On Being Imitators

He said, “Are you an inspired apostle?” To ask the question is to get the answer. There are no inspired apostles living today. So why was the question asked? All who find themselves on the wrong end of the sword of the Spirit ask this question. They reason, “I am not wrong; I can’t be wrong. You must be wrong, but you have shown me the example of the apostles and they are not wrong, so you must be wrong in following their example.” Such reasoning is dishonest and deceitful because it ignores the very facts of the scripture wherein the apostles command their example be imitated.

Paul, the apostle, wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The American Standard Version says, “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The New King James Version translates the passage thus, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” The word “imitator” in our English language is derived directly from the Greek word in this passage, “mimetai.” The word means to follow a pattern of behavior set forth by another, to mimic that behavior. It means to behave exactly as the one who sets the example behaves. In so following their example–their pattern of behavior–we can be like them in our behavior.

To suggest that because one is not an inspired apostle means that one cannot follow the example of the apostles is to repudiate most New Testament scripture because that scripture largely deals with the example of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me.” In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 Paul states, “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you.” Again and again Paul tells those whom he taught to be imitators of him. To fail to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ is to fail to live the way that Christ would want us to live.

“Oh, but Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit,” comes the reply. Paul’s message was inspired, that is true, but Paul’s behavior was his own. God did not take away Paul’s free will because he was an inspired apostle. Paul’s life was a reflection of how the Holy Spirit taught Paul to live and we have the inspired command to imitate that life as it imitated Christ. To what degree, then, should we imitate Paul’s life? We should imitate it to the fullest possible degree, as he imitated Christ. But does this mean we can do miracles? Not in the least. Miracles had a very specific purpose-to confirm the word (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3, 4; John 20:30, 31). The word has been confirmed, so there is no more need for God to confirm it again today. However, there is no other aspect of apostolic example that we may not imitate.

Moreover, the very suggestion that the apostles were inspired and they were somehow “above” the normal practice of Christianity as God would have it to be practiced is ludicrous. The apostles were men, just like we are men. They were subject to heaven’s decree just as we today are subject to heaven’s decree. They had no authority to go about on their own making up just whatever doctrine pleased them (Galatians 1:11, 12). They had no authority to just behave in any old way that it suited them. They were just as much subject to the laws of Christ as any other human being is subject. This is why Paul could rebuke Peter for being a hypocrite (Galatians 2:11-14). This is why Barnabus could disagree with Paul about taking John Mark with them on their second journey (Acts 15:36-41). This is why Agabus the prophet could prophesy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10, 11). The apostles were subject to the same temptations, frailties, and weaknesses to which we are subject as well and as such, they were subject to the Holy Spirit’s message.

Jesus said in John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.” The apostles’ behavior was subject to the dictates of Christ through the Spirit. Their behavior, therefore, serves as our example as they imitated Christ. There is no particular behavior in which the apostles engaged, short of their work in confirming the word, which we have right NOT to imitate. The Holy Spirit’s command is that we must imitate their example as they imitated Christ.

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Heavenly Wisdom

The book of James has been called the “Proverbs” of the New Testament due to the amount of practical matter that the book discusses. Among the various topics within the book, there is a discussion of heavenly wisdom. This discussion begins in James 3:13. James compares and contrasts the wisdom that is from above versus the wisdom that is of the Devil. Let us look at some great lessons from this passage of scripture.

First, wisdom is shown out of life’s works with meekness. James writes, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation (life) his works with meekness of wisdom.” The question that James is asking in this context is rhetorical. James is saying: if you would be a wise man and endued with knowledge, then show from your good life meek works of wisdom. Meekness is a quality which every Christian should have (Galatians 5:23). What are works that are “with meekness of wisdom?” Works such as visiting the orphans and widows (James 1:27), visiting the sick and infirmed, visiting the shutins, visiting the prisons (Matthew 25:35-40); these are works which most men are loathe to do, but the wise man will do such meek and lowly deeds knowing that his Savior smiles upon such wisdom.

