This coming Sunday the Church of God will be observing Pentecost, one of seven annual holy days and festivals that God has given Israel and the Church.
Each of the holy days and festivals of God teaches us things. God uses these days to help us focus on certain lessons.
Passover teaches us about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. The Days of Unleavened Bread teach us about our obligation to God to put sin out of our lives and the righteousness of Christ into our lives. Trumpets teaches us about the Day of the Lord, the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the saints. Atonement teaches us about the future putting away of Satan, about Satan's share in the responsibility for our sins, and about Christ's sacrifice paying the penalty for our share of responsibility in our sins so we can be forgiven.
The Feast of Tabernacles teaches us about the millennial rule of Christ and the truth, justice, and happiness that will be over all the earth after Christ returns. The Last Great Day teaches us about the general resurrection and the white throne judgment period that follows the millennium when the billions who lived and died and never had a chance for salvation will have the opportunity to hear the gospel, understand it, repent, and be saved.
The whole plan of God demonstrates God's power, wisdom, righteousness, justice, mercy, fairness, and love.
The weekly Sabbath day also teaches us about God's seven thousand year plan for the salvation of the human race.
These days also teach us the lesson of faith, for we would not know about them or about our need to keep them without faith in God's word. And in keeping these days, we use the time to draw closer to God in prayer, Bible study, meditation, assembling for services, fasting (in the case of Atonement), and fellowship.
What does Pentecost represent and teach us specifically?
Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit. It represents the Church of God and the start of the New Testament Church. It teaches us that the Church is only the first fruits of a much greater spiritual harvest. Along with the Last Great Day, it teaches us that God has not called everyone to salvation in this age, but has only called and opened the minds of a few. Along with the Day of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles, it teaches us that God has called us to prepare us to serve Christ as kings and priests to help Christ rule and teach the world during the millennium.
It also teaches us that God has called us during this age to preach the gospel to the world, and not just by example.
That last lesson may not have been emphasized as much as the other lessons of Pentecost, but the lesson is there in the book of Acts, and it is important.
In a sense, the whole book of Acts is about Pentecost because the book of Acts gives much history about the Church of God which Pentecost represents.
While Christ trained His disciples for three and a half years before Pentecost by sending them out to preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1-15, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 9:1-6, Luke 10:1-12), after His resurrection He told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received power.
That power was for the purpose of preaching the gospel.
"And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth' " (Acts 1:4-8).
That is actually one of the purposes of the gift of the Holy Spirit, to empower the Church of God to preach the gospel to the world as a witness.
The Holy Spirit is not given to the Church so that the Church can self-centeredly focus on itself. Love is outgoing, and the Holy Spirit is for showing outgoing love towards God and our neighbors. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). The same Spirit that gives us the power to preach the gospel also motivates us to preach the gospel in love towards our neighbors.
Just as God's Holy Spirit gives us the power to preach the gospel, it gives us the love that motivates us to preach the gospel for the good of our neighbors.
What was the first thing the Church of God did after receiving the Holy Spirit? They preached the gospel and baptized those who responded.
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).
"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words' " (Acts 2:14).
Peter then began to preach the gospel to the crowds (Acts 2:15-37).
"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:38-41).
Most of the rest of the book of Acts is a history of this preaching of the gospel. It is a history of the early years of the Church, but it is also a history of the preaching of the gospel during those early years - that is how closely the Church and the preaching of the gospel are connected.
But it is not a history of the disciples only preaching the gospel by their example.
Did Jesus preach the gospel by His example only, or by public proclamation?
Jesus started His ministry at about age thirty. "Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli" (Luke 3:23). After being baptized and tempted in the wilderness, He began preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:1-15, Matthew 3:13-17, 4:1, 17).
Did Jesus only preach the gospel by His personal example? Was His personal example sufficient for preaching the gospel? He lived a perfect life, so you would expect His example to be the most powerful example there could be. And it was. He lived a perfect example to about age thirty. But just His example alone was not preaching the gospel. Nor does God count Christ's personal example apart from public preaching a part of His public ministry, which began when He was about thirty.
The preaching of the gospel by Jesus Christ began, not when He set a perfect example for all who knew Him, which He had done all His life, but only when He began to speak publicly about the Kingdom of God. "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Matthew 4:17).
Did Jesus's personal example make disciples before he began to publicly speak and preach?
There is no record of that. As a matter of fact, those who saw His example most clearly would be His own brothers, yet the Bible says, "For even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:5).
