By Roland W. Keith
Christ was made to suffer for us; that is, He took human form to establish the Father’s plan of salvation, and that plan required Him to suffer the punishment due one who has violated the law. Though He had not transgressed the law personally, He suffered the world’s rejection and death on the cross in our stead, taking the penalty reserved for us upon Himself. Paul explained His sacrifice with these words: “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:9-10). The man Jesus was made perfect because He remained obedient to His Father’s command, even under duress, even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). In achieving that perfection in human form, He became the author and source of eternal life for all who would follow after Him (Acts 3:14-16; Hebrews 5:8-9).
As a result of Christ’s victory over Satan and death caused by sin God sees each Christian as His own child, like Jesus, and as such fellow heirs of the promises made through Him. However, as Jesus suffered for us, we must in turn be willing to suffer with Him (Romans 8:17-18). No suffering is wanted, but considering what Christ accomplished on our behalf, and the eternal glory that awaits us, it is a small thing on our part to act in obedience to the Heavenly Father in emulation of our Savior’s Own submission to His will (Romans 8:17-18). In his first letter Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:1—2, 12, 16-17).
Not only should we be willing to suffer for the name of Christ, we should not be surprised when it happens. Persecution is just a part of the path we take as Christians. Those who hate the truth will try to obstruct its spread, particularly where it interferes with their own willful desires. When it happens, we must be prepared to put on the implements of our spiritual warfare and to soldier on (Ephesians 6:11, 13; II Timothy 2:3). It is our duty to share in the suffering attached to the Lord’s name, entrusting our eternal welfare to Him, even while we place our hope in the reward that awaits us at the end of our lives (II Timothy 1:8, 12; Revelation 2:10; II Timothy 4:8). James and Paul remind their readers that others before us have suffered as we will (James 5:10-11; Hebrews 11:32-40), but if we resolve to have the steadfastness of Job, we can and will reap the blessings attached to such faith and perseverance.
Paul had much to say to say about the afflictions that will be suffered for the sake of the truth, writing, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). The apostle to the Gentiles endured much during his life in ministry, but for strength he kept his eyes on the Lord and the glory of what awaits beyond the physical realm, writing also, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4: 8-10, 17-18).
There is something else for us to consider. Whether you are a Christian or not life will give most of us our share of vexations, hardships and suffering in varying degrees. Looked at in the proper light life should be seen as a joyful experience (always look for the silver lining), nonetheless, there will be tough times, and for some dark times indeed. Those of faith should view those times from a different philosophical vantage point than the nonbeliever. We have something beyond those times to look forward to. We also have a source of inspiration and strength to draw upon during those moments that others do not have. We have the avenue of prayer to unburden ourselves, the word to guide us, and our Christian family to console us. We above all others are blessed beyond measure even in the worst of times.
At other times we should regard our situation in a prudential light. Peter wrote, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:20-21). It is one thing to suffer for our own bad behavior, and quite another to suffer as the Lord did— for doing what is right. When a Christian suffers for God’s word He or she is trusting in God’s promises— that whatever we suffer here in this life will pale in comparison to an eternity in heaven with Him. It is that faith and hope that bolsters our resolve and positive outlook when enduring our suffering for the good (I Peter 4:19).
There is one arena of suffering that none of us want to spend time in. As a child I do not no anyone who wanted to disappoint or provoke a parent to the point of needing to be disciplined. Regardless, everyone I know was disciplined as a child. Some of us repeatedly. Such measures are a form of suffering all their own. Self-inflicted and administered by one whose love and approval we were continually seeking. Yet the one executing our suffering did so with loving hands for our benefit. Paul wrote, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:6-13).
The form of misery a child endures at the hand of a parent as a corrective to bad behavior should lead to introspection and positive change when coupled with proper training and reinforcement for good behavior. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant. Just as our earthly parents punished us so the LORD may find it necessary to discipline us from time to time. We should feel the disappointment of letting God down. However, when handled with a determination to do better and a resolve to avoid future failures and a reliance on God’s perfect guidance it will always lead to our spiritual growth and strengthening.
No matter what form of suffering we may pass through the words of James remain true: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). When we turn to the LORD and cry out to Him He will ultimately deliver us (Psalm 34:17-19). He may allow us to suffer for a time as a way of purifying and refining us but He will draw us to Himself in the process: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:10). Therefore when we are suffering, for whatever reason, let us turn to the Lord and seek His guidance and strengthening knowing that is there to bring us through whatever trial we are enduring.
