Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Example of Jesus Christ in How to Resist Temptation

As part of overcoming sin, we must learn and develop the habit of successfully resisting temptation.

There is an example in the life of Christ that shows how He resisted temptation to sin.

The example is how He resisted the temptations Satan threw at Him when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness prior to His ministry. Let's look at that.

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry" (Matthew 4:1-2).

Notice that Jesus prepared for His struggle against Satan by fasting.

Notice also an account of an occasion when the disciples were unable to cast out a demon. You can read the whole account in Matthew 17:14-21. But notice verses 19-21: "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' So Jesus said to them, 'Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting' ".

Prayer and fasting are tools for overcoming Satan and his demons and the temptations to sin that Satan throws at us.

Let's look at the temptations with which Satan tempted Christ and see how He resisted.

"Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" ' " (Matthew 4:3-4).

Notice that we are to live by every word of God. That means we must read and study our Bibles to know what the word of God says.

Here is the second temptation. "Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: "He shall give His angels charge over you," and, "In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone." ' Jesus said to him, 'It is written again, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" ' " (Matthew 4:5-7).

Now, the third temptation. "Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, 'All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve." ' " (Matthew 4:8-10).

Is there something in common to these three instances in how Jesus resisted temptation?

In every case, Jesus countered Satan's temptations by quoting scripture.

This can be an example for us. When a temptation comes, it is helpful to think of God's word and the scriptures that teach us to avoid the sin and to rehearse those scriptures in our mind.

God's Holy Spirit can help us remember the scriptures we need.

In a few days will be God's annual festival and holy day of Pentecost. Pentecost represents many things. It represents the Church as the firstfruits of God's salvation. It represents the beginning of the New Testament Church of God. It represents the preaching of the gospel, for it was on that day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to the Church that Peter and the apostles preached the gospel powerfully and three thousand responded and were added to the Church (Acts 2:14-42). And it represents the giving of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit of love, power, and a sound mind (Acts 2:1-12, 2 Timothy 1:7).

Christ said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit helps us to remember the things Christ taught, and not only the words of Jesus when He was human on earth, but all the word of God.

But for the Holy Spirit to help us remember the Bible passages we need in time of temptation, we need to read the Bible so we can remember those passages.

This is one of the ways the Holy Spirit can help us resist temptation.

When we are tempted to sin, we should try to remember and think about the Bible passages specific to the point of God's law Satan is tempting us to violate. Then the Holy Spirit can help us remember those passages, and in remembering, we have a powerful tool for resisting temptation.

And when we remember those scriptures, we should meditate on who it is who is commanding us not to sin, the Almighty God who has all wisdom and power, who can bless us or curse us (Deuteronomy 7:12-23, 11:13-32, 28:1-68, 30:15-19), whom we are to fear, as Christ said - "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

It is by fear of God that we turn from sin. "In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

Friday, May 31, 2019

Being Neutral Doesn't Work

Putting sin out of our lives means effectively resisting temptation. We may be tempted to hold a grudge against someone, or to lust after someone. We have to fight these temptations in our minds. We have to put thoughts of lust or thoughts of hatred out of our minds.

But though we put these thoughts out, often they pop back into our minds just as quick, over and over. And over time they can wear us out. We begin putting these thoughts out more slowly till we don't put them out at all.

But if we put wrong thoughts out, we have to put right thoughts into our minds. We have to redirect our minds towards right thoughts. We cannot leave a vacuum in our minds. Trying to be neutral about something by not thinking about it at all doesn't always work.

God commands, not that we just refrain from hating our enemies, but that we actively love them.

"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" (Matthew 5:44).

So if you find yourself resenting someone, try praying for that person. Ask God to bless that person. Try to think of something you can do for that person. Do that every time thoughts of resentment come into your mind. Ask God to help that person make it into the kingdom of God.

Here is another example. Suppose you find yourself attracted to the wife of another man. She is beautiful in face, in form, and in personality. You can't stop thinking about her and desiring her. Yet, God says, "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s" (Exodus 20:17).

You try putting thoughts about her out of your mind, but those thoughts keep coming back. She is beautiful, and you can't ignore it.

Try this. Everything you think of her, give God thanks in prayer on behalf of her husband that God has given him such a beautiful and charming wife. Pray that God will bless their marriage more and more. Pray that they will be happy together, and thank God for their happiness. And pray that God will help the husband appreciate and enjoy to the full his wife's beauty and charm.

