Friday, May 16, 2014

Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?

I have said that we need to have zeal for preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. We need to go all out to sacrifice and support the gospel and the warning message out of a motive of love for God and for our neighbors.

But does it really matter for other people? Will not God raise up stones if necessary to get the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the people who need it, even if we fail to do our part?

Yes, it matters for other people what we do. No, God is not going to raise up stones to preach the gospel if we do not do it.

I can't prove my last statement, that God will not raise up stones to preach the gospel. You can chalk that up to my opinion. But there is plenty of Bible evidence that what we do does affect other people. Our choices can cause suffering or alleviate suffering. Our choices can make other people's salvation easier or more difficult, more likely or less likely.

If you are a parent, do you figure, "It doesn't matter how I raise my children. They will have the same chance for happiness and salvation in God's kingdom whether I raise them right and teach them God's way, or not"? Most parents in the Church of God do not think that way. Most parents understand that the sacrifices and right choices they make for their children, to teach them the truth, will make a difference in their lives, building a foundation for happiness in this physical life and improving their chances for salvation and happiness in the life to come.

But it is the same with everyone. What we do affects others. Make right choices and you can bring happiness to others, alleviate their suffering, and help them to find the truth and be saved. Make wrong choices, and you can cause others to suffer, rob them of their happiness, and make their salvation more difficult. There is no indication in the Bible that God will raise up stones to do what you should do but fail to do to help others.

Let's start with Ezekiel. "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-19). "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 33:7-8).

In the past I have emphasized the blood guilt aspect of these passages - the blood guilt upon the watchman (all of us) if we do not warn. But here I want to call attention to something else.

What happens to the people if we do not warn? They die. God does not say, "If you do not warn the wicked man, I will raise up stones to warn him." God says, "that wicked man shall die in his iniquity." There is no indication that God will give a warning some other way so that the consequences for the people to be warned are the same no matter what we do. This is a basic principle from God's word - what we do affects others. Failure to do the job God has given us has a harmful effect on others.

Everyone has a chance for salvation at one time or another. But that does not mean our choices and actions have no effect.

Our actions and our choices can make someone's opportunity for salvation easier or more difficult. We can do what encourages others to make the right choices, in which case their salvation becomes easier, and MORE LIKELY, or we can do things or make bad choices that make it more difficult and LESS LIKELY for others to be saved.

Suppose I have the opportunity to encourage someone I know to repent of his problem. If I do it, he is MORE LIKELY to repent and be saved, but if I neglect it he may be LESS LIKELY to repent, more likely to be lost. Also, if I put a temptation in his way, that makes it more likely he will sin and less likely he will be saved. I make his salvation more difficult and therefore less likely if I tempt him to sin.

The Bible does not talk about salvation as if what we do does not matter.

Consider these passages:

"But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).

Notice, Paul did not speak as if what we do has no effect on other people's salvation. Rather, what we do certainly can make someone else's salvation easier and more likely or harder and less likely. In the case above, Paul said that to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother by letting your example be a temptation for him could cause him to lose his salvation, that is, "perish".

"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

Here is an example more applicable to what we are talking about - giving a warning. James did not speak as if what we do cannot save someone who otherwise would be lost.

"When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18).

Notice the way God words this. He doesn't say, "If you give the wicked no warning, I will warn him some other way, raising up stones if necessary." He says, if "you give him no warning...that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity."

Now, if what we do has no effect, then why teach our children?

Take 100 people. Warn and teach all of them. You have made their salvation easier, not necessarily because they will understand now, but it will be easier for them to repent in the tribulation because they will remember your warning and your teaching, and that will make it easier for them to trust God because they will remember that God provided YOU to give them a warning. Because their repentance will be easier, maybe 70 out of the hundred will repent. But now, don't warn them. Now their repentance will be harder. Why? They will say, "God is unfair, why didn't He warn me?" You, by your neglect, put God in a bad light for them. It will be harder for them to trust God now and really repent. So how many repent and are saved? Maybe only 25. So because you made their repentance more difficult, more took the easy way and lost out. How would you like that on your conscience, that several people lost out on salvation partly because you made it more difficult for them by neglecting the job of warning them that God has given you?