By Roland W. Keith
In the church we often show concern for those who are not at worship services— especially if their lack of attendance becomes a habit. We miss our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when they do not gather with us to worship the Lord and study His word, and to fellowship with us. And, rightly so. Their welfare should be our concern. Not for their sake alone, which should be a sufficient reason for us to check on them, but for the strength of the congregation as well. As a body we are healthier and stronger when all of our members are an active part of the family. However, there is another area of concern that is often overlooked. Our prayer life. Particularly, in our private lives. In the assembly prayers are a scheduled part of the service, and although I sometimes think we could use a little training in the area of preparing for public prayer, the greater worry is in the area of personal, one-on-one prayers between the individual Christian and The LORD.
Scripture tells us that we should draw near to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in a time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It also tells us to pray without ceasing, giving thanks (I Thessalonians 5:17-18), and that the prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16). To neglect prayer is to fail to give God the praise and thanks that He deserves, to miss out on the many benefits available to us as His children, and to fail to do all we can to help others through its power.
Our Savior taught us how to, and how not to pray (Matthew 6:5-15). Not only did He teach us, but Jesus set the example of a proper prayer life for all of us. He began His day in prayer: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). He prayed with the multitudes (Matthew 15:36). He ended a busy day with prayer: “And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). And, during significant moments in His life He remembered to speak to His Heavenly Father: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). He prayed for the welfare of His followers, both present and future (John 17:6-24). And, finally He prayed during the darkest day of His life (Matthew 26:36-44).
Through His leadership the apostles and other early disciples learned firsthand the importance and power of communicating with their Creator. Of Christianity’s earliest converts we read: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When one of them was imprisoned for the word they prayed: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). These followers of Christ saw the power of earnest prayer again and again, and as time went on, they and newer converts were admonished by the apostles, in word and deed, to remain faithful to their prayer life. Paul told the Colossians that they were continually in his prayers; he was particularly praying for their knowledge and understanding (Colossians 1:9). He also encouraged them to be steadfast in prayer (Colossians 4:2). He told the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The Romans were to be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). The Ephesians were encouraged to persevere in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). These were not merely exercises to keep them focused on the Lord, as important as that is. Prayer was, and is, the way for Christians to communicate with our God both as a family, and in private, more intimate conversations as a child would speak alone to a Father about personal matters. John wrote, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him” (John 9:31).
We are told repeatedly that if we are obedient and pray with faith, we will receive what we ask for (John 15:7; 14:13; Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; I John 3:22-24). God’s ears are open to our prayers (I Peter 3:12), so long as we pray aright. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3-4). God is not a genie in a bottle to fulfill our every wish. What we ask for must be proper and according to God’s will (I John 5:14). We must ask in confidence, not in doubt (James 1:5-7; Philippians 4:6).
When we are seeking God’s will in our lives our prayers will be most effective, as Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:7-11). So, what then should we pray for?
First, we should pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; 3:17). We should pray for our daily sustenance and welfare (Matthew 6:11). The sick among us should be in our prayers (James 5:14). Many of the things we in the Biblical examples should be a part of our public prayers, as well as our personal ones. On the other hand, many things of singular or personal benefit or nature should be kept for our personal alone time with the LORD. We should pray to overcome our weaknesses and for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 8:22-24). For the Philippians Paul prayed, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). I need to learn to pack as much into my prayers as Paul obviously could!
There is not much we cannot pray for so long as it is something that the LORD would approve of, understanding however, that God’s will for one person may not be the same for another. But there are some things we all need to pray for with constancy, as Jesus taught, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak… Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 6:13; 26:41; 6:10; 5:44). We can pray for ourselves, we can pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we can pray for our politicians, we can pray for our country, we can pray that the world turns back from the direction it is headed in, we can pray for God’s word to be taught around the globe. In fact there are so many things to pray for, can we afford to neglect our time in prayer?
By Roland W. Keith
Most of us have heard the old refrain about the power of positive thinking, but have you ever considered the fact that positive thinking isn’t really worth much if it is not followed up with positive actions? In the same sense football coaches develop game plans that they believe will result in the best outcome come game day. But unless those plans are put into action on the field, they’re just a list of plays, and a bunch of x’s and o’s on a piece of paper. Success in an endeavor requires more that good thoughts on the matter, it requires more than good planning as well, as important as that is. Success demands that we implement our battle plan with effective and sustained effort.
In the Bible we see two plans of action being brought to fruition under one master plan. The Old Testament contains the Law of Moses and the Prophets which foretold and prepared man for the coming Messiah and a new covenant. In the New Testament Messiah established His new covenant or law which is guiding us to God’s final resolution regarding sin and the devil and his followers on the one hand, and salvation and the followers of Christ on the other. Both of these plans have taken centuries to develop and implement. One plan of action has run its course culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ. The other is still being actively executed. Over the ages millions, even billions of people have been involved in the carrying out of God’s great purpose for mankind in one way or another. Individuals, from peasants to kings, and entire nations have been actively engaged in the war of good and evil, with the welfare of every man, woman and child hanging in the balance.
