Biyernes, Abril 6, 2012

The Only Authorized Preachers of God's Words Series (Part 1)

The Only Authorized Preachers of God's Words Series 
(Part 1)

(First of Two parts)
"Do you understand what you are reading?"

by Benildo C. Santiago

One who has finished medical course can elucidate on the complexities of medicine. One who has mastered law can articulate on the intricacies of law. One who has specialized in techniques in painting can teach this art form. Therefore, anyone who has zealously studied the Bible can preach the words of God, right? Wrong.

While researching at a library on an ancient city in the East, an archaeology student catches a glimpse of a Bible in a huge pile of old archaeological and historical records. At once he regards it as a researchable reference material on equal footing with the rest of the other documents there. Wrong again.
He has earned a doctorate in communications, pored over hundreds of books about journalism and published excellent dissertations and papers on the subject and so, he assumes he has no problem understanding the Bible. Wrong once again.
Very much unlike secular and other religious writings, the Bible is, contrary to widespread belief, not an "open book" in the sense that it is not knowable by means of human wisdom (I Cor. 1:21, Today's English Version). High educational attainment, combined with assiduity to learn, is no guarantee that a person will be able to understand it. Intelligence and diligence are not even necessary conditions or prerequisites for com­prehending it.
"For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom..."
II Corinthians 1:21, Today's English Version)

'Mystery kept secret'

Unperceived by many Bible readers, though plainly written, the gospel is a "mystery kept secret." Writes the Apostle Paul, "Now to Him who is able to establish you ac­cording to my gospel and the preach­ing of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began" (Rom. 16:25, New King James Version). At least three basic truths in the phrase, "mystery kept secret," are worth stressing. First, the gospel is a "mystery." Second, it is "kept se­cret." And third, it is the Lord God Almighty who kept this mystery se­cret. Unquestionably, human wisdom, when faced with these truths, would be of no use. Patience, persistence, and perseverance (to learn) would be of no help either, for how could man-his great abilities and will to discover things notwithstand­ing-depend on these traits to try to decipher that which his Maker has designed to be inaccessible through them? His one and only chance to know the gospel is-when its Keeper Himself reveals it to him. Fortunately, the Lord God did re­veal it. Apostle Paul says, "according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began."
 However, the Lord God revealed the mystery not to all, but only to a select few. Thankful to God for this, the Lord Jesus Christ prayed, " ... Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned" (Matt. 11:25, TEV). The Lord God "purposely chose" the unlearned, the weak, and those whom "the world looks down on, and despises, and thinks [are] noth­ing," so that "no one can boast in God's presence" {I Cor. 1:27-29, Ibid.).

 Divinely commissioned messengers
Who are the select few to whom the Lord God has given the exclusive right to know the gospel mystery, which He kept secret? They are the messengers of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ, examples of whom were the apostles:  "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God .. "(Mark 4:11, NKJV) "And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach." (Mark 3:14, Revised Standard Version)

Being able to know the gospel mystery is, therefore, a gift, which has been bestowed only upon the messengers of God and of Christ, like the apostles. As the only recipients of this gift, they possess the exclusive right and privilege to preach God's words. Hence, the message of God can never be proclaimed without them:
   "And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?" (Rom. 10:15, TEV)
Not only does the Lord Jesus Christ declare that the knowledge of the gospel mystery has been given to His and God's messengers, but He also at once makes dear that the same has been withheld from those whom He and God did not commission, so that even if these unsent ones try hard to understand it, they will never be able to. Christ says:
   " 'To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that they may see and not perceive, And they may hear and not understand (Mark 4:11-12, NKJV)
The inability of "those who are outside" the divine commissioning to come to the knowledge of the truth-however painstakingly they may try-was similarly pointed out by the Apostle Paul:
    "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (II Tim. 3:7, King James Version)
As plain as day, to "those who are outside," the Word of God forever remains a "mystery kept secret," a helpless situation that automatically denies to them the divine authority to preach it:
    "And how could anyone spread the news without a commission to do so? "(Rom. 10:15, New English Bible)
That the unschooled fishermen of Galilee were given to "know the mystery," whereas "the wise and learned," "who are outside" the divine commissioning "see and not perceive ... hear and not understand," explicitly proves that the Bible is indeed not an "open book" but a "mystery kept secret" by God and revealed exclusively to His messengers, who, in turn, made it known "to those who love God." Says Paul:
   "For I am a minister of the Church by divine commission, a commission granted to me for your benefit, and for a special purpose: that I might fully declare God's Word-that sacred mystery which up till now has been hidden in every age and every generation, but which is now as clear as daylight to those who love God. They are those to whom God has planned to give a vision of the wonder and splendour of his secret plan for the nations." (Col. 1:25-27, Phillips Modern English Bible)
The Apostle Paul, one of the very few exceptions for being a messenger of God who was learned, testified that he was granted a "divine commission" for the "special purpose" of "fully declaring God's Word." He clarified, though, that what he spoke of was not his own wisdom, but the "mysterious secret wisdom" of the Lord God, who sent him:
   "The wisdom we speak of is that mysterious secret wisdom of God which he planned before the creation for our glory today. None of the powers of the world have known this wisdom." (I Cor. 2:7-8, Ibid.)

'Do you understand what you are reading?'
What one particular instance in the first-century Church graphically illustrates the fact that only the messengers of God are given "to know the mystery" and preach it?

It is the one in which Philip the evangelist was sent by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia, to explain to him a passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah: 

"An angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Get ready and go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza'. (This road is not used nowadays.) So Philip got ready and went. Now an Ethiopian eunuch, who was an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, was on his way home. He had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was going back home in his carriage. As he rode along he was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, 'Go over to that carriage and stay close to it'. Philip ran over and heard him reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' The official replied, 'How can I understand, unless someone explains it to me?' And he invited Philip to climb up and sit in the carriage with him . The official asked Philip, 'Tell me, of whom is the prophet saying this? Of himself or of someone else?' Then Philip began to speak; starting from this passage of scripture, he told him the Good News about Jesus." (Acts 8:26-31,34-35, TEV)

Despite being a man of great authority and intelligence, the Ethiopian eunuch was totally, helplessly ignorant of the passage he was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah and thus needed guidance from a divinely commissioned preacher, Philip. When asked by Philip, "Do you understand what you are reading?" the eunuch willingly admitted, "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?" Philip, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wasted no time and did the explaining right then and there. Enlightened, the eunuch believed and volunteered to be baptized (Acts 8:36-38).


'Through the Spirit'

How did the Lord God let His messengers share His mysterious secret then? Not "by means of their own wisdom," but "through the Spirit."
This is attested to by Apostle Paul:

 "For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. (I Cor. 1:21, TEV) And, he further says, "Thus God has, through the Spirit, let us share his secret. For nothing is hidden from the Spirit, not even the deep wisdom of God" (I Cor. 2:10, PMEB).

In warning about false prophets, Apostle Peter also declares, "no prophecy of scripture can be interpreted by a single human mind. No prophecy came because a man wanted it to: men of God spoke because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit" (II Pet. 1:20, Ibid.).
The validity of these apostolic attestations is manifest in the words of no less than the greatest messenger of God of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. On His own divine commissioning, He says:
   "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people." (Luke 4:18-19, Ibid.)

How did the Lord God let His messengers share His mysterious secret?    "... The depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God."
(I Corinthians 2:11, Jerusalem Bible)
According to the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, Paul and Peter, the Lord God has let His messengers share His secret through the Holy Spirit, a divine process that saw actual demonstration in Phillip's evangelizing of the Ethiopian eunuch, most of all in the instances of preaching during the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His apostles.
Without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, nobody and nobody will ever be able 10 know, much less preach, the mystery of God's Word, for "the depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:11,ferusalem Bible).

License to practice medicine or law is obtainable from the government after the candidates meet all the prerequisites and pass the examinations. But the authority to preach the Word of God is obtainable only "through the Spirit" (I Cor. 2:10, PMEB). It is God, through the Holy Spirit, who gives a person the authority to preach the pure gospel.
As promised by the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles undoubtedly received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). The people who heard and believed in the gospel as preached by them similarly received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:1- 44). It doesn't follow, however, that all who receive the Holy Spirit inside the true Church are authorized to preach. For, as Apostle Paul points out, all true believers, who are baptized into Christ's body (I Cor. 12:12-31), which is the Church of Christ (Col. 1:18; Rom. 16:16), receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 10:1-48), but not all Church of Christ members receive the authority to preach:
  "Is everyone an apostle? Of course not. Is everyone a preacher? No .... " (I Cor. 12:29, Living Bible)

'Another gospel'

Bereft as they are of the Holy Spirit what then do non-divinely commissioned preachers do-wittingly or unwittingly-when they preach' the Bible?

They "pervert the Gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). "Pervert" is the word used in the KJV, RSV, NKJV, New International Version, Douay Version, and Young's Literal Translation. It is rendered "distort" in the New American Standard Bible, Moffatt Translation, REB, and NEB. "Twist and change" is the translation by the LB, and "change" by the JB and TEV. They actually preach "another gospel." This is what Apostle Paul said in his admonition to the Galatian Christians as he forewarned them about anyone who would preach a gospel that was different from the one he and the other messengers of God had already preached to them:
"I MARVEL that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:6-8, KJV)
    Preachers who preach "another gospel" by, perverting, distorting, twisting, and changing the true gospel of Christ are, without a doubt, devoid of the Spirit of God. They are false preachers, about whom Apostle Paul says, "May [they] be condemned to hell!" (Gal. 1:8, TEV) Issuing a similar warning on the danger of giving heed to non-divinely commissioned preachers, Apostle Peter says that these preachers, whom he describes as "ignorant and unstable," "distort" the Scriptures, and he foretells "their own destruction." Says Peter:
     " ... Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (II Pet. 3:15-16, NIV)
These preachers' being "ignorant" of Paul's letters and the other Scriptures that Apostle Peter speaks of is a lucid proof that the knowledge of the gospel mystery is not given to them, that they are "those who are outside" the divine commissioning, and that they are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. In view of this, Apostle Peter exhorts the Christians, in the succeeding verse, to "be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position" (II Pet. 3:17, Ibid.).

(November 2005 | Vol.57 | No.11 | ISSN 0116-1636)