In this way, you can replace wrong thoughts with right ones.

That is one of the lessons of unleavened bread. We put sin out, but we also put righteousness in.

Try it.

Being neutral doesn't work.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Scriptures on How to Overcome

Most people in the Church of God know that the Bible teaches that we should be overcomers (Revelation 2:8, 11, 17, 26-27, 3:5, 12, 21). We need to overcome our sins and our sinful habits. We need to overcome Satan and his evil influence in our lives.

But how?

In my last post I quoted Romans 7:15-25 in which Paul described his struggle against sin. Included in this passage, Paul says, "for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (Romans 7:18).

Paul said that he did not find how to do what is good.

So a question is, how? How do we overcome?

There are some Bible passages that help to answer this.

"Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death' " (Revelation 12:10-11).

We overcome Satan by the blood of Christ and by the word of our testimony.

We must rely on and trust in the sacrifice of Christ to make our forgiveness possible. But we also overcome by the word of our testimony.

In the context of the above passage, this applies to martyrdom, for it says, "they did not love their lives to the death". But this can also apply, I think, to preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, sacrificing for this purpose even to the point, figuratively speaking, of death, not loving our lives in this world, but seeking to do God's will and finish His work (John 4:34-38).

Here is another passage that tells us how to turn from evil: "In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

A way to turn from evil is to fear God. What does fear of God mean? It means we are afraid to go against God, afraid of the consequences of sinning against Him, afraid of His wrath and His punishment for our sins. God is stronger than we are, and every sin has consequences. It means we make our obedience to Him and our fear of Him very personal. Jesus said, as I quoted in my last post, "Yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

When times of temptation come, we can recall God's power to discipline us and bring the consequences of our sin upon us. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

God has powerful control over our bodies, our health, and the circumstances of our lives in the world around us. He can bring pain and trials upon us even greater than we can imagine. And ultimately, He can cast us into the lake of fire. Do we want to provoke such a God against us by sinning?

Also, notice in Proverbs 6:6 that in mercy and truth atonement is provided for sin. This can tie in with a previous point I made, that our efforts to overcome are helped by sacrificing to preach the truth to the world. We show mercy to the people of this world - our neighbors - by supporting the preaching of the truth to them. They need a warning message of the tribulation to come upon them if they don't repent.

Here is one more passage. "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' " (John 8:31-32).

We need to abide in Christ's word, the word of God, and He promises we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. What kind of freedom is Christ talking about? Freedom from sin. "Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed' " (John 8:34-36).

We can abide in Christ's word by immersing ourselves in the Bible, striving to believe and live by the Bible, all of it. Christ said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4).

This is not an exhaustive list - there no doubt are many other Bible passages that teach us how to overcome sin. But these are a few that I find to be powerful scriptures that help me, and I thought I would share them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Motivation for Obeying God's Law

Everyone in the Church of God, every truly converted member having God's Holy Spirit, has made a commitment to God to obey His spiritual law, summarized by the ten commandments, in the spirit and the letter. And we strive to keep that commitment.

We fall short. We have to struggle against our human nature. Paul describes that struggle, using himself as an example.

"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:15-25).

We all struggle against sin. And it is useful, in times of temptation, to remember the reasons for our commitment to obey God's spiritual law. We need these as motivations to resist temptation and obey God.

One motivation that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized is that obedience to God's law brings blessings, and sin - the violation of that law - brings curses. As he put it, if we break God's law, it breaks us. There are always penalties involved in breaking God's law, and Mr. Armstrong also said, you cannot cheat God out of the penalty. Sin brings penalties of suffering, for ourselves and others, and if not repented of and turned from, death.

Obedience to God's law brings blessings in this life, and disobedience brings penalties. So for example, if we obey the commandment that says, you shall not commit adultery, our marriages will be happier. If we don't murder and steal, we have a better chance of staying out of jail. Those are good motivations to keep God's commandments. His commandments are for our good.

But obedience to God's law does not always bring happiness in this life. Sometimes we suffer for obedience. People who keep the Sabbath or refuse to lie for their bosses may lose their jobs. If we keep God's commandments, we may suffer persecution. Sometimes God tests our faith with suffering as He tested Job.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus must have obeyed God because he ended up in God's kingdom with Abraham. Yet he suffered miserably in this life. In the parable, the rich man was told, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented" (Luke 16:25).

