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Who are the dead in Christ mentioned in Matthew.....I think it's Matthew.   My wife was asking and I didn't really have an answer other than those who have gone to be The Lord before us.  But I'm not even sure about that.  Who are "those who will be raised first."

My apology for the delay. The "dead in Christ" are mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. They are those who passed away BEFORE the coming of the Lord, and are compared with those who "are alive and remain" until Jesus comes -- in other words, those who are "alive and remain" are the last of the generation of men in this world.
The point Paul is making is that there will be a universal change when Jesus comes. First, the dead will be raised, and second, those who did not die prior to Christ's return will be "changed" in the twinkling of an eye. First those who have died will be raised. Then those who are alive will be changed. Then all of the saved will all rise together to meet the Lord in the air. All of this will occur

What is "rightly dividing the word of truth mean? 2 Tim. 2:15

It means to handle the Word correctly, giving the right word for the right occasion. Here the word "divide" is used in the same way as Jesus "dividing" the bread and fish when He fed the 5,000 (Mark 6:41). We would say He "divided it up" among the people. The person who "rightly divides the word" knows how to distribute it among the people. He knows what word from God to apply to every occasion.

What does encircle your waist with truth mean?

The reference is to what we would call a "belt." The purpose of the belt was to hold all of the armor in place. In this text, the truth -- more specifically KNOWING the truth -- helps keep everything in place. That is, it helps us to have a right perspective of everything, and to be able to use everything that God has given to us.

How do you apply the breast plate of righteousness to your walk with Christ?

The purpose of the breastplate was to protect the vital parts of the body -- the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc. A person could sustain an injury to the arm or leg, but not to these life-supporting organs. In the text on Ephesians 6:10-18, the "breastplate of righteousness" refers to the life we have from Christ being protected from the assaults of the devil by a godly character -- "righteousness." When we are right with God, the devil cannot seriously harm us.

Does all sin lead to death? if not what sin does not lead to death?

I gather you are referring to First John 5:16-17: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death."

 First, every sin does not lead to death. As this text clearly states, "There is a sin NOT unto death."
A sin unto death is one that ends in the death of the individual -- a death that cannot be avoided. In such a case, no prayer will help. We do have some examples of such sin. Judas' sin led to his death. It is said of him, "That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place" (Acts 1:25). It was a "sin unto death." His "own place" refers to his destination after he died. His sin of betraying Jesus resulted in his death. In his case, it was by suicide (Matt 27:5).
Two people who died because of their sin were Ananias and Saphirra (Acts 5:1-10). No prayer was made for them. They died because of the sin they committed. It was a "sin unto death."
Herod is another man who was stricken dead because of a certain sin. It is said of him, "And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost" (Acts 12:22-23). It was a "sin unto death."
The Scriptures do not specify what sins necessarily result in death. We are simply told that there are such sins, and that prayer will do no good where they are found. Our objective must be to live unto the Lord, and not allow sin to take hold of us. In such a state, we are not apt to sin this sin -- a sin that WILL result in the death of the one committing it.

Is tithing commanded for Christians today?

There are no specific commands addressed to Christians concerning tithing. Tithing has always been understood by those with faith -- both before the Law, during the Law, and after the Law. Abraham "gave tithes" to Melchisedec before the Law (Gen 14:19-20). Hebrews makes a point of this (Heb 11:6), adding that Jesus, who is the One  "witnessed that He lives," is receiving tithes today (Heb 7:8).
Abraham's grandson, Jacob, also long before the Law, said to God, "of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Gen 28:22).
Paul argues that the ministry is to be supported the same way the priests were supported -- by living off of what was offered on the altar, which was the tithes of the people (1 Cor 9:13-14). Under the Law God established the tithes for the ones who served Him (Num 18:24-26). It is this practice that Paul says is still in place.

Are Christians under the law or grace commandments?

Christians are "not under Law, but are under grace" (Rom 6:14-15). This has not freed them from all obligation, and that is not what the text means. It means we are not made righteous by keeping the Law. We are made righteous by the grace of God, who makes us righteous, rather than our righteousness being the result of our own efforts (Rom 5:19; 10:4). This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not it is proper to tithe. The difference is that grace enables us to give in the spirit of thanksgiving, and without having to be told to do so.