God’s grand plan centers around an event that occurred almost two millennia ago. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Talk about taking action to accomplish a goal. God sent His Son to earth to walk among us, and enlist and prepare a group of disciples to carry His plan forward, and then to give His own life on a cross so He could overcome death through His resurrection and in so doing ensure the eternal salvation for all those who call on His name in obedience. Woe to those who seek to overthrow God’s plan or abuse it for gain (Matthew 23:1-39).
What Jesus the man did is remarkable. It is not in our nature to put ourselves in harms way. Adrenaline junkies aside, most of us have a strong predisposition to survive along the lines of least danger. To act contrary to that requires overriding our normal survival instincts under extraordinary circumstances (such as protecting self or family). To do so to benefit another, outside our circle of loved ones, is even more exceptional. Paul once wrote, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). In the prime of life, against a strong desire to live (Matthew 26: 39, 42: Mark 10:45), Jesus put Himself in harms way— to face certain death— so that He might save others, though we are not worthy of His sacrifice. Given the nature of His sacrifice and how it benefits each of us we should not consider it remarkable that He calls each of us to follow in His footsteps— “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21; John 15:13).
The Israelites fought many battles with God as their ally. Today Christians fight a different kind of war. Their battles had a spiritual and national foundation. They fought for an earthly land promised to them. Ours is for a kingdom not of this physical realm. The church is its type on earth, but the home we seek is a heavenly one. Nonetheless, we are soldiers after a manner, as Paul wrote: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
We have a war to wage. It may cost us emotionally with the loss of family and friends (Matthew 10:37), it may cost us financially when we have to turn away from a particular way of earning a living; we may be persecuted politically and socially, we may even face death. Regardless, as Paul told Timothy, we must “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3). In an earlier letter Paul had told his young protégé, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith… Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (I Timothy 1:18-19, 6:12). If we reject God’s call to arms, we may shipwreck our eternal salvation. When it comes to the fundamentals of life, we cannot serve the world and heaven, we either stand with Christ or against Him (Matthew 6:24; 12:30).
It is our responsibility to contend for what God has entrusted to us (Jude 1:3; II Corinthians 10:4), giving our all even as Jesus despised the shame of the cross for us (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:8; Mark 8:34). We should never lose sight of the fact that what Christ did for us far outweighs anything we can do in response. On the judgment day we will stand or fall not in accordance with what we have done for Christ, but because we have obediently confessed what He has done for us (I Corinthians 15:1). Just as the Philippians stood with Paul in the defense of the gospel so should we (Philippians 1:7). To turn from the gospel would be a betrayal of the grace that God has extended to us, as Paul wrote the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).
Peter also noted the severity of turning from the gospel: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22). Both those who make false claims about the gospel and those who reject it having previously embraced it will suffer the consequences of their actions.
There are those who will fall by the wayside. That is a sad fact. Knowing this we understand that as soldiers of Christ it is our task to avoid such a calamity and to do our best to help others avoid it as well, as Paul explained: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him… Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for he cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:3-4, 7-13; Jude 1:23).
As Christians let us endure as faithful soldiers for our own sake as well as for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
By Roland W. Keith
A wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” When my curiosity as to why there has been so much controversy over baptism throughout the history of Christianity led me into this project, I naively wondered why others had not already asked the same questions and addressed the same concerns that I had on the subject. After an exhaustive study, it has become clear that indeed every road is well travelled, and every obstacle has been removed so that the surrounding landscape is in full view.
Nonetheless, while most who claim Christianity find little to be concerned with regarding baptism, the controversy persists. Along this path, many with far superior scholarly pedigrees to mine have weighed in on this matter without resolving the issue, and yet it is my hope that the work within these pages will draw the attention of those who pick it up and compel them to examine this most important topic with fresh eyes and an open mind. This work is concerned with baptism and its relationship to our salvation. It is an attempt to understand the proper meaning and mode of baptism and its eternal value. You could say then that it is a word study. As such, we must ask a question of ourselves.
Are words important? You might say it depends on the word. Like many of our daily actions, we often pay little attention to words or their impact on our lives. On the other hand, the meaning of a single word, used in a particular context can make all the difference in the world. As mentioned, the focus of this book is dedicated to the study of one such word. A word that Jesus Himself placed at the center of the last command He gave to His disciples before He ascended from the earth. A word that can change your life and your eternal destiny. In a time when many within the community of believers ascribe little value or import to baptism it cannot be overemphasized that this attitude has not always been the prevailing one. Much has been written about baptism. It has been debated and argued over. It has been the subject of religious synods. And, sadly, it has been the cause of division and bloodshed, even to the point of death.
