Friday, September 25, 2009

"Power Struggle"

Reviewing the lesson this week a couple of thoughts related to the 1888 message immediately jump out. First the lesson author points us to the love that John expressed toward one of his fellow believers, the one to whom the letter was addressed, Gaius.

John wrote: "The elder unto the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 1:1-2). The original terms for love which John used were agapao and agapatos. It is easy to discern that these words both come from the root word agape. By using this terminology, John indicates that his affection for Gaius was no mere human sentimentality. He loved him with the love which comes only from God.

Human beings were originally created with hearts full of agape. Unselfish, Christ-like love was natural to our first parents. However, when Adam sinned, we are told "... man's powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love" (E. G. White, Counsels to Teachers, p. 33). Thus, as a result of the fall, mankind has no natural conception of true love. We tend to confuse it with human love which is anything but selfless. But agape, the term used most often to denote God's love, is completely unrelated to human love and completely selfless.

It is described for us in the thirteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. In the first three verses we are told of the significance of agape. It is more essential than eloquence. It is more necessary than prophecy. It is even more important than faith. These are startling qualifications. Eloquence may seem like a luxury, but prophecy and faith are important elements indeed. Yet without love they are virtually ineffective, all but useless.

The description continues and again we are shocked by the revelation of agape. "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:3, ESV). Extravagant generosity and even sacrificial martyrdom are vain and empty without the essential motivating qualifier called agape.

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Human love, which consists of self-love, embodies the exact opposite of all of these qualities. Yet there is hope in Christ "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5, ESV).

As we consider the love of God and the grace which that love prompted Him to extend to humanity, we find the courage to face the echoes of the other 1888 related topic which leaps from the pages of our Sabbath School lesson this week. In Friday's lesson we find a statement which calls to mind similar statements from our history at the 1888 conference and its aftermath.

"Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme, are in grave peril. It is Satan's studied effort to separate such ones from those who are channels of light, through whom God has wrought to build up and extend His work in the earth. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement of the truth, is to reject the means that He has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people" (E. G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 444).

As this statement concerning "channels of light" and "truth" and their rejection is read, one cannot help but remember many similar statements of warning from the pen of inspiration.

"Prompted by pride, prejudice, and hatred, the Pharisees, priests, and rulers rejected the Lord of glory. His mighty works had no softening influence upon their minds; for they hardened their hearts lest they should be converted. When evidence is given that a man is a messenger of the Lord of hosts, that he speaks in God's stead, it is perilous to the soul to reject and despise the message. To turn away from heaven's light and refuse the light-bearer, is to take a course similar to that which Satan took in the courts of heaven when he created rebellion in the ranks of the angels" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1062).

"I have no smooth message to bear to those who have been for so long as false guideposts, pointing the wrong way. If you reject Christ's delegated messengers, you reject Christ. Neglect this great salvation kept before you for years, despise this glorious offer of justification through the blood of Christ and sanctification through the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, and there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. I entreat you now to humble yourselves, and cease your stubborn resistance of light and evidence" (ibid., p. 1342).

"My brother, why do you cherish such bitterness against Elder A. T. Jones and Elder Waggoner? It is for the same reason Cain hated Abel. Cain refused to heed the instruction of God, and because Abel sought God, and followed His will, Cain killed him. God has given Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner a message for the people. You do not believe that God has upheld them, but He has given them precious light, and their message has fed the people of God. When you reject the message borne by these men, you reject Christ, the Giver of the message. Why will you encourage the attributes of Satan?" (ibid., p. 1353).

Why should we be reminded of this dark period of our history? A wise philosopher once remarked, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana). Our history is of such a character that we dare not repeat it. It is perilous to resist the advances of the One who loves us with such extravagant "agape." Yet this is what we are all so prone to do, apart from intelligent and conscious, Spirit led, corporate repentance. We must remember our history and learn its lessons, for "We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history" (E. G. White, Life Sketches, p. 196).

--Kelvin (Mark) Duncan

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Important Themes in 1 John"

1 John is not a lengthy Book, only four or five pages in many Bibles, but it is packed with "important themes." We would like to explore some of the themes that form the basis, or "heart," of the 1888 message.

