The Word of Truth
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Before addressing your questions, I want to comment on the subject of church government, as authorized by the Head of the body.
It has been my privilege to see men and women led and used by the Spirit of God in dealing with the inevitable letdowns, confusions, and rebellions that occur among any people. The Lord used these people in such a way that there was no formal structure of government among them; that is, there was no hierarchy, no big I’s and little you’s. The only criteria for being a part of this ministerial body was a confidence that you were really saved and sanctified and walking in the light of Jesus to the extent that you were “not a novice.” (1 Timothy 3:6) Individual weaknesses or strengths in judgment, understanding, temperament were committed to God, and all trusted Him to help them perceive as He perceived and to stand on any given matter as He stood.
I was in my middle teens when I was in my first ministers’ meeting. It was a great blessing.
There was a couple who were pastors at a certain location, and they had once been part of the same, like, precious fellowship with the rest of the body. Some of their children went to college and imbibed a great deal of men’s thinking. They came home and were received by their parents (the pastors) and the rest of the congregation. Under this foreign influence, the standards of spirituality were questioned and fell in disrepute, until other congregations in the area became aware of conditions there and were alarmed. Also, there were some who came out of that congregation that they might continue to stand for truth and right. The pastors of the compromising congregation continued to reject all counsel. God allowed the sister minister to be afflicted with cataracts of the eyes, and her children persuaded her to have an operation to have the cataracts removed. The scriptures had been followed (Matthew 18:15-16), and this ministers’ meeting was the final step (Matthew 18:17).
I was very impressed with the way that the meeting went. To begin with, there was a very deep love and concern for the souls of the two. A lot was said about the truth of trusting God exclusively for our healing. One brother put it this way, “A saint can live a blameless life for many years and throw it all away in one failure.” The couple did not dispute the fact that they had failed or brought a reproach. They did not try to defend the wisdom of men that had brought them to such a failure. If they had, I have no doubt that such a defense would have been exposed for what it was. At that time, there was a clearness in the dealings of the ministry that made it possible to deal with failure in a spiritual way. The brethren knew that God did not accept it, and they were living close enough to God and in touch with Him that they did not accept it either.
The couple tried for sympathy. They knew that we loved them; they knew that we were all human and could fail. The sister said, “You are so hard on us.” She cried. It was there that I saw something. I saw the tender love that the saints had for her, but I also saw that they had such a love for God’s way, such a confidence in God’s way, that they knew that the only help for her (or anybody) was in taking God’s way. If she would be restored, it would be by Bible steps. Bible steps that she (and everyone else there) had followed to get to a place of acceptance with God, and from which she and her husband had fallen. The place of acceptance with God was obtained by being dealt with by Him, experiencing godly sorrow, experiencing repentance, and doing any restitution necessary.
This wonderful insight rang in my heart as I sat there in that meeting. It rings in there yet. I remembered how my parents were not deflected from dealing with me about right and wrong because of sympathy for me. They loved me so much that they held before me a true and valid standard of behavior and were not diverted from it by anything.
The aftermath of the meeting was very sad. The couple did not get help, but their failure was plainly and clearly identified. Because their error was not received, even partially, there was a clear light of guidance to anyone who was honest. Most important of all, the Spirit of God was pleased, not grieved. But there was even more to it than that. It was a clash between truth and error. It was timeless. You can take out the personalities of the people involved and substitute others: it doesn’t make any difference. The entire thing shines as a light for those who want to find the way of the Lord. And this victorious light was there, regardless of the outcome.
I would like to contrast this with another ministers’ meeting in which the church ministerial body dealt with a minister who was causing division. The ability to deal with others in a spiritual way had been lost by this time, and the conclusion of the meeting was to limit the brother. He was allowed to preach in only certain congregations. This was confusion. If he was wrong, what was he doing preaching at all? If he was right, why was he limited? The conclusion was political and according to the wisdom of man. It is a great stumbling block to those who are looking for light on the truth.
I will mention another ministers’ meeting which occurred before my time. A brother had been teaching false doctrine (though he had held it rightly before). The brethren gathered to deal with him. The brother who told me the story said that he was a young minister then, and he listened as the brethren talked with this brother on and on and on. Finally the brother in error said, “All right. I see that now.” The young minister brother said that, to his amazement, everyone began to make preparation to leave. He was not satisfied and asked his mother (a minister) privately, “This is it? No repentance?” His mother said, “Son, for that minister to say what he did means more than for most people to weep and cry at the altar.”
I marvel at the depth of grace that so perfectly binds imperfect earthen vessels together. Surely, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” (2 Peter 1:3) We are really foolish when we rely on anything else, such as tradition or just setting our wills, to help us to be one in Christ Jesus. As Jesus said, “for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
It is a fact that God has the way for every problem. When we attempt to study how God deals with our problems, we find that there is something in the way that He does it, that is beyond us. The brethren used to say, “You cannot put God in a box.” I have about concluded that, as part of the way He deals with us in all wisdom, He deliberately keeps us off balance. It is not good for us to think that we comprehend Him. It is not good for us to second-guess Him. We learn to be still and know that He is God. We learn to simply trust Him and obey Him. As one brother said, the enemy approached David, king of Israel, over and over. And David asked God what to do each time. He didn’t assume that because God gave them the victory a certain way last time that He would do it the same way again. And God constantly gave David and the later kings who trusted God the victory in a different way each time. Sometimes they had nothing to do but wait on God. Sometimes the singers went forth. Sometimes they ambushed the enemy. Sometimes God used a lot of Israelites, sometimes just a few. The overall effect was to bring man into a proper attitude toward God. Truly, the Lord knows how.
We find that God works today as He did then. He keeps us from getting complacent. He exercises us as He knows we need it. He shows us what we need to see. So we find the first key concept. We are never on our own.
Now this little phrase means more, much more, to those who have been taught of God than those who are self-educated about the work of God. It is not a formality. It is not an assumption. “As workers together with him.” (2 Corinthians 6:1) “Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17) It can only be true if we really are led of the Holy Spirit. Those who have entered into this relationship with God are afraid to take a step without His approval. They live subjugated lives before Him. It is a conviction with them, daily, even hourly at times, growing deeper, that they can do nothing without Him. They have a great reservation about evaluating things on their own. With the prophet Zechariah, they constantly say, “What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.” (Zechariah 4:4-5)
To those who do not see the inner reins that are voluntarily given to the Lord, it appears that the servants of the Lord are directing their own pathway. They have little idea of how God deals with us constantly to bring us into subjection, to keep us (voluntarily) in subjection, and to help us not to become independent. We are human, and we would not be able to do the work of God without this constant oversight—the checks and the prodding of the Holy Spirit. We would take things into our own hands without realizing it. The brethren in the New Testament record would have taken things into their hands before they realized it, too, had not the Lord helped them.