Given the fact that God has made His plan of salvation available to all men in written form with the admonition to “study to show your self approved unto God…” (II Tim. 2:15), and that this command was given to all Christians and not a select few it is difficult to believe that the inspired writers of the New Testament intended to apply any degree of difficulty to the understanding of the subject that challenged the common use of the language of the time, or was beyond the average person’s intellectual abilities.
It is true that all of us as Christians benefit from the guidance of good teachers, but it is up to us to duly compare their instruction to all scriptures related to a subject and determine what the inspired word is telling us. If we do a thorough examination, and ask the right questions, keeping an open mind, constantly praying for wisdom in the matter, God will reveal His truth to us. Why then, over two thousand years after the death of Messiah are there so many books devoted to explaining baptism— its meaning, modes, candidates, and place in Christendom? It appears that the difficulty needing so much explanation does not lie in the scriptures, but in the men and women who feel no need to seek agreement in the faith and hope that includes one baptism (Eph. 4:4-16). We live in an age where to agree to disagree is deemed unity. However, for the Christian this cannot be so.
Our oneness of mind is valid only as far as we are being true to the commands of God as set forth by His Son, Jesus Christ and His chosen vessels— the men selected to record the final testament between God and man in written form. I strongly encourage all who read this book, or any other non-inspired source of instruction about baptism, to do so with a degree of skepticism sufficient to compel you to do a thorough study of the subject on your own, with Bible in hand.
Roland W. Keith
By Roland W. Keith
According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) there are about 20,800 denominations worldwide. Other estimates vary from 217 in the U.S. alone to over 41,000 around the globe, mostly existing within three major groups (Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism, and Catholicism) and two minor ones (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental orthodoxy). Regardless of the actual numbers or whether a particular denomination affiliates with any of these groups, most view themselves as separate from other denominations, groups, and traditions. In addition to these (actually, even among them) there are also a growing number of churches who view themselves as “non-denominational.” With these numbers continuing to grow year-by-year the question is “how many of these churches are scripturally authorized; how many are Biblically founded?”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Twice in his admonition the apostle exhorts the disciples to be of the same mind or of one mind. Likewise, to the Corinthians he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
It is clear from these verses that the church is to actively remove division from its midst, by resolving issues before they become irreconcilable. We are to seek and achieve unity of understanding and exercise the same singleness of thought in our judgments. How do we accomplish such things? First, and foremost by heeding the words of Paul from his prison cell: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We must consciously compare our actions to the word of God. Are we motivated by our own desires, biases, or will? Or, do we seek to act in a manner worthy of Christ’s sacrifice?
Secondly, we must understand that there is no place in the church for such willful motives. It is our responsibility to bear with one another as we work through disagreements, always prayerfully using the Bible as our arbiter in all matters, remembering that we are all members of the same kingdom. It was Jesus prayer that His followers be one with one another in the Father and Son (John 17:20-21). If we have a sincere love for each other (I Peter 1:22; John 13:35), how can we bear to separate over a dispute concerning God’s word and His church? Yet that is the heart and soul of denominationalism. According to denominational standards we do not have to see eye-to-eye on a matter. You do it your way, we’ll do it our way and we an all agree to disagree and we’ll call that unity because we all worship the same God, that’s all that’s really important after all. That may be the denominational standard, but it is not the Biblical one.
Christians are a fellowship of the same Spirit. We are not kindred spirits, birds-of-a-feather, or bosom buddies. We are one body. Concerning that body Paul wrote, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 24-27). We are one. Not two. Not three. Not a member of this denomination or that one. This church or that one. We are one or we are nothing. Concerning our fellowship Paul told the Colossians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see 5:22-25). We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can walk apart from each other and all still be in step with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ came to save the spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to unite us into the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), telling His listeners: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). One of His greatest lamentations was when He overlooked the city of Jerusalem, the city of God’s temple and His people, and condemned it for rejecting His word. For claiming their religion and denying or twisting God’s laws, for killing His prophets, and rejecting their Messiah (Matthew 23:37). How many today are claiming Christianity while denying God’s word? It’s happening. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be so many church buildings out there with so many different names on them. How many claim Christ as their head but are not all a part of the same body? Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Are we building each other up by being divided? If so, how?
Jesus warned us about false prophets who would come to us in sheep’s clothing who would seek to lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:15; 24:25; 7:15; II Peter 2:1). No one, nor thing can snatch us out of the hand of God (John 10:28). But Satan can tempt us to turn away of our own free will, as Paul warned the Corinthians: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11: 12-15). Just as there were false apostles in the first century there are false teachers today. John warned us to test the spirits to see who is of God (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our salvation is our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). We are warned that trials will come (I Peter 4:12; James 1:12). We are also told to pray not to enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). In addition, God gives us everything we need to overcome every trial and temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the Christian who turns away from God and loses his own soul does so of his own accord.
Sadly, there are many who believe in God and seek Him out, but only if they can do so their way. Paul warned Timothy the day was coming in his second letter to him: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).