Our favorite text for forgiveness is 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That text is often misunderstood as a virtual license to go on sinning. Just keep on sinning, confessing your sins, and you'll keep on being forgiven. But what is Bible forgiveness? Is it merely pardon that justifies sin? No, the Greek word in this verse for "forgive" means to take away sin, here and now, to do the "washing" with the "blood of Christ" (Rev. 1:5). Is anything more precious than such cleansing?

John introduced Christ by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Not "maybe," "perhaps," or "He would like to be," or "He takes away the sin of a few." Why this universal sacrifice of atonement? "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

God's love (
): We read in 1 John 4:8 that "God is agape." And what is agape? Verse 9 tells us it is the motivation that led the Father to give His only begotten Son to die for us "that we might live through Him." It is a special kind of love that is willing to die the second death so that we might live eternal life. It is a love that is willing to go to hell so that we might go to heaven. It is a love that chooses to die on a cross rather than indulge self. If "God is agape," and if Jesus is the Son of God, then in His incarnation Jesus is agape in human flesh. When He came to earth He laid aside all the prerogatives of divinity, but He could not empty Himself of agape. And that's why He chose not to sin--He chose a cross instead.

But there are counterfeits! How can we tell the difference? Why are so many preaching "love, love, love," yet the listeners sense no need to overcome sin itself? There's nothing wrong with love itself if they knew the right idea of it when the Bible says "God is love." They assume our natural egocentric human idea. It's impossible for an honest heart to hear, to understand, to contemplate, to "survey" that
agape displayed in the "wondrous cross," and then go on in captivity to sin.

Perfect love (
) casts out fear: 1 John 4:18 says that "perfect love casts out fear," but how does "perfect agape" cast out its root? We fear that the economy may collapse, but that's not the root of fear. We fear cancer or other possible fatal diseases (or the H1N1 flu), but again, that's not it. The bottom-line root is the fear of eternal hell, separation forever from light, love, and God. One may not know how to articulate it, but all other fears derive from that one. The Bible calls its horror the "second death." Unspeakable, unmatched by earthly terrorism, if one could go through it just once and come out the other side, he could be done with that root of fear forever. He could tell the devil, "I've been through it already; nothing can faze me now. I'm immune to fear because I've already suffered the quintessential fear and survived. No lesser fear can touch that one!" But the problem is, you can't do that and survive. Don't fear! Keep close to Jesus in His closing hours; let self be "crucified with Him," and then "perfect love [agape will] cast out [your] fear." The Bible is clear, Christ died the equivalent of that "second death," endured 100 percent the torture and horror of hell itself, and drained the cup dry.

Righteousness by Faith:
Many church-goers say they have gone to church for decades and heard legalism preached; now they rejoice that the gospel of "righteousness by faith" is proclaimed. But are there different kinds of "righteousness by faith"? Revelation 14 presents an "everlasting gospel" that validates itself by raising up people who truly "keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." They prepare for the literal second coming of Christ (6-15). John also writes a series of warnings against false claims of "righteousness by faith" in which "we lie, and do not the truth;" "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" "we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." "He that saith, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, etc.). Apparently the apostle John wants us to discern any "gospel" that does not produce obedience to all the commandments of God (all ten!). The "everlasting gospel" of Revelation 14 is no legalism; it is a clearer understanding of the cross of Christ than has ever "lightened the earth with glory." The final crisis will be two opposite views of "righteousness by faith." One will spin the Emperor's New Clothes, multitudes rejoicing in "imputed righteousness" but not noticing it's not imparted. "Covered" by what they assume is a spiritual insurance policy, they will go for "the mark of the beast," which will be the most sophisticated counterfeit of "the everlasting gospel" the world has ever seen.

Good News for the Seventh-day Adventist Church:
More than a century and a half has gone by since the "great disappointment" of 1844, and still Jesus has not returned as He promised in John 14:1-3, "I will come again." But the faith that motivated those people in the 1840s now motivates millions around the world who still believe He will keep His promise and return a second time. They set no date; they seek only that the love of Christ may in them be "made perfect" (1 John 4:16-18). But their motivation is becoming purified: it is no longer based merely on a fear of hell or hope of reward in heaven. A new motivation is emerging--a concern for Christ Himself that He receive the reward of His great sacrifice, as Isaiah says, "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (53:11). That produces the miracle of love for others. The last Book of the Bible sees Him as a Bridegroom at last receiving His Bride, who has at last "made herself ready" (Rev. 19:6-8). Nothing in the world is better News than that.

