Beware of the Wolves That Come In Sheep’s Clothing

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament book of Acts—the account of the spiritual body of Christ—as its as written by the beloved physician Luke. More specifically today’s passage is found in the first thirty-six verses of the twenty-first chapter. “And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: and finding a ship sailing over unto Phoenicia, we went aboard and set forth. Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who saiid to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemaic, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was of the Sven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days there came down from Judaea a certain prophet named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem. There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Manson of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge” (Acts 21:1-16).

 

            “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believed; and they are all zealous of the law: and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? The multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those thigns, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkedst orderly, and keenest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood,a nd from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them” (Acts 21:17-26).

 

            “And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (For they had seen before with him in the city of Tophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul. Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.  And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him” (Acts 21:27-36).

 

            When you come to the twenty-first chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will encounter the journey of the apostle Paul from Miletus where he called unto himself the elders of the Ephesian church. It was there on the beach at Miletus the apostle Paul would delivering parting words of farewell unto these elders knowing that he would never see their faces again. What’s more is that as you read the words which are found in the twentieth chapter of this New Testament book you will find the apostle Paul revealing unto them the reality that he was going bound in the spirit unto the city of Jerusalem not knowing what would befall or await him there. The only thing the apostle Paul knew for certain was that the Holy Ghost bore witness unto him that in every city bonds and afflictions abode and awaited him. In addition to this the apostle Paul also knew what would happen after his departure among the saints and brethren which were present in the church of Ephesus. The words which we find here in this passage of Scripture calls and draws our attention to the incredible words Paul spoke unto the elders of the Ephesian church knowing that he would never see them again. IN all reality—although the apostle Paul would never see the elders of the Ephesian church nor the brethren which were present in the midst of that body or assembly—the apostle Paul would indeed write one of his most powerful epistles unto them after his departure. Within the New Testament we find the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Ephesian saints which would provide a powerful declaration of their inheritance in the beloved as the saints and brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here on this beach the apostle Paul would deliver unto them words which he knew would be the last words he would ever deliver and speak to them face to face.

 

            I am absolutely convinced that as we prepare to delve into that which is found in the twenty-first chapter of the New Testament book of Acts there is a great need for us to pay attention to the words presented in the twentieth chapter. The words which we find in the twentieth chapter help us to know and understand that which the apostle Paul not only expected but also what he had prepared himself for when he finally departed from Miletus. The apostle Paul knew within his spirit that upon his departure from Miletus he would depart on a straight course unto the city of Jerusalem. With this knowledge of going bound in the spirit unto the city of Jerusalem the apostle Paul also knew that he was going bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem. The journey which the apostle Paul would make unto the city of Jerusalem was one that would prove to be pivotal for it would be his journey unto this ancient city where the chart and path of the rest of his life would indeed be marked and set. This is something worth noting for when we read the words presented in the twenty-first chapter of this New Testament book we encounter the absolutely incredible words the apostle Paul would speak unto the elders of the Ephesian church. These words were not only meant to encourage them but also to warn and prepare them for what they would face in the days after his departure. The apostle Paul deliberately and intentionally set out provide a great amount of instruction unto the elders of the Ephesian church that they might be on their guard in the days which were ahead.

 

            The more I read the words which are found in the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts the more I am brought face to face with the incredible truth surrounding the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto these elders of this most notable church. The church which was present at Ephesus would be one of a handful of churches that would receive personal letters from the apostle Paul after his departure. Other churches which received letters and epistles unto them would be the churches in Rome, Corinth, Colossae, Galatia, Philippi, and Thessalonica. The church which was present at Ephesus would indeed be an influential church for if you turn and direct your attention to the words which are found in the prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ you will find that Jesus Himself commissioned a letter and epistle to be written and delivered unto the saints which were at Ephesus. The apostle Paul would indeed set in motion a powerful series of exhortations and words which would be delivered unto the saints which were present in Ephesus as the first epistle which was written by the apostle John would also be delivered unto the saints which were present at Ephesus. I am absolutely convinced we must needs recognize and understand the words which are found in this particular passage of Scripture for they call and draw our attention to the final words of farewell which the apostle Paul would indeed speak unto the elders of the Ephesian church. These words are such which have application for us even in the generation in which we are living today. I do not believe the words which are found  in this particular chapter have application solely for the church which was present at Ephesus I firmly believe that the words which are present in this particular chapter can have a tremendous impact on our generation and the culture and society in which we find ourselves living. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the twentieth chapter of this New Testament book and the actual words the apostle Paul delivered unto these dear saints:

 

            “And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go ground in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:18-35).