The day of false religion in the name of God has long since arrived and has never gone away. What can we do about it? In many ways it is harder to reach those lost in their religion with the truth than it is the one who has never heard of God. Many such people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they are unmoved by the truth even when it is presented in a reasoned, biblical study. Often, they cannot bear the consequences of the truth. If they are wrong then their parents or grandparents who have passed on were wrong as well, meaning that they are not where they thought they would be in eternity. If they are wrong then they have misguided their own children, friends, or strangers. If they are wrong… They just cannot bear the thought. So, they jeopardize their own salvation clinging to the false hope that somehow, they have been right all along despite the evidence. What can we do about it?
The only thing we can do is pray and evangelize and put it in God’s hands. Leave no effort unmade. And, be prepared, as Peter exhorted: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). Be prepared, be patient, and kind, and hopeful— always realizing what is at stake for every person you speak to. And pray for the harvest. And work to ensure that all those brought into the kingdom will come in the strength and unity of the one Spirit.
By Roland W. Keith
Any distance runner can tell you what it is like to hit a strong head wind, especially on the backside of a long run. It can sap your strength physically and drain your mental resolve. There is a tendency to tense up and fight the wind which only makes the situation worse. However, the best runners learn to relax, even down to unclenching their hands and jaw, anything that causes undue tension. They learn to control their posture, leaning slightly into the wind without hunching over, and to maintain their stride focusing on effort rather than pace, knowing the energy cost for their body is significantly higher going into the wind. Moreover, the serious runner will use the wind and other adverse conditions in practice to make himself stronger for race day. Like the sign on the gym wall says, “No Pain, No Gain!”
On occasion, the apostle Paul used athletics as an example for fellow Christians, once writing, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:25-27). One might add, as Christians, that we not only discipline our bodies (physical desires) but our emotional and intellectual states as well. In many ways life is a marathon in which we find ourselves often running along inclining stretches of road against contrary winds. For the Christian and non-Christian alike, there is no escaping these ill-winds of life. The best we can do is to prepare for them and when they come to meet them head-on with the proper mindset.
The Christian mindset, however, should be distinctly different from the non-Christian. We know that God often uses conflict and tough life-lessons to prepare and strengthen us for what lies ahead, especially concerning the work He has for us to do. The Bible is full of men and women who, as an old Navy Chief might say, were tried, tempered and made true by the LORD. Joseph was buffeted by hard winds when he was sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned (Genesis 37:28; 39:7-20). Esther put her life on the line for God’s people (Esther). Abraham’s faith was tested (Hebrews 11:17-18; Genesis 22:10-12). Perhaps no one in the Old Testament received a greater test of his integrity and faith than Job, when everything that he had, including his ten sons and daughters, were taken from him and he was physically struck from head-to-toe with boils (Job 1:1-19). Yet he remained faithful (Job1:20-22; 2:9-10), eventually saying of the LORD, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).
In the New Testament the apostles and other disciples were put to the test again and again, none more so than Paul, who once noted, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28; Acts 27). Eventually, Paul would suffer various terms of imprisonment as well (Acts 16:19; Acts 24:23-27; 28:3-31; II Timothy 1; 2:8-9; 4:6-8). Yet, in all his trials and tribulations he would write, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Paul accepted the trials of faith as the Lord’s discipline, writing, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood... For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:3-4, 6, 11). Jesus Himself made it clear that the Christian will not be removed from harm’s way— quite the contrary: “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20). Even so, He also said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The apostle Paul suffered a lot for the faith, yet he rather philosophically told the Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul understood that our plight in life does not define who we are or our relative condition to God. By accepting the storms of life and proceeding through them with confidence in our ultimate victory in Christ we can endure whatever life throws at us. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
The world cannot destroy what God has built. If we reside in His kingdom then we can appreciate the words of the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). The devil is a formidable foe yet as Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10).
The Christian can count the opposing winds of life as a test that gives us the opportunity to grow and strengthen our faith, producing an ever-stronger Christian (James 1:2-4). A man or woman fit for the kingdom and the Lord’s work one who cannot only start the race, but finish strong because the adverse winds, the trials and tribulations of life that buffet us along the trail will not slacken our resolve nor overcome our ability to endure to the end. The Christian who is able to stand alongside Paul and Peter and a host of others on the Day of the Lord and proclaim “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
By Roland W. Keith
As we begin part two of our study, we do so with the understanding that our primary duty as obedient Christians is to proclaim God’s word to the lost (Mark 16:15). There are many ways we can be involved in our church’s evangelization efforts, but none are more important than being able to simply explain to another person why we believe what we do about Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation. To do that we must be well-studied in the gospel and the other New Testament writings. It is a matter of common sense that to educate others in a subject we must be well-educated on the topic ourselves. In John 8:31-32 we read, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."”