Is Malachi speaking to the priests or the people when he say will a man rob god?

Malachi is speaking to the people -- just as he said. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation" (Mal 3:8-9).
        Now, I would ask you a question. What moved you to ask these things? Do you feel it is right NOT to tithe? If Jesus is receiving them, and Abraham and Jacob tithed without a commandment, and Jesus told the Pharisees they were doing right when they tithed (Matt 23:23), and Paul referred to the practice as being applicable to the support of the ministry, exactly what has prompted you to inquire about this?

Who are the 24 elders seated around the throne and what do the lion eagle human calf represent in rev. 5

We do not know precisely who the 24 elders are. Men have tried to guess their identity, but we simply do not know. It is generally understood that they are some form of angelic spirit, but beyond this, we do not have the faintest idea.

Concerning the lion, eagle, man, and calf, the reference is Revelation 4:7, not Revelation 5. The fifth chapter refers to the Lord Jesus as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah."
The fourth chapter refers these terms to the four living creature who stand before the throne of God. They also are lofty spiritual beings. Each of these living creatures bore a different resemblance: the first was "like a lion," the second was "like a calf," the third "had a face like a man," and the fourth was "like a flying eagle." This is what the creatures were LIKE. It was not a strict description of who they were. It spoke the dominant trait in each of them.
Each of the likenesses had specific traits -- traits that were apparently brought to their apex, or full development, in these beings.
The lion is noted for his strength (Prov 30:30). I gather that this accents the fact that Divine strength is consistently employed to fulfill His will. This strength is superior all other forms of power.
The calf was a prominent animal used in sacrifice (Lev 9:2-8). This apparently accents the continual remembrance of Christ's atoning death in the heavenly realms.
The "face of a man" accents the kind of intelligence that is found in the "image of God" -- that is, a Divine intelligence found in a created being. This indicates that everything that takes place is heaven is in strict accord with the mind of the Lord.
The flying eagle is noted for being able soar to lofty heights, rising about the troubles associated with the earth (Isa 40:31). Eagles also are a picture of renewed strength (Psa 103:5). This provides a glimpse of the total absence of fatigue among those lofty spirits that serve God night and day.

Does God learn?

No. God knows all things -- that is one of the things that makes Him God. This is why Isaiah was moved by the Spirit to say, "Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being His counselor hath taught Him?  (With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?" (Isa 40:14).  Paul asked the same thing: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor?" (Rom 11:34).
If God learns, then we must know precisely who is it that teaches Him? The point of the Scriptures is that no one teaches Him. He already knows. There is nothing that He does not know.

Do you work with the Restoration Movement in your works?

Whenever I am able to profitably do so.


I have a coworker who is going through a very difficult time in her life.  The other day I tried to counsel her by telling her that Satan could not read our minds and that he did not know our thoughts.  Today, she told me that after mentioning that to someone, they said that was ridiculous.  Could you please help me to provide her with scriptural references where this is evident?  She was comforted, but now is confused because of what the other person said.  Thank you for your help and ministry.

The Scriptures do not go into this subject. We know that Satan is not omniscient, else he would not have promoted the death of Christ, which proved to be his own demise (Heb 2:14).
I would say that the answer to this question must be limited to those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who are not in Christ are referred to as the "children of disobedience" in whom Satan freely works (Eph 2:2). Their minds belong, in fact, to the devil, and he works freely in them.
If Satan did know what was in our minds, he would be repelled by godly meditations, for he cannot abide the truth. In that case, it would be of no consequence for him to know -- particularly if our minds were set on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:1-2). If that is the case, we can even announce our intentions without fear of Satan being able thwart them. However, that is a little too speculative for me.
First, I would rather approach such a subject with the helmet of salvation in mind. This is a piece of the whole armor of God that protects the mind (Eph 6:17). This helmet is further defined as "the hope of salvation" (1 Thess 5:8). In this case, "the hope" is seen as being superior to any encroachments by the devil. It is not knowing our thoughts that is the critical factor, but if he is able to do anything about them. To me, this indicates that there is a sense in which Satan is denied access to our minds -- which, I believe, was your point.
Second, we are also told of the appointed means of guarding and keeping our minds from the invasion of wickedness. "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:7). The peace of God is like a mighty sentinel that guards our minds. This makes any knowledge of them that Satan may have of no consequence whatsoever. This again confirms that Satan can be denied access to our minds by the peace of God, which is like a mighty bulwark.
Third, I am not convinced Satan has any immediate interest in what is in our minds. He is pictured as hurling flaming arrows into our minds, designed to infect our thinking. As it is written, "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph 6:16). As I understand things, he is not trying to work with the thoughts we have, but attempting to get us to work with the thoughts he has. Our faith will successfully block his flaming arrows from infecting our thinking. These flaming arrows are temptations.