 

            “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell upon Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the following words which are found in this passage of Scripture and I am brought face to face with the incredibly awesome truth surrounding the words the apostle Paul spoke and delivered unto the elders of the Ephesian church. The words which we find here in this passage of Scripture calls and draws our attention to the wonderful encouragement which the apostle Paul would deliver unto them—and not only the encouragement but also the warning and words of caution. The apostle Paul would urge the elders of the Ephesian church to carefully look over and watch out for the flock knowing that in the days after his departure there would be great trials and troubles which would befall and come upon them. The apostle Paul knew and understood that in the days after his departure this particular congregation would face incredible dangers and threats—both from within and without. The apostle Paul knew that after his departing gracious wolves would enter in among you (dangers from without) not sparing the flock. Moreover the apostle also knew that of their own selves (dangers from within) men would arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. This is something which is incredibly unique when you take the time to think about it for you wouldn’t think that a church and body of believers would need to concern themselves with dangers from within. More often than not we think about and consider the dangers which churches and bodies of believers face from without and yet rarely do we ever think about dangers which would and could potentially come upon the church from within. There are very few who would like to even think that it is possible for dangers to come from within the individual church itself and that individuals from within it could rise up and wreak havoc against and upon it. The truth of the matter, however, is that this simply is not the case.

 

            The more I read the words which are found in the New Testament the more I am brought face to face with the truth that eventually the days would indeed come when many of the churches which the apostle Paul helped to establish during his missionary journeys would find themselves facing great and terrible threats. The apostle Paul knew and recognized that there was absolutely no church that was safe, exempt and immune from deception, from false teachers, from false prophets, from false apostles and even from false brethren. From Corinth, to the churches in Galatia, to Ephesus, to Thessalonica and others there would be many churches which would indeed have the overwhelming need to guard themselves and to carefully protect themselves from false teaching, from deception and from that which would seek to destroy them. What’s more is that eventually you will find one of the greatest dangers and threats to the churches—even those churches which were established by the apostle Paul—would be from the deception, false teaching and false doctrine that would be rampant throughout them. The New Testament book of Acts does in fact present us with the tremendous reality of persecution which would face the churches, however, we eventually notice that one of the greatest dangers and threats to the churches would be dangers from within and dangers from without as there would be those who would rise up against them seeking to deceive them. In fact the apostle John would deliver some incredibly striking and sobering words in his first epistle unto the Ephesian church. In this epistle the apostle John would indeed speak unto this church and congregation concerning the spirit of antichrist—and not only the spirit of antichrist but also antichrists which would go out from among them working deception through false teaching and false doctrine. It is with this in mind I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the first epistle written by the apostle John beginning with the second chapter of this epistle:

 

            “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us , but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:12-29).

 

            “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us n to, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:18-24).

 

            “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirity that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now. Already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth,a nd the spirit of erro. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of Gods; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 3:1-8).

            “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom heh hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:14-21).

 

            “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that began loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5).

 

            “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:9-13).

 

            “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:18-21).

 

            It is necessary for us to recognize and understand the words which are found in these passages of Scripture for within them we are brought face to face with the tremendous amount of deception that would indeed run rampant and spread throughout the churches which were established within the earth. What’s more is that if you turn and direct your attention to the words which the Lord Jesus spoke and delivered unto His disciples at the mount called Olivet before His suffering in the flesh you will find Him warning and cautioning them of two distinct realities to be aware of and to guard themselves against. As you read the words which are found in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew you will find the Lord Jesus speaking unto His disciples concerning the last days and the great and terrible dangers which would come during the last days. The Lord Jesus recognized and understood that endurance, that watchfulness and that prayer would indeed be powerful tools and instruments within the hearts and lives of His disciples and followers in the Last Days. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand it’s that if we wish to stand during these last days—and not only stand during these last days but also to endure—there is a great need for us to take to heart the words which the Lord Jesus spoke unto His disciples concerning the last days. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for in the first epistle written by the apostle John he touches on the rampant deception that would spread throughout the churches during those days. The apostle John would deliberately and intentionally write about the spirit of antichrist—and not only the spirit of antichrist but also antichrists themselves which would depart and go out from them. The apostle John recognized and understood that this spirit of antichrist would indeed deny the Jesus was the eternal and only begotten Son of the living God. The apostle John recognized and understood that the spirit of antichrist would deny that Jesus did in fact come in the flesh, that He was born of a virgin, that He walked among us as the Word which was made flesh.