To know the truth, we must abide in God’s word. To abide in the word is to conform to or comply with it. To do that we must first be intimately familiar with the word and comprehend its meaning. Faith, as Paul wrote, comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is a noble thing to proclaim God’s word, for as Paul wrote to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 10:17). It is by that knowledge that we are able to receive the blessings that God so desires to bestow upon us, for as Peter noted: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (II Peter 1:3).
Jesus said His word was truth, as already noted; He also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Holy Scriptures are not just another collection of worldly wisdom. Their power and insight are from a much greater source than that, as Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). The scholarship gained from being a student of the Bible is superior to all the worldly forms of enlightenment gained by man on his own, because it comes from the source of all knowledge.
There is something else that is unique about the word of God. It was written with a laser-like focus designed to penetrate and effect one thing with spiritual truth— and that one thing is the human heart [intellect]. Regarding its power to do so Paul wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). So powerful and precise is this word that it is the final arbiter of our fate on the day of judgment (John 12:48). Given its unique nature it is a prudent person who harnesses its power to enlighten their path in life (Psalm 119:105).
Seen from a proper perspective the Bible is the greatest guide to a worthy life ever written. No philosophy of man, no style of life or life path guru, no self-help book, nor any other path devised by man can do what the Bible does for us. Moreover, it is not just a guide for a life well-lived on earth. As Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). As Christians we are sanctified by the word (John 17:17) and saved by the word. Considering all that the word has to offer us we, like the Bereans, should receive and examine the scriptures with all eagerness (Acts 17:11). However, our examinations into its truths should be made with a sober-minded and critical determination to test all that we are being told against the word itself with the intent of discovering all of its goodness and to separate out all error from our understanding (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1-3).
Our goal as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Bible is to incorporate its teachings into our lives, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). For James to rightly handle the word was to live according to the Lord’s teachings and to obey His commands, as he wrote, “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22-23). Next, we are to teach and admonish one another as Christians in order to build the church up and strengthen it (Colossians 3:16).
Ultimately, our goal is to not only grow in our own faith, and not only to strengthen our brethren, but to be able to proclaim God’s word to the lost of the world. Whether its from a pulpit or one-on-one with family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers on a plane it doesn’t matter. We should want to share our salvation with others. That is a part of being a member of the Lord’s body. It is a part of the doing that Jesus spoke of when He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:24-26).
By Roland W. Keith
After Moses had written the Law and given it to the priests the Bible records: “And Moses commanded them, "At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that He will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12).
The great lawgiver understood the importance of keeping the knowledge of God’s word instilled in the people. In like manner, after the Israelites had defeated the city of Ai in the early stages of their conquest of the promised land, in accordance with Moses’ instruction Joshua placed half the people on Mt. Gerizim and half across the valley on Mt. Ebal to bless the people, then afterwards he read the blessings and the curses, all the Book of the Law, before the people (Joshua 8:33-35). Such devotion to God’s word was, and is, important to those who would faithfully follow Him, for to truly do His will we must know His word completely.
Nonetheless, while they remained a religious people somewhere along the way the Jewish people wandered away from the word of God. So far away in fact that the Book of the Law was found lying discarded in the neglected temple at one point only to be rediscovered by Hilkiah the high priest during the reign of Josiah, who read the book before the people and brought them back into a covenant relationship with the LORD (II Kings 22:8-23:3).
In Jesus time it was customary for the Law and the Prophets to be read before the assembly on the Sabbath and then to have someone, often a visiting rabbi, speak words of encouragement or teach a lesson based on the reading (Acts 13:15). Jesus used such an occasion to reveal Himself to the people according to Luke 4:16-21. Later, after the Lord’s church had been established, the apostles sought to ensure that their inspired teachings were read and taught in the church (Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:27; I Timothy 4:13).
The importance of teaching from God’s word was made manifest in the writings of the apostle Paul: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). It is through reading and studying the scriptures that we attain to the level of Christian living and service that is acceptable to the Lord. In the same letter to Timothy Paul also wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:1-5).
In Josiah’s time the people had turned from God’s word because it had literally been placed out-of-sight-out-of-mind or they had willingly rejected it (Hosea 4:6). Since the time of the early church the word of God has been ever present and increasingly available to all men. However, one of the great dangers today is that people are either not devoted enough to personal study and too easily lead astray by false teaching, or they willfully look for preachers and teachers who will twist the word to tell them what they want to hear instead of the truth (II Corinthians 4:4).