Did Paul preach the gospel by His personal example? He certainly set a good example and used that example as part of his teaching to the Church, part of feeding the flock, and he instructed Timothy to do the same. "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, see also 1 Corinthians 4:15-16). "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).
Notice Paul said, it was to the believers, that is, the Church (not the world) that Timothy was to be an example.
Jesus also used His personal example to teach His disciples. "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).
But the power of personal example is most effective within the Church of God and is part of feeding the flock. For reaching the general public, actual preaching and teaching is needed. That is why so much of the book of Acts is about Paul and his companions traveling from place to place and publicly speaking to the people he found.
Those today who try to say that the preaching of the gospel should primarily be by personal example seem to be twisting things. They are not following the Bible.
Mr. Armstrong has taught that the Church of God has a two-fold commission, to preach the gospel to the world and to feed the flock. I believe the Bible backs that up. But unfortunately some in the Church of God do not believe in preaching the gospel to the world. Yet, this is a time, just before the conclusion of this age and the return of Christ, when preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world is most important.
We are called to live a life of overcoming and enduring to the end to be prepared to rule with Christ in the millennium. We are also called to preach the gospel to the world by publicly speaking and teaching as Christ and the disciples did. In preaching the gospel, we function as a team with the ministry doing the actual speaking and writing and the membership backing them up with money, service, prayers, and encouragement. But I find no support in the Bible for the idea that the Church is called to primarily preach the gospel by the witness of our lives transformed by the Holy Spirit. Setting a good example can play a part, but it is secondary to actual preaching to the world by the ministry.
Those today who are against preaching the gospel use various excuses. One of the most popular, which is phrased in various ways, is the idea that the Church of God, which is scattered and divided today, needs to "get its act together" - become unified in love - before we preach the gospel.
But if those who say this had very much spiritual discernment, they would be able to see that the predominant spiritual condition in the Church of God is Laodiceanism, which exists in the last of the Church of God eras before the end of the age (Revelation 3:14-22). There is not another era before the tribulation begins. The Church is predominantly Laodicean right up to the beginning of the great tribulation.
Yet there are still Philadelphians, not the majority of the Church of God, but a few, who will still have an open door to preach the gospel and go to a place of safety before the tribulation, and it is the responsibility of those Philadelphians to support the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, even when they must separate from the Laodiceans to do so (Revelation 3:7-13, Luke 21:36).
And it is the responsibility of Laodiceans to repent, although most probably will not repent except during the tribulation. Christ says to the Laodiceans, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19). One of the things Laodiceans need to repent of is an inward focus, a natural selfishness and self-centeredness that expresses itself in an unbalanced desire for self-improvement without a corresponding desire to help their neighbors in the world.
Will the Church of God eventually be unified? Yes. But not before the tribulation. You will never find unity between Philadelphians and Laodiceans. So how and when will we be unified? Philadelphians will finish the work of preaching the gospel to the world and go to a place of safety. Laodiceans will go through the tribulation, probably being scattered and divided up to that time. Then, in the tribulation, some Laodiceans will repent and be martyred and others will compromise and fall away. Those who are martyred and the Philadelphians alive in the place of safety will be together, unified at last, in the resurrection at the return of Christ.
Also, there is probably still time right now for Laodiceans to repent and become Philadelphians in time to go through the open door and preach the gospel and go to a place of safety, and probably a few will.
Those who are against the preaching of the gospel try to get members to focus on the self. They give the impression of this being a good thing, that by focusing on ourselves we can better see our faults. But that is a deception.
To see our faults, we need the help of God's Holy Spirit. Yet God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). To obey God, we need to obey the Bible, for the Bible is the word of God. And as I have made clear in many posts, the Bible teaches the importance of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.
It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to preach the gospel, just as it led Peter and the apostles to preach and baptize on the Day of Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit does not force anyone to obey God. We can resist the Holy Spirit. And if we resist the Holy Spirit and the Bible in the matter of preaching the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit will be diminished in our minds and in our lives. In that case, how much hope is there that the Holy Spirit will help us effectively to see our deepest faults? I don't think much.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to obey God, to obey God's word, to obey the Bible. And the Bible teaches us to preach the gospel to the world and not just by example.
Some may think, "I have been baptized into the true Church of God. If I just concentrate on avoiding obvious sins like adultery, murder, hatred, lust, etc. - the 'works of the flesh' - God's Spirit will be more active in my life and will teach me truth even apart from the Bible".