 

            If you take the time to read the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts you will read of certain inherent dangers that would indeed face and plague the early church. Beginning with the eighth and ninth chapters you will read of one of the greatest dangers and threats to the church and the body of Christ at large and as a whole—namely, persecution. It is absolutely impossible to read the words presented in this New Testament book and not encounter and come face to face with the incredibly powerful truth that the early church would indeed face one of its greatest threats which would indeed come from without as it would suffer and experience persecution. This persecution would indeed begin in the midst of the city of Jerusalem as so great and severe was it that much of the early church would be scattered throughout all Judaea, throughout Samaria and even throughout Galilee and as far Syria itself. The more you read the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts the more you can and will encounter and come face to face with one of the greatest threats and dangers to the early church—the threat of persecution which would arise from the outside. Within the New Testament book of Acts we saw the persecution of the religious and political systems against the apostles while that persecution would transition in the eighth and ninth chapters to perhaps one sole perpetrator and one main party—Saul of Tarsus. Luke writes how Saul would enter into houses and homes hailing and dragging men and women out of them committing them unto prison. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the need for the people of God to be on their guard from persecution—persecution which would indeed rise up against them from outside the church.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts and I am brought face to face with the awesome and incredible truth surrounding one of the threats to the early church during those days. The first and immediate threat which would arise against the early church would indeed be persecution as this persecution would indeed begin in the city of Jerusalem forcing the brethren and believers to be scattered throughout all Judaea, throughout all Galilee and throughout Samaria. This persecution would indeed be written and spoken of in the eleventh chapter as Luke would write of the persecution which broke out against the church about Stephen and how the church would be scattered even as far as Syria and would make its way to Antioch—Antioch which would be one of the main hubs for the apostle Paul and his companions as they would depart and embark on their missionary journeys. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for while the initial and early days of the church would be days in which the actual spiritual body of Christ itself would be somewhat shielded from persecution that would not be the case come the eighth chapter. After the death and stoning of Stephen a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus would rise up against the church haling and dragging men and women out of their homes and committing them into prison. Oh I have to admit there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder what would and could happen in our generation if this took place among us. How would you respond if you heard and learned there were forces and powers that be who were entering into houses and homes dragging men and women out of them and casting them into prison? How would you react if you knew that the police, or the secret service, or the F.B.I or other law enforcement agencies were going throughout neighbors and apartment and condo complexes dragging men and women out in handcuffs preparing to cast them into prison? Would you indeed stand firm and would you indeed stand strong in the midst of such adversity and affliction or would you bend, buckle and crack under the weight and burden of that pressure?

 

            The words which I find here in the New Testament book of Acts are incredibly unique and powerful when you take the time to think about them for they call and draw our attention to the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth surrounding one of the greatest dangers and threats which faced the early church—namely, persecution. You cannot read the account of the spiritual body of Christ and not encounter and come face to face with the absolutely undeniable truth that persecution was indeed and was in fact one of the greatest dangers and threats which would raise itself up against the early church. With this being said, however, you will find that there would be another threat and danger that would raise itself up against the early church and against the brethren who would believe on the name of Jesus of Nazareth and would be baptized. As you come to the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters you will find that the danger of legalism and hypocrisy would indeed raise itself up against the early church. Specifically in the fifteenth chapter you will find certain brethren from Judaea coming unto Antioch and preaching that those Gentiles who believed needed to be circumcised to truly experience salvation. What’s more is there would also be certain of the Pharisees who believed who would further declare unto the brethren that except they be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses they would and could not be saved. This is something important for us to recognize and understand for as I have previously written there is more than one bondage and slavery that can be manifested within our hearts and lives. It is true there is a bondage unto sin, however, there is another bondage which is more subtle than that of sin. If you take the time to read the New Testament book of Acts you will find that there is a bondage unto religion which can and will seek to destroy those who believed on the name of the Lord Jesus. Much like Pharaoh who chased and pursued the children of Israel in the wilderness seeking to bring them back into slavery so also are there those who would seek to bring the people of God back into bondage—bondage unto religion and bondage unto the Law.