Anyone who truly wants to follow God and do his or her part in getting the truth out to the world is going to look at the study and understanding of God’s word as one of life’s primary purposes and a Christian duty. How are we to obey all that the Lord has given us to do if we do not know and comprehend on a personal level what those things are? To keep His doctrines, we must be educated in them and able to clearly distinguish them from the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). Only then can we demonstrate our love for the Lord by our obedience to Him (Matthew 5:19; John 14:15, 21; I John 2:3, 4; 3:24; 5:3; Revelation 14:12).
By Roland W. Keith
Psalm 90:1-2 is designated “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” In it Moses prays, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” We see from his words that Moses understood that God is both an eternal being and the Creator of the heavens and the earth (see also Psalm 33:6-9; 93:1; Hebrews 1:2; 11:3; Colossians 1:16). As our Creator does it make sense for us to question Him or rebel against Him? Paul asked the Romans, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:20-21).
God created man for many reasons. He made us in His Own image to have a like being to commune with. He made us for good works. He wanted someone to bestow His love upon who would reciprocate that love of their own free will. At the same time, He wants, in fact commands, that we behave in a manner worthy of the eternal spirit that He has given each of us. A spirit that was created to reflect His own attributes. We are the only creatures in His creation with such a Spirit. The only one set apart with the attributes of our Creator. With the ability to understand the universe around us. To appreciate it and its Creator. To comprehend its grandeur and feel awe for the all-encompassing power of the One Who brought it forth. We are the only ones called to acknowledge Him as the eternal and Supreme Being. The only ones required to worship Him, even as He offers us a place in heaven as His beloved children. However, though He has the right to command our obedience and our praise and adoration He does not compel it. Among His own attributes He has instilled in us is free will. He has given us the right to choose or reject His call. To stand with Him or against Him.
For those who stand with their LORD, there will be the reward of eternal life with God, but for those who reject their God, there will be eternal punishment. At the end of our lives we will be called upon to give an account of our lives (Romans 14:12). Did we live our lives according to God’s word or did we reject it, and live as we pleased in rebellion to God? Jesus said it is by the word He has given us to lead us to salvation and guide us in right living that we will be judged (John 12:48; Hebrews 4:12). It is our relationship to His word that will reward us for being His obedient followers or condemn us for fighting against Him. Paul looked around at his fellow man and noted, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
Solomon was a wise man. The Bible tells us the wisest man who had ever lived. After studying the world and testing all that it offered, he concluded, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Hundreds of years later Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11). Solomon and Peter both understood that we are just passing through this life on our way to eternity. The best we can do, the right thing to do is to keep God’s commandments. It is in His divine word that right and wrong behavior is defined. Paul enumerated many of these behaviors when he wrote, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:19-24). Accordingly, we are to obey all the words of God, including abstaining from these behaviors and other works of darkness (I Thessalonians 5:22; Ephesians 5:11; II Timothy 2:19).
It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to avoid sin and focus on those things that are just and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Everything that we do should be not just pure in motivation, but in compliance with the will of God. Whatever we do for ourselves, or families, our church, our community, our country, and our fellow man should be done according to the will of God, as the psalmist wrote, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Joshua gave the Israelites an ultimate from God: choose whom you will serve, saying, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Each of us has a choice to make. Who will we serve? Will we serve the world, self, or the LORD? Will we establish our families according to God’s pattern (Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:23; 6:1-4), or will we just wing it?
What about our businesses or work relationships, how we treat friends and strangers, our attitude toward government (Romans 13:1)? Paul told the Romans that the unrighteous would be “slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” among other things (Romans 1:30-31). To Timothy he wrote, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy” (II Timothy 3:2). For the Christian there is no mystery as to what our attitude or behavior should be. The Bible makes it clear. If we stick with the Bible and apply its lessons to our lives, we will do fine.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (2:8). Every generation seems to be susceptible to false doctrine and willful disobedience among those who profess faith in God, a problem that prompted the Lord to say, “in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
And He said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition… thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:7-9, 13). Such behavior also led Him to ask, “Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46; see also I John 2:4). We are either with the Lord or against Him (Matthew 12:30; 6:24).
This is true not only for those of the world, but for those in the church as well, as Peter wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22). We must always strive to keep our minds set on the things of the spirit and not of the flesh (Romans 8:6; see also Mark 8:36-37). To fail is to incur the wrath of God, and as Paul noted, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31; also 12:29). And, as Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). If we choose to fight against God, we will lose.
It is our chose. We can choose instead to take a stand for God and fight against the world, arming ourselves as Paul told the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:10-12; see also II Corinthians 10:3-5).