It is in this attitude—appreciation of God’s complete capability; appreciation of man’s inability—that we approach the scriptures you have quoted to us in your questions.
Should we never take disciplinary action in the church?
You wrote (in the article Ye Shall Not Go Out With Haste, Nor Go By Flight): “We trusted God to take care of His work and to defend it against all that would change it.”
Does this trust rule out obeying the following scriptures: 1 Timothy 5:20; Matthew 18:16-18; 1 Corinthians 5:11,13; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18. Do we (true saints of God) just sit, pray, fast, and wait upon God to take action while we watch from a distance, or would we be out of order if we took action according to the inspiration of the scriptures and the direction of the Holy Ghost?
For convenience, I have quoted the scriptures referenced above.
“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20)
“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:16-18)
“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11)
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)
The first scripture mentions public rebuke. The second scripture details three steps to be taken to be reconciled to a brother and advises how to regard the brother if all attempts fail. The third scripture forbids “keeping company” with people committing six classes of sinful doing, even to the point of eating together, and states that this will put away from among yourselves that wicked person. The fourth scripture forbids fellowship with sin. The fifth scripture commands separation from wrong-doing and forbids “touching” that which is wrong.
All of these scriptures have to do with what we receive in our spirit. When we get saved, we receive a love for God and doing right. This does not mix with a love for the world. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) To receive in our spirit another who has a love for the world will destroy the love of God in our soul. To be trespassed against without forgiving from the heart and attempting reconciliation will cause you to receive something in your spirit that will destroy your love for God.
It is in how we receive or do not receive that is the question. Should I eat with this fornicator, covetous person, idolater, railer, drunkard, or extortioner? If you interpret this to mean that you cannot sit down in the same room and consume food with someone in one of these conditions, then you must ignore Jesus eating in Simon the Pharisee’s house. Indeed, as the Bible tells us, “for then must ye needs go out of the world.” The believing wife could not eat with the unbelieving husband, etc. Those who teach shunning and excommunication teach that physical contact and physical proximity must be prohibited, to stay clear in the spirit. That is not necessarily true. Jesus was “a friend of publicans and sinners [prostitutes].” (Luke 7:34) Yet, He never received any of the sin in their lives in any way. It is also a fact that you can carefully stay clear of physical contact with people who are not right, yet sympathize in your spirit with them.
Children of God have gone to prison and been put in close proximity to murderers, thieves, and immoral people. Joseph was in a house with an adulteress who was doing her best to seduce him. He never received it in any way, and stayed clear before God. When it reached a certain point, however, to continue to keep clear in spirit, he fled, and fled so hastily that he left his coat behind.
All of these things are involved in “no fellowship,” “not to company,” and “touch not the unclean thing.” They involve our understanding of what is wrong. They involve a perception of the devices of Satan. They involve walking in the light. They involve the continuous guidance and reproof of the Holy Spirit. They involve the winnowing of the Shepherd, who goes before us and allows what is appropriate for each of us.
All of these things are necessary at the collective level as well as the individual. That is, God allows a congregation to be tried and tempted, even as He does individuals. He makes a way of escape for the congregation, even as He does for the individual child of God. He reproves a congregation; He gives light and understanding. And all of this is given for voluntary compliance. At no point does God compel us individually or collectively to serve Him.
One of the essential jobs of the ministry is to preach and hold the truth in such a way that a clear understanding of right and wrong is manifested. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit working through lips of clay. Compromise produces a “fuzzy” line, with accompanying confusion of just what is right and wrong. Zealous attempts on our own to set everything right and clear will produce creeds that reflect our thinking and conditioning. As we learn and change, these creeds will evolve. What was regarded a certain way in the past will change. Again, confusion. If a stand is taken against change of any kind, we find that our foe changes his approach, and the creed will appear more and more obsolete. Only the Spirit of God can help us to get it right, so that it just keeps proving out. Old revelations harmonize with new realizations, and we find that Jesus knew and knows and will always know what to do. Praise God!
Therefore, the scriptures that you have quoted to me do not constitute a policy to be blindly followed, but a record of how the Spirit of God has dealt with conditions in the past as He saw fit. Sometimes, He will use each of these things, while at other times, He will appear to do nothing, just wait; or He will employ another technique. This principle is laid out in Proverbs: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)
At times, the fool should be answered; at times, he should not be answered. There is a time to rebuke sin before all. There is a time to be very blunt. “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:10-13) This scripture presents a way of dealing with almost a breath-taking candor. “Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.” (2 Corinthians 12:16) Here is the opposite approach. If you are led of the Holy Spirit, He will lead you at the appropriate times to (1) do nothing but wait on God, (2) go after things in such detail and plainness that many will think you uncharitable, (3) employ such subtlety that many will think you are sneaky.
There is a time to converse with others and a time to not converse. There is a time to eat with sinners and a time to not eat with them, even if it involves getting up and leaving. I can reprove sinners by being around them or by not being around them. I dare not relax and enter into an worldly spirit with the unsaved, but there is a time and place for conversation about the natural things of life, yet without fellowship in the spirit.
Part of a consecration of following the Lord is a resignation to having our words and our perceived motives wrested by others. Sometimes we are discerned rightly (as the Lord sees us), and sometimes we are not. This is all part of being the servants of God, not the servants of men.
The only safety is in following the Spirit of God. To attempt to control gatherings in a building or a home will not work the works of God. Well, you may say, if I don’t do something, (1) the sinners and hypocrites will take over, or (2) the immature and ignorant will come to grief. Look to God. You need His control, not yours. He will show you what He wants done. God will give you a vision of the work as He sees it. He will help you to love and cherish that vision. He will put a firm determination not to settle for anything less than His vision. He will show what step to take next. It will generally involve some sacrifice on your part, but you will be blessed. It will prove a benefit to all that have “ears to hear.” Be sure to do what God says to do. All of it. Do not be discouraged. God knows what He is doing. When God makes it plain, name things out. Be fearless. Determine to die in obedience to God, if necessary. When the Lord stops dealing, you stop. Don’t go on by yourself, even if the people want it, even if you enjoy a certain aspect of it. Work when the Father works. Quit when He quits. Wait when He waits. In so doing, you will save yourself and them that hear you.