 

            It is at this juncture I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the following words which are found in the New Testament epistle written unto the churches which were in Galatia. The epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the churches which were in Galatia contains a tremendous amount of language which must be carefully considered for it brings us face to face with the liberty we have in Christ and how Jesus Christ is indeed the end of righteousness which is of the Law and is the beginning of righteousness that is found in God through the free gift offered unto us. I am absolutely convinced we must needs consider the words presented in the New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Galatian churches but with this being said I would also dare say we must needs consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the tenth chapter of the epistle written unto the saints which were at Rome as well as the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of the epistle written unto the saints which were at Philippi. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the epistles written unto the saints which were at Rome, the saints which were at Philippi, as well as the churches which were in Galatia:

 

            “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (That is, to bring Christ down from above) OR, Who shall descend into the deep? (That is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them t hat preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them t hat sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Romans 10:1-21).

 

            “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.k To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; For whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, where to we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:1-16).

 

            “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 persevere 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. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10).

           

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation> But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now life in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:11-21).

 

            “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1-5).

 

            “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:19-29).

 

            “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and tines and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11).

 

            “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am: of I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through my infirmities of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For I bear you record, that if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travel in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you” (Galatians 4:12-20).

 

            “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I aPaul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you. Nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debit to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, w Ho soever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump> I have confidence in you through he Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:1-12).

 

            I am absolutely convinced there is a great need to recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in these passages of Scripture for what we find is a subtle and oftentimes unnoticeable and undetectable method of bondage. The more you read these passages the more you will encounter the tremendous reality found in the fifteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts. It is here in this passage of Scripture we encounter the tremendous reality of the bondage which certain brethren from Judaea as well as certain Pharisees which believed sought to bring the brethren in Antioch into. It is absolutely impossible to read the words found in this passage of Scripture and not encounter the tremendous truth surrounding bondage to religion—and not merely bondage to religion but bondage to legalism and hypocrisy. There are those who would think that the enemy and adversary seeks to bring us into bondage unto sin, wickedness, immorality, idolatry, transgression and the like. The truth of the matter, however, is that this simply is not the case. There are many men and women who are completely and utterly deceived into thinking and believing the enemy and adversary seeks only to bring us into bondage to sin without recognizing the fact that if the enemy and adversary can’t bring us into bondage unto sin he will seek to bring us into bondage unto religion, unto legalism and even unto hypocrisy. Lest you think that this is somehow not accurate or is in someway misleading you need only look at the days in which Jesus walked among us as the Word made flesh. Jesus was routinely and regularly at odds with and against the religious system during that day. Moreover Jesus found Himself continually at odds with the religious leaders of that day—the scribes, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders, the teachers of the law, the lawyers and the like. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it truly is for it brings us face to face with the awesome and incredible truth that the enemy and adversary can and will seek to bring men and women into bondage unto religion, hypocrisy and legalism.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and I am confronted with the truth that it is entirely and altogether possible for there to be two different type of bondage present within many of our churches. There is that bondage which is present unto sin as the enemy and adversary seeks to keep and bring men into bondage unto sin. There are those among us sitting in the pews and seats of our churches who are indeed captive and in bondage unto sin, wickedness, immorality and iniquity. Lest you think this isn’t true or is somehow inaccurate I invite you to consider the first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Corinthian saints. This church was one that surpassed many other churches in the gifts of the spirit and in the manifestation of the Spirit and yet they were known and referred to by the apostle Paul as a carnal and divisive church. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for there is something we must needs recognize concerning the words presented in this epistle. The Corinthian church is indeed a powerful picture of that church that is and which can be given over to carnality through division, through strife, through envy and so much more. This is something that warrants a strong consideration on our part for it calls and brings us face to face with the overwhelming truth surrounding the bondage and slavery the enemy and adversary can indeed bring us into.

 

