Friday, March 17, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday March 19, 2017

Over 125,000 readers worldwide

(How to be rightly related to CHRIST, and each other)
(John 15:1-16:4)

   Throughout the Old Testament, the analogy of the “vineyard” is used as a depiction of GOD’s beloved Israel. However, this term is never used apart from the idea of degeneration. The descriptions by Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21-22), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 15 & 19:10-14), Hosea (Hosea 10:1), and King David (Psalm 80:8-13) all stress the point of degeneration, or, a moral decline of GOD’s chosen people (the Church).
    In John 15:1-16:4, the author of GOD writes of JESUS’ instructions to HIS Disciples, that they should be “rightly related to HIM”, “rightly related to each other” as Christians (15:11-17), and, “rightly related to the World” of Unbelievers (15:18-16:4).
In other words, Christians are to have three respective duties. They are to;

·        Abide in JESUS (Vs.1-10)
·        Love each other (Vs.11-17)  
·        Witness and testify to the World (Vs.18-16:4)

    “I am the True Vine” is the last of the seven, now famous, “I am” statements of our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST that are found in the Gospel according to Saint John. The scene in this particular passage, takes place on the eve of JESUS’ trials and subsequent Crucifixion by Roman method. Here JESUS seeks to relate and demonstrate to HIS Disciples, and to us, just what GOD THE FATHER, and HE HIMSELF, expects from HIS followers as Christians living in the world.
    JESUS, as the “True Vine”, fulfills that which GOD had intended for the Israelites and the world in general. GOD is the Cultivator and Protector of all of life, human and otherwise, and HE desires good fruit from each of us. In fact, we see JESUS stressing that point in this passage (15:2-16), no less than eight times. The fruit, which GOD expects from the human side of HIS creation, is “obedience”, “righteousness”, and “justice”.
    JESUS tells us that every branch, or person in this case, that does not produce good fruit will be cut off from HIS vine, and indeed, cuts themselves off from eternal life. Here we see that, every person (branch), who professes to be a follower of CHRIST, is not necessarily a “true follower”, or “a producing branch” of “THE TRUE VINE”. Such branches, or people, will be cut off from THE TRUE VINE in the last day, or in the “time of harvest”. The great example of this is Judas Iscariot. Although Judas Iscariot was a branch of THE TRUE VINE, he was not a producing branch, or true follower. He did not produce good fruit, and therefore, had to be cut off from THE TRUE VINE, and burned in the end.
    In the Greek, the word the Apostle John, and other New Testament writers use for “remain” is “meno” (men-o), and it means “to stay in a given place, state of mind, relationship, or expectancy”; and “to abide, continue, dwell, or endure”. This word occurs 11 times in this particular chapter of this Gospel account of John. The fruitfulness, of which JESUS speaks of in this passage, can only occur, as a result of HIS life being reproduced in ours.
    In other words, our life and behavior must reflect JESUS’ life and behavior, and we must “remain” in HIM, or “continue” to reflect HIS image to others, through our own behavior and actions, throughout our remaining lifetimes, after pledging ourselves to HIM.
    We, as Christians, must prove to the world, through our behavior and actions, not our mouth, that Christianity really does produce the best men and women. It is only by doing this, that we can be considered to be “true followers”, or “producing branches” of the “TRUE VINE” of GOD, which is CHRIST JESUS.
    All those who remain, or abide in JESUS, will also continue to bear good fruit until the day of the final harvest. However, all those who fail to remain in JESUS, or, in other words, “remain on the LIVING VINE”, despite all of GOD’s tender loving care and faithfulness to them, they will have to be lopped off from the VINE, and cast into the fire to burn as useless wood in the end.
    In John 15:11-17, JESUS moves on to instruct HIS disciples (and us), as to how we should “rightly relate to each other” as Christians. Here, we see JESUS delivering to all who seek to follow HIM, the only commandment that HE would ever give, and it is to “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and it is a commandment that the Apostle John personally, never forgot.
    According to Jewish folklore, the Apostle John, who lived longer than all of JESUS’ original twelve Disciples, in his old age, had to be carried into the Temple, because he could no longer walk. At that time, the Apostle’s sermon consisted of only one sentence, “Little children, love one another”. It is one of the more lovely stories in a Biblical Church history that consists of countless lovely stories from the early Church. Every time I think of it, it nearly brings me to tears.

John 15:18-16:4

   In John 15:18-16:4, JESUS instructs us on how we should relate to the world. I continue to stress the point that, when we choose the Christian walk, we automatically become strangers to worldly behavior. We are no longer permanent residents of this earth, but rather, we become citizens of Heaven, and therefore, the laws of GOD should become paramount to us.
    Here in this passage, JESUS warns of the hatred that the World will have for those who follow HIM. As long as a person belongs to the World, the World will always love that person. That is primarily because that person resembles the World through his or her behavior and actions, and to hate that person, would, quite literally, mean hating themselves.
    The person who hates “the true Christian”, hates JESUS, and thereby, hates GOD. Anyone, who is shown the Word of GOD, and does not accept it, is guilty of denying CHRIST, who is the “personification” of the Word of GOD, and therefore, is GOD.
    We as Christians have a duty to go out into the world and share the Gospel with dignity and respect. JESUS empowered us with the HOLY SPIRIT, and GOD goes before us, to prepare the hearts of those to whom we may be speaking. “Be of good cheer”, and “be not afraid” is what JESUS said to Peter and HIS other Disciples that day in far off Palestine, where HE “walked on water”, in order to give them encouragement to “remain in HIM”.
    We, as Christians, are called to go out into the world and spread GOD’s wonderful gospel with dignity and respect, and we don’t have to be afraid as we proceed. JESUS will always come to us, from across the storms of life to render aid to us when we’re in need of it, but we must continue to bear good fruit, by remaining in HIM, if we are to expect HIS help with our mission. If we fail to bear good fruit, as Judas Iscariot failed to, we will be cut off from the “TRUE VINE” that brings with it, Eternal Life.
    JESUS eternally encourages us through these immortal words that HE spoke to HIS closest disciples, just prior to HIS ascension back into HIS Heavenly Realm; “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I AM with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20 - KJV).

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

Friday, March 10, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday March 12, 2017

Over 125,000 readers worldwide

(Made alive with CHRIST)
(Ephesians 2:1-10)

   Whenever we decide to choose the Christian walk, we are also choosing to alienate ourselves from worldly attitudes and behavior. We are no longer permanent residents of this earth, but rather, we become citizens of Heaven in advance, so to speak, and therefore, the laws of GOD should become paramount to us, right now, while living here on earth.
    Aspiring Christians need to begin to let GOD dominate our thought process, if we are to move away from the spirit of this world, satan, who refuses to obey GOD at any time. We have to, in effect, “change our mind”, or “repent” from our former “worldly way” of thinking. We then can, in a very real sense, begin to “share the mind of CHRIST”, and we can begin to incorporate HIS thoughts into all of our decision-making.  
    In the biblical sense, the word “heart” is translated from the Greek word “kardia” which describes one’s “thoughts” or “way of thinking”, not one’s emotions. Still, our conversion is often treated as “an emotional experience of psychological change”. And even though here in Ephesians 2, Paul correctly depicts “conversion” as a “spiritual transformation”, or, “a metamorphosis” from “a state of spiritual death” into “a state of spiritual life”, this passage does have some psychological implications also.
    Before our conversion to Christianity, we generally follow the ways of the world and are driven by sinful thoughts and desires. And while, even after conversion, we still are capable of sin, our lives are, for the most part, re-oriented toward GOD, through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT. However, all in all, it is not until a person actually falls in love with goodness, that wrong things, will no longer fascinate, and have power over them.
    The reality of “our inward change”, must, in time, be reflected in a true change of lifestyle, actions, and behavior, and if it’s not, the supposed conversion, is not real. Our relationship with GOD is our greatest asset, and it must be nurtured and invested in, in order to keep us from “backsliding” and returning to old worldly behavior, or “spiritual bankruptcy”.
    Human nature has long been corrupted, and we constantly tend to desire to create “a god who is made in our own image”, instead of desiring to worship the GOD, WHO made us in HIS divine spiritual image. The GOD of our salvation through JESUS CHRIST is the only GOD, and theologians often debate whether it is salvation or faith that HE grants to us freely.
    However, the true Christian has “faith” that “the gift of salvation” is an example of how GOD’s grace is greater than all of our sins combined. Paul tells us that GOD acted graciously to grant salvation to each of us who believe, and, no amount of good deeds can earn us what GOD freely gives.
    GOD determined long ago to form the Christian Church out of the now flawed humanity that is “us”. He always took those of us who were “dead in sin” and made us “alive in CHRIST JESUS”. HE, quite literally, re-fashions us to make us suitable for every good work that HE has prepared for us to do, and, through JESUS CHRIST, HE closed the gap between us and HIMSELF, and brought us back into “a personal relationship of friendship with HIM”.
    GOD sees the unbeliever, who is walking with satan and is thereby, in step with, even this current generation and it’s worldly way of thinking, and HE desires to exchange our old “life of misery”, and “temporal happiness (at best)”, for “a life that is filled with grace, mercy, and eternal spiritual riches”.
    Salvation, and GOD’s continued abundant grace, is available to all people. However, one has to voluntarily choose to become a partaker in that salvation and enormous grace. Every human being has the opportunity to be “made alive with CHRIST”, to be at “oneness and peace with CHRIST”, and, to “be a temple for the LORD”, our GOD and SAVIOR, WHO is now, in Heaven. We’ve always had the “liberty” to choose, however, we can never obtain “freedom”, until we use that liberty to choose CHRIST JESUS, and walk away from the trappings of this world, which, right now, is being dominated by satan.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

Friday, March 3, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday March 5, 2017

Over 124,000 readers worldwide

(Loving one another)
(1 John 4:7-21)

   Since perfect love originates with GOD in the Christian sense, a person who loves his fellowman is one who is born of GOD, and, in a discerning way, “knows” GOD (“oida” in the Greek – “to know inherently or intuitively”). Therefore, in contrast, the absence of love can be viewed as evidence that a person does not know GOD. And although all mankind shares “GOD’s nature” that is given to us at birth, by the time we reach an age of accountability, we have, through parental misguidance and being a product of our environment, been alienated from those “communicable attributes”, and we, as a result, have to be “born again”, in order to retrieve them.
    In 1 John 4:7-21, the apostle and author of GOD, John, elevates the topic of love to yet another level. Here John shows the divine and inseparable link between “GOD” and “love”. GOD showed how much HE loves us by sending HIS only begotten SON into the “human realm” so that we the people might have eternal life through HIM (v.9). HE did not send HIM because we were lovable, but rather, HE sent HIM because HIS love for us required that HE rescue us from ourselves.
    Such an action from GOD provides the defining standard for love as we know it, and thus, we as Christians are responsible to love each other because we enjoy the privilege of GOD’s largesse. Not only is GOD the source of love, HE is love itself, by HIS very nature. GOD is love, and anyone who doesn’t love his fellowman doesn’t know GOD.
    Christians who say they love all mankind, and indeed, really do have the love of GOD in their hearts, cannot stand idly by and watch while any other groups of people, different than themselves, are being treated unjustly, or, are being oppressed in any way, without coming to their defense in the name of JESUS. The love of CHRIST must be expressed fully by us, and exemplified through us, in our actions (v.12).
    In the New Testament Greek, the word used for “abide” is “meno”, and it means “to stay in a given place, state, relationship, or expectancy”. If we abide in our relationship with GOD, our love will grow more perfect. And when our history judges us, we won’t be afraid to come before GOD. We can face HIM confidently, because our history will show that we tried to live like CHRIST here on earth (v.17). Learning to show and express the “divine love” of CHRIST will dispel all fear of the coming judgment, which “true Christians” will not have to face.
    Because GOD is love, and CHRIST’ new commandment is love, it only stands to reason that love will inevitably bring us closer to each other, and, at one and the same time, closer to GOD. It is only by love that we ever come to know GOD, and it is only by GOD, that we ever come to know love.
    “The Christian Hope” has, throughout the history of the Church, served as motivation to make life on earth conform more fully, with the Word and ways of GOD, just as they were presented to us by JESUS CHRIST, during HIS life here on earth. The very foundation of that Christian hope, rest on “faith” in CHRIST JESUS, WHO delivered us into salvation.
    The only commandment that JESUS ever gave us was to “love one another”, and so we see why it is said that “faith”, “hope”, and “love” are “the three great enduring things” (1 Corinthians 13:13), and of those three things, “love” is the greatest, because “GOD is love”.
    All that we know now is partial and incomplete, because, until we finish this Christian race, we will remain “children” in the purest sense of the word, and in the true sense of what knowledge really is. We are incapable right now, of handling the Heavenly knowledge that GOD will one day impart to those who abide in HIM to the end. But we do know now that if we don’t have love for those brothers and sisters that we now see all around us, we will never be able to love GOD, WHOM we cannot physically see at all. We must rely on our “faith” to maintain “hope” as motivation to endure this earthly journey until we are ushered into GOD’s OWN glorious presence by CHRIST JESUS.
    And finally, in the biblical Greek, the word used for “confidence” is “parrhesia” (par-rhay-see-ah), and it is “a sense of sureness that is exemplified in both spirit and demeanor”. GOD HIMSELF has commanded that we love not only HIM, but also, our Christian brothers and sisters. And when we honor and obey that command, we can be confident that, when we stand before the LORD, our conscience will be clear, and we will be able to face HIM without fear, guilt, or shame.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander  

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website