When things go on that are wrong and grievous, tell the Lord that you abhor what you see, that you want no part of it. As one sister said, “Lord, I am open to everything that is of you, but closed to everything that is not.” There is typically a mixture of right and wrong in others. I am for the right and against the wrong. I love the person; I hate the sin. When good is manifested, then we rejoice in it.
Well then, is it right to forbid people to come to service? Or to act in certain ways in service? It may not be possible to have services under certain conditions. There can be reasons to have civil authority present if illegal actions are expected. It may be necessary to dismiss the services to deal with some things, such as devil possession.
I was in a camp meeting service where there had been quite a burden that God would have His way. There was an older man who was very bold and unruly at the service, too. He had a history of taking the pulpit when it came time to preach and not relinquishing it. At one time, his pastor (a man of God) had a ministers’ meeting to deal with the problem. He told them, “I am a prisoner in my own pulpit.” The ministry had dealt with this man very strongly, but he had not changed.
When we got up from our knees that Sunday night, he was there in the pulpit, grinning at us. They told him that there was a “special” song. He stayed in the pulpit while they sang. The song was hindered, of course. Saints were praying all over the congregation, rebuking the devil. There was a determination not to settle for less than God had for us. Another couple got up, burdened to sing a song. It was hard for them to sing. Still the man would not leave the pulpit. A brother then stood up in the congregation. “Saints,” he said, “let’s pray.” There was widespread agreement, and we all got down on our knees, while this man stayed in the pulpit. Several prayers were offered, fervent and quite pointed. After prayer, he was still in the pulpit. Different ones began to come up and plead with him. It became more and more obvious to saved and unsaved alike in that assembly of over a thousand persons, that God’s people were not going to give place to the devil. They simply wouldn’t. Finally he yielded and set down. The way was open to the Spirit of God; He was pleased with our contending for the truth, and anointing was poured out on that service in a way that I have never seen surpassed. People were running to the altar as the preacher preached. Sinners just melted under the heat of the anointing that rested on us all like a great cloud.
It gave me a vision of what God can and will do if we will not settle for less and keep calling on Him. I see that He tests us to see if we will settle for less than what He wants to do.
I will speak of one other congregational conflict between truth and error. This one occurred at a meeting where no minister was present. No one planned it that way; it just turned out that way. When the saints were assembled for the service, then it was noticed that no minister brothers or sister were there. Singing began and continued. Prayer requests were taken, and prayer was offered. At the conclusion of prayer, the congregation waited before the Lord in the usual way for whoever God may have given a burden for the message. (It is always possible that God is going to use someone He has not used before.) Instead, a sectarian minister got up and preached a message on the supposed millennial reign. It was dead quiet. The saints endured the false doctrine, trusting God to help them with the situtation. Finally the false prophet sat down. Then someone called the song “Near the End,” which has a verse that reads:
“Oh, poor sinner, don’t believe them,
There will be no age to come;
If in life you find not Jesus,
Death will seal your awful doom.”
Holy Spirit conviction came on the crowd, and people began to seek God. The false prophet was so offended and confounded at the effect of his false message, that he left during the altar service.
I tell you, brother, God has thousands of ways of defending His people, if they love Him and trust Him and will not settle for anything less than what He has for them. One brother was praying about people who got up out of order. It seemed like such a waste of time for saints to have to endure such. The Lord stopped him in his prayer. “Sometimes the only way I can reach a man is to let him make a fool of himself,” the Lord told him. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t let a man make a fool of himself; sometimes He does.
I believe this covers your question, “Does this trust rule out obeying the following scriptures?” I would like to say in conclusion, God is really, really big! He is bigger than our need, much, much BIGGER!
How does the Holy Spirit lead?
a) Would not the Holy Spirit lead and inspire a minister to obey certain scriptures in the congregation just as He does in the other aspects of life? Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit also lead the congregation through the pastor and other “officers” of Jesus Christ in the congregation?
b) How much of the God-given authority should a true servant of God use in the church (Luke 10:19; Matthew 18:18; 1 Corinthians 2:15; 4:16).
Where is usurping the place of the Holy Spirit?
I had an experience in business that showed me some things about usurping. I was a computer consultant working with the management of a small factory, and I had a close, trusted relationship with one of the owners of the business. As part of my responsibilities, this owner and I met with the entire management staff of the factory. The work I was doing affected them all. At one staff meeting, I got out of order, without meaning to do so in the least. I was a little carried away with the momentum of the changes that were being implemented, and in my enthusiasm, I began to issue orders and directions to the different staff members, as only the owner had a right to do. It got very quiet, and I stopped just about mid-sentence. I looked at my friend and employer. He was not pleased. He had perceived that I was doing it without realizing how it infringed on his prerogative. I apologized. I got back in my place. It was an humbling experience. He began to issue the same directions and orders. The only difference was that he was doing it. He had a right to do so on his initiative, whereas I did not.
This brings us to the work of God. It is not our work, in the sense that we have a right to decide. We are but servants, and we must not infringe on the Master’s prerogative. We must get directions from Him. Our only authority is that Master said so.
“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)
“But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” (1 Corinthians 2:15)
“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
If I use these scriptures as a rationale for requiring outward obedience, then I am disregarding the entire nature of spiritual life. I do not and cannot save people. I cannot change their hearts. I cannot put love in their hearts for God. I can set them an example. I can inspire them to a certain extent to love God by my example, but I cannot draw their souls closer to God. The life of a Christian exists between that soul and the Creator. I am not in it. I can have the same kind of life between me and God, but each soul is married to God and has a personal, individual life that is unique to God and that person.