--Robert J. Wieland

Friday, September 04, 2009


"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). We find the Scriptures instructing us to, "have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). Notice the simplicity and clarity of this teaching: "have no confidence in the flesh." This teaching allows for no exceptions whatever! "No" means no. The most dangerous flesh to have confidence in is our own.

Many today worry about their financial situations and at the same time say they believe the Word of God. Their worry and anxiety belays their unbelief and lack of confidence in God and they deny His power by their whining and complaining about what a sad lot their life has become.

Jesus is so basic and clear in Matthew 6:24-34 when He, The Creator, our Provider and Redeemer says calmly and quietly, "I say to you, do not worry. For after all these things the Gentiles [unbelievers] seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added [given] to you."

If you cannot depend upon God to take care of you down here for a few short days, months, or years, do you expect Him to believe that you will know how trust Him to take care of you for eternity? What you do here, you will do there; what you are here, you will be there. Who you depend on here, you will depend on there (Rev. 22:11). "Abraham had such confidence in the life and power of the word of the Lord that he believed that it would fulfill itself." [1]

Lacking confidence and assurance in the Word of God, "many people hesitate to make a start to serve the Lord, because they fear that God will not accept them; and thousands who have been professed followers of Christ for years, still doubt their acceptance with God." [2] What they lack is simple faith that believes exactly what God says and expects His word to fulfill itself.

They ask, "Will the Lord receive me?" [3] I reply by another question: Will a man receive that which he has bought? Yes, of course he will! If he did not want them, he would not have bought them. Now let us apply this simple, natural illustration to the case of the sinner coming to Christ. In the first place, He has bought us. "Do you not know you're your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).

He bought not a certain class, but the whole world of sinners. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). "This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the whole world" (John 4:42; see also 1 Tim. 4:10).

The price that was paid for us was His own blood--His life. He "gave Himself for us" (Titus 2:14). He "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Gal. 1:4). The price paid was infinite; therefore we know that He very much desired that which He bought. He had His heart set on obtaining it. He could not be satisfied without it (see Heb. 12:2; Isa. 53:11).

Yet, some drone on, "But I am not worthy." [4] That means that you are not worth the price paid, and therefore you fear to come lest Christ will refuse to accept what He purchased. The bargain Christ made for you has been sealed, and the price already paid!

Further, you have nothing to do with the question of worth. When Christ was on earth "He knew what was in man" (John 2:25). He made your purchase with His eyes wide open, and He knew the exact value of that which He bought. He is not at all disappointed when you come to Him and He finds that you are worthless. You are not to worry over the question of your worth; if He, with His perfect knowledge of your case, was satisfied to make the bargain, you should be the last one to complain.

Now, for the most wonderful truth of all: He bought you for the very reason that you are not worthy. He did not buy you for what you were or are now worth, but for what He could make of you. He says: "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake" (Isa. 43:25). We have no righteousness.

Surely all doubt as to acceptance with God ought to be set at rest. But it is not. The evil heart of unbelief still suggests doubts. If we believe in a God that made heaven and earth, and that still upholds all things by the word of His power, why do we not trust Him to take care of us, and to protect us?

Paul asked God three times that the "thorn in the flesh" that he carried might be removed from him. The Lord answered him saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

Is God's grace sufficient for us today? Is His grace sufficient to take care of you? Kneel before Him and ask Him to humble you from your pride and self-sufficiency. His grace is more than enough.

As to your being Christ's, you can settle that yourself. You have seen what He gave for you. Now the question is, "Have you delivered yourself to Him?" He begs you to give Him that which He has bought and paid for.

--Daniel Peters


[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant, Chapt. 9, "The Test of Faith", July 2, 1896.
[2] Waggoner, "Acceptance with God," The Present Truth, July 1, 1897.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.