I am pastor in GŁnter state AP in India about last 10 years. I got so many answers in the bible. But I having one critical doubt about Bible.

Your questions about the Bible are answered by faith, not by research. You know the truth of the Bible by putting it to the test -- not the test of intellect and research, but the test of whether or not His Word does what He says. He has simplified the matter for us by compressing all truth into a Person -- the Lord Jesus Christ. In  Him all of the truth is confirmed. The more we know of Him, the more we will know of the truth, and the more sense the Bible will make. This does not mean we will have a perfect understanding of everything. It does mean we will be able to understand what is necessary to know the will and purpose of God.
If it is true that we "live by every word of God" (Luke 4:4), then life, faith, confidence, and assurance, will be experienced by you as you take the Word of God into your heart and mind. This has particularly to do with the Gospel of Christ, which is like the kernel of the Word. All of the other Scriptures point to the Gospel, introducing it in types, shadows, and the Law, which has "a form of knowledge and of the truth" (Rom 2:20).
The Word of God is written to be believed. It is believing, not study, that convinces the heart of the truth of God's word, for it is "with the heart" that man believes, not the mind (Rom 10:10). If you believe the Word, God will confirm it to your heart. If you find it difficult to understand, then you must pray with David, "Give me understanding" (Psa 119:34,73,125,144,169).
We have no alternative but to believe that God Himself managed the translation and compilation of Scripture. He has exalted His word above all of His name. As it is written, "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (Psa 138:2). He has also said we live by that word (Matt 4:4). He has said that it has been given to make us "perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). If this is true, then any question about the authenticity of God's Word can only be a temptation from the devil. God would never tell us to depend upon His word if there was the slightest chance that it was flawed.

While speaking to a couple of Mormon missionary "Elders,"  I pointed out the scripture in Revelation 22 that warns of adding or removing from the scripture.    I guess they are pointed to this verse all the time.  They could barely contain their laughter and cited these other verses  and asked why then the writers of the bible added to them after the writing of Deuteronomy.

The people who said this were nothing more than fools. The "Word" of reference in Deuteronomy was the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws that attended it. The elders added their traditions to that word, thus bringing the judgment of God upon themselves (Matt 15:2). In the Revelation, it refers to the word delivered to John concerning the future.
The principle, of course, maintains throughout all ages. The point God is making is that no one had better say they received a word from God when they did not! No one can say God sent them when He did not (Jer 14:14-15). Further, no person can do away with the necessity of Scripture, for we live "by every word of God."
Our role is to "try the spirits, whether they be of God" (1 John 4:1). Any form of religion that removes the necessity of any of God's word cannot be true. That would be taking from it. Any word given in the name of the Lord that introduces something not fulfilled in Christ, cannot be from God, for the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him (Col 1:19; 2:9), He alone is "the express image of God" (Heb 1:3), and in these last days God has spoken to us through Him (Heb 1:2). Any word contradicting this is an addition. Any requirements that are bound upon men that are not in the Scriptures are also an addition.
What the Mormons must do it provide us with two things. First, the prophecies that came through Joseph Smith that were fulfilled, and can be duly confirmed. Second, a concept of God that is in perfect harmony with what Jesus and the Apostles set forth. I can tell you, they cannot do either.

I have been studying through the lesson on 2Cor....I am confused about the difference in the Gospel concerning Christ and the doctrines of Christ.
Gospel and doctrine; there are many who make a difference between the two....My question is there really a difference between the two....I always thought that the teachings of Paul for example were actually the  teachings of Christ...I realize the important aspects of the Gospel are the death, burial and resurrection. there a distinction between Gospel and doctrine...does the Gospel contain the doctrine??

