“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, says these things. I know your works and your labor and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil. And you tried those pretending to be apostles, and are not, and have found them liars.” (Revelation 2:1-2).
It would seem absurd to think that these men claimed to have been the apostles selected by our Lord. The only solution would seem to be that their claims were either, that they had been called to that office after the Lord ascended, as Paul was; or, that they claimed the honor due to this name or office, in virtue of some election to it; or, that they claimed to be the successors of the apostles, and to possess and transmit their authority.
In either case there are but two types of apostles spoken of in the Scriptures, the twelve apostles who were sent out by our Lord to spread the Gospel and those apostles sent out by the Church, as the word APOSTLES simply means “messenger, ambassador.”
See Acts 14:14 – “but hearing this, the apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their clothes and ran in among the people, crying out.”
Barnabas is called an apostle because he was sent forth by the church on a particular message (Acts 13:3; compare Acts 14:26), not because he had been chosen to the special work of the apostleship. – Barnes
In our text, there were those who were claiming to be apostles when they were not. The Lord praised the Brethren at Ephesus for detecting their false claims. While today many denominations claim to have apostles, these men were not apostles sent forth by another Ecclesia, for the Lord would not have praised them for detecting false apostles of the world. No! These false apostles were in the Church!
While today we do not have veritable apostles, we do have congregational elders, who not only serve their local ecclesias, but who from time to time are invited to serve other ecclesias and conventions. These elders can and do sit on committees and publish Bible studies by way of journals, newsletters, books, etc. Their qualifications as elders are highlighted in 1 Tim. 3:1-7. (We discussed that at length yesterday)
They are to shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to them, by teaching them, encouraging them and preparing them for what the Lord describe as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” – Mark 7:15
Now what do you do when the very elders elected are the “wolves”?
Now we’re going to digress here a moment and consider a few things about eldership that were not covered yesterday.
Paul, when writing to Timothy in regards to the office of elder, writes: “It is a faithful saying, that if a man desireth the eldership, he desireth a good work.” (1 Tim 3:1 – Murdock) It’s not quite clear, whether Paul believed this to be a “faithful saying” or whether this was a “faithful saying” in general among the brethren. Regardless, it is a “good work”.
The first word “desireth” is Strong’s 3713, which means “reach out after (long for), covet after, desire.”
The second word “desireth” is Strong’s 1937, which is defined as “to set the heart upon, that is, long for, covet, desire, lust after.”
Elders (or Bishop, Overseer) is a position sanctioned by the Scriptures. We shouldn’t take the word “desire” and lust after” too literally. Before I was elected an elder, being an elder was not on my agenda. I loved the Lord, the Truth and the brethren. I wanted to serve them all in whatever way I could. But I did not go about politicking for the office. [Not that we should] I knew enough of the Scriptures that this was not an office to toy with. There were lessons to prepare, talks to present, Truths to defend. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that elders will have to “render an account” to the Lord for all they do, in regards to teaching and shepherding.
After all, Elders are the shepherds, the servants of the ecclesia. They look after the spiritual welfare of the flock.
1 Peter 5:2-3 tells us: “Feed the flock of God among you, taking the oversight, not by compulsion, but willingly; nor for base gain, but readily; nor as lording it over those allotted to you by God, but becoming examples to the flock.”
The ecclesia has been entrusted to the care of the elders. With eldership comes certain responsibilities, certain duties. Their sole responsibility is to the flock that have been entrusted to them. Namely the ecclesia. When I was elected as an elder, I was NOT chosen to shepherd any other ecclesia, but the ecclesia that appointed me to that office. There are of course secondary duties that come our way. For example, speaking at conventions or large gatherings of brethren.
I admit, it’s a bit of a high, when you see your name on a convention program for the first time. But then you wake up. Some elders NEVER wake up, and want to see their names on as many programs as possible. Let me ask. WHO suffers as a result?
One elder spoke his heart when he said; “why bless a handful in my class, when I can bless hundreds at a convention?” I guess we know where this brothers priorities were.