Paul, though he obeyed God's commandments, suffered in this life, along with many other servants of God (1 Corinthians 15:19, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, Hebrews 11:32-39).

But the main fulfillment of the blessings of keeping God's law will be in the resurrection and in the kingdom of God. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

So a motivation for obeying God's law is possible blessings in this life. But a greater motivation is the blessing of being in the kingdom of God after the resurrection.

But there may be a greater motivation than either of these. We should want to please God and do His will for His pleasure and glory.

Our relationship with God must be based on love. That is built in to God's commandments, for the first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:25-28). We should love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

That love towards God should motivate us to please Him by obeying Him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "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).

We should also fear God, and this should motivate us to obey Him. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all"
(Ecclesiastes 12:13).

"In mercy and truth
Atonement is provided for iniquity;
And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil"
(Proverbs 16:6).

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

God wants obedience to His holy law, but He wants that obedience to be based on a relationship with Him. God wants relationship-based obedience. God's whole plan shows this. His sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ shows the kind of loving relationship God wants to have with us. It is a relationship that will carry on into the kingdom of God and prepare us to be full members of His divine family for eternity.

So to be motivated to obey God's law because obedience brings blessings, sometimes in this life, but totally and definitely in our future eternal life in the kingdom of God, is a good motivation for resisting temptation to sin. But to obey because we want and treasure a close relationship with God and seek to please Him is a better motivation, I think.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review of Spring Festivals 2019

Starting Thursday night, tonight in the United States, the Church of God will be keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

The keeping of God's annual holy days and festivals is an important characteristic of the true Church of God. We owe this tradition to Mr. Armstrong and his willingness to believe what God says in the Bible more than tradition, even tradition in the Church of God. We also owe this tradition to the thousands of people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, Don't believe me, don't believe any minister or man, believe God, believe your Bible. These people believed God more than their church and their traditions and joined in supporting Mr. Armstrong, and it was their support that enabled the work of God to grow at that time. We are the fruit of that effort. Our traditions must be based on God's word and commandments (Matthew 15:1-9).

Each annual festival and holy day that God gave Israel in the Old Testament has meaning for the Church of God. Observing these days helps us to understand that meaning. Together, the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days and festivals help us understand the whole plan of God for the salvation of the human race.

Observing God's ordained festivals and holy days and the weekly Sabbath helps us understand the whole plan of God in two ways. We hear sermons and scriptures on the subject and meaning of the days we keep, and this helps us understand the plan of God. But also, when God sees our obedience in keeping these days, He blesses us by opening our minds to understand His truth and His plan (Psalm 111:10).

Passover is observed at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month, at evening after sunset (each day begins and ends at sunset) (Exodus 12:1-11). It is an annual festival, but not a holy day. Work may be done on the fourteenth day. We observe it, following Christ's example, by eating unleavened bread and drinking a small amount of wine (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:15-20). The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for our healing. The wine represents His shed blood - His death - which pays the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and reconciled with God the Father (John 6:32-58, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12).

We also wash each other's feet, following the example of Jesus Christ, to represent the attitude of humble service we should have towards the brethren (John 13:2-17).

Before Passover, we should examine ourselves so we can keep the Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

Passover is kept by those who are baptized. God's instructions for Old Testament Israel were that only those who are circumcised could keep the Passover (Exodus 12:43-44). In the Church, circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:23-29). It is those who have repented and made the commitment to obey God represented by baptism who are spiritually circumcised (Acts 2:38).

Passover day is not a holy day. It is an annual festival of God, but not an annual sabbath. We can work on that day. But the next day is the first day of unleavened bread, and it is an annual sabbath and holy day. It is the first day of a seven day festival in which we avoid leavening and eat unleavened bread each day.

The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbath days - holy days - and we refrain from work and we assemble for services on those days (Leviticus 23:4-8). Offerings are taken up on the holy days (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

During the seven days of unleavened bread, we avoid eating leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and leavened products. We should have all leavening and leavened products out of our homes (or our living space we control if we live in someone else's home who is not a Church member) before the first day of unleavened bread. During these days, leavening represents sin because it puffs up and spreads. As Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ that makes forgiveness of our sins and our healing possible, the days of unleavened bread represent our part in putting sin out of our lives. In other words, the days of unleavened bread represent repentance.