The Gospel is also called "the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 1:9). I say this knowing that some of our brethren think this is referring to a listing of rules -- but "rules" are nowhere referred to as "doctrine," and they are simply wrong. In this, they do not talk like Jesus and the Apostles.
Technically, the Gospel is the announcement of facts of the Gospel, together with all of their details. These are things that are affirmed, or announced, and are the sole means by which faith "comes" (Rom 10:14-17). Boiled down to their essence, those facts are the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (12 Cor 15:1-3). But those three facts are not the totality of the Gospel. Included in the Gospel are the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38), the imputation of righteousness (Rom 1:17), the destruction of the devil (Heb 2:14), the spoiling of principalities and powers (Col 2:15), making peace with God (Col 1:20), reconciling the world (2 Cor 5:18-20), justification (Rom 5:1), being made heirs of God (Rom 8:17) --- and a host of other affirmations -- affirmations that are both Gospel and doctrine.
The Gospel is included in "doctrine," or teaching. It is the foundation of all sound doctrine. Doctrine deals with the implications of the Gospel, and how they impact upon life. It is an exposition of Christ and the Gospel -- the opening of the truth. When Paul preached the Gospel in Paphos, it was referred to as "the doctrine of the Lord" (Acts 13:12). Paul referred to the message of Christ as "the doctrine of God our Savior" (Tit 2:10). Doctrine and Gospel; cannot be separated. Doctrine emphasizes the exposition of the Gospel -- not duty, but Gospel!
Those who make a critical distinction between Gospel and doctrine are equating doctrine with rule-making, procedures, and HOW we come to God and worship Him. That is something, however, that they have concocted. Jesus referred to what He taught as "the doctrine ." He also said that if a person wanted to do the will of God, he would come to know the doctrine, and whether Jesus was speaking out of Himself or from God (John 7:17).
Your are thinking correctly.

If God learns, He must learn by experience, don't you think? We don't necessarily have to have "someone" teach us. How do you suppose that Jesus learned?  Did He know everything already when He was born?  Why is it that Jesus did not know things when the Father did?  If Jesus was truly God and your definition is correct, that knowing all is a requisite for being God.  How do you explain Jesus not knowing something?
Does God know that I was writing this email before I did or did He learn of it when I decided to write it?
Also, if God knows everything, then the future is just as sure as the past is and we are characters in a prewritten play.  What's the point of asking God for anything or going into the highways and byways to present the gospel. What difference will it make what I do since all is pre-written.  If everything is not pre-written, how can God know the future before it happens.
Thank you, I eagerly await your reply.

I will not engage in a lengthy argument about something so rudimentary and elemental as the omniscience of God. If you have difficulty with this, you will not be able to have faith in God -- for you would be trusting someone no greater than yourself.

God makes known "the end from the beginning" (Isa 46:10). It ought to be apparent that could not possibly be done if there were such a thing as unforeseen events with God. In fact, God challenges all false gods to declare what is coming with flawlessness, and bring their will to pass without exception (Isa 45:21). Any personality who fails to do this is not God at all.

It is also affirmed that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13). But you have presumed to say that God may not even know your intentions to write an email -- and that God even learns by experience. Then, you presume to impose your understanding upon the template of time, suggesting that if God knows everything that men are nothing more than robots. It would have been better if you had not exposed your thoughts on this subject. I fear it has revealed more of yourself than you intended.

When Jesus came into the world He "emptied Himself," humbling Himself to be in a position where He had to learn (Phil 2:6-8). You need to acquaint yourself with the Word of God before you take upon yourself to give a diagnosis of God who is said to "know all things" (1 John 3:20). He will give a diagnosis of you, but He will not submit to your diagnosis of Him -- and neither will I.

The question is not "Does God know?" The question is what you are going to do when you stand before Him. Please do not tell me you are going to inform Him of what you intended, thought, and did. God comments on men's thoughts concerning Himself, when they dared to put Him in a class with themselves, as having to learn, and being ignorant of the future. "These things you have done, and I kept silent; YOU THOUGHT THAT I WAS ALTOGETHER LIKE YOU; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes" (Psa 50:21). For the moment, God has also kept silent concerning your folly. But, it will all come to light some day, and I earnestly pray you will be ready for that day of revelation.