Second, James lets us know what kind of “wisdom” to avoid. He says, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” Notice the source of this devilish wisdom–the heart that contains bitter envying and strife. There is no trouble that starts without someone first thinking within his or her heart that another person is doing something that they personally don’t want them to do; herein lies envy. Then, when that desire is long nurtured, it becomes bitter–it refuses to leave the heart and constantly works it way to the front of the individual’s consciousness. The result is an attitude of strife instead of an attitude of peace. Ultimately such bitter envying and strife results in confusion and evil works. James says that this type of wisdom is earthly, sensual, and devilish. It is earthly because this is the way that the natural man behaves (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is sensual because the base desires that feed such an attitude come from personal fleshly lusts (1 John 2:15-16). It is devilish because Satan desires that this type of attitude be held in the heart of man (John 13:2). Such “wisdom” should be avoided.

Third, James let us know what kind of wisdom to hold dear. He says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Heavenly wisdom begins with purity. Purity is singleness of purpose with holy motives. Its opposite is double mindedness (James 1:8; 4:8); this is where we say one thing, but our true purpose and motives is something completely different. Heavenly wisdom is not like this, but is pure. It is also peaceable. That is, it seeks the way of peace first. Paul wrote, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). There are times when peace cannot be had, but it MUST be sought diligently. Heavenly wisdom is peaceable. It is also gentle. It was said concerning Jesus, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory” (Matthew 12:20, 21). There are those who have the attitude, if it’s almost broken, go ahead and break it! This was not the attitude of Christ. He sought every possible way to do what he could to gently teach those who were almost broken. Such is the attitude of heavenly wisdom. Notice that heavenly wisdom is easy to be entreated. In today’s language we would say that such a person is “approachable.” In other words, you feel comfortable speaking to this person. You have no reason to distrust. This one is trustworthy. Heavenly wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. Again we see works of mercy are necessary for one to be wise in heaven’s way. Heavenly wisdom is without partiality as is God (Acts 10:34). This wisdom takes no account of how much money a person has or what their social status is, or what their handicaps are, or what their personal problems are. Finally, this wisdom is without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the fruit of being double minded. Heavenly wisdom cannot have a person saying one thing and doing another.

Finally, James speaks of the wonderful results of this wisdom. He says, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” When we are wise in heaven’s way and seek to practice such wisdom in our life, then we will be able to sow the seed to others. This passage is not saying that this attitude is necessary to reap the fruit of righteousness, but to sow the fruit of righteousness. And how true this is! When those in the world see within us bitterness, strife, envyings, and sensuality, what kind of influence can we expect to have upon them? They will want nothing to do with us. But when we display the characteristics of purity, peace, gentleness, approachability, being without partiality and hypocrisy, they will want to know more about how we live our life. Then we have the opportunity to sow in peace.

What kind of wisdom is seen within your life? Let us all work and pray that it will be the kind of wisdom that comes from above!

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Is Hell Real?

Recently, in two completely unrelated incidents, I have heard the Bible doctrine of hell challenged. There are religions today that challenge what the Bible plainly says in regard to one of the two eternal destinations for the soul of man, hell. There are those who believe that all are going to be saved and these strenuously challenge the Bible doctrine regarding hell. There are others who believe that the lost will merely be extinguished and these challenge the Bible doctrine of hell. There are some who believe that God simply would not be the kind of God that he claims to be and allow anyone to go to hell. But the Bible has a clear teaching in regard to the eternal abode of the wicked and as Christians, we have a responsibility to teach and warn regarding this dreaded place. Let’s take a few moments and look at what the Bible says regarding hell.

When you mention the word “hell” immediately visions of suffering, pain, anguish, fire, darkness, and torment come to mind. But not every single time the word “hell” is used in the King James Version represents such a place. The word “hell” in the King James version is mentioned some fifty-four (54) times. In the American Standard Version of 1901, it is mentioned only thirteen (13) times. Why the disparity between the two versions? First, the King James translators often translated the word “Sheol” in the Hebrews by the word “hell.” The ASV translators chose to transliterate this word because it sometimes means “grave” and they did not want to confuse the two concepts. The word “Sheol” does refer sometimes in a figurative way to the abode of the dead (Proverbs 9:17). Most of the time it is used to refer to the destination of sinful men (Isaiah 14:11), but it is also used in prophecy to refer to the soul of Christ (Psalm 16:10). It was the Hebrew equivalent for what we would think of as “Hades” within the New Testament. The New Testament use of the word hell in the King James Version is also inconsistent with the two Greek words that the word is used to translate. One of those Greek words is “Hades” as we have already mentioned. The other, “Gehenna” is the one which the ASV translators chose to translate as “hell.” It is the concept of hell as translated from the word “Gehenna” with which we are peculiarly concerned when studying the eternal place of the wicked.