As leavening represents sin, the unleavened bread we eat each day represents the righteousness of Christ. We are not only to get sin out of our lives, but we are to live righteously following the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:4).

But at the very beginning of the days of unleavened bread, this coming Friday evening, we keep the night to be much observed.

Passover at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month represents God sparing the firstborn of Israel when He killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. For the Church, it represents God sparing us from the death penalty for our sins because of the sacrifice of Christ. The lamb that was killed in Egypt represents Christ.

But that is not the day Israel left Egypt. Israel walked out of Egypt the following night, the beginning of the fifteenth day of the first month. God has commanded that this time be observed. Egypt represents this sinful society and bondage to sin, and for the Church this night represents our coming out of this sinful society and its ways. We observe this by gathering together, usually in families in a Church member's home, to eat a special meal. Often, members talk about how they were called and how they came into the truth and into the Church (Exodus 12:41-42).

There are lessons to be learned about sin and the effort we must make to put sin out of our lives and keep it out. God often uses physical things to teach us spiritual lessons, and so it is with unleavened bread.

We must be constantly diligent to avoid eating leavening during these days. It is easy to slip up and forget, especially in the workplace and when we are going to lunch with people who are not in the Church. Thus it is with sin. We have to be constantly alert. Also, we may find some unleavened bread - perhaps a package of crackers in a corner someplace - that we missed when we put leavening out of our homes. When we find it, we must get rid of it right away. That is what sin is like. We may discover sins in our lives that we have not been aware of, and when we do we are to repent of those sins.

As we observe the spring holy days and festivals, let's keep the meaning of these days in mind and learn the lessons God wants to teach us. And let us be thankful to God for these days and their meaning.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Is It Sin to Contradict the Ministry?

Is it sin to contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine in the presence of the brethren?

In my last post, and in many prior posts, I talked about the need for all Church of God members to believe the Bible more than they believe the leadership and the ministry of the Church of God fellowship they attend. When they see something in the Bible that seems different and contrary to the teachings of the Church, until it is resolved, they should believe the Bible, not the Church.

But there is a flip-side to that coin. While we believe the Bible first, and may therefore sometimes disagree with the Church if the Church makes an error in understanding the Bible, we must not talk about our disagreements in front of the brethren, else we cause division. I have also said this in many prior posts.

If we choose to discuss our disagreements with the ministry, this should be in private. We should not plant our ideas in the minds of other members.

There are two principles that must work together in balance. One is that we are to believe the Bible more than the ministry - we must trust and believe God more than man. The other is that we must recognize the office and role God has given the ministry in establishing official teaching and doctrine and protecting the members from false doctrine. The ministers have the authority to decide what the members will be taught. This preserves unity.

Trust and believe God, but also cooperate with the ministry and don't undermine their authority over what the brethren are taught.

The Bible teaches both of these principles, and they must be practiced together, or you have trouble. One without the other won't work.

If we believe the ministry more than the Bible, we injure our spiritual relationship with God. We substitute faith and trust in man for the faith and trust we should have towards God and His word, the Bible. We make an idol out of the ministry.

But if we disagree with the ministry openly, discussing our disagreements in the presence of the brethren, we undermine the authority of the ministry over doctrinal teaching that God has given them, and that creates division.

And it may be fear of such division that motivates some ministers to want the brethren to trust their teachings more than what they see in the Bible.

Why is it wrong and contrary to God's law to contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine in conversation with other brethren?

There are several scriptures that address this issue.

God has given the leadership and ministry the job of establishing official Church doctrine and teaching it to the brethren. He has not given that job to everyone. In any decision about what doctrines the brethren are to be taught, the ministry has the authority to decide. Part of the purpose is to protect the brethren from heresy and every wind of false doctrine.

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

The ministerial offices Christ establishes are for the purpose of bringing us to a unity of faith and preventing members from being carried away by every wind of doctrine.

But that purpose is hindered when some members think they have the right to contradict the ministry in doctrinal discussions with other members.

We are also to maintain unity and not cause division.

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).