Now I admonish you to prepare yourself to give an account to God -- even for the very email that you sent to me. You will give an account, just as I will. It is written, "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom 14:12). And again, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor 5:10). If you think this will be done before an ignorant God who had to learn as yourself, you will be in a very serious and unenviable situation.

I suggest that you now turn your attention to judging yourself, and cease to judge God. There is no hope of you coming out on top in the matter of assessing the very God who made you.

Some make much of a return that has Jesus returning to the Mount of Olives specifically, with a touchdown on the point from which he ascended... What think ye?

The reference used to buttress this teaching is Zechariah 14:4: "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south." >>

Perhaps it ought to be noted that Zecharaiah gives no indication that he was speaking of the "second" appearing of the Lord Jesus. Nor, indeed, does the context in which He introduces his subject appear to be a global one. He speaks of a provincial appearing, associated with a special mountain. The nations are depicted as coming against Jerusalem, taking the city, plundering the city, and ravishing the women. Half of the city would be taken into captivity, but the rest of the people will be left (14:2). At this point, the Lord will come and "fight against" those natgions who gathered together against Jerusalem "as He fights in the day of battle" (14:3). It is in  that day that His feet will "stand on the Mount of Olives," the mountain will cleave in two, and a very great valley will be formed. The people will then flee by means of that valley.
It is then that "the Lord my God shall come, and all the holy ones with Him" -- not at the time His feet touches the mountain, but after the people have fled to the valley created by that massive cleavage. What is more, as brother Ralph has well pointed out, living waters would flow out of Jerusalem. It is further evident from the passage that life continues on the earth with internal strife (14:13), fighting, and the heathen being gathered (14:14), plagues on animals (14:15), and survivors of the nations going up to Jerusalem to worship (14:16). It is further stated that whoever does not come up to Jerusalem to worship will receive no rain (14:17).
Now, with life and immortality being brought to light by the Gospel (2 Tim 1:10), a clearer revelattion of Christ's return has been given. What is said about it confirms that Zechariah was not speaking of that return.
1. Christ's return will be accompanied by holy angels who will first gather out of His kingdom the tares, and all things that offend (Matt 13:30,39-42).
2. His coming will also be attended by a gathering of all saints "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt 24:31),  or "from the uttermost part of earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mk 13:27).
3. It is then that the righteous will "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt 13:43).
4. Christ will come in all of His own glory, the Father's glory, and the glory of the holy angels (Luke 9:26; Matt 16:27; Mk 8:38). That flesh, or the heavens and earth themselves, could survive such an extensive display of Divine glory is utterly absurd. That is why it was revealed to John that "the earth and heaven" fled from His presence, and no place was found for them (Rev 20:11).
5. When Jesus comes He will be admired by believers, and will punish the ungodly at the same time (2 Thess 1:8-10).
6. When He comes the "second time," it will not be to deal with sin (Heb 9:28).
7. The worst of the wicked will be consumed with "the spirit of His mouth" and "destroyed with the brightness of His coming" (2 Thess 2:8) -- no battle!. In fact, when the beast and kings of the earth are depicted in Revelation as gathering together "to make war with Him who sat upon the horse and His army," there is no battle at all. Instead, the enemies were forthrightly taken and cast into "a lake burning with fire and brimestone" (Rev 19:19-20).
8. When Jesus comes again "every eye will see Him" (Rev 1:7) -- not by going up to Jerusalem, as in Zechariah 14, but because of His transcendant and pervasive glory.
If it is true that the coming of the Lord Jesus is the "blessed hope" of the church, and that the grace of God teaches us to look for it (Tit 2:11-13), then there should be no confusion among believers about it. This is not an area in which men are free to speculate or philosophize. Our insights on this matter should be comforting (1 Thess 4:18), enabling us to purify our selves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  

Our attendance has been in the area of about ____ for the past couple of months and there is discussion of an "Official church Membership." There are all kinds of ramifications to that. We have a retired minister with us who really likes the idea and looks at it as submitting himself to the leadership. He is even for the idea of signing a membership statement. We have a few young couples of whose generation, don't want to sign or "Commit" to anything. They want to get involved, but not "Commit to Membership." Or, for them, their involvement is a sign of their membership.  Anyway, I know arguments can be weighed both ways. Just curious to know your understanding.

