to a great extent; and study with effort behind it. You've got to understand who God is, the power, and His plan...all of it. It's got to be in your mind.
Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing the word of God." Or, we can say today "by reading, by studying the Word of God." Again, how can we truly hold God to be holy, unless we know all about Him? We can't just sit and do this idly. To be effectively able to sanctify God, we have to know all about Him—who He is, His holiness, and the awesome power that He possesses. This, in turn, will give us the assurance and the confidence that we need. When we've done this, we are ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.
The word "answer" in the Greek is an interesting word. It means, to apologize. This isn't what Peter is saying (to made an excuse for what you believe), because back then the word "answer" meant "a defense." To go on the defensive, to be ready to give an answer (a defense) for what you believe—why you live this way, why you act this way. Frankly, brethren, each one of us should be able to do just that.
In the early years, I would probably try to explain some scripture; but it can be a lot simpler than that. God's laws are the way to live. God's laws will teach us to have the character of God. And with the character of God and obedience to God, He offers certain promises. It can be that simple. Then you can answer, after that, with questions.
Now, the great benefit that comes from preparing to give an answer: Peter knew that for God's people to take time to properly prepare to give a sound defense of what they believe would not prepare them only to answer correctly; but the very act of preparing would increase their faith, their strength, and their determination to stand. Why? Because rather than the persecution or trials that they were facing, they would be seeing who they were, why they were called, and the plan of God and the wonderful promises before them.
When you prepare to give a sound answer, you have to draw close to God. You've sanctified Him in your heart and you draw close to God. And you see Him, and you say you have confidence all of a sudden, after that. When we do this, we are no longer dealing with emotions (or "I think...," or "I feel...") but with the soundness of God. And this doesn't give Satan any weaknesses to work with, because we're sound and we're strong. And if we do this, our conscience won't fault us, because we'll know that we've done our homework and that we are doing the right thing.
Brethren, because of looking to God first for His guidance in our lives, in our consciences we'll know what is right versus wrong. And we won't be taken in by fears, and temptations, and doubts. Turn over to James 4, please. This is the second part of this; and we'll try to hurry through it.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
That's something we all want to do; but there's a process we have to go through. "Submit yourself to God" just means to yield yourself to God. John [Ritenbaugh]'s been putting it another way. He says cooperate with what God is doing in your life. That's not hard to understand. Review the changes that God asks you to make in your life (and your particular situation) and work to make them. If there are marital problems, examine what your role is—as God sees it—and then conform to that role. Even though it may go against your nature, make the changes that are needed. With any problem, take them before God's instructions and make the changes accordingly.
Resisting Satan is part of our work that we must do, because Satan has been allowed to remain here as the prince of the power of the air that we might overcome him, as did Jesus Christ. And when we work to overcome, we give evidence that we love God and that our job is to yield to God but to never ever yield to Satan. We know that Satan works subtly and that he will, if he can, lead us a little at a time towards sin. Our job is to resist him from the very get-go in the beginning, never allowing ourselves to choose what he wants us to do. But to have our minds as close to God as possible. James tells us that, if we do this, Satan will flee from us.
James 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
We have things to do. In light of God's calling, we are to draw close to him in prayer, study, and fasting and to be seriously meditating—because meditating is extremely important here. Meditate on what God desires and on what it will produce in our lives. We are told to wash our hands, or to change from what we are doing wrong, and to repent and do what is correct. We're told to purify our hearts. In other words, we aren't to be shallow in our repentance; but to truly overcome and not just make a surface change. Make it right down to our socks.
The heart is the seat of our thinking and our feeling and our acting. Therefore, we are not to be double minded. We are not to vacillate back and forth. We are to see what God wants and we are to go for it with every fiber of our being and never quit. We are to be dead serious regarding the changes we need to make. We don't make them this week and forget them next week.
James 4:9 Be afflicted, [lament] and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
This is the only time this word "heaviness" is used in the New Testament. It means deep dejection and sorrow, because we've let God down. It is really a big thing to let down the living God. We can't just take the approach, "Well, God has mercy and He'll forgive me." This says, when you've made a mistake, be dejected over it because you are coming before your Father, who has this wonderful plan and who's given His Son for you.