The ministry has a job to do. That job is given to them by Christ. Part of their job is to understand and teach doctrine to the brethren. They are human and can make mistakes, but overall their doctrine should be right. And they are answerable to Christ, not to the brethren, as far as how they do their jobs.

But if a member takes it upon himself to tell other members that the ministry is wrong on a certain doctrine, that member is not only hindering the work of the ministry, he is taking something upon himself - determining what doctrine will be taught to the members - that has not been given to him. That is rebellion against authority, and the Bible does not approve it. And when many members do this, you have division, confusion, and chaos, and God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

What about differences between different fellowships and groups that are different in the details of doctrines they teach their members?

The Church of God today is scattered. We do not have the unity we should have. This is no doubt due to a general Laodicean condition of the Church in this last church era. Christ promised to spit us out of His mouth as a corrective rebuke for our lukewarmness and Laodicean condition, and no doubt the scattering that has occurred is part of this (Revelation 3:14-19).

So sometimes brethren from different fellowships gather in someone's home or a restaurant and have doctrinal conversations about matters where they differ. And sometimes discussion about doctrine is necessary to help members decide what fellowship is following Christ and the Bible most faithfully and where they should attend.

But members should not be contradicting the position of their own ministry and the fellowship they are a part of.

What about taking a stand for important, foundational truth that is being abandoned, as was the case in Worldwide after the death of Mr. Armstrong?

Most of the doctrinal disputes today have to do with details of doctrines, not foundational points.

But if a Church of God fellowship turns away from something truly foundational - not just a detail - then it is time to leave that fellowship. If a group says that the Bible is not God's word, that Christ is not the Son of God or that He did not live a sinless life, or teaches the trinity doctrine, or that man has an immortal soul - at that point it becomes necessary to take a stand. "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).

In that case, there is little point even staying in a fellowship that has abandoned the truth of God in a major way. And it would not be wrong to explain to those who ask why you are leaving.

Those who are converted and close to God will have the discernment to know what is a detail and small matter and what is foundational. And God will judge those who create division over small matters, calling them foundational.

Eating in restaurants in not foundational. It is a detail. Calendar issues are not foundational. New moons are not foundational. What the "falling away" refers to is not foundational. Where the wedding supper will take place is not foundational. Details of prophecy are not foundational. These are small matters that can be left to Christ to correct when He returns, if necessary.

God will judge us if we create division and contradict the ministry of the fellowship we attend over these or other doctrinal details.

If we think the ministry is in error about a doctrine, pray about it and wait for Christ to make the correction. But let's not take it upon ourselves presumptuously to contradict the leadership and ministry of the fellowship we attend. If we talk about it, talk to the pastor in private, but not with the brethren.

Let's maintain unity and peace and avoid creating division in the Church of God.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"The Pillar and Ground of the Truth"

What is the "pillar and ground of the truth"?

"But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

So according to the Bible, it is the Church of God that is the pillar and ground of the truth.

But what does that mean?

Does it mean we should believe the Church because everything the Church teaches is truth? And if we see something in the Bible that seems contradictory to what the Church teaches, should we believe the Church's interpretation of that passage because the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth?

That is a question and an issue.

This has been an issue of controversy in the Church of God for some time. It has not necessarily gotten a lot of attention because it is not an obvious, visible doctrine such as keeping the weekly Sabbath and holy days for example. It has more to do with a way of thinking, a way of determining what we believe, and may seem subtle to some people.

This issue is not outward, not visible. Two Church members may believe the same thing and may do the same thing, but for different reasons. Outwardly, they look the same, but inwardly, their thinking is different. And in the long term, that difference can have outward consequences.

One member may believe a doctrine because it is what the Church teaches, and the other member may believe the same doctrine because He sees that it is what the Bible teaches.

And sometimes a member may believe something different from what the Church teaches because he sees something different in the Bible, but fellow members do not know it because he does not talk about it with them, not wanting to cause division.

How should a member think about a doctrine that the Church leadership and ministry teaches if he thinks he finds something different in the Bible?

Certainly, if the issue is important, he should do more research, perhaps asking questions and discussing it with his local pastor or someone at headquarters. The ministry may be able to explain it to him. The member should have an open mind. And that may resolve the problem.

But it may not. We are all human and imperfect. We know things only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Two members, or a minister and a member, may not understand the same Bible passages the same way.

