Friday, September 3, 2010

Don't Let Your Love Grow Cold

There is a mortal danger members of the Church of God will face before the end. It can kill us spiritually if we are not on our guard against it. The danger is increasing even now, and no doubt it has already killed some in the Church spiritually. And the danger is not about governance.

Speaking of the time shortly before the end, Jesus said, "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:10-13). The specific context indicates that this applies before the end of the age, just after a great persecution begins against the Church and we are hated by all nations, but before the return of Christ. But just as troubles and sorrows will increase even before the tribulation and leading up to the tribulation, so this also will be increasing in the end time, even in our time now. There is a spiritual principle here, that increasing lawlessness, iniquity, and sin can cause love (Greek "agape") to grow cold, even in God's people.

And it is clear, both from prophecy and from the evidence we see in the world today, that as we get closer to the end, sin is increasing. We are to read the signs of the times and be spiritually alert, both to our own spiritual condition and to the fulfillment of prophetic events around us (Matthew 16:2-3, Matthew 24:42-44, Mark 13:33-37), and the evidence of declining morality and increasing lawlessness is all around us. This also was prophesied. "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:1-5). "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13).

Lawlessness, sin, and betrayal can occur even in God's Church, and betrayal by those in our own house is a common theme in the Bible. Lucifer was put in an office and position of trust, but he turned against the God who gave him his life and his position (Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:11-19). Judas betrayed Jesus after He appointed him and gave him a position of authority as an apostle, even to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1-8, Mark 3:14-19, 6:7, Luke 6:12-16, Matthew 26:14-16, 20, 47-50). King David was betrayed by his own son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:10-14, 16:11), and David's trusted counselor, Ahithophel, also joined the conspiracy against David (1 Chronicles 27:33, 2 Samuel 15:12, 31, 16:20-23, 17:1-4). David wrote about betrayal, and he may have been writing about Ahithophel: "For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; Then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, And walked to the house of God in the throng" (Psalm 55:12-14). "He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; He has broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, But war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords" (Psalm 55:20-21). "Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalm 41:9).

Jesus said, "For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household' " (Matthew 10:35-36). "Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death" (Mark 13:12).

Yet, through all this, we are commanded to love even our enemies. "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:44-48).

Betrayals can occur in God's Church and among brethren and ministers in whom we have trusted. Many have experienced this when Worldwide was going through doctrinal change. Some may have experienced this recently, and it is likely that this sort of thing will increase. It is those who have been close to us and those we have respected the most who can disappoint us and hurt us the most. But the danger is not the harm they do to us directly. The danger is that our love towards them can turn cold. That is what Christ warns us about in Matthew 24:10-13. We must love our enemies, even while they hurt us. We must not allow our love to grow cold. We must pray for their repentance and salvation and that we can live at peace with them, if not now (Hebrews 12:14-15), then in the kingdom of God. We should look for opportunities to do good to our enemies.

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

I know that can be difficult, especially when an offense has just occurred and is fresh in our minds and our emotions are high. But we must not allow bitterness to take root in our minds and grow. It is a spiritual poison that can kill us. We must seek God in prayer and receive the help we need from God's Spirit to forgive others. "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Those are strong words. Does Christ mean what He says? Is salvation worth it? If our enemy betrays us and we refuse to forgive him even when he repents, or if we refuse to love him and pray for his repentance for his own good so he can be forgiven and be in the kingdom of God with us, he may repent and be in the kingdom of God while we ourselves are cast out because we allowed bitterness to take root in our heart and grow, and because we refused to forgive him from the heart (Matthew 18:35).

I have also found from experience that it is hard to be emotionally neutral towards those who hurt us. You have to love them or you will hate them. So we better try to love them from the heart. That doesn't mean we cannot exercise wisdom to protect ourselves (Matthew 10:16). We should certainly exercise wisdom and take precautions to protect ourselves physically and spiritually against those who may hurt us. But we can earnestly desire their long-term good and pray for them. We can seek ways to do them good without putting ourselves at risk.

Hard decisions will have to be made by many ministers and brethren in United Church of God. Each person must seek God's will according to God's Word and according to the application of God's Word in the circumstances in which he finds himself. We seek to know God's will for making decisions through prayer, through Bible study, through meditation about God's law, and sometimes through fasting. We can ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). We can seek God in prayer to make right decisions, as Christ did when He prayed all night before choosing His apostles (Luke 6:12-16). But whatever decisions we make, we should make them from a motive of love towards God and love towards neighbor. Anger and bitterness do not make for wise decisions (James 1:19-20). Our decisions have to be motivated by a right spirit and attitude.

Readers of this blog know some of how I think on the issue of Church governance. But whether or not I am right about that issue, the matter of having a right attitude towards God and each other is of far greater importance and is more critical to our salvation.

We all need to have a right spirit, a spirit of love and forgiveness, to try to personally live at peace with each other, to avoid a spirit of bitterness and accusation, even while we may have to make hard decisions. You can make a decision motivated by a right spirit or a wrong spirit. We have to make right decisions for right reasons, not for wrong reasons. We have to strive for peace as much as possible without compromising with God's law.

As head of the Church of God, Christ is the personal head of each individual Christian, and we must submit to Christ's leadership through the Bible and through His Spirit to overcome our carnal nature. If there is division in the fellowship we are in, that job becomes more difficult, but as long as a minister or member is part of a fellowship, that person must strive to not allow any division in that organization to infect him or her with a spirit of bitterness.

If organizational changes need to take place, eventually they will, one way or another. Christ will deal with it. Christ can show the ministers and members where they are wrong, even through hard experience, but in the meantime each person has to watch his spiritual condition and not become a spiritual casualty. I have seen it before where there would be a problem or perceived problem in the Church, someone would get embittered about it over time, then the problem or perceived problem would be fixed or disappear, but the bitterness in the individual would remain, and he would eventually leave the Church of God completely, even after the problem that triggered the bitterness was gone. If a member of the Church reacts the right way to these trials, he can come out of these trials spiritually stronger and closer to God (1 Peter 1:6-7), but if he reacts the wrong way, he can come out of these trials spiritually weaker and farther from God. We must react to trials in a godly way.

What a tragedy if one of us becomes embittered by events and the mistakes and sins of others and then, even after Christ corrects the mistakes and fixes the situation, that person loses his salvation because he has become so consumed with a spirit of bitterness that his love has grown cold.

Prophecy must be fulfilled. But let all of us resolve in our hearts to make the utmost effort NOT to be part of the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy, "the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12).

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Weekly Sabbath Day, Chapter 2

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2

Comparing Ourselves Among Ourselves, Chapter 5

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5

Focusing on the Bible, Chapter 5

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