We are to deeply consider how far we've gotten off track. We are to lament, or to express to God the deep sorrow that we feel for our shortcomings, with prayer and fasting. In other words, we are to take the fact that we've slipped seriously and not lighthearted; and our joy, indeed, should be turned to heaviness. I always think of the example of the man who beat his chest and couldn't even raise his eyes up. He said, "I am the sinner of all sinners."
James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
With this sorrow and heaviness of having committed sins against God, we are now to humble ourselves. We are to walk carefully and obey His instructions. And God will draw close to us; and He will lift us up in forgiveness. The sadness and the tears will be wiped away; and mercy will be extended to us. And our right relationship with God will be reestablished. Because of this, Satan's influence over us will be broken; and he won't have a crack at us.
Brethren, each of us have been given a mind to understand, along with God's Holy Spirit to guide us. Because of this, He expects us to be wise in the choices of life and to truly behave ourselves wisely. And I can say here that I've not always behaved myself wisely; and I still stumble. But God expects (with all He's given us, and with the plan He has in front of us) for us to truly use our minds to be wise in what we do and how we conduct ourselves.
I ran into a scripture that just caught me. Ecclesiastes 10 verses 1 and 2. I'm not sure why it caught me. Maybe it was so you'd have it today.
Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so does a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
Any putrefaction spoils perfume; and so a foolish act ruins the character of him who has a reputation of being wise and good. Alas, in an unguarded moment, how many have tarnished a reputation that took many years in acquiring?
Satan, the accuser, who fell from beauty and wisdom and light (because of the folly of rebellion) longs for us to be so afflicted. Solomon, in verse 2, gave us some insight that we might counter that effort.
Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left hand.
I'm not discriminating against left-handed people. So, if there are any left-handed people out there, you can just reverse this. THE SONCINO JEWISH COMMENTARY wrote:
A wise man's heart [or, a wise man's mind] is at his right hand, as ready to guard and defend him from a thousand dangers. A more exact translation would be—a wise man's mind inclines to his right hand, the right hand being considered the auspicious and favorable side; and the left being regarded as sinister. (This is taken from the Latin.) The phrase indicates that a wise heart brings its possessor advantages. It warns him against the step which may prove disastrous.
Right and left are symbols representing the strong and the good on the one hand, and the weak and the bad on the other. A wise man will gravitate toward the good, while the foolish toward the bad.
For us, brethren, God expects us to have our mind in our right hand. To consider what He's doing. To have our mind where it'll do the most good [and] not on the wrong thing. That takes training and effort. That we might truly think and consider our actions and that we might not fall into Satan's trap. Jesus wants us to focus on Him and what He is doing in our lives.
John 14:21-23 He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas said unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world? Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode [home] with him.
In I Corinthians 3:16 we read, "You are the temple of God." In I Corinthians 6:19 [it says] "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." And in II Corinthians 6:16, "you are the temple of the living God." We all know this. What is being said here is that when we truly love God and value our calling by being obedient to His laws and His teaching, then Jesus Christ and God the Father come to Their temple—which is you and me, and all of us. To guide, to direct, to advise, to influence, to instruct, to comfort, to encourage, to inform, to prescribe, and to teach us the things that we need to do to fulfill the calling we've been given. This is when we truly love God's law and point our minds there.
Brethren, we have nothing but good from following the law of God. Nothing but good will come to us from focusing on the vision that God has for us and for the world. The trials and temptations of this end-time world that we live in keep us focused on the physical. As I've said in the past, sometimes when you're lost, you have to climb to a high hill top, or up a tall tree; and you have to look out over the mess and see where you are going. This is what God is talking about. You have to look over the top and see the vision that He has for us.
The final scripture is part of that vision. Turn over to I Corinthians 15, starting in verse 52. This is slated for us.
I Corinthians 15:52-54 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed [into spirit beings]. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. [And that's what's coming for us.]
I Corinthians 15:57-58 But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [It's a given, if we do our part.] Therefore, my beloved brethren, be you steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as your know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.