My authority and power in the gospel is not over the saints, but over the enemies of the saints and over myself. It is power over confusion. I am given authority to clear the atmosphere so others can see the situation as it really is. And this authority is very real and effective when the Holy Ghost uses us. It is of real service to the other saints and to unsaved people, too. It is in this sense that we bind on earth. It is the truth put in such a way by such an anointing that it cannot be successfully gainsaid. This is the authority that Brother Stephen used in placing the truth before the body of men who stoned him. When we speak forth the words of truth and soberness, it is more than us. We are echoing the Rock of Ages; we are uttering eternal things that will always endure. We do not originate them, either. They were before us; they are timeless. It is beyond the human. We are but earthen vessels. The sixteenth verse of 1 Corinthians 2 bears this out. It reads, “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) We speak with the authority of the Head because we are speaking His mind. If anyone is minded to object, saying, “Oh, that is just his thoughts, his interpretation,” we can correctly reply, “We have only said what the Master said to do.” (Luke 17:10) We wield a delegated authority. It is on His say-so. This is the meaning of that phrase, “yet he himself is judged of no man.” He is not judged exactly as the servant is not judged. “Well, that is not the servant’s idea, he is only doing what he is told.”
“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)
Therefore, we use an authority that is not native to us, but given by God to assist and serve His people. It is a power to keep on track ourselves and to expound on what it means to keep on track to the edification of the body. It will enable you to look opposers of the truth in the eye and present truth fearlessly, treading on the evil spirits in the hearts of the opposers while they do their best to sting you and damage the testimony of the truth. But God helps us to glorify Him through our lives or through our death. “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:6)
“For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)
This scripture gives us some idea of how far we can go in fighting this warfare without carnal weapons. Remember, the idea is to convince people of the reality of God’s salvation, not to necessarily, physically hold things in check. This scripture speaks of an agreement of prayer that God will bring affliction and trouble upon someone “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” We find this authority exercised in Acts 13:11, “And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” This had the effect of clearing the picture for Sergius Paulus. It was very plain that the hand of the Lord was indeed upon Elymas the sorcerer. This is very important. If the hand of God is not obvious in the matter, little good is done to the souls of those we wish to help. It is evidence of the Master’s backing, that we are just carrying out what the Boss wants, that is so important. How much of our efforts must be consecrated to letting Jesus lift up Himself to those who need Him, instead of inadvertently lifting up ourselves in the name of Jesus.
The quote from the article—“that would be to usurp the place of the Holy Spirit”*—is referring to that attitude of zeal that seeks to make the way better than God has ordered it. It arises from a false conception of our part and God’s part. It would contend that God would have people live for Him at any cost. This is simply not so. Carried out to its extreme, God would take people out of this perilous world to live for Him. Of course He doesn’t do that (John 17:15). We can’t take people out of this world to live for God, but it is possible for us to attempt to have a “holy” place that we think is a sanctuary from the world. A great number of Christian people attempt this with their home. A number of people think that nothing wrong should be allowed in religious services. With many, the end justifies the means, and they are willing to do almost anything to control a certain locality or event. It is an illusion. All we have to do is read in Job about how the devil came where the sons of God were assembled before God. God did not make him stay out of the assembly. God and the sons of God did not receive him in any way, either. But he was there. We might well conclude that God allowed him to be there. He was dealt with appropriately.
Now the devil is very faithful about attending meeting and visiting the homes of saints. You cannot keep him out. God will not keep him out. But you do not have to receive him. You can have grace from God to make it an uncomfortable visit for him. There will be a rebuke in each heart. But when he sees you trying to control the atmosphere of your home in your own strength, out of zeal for right, he laughs. That poses no problem to him. He can tempt and entice and work while you are doing all you know to do. The devil has a lot of fun in the Pharisee’s house. He introduces pride if you feel you are successful. He will put an uncharitableness in the hearts of those who try to hold the truth in unrighteousness. The devil makes them think that the way they are doing it, imperfect as it may be, is the only way to do it and please God. This is a lie. He will stir people to condemn others who walk with more liberty. There is more bondage and blind adherence to a creed of men’s devising in the homes of many homeschoolers than there is in the Catholic church. There is more of the fear of man with its snare. There is rank injustice and rebellion against that injustice, that is viewed as rebellion against right, when the truth is that the God-given right to choose whether to serve God or not has been ignored and trampled. Many people learn lordship over others in the home.
This attempt to sweep a little corner of the earth clean, in the false belief that the sweeping makes it holy, has a tremendous adverse effect. At the very least, it utterly destroys the fundamentals of real Christian life. It interposes something between the soul and God. It sets up the idol of a creed devised by men (with all good intentions) and ensnares the adherents.
But how is it done differently? Do saints make no attempt to control the atmosphere of their homes? Do they not forbid the children to do certain things and keep certain influences out of the home? Yes. It is the recognition that the obedience/submission to these things does not bring life to the soul. But, indulgence in things that are wrong will bring death to the soul. In other words, the power to live right is not found in the “rules” or standards of the home, but in a change in the motives of the heart. We do not want people to worship the brass serpent (it is just a piece of brass), but we want them to deal with the Healer directly (Numbers 21:9; 2 Kings 18:4). Now the ability to change the motive of the heart is beyond human ability. Only the Holy Spirit can order this battle successfully.
So we see the home of parents not led by the Holy Spirit: it is purged of television, movies, impure magazines, and many other worldly vanities. This is good for the inhabitants of the home, but it does not remove the inner desire from the heart. It seems to. The conditioning is such that there is a distaste and prejudice against those things among those who receive the standard. But the sinful desire of the heart is still there; it is merely deprived and suppressed.
Now consider the home of the Spirit-led. There is an understanding that the mere removal of things does not constitute deliverance. The work must go deeper, deeper than humans can do by themselves. There is a crying out to God. There is a supplication that He will order the battle. There is still no desire to put things that are wrong before the children, for the motives of the hearts who are in a place of leadership have no desire for those things. The home reflects their heart condition. But the burden is not just compliance with the outward standard. The pure in heart are burdened that the others will desire to do right from the heart. Nor are they satisfied with mere compliance. They want more. They know that the only valid thing is a new creature in Christ Jesus.
The distinction is vital. It is not the things that prove. The change in the heart goes to the root of everything. We must do the right things for the right reasons. Because we really love God. Because we don’t want to grieve Him. Then, when the heart motive is right, everything comes down to seeing what is right, for to know is to do.