Not everyone in this country knows he is doing wrong. I realize that the way the world is painted in Church of God teaching, it looks like everyone outside the Church is an adulterer, or atheist, or is openly and knowingly sinning in some way. News stories are full of abominations. But I lived outside the Church for half my life before I lived in the Church, and that picture is very misleading. There is a sizable portion of the population that is very religious and very sincere, and they feel they are doing a good job of obeying God. They are giving and they help the poor. They are faithful to their wives and husbands. They treat people as they want to be treated. They believe in Christ, in a limited way. They think they are serving God by keeping Sunday, Christmas, and Easter. THOSE are the ones I am most worried about. Not the atheists and agnostics. It is the religious people who need the warning most of all - those are the people who will say: "I never knew and God never gave me a chance, because if I only had a warning, I would have obeyed." And there are millions of them.

What you and I do can cause more of them to be saved or more to be lost. Our choices can have that effect.

One of the most important choices we make is where to fellowship and who to support. We can attend and support a group that is getting the gospel and the Ezekiel warning out, a message that has the power to improve people's chances for salvation, or we can attend and support a group that is doing little or nothing in that regard. Our choice affects not only ourselves, but others too.

Some members might choose a fellowship based on their children's needs. They may compromise with the need for preaching the gospel for the sake of attending a group that gives their children the best social opportunities and environment.

But the people we are to warn - those who will go through the tribulation - have children too, and those children will go through the tribulation with their parents, if they are young, and if they are older, they need a warning so they can make their own choice.

Let's be realistic. The most important things parents can do for their children is to teach them personally, as God commands, and set the right example. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Church fellowship can be helpful, but is secondary. Any COG group should teach the basic truths, and if it is not, then it is not a good place for any member to attend. But if it is teaching the basic truths and is preaching the gospel to the world, and if you are doing your part to teach them God's way of life and show by your example that you are living it yourself, your children will get the right foundation regardless of their social opportunities at any particular local congregation. And when your children are old enough to date and find a mate, then you with them, or they on their own, can visit other congregations, either in the fellowship you regularly attend and support or outside it.

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong spoke of God's love vs. human love. He said that the highest human love may be a mother's love for her child. But he said, a mother's love for her child is inherently selfish. It is HER child. She loves it because it is HERS. She doesn't love other people's children the same way. But God's love, which we are to learn, is different. God loved the world so much He sacrificed His only son. It is that love that God has that we are to practice. It is outgoing, away from self, towards others. Some of you who have been in the Church a long time may remember Mr. Armstrong teaching this.

The choice we make, where to fellowship, can have a small effect on our children now - small in comparison to our personal teaching and example. But where we fellowship and who we support can have a HUGE effect on the children of millions of Americans who may go through the tribulation.

Also, making the choice to support a group that is showing outgoing love for the nations, to give them the warning they need, is itself a right example and a lesson for children to learn from. They can understand this when you explain it to them, at a level they can understand according to their age. That lesson in loving others may be far more important than any social opportunities.

God commands that we love our neighbors AS ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). In other words, just as much. We are to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves. That can include loving our neighbors' children just as much as loving our own children. We don't have the same job with other people's children. God has given each parent the job of raising his or her own children, not other people's children. We raise and discipline our own children and our neighbor has the job of raising and disciplining his own children.

But God has given us the job of warning the nations of the tribulation to come, and that warning message benefits millions of our neighbors' children as well as our adult neighbors themselves.

Speaking of the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, that is only the second commandment. We are to love God first (Matthew 22:37-40). And God commands us to preach the gospel and deliver the Ezekiel warning. We are to obey God first. Loving our children and our family members comes second.

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).

If we make our children more important in our eyes than obedience to God, are we not making idols out of our children? And might God not take our idols away from us?

If we are faithful to put God first, to obey God's commands to warn the wicked, to hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11), to love our neighbors as much as ourselves (and have an outgoing concern for their children as much as for our children), God is able to give us extra help with our children and give our children the social opportunities and experiences they need. He can reward us for our obedience. That blessing from God will be of more benefit for our own children than any decision on our part, contrary to God's instructions, to try to put our children before God and before His command to warn the wicked and preach the gospel.

The Church of God can deliver God's warning message to a greater or lesser degree. We might warn more people, or fewer people. The more we do, the more people are warned, the more of God's truth we can deliver to them, the more they will be helped when they remember our message in the tribulation. Our choices affect others, and can even affect the probability of their salvation.

We need to go all out to support the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel: