Monthly Archives: February 2012

“One Mind”

In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to be of “one mind.” The word translated “mind” comes from the Greek word which means, “To direct one’s mind toward a thing, to seek, to strive for” (Thayer). Therefore, we are to all have the same goal in mind. It is not a matter of having a robotic personality where we all think the same things and do everything alike in every way. Instead, it is the focus which envelops us to work toward a singular goal: Heaven. However, there are requirements to be able to have this one mind-set. Consider three things that we must have if we are to have “one mind.”

Love. Paul writes that if they are to fulfill his joy they needed to be like–minded, “having the same love” (Phi. 2:2). This love is two-fold in nature. It is a love for God. God loved us enough to send His only begotten Son on our behalf (John 3:16). In light of this, our love for God should be of such a nature that we are willing to do whatever He requires of us.

However, we are not to end with a love for God. That love must spill over into our love for one another. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8). Paul told the Corinthians, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). Our love must be exemplified, not just toward God, but one another as well.

Humility. Paul writes, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phi. 2:3). It is disheartening to see members of the body of Christ who are more concerned with their own prestige and placement among the brethren than they are the work of the church. Paul emphasizes the need for all things to be done with “lowliness of mind.” The term “lowliness” is also translated “humility” (Thayer). James emphasized the useless nature of strife and vanity when he wrote, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Jam. 3:14-16). If we do not have an attitude of humility in our service to God, it will destroy our influence and reputation. As James wrote later in the same letter, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Jam. 4:6).

Deference. One of the biggest problems that arise in the church is that individuals feel things must be done their way; but if we are going to truly have one mind, we must be willing to consider, weigh, and at times defer to, the ideas of others. In matters of doctrine, there is only one opinion that matters: the opinion of God. He has told us what He would have us do and there is no room given for our input or “interpretation.”

However, in matters of opinion there is leniency given for us to use judgment and wisdom in making such decisions. It is unfortunate that some in the church are like Diotrephes. He “loved to have the preeminence” (3 John 9). With those like Diotrephes it is their way or the highway. But Paul wrote, “…let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phi. 2:3-4). There is to be enough care, concern, respect, love, and humility in us to both find out, and take heed to, the things of others. There must be an attitude of deference in matters of opinion.

We must always endeavor to have one mind; one common goal we are collectively pursuing. But if our pursuit is to be acceptable and profitable to all, it must include these attributes. Otherwise we have become nothing more than a number of people claiming to be trying to get to the same place by our own devices, and such an approach are truly folly.

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Children in the Assembly

How much do we love our children?

There is a problem in the assemblies of our congregations in the United States. The problem is seen through our children while they are in the assembly; but the root problem is not to be found in the children, it is located in the parents and grandparents of those children, and it has to be stopped. You see, children in this country are allowed to treat going to the services of God like they are going to the movies. They have snacks, drinks, toys, books, games, and even video games and portable dvd players. They come into the worship assembly without the slightest intent of worshiping God, but instead are focused on having fun and not being bored for the next hour. Americans have completely lost sight of the purpose for our children being in the assembly. Consider some things our children need when they come before God.

Children in the assembly need expectations. Over the years, my wife has probably grown tired of hearing me make the statement, “people live down to our expectations,” but it is true nonetheless. Nowhere is the truth of this statement more evident than with our children. Our children will seek to fulfill our expectations, but will rarely deliberately go beyond them. Unfortunately, in many cases, American Christians have already determined that our children will be unruly, inattentive, objectionable, and overall menaces to those who have come to worship. Some congregations have lowered these expectations even further by creating classes and entertainment for their children to “enjoy” during the assembly. One man once told me, “The parents will have to take them out anyway, why not just start with them there?” Therefore, instead of instilling expectations of honor, respect, attention, and participation; parents bring in food, toys, and games to distract them, or create divisions of the assembly, until the boring proceedings of the day are accomplished. Such actions are a shame and turn the worship services of the church into a travesty.

God gives us a sense of the expectations he has for children in the assembly when he presented us with the pattern of Israel’s assemblies before God. In Nehemiah 8, when the word of the Law was read, all of the people stood during the reading to show respect and be attentive (Vs. 5, 7). In 2 Chronicles 20, when the children of Israel were gathered to petition God for help, it is stated that “all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (Vs. 13). Though I am not advocating the necessity of changing our services so that people have to stand the whole time, it is necessary to emphasize that when the people came before the Lord ALL of the people were expected to participate and pay attention; not just the adults. It is high time we started expecting our kids to behave with the honor and respect both God and man knows they can: to sit still, pay attention, and show respect for what is taking place.

Children in the assembly need training. Contrary to the apparent popular opinion of parents, our children do not train themselves. Parents become upset because they have coddled their children in the assembly their entire lives without ever instilling in them respect for the purpose or process of worship, and then wonder why, as the child becomes a teenager, he or she has no interest in spiritual matters. By the time they are teenagers, our children have been entertained their entire lives while their parents worshiped God. Why should we then expect to flip the proverbial switch and have that attitude change?

Just as children must learn respect for others, they must learn respect for God as well. Respect is defined as, “to feel or show admiration and deference toward somebody or something; to show consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something.” Respect goes far beyond saying please and thank-you. It is an attitude that presents itself in all that is said and done. Unfortunately, our children are not being taught to respect God in the assembly.

Parents have the responsibility to train their children (Pro. 22:6), and part of that training is to instill in their children the proper respect for God and participation in the assembly. From a very young age children are able to participate in prayer and singing in the assembly. They are also able to see, hear, and understand things from God’s word if they are trained to do so. Our children have an amazing ability to comprehend what is happening around them and to learn from what is being said, if it is expected of them.

Under the Old Law, God expected the Israelites to proclaim his Word to their children everywhere and in every way: that included the assembly (Deut. 6:3-25). When God commanded children to obey their parents and honor them, he also commanded fathers to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4). As parents, our responsibility is to prepare our children to serve God. That begins with a willingness to put forth the time and effort to train our children to respect him, his assembly, and participate in his worship.

Friends, the time has come to change our assemblies. It is time to rescind our contentment with allowing our children to dictate their actions and participation in the services. It is time for parents to take seriously the responsibility of training their children to serve God and, instead of lowering our standards to meet an ungodly society, raise them up to meet the expectations of our holy God. It is time to stop crippling our children’s future by coddling them and instead give them the means to stand on their own two feet by preparing them.

Again I ask the question: how much do we love our children? Do we love them enough to follow the examples God has presented? Do we love them enough to make sure they know and understand what God wants them to do, how it is to be done, and why it is important? Our actions will answer these questions.


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Jehoshaphat’s Prayer

In the second book of Chronicles we are introduced to Jehoshaphat, one of the few good kings of the Israelites. He ruled over the kingdom of Judah for 25 years and was described as a king who “walked in the first ways of his father David” (2 Chr. 17:3). He ruled in Judah at the same time Ahab and Jezebel were enforcing their reign of terror on God’s people in the northern kingdom of Israel.

In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat is faced with a crisis. The Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites have invaded the land of Judah (2 Chr. 20:1, 10). Judah’s forces are heavily outnumbered, and it is a frightening proposition for this good king to have to face them head-on in battle. Jehoshaphat’s first reaction is to set himself and the people to seek the Lord (Vs. 3). He calls for a feast to be held throughout all Judah that they might petition God for his assistance against this great army.

As Jehoshaphat stands in the midst of those assembled and prays to God, one verse sums up the sentiments of the king. In verse 12, Jehoshaphat states, “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? For we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.” Please take a moment to consider the importance of Jehoshaphat’s statements and how we can relate it to our approach to God today.

“For we have no might against this great company that cometh against us.” Man often feels he has to fight all of the battles himself. He tries to tackle the problem without God believing that if he is strong enough, smart enough, and lucky enough, everything will work out alright. Jehoshaphat does no such thing. Instead, he goes directly to God and admits that he and his people have no strength compared to the large army coming against them. Without God, they will not obtain victory, and they know it. Sometimes mankind has to be willing to admit that, by themselves, they don’t have the strength to deal with the problems before them. It is not a sign of weakness, but an acknowledgement that man needs help from a source greater than himself.

“Neither know we what to do.” Every individual will have problems and difficulties arise in life that will leave him without a ready course of action. Instead of calling a council meeting of his advisors, Jehoshaphat goes straight to the one who has all of the answers to every problem. God has promised us that with every temptation there is a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13); he has also promised that he has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Though we will face problems that will leave us without the knowledge of what to do next, we must have the strength and courage to do exactly what Jehoshaphat did; recognize that we do not have the answer and go to the source of all wisdom.

“But our eyes are upon thee.” Jehoshaphat knew where to go in times of trouble. His faith and confidence was, not in himself, but in God. Therefore, he knew that if he kept his focus on God, the Creator of the Universe would take care of him. We must have the same level of confidence in God in our own lives. There should never be a time in our lives where we are not focused on God: whether it be his blessings, his comfort, his assistance, or his strength.

But Jehoshaphat did not just look to God himself; he led others to do the same. Verse 13 records, “And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Jehoshaphat brought an entire nation before God seeking his aid. When others come to us with problems and dilemmas, how do we respond? Do we endear them to us with words proclaiming our own wisdom, or do we direct them to the one who truly has the answer for every problem mankind faces?

God delivered Judah from their enemies as he had promised he would. He was faithful to his people, and aided them in their time of need. He will do the same for us, if we will look to him as Jehoshaphat did; with courage, purpose, and faithful recognition that we need his help and cannot do it alone. Let us take a lesson from Jehoshaphat and in times of trouble make God, not the last choice, but the first.

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Works of Obedience vs. Works of Merit

The claim is often made that members of the church of Christ believe that an individual has to earn their salvation by working their way to Heaven. This argument is generally proffered by those who believe in the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Their belief is that if one has to do anything in order to be saved, he has thereby worked to earn his salvation and it is no longer by the grace and mercy of God. Therefore, it behooves us to consider what the Bible says about the works of man and to compare works of obedience and works of merit.

Before considering the Scriptural arguments for these principles of work, let us first ensure we are on the same page in our understanding of the discussion. When one considers “works,” he is considering deeds or actions performed. Therefore, works relate to the things done by people in their lives; it may be a mental task, the most menial of physical labors, or the greatest of efforts, but all are works.

There are two types of works discussed in Scripture. The first are works of obedience. “Obedience” is defined by Webster as, “Compliance with a command, prohibition or known law and rule of duty prescribed.” By Webster’s definition, obedience is an action performed out of duty prescribed by another. The second type is works of merit. “Merit” is defined as, “Goodness or excellence which entitles one to honor or regard; reward deserved or earned.” Meritorious works require that the individual do works of such a nature that they are entitled to whatever they receive. For that individual to not receive his reward would be deemed unfair or unjust by any who knew him and his deeds. These two types of works are not the same, nor are they discussed the same way in Scripture. Consider what the Book of Books says about whether works are necessary; and if so what they must be.

Can works of merit save man? Members of the church of Christ are accused of believing in the necessity of works of merit for man’s salvation, but the Bible teaches no such thing. Paul makes the following argument pertaining to salvation by works of merit: “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:2-5). Paul is making the argument that Abraham, considered to be one of the greatest servants of God in the history of mankind, was not considered to be righteous because he did more good deeds than anyone else. His salvation was based upon his faith in God, not the necessity of God to save him because he had earned it (Vs. 4). He would further state to the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Our salvation is not earned by works of merit, thus leaving man no room to boast about his own good deeds.

Jesus will also illustrate this argument in his discussion with the rich young ruler. When the young man asks him what good deed he must do to earn eternal life, Jesus responds by stating, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mat. 19:17 ESV). This young man came to Jesus with the expectation that he could stamp his ticket to Heaven with a couple of good deeds. Jesus tells him the only one truly good is God and meritorious works will not make one good enough to deserve Heaven.

Therefore, based upon the evidence from both Paul and Jesus, there is no man who can do enough works to earn his salvation. It must be understood that no man will be saved because he deserves it; “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Are works of obedience necessary for salvation? Understanding that there is no number of “good deeds” one can do to deserve eternal life, does that mean God does not expect man to do anything for salvation? To the same degree that God says meritorious works will not earn us Heaven, God also says that works of obedience are necessary for our salvation.

James would argue that it is impossible for a man to have a godly faith without works. He states, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble” (Jam. 2:17-19). James then continues to use the very same example for the necessity of works of obedience that Paul used to show that salvation was not by meritorious works: Abraham (Vs. 20-23); concluding his thoughts with the statement, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Vs. 24). Though Abraham’s deeds did not put him in the place of deserving salvation, they exemplified his righteous service to God through obedience to his commands.

The book of Acts will further illustrate the necessity of works on the multiple occasions where the question of what one must do in order to be saved is asked. If works were not required, the answer on each occasion would be, “Nothing, all that is necessary has already been accomplished.” Instead, Peter (Acts 2:38; 3:19), Philip (Acts 8:35-38), Paul (Acts 16:31-33), and Ananias (Acts 22:10, 16) all tell their listeners that there are actions (works) required if they are to be in a right relationship with God. Further, in the epistles there are many other statements showing the lifestyles and duties required for the Christian to be faithful to God; not the least of which is the command to “love one another” (1 John 4:7).

To some, these statements are contradictory and confusing; but when the Bible student understands that there are two different kinds of works under consideration, the proper application can be made. Consider again the examples from the questions of what a man must do for salvation. Jesus tells the rich young ruler that good deeds will not be sufficient to force God’s extension of salvation to mankind. We have all sinned, therefore, without the help and willingness of God, we cannot return again to his side.

However, God has extended his grace and mercy to mankind through the blood of Christ; but in order to accept those gifts the requirements for works of obedience must be met. We must always remember the words of Jesus when he told his disciples, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'” (Luke 17:7-10). Jesus shows that our works of obedience do not earn us salvation; they are simply the fulfillment of our duty as servants of God. Thus, to refuse to do the works the master requires is to rebel against him, and any man who does so can rest assured he will not receive the promised payment for his service (Mat. 25:30).

Does God require works for man to receive salvation? Absolutely. From the initial action of faith in God through Jesus Christ, to the living of a faithful life in service to him, man is required to work for the master. But all the works in the world would never be enough for us to earn our salvation if it were not for the grace and mercy of our Creator. God be thanked that he does not give his servants what they deserve, but what he has promised for faithfulness!

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There is a real problem in America today, and it largely centers on authority. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say, “You can’t tell me what to do,” I would be far better off financially than I am today. The Bible teaches that authority does exist, and with that authority comes responsibility; for the person who has that authority: to use it correctly, and for the one over whom he has authority: to submit to it.

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines authority in this way: “The power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states that it is: “the ability or strength with which one is endued, the right to exercise power.” Therefore, when one considers the term “authority,” deliberation must be given to those who have the power to make decisions that affect our lives.

The government has authority over its citizens. The Scriptures teach that one who seeks to do that which is right will submit himself to the government under which he lives. Paul wrote, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). God ordained the creation of government for the use of maintaining true law and order, that there would be a way to effectively punish the evildoer and protect the innocent. Although there are many things governments do with which we would not agree, man still has the obligation to give them their due submission (Mat. 22:21). Christians are commanded to pray for our government that it might be possible to lead quiet, peaceable lives in service to God (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Therefore, it is our responsibility, as long as the government does not give dictates that inhibit our ability to serve God as he has commanded, to fulfill its edicts to the best of our ability.

Parents have authority over the home. It is deeply disturbing to see the trend in our society for parents to want everyone else to be responsible for raising their children. Parents are using the education systems, day-cares, government programs and benefits, and various other programs, as the foundational training tools for their children. They are passively turning their responsibilities over to others when it comes to providing for, and training, those entrusted to their care.

However, the Bible teaches that the parents are to be the final authority in the home, not those on the outside. Parents are to, “train up a child in the way he should go” (Pro. 22:6). That training stems from the authority vested in parents. They are to teach, not just lawful behavior, but righteous living in service to God (Deu. 6:4-9). This authority also includes the responsibility to protect our children from the dangers, lies, and temptations of Satan. This is by no means a pleasant task, and it is one which can cause great anguish in the hearts of the parents and children, but it is a necessary use of parental authority.

If God had desired the government to raise children, he would have established such a system with the children of Israel. God left the authority of the home in the hands of the parents, and our parents need to love God, their children, and each other enough to use that authority correctly.

Jesus has authority over all things. Even though it is the case that God has bestowed upon man some measure of authority to make decisions for himself, his family, and his nation, God is still the ultimate authority. Jesus is the one who holds the final authority to make decisions on what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. Paul wrote, “For he hath put all things under his feet” (I Cor. 15:27), and again, “Which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:20-21). Therefore, Christ is the supreme authority. His guidelines and commands are the ultimate authority governing the lives of every man in every word and deed.

If we are to recognize and submit to authority, we must do so in every aspect of life. National governance is authorized to the government: we must respect it, and keep its laws to the best of our ability. Family governance is authorized to the parents: we must fight to keep that authority where it should be and take seriously the responsibilities that authority delivers. But in all things, no matter who we are or what position we hold, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the one with the final authority; for it is his covenant that will hold us all in judgment on that final day (2 Cor. 5:10).

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Things that should be “Unfeigned”

In the King James Version the word translated “unfeigned” comes from the Greek word anupokritos, meaning “undisguised, sincere.” Therefore, when something is unfeigned it is out in the open for all to see. It is not disguised nor is there any attempt to keep it hidden. This word is used on a half dozen occasions in the New Testament and it is applied to various attributes of Christianity. Consider three things that are to be unfeigned in the life of the Christian.

Unfeigned faith. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). One of the attributes the Christian is required to have is faith. But that faith is not to be something that is hidden or unknown. Rather, our faith in God and confidence in his word is to be exhibited in everything that we do. There should never be a time when the Christian leaves room for doubt in the minds of men as to where his faith is placed and the depth of it.

This was the kind of faith Timothy had, and he learned it from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). When decisions need to be made, when struggles come our way, when frustrations are set before us, when opportunities arise, do we exhibit an unfeigned faith by imparting and acknowledging where we get the answers for those situations and why they are the right answers? Christians must ensure they are teaching those of this generation and the next generation an open faith, not a hidden faith.

Unfeigned love. Peter admonished his audience by stating, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22). Our love for one another as brethren in Christ should never be in question. It should be exemplified in every interaction that we have with one another.

There are some brethren who exhibit a form of love that leaves people remembering the old statement, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” Our love for one another should be presented after a manner that leaves no doubt of our care, concern, and appreciation for our fellow Christian. Even in times where we disagree or are at odds, one should apply the comportment that leaves no doubt of the love and desire to look out for the welfare of the other brother. John wrote of the impossibility of man having the proper love for God if he does not exhibit the same love for his brother (1 John 4:7-8, 20-21).

Unfeigned wisdom. James imparted these words of inspiration, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (Jam. 3:17). Though it is not translated “unfeigned” in this passage, the same Greek word is used here as in the other passages considered; except here it is translated “without hypocrisy.”

In the context of verse 17, James is considering the presentation of wisdom. If the Christian is to present godly wisdom as is commanded, it cannot be done sporadically or with malice. Instead it has to be done openly and consistently, without hypocrisy. One cannot present the wisdom of God without first presenting it in their own actions, then in their advice to others. Some Christians have tainted their ability to use God’s wisdom by being unwilling to implement it in their own lives, but then trying to bind it upon others. This does not mean that one has to be perfect to present godly wisdom, only that one cannot be living a life of contradiction to the wisdom they are presenting and still be considered a reliable source for God’s words. The adage, “Do as I say and not as I do,” will not work for the dispersal of wisdom from God. For it to be viable it must first be lived, then shared.

There are some things in the life of the Christian that are to be internal and private matters between him and God, but these three are not among them. They are to be open and evident before all. They are to be seen and imparted in every aspect of our lives and service to God. Are you living an unfeigned life before God and man?

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The Cycle of Man

Solomon wrote, “The things that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). As one considers the lives of men and their impact while on this earth, it does not take long to comprehend that mankind works in cycles. Man has been going through the same cycles for centuries. We may have found new and innovative ways to go through them, but they are the same cycles nonetheless. One such cycle considers man’s relationship with God. Often called “the cycle of man,” it is shown in Scripture as a consistent representation of how man’s generations rise and fall in their relationship with God. The greatest evidence of it is seen in the book of Judges, for within this book of history the cycle is presented on multiple occasions as God deals with the children of Israel.

There are five elements to the cycle of man as seen in the book of Judges. They include: 1) Rest, 2) Rebellion, 3) Retribution, 4) Repentance and 5) Reconciliation. As each of these elements is considered individually, the continuation of this cycle in the lives of men today will be readily apparent.

Rest. The cycle begins with the children of Israel at peace in their relationship with God. The book of Judges introduces the people at rest after having taken the promised land in the days of Joshua (Jud. 2:7). Israel is walking with God, following His commandments and living as they should. Any time man and God are working together in unity, there will be rest.

Rebellion. The second element in the cycle begins when man decides he doesn’t need God’s laws and ordinances any longer. It is here that all the trouble starts as far as man is concerned. Judges 2:10 states, “and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” There comes a time after Joshua and the elders of his generation die that the people do not know the Lord and rebel against his commands, (Jud. 2:11). It is not that they do not know who God is, but that they refuse to acknowledge his authority. The Israelites begin to believe they do not need God, and that belief leads to their downfall.

Retribution. This third phase reveals God’s reaction to the children of Israel after their rebellion. Seven times in the book of Judges, God allows the surrounding nations to oppress and rule over the children of Israel. God does not allow Israel’s ignorance and arrogance to go unpunished (Jud. 2:14-15). His retribution is swift and consumes every aspect of Israelite society. Their freedoms are removed and they are found at the mercy of those who have never acknowledged God as their own.

Repentance. The fourth element in the cycle is found in the repentance of the children of Israel. Unfortunately, it often takes Israel until they have hit bottom and are at their most desperate before they recognize why they are in their present condition and turn back to God. The amount of time it takes for Israel to repent is varied based upon the callousness of their heart, but eventually those in Israel remember from whence their blessings come. Their hardships always remain until they show repentance and look to God for help.

Reconciliation. In the final phase of the cycle God reconciles his people back to him. He sends deliverers in the form of the judges, to release them from their oppressors (Jud. 2:18). God is always willing to forgive Israel and bring them back, but it never occurs without a change of heart and direction by the people first.

The cycle of man is not just something seen in the lives of the Israelites. Historically it is continuously observed in the rise and fall of the nations of this world. It is even being seen in our country today. This country was founded on the principles of faith in God, family, and freedom to pursue our livelihood to the greatest degree possible.

But instead of following after God, our nation has rebelled against God on a societal level. We have removed God from the public venue, denied God’s presence in the teaching and training of our children, and turned from God’s Word when it comes to considerations of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness.

Now we sit back and wonder why we are in a country that is collapsing from the inside out. We are collapsing economically because we have long ago left behind sound values of stewardship. Our families are collapsing because God is simply too old fashioned and not progressive enough for our “enlightened” society. Our freedoms are dissolving on a daily basis because without God, there is no standard of justice and principled equality in society.

If we take the lessons from the cycle of man and apply them to our own times, we readily understand that for this country to once again be the nation of freedom and prosperity we desire, it will require repentance on our part. Not the simple statement, “I’m sorry,” but a return in every level of society to the principles and teachings of God. Without that, we will continue to spiral downward until we hit bottom, as Israel did so many centuries ago.

Americans need to learn from the cycle of man. God has clearly defined the path that leads to rest, both on this earth and in all eternity; but until man determines to stop trying to make his own path, he will continue to wander as a blind man through a forest: stumbling, falling, bruising, and harming himself with no guide and no hope.

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Do We Have the Right to Change Worship to God?

In today’s religious society, the methods and means of “worshiping” God in the assembly are as varied as the religious organizations themselves. Man has given different types of services titles, such as “traditional,” “conservative,” or “contemporary.” Most people look around until they find something they like and find comfortable, and that is where they stay. But in the process of this religious free-for-all, there is one question that has been blatantly overlooked, “Do we have the right to change God’s worship?” In the New Testament God has given directions as to what activities are to be accomplished in the assembly. There are things such as the time of day, order of action, and so forth that are left up to the individual groups; but the overall mandate for what is to be done and how it is to be accomplished remains the same. So what right do we have to change that?

In First Kings 12 there is an example of a man who sought to do exactly what we are discussing. King Jeroboam had been given position as head of the 10 northern tribes of the people of Israel. God had given explicit instructions on how the Israelites were to worship him (see Exodus and Leviticus), but Jeroboam decided to make some changes to the worship of his people so that it would be easier for him to retain power over them. Consider the 4 changes Jeroboam made to worship.

