Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ship of Fools

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”       2 Timothy 3:1-5  NKJV

Like many others, I made the decision long ago to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to not only live as long as possible, but also because it was something I felt I should do as this body is a gift from God.  If you think about it, the Church, the body of Christ, could be seen in the same light and its health should be a concern of all true believers.  Paul, as well as Peter and John, shared that same concern and made it known in their letters to the churches.  Paul’s last words were to Timothy, a young man who had come to know the Lord through Paul’s teaching in Lystra.  He later was to accompany Paul on his second missionary journey and became a disciple and friend for the remainder of Paul’s life.  Paul sent him to Ephesus to pastor the church there, and his second letter to Timothy is believed to be the last letter of his life before he was executed in Rome.

It should come as no surprise that the subject of Paul’s letter to Timothy shows the very same concerns of those of Peter and John, namely the health of the Church that they had founded and nurtured in the first century.  All of these men were concerned with the appearing of false teachers and prophets who would cultivate apostasy within the Church and change the message of the Gospel that Jesus had brought to an unbelieving world by His death and resurrection.  Protecting the purity of the Gospel message is the common concern of all of these great men of the faith, and as such should be a warning to us all that our responsibility as believers is to guard that same gospel just as they did.

Just as we accept responsibility for the health of our own bodies, anyone who has responded to the message of the Gospel and made the decision to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as remission for their sins becomes a member of the body of Christ.  The result of that decision is not only membership in the body, but along with it the responsibility to protect the message of the Gospel at all cost in order to preserve the health of the Church.  Just what is the cost of defending the faith?  In his letter, Paul  explains to Timothy just what to expect when you make that choice.

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”                         2 Timothy 3:12-17  NKJV

While warning Timothy to expect persecution Paul also tells him that his best defense against that persecution is the knowledge of the Scriptures, and continual study of the Word.  Doing that will make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Now I have to confess there have been many times in my life that I have doubted my ability to be a good defender of the faith, and have discussed with God just what I think my shortcomings might be.  His response to me was to look at Timothy through the eyes of Paul, and specifically notice what Timothy’s shortcomings were by the warnings Paul chose to direct to him.

Timothy was, apparently; timid (2 Tim. 1:7), ashamed (2 Tim. 1:8), afraid (2 Tim. 1:14), weak (2 Tim. 2:1), undedicated (2 Tim. 2:5), insecure (2 Tim. 2:12), distracted (2 Tim. 2:15), selfish (2 Tim. 2:22), and impatient (2 Tim. 2:24) just to name a few.  Oh, and let's not forget that Timothy was only in his early twenties.(1 Tim. 4:12)  As I see it, if Paul took the time to mention these specific things to Timothy, there must have been reason for him to do so.  Unfortunately for me, I can see where many of these admonitions could, and can, apply to me as well.

I believe as followers of Christ and members of the Church, we all are responsible not only to defend the Gospel we were given but to also look closely at ourselves and acknowledge that we all have shortcomings that need to be addressed. While it would be easy for us to decide in our own minds that we might not be “suited” to be a defender, I believe this passage, and both of the letters to Timothy tell us different.  Paul does a wonderful job of removing all of our excuses, and making it perfectly clear that the responsibility to defend the faith falls upon us all.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  2 Timothy 4:1-5  NKJV

The message from Paul, Peter, and John as they approached the end of their lives was essentially the same.  They worried about the health of the Church that was founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for which they had personally labored the past sixty years.  Their message, and challenge to us is to continue that fight and to not allow those who would enter the Church with the intent to weaken it by presenting a false gospel not based on the Word of God to succeed.  It is these people that we are warned to not only watch out for, but to oppose with the strength of the Gospel of Christ which is found in His Holy Scriptures.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  1 Corinthians 1:18  NKJV

In the Bible, a fool is defined as someone who “despises” wisdom.  If you look up the word despise in the dictionary you will find that it says it means to “regard with contempt”.  As I thought about that this week, it occurred to me that in order to regard something with contempt, I would first have to at least consider its merits in order to make the decision to accept or reject.  If this is true, then someone who chooses to despise, or regard with contempt the gospel of Christ, would first have to listen and consider before making that decision.  In other words, a fool is someone who hears the truth of the gospel and then chooses to reject it.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.”    Proverbs 12:15  NKJV

