Sunday, May 15, 2016

God Did Not Call Us to Be Passive in Our Obedience

We are called to obedience towards God. This requires us not only to avoid sinful actions, but to be active in doing what God tells us to do.

We are to love God with all our being. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:36).

And if our love for God is real, it will express itself in obedient action. We love God by keeping His commandments, by doing what He says. This is emphasized throughout the Bible.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

God speaks to us directly through the Bible. He also gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32), and that Holy Spirit helps us understand God's word (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

When we see in the Bible that God tells us to do something, we should not have a passive attitude and response to it. We may have to do research to make sure we understand the scripture, putting scriptures together to let the Bible interpret the Bible as Mr. Armstrong did, but once the answer is clear, we should go into action. We should obey God quickly, with zeal, with energy, and with force. We should move, in other words.

Mr. Armstrong pointed out that when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, he didn't argue or hesitate, but got up early in the morning to immediately do what God said. "Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him" (Genesis 22:1-3).

Remember, we are to love God with all our strength. That means we are to put everything we've got into doing what He says.

There is no room for a passive, bland, sleepy attitude towards obedience. Our obedience should be quick, zealous, active, and energetic. Thus have been the servants of God in history. We should put power and force into doing what God says in the Bible.

For an example of how God respects this kind of zeal, read the account of Jehu in 2 Kings chapters 9 and 10. God appointed him to be king over Israel and gave him a mission. Jehu carried out that mission with abundant zeal, quickness, imagination, and energy.

What is interesting is that Jehu was not a righteous king. Yet, God gave him credit for carrying out the mission He gave him and promised him a blessing for it. "Thus Jehu destroyed Baal from Israel. However Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan. And the Lord said to Jehu, 'Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.' But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin" (2 Kings 10:28-31).

Sometimes we are taught to wait quietly for God to work things out in our lives. That is true, but there must be a balance. We should not take matters into our own hands to work out a problem by disobeying God, by breaking His law. But we should also not sit back and wait for God to do something without actively doing what He tells us to do.

Sometimes a Church of God pastor may emphasize letting God work things out. And if that is emphasized too much and in an unbalanced way, that teaching can breed an atmosphere or attitude of passivity, of a reluctance to take action, to passively wait for God to do something when He clearly shows us that it is time for us to do something.

A minister may even want to teach this in an effort to keep members in the congregation. When it comes to the subject of leaving a Church of God fellowship that is not obeying God's word on some point or another to go to a fellowship that is more fully obeying God, the minister may indeed not want members to take action, the action of leaving and going somewhere else. That is natural. And it does not necessarily mean that the pastor has bad motives of wanting to hold on to the tithe income of the members. It may be that he thinks he has their interest at heart in wanting them to stay because he thinks he can serve them better than ministers in other groups, even though he is leading them into disobedience on some point of God's law. How he can think this may be hard to imagine, but some ministers may be mixed up. Only God can judge the heart.

But if the pastor is primarily interested in holding on to his membership, he may preach a message of passivity - don't rock the boat, don't act, don't leave, stay put and wait for God to work things out, if you act in a self-reliant way, you are full of pride, etc. He may equate staying with his fellowship with trusting God. He may do this even while God's word teaches that the members need to get out of that fellowship, and fast.

But members need to avoid this error even if their pastor falls into it.

This error, of being passive regarding action God tells us to take in His word, particularly in regard to making decisions about which fellowship to attend and support, is similar to the error of saying, "God put me here so I should stay here", which I have written about before.

The Bible is full of examples of the servants of God taking strong action to obey Him. David fought Goliath. Jesus cast the money changers out of the temple because zeal for God's house had eaten Him up (John 2:14-17).

Even in recent Church of God history, we can see that powerful leaders and zealous members have taken strong action to obey God. They didn't always quietly wait for God to work things out while they sat on their hands.

Mr. Armstrong was famous for taking strong action when he knew it was God's will. From what I have heard, when there was a rebellion brewing in the 1970s, when he found out about it, he immediately fired everybody. Then he got on the phone, got the facts, and began hiring back those whom he learned were loyal. That nipped the rebellion in the bud.

The work that he did really started in late 1933 and early 1934 when Mr. Armstrong, showing courage and boldness, separated himself from employment with Church of God Seventh Day and started a radio and magazine work, depending only on God for income. And God blessed his zeal and energy with success. Mr. Armstrong was a strong leader and a man of action. He was right to take action and not be passive.

He left Church of God Seventh Day fellowship when it became clear that he would have to leave them to do God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. He didn't totally break off all fellowship with them at once, but over time that was the result. He was right to leave that fellowship to preach the gospel more effectively.

I myself have had to leave the Catholic Church in order to come into the Worldwide Church of God. Later, after the apostasy, I left Worldwide to go to another fellowship that still taught the truth. I was right to leave the Catholic Church, and I was right to later leave Worldwide when it left the fundamental doctrines of the Bible.

About two and a half years ago, a number of ministers and brethren left Church of God, an International Community (COGaic) and their leader David Hulme. One of the reasons was that many of them saw that Mr. Hulme was not powerfully preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public, and they saw that God commanded that the message be preached. They wanted to obey God and preach the gospel, and they were right to leave COGaic for that purpose, and since then some of them have found their way to a group that does preach the gospel, and I think more will do so in the future.

God does not want us to passively sit by and remain in a fellowship that disobeys Him on one or more major points, whether that be preaching the gospel, loving our neighbors, or any other point of doctrine. The pastor of such a group may label leaving him as being "self-willed", "rebellious", being "independent", "relying on the self", or "being full of pride", but these can be mislabels. The truth is, taking quick and decisive action to leave a fellowship that is openly violating one of the two great commandments of God's law may be exactly what God requires of us.

Ezekiel was given a commission to warn Israel. For him to fail to give the warning when it was in his power to do so would have made him a murderer in God's sight (Ezekiel 3:17-21, 33:1-9). He could not afford to be passive and neither can we.

Nor can we afford to wait a long time to decide. The door is open for preaching the gospel for at least one fellowship and probably for any fellowship that has the zeal to make the sacrifices and go through an open door. But enemies of God are gaining power in this country and the world, and it may not be a long time until the doors of radio, television, printing press, Internet, and public Bible lectures are closed through government or legal action by those who label our message "hate speech". Each one of us has a limited time to show God that we will go all out to back the message of the gospel. Each one of us has a limited time to show God that we will really love our neighbors as ourselves in action and deed, not just in word and thought.

None of us knows the time of his death.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, it was the Samaritan who showed love towards his neighbor by taking action. He was not passive. He saw the need and he acted (Luke 10:25-37).

Is decision making, even to leave a fellowship that is not obeying God, some kind of wrong "private interpretation" that is prohibited by 2 Peter 1:20-21. Let's look at this passage.

Here is the passage in the New King James translation: "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21). The King James version also uses the term "private interpretation".

But this is not an accurate rending. Normally I do not use the NIV (New International Version), but in this case they give a better sense of verse 20: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things". In other words, this is not talking about the reading of scripture, but the writing of it. It is not saying that we are doing wrong when we try to understand scripture apart from what our minister is telling us. If that were the case, none of us could have left a Catholic or Protestant church or proved in the Bible that those churches are in error. Mr. Armstrong certainly never submitted to any minister's interpretation of the Bible. He taught that we should let the Bible interpret the Bible.

What this is saying is that the prophets who wrote the prophecies in the Bible did not write from their own personal understanding of events, but they were inspired by God to write what they wrote.

There are other translations besides the NIV that support this view.

How do I know this is correct? Just look at verse 21 which I already quoted in the New King James version: "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit". Peter is contrasting the two possible sources of prophecy in verses 20 and 21. In verse 20 he is saying what is NOT the source of prophecy: a prophet's private and personal understanding and interpretation of events. In verse 21 he says what IS the source of prophecy: the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in what the prophet wrote.

Yet some ministers may use this verse to imply that it is wrong for a member to read the Bible, believe what He sees in His own Bible even when it is contrary to what his pastor is telling him, and then take action to do what God says, even if it requires leaving one fellowship to go to another.

I certainly do not advocate leaving a fellowship over a minor issue or point of doctrine. In many cases, if a member thinks that the Bible is more strict than the fellowship he attends on some point, he can just obey what he thinks God is telling him in the Bible on that point quietly and without causing division. If he thinks that the Bible teaches that we should not eat mushrooms, he can simply not eat mushrooms - he doesn't have to leave a fellowship or create division by spreading his idea among the brethren.

But preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to our neighbors through mass communication is not a minor issue. In our time and circumstances it is virtually the essence of the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is a matter of life and death for thousands and probably millions of people, and our own eternal life can be at stake too, because if we don't preach the truth and the warning to our neighbors who desperately need it, we can be murderers in the sight of God, according to Ezekiel chapters 3 and 33. That is not a small thing.

If you are listening to your pastor explain why the gospel doesn't need to be preached through mass communication, and suddenly the room begins to fill with smoke because a fire has broken out in the building and is quickly raging out of control, how long will you wait to get yourself and your children out of the building to save your life and theirs? A week? A month? How about two years? Would you not move quickly with a sense of urgency to get yourselves out of the building within minutes, as fast as possible? You would move quickly to save your physical life, but you do not move quickly to save your eternal life.

We need to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel with a sense of urgency, a sense that our lives and the lives of others are at stake as much as if the building were on fire.

If your minister doesn't seem to understand that, don't judge his motives and character. Let God do that. He may not be intentionally doing wrong - he may be mixed up. God knows his heart, and God can deal with him and straighten him out over time, if he is willing. But at the point you understand these things, you need to act and act fast. Because if you understand this, but your minister and the people around you do not, you are more responsible, because God holds each of us responsible for what we know and understand. When the understanding of your responsibility comes to you, that is your chance to obey, and you better take it while your mind is clear.

"And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).

We are each tested at different times and different ways, and our test comes when God opens our minds to understand His will. If we fail to act, if we are passive, perhaps influenced by the passivity of those around us (who may not yet understand their obligation and God's will), we may not get a second chance to obey later.

And when we are in trials and suffering, do we not want God to act quickly and strongly to rescue us? If you are in pain or disabled or in a severe trial, do you want God to think it over for a few months before He helps you? Or do you want quick and strong help?

When I am in a trial, when I am sick or in pain or suffering, I cry out to God and I want Him to help me as soon as possible. But likewise, I had better obey Him as soon as possible. It works both ways.

God has allowed the scattering of the Church of God into multiple fellowships for a purpose. He could have prevented it, but He did not. One of those purposes is to test us. He forces us to make choices, and even if we do nothing but remain in a bad fellowship, that is a choice.

And in the matter of testing us, I think there is no bigger issue in the Church of God, no more important issue, than the issue of the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a world that desperately needs it. For if we have the opportunity to support that message, even by leaving one fellowship to support another, but we do not act on that opportunity, we make ourselves hypocrites if we claim we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. We may also be making ourselves murderers because God says the blood of the people will be on our heads if we do not warn.

And if God has given us time to act to share the knowledge He has given us, but we hold it for ourselves without sharing it as others have shared it so we could have it, God would be just, after time has gone by, to take that knowledge from us. We can lose our salvation by neglect as surely as we can lose it by a sudden, deliberate choice to turn away from God. For some, it may be too late already.

The stakes could not be higher.

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