A family among us became offended because unsaved people, dressed immodestly, came to our services. They wanted us to forbid them to come. They had raised their children in such a way that they had no power in their lives from heaven to live victoriously before the immodesty of these visitors. What they did not realize was that God was allowing this “provocation” to their family. It was a wake-up call to them. It was time to get out the shovels and start digging. God had more for them than they had gotten, and they needed it. The immodest unsaved needed to see their victory over sin. The unsaved did not see it. The family failed these unsaved people, and they failed the Lord. Their attitude was not right. They said they would leave. They threatened to break fellowship. That was an empty threat. There was no fellowship to be broken. They thought that mixing and mingling socially was fellowship. They did not understand what real spiritual fellowship is. Their “saved” young people could only seem to do well as long as they lived in a kind of spiritual greenhouse. The parents were attempting to regulate the children’s trials and temptations. When God moved things forward on His schedule, it became evident that the parents were acting as their children’s “holy spirit.” Once we have usurped the place of the Holy Spirit, it looks disastrous to abandon our efforts. We have committed ourselves to a path; we have taken a dog by the ears. We have also “limited the Holy One of Israel.” (Psalm 78:41) But if I have played the part of the Holy Spirit to my children and/or congregation, and I quit doing that; then what will my dependents do? To whom will they look?
To attempt to reach the hearts of others without doing it as the Holy Spirit orders the battle is to usurp His place. He knows what He is doing. He will surprise you at times, but it is always holy and pure. But if I rise up and attempt to do the work of God without divine sanction for each step I take, I will end up getting in the Lord’s way and hindering Him. Perhaps we can say that it is inadvertent usurpation, but it is usurpation all the same. I am out of God’s order; I have taken more upon me than I should.
This respect for the right of others to choose before God shows me that the focal point is not in “making” people behave in certain ways, but in clarifying truth in the midst of confusion, so that people can see to make their choice. And there I have great authority and power from God. He helps us with the massive hindrances which are arrayed to obscure the lines between right and wrong. He helps us to separate “the precious from the vile” (Jeremiah 15:19) in the eyes of those who hunger for truth. He helps us to trample the serpents and scorpions which hide the truth from others. “And to make all men see….” (Ephesians 3:9) This is a huge job, but we serve a big GOD.
A brother was preaching about a certain spirit in an individual in the congregation. Some knew who he was speaking of; many did not. He said, “I’m going to identify a snake for you. I’m going to tell you what a snake is like. If I just said, ‘Beware of the snake!’ then you might think a mouse is the snake and be watching for that, but I am going to tell you what a snake is.” He then proceeded to describe the characteristics of the spirit he was warning us about. He said, “It likes to play off one grandchild against another.” This was how he described the spirit of emulations. At the end of the message, he had not named the person, but I believe that it was unnecessary. Some of us were not affected much by that individual, but others had a lot of interaction with the person. But their stand against the spirit in that person was based on a whole lot more than just that person being named out; they were given the identity of a snake—any snake of that kind.
There is a time to name people out. There is a time to be detailed; there is a time to be general. There is a time to hint; there is a time to stand up and interrupt a message or testimony and rebuke the thing. There is a time to sing someone down; there is a time to endure and grieve. How important it is that those who love God can see there is more to it than just us at work! But sometimes, that is not seen, at least for a while, and we must, at times, bear a reproach.
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Titus 2:15)
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
In the end, a ministry bears fruit of one kind or another. A usurping ministry bears a certain fruit; a Holy Spirit directed ministry bears another kind of fruit. Brother Paul said, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” (2 Corinthians 3:2) He was writing about the fruit of the ministry in the congregations where he labored. In another place, he told them, “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” (1 Corinthians 11:22) This was a well-deserved rebuke for keeping the Lord’s supper wrongly, but again, I ask you to note that he did not make them do it right. He emphatically taught them what was right, received no excuses, did not praise them in their error or sympathize with wrong in any way. He was faithful to their souls. He did not reason that some would be confused by the situation insomuch that he had to do something in an executive sense. What they did was between them and God, as God measured it out, and he was on God’s side. In the second letter to this congregation, he went on to say, “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) He ministered to them in his place, declaring the truth, standing for the truth without letdown; but he recognized that he was dealing with epistles “of Christ” written “with the Spirit of the living God in fleshy tables of the heart.” Only God can thus write in human lives at this depth. We can inscribe an indelible impression on the mind and never be forgotten, but only God can write the living record of Jesus Christ in the flesh of human lives. “And every spirit 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.” (1 John 4:3) “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)
Each bonafide child of God is to be regarded with great respect because of the indwelling Christ within. Every other soul is to be regarded with the profound knowledge that they, too, were created to be a temple for the indwelling Christ. Every unsaved person has the potential to walk with God, to share in the great wealth of inheritance of Christ Jesus by being born from above into the family of God. Even the vilest, the most defiled, the most besotted with sin, have this potential. For Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and He came to save them from their sins. I cannot save them. Without God’s help, I cannot even love them enough. Only God can save mankind. How misguided to usurp the place of the Master! “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
Holy Spirit Purging
Is there a scriptural difference between the “fire” and the “furnace”?
“…saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 31:9)
a) Is the “fire… in Zion” referring to the fire of trials, or is it referring to the zeal of service; or what is it referring to?
b) “His furnace in Jerusalem.” Now, it sounds like the fire being in Zion and the furnace in Jerusalem are two different issues. Can you explain the issues involved, please? I am getting mixed up as I meditate on the issues. It seems like Jerusalem is the place where the laws and policies are made—the throne of God—and as such, that would be the location of the furnace. Then it seems like Zion is the place—the Church—where the laws and policies are to be carried out and the fire would work there.
I see no scriptural distinction between Zion and Jerusalem, particularly in spiritual Zion/Jerusalem. Both terms refer to the New Testament church of God.
“But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4:26)
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” (Hebrews 12:22)
The fire is in the furnace. A furnace presents the thought of a controlled fire—a utilization of what fire can do to accomplish certain tasks. The task that requires a furnace fire in the New Testament was also shown in shadow in the Old Testament.
“For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.” (2 Chronicles 34:3)
“Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver.” (Ezekiel 22:18)
“As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you.” (Ezekiel 22:20)
“As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the LORD have poured out my fury upon you.” (Ezekiel 22:22)
“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:14)
It is plain from these scriptures that there was a need for purging from idolatry by means of a fire in the Old Testament. Consider: once an idol of metal has been set up in the heart, there is no effective way to destroy it than to reverse the process by which it was created. It was forged by fire; it must be melted down and destroyed by fire. Merely toppling it is not enough. If it is broken, it can be mended. It must be dissolved. It can be ground up as Moses did the golden calf. But then the taste of it is everywhere in the water, so to speak. But to effectively destroy it, so that it is no more, it must go to the furnace of God. Therefore Jerusalem shall be purged by the spirit of burning.
So Old Testament living for God involved the ever-ready furnace. It stood ready to devour every man-made idol that might appear.
How beautifully the New Testament battle is mirrored in the shadow and type of the Old!
“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.” (Luke 3:17)
“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:3)
“And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.” (Isaiah 4:5)
So what is this consuming fire that burns up everything not of God? “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30)
“Yes, ’tis love, ’tis burning love divine,
Filling all my soul’s desire!
“Is thy hope unclouded by a fear?
Hallelujah! Do you know
That the love of God is burning clear
In thy heart as white as snow?
“Do you feel the mighty, living pow’r,
Filling all thy mortal frame?
And does all thy heart forever pour
Streams of glory to His name?”*
I am satisfied, dear brother, that the great lack of supreme consecration in the fires of the Holy Ghost is the reason for the shabby and dishonorable conduct of the professed saints in light today. Most of them do not know what it means to be burned out. Their threshing floors are piled high with chaff. Their lives are distinguished by a great lack of consecration. They do not love God as they should. Their motives are not as pure as they must be to serve God aright, therefore their testimony is marred, and what wheat there is is buried in the rubbish.
I would be in the same shape were it not for the great mercy of God: mercy which is offered to all. For the Lord dealt with me relentlessly about dying to ambition. He was determined to burn it out of me. If I had turned away from His dealing, then I would have something alive in me that would be a reproach, no matter how carefully camouflaged and presented. This idol needed to be melted and dissolved in the furnace of God, consumed by the glowing fire of supreme love for God. So the Lord brought me to the point where I cast, with trembling hands, the vile ambition in the furnace. And there it was consumed, and I was able to know in my heart that I loved Him more than anything.
“Oh, to be but emptier, lowlier,
Mean, unnoticed, and unknown,
And to God a vessel holier,
Filled with Christ, and Christ alone!”*
And thus I was qualifed by the spirit of burning, and saw that every human imagination and thought must be brought to the obedience of Christ. And thus I dwell with the everlasting burnings, and I am defended by the glory of the fire which God has set up in Zion. And thus Ipreach, warning every man of the great necessity of divine purging and refining. For we dwell with the everlasting fire.
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Most do not want to hear this. They cannot endure sound doctrine. We talk to people who have such a stench of vomited truth about them that it is hard to stomach. Their tables are covered with it. The spiritual smell is so bad, that one is impelled to flee from them, lest we lose the ability to keep truth ourselves. We are heartily sick of the smell of diplomacy and soothing words. We do not want to be mean or harsh, but we know that by wisdom of words, the cross is made of none effect. And the cross is everything. This “healing of the hurts slightly” is like thespraying of deodorant to make the smell of vomit a little more bearable. Away with it all! Let us disinfect. Conditions are so bad that only a full Bible remedy of fire can ever purge away the filth and kill the germs. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18) Anything short of this will not do the job. Straight and clean preaching of a pure standard will hold the truth before the people. This preaching is more than just the words stated; it is the life that stands back of it. Unless “all ungodliness and unrighteousness” is purged out of us, we cannoteffectively oppose the corruption around us. Unless all sympathy for ungodliness and unrighteousness is purged out of us, then we will give some place to the devil. A little place like that is all that our enemy needs to effectively hinder the truth in us.
We find that the great refining fire which abides in Zion within our very hearts burns up the chaff with unquenchable fire, consuming vanity after vanity. It will consume the frivolous little vanities that beset the holiday seasons. We look at much of what professed Christians indulge in, and we are compelled to cry out, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” (Acts 14:15) Perfect love brings about a sober approach to life. We readily see that Easter eggs andbunnies are substitutes to hide the realities of what we should consider at that time; likewise Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Santa Clauses and reindeer pulling sleighs, etc.
But much more dangerous than these frivolous things are the hidden prides and ambitions that are mixed with service to God. The hurt feelings that arise. The defensive attitudes about my feelings, my opinions. All of the things that make it difficult or impossible for the Spirit of God to govern us. Oh! Let us make haste to the furnace and get rid of everything that is not approved of God!
What is the standard for marriage?
When the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus to be stoned, He said for him who is without sin to cast the first stone; and did he not also say that he found no fault with her and to go forth and sin no more?
Men, even the Patriarchs, of the Old Testament commited adultery. Lot, who God called a good man, got drunk and had sex with his daughters not once but twice.
Relationships between men and women are in a bad way these days, but to bring down the judgement of God and damnation is probably not helpful, especially when it does not address the underlying causes of these bad relationships; that is, when we no longer see the goodness in others and blame others for our own unhappiness. Many marriages could be saved by understanding this and by forgiving the other and ourselves. Other marriages cannot be saved, when one or both parties blame the other for their own misery and cannot stop, when physical abuse or other evil deeds go out of control. Often these couples move on to other relationships and repeat the same patterns over again. It certainly does seem sinful to see people putting each other through hell on earth with one failed marriage after another. How does love turn to hate so quickly?
One thing I am sure that we can agree on with these hard questions and problems, for which we seem helpless to find an answer; as Jesus said, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Thank you for writing. I appreciate you being willing to share your thoughts. I would like to reply, not in an argumentive way, but as “food for thought.”
I certainly agree that the difficulties that come from failed marriages defy our best efforts to solve them. With us it is impossible. An answer to one does not seem to work with another. And I certainly agree that “with God all things are possible.” Thank the Lord for that! Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that there was no answer. What an awful shape we would be in then!
I would also conclude that the answer that God would apply to our marriage problems, would not be one that we could come up with by ourselves. The Bible tells us, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) He is able to communicate them to us for us to understand, but they are just superior to our best efforts.
God has set up a simple rule regarding marriage for the entire human race. Jesus said it: “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) God did not mean for people to do what they did then or what they do now. He did not mean for husbands to put away their wives or for wives to put away their husbands. He knew, that if we disobeyed and did what He didn’t want us to do, that we, our children, and others would get awfully tangled up. God loved us so much that He didn’t want us to get in the fixes that are all around us right now. He defined when a marriage ends (Romans 7:2-3). He told us that there will be no marriage relationship after the resurrection (Matthew 22:30). All of these things establish a framework that is right for this subject. I may have trouble getting along with the person I married, but the framework helps me. It establishes the boundaries of how I can deal with my problems. It shows me what I must not do, according to the wisdom of God. I have no option to give up on my marriage and seek out another one while my first companion is yet alive. If I do this, then I go outside the framework, and I am subject to the troubles that come from disobeying God.
A child’s parents, according to their finite wisdom, set boundaries for the child. “You may play in the yard, but do not go into the street.” This commandment is set by superior human judgment (the parent’s) to the inferior human judgment (the child’s). There is love behind it and understanding. The child disregards the commandment to his peril. He may have only a hazy, vague knowledge of automobiles, kidnappers, and bullies, to say nothing of the many things that could be dangerous for him to explore or investigate. But he is protected from these and other things as long as he stays within the framework.
So it is with us. Doing it as God directs will keep us out of a lot of trouble. Messing around, reasoning, and attempting to reinterpret the boundaries will get us in a lot of trouble. It has, and it will continue to do so.
As you pointed out in your letter, a lot of people have crossed the God-given commandments on adultery, divorce, and remarriage, including some of the patriarchs. But I think we would both agree, that these things caused results that were bad, bad, BAD. Surely we cannot justify what they did. The Bible does not. If we do like they did, the results will be bad in our case, as well. The Bible tells us a great deal by what it does not say. By reading between the lines, so to speak, we can easily see that Lot’s family life after his daughters’ deceptive adultery was highly undesireable—just awful. We are compelled to admit that it is the same if someone does the same today. Everything gets tangled up. Even if the original sinners deny the wickedness of the deed, then the children struggle along in the aftermath. It had and has a detrimental effect on them, both then and now.
Look at the effect in the family of Abraham and Sarah when Hagar was involved. It causes problems between the man and his wife. (How could it not?) Eventually it causes problems between Isaac and Ishmael. What to do? Should Abraham choose which one he “likes” best? Should he go with the one who was first on the scene (Ishmael)? How can the mess be straightened out? How can they get back to God’s plan? At great sacrifice and emotional expense, Abraham turned back to God’s way. He separated from the illegal liason. He sent away the mother of his child and his oldest son. He did this because it was not of God. Thus he recognized and acknowledged his mistake. Thus he came clean in the matter.
Now I would agree with you that just nagging at people in the wrong is not helpful to them. Stoning them to death certainly doesn’t help them to get right, either. It might slow down the progress of this sin a little through fear, but it would not heal those who are already in adultery. Continuing to commit adultery won’t help, either. We certainly won’t get help by continuing to do wrong. Trying to accommodate sin is a bad mistake. It is tantamount to saying, “Now that we are in the street (even though we shouldn’t be), we must make the best of it.” Folks look at the cost of what it is going to take to get back to what God said to do, and it is discouraging. They forget how big God is. They forget that is better to lose an eye, an arm, or a foot to get right and stay right, than to continue on in sin and reap the sure penalties of sin (Mark 9:43-48). It is a fearsome subject, very sobering, to become deeply convicted that only God’s way is right, and that I must get back to His way. It leads to repentance and forsaking of all wrong. It brings about the pain and cost of fleeing sin, lest the greater pain of indulging sin be our ruin. It is a bitter pill, but it will be even more bitter not to take it.
If there were any of the ninety-nine just persons who needed no repentance (Luke 15:7) at the confrontation of the woman “taken in adultery, in the very act,” (John 8:4) then they would not have been inclined to throw stones at her, any more than Jesus was inclined to throw stones. It would be a bad mistake to think that Jesus was sympathetic to her adultery because He didn’t want to stone her. He hated the sin, but He loved the person, and desired above all things her deliverance. Just persons, who no longer need repentance because they have repented and gotten cleaned up, know there is deliverance from sin in God. There is something better than stoning, and there is something better than continuing to sin. There is a way out. It costs something, but it is worth the cost. Our souls can be restored to where they were created. “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11) He did not justify her in adultery. She was not condemned by those who had come to stone her. They were not clear, either. But she was condemned by the Standard of God’s truth. “Go, and sin no more.” Not just “Go,” but “Go, and sin no more.” That would only be possible if she let the truth of what she had experienced sink deep into her heart until it moved her to godly sorrow and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Only if this happened could she obey the commandment, “Go, and sin no more.” She needed to quit the sinning business. There were worse things ahead than being stoned. One of them is in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Another is in Hebrews 13:4. Judgment is predicted in Malachi 3:5.
My wife has an uncle, the brother of her mother. In many ways, he is a good man, a decent man. He married a girl in his youth who did not have a heart to live right. In all fairness, he himself did not really yield to the Lord, and he drifted into this marriage. They took vows, started out in life, had a number of children, and eventually wrecked. She was irresponsible and awful. She made herself a very poor marriage partner. He had to try to mother his boys as well as earn a living, etc., and it was very, very hard. Finally he met another woman, and this woman filled the void in his life. He knew the truth about the framework that God designed for marriage and life, but he needed a wife (for his wife had not been a wife and mother as she should), so he married this second woman while his wife was still alive. They made a very caring couple. She helped him raise his children. She was a great help to him in many ways. It appeared and appears as a great success outside of God’s plan. He is deceived by that. He doesn’t think much of the Bible’s teaching on this point. Disobedience seems to have yielded more real benefits, good things, than (unblessed) obedience had. God says that this marriage is adultery; that my uncle and aunt are an adulterer and an adulteress. God says it is wrong. What do you think? Do you think the Bible is wrong? Do you think that my uncle is right? To get right with God, will God require him to leave his second wife?
There is a deceptiveness to sin (Hebrews 3:13). People feel compelled to lie, even feel it is the right thing to do. God says we shouldn’t, at all (Ephesians 4:25). People say that we should, at times. Who do you think is right, God or man?
In conclusion, I would like to address your question, “How does love turn to hate so quickly?” The short answer would be that the love is not pure, therefore it can go bad more quickly than could be imagined.
The great strength of a marriage built in the fear of God is that the oneness does not rest solely on human affection, wisdom, or skill. It has those things, and they may wax or wane to a certain extent, but the strength of the marriage is built on greater things than these. The simple fact that we are committed to each other for life—as long as we both shall live—puts an awesome strength in the marriage which does not depend on mutual attraction or even compatibility. If my wife should backslide and fall away from God to the extent that she is unfaithful, I am still married to her. If she should marry another man, and I am left bereft, she is still my wife, and I must conduct myself within that framework. If I were reduced to that, how I would need the hand of God to renew me, to heal me, and to direct me! But He is big enough to do so. He can keep me clear. If she should lose her mind, she is still my wife. If she should become estranged to me to the extent that she is my enemy continually, she is still my wife.