I am glad to hear of your progress, and of the desire of some among you to "get involved." As you already know, this is an area where particulars (if any existed in the beginning) are not provided in Scripture.

Peter spoke of the Apostles as those who were in some way "numbered" together (Acts 1:17). When Mathias was chosen to fill the place vacated by Judas, he was "numbered with the eleven" (Acts 1:36). After Ananias and Sapphira were taken out of the way, there were some of whom it was said, "Yet none of the rest dared join them" (Acts 5:13). When Saul of Tarsus had been turned to the Lord, he "tried to join the disciples" at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).

When the early church chose godly men, they were chosen "from among" them (Acts 6:3). The fornicator in Corinth was "among" them, and was "purged" from among them (1 Cor 5:1-2,7). Onesimus was described as "one of" the Colossian brethren (Col 4:9). The same was said of Epaphras (Col 4:12). Elders are told to "feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Pet 5:2).

Precisely how much formality is wrapped around being "numbered" with a group of people, "joining" them, being "among" them, or being "one of" them, is not certain. I am sure, however, that it is referring to more than people being under the same roof at the same time. Some common purpose bound them together -- a purpose they all owned.
It is also true that God "sets the solitary in families" (Psa 68:6). He also places the members, "each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor 12:18). As confirmed in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, "body" life has to do with a particular assembly (1 Cor 12-13). It is difficult for me to believe that is an appropriate word for a sort of ad-hoc gathering in which no public identity has been affirmed.

Additionally, every church was addressed as an entity of itself, as well as being a part of the "whole family." When Jesus addressed the saints in Asia, it was not as one conglomerate of people, but as those who were in Ephesis, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. How did this apply to the people themselves? It seems to me that unless there was some way of identifying precisely who was included in these bodies, the letters would have little or no worth.
I understand why people want to shun lifeless means of identity, or profitless ways of being associated with one another. However, some way must be made for people who desire to be identified with a body of believers, and what they are doing for Christ, to do so. Somehow a way must be made for it to be said of a godly person, he is "one of YOU."

As to signing a membership statement, and other similar things, this is a bypath you do not want to take. If a person is truly "in Christ," that is sufficient. It is not a document that you are seeking, but a means of allowing people to state "I want to be a part of this fellowship, and make myself available for the work of the Lord here."

If Barnabas saw fit to intercede for Saul, so that he would be received by the brethren in Jerusalem, after Saul himself had made an attempt to do so (Acts 9:26), exactly what kind of rationale drives a person to shun making that kind of commitment? Is there anything about Christ's call to follow Him that allows for the slightest tint of non-commitment? Is there anything in Scripture that would lead a person to think declaring a formal identity with a body of believers is wrong? Indeed not!

Your challenge is to provide a means through which people can be known throughout the whole of Christ's body as "one of you." You can be original in this. You are not looking for wandering nomads who take their tent down when something takes place they do not particularly like. Nor, indeed, are you endeavoring to provide a sort of roadside haven for non-committed Christians. You may desire some day to "send out" one of your number. How will you know who to choose? Exactly what do you do with those who have not obeyed the Gospel? Are they "one of you?" What if there is a fornicator among you, is he also "one of you?" Some crisis may arise where you will have to "choose out" some godly men to appoint over that "business." How will you know who to choose? Will it be someone who does not want to "commit to membership?" Precisely what do they want to "commit to?" Let them tell you. Is it true that they really want to commit to Christ? If they have shown this is really the case, that commitment is enough to be numbered with you. Let them know that it is, and that you are counting on them as one of the fellowship there.

The purpose of "membership," if a person chooses to use that term, is not to impose upon people. It is not to force them to do this or that. It is rather to provide a means whereby mutual ministry and responsibility can be confidently experienced. It is also to make a somewhat flimsy (yet useful) door that will discourage the entrance of intruders who want to fleece the sheep.