I spoke at a convention where 7 were in attendance. I took a major airline and a puddle jumper to get there. The Lord said “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” – Matthew 18:20
If I as an elder spend too much time on speaking engagements, what happens? I now have to prepare outlines. That is time consuming and will eventually take away from more pressing matters, that of taking care of the flock entrusted to me, those within our own ecclesia. Preparing for ecclesia meetings. There is nothing worse than coming UNPREPARED for Bible Study.
It happens. Why? It’s obvious, we don’t set aside time, we may have more “pressing” matters. Perhaps I’m putting together a really good outline to impress the brethren at my next speaking engagement?
Whatever the case …. we let our guard down and what happens? The individuals mentioned by Paul and Jude creep in and wreak havoc.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with serving at conventions. It’s an honor and a privilege. They serve a purpose, especially now at this end of the age, with our dwindling numbers. A lot of hard work goes into their preparation. That being said, if we as elders, find ourselves serving others, as oppose to those in our own ecclesia, we may find ourselves ATTENDING meetings and conventions instead of SERVING at meetings and conventions.
Now I’m going to digress even further ….
Some years ago I heard a brother from a convention platform mention how he had been voted out as an elder. He said in part:
“You know why they voted me out? Because I travel too much! I went around to the various conventions serving. They didn’t want that. They wanted their elder here!”
To that I ask, and what is wrong with that? Were you elected as a missionary to the world or a local elder to shepherd the flock? He also stated:
“It is known that I was voted out of my class. … a class I started, a class I fostered for over 58 years.”
His class??? I wonder what came first, his appointed as elder or the class that appointed him? Did he start the class and then profess himself elder? Or did the class after it was formed elect him as elder? It just seems presumptuous on this brother’s part to claim that he is entitled to be an elder because he “started” the class and “fostered” it “for over 58 years.”
He apparently felt he had been divinely appointed as a missionary to the world, for he later said;
“I don’t feel that my mission is for my class only. My mission is for all the classes!”
Who says? Did the class he “fostered” for 58 years, elect him as apostle. Giving him their blessing to forsake his duties to them and serve “all the classes”? I wasn’t aware that being an elder gave one such power and authority. Apparently it didn’t, because the brethren of this class saw the abuse, and withheld their hand.
And now this poor brother had to go and make phone calls, because he “had already about six commitments to serve conventions.” And so he had to call up everybody and tell them he was no longer an elder.
Ah, but have no fear … the Lord will fix it all. As the brother recounts;
“someone called me up” and said “we started a new class and we have invited you to serve as an elder.”
Hmmm …. I thought one had to belong to a class in order to be elected as an elder. Shouldn’t they have called the brother up first, invite him to be a part of the class and then elect him as elder? So nice of them to call and tell him, “Oh, by the way, we started a new class and we made you elder.”
Now this brother feels empowered, he tells the audience;
“the Lord says “no way are you going to stop what you’re doing!” And the new class say “…. you want to go anywhere you want to go … go ahead!””
I guess he forgot to tell the audience that this new class was actually a split from the class he fostered for 58 years.
So there you have it …. Self proclaimed elders, brethren who will do anything to be an elder, to be prominent. To forsake those who appointed him, for the sake of traveling and making a name for oneself. And when the class sets him straight, he goes elsewhere, keeps his titles and his appointments. Perhaps they take the Apostle Paul’s words literally, “if a man desireth the eldership, he desireth a good work” that is of course to “long for, covet, desire, lust after.” What better way to describe such individuals?
I knew of another elder, who traveled a lot, the class told him, “brother, you travel too much, we need you here.” Did he tell them, “No! I am appointed of the Lord, to travel to all the classes”? NO, he said “okay” and declined all invitations. He listened to the voice of the Lord through the ecclesia.
Others do not … they do what they feel is important.
Okay, let’s return to our Revelation 2:1-2
In our Revelation text, the Lord said, “you tried those.” According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the word “tried” is defined as: “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quality.” Does that sound like we should just go along with what the elders say and teach? The Lord says you can either easily put them to the test or you can easily be deceived.
Our focus should always be on the Christ who is in our midst. Revelation 1:12-13 reads,
“And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands. And in the midst of the seven lampstands I saw One like the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and tied around the breast with a golden band.”