The armor of God is fashioned in His word, as noted by John: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
If for some reason we feel unworthy to take up the cause of Christ or to accept His offer of salvation remember what one of His greatest opponents, Paul, wrote after his own conversion: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). It has been said that nothing worth having comes easy. In many respects that is true. Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). The Lord does not place on us more than we can bear, and the more we trust and turn to Him, the easier it gets, but we must remember it is a fight that we must engage in for the rest of our time on earth for it was also the Lord Who said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
By Roland W. Keith
When a Pharisaic lawyer asked the Lord about the great commandment Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40; 19:19: Mark 12:29-31). Many years later the Lord’s brother, James, dubbed the second of these commandments the “royal law,” writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well” (James 2:8). Think about it. A royal law is one handed down directly from the king, and so long as he does not change his mind the law cannot be altered. Now consider that God is the eternal King of kings. The Bible tells us that He does not change His mind or fail to keep His promises or turn from what He has purposed (James 1:17; I Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 13:8; Numbers 23:19; Proverbs 19:21; Matthew 5:18). According to scripture all of God’s commands and all His promises are based on these two foundational commandments. And since He is a King Who does not change, His will in all matters is immutable.
We are, and forever will be, subject to these two commandments and all others based on them. So important are these two commands that when a lawyer tested Jesus with the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25), Jesus responded, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). If we truly understand both commands from God, they will lead us to eternal life. The first command will lead us to seek the truth of God’s word and obey it and the second will ensure that we live up to our responsibilities to our fellow man in sharing the truth and living amongst each other as God intended.
Concerning the royal law, we find that it existed long before Jesus’s or James’s statements. God told the Israelites not to take vengeance or bear a grudge against one another, and to love the stranger among them as themselves (Leviticus 19:18, 34). Jesus would later add that we are to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-45). Paul taught that we should love and serve one another, rather than seeking to destroy the other (Galatians 5:13-15). The first command dictates our relationship to God. The royal law determines how we come together with our fellow man to our own betterment and survival, by learning to love our neighbor (everyman). The love spoken of in the law is known in Christian circles as agape, and according to John Stacy (Messianic Psalms and Other Sermons, p. 36), “Agapao (shalt love) means "to love the unlovable, the unlovely, those who cannot merit nor deserve our love. It is unconquerable benevolence. It also means to act intensely, to eagerly cling to, and to affectionately admire."
Clearly, agape does not resemble what most of the world is thinking when it speaks of love. Although concern for our fellow man is not a foreign idea among the world it is not consistently adhered to, nor does it encompass all that the Lord’s definition would require. We are to look beyond the shortcomings of the world or individuals (find something to value in all we encounter) and give aid where and when we can, with an eye toward their eternal needs first and their worldly needs or desires secondly. This means that agape may often be a soft and gentle hand, while at other times it may come in the form of “tough love.” We must also understand what the world can produce if we do not step forward to exercise agape. All we have to do is look at history to see where agape was lacking or missing entirely: In the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, the killing fields of Cambodia, the human sacrifices of various religions throughout the ages, a society that claims concern for the world but produces more and more disenfranchised youth and citizens who place little or no value on human life and turn to mass violence to vent their helplessness, frustration and rage.
According to Jesus our neighbors are not only those we know and care about but also include the stranger in need (Galatians 6:10) One of the Lord’s best known lessons was a story Jesus told the lawyer mentioned above that dealt with this very subject: “Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37). Whether we live next door or across the world; whether we are trusted countrymen or despised adversaries, the Lord is telling us our true neighbors are those who are our friends and those we count not only as our enemies but our persecutors as well (Matthew 5:43-44). For many of us the idea of counting those who do us harm or even seek our death may seem like a bridge too far. However, we must remember that even while we were in rebellion against God, He sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). Requiring us to care for our fellow man is not beyond our means if we truly love the Lord. Confucius once said, “Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do unto you.” A rather passive but effective means of “do no harm.” Jesus on the other hand went beyond that, requiring His followers to take action. It is not good enough to simply do no harm, we must actively seek to benefit others on top of that, as Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Our Lord also once instructed, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
Our ultimate goal is to treat all men as God treats us. It certainly means to cause no form of injury— do not murder, steal, or bear false witness among other things (Deuteronomy 5:16-21; Romans 13:8-9). As Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). But again, it means more than simply to do no harm. We must look to others welfare; to build them up and do them good (Romans 15:2). We must be honest in our dealings with those we encounter in life (Ephesians 4:25). And, while we should naturally do good to those who are members of God’s household, we cannot neglect to help anyone else when the opportunity presents itself (II Corinthians 3:2). When we do God’s work in the world it allows His light to shine through us to His glory (Matthew 16:15-16). That being said there is no greater thing we can do among friends and strangers than to fulfill Gods command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
John informed his readers that the one who does not have a love for others abides in death (I John 3:14). When we love our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the lost of the world, we emulate Christ. As John also wrote, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). For those who struggle with their willingness to help others ask yourself this question: Can we fulfill the great commandment without fulfilling the royal law? Can we truly obey God without honoring both of these laws? As Jesus said, all the law and prophets, that is all the blessings and promises of the LORD depend on these two commandments, including the promise of eternal life.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.