Many marriages are built largely on the sands of human experience, and they endure many things quite well. But life brings more than the “normal” trials and battles. Almost every house is built for bad weather, but how many prepare for floods? “He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Luke 6:48) It is this rock of God’s framework for us that I can heartily recommend. I recommend that people build their lives this way, and that they get back to this if they haven’t built this way.
Sermon on the Mount
Is the message that Jesus preached merely an unobtainable ideal?
I appreciate the tone of your reply and though I do not claim to be a Christian as it is currently practiced, I do believe that Jesus knew God in a way few have done since that time. I especially admire the Sermon on the Mount, which seems to go to the fundamental causes of sin rather than just the law. Sad it is that more Christians do not look at principles such as resist not evil, the value of peacemaking, gentleness, not seeking life’s meaning in materialism. I have recently come to admire Quakers and Mennonites more as I get older. I recommend the writings of Tolstoy, “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) It was a major influence on Gandhi and his nonviolent movement that liberated India. Tolstoy believed that the church had lost its way centuries ago and needed to return to an unconditional loving of our fellow men. This, in his opinion, was the key to the kingdom of God.
Jesus was a big disappointment to his followers because they expected him to liberate the Jews from Roman rule by force. After Jesus there were in fact two major but unsuccessful revolts. Amazingly it was early Christians, through nonviolence, who, not through conquest, but by conversion conquered Rome. Jesus loved to the end.
Today’s Christians believe it is only by believing in the Nicean Creed and waiting for the second coming that salvation depends. Now wealthy Christians take little notice as to how that wealth was made, or to the catastrophic suffering and poverty around the world they ignore, comforted by the thought that it is not by works but faith in Jesus we are saved. Of course we all fall short of the mark. There is much that I could do that I have not done.
Enough of my thoughts for now. How do you perceive the Sermon on the Mount?
Is it a blueprint for living or just some utopian ideal, to be thought about but not lived? Consider the question well. It is a question much on my mind of late.
I would like to say that I am not a Christian as it is generally currently practiced, either. I am a New Testament Christian. I am a Sermon-on-the-Mount Christian. What I mean by these statements is that God changed my heart, making me very different from what I was before, so that I could live to the New Testament standard, which is wonderfully portrayed in Matthew 5-7. Without this heart change, I could aspire to live up to that standard, but I would not have within me the spiritual life that naturally lives it by God’s help. Most “Christians” just try, without knowing anything about what God can do and wants to do for them internally. The result is not very satisfactory, and their lives do not read like the Bible reads. You have noticed this and accurately depicted the contradiction.
The situation of most is accurately captured in the saying attributed to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain): “Christianity is a wonderful idea! Only—it’s never been tried.” He was mistaken about it never being tried. But his conclusion is understandable, although regretable. A very small minority of professing Christians know what it means to be born again; most have no idea what it means. They are honest in their lack of comprehension. They do not know of anything better. Their leaders do not, either. They are ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God, and therefore they greatly err, imagining that God just wants us to try our best, and that is the best that can be expected.
We certainly need to do our best, but we need God’s best working in us, too. What is impossible with men is possible with God. And God has gone to extensive effort and preparation to provide all of us with a higher plain of living than has been available since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. The first two members of the human race (Adam and Eve) were created just as holy and right as God knew they should be, and He is interested in restoring the human race to that condition and helping them to keep it.
God did not do this work of preparation in a hurry. While He was longing for the restoration of fellowship between mankind and Himself, yet the nature of man and the sin that had defiled him, required that the pace of things be regulated to accommodate our need. With what great wisdom and patience He has labored for us! Since men broke fellowship with God through doubting Him and exercising their right to choose to unjustly turn away from Him, restoration would involve believing in Him and turning to Him with all the heart, freely and without compulsion. And for man to believe truly from the heart, all would have to have a thorough foundation that made it possible to really be convinced. Therefore, God labored over many generations to prepare a record that is able to convince the most skeptical among us of the genuine nature of truth, especially of truth that pertains to getting right with God and how we should live. That record is there for any to examine and see. The record of those preparations is contained in the Old Testament, and it also contains predictions of One who would come and show us what was possible in a human body with God’s help, how to live and how to die. It also taught us that the moral nature that we possess is more complicated to justly redeem than we knew, and that an exceedingly powerful and effective atonement was needed for the actions produced by the condition of man. In short, God made a way, and in the fullness of time, brought it to fruition.
Since the coming of Jesus, it is possible to be changed in a way that had not been known before. This change is summarized in Luke 1:74-75, where we read, “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” The human enemies of violence and greed and other forms of selfishness rule over most people with various degrees of severity. Some are so under its thrall that their lives are a great curse, even to themselves and to others. But Jesus came to deliver us out of the hand of our enemies. He came to make it possible in your heart and mine to live up to the Sermon on the Mount.
This had not been possible before He came. The best that any could do before Jesus came was short of this deliverance. All of the patriarchs, the kings who feared God (such as David), and the prophets did not live up to the Sermon on the Mount. Some came closer than others. Some lived up to the standard for a short while. And most of “Christendom” doubts there is anything better than the Old Testament standard.
Here is a scripture worth pondering: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” (Acts 13:38-41) This was spoken directly to the Jews. Although they had more background preparation than anyone else, yet they, as a people, had chosen to walk a path that produced in them an evil heart of unbelief. The preparation was largely wasted on them. They did not get the change that justified them from all things from which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses. They were proud and misapplied everything, imagining that God would do it the way that they thought. He did not, and they were left to their own devices.
I am sorry to say that the same thing continues to happen among “Christian” people today. Many have “an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:12) They are not just unconvinced, but they have also decided not to believe. Hardly any have found the deliverance that God has for all. Most are oblivious to what He has made available. And there are many things to mislead and trap those who are sincere and honest. In the midst of all this noise and confusion, God deals with all, including you and me, and continues to deliver the few who seek Him out of the hand of the enemies of mankind. The delivered lead precious lives; they have joys that all the rest do not know. Those joys are for the rest too, but they do not know about them. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The Lord invites you to His great supper which He has prepared. He invites you to be one of the few.