And it is not always the minister who is right.

Mr. Armstrong was right about the identity of the lost tribes of Israel way back when he was only a lay member attending the Church of God Seventh Day. He was right about the holy days, but that Church and its leadership and ministry did not see it the same way. At that time, the Church leadership and ministry were wrong and Mr. Armstrong, a lay member at the time, was right.

Later, Mr. Armstrong made mistakes himself in his teachings. He taught that Pentecost was on a Monday, and later realized his mistake and changed. Before he died, he told the Church we should follow the next pastor general, who was Mr. Tkach, and that was a mistake.

I have said that this issue does not receive much attention. Sometimes people talk about it, but often in the context of a particular doctrine they are promoting. But I am talking about this as a general principle.

So how should a member handle this?

I have said often before, a member should believe the Bible more than the Church leadership and ministry, yet not cause division by discussing doctrinal disagreements with other members. He should respect the authority of the ministry and not contradict them, but wait for God to help the ministry see their error or the member himself see his error, even if that does not happen till the return of Christ.

The reason is simple. We must have faith in God, not man. God's word, the Bible, is infallible. Men are not, even men in the Church of God.

But some in the ministry do not agree. They believe that a member should assume that the ministry is right because Christ is the head of the Church and He leads the ministry in matters of doctrine.

Yet, these ministers know that they cannot say that the ministry is always right and never makes mistakes in following Christ. Church of God history proves that. If Mr. Armstrong made mistakes, any COG leader or minister can make mistakes.

Church of God leaders and ministers who say that members should believe their teachings regardless of whether the members can prove those teachings for themselves in the Bible are really saying that members should let the ministry interpret the Bible for them rather than let the Bible interpret the Bible as the Church used to teach when Mr. Armstrong was alive.

Ministers who teach this often quote 1 Timothy 3:15, which says that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

Does that verse mean that we should believe the Church more than we believe the Bible?

The first thing to notice about 1 Timothy 3:15 is that it is a figurative statement, not literal. The Church is not literally ground or dirt, nor is it literally a pillar made of stone, wood, or metal. These are symbols, metaphors, figures of speech. Ground and pillars represent something. Pillars are used to uphold things, so the Church being a pillar can mean that the Church is to uphold the truth. Ground is a kind of foundation, or a source of growth, and it can represent a source of truth. But whatever these symbols represent, they do not mean that ministers, leaders in the Church, teachers, and any human servant of God cannot make mistakes and always teach the truth, never error.

We know this from Church history. We can know it from the Bible. Human servants of God make mistakes. Mr. Armstrong named Mr. Tkach as his successor and told us to follow him, and many members of Worldwide did follow his teachings more than the Bible, letting him interpret the Bible for them, and believing that his interpretation of the Bible was correct. We saw where that led in the decade after Mr. Armstrong's death.

The Bible gives examples of human servants of God making mistakes. Nathan the prophet told David it was ok with God for David to build a temple to God, but God corrected Nathan (1 Chronicles 17:1).

Samuel the prophet was named by God, along with Moses, as a positive example (Jeremiah 15:1), yet even Samuel's judgment could be mistaken (1 Samuel 16:1-7). He did not see things as God saw them.

Though the Bible is clear that men, even righteous men, can make mistakes, the Bible is very clear that God does not make mistakes in His word, the Bible. Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29). We are given the example of Abraham who believed what God said and his belief was counted as righteousness (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:5-9, Isaiah 51:1-2). The Bible teaches us to believe God.

1 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, a metaphor. But the Bible also tells us that God's word, the Bible, IS truth, a very direct statement, no symbolism or metaphor or symbolic language involved. "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). See also Psalm 119:160.

The Bible also teaches us to trust in God more than man (Psalm 118:8-9, Jeremiah 17:5-8).

Does the leadership of the Church and the ministry have authority to tell us what to believe in matters of doctrine? There is a passage in the Bible that seems to directly answer that very question.

"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Dominion means rule, authority. Faith is what we believe. Paul is saying here that he did not have authority over what the Corinthians believed, over their faith.

Some may quote 1 Thessalonians 2:13: "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe".

Was the word Paul preached the word of God? Yes, and in a way that is not true for the ministry in the Church of God today or with Mr. Armstrong.