The Bible definitely teaches an eternal place of destruction for the wicked. In Matthew 25:41 we read Jesus words to those on his left hand: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Verse 46 of the same passage states, “And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.” There is a place specially prepared for the Devil and his angels. According to this passage, this is the same place that the “goats” will also inhabit for eternity. In another passage in 2 Peter 2:4 we read that God did not spare the angels that sinned, but cast them down into pits of darkness reserved for judgment. Jude verse 6 also states similar things regarding these fallen angels. What then ultimately awaits them after they are judged? According to Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This is also the same fate of those who were not found written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15). Who are those who were not found written in the book of life? Revelation 21:8 answers that question: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Now according to verse 10, those who end up here shall be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This does not sound like a place where one’s soul is merely going to be “extinguished.” It is a place where there is torment and those who are there are aware of their torment. So what do we see from these passages?

1. The Devil and his “angels” have a special place prepared for them for their eternal habitation (Matthew 25:41). 2. This will also be the same place where the “goats” are sent (Matthew 25:41). 3. It is described as “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). 4. The fallen “angels” are currently waiting judgment in a similar place (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). 5. After the judgment, the Devil and his servants will be cast into the lake of fire and tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). 6. Those not written in the book of life will also be in this situation (Revelation 20:15). 7. The fearful, unbelieving, abominable, murderer, whoremonger, sorcerer, idolater, and liar will also be in this situation (Revelation 21:8).

Now, if there is no hell at all, then there will be no place for the “goats” of Matthew 25:41 to be “eternally punished.” Neither will there be a place for those of Revelation 21:8. Neither will there be a place for those whose names are not written in the book of life. Neither will there be a place for the “angels” of Satan to be judged. Neither will there be a place for Satan himself to be tormented day and night forever and ever. So you see the ultimate implication of the doctrine that there is no such place as hell. Satan, the source of all evil and wickedness in the world, gets away with everything that he has ever done without any punishment whatsoever. Now what kind of a god would allow someone as evil and wicked as Satan to get away with all of his wicked deeds? Not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible allows those who make wicked choices to live with the consequences of those wicked choices. Extinguishment from such consequences would be a blessing, not a punishment.

Oh, but many cry today “God would not do such terrible things to the souls of men! Surely the love of God would prevent someone from being tormented in such a horrible place!” The assumption of such reasoning, however, is that it is God that is responsible for such punishment. Such an assumption is false. Those who sin are responsible for their own punishment. God will not punish any more than his own justice demands an individual be punished for their own sins (Luke 12:47, 48), but for them to have absolutely no punishment whatsoever would be inconsistent with the scriptural principle of Galatians 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” We reap what we sow and hereby shall we all be rewarded. It is true that God does not wish that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that God does not take delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). However, it is equally true that it is man that separates himself from God through his own sin (Isaiah 59:2) and therein merits his own eternal death (Romans 6:23).

It is only out of such a terribly potential place of habitation for the soul that salvation has any meaning at all. From what is one to be saved if there is no hell? From what is one to be saved if the soul is merely extinguished? From what is one to be saved if one is not allowed to live with the consequences of one’s own sinful choices? This is why salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). This is why being saved is through God’s mercy and of His grace (Titus 3:5, 7). This is why it is so very important that we receive not the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1), but that we render obedience to the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 5:9). For those who do not obey the gospel will be eternally lost (2 Thessalonians 1:8), but those who believe will have everlasting life (1 John 5:13).

As it is stated in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Have you accepted God’s gift into your life today? If you have not done so, then you need to do it before it is everlastingly too late. To accept God’s gift of grace you must first hear the message of the gospel, that Jesus came to the earth from heaven as incarnate God, lived a sinless life, died on the cross wherein he shed his blood for the remission of sin, was buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven to be King of kings and Lord of lords (Romans 10:17). Second, you must believe that message and put your complete trust in it that God will save you through His Son Jesus (Hebrews 11:6). Third you must repent of those things that separated you from God-your sins (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). Fourth, you must also confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God before witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12). And at this point, fifth, you must submit to baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by the authority of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38). And then, based upon your faith in Jesus blood and your obedience to him in baptism, God will cleanse you from your sin through the blood of Christ and you will be forgiven of your sins (Colossians 2:11-13). Hell is real, but through the mercy of God, it doesn’t have to be the place where you will eternally dwell. Be saved through Jesus today!

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