Working together, you can come up with a God-honoring means of meeting all of these objectives. Remember, God has provided you some freedom here. If people do not like the idea of some formal means of membership, have them explain why -- exactly why. If their objection is valid, then find a way to meet your objective without wounding their conscience. This will take some work, but you will find it a rewarding and instructive experience.

One last word -- for those who have been meeting together for some time, and have shown themselves to be reliable and truly followers of the Lord, a formal commitment is not necessary.

I was reading in Hebrews this morning and were stumped as to what a couple of verses mean. Hebrews 9:16-17. Why is it that there is no strength while the testator liveth?

A "testament" is a "will" -- a bequeathment of one's possessions to those who remain after he has died. A "testator" is the one who makes the will, which is HIS "will," or desire," for how his goods are to be distributed when he has passed away.

In typology, this principle was revealed when God made a covenant with Abraham. It was made over the death of a ratifying victim. There, Abraham took a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. After slaying them, he cut all but the birds in two, and arranged the halves opposite of each other. Later, the glory of God passed "between those pieces," and God "made a covenant with Abram" (Gen 15:9-10,17-18). In type, that covenant required the death of those victims, and had no strength, or effect, until they were offered, according to the commandment of the Lord Himself (Gen 15:9-10).

The point of Hebrews 9:16-17 is that the provisions of the New Covenant (Heb 8:10-12) could not be granted until Jesus put away sin through His death. Those provisions were generally the writing of God's laws upon the heart and mind, God being a personal God to the people, the people being fully accepted by the Lord, a personal knowledge of God, and the remission of sins. In particular, the remission of sins because of Christ's death is the focus of this section of Scripture. He reasons more thoroughly upon this in Hebrews 10:1-4, showing that the previous sacrifices of bulls and goats could not take away sin or cleanse the human conscience of guilt. Also, because sins have really been taken away, the New Covenant is now being mediated by Jesus Himself (Heb 8:6).

All of this -- the details of the New Covenant themselves, and the mediatorship of Jesus -- could not be put into effect until Christ died. The entire covenant hinged upon His death. As with an earthly covenant, or will, one's property cannot be distributed until it is confirmed that the person no longer is alive. Men have, of course, invented technicalities today, like a "living will," and "power of attorney," to accommodate things considered to be an exception. This text, however, is dealing with the standard way of distributing one's possessions.

The "birthright" was another way of looking at a person inheriting his father's goods. That birthright was, in fact, a "covenant" or "will." It was not effective, however, until the death of the father, or original, owner. Thus Isaac did not obtain his inheritance until Abraham died, and Jacob did not inherit his until Isaac died.

Hebrews 9:16-17 explains why those under the Old Covenant did not enjoy the benefits outlined in the New Covernant. The "testator," or the one making the new covenant ("I will make a new covenant') had not died, and therefore sin remained with all of its alienating power, contaminating the conscience, and leaving the door ajar for the devil to dominate men. That meant that the "strength" of the New Covenant, which was its ability to bring the blessing to the people, could not be experienced while sin was not "taken away." Verse 15 of that ninth chapter spells it out: "And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that BY MEANS OF DEATH, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." The "cause" (or what needed to be done) is identified in verse 14: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, PURGE YOUR CONSCIENCE from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb 9:14).

As wonderful as the promise of the New Covenant was (Jer 31:31-34), it was powerless until Jesus took away the sin of the world. Its benefits could not be realized until the One who made the will -- the "Testator" -- "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb 9:26).

Here, then, is one of the grand distinctions between the Old and New Covenants. Under the Old Covenant, acceptance by God depended wholly upon THE LIVES of those to whom the covenant was addressed: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which IF A MAN DO, he shall LIVE in them: I am the LORD" (Lev 18:5). Under the New Covenant, acceptance depends upon of the DEATH of the One who made the covenant: "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that BY MEANS OF DEATH, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15).

You are in a very fertile section of Scripture -- one that is filled with Divine reasoning and the declaration of the effective death and heavenly ministry of the Lord Jesus. Keep in mind that the overall point that is being established in Hebrews is the absolute necessity of Christ's death, intercession, and mediation in the matter of our salvation.