God's primary communication with the Church in Paul's day was different than today. In Paul's day, and even in Old Testament times, God primarily communicated through miracle-working servants, either prophets or apostles. Today, God primarily communicates through the Bible.

In Paul's day, the Bible was not complete. It was not widespread and easily available. And the proof of the Bible - fulfilled prophecy - was not yet available.

But God backs up His word with proof that it is from Him. In Paul's day, God backed up the words of His servants with public miracles to prove that the message was from God. Today, we have fulfilled prophecy to prove that the Bible is inspired by God. Both serve the same purpose. But God does not back up the words of His ministers today with public miracles. Instead, they are to teach from the Bible, and we can prove what they say by the Bible.

There is also the matter of hypocrisy regarding the preaching of the gospel to the world. If we have a double standard, if we tell the people of the world, don't believe us, believe your Bible, but tell our members, believe us because Christ leads us, God may not give us a wide open door for preaching the gospel. He wants us to practice what we preach and follow the same standard we set for others.

If you see something in the Bible that seems contrary to what the Church of God leadership and ministry teach, have an open mind. You may have made a mistake. Go to the ministry and ask questions if you want to. If you are in error, they may be able to show you your error. But if you cannot see from the Bible, from God's word, that you are in error, if you still feel the Church is wrong on some point of doctrine, what should you do?

First, don't assume the Church is right. Don't believe the Church more than you believe God. Let the Bible, not the Church, interpret the Bible. Believe God's word, the Bible.

But very importantly, don't discuss the matter with the brethren in the fellowship you attend. Don't take it upon yourself to correct the Church that way. You may offer correction to the ministry and leadership if that is wise, in private or in correspondence with headquarters. If they don't accept it, respect the office. God put the leaders and ministry in charge of what to teach the brethren. Don't contradict them. Don't undermine the authority of the offices God has set up. Keep quiet about it. Don't cause division.

Otherwise, you have chaos.

In time, Christ will make all needed corrections. Wait for Him, even if that means waiting till He returns. Perhaps at some point, if you are wrong, God will open your mind to understand the subject better and you will see that you have been wrong. Or, if the Church is wrong, God can do the same thing with the ministry and leadership.

That is how to put God first and keep peace in the Church.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Is God's Love Unconditional?

Often I hear ministers speak of God's unconditional love. The term "unconditional love" has a beautiful sound to it and it is a concept most people can appreciate.

But is God's love, all of God's love, really unconditional?

There is an aspect of God's love that is unconditional, and there is an aspect of God's love that is conditional. It is not all unconditional.

The Bible defines God's predominate character trait as love. John expresses it simply: "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).

There are certainly aspects of God's love that are unconditional. God loves mankind because it is His nature to love, not because man has fulfilled any conditions. Many passages speak of that unconditional love. Though the term "unconditional love" is not in the Bible, you can tell from the context that there are no conditions involved.

God desires all men to repent and be saved. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

" 'For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord God. 'Therefore turn and live!' " (Ezekiel 18:32). "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?' " (Ezekiel 33:11).

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Yet, there is an aspect of God's love that is conditional, according to the Bible.

God has a special love for those who obey Him and do those things that are pleasing to Him. And that special love is conditional - conditional on our obedience.

Notice what Jesus Christ said shortly before He suffered and died.

"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).

"Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me' " (John 14:23-24).

"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 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 15:9-10).

Notice, IF (a condition) we love Christ and keep His commandments, THEN the Father will love us and we will abide in Christ's love.

The implication is, if we do not obey Christ we will not have that special love from Christ and the Father.

Loving obedience is the condition.

God's unconditional love for all people sometimes means He must put unrepentant sinners out of their misery in the lake of fire. That is better for them than making themselves and others miserable for eternity by their sins. And His unconditional love means He provides an opportunity for all men to avoid that fate and come to repentance and be saved. God also has made a plan to encourage everyone to repent, each in his own order.

But God's conditional love, love conditioned on our faithful and humble obedience, is expressed by His giving us eternal life in His kingdom in joy and happiness forever.

Let us appreciate the unconditional aspect of God's love, but also appreciate the love He has for those who obey Him, and let's make sure we fulfill the condition of obedience so that we abide in all of God's love and receive eternal life in God's kingdom and enjoy the happiness of that kingdom forever.