The emphasis is not on the seven candlesticks—the emphasis is on Christ who is in the midst of the seven candlesticks—Christ is right in the middle. But He will allow His followers to go astray.
Let’s continue the description of Christ:
“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like a flame of fire. And His feet were like burnished brass having been fired in a furnace. And His voice was like the sound of many waters. And He had seven stars in His right hand, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. And His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” (verses 14-16).
This great Being is described to introduce the seven eras of Revelation 2 and 3. If we let Christ and His work slide from the middle of the picture, all we have left are deceived churches. So the emphasis is not on being “in the Church,” but following the Lord! When John saw Christ in this vision, he “fell at his feet as dead” (verse 17).
Unless this same Christ leads the Church, we are in serious trouble; and if Christ isn’t leading the Church, we should not follow! If the Brethren at Ephesus, in a right attitude, tried those who said they were apostles, shouldn’t you? This was the same Ephesus Church which was discussed in 3 John 9-10. Was Diotrephes one of those false apostles? How did he get all those people to follow him while casting John’s followers out of the Church? How much authority did he have? It’s difficult to say. John’s followers, who stood by John and Christ, were “cast out.” The point is, John discerned Diotrephes’ evil motives and rebuked him. We need to do the same.
Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul said the leader is to follow Christ. Follow a man only as he follows Christ. We can’t do that unless we are testing and proving all things. It’s very biblical to do so.
1 John 4:1 tells us
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits to see if they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
John pleaded with the brethren to “try the spirits.” Why? Because there are “many” false prophets and false leaders. Often these deceivers were among God’s people. We must always test our leaders with God’s Word.
We must prove all things! Individuals go astray. Ecclesias go astray. Christ never goes astray! A man is not the trunk of the tree. An organization is not the trunk of the tree. God’s Word is the trunk of the tree. And what Christ established through “That Servant” for some 40 years is a big part of the tree trunk. Anyone who has been among the Lord’s people for any period of time is use to change. But not all change is good.
We read in Acts 17:11
“And these were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see if those things were so.”
Do you realize brethren, that your approach to Bible study helps reveal to God how noble you are? Do you search the Scriptures daily “with all readiness of mind,” eager to see what the Bible says, so you can follow Christ more perfectly? God’s elect are very noble people when it comes to their Bible study.
Thayer’s Lexicon says the word “searched” is often used as the verb “judge” in the Bible. The Bereans approached their Bible study by investigating and examining the evidence. That includes examining our elders and those who take the lead, as long as it is done with a Berean attitude. God knows if an attitude is right. It is good to have “righteous indignation” when the direction is wrong among the Lord’s people. God certainly does!
Luke said these people had greater nobility because of this attitude. That means a higher reward in God’s Kingdom. The very elect have fallen in love with God’s truth. They love God so much they will stand alone or even die for Him. They are not deceived by “hugs and kisses” without real substance. And they are not deceived by endless talk of “love”! They know what the true love of God is. They judge by “fruits” (Matthew 7:16), not outward appearance.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-11
“and with all deceit of unrighteousness in those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, so that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”
God will personally send strong delusion! But why? Why would God send strong delusion to His own people? Does He want us to fail? Of course not. This is God’s way of testing who “received not the love of the truth” (verse 10). God wants to know how much you love Him and His Word. It’s not possible to deceive God’s VERY elect (Matthew 24:24).
Paul is not talking about normal delusion being sent to God’s people—this is “strong delusion.” We’re going to see thousands of people deceived because they are “blind” to their own spiritual condition (Revelation 3:17). They assume there is safety in numbers, and they assume they are God’s very elect who cannot be deceived. If they are not careful, these assumptions will lead them into the Great Tribulation and possibly the lake of fire!
We all think we love God. God requires that we have the depth of love necessary to withstand strong delusion. God sends “strong delusion” to His people to determine who will be His very elect. God wants to know who loves the truth—and who just has it. With a wrong attitude, some are going to lose out big time! (2 Thessalonians 2:10). God is dead serious about our calling. The Lord’s people have been flooded with the present truth. Now God is going to see if we just talk about faith—or really live by faith—by His Word. Do we remember what we were taught and do we live by it?
God sends strong delusions to see if His people are Faithful. The Lord wants to know who will qualify for His Kingdom. That is the whole purpose for our existence. There are probably more warnings in the New Testament about false teachers than any other subject. If God saw fit to put these warnings in His Word, then we brethren, should take it seriously.
“Change is everywhere. It’s in everything. And frankly brethren, when you come to understand people, it’s appearing in just about everyone…”
We read in I Thessalonians 5:21: ‘Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.’
Revised Standard and other translations will more often say ‘that which is right.’ Hold it fast. Now, that’s not a suggestion, that’s a plea …. a command.
Why would Paul, tell us to hold fast that which is good after we proved all things if it could not be done? Now you know how people say, ‘You can prove anything from the Bible,’ or ‘the Bible is a fiddle in which you can play any tune.’
The word there for “hold fast”, is the Greek word katecho (Strong’s 2722). Any one familiar with Catholicsm recognize what word comes from katecho … catechism. It means to hold down or hold fast, to have, to keep in memory…”
You know I think one of the most amazing things about the changes through the doctrinal sleight of hand we are living through, is that brethren forget how much truth we have. They just forgot it! It just went out of their head. They had it, but they never studied later on the way they always studied earlier on, and it just went out of memory.
It’s interesting what katecho means. The Catholics know what it means. When instructing their youth they called it catechism because they knew exactly what katecho means. Now they don’t hold to the ‘hold fast that which is right’ part, but they wanted their youth to prove all things within Catholic doctrine. It always means “possess”. The truth is something we possess and retain.
Let’s turn to Acts 17. There are those who think a sermon has to have something new to be exciting…I think the most exciting thing in the Bible is the truth. The truth is what fits. The truth is the mind of God. What could be more exciting than that? Studying something that is new, but false—but hey, it’s new!, right?
Acts 17:20, Paul is being accused:
“For you bring certain strange things to our ears, therefore we are minded to know what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers who were there spent their time in nothing else except to tell or to hear something newer.)”
‘Oh, now we’re going to hear another sermon that is just the same old, same old’
Through the years I have heard brethren say ‘I want to hear more meat in the sermon.’ Invariably, what these brethren were saying is; “you’re preaching to the choir, ‘You’re not telling us anything we don’t know. I want to hear something new.’
I call this SPIRITUAL BOREDOM
Do you want something new, or are you willing to live with the same old, same old? It may be the ‘old, old story’, but let me tell you something, it’s a story that never grows stale. If it does, then the problem isn’t with the story.
Beware of being unwilling to change in the areas of your life that involve character growth, but always willing to take a look at that little different idea that comes along—The truly consecrated is supposed to be unwilling to change when it comes to ideas, but always willing to take a look at his character and change wherever he needs to…”
We must not be part of what I call the ‘Bible Student Ecumenical Movement’, that is reflected in the kind of ecumenical thinking that the Catholic church is attempting. The Mother Church wants her daughters back, FINE. But, we can’t be in God’s Church, “spiritual ecumenists.”
You know there are a lot of voices within the Bible Students community, books, booklets, tracts, newsletters, journals. And I was guilty of subscribing to them all. But in recent years, I’ve let my subscriptions lapse. I figured, since they all claim to be heirs of The Divine Plan, I might as well stick with The Divine Plan, and not the cheap knock-offs out there.
While I recognize that it is a noble cause to publish such study material, in an effort to help others understand The Plan, or to defend it, there have been in the past those who have endeavored to rewrite The Divine Plan in a simpler, easier to read format. These have all failed miserably in that regards. While a noble attempt, they lack “meat” found nowhere else, but in the original. Others have made subtle changes in The Plan to reflect their views.
Many individuals and ecclesias have even used these resources in their own personal and ecclesia studies as primary study material. This is a grave mistake, as I feel personally that the Harvest Message (the writings of Pastor Russell) should be the primary material used in our personal and eccclesia studies.
We don’t want to pick up any doctrinal baggage from these various sources. Brethren don’t realize how much they ingest from reading all that “spiritual junk”. And yet the basic command was to ‘prove all things, hold fast that which is good,’ and that’s what the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 ‘…in that they received the word with all the readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.’
But, 10 verses later you’ve got this bunch from Athens, not very far from Berea. They say, ‘Titillate us!’ That’s what they wanted. So there are lots of brethren and elders, and ecclesias out there as a result. I’m not attacking them personally, I’m not saying they aren’t consecrated, but they are missing a very fundamental command—and how deeply they are consecrated, and how hot they are, is a huge question…”
Matthew 24:13: ‘But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.’ All right, we have to endure, but what does it mean?
Look at 2 Thessalonians 3:6, we’re going to look at the Greek here again:
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.’ But he commands them, ‘I command you, hold fast the tradition as you have been taught.”
Now 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or epistle.”
“Stand Fast” – A little different Greek word here…krateo. See what you notice.
Katecho is ‘hold down, fast, have, keep in memory, possess, return, take, seize on, stay.’
Krateo is ‘to use strength, a little stronger even, to seize or retain, to hold by, to hold fast, to keep.’
If you were describing to a Greek mind, if you said, ‘Well, I want you to krateo the stick. That means to ‘grab hold of’ or ‘lay your hand on it’, and ‘obtain’ and ‘retain.’
Now the TRUTH is something we obtain, and then we’re told after we grab it to retain it. That’s exactly what it means. That’s krateo, stand fast, and if people don’t do this—withdraw from them. That’s what it says!…”
Turn to 2 Timothy 1:13, this is katecho again, ‘Hold fast the form of sound words.’ We talked about the importance of sound words, a sound mind, and sound doctrine and so forth. You hear sound words, don’t follow unsound things…”
Next is 2 Timothy 3:14: ‘Continue you in the things you have learned and have been assured of knowing of whom you have learned them.’ Do you do that? ANY truth you possess, you learned from “That Servant”.
If you take a look at Church history, you’ll see that there has always, always, been a battle internally for the soul of the Church, between those who would change and those who would not.
History reveals that those who want change usually ‘win,’ and I put that in quotes. They usually ‘win.’ And they usually outnumber those who don’t because of the drive—the need—in human beings to go along to get along. To not be willing to disrupt the status quo is great. If you doubt that, look at how many stayed with the Society after the death of the Pastor. There’s a battle for the soul of the Church. And if I read prophecy correctly, the battle is going to intensify, brethren, not diminish.
This is war brethren, and that’s why we’ve been chosen to be soldiers. We’re called and told, ‘We must war a good warfare,’ and it’s going to be that way to the end.
I’m not trying to lay any ground work here. I’m just saying you better make your own decisions as to what you’re going to do. Are you going to hold fast? Or are you going to sort of, over the course of time, become lukewarm? Go with the status quo? We have to be very careful that we don’t take part in this ‘ecumenical movement’ within the brotherhood. To align ourselves with the majority, (for the sake of unity) because we fear being left alone. When in reality, we’re never REALLY alone.
2 Timothy 4:4
“They shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables.”
We’re here, Brethren!!! We can no longer say “the time will come”. The time has come. Brethren are NOT enduring. It’s not, ‘it came and went.’ It is now come. And Brethren are out there looking for teachers.
Just hear of some of the insanity that is being promoted from the platform by some and what’s worse, not just the ecclesias that continue to appoint them, but those ecclesias and conventions that continue to invite them.
When I first began to associate with the brethren, I marveled at some conventions that would invite the same speakers year, after year …. and now I know why!
As a side note, you do realize that elders are not the only ones commissioned to stand up for the Truth. It will take courage, brethren, but if you’re in the presence of somebody, just you and one other person, in the presence of somebody who’s teaching something that’s wrong? Are you going to show courage? What would you do?
Just remember … it was this same lukewarm spirit, of appointing men, year after year, without testing them, requiring of them an accounting that gave rise to the hierarchy that we know as Babylon the Great. So today, we have a Little Babylon, we have wolves in sheep’s clothing, false brethren, and deceivers in our midst …. strong delusions, itching ears due to every wind of doctrine.
These men didn’t appoint themselves …. You did!
Discourse given by Rolando Rodriguez