A favored mantra among "Christian" writers and speakers today is "unconditional love."  I have come to feel that this is at best a misunderstanding of God's unmerited favor and at worst a perversion of the gospel.  Accordingly, I refuse to use the term.  Am I on or off course here?  Your thoughts would be appreciated.

"Unconditional love" is a term promoted by the psychiatrists of our day, who have now found a position of leadership within many churches. The expression in question presents a total misrepresentation of God and Christ. God's love is clearly declared to be conditional.
I do not believe God's love for the world is ever mentioned in the present tense. It is always in the past tense, and is particularly associated with Christ (John 3:16; Rom 8:37; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:4; 5:2; 2 Thess 2:16; 1 John 4:10,11,19; Rev 1:5). The concept of "unconditional love" is consistently represented as being in the present tense. God is presented as "loving you no matter what you do." This would be exceedingly difficult to explain to Adam and Eve, Cain, the world of Noah's day, Ishmael, Esau, King Saul, Israel, Herod, Ananias and Sapphira, and a host of others.
Further, it is arresting to consider that the word "love" (agape) is not used in the book of Acts. Phileo is used once to describe the "kindness" barbarians showed to Paul and those with him (Acts 28:2). The love of God is very real, and most precious to those who are in Christ Jesus. In the New Covenant, and from a doctrinal point of view, it is a strictly "inside" view, and marvelous to consider. If God's love was, in fact, unconditional, it would not be possible for him to "hate" (Psa 5:5; 10:3; Lev 20:23; Prov 6:19; Zech 11:8). When Israel provoked the Lord, even though He had loved them, it is written that "He  abhorred His own inheritance" (Psa 106:40). I do not know that a successful case could be presented for God's love and abhorrence blending together.
Some of the conditions for the love of God and Christ are as follows.
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me WILL BE LOVED by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him"  (John 14:21).
"Jesus answered and said unto 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 with him" (John 14:23).
"IF YE KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10).
"For the Father Himself loves you, BECAUSE you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God" (John 16:27)
"All their wickedness is in Gilgal, For there I hated them. Because of the evil of their deeds I will drive them from My house; I WILL LOVE HIM NO MORE. All their princes are rebellious":  (Hosea 9:15).
"Since thou wast PRECIOUS IN MY SIGHT, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life"  (Isa 43:4).
JACOB HAVE I LOVED, but Esau have I hated" (Rom 9:13).
"Therefore doth my Father love me, BECAUSE I lay down my life, that I might take it again"  (John 10:17).

I was reading John 10 and I came to verse 34 that says "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?"  I am confused about the phrase "you are gods".  My question is to who or what was Christ referring to when he said 'you are gods'?

The text to which Jesus referred is found in the 82nd Psalm -- "I have said, YE ARE GODS; and all of you are children of the most High.  (Psa 82:6). A similar statement is made in the first verse of that chapter: "God standeth in THE CONGREGAGTION OF THE MIGHTY; He judgeth AMONMG THE GODS" (Psa 82:1).
This peculiar usage does not refer to idols, or to any form of Deity. It rather refers to the rulers of the people -- those who have the power over others. God also used the word "god" (small letter "g") when sending Moses to Pharaoh. "And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him insINSTEAD OF GOD" (Ex 4:16). Again the Lord said, "And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee A GOD TO PHARAOH: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet" (Ex 7:1). In both instances, the meaning is that Moses was actually over Pharaoh, being invested with that power by God Himself.
In speaking of the necessity of being respectful of appointed rulers, the law also said, "Thou shalt not revile THE GODS, nor curse the ruler of thy people" (Ex 22:28). This verse is what is called a Hebraism -- two ways of saying the same things (the Proverbs employ this type of parallel quite frequently. In Exodus 22 "the gods" refers to "the rulers." Paul quoted this text after the high priest had commanded that he be smitten, and Paul spoke against him: "And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.  Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.  (Acts 23:2-5).
Once David spoke of praising the Lord before dignitaries, whether earthly rulers of  majestic angels. "I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee" (Psa 138:1).
In all of these cases, the word, "god" is always in lower case.
That should be enough to  point you in the right direction. I encourage you to continue your earnest inquiry into the things of God.





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