            With this being said we must needs recognize that in addition to the enemy and adversary bringing men and women into bondage unto sin he can and will seek to bring men and women into bondage unto religion, unto hypocrisy and unto legalism. In all reality I would dare say there are indeed two different forms of bondage present within many of our churches as there is the bondage unto sin and there is the bondage unto religion. The bondage unto sin is one that is perhaps more blatant and fragrant—even obvious—than the bondage unto religion, however, we must needs recognize and understand that the enemy doesn’t care which bondage you are in so long as he has you bound, captive and enslaved. It makes no different and matters not to the enemy and adversary whether or not you are bound to sin in your heart and mind or whether you are bound to religion, hypocrisy and legalism. This is something we have a great need to recognize and understand for it calls and draws our attention to that which we must needs be on guard against. The brethren which were at Antioch experienced firsthand the tactic and strategy of the enemy seeking to bring them into bondage as the enemy sought to bring them into bondage unto religion, unto legalism and hypocrisy. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it truly is for it calls and draws our attention to the inherent dangers facing many within the church today in this generation. There is a great need for us to come to terms with this as it confronts us with the truth that we as the saints of God must needs recognize this subtle form of bondage and slavery knowing that the enemy and adversary can and will seek to bring us into bondage unto legalism, unto religion and unto hypocrisy. In fact this is precisely what was referred to in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when He spoke of and referred to pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye while completely and utterly ignoring the log and plank that is in our own eye. That which the church in Antioch experienced was indeed brethren which sought to enslave and bring them into bondage—not only unto sin but also unto religion, legalism, hypocrisy and the law.

 

            When you come to the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find one of the more sinister dangers facing the early church. What we must needs recognize and understand is that the enemy and adversary can indeed seek to destroy us through bondage unto sin. If the enemy cannot succeed in destroying us through bondage to sin then he can and will seek to destroy us through enslaving and bringing us into bondage unto religion, legalism and hypocrisy. What we must needs recognize and understand, however, is that in addition to bondage to sin and bondage to religion there is also persecution which the enemy and adversary can and will use to seek to destroy us. This is something we must needs recognize for it calls and draws our attention to the tremendous reality of how we must needs be constantly on our guard when faced with these different realities. We cannot think or even believe for one second the enemy and adversary cannot and will not seek to destroy you through persecution. The narrative and account of the early church calls and draws our attention to the absolutely incredible truth surrounding persecution and how the early church would be assaulted and assailed on all sides. If the enemy and adversary can’t bring about destruction through bondage and slavery to sin and bondage then he can and will seek to bring you into offense and wear you down through persecution. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus Himself declared unto the apostles when he spoke of the last days and confirmed that many would be afflicted and persecuted and that as a result many would be offended. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand it’s that in the last days—not only will there be many who are offended but there will be many who will be deceived and led astray. We dare not ignore and neglect this reality as it brings us face to face with how persecution can and will be a means to try and destroy us. It’s what Pharaoh sought to do with the children of Israel while bringing them into bondage and slavery crushing them with hard labor and brutal force from the taskmasters.

 

            There is a great need for us to recognize and understand this particular truth for I am convinced that in the last days two of the greatest threats and dangers we can and will face is that of persecution and that of deception. I am absolutely convinced that if you want to truly understand the days in which we are living in we must needs recognize that two of the greatest threats will indeed be persecution and deception as the enemy and adversary will not only seek to wear us down and wear us out but also take us out of the game altogether through deception. If the enemy and adversary can’t succeed in destroying you through bondage to sin, if the enemy can’t succeed in destroying you through bondage to religion then he will seek to use deception as the means of bringing you into destruction. If the enemy can seduce you with false teachings, with false teachers, with false doctrines, with false apostles, with false brethren and even with lying signs and wonders then he can succeed in effectively destroying and crushing you. This is something we must needs acknowledge within our own hearts and minds as we navigate the days in which we are living for in the last days—much like the days of the early church—deception can and will be rampant. The churches and body of Christ can and will experience threats and dangers from within as well as dangers from without and in all reality it is indeed setting the stage for the manifestation of the ultimate deceivers—namely the beast who is the Antichrist and the false prophet. Both Daniel and the apostle John write concerning this beast in their prophetic books and even the apostle Paul writes and speaks of him in the second epistle written unto the Thessalonian saints. I firmly believe there is a great need for us to recognize and pay close attention to this for it brings us face to face with the incredible truth of our need to guard our hearts and our minds from and against deception. The apostle Paul revealed unto the Ephesian elders that after his departure grievous wolves would enter in not sparing the flock and that there would be some from among their own number who would seek to entice and draw away men and women with seducing doctrines. It is with this in mind I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the writings of the apostle Paul as well as the writings of the apostle Peter and Jude:

 

            “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:1-8).

 

            “This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:  from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Joanne’s and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was. But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1-13).

 

            “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false  teachers among you, who privilege shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destitution. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom they way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they weigh feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an e sample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filly conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self willed they are not afraid to speak of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceiving while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice for bad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through. Much wanton ness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, thy themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:1-22).

 

This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of oGod the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire and against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:1-8).

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