Such people deceive themselves.
Members of traditional, mainstream churches understand many of the works of the flesh. Many know to avoid adultery, lust, hatred, etc. And some have been baptized. But they do not believe the Bible. Is the Holy Spirit active in their lives? Their unwillingness to believe what God says in the Bible shows that it is not. And the same can be true in the Church of God.
Moreover, those who teach or believe that they can avoid the works of the flesh and not preach the gospel do not seem to understand the works of the flesh and how those works contrast with the fruit of the Spirit.
Let's look at this passage. "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:19-23).
The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit of God are opposites. They are contrasted in this passage. To understand one you have to understand the other. If you are going to look at the works of the flesh, to avoid them, you also have to look at the fruits of the Spirit, to have those fruits in your life by actively obeying God's teaching in the whole Bible.
Let's look at the works of the flesh in regard to preaching the gospel.
One is "contentions". Is that a problem with those who teach, contrary to the teaching of Herbert W. Armstrong, contrary to our Church of God roots, contrary to the teachings of the most dynamic parts of the Church, and contrary to the teaching of the Bible, that this is not the time to preach the gospel? Yes.
It is ironic that those who teach the need for unity and love within the Church of God are actually dividing the Church by their insistence that this is not the time to preach the gospel. For by doing so, they divide themselves from those members who are willing to believe and obey what God says in the Bible about preaching the gospel. They are forcing faithful members out of their fellowship because those faithful members know they cannot stay in an organization that does not obey God.
By saying, "We must be unified before we preach the gospel", they are helping to create the disunity they say hinders them from preaching the gospel. They want others to join them in their rebellion against God, but they will not repent and join those who obey God. The unity they seem to want is unity against God, not unity in obedience to God.
They are creating contention in the Church of God by contending with those who want to obey God by preaching the gospel. They create division. They seek to overthrow the traditions and teaching of Mr. Armstrong about preaching the gospel, but without a biblical basis.
As one who has observed the Church of God closely for the last several decades, I can tell you that the issue of preaching the gospel is one of the major issues that has divided the Church and still divides the Church of God. And it is those who do not want to preach the gospel who are helping to cause that division.
Another work of the flesh is "heresies". Is it heresy to say that this is not the time to preach the gospel to the world, contrary to the teachings of Mr. Armstrong and the Bible, contrary to our biblical traditions? Yes, I say it is. Preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel is a major doctrine of the Church of God and of the Bible.
Another work of the flesh is "murders". This directly relates to the Ezekiel warning and to the Church's obligation to deliver God's warning to the nations. For God makes it clear that if we fail to deliver His warning, the blood of the people will be on our heads. We become murderers in God's sight (Ezekiel 3:17-18).
Now, let's look at some of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
One is "love". Another is "kindness". Both are directly related to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the application of that command must include preaching the Ezekiel warning and the true gospel to a world that desperately needs it. "Faithfulness" is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and that must include being faithful to live up to our commitment at baptism to strive to live by every word of God, and that includes striving to obey God's commands to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.
I think that those who are not supporting the preaching of the gospel, even after they have learned the importance of preaching the gospel from the Bible, are not avoiding the works of the flesh and are not putting on the fruits of the Spirit by obeying the God of the Bible. They deceive themselves if they think that they are making the Holy Spirit more active in their lives by avoiding the works of the flesh when they pick and choose what works of the flesh they want to avoid. They avoid adultery, envy, idolatry, outbursts of wrath, drunkenness, and sorcery, but they continue to practice heresy, contentions, and the spirit of murder.
Some may be victims of deception about the gospel issue, and God may not yet count them as murderers, heretics, and those who create division and contention. They need to research this issue in the Bible. But as they put the scriptures together, if they are honest with the scriptures, they will realize the importance of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, and if they continue to withhold their support for this, then they may well become guilty of heresy, contentions, and murder in God's sight.
The Pentecost season is a time for focusing on the lessons of Pentecost. Preaching the gospel to the world is one of those lessons.
Here are links to some posts in this blog related to this subject:
"The Meaning of Pentecost", dated May 19, 2015, link:
"What Is Wrong with Preaching the Gospel Only by Example?", dated May 3, 2015, link:
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2
The Holy Spirit, Chapter 2
CHAPTER 4 - WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL? - A LESSON FROM THE HOLOCAUST
CHAPTER 5 - SHOULD THE CHURCH FEED THE FLOCK ONLY?
CHAPTER 3 - THE EZEKIEL WARNING