Some might disagree, but if you were to ask me what the largest, most obvious sign that we have arrived at the end of the Church age would be, it is the growing popularity of the emergent/seeker friendly church which fulfills the prophecy of the apostasy which occurs just before the rapture of the true Church.  This movement, which has abandoned the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, instead replaced it with a form of worship which ignores any talk of sin and the need to be born again.   Rather, the emphasis is on worship, doing good deeds, and becoming a “follower” of Jesus.

“A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart.”    Proverbs 18:2  NKJV

As I considered the direction the church today seems to be heading, I was reminded of something the apostle Paul had to say about the end of this age. In his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of the rapture of the Church in a rather interesting way.  He tells his readers that Israel will suffer from a temporary partial blindness until the full number of Gentile believers has “come in”.

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”    Romans 11:25  NKJV

The interesting thing about this statement is that it is a nautical term used to describe the full number of crew and passengers aboard a ship.  When the full number comes in, the ship then sails to its destination.  As I thought about the true Church filling up, and the apostate church also filling, I couldn’t help but remember the old saying; ship of fools. Wikipedia defines it this way; “The ship of fools is an allegory, originating from Plato that has long been a fixture in Western literature and art. The allegory depicts a vessel without a pilot, populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious, and seemingly ignorant of their course.”

“The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.”                           Proverbs 26:10  NKJV

Looking at the health of the Church today, and considering the description of the Laodicean church in Revelation, could you really call it healthy?  Or might it be a better description to call it a ship of fools? While we might hesitate to call someone a fool, the God of this universe has no such qualms.  The Word of God is full of passages which contrast the foolish and the wise, and also make it very clear what the destiny of each will be. Even though God has made the way of salvation so simple to understand and so easy to attain, man in his “wisdom” rejects the Gospel for a different way. 

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”                  Romans 1:20-21  NKJV

What the leaders of these churches seem unable to admit is that although the way of salvation is made plain in the Gospel of Christ, when they choose to lead their congregations down a different path, they are in essence, arguing with the God who created everything out of nothing and implying that He doesn’t know what He is talking about!  It also goes without saying that they are also somehow believe they are smarter than God because they possess a wisdom which shows an easier, better way to salvation than the one ordained by God.  This, in my opinion, does nothing but create a ship of fools rather than a healthy church teaching the true gospel of Christ.

“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”    1 Corinthians 1:20  NKJV

Anyone who would choose to ignore the simplicity and clarity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a fool.  Unfortunately, the ship of fools is not only large; it’s getting larger at an incredible pace.  Yet the ship of the wise, with Jesus as its captain, is the only one which will reach its destination at the rapture of the Church.  Do you want to know if you are on the right ship?  According to Paul, simply check the direction your ship is sailing.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,”                 1 Corinthians 15:1-4  NKJV

The word “hold fast” is the Greek word katechō which is also used as a nautical term meaning “to check a ship's headway i.e. to hold or head the ship”.  Our compass is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is this Gospel which we use to check our course.  Does your church preach this gospel or another “seeker friendly” one?  Be careful not to sail on the ship of fools.

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”                             Romans 10:8-9  NKJV

If the rapture of the church is indeed based on the number of members in the body of Christ, then it is logical to assume that the rapture will occur at the moment the last person makes his or her decision to accept Christ into their heart. That said, it is entirely possible any one of us could be the person sharing the Gospel with that individual at that particular time. Many of us are disappointed to still be here given all the signs that the rapture is indeed imminent, yet if Paul is telling us that there is a number that has to be reached for the “fullness of the Gentiles” to “come in”, it is reasonable to conclude that it's our fault we are still here. As a body of believers, we need to remember our first love and share the Gospel with everyone we meet so God can “fill the boat” to completeness.

If you are reading this and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ into your heart and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Father, I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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