Jeroboam changed the object of worship. Instead of going to the temple to worship God as the law dictated, verse 28 records Jeroboam erecting two golden calves, in the northern and southern extremes of the nation, to serve as their gods. They are presented to the people as the gods that brought them out of the land of Egypt. In order for the people to be willing to change their worship, Jeroboam had to first get them to change who they were worshiping. He did so with the golden calves.

Men do the same thing today when they turn the worship of God from being directed toward him to being directed toward them. Mankind often lives under the illusion that if we like it, God must as well. But God has told us what he desires and finds acceptable. For us to change the rules to accommodate our desires simply means we have changed the object of our worship from giving glory to God to giving entertainment to men.

Jeroboam changed the place of worship. The people of Israel were supposed to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God, but verse 29 shows that Jeroboam changed the place of worship to Dan and Bethel. Jerusalem was in the southern kingdom of Judah, and Jeroboam was afraid that if the people continued to go down there they would not return; so because he feared losing his people, Jeroboam made it so they did not have to leave Israel.

There are those today who are guilty of this change when they decide God did not really mean that his people need to assemble to offer worship to him. These are the ones who will stay home most of the time and state that they do their own worship at home so as not to have to assemble with the saints. Others will argue that they feel closer to God alone, or out in nature, than they do gathering with his people. They have changed the place of worship just as Jeroboam did.

Jeroboam changed the priesthood that offered worship. Under the Old Law only the sons of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, could be priests. They were responsible for the sacrifices and services of all the people of Israel. Jeroboam wanted to ensure that he retained the people’s support with his administrative changes, so verse 31 states that he made priests from among all the people, not just a select group. If you wanted to be a priest, you could be with no prerequisite conditions.

Under the New Covenant all Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:9), and true worship can only be performed by those who are in the priesthood. But there are many today who want to change the conditions of priesthood. Many have endorsed the change that, instead of requiring certain conditions specifically required by God for priesthood (namely belief, repentance, confession, and immersion), all one has to do is pray to God and he is automatically a priest. Unfortunately, calling someone by a title does not make them such before God. Many have followed Jeroboam’s footsteps in this matter instead of God’s.

Jeroboam changed the time of worship. Instead of retaining the commands of God when it came to the feasts and ordinances, Jeroboam decided to incorporate his own desires. Verse 32 reports that he instituted a feast on the 15th day of the 8th month. The problem was that God had instituted no such feast. He had instituted a feast on the 15th day of the 7th month (Num. 29:12), but Jeroboam wanted to do it his way, so the time of worship was changed.

There are those in the religious world today who seek to follow the same pattern. The first day of the week is the day when the disciples of Christ gathered to worship. Though they would come together almost daily to fellowship, serve, and work for the Master; the first day of the week was when they gathered to fulfill the commands of worship. Today there are those who would argue that the day of worship does not matter. They hold worship services on Saturday, Thursday or any other day of the week, and do those things only authorized on the first day of the week. Such is following the example of Jeroboam, not Jesus’ disciples.

Jeroboam made many changes to the worship of God, the same forms and styles of changes that are prevalent in our society today. God lashed out against Jeroboam and punished him for his deeds. Man should not expect God to react any differently today. The judgment may not come while on this earth, but it will be laid to account on the day of judgment. We do not have the right to change the worship God relayed to us through his word. To do so is to put our trust, not in God, but in ourselves, something that never works out well for mankind. Let us retain true worship before God, in spirit and truth, after the pattern given in Scripture, that it might be acceptable and beautiful in his sight.

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The Biblical History of Ephesus

As one studies the letters to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3), it is interesting to note that the first congregation addressed by the Lord is one of the most well-known congregations in the New Testament. They are a congregation which was visited by the apostle Paul; they had a book of the New Testament addressed to them; and they were a central point of emphasis for a number of the first century preachers. Consider the Biblical history of the congregation in one of the greatest cities of the first century world: Ephesus.

In 55 or 56 A.D. Paul first comes to Ephesus while on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-20). He does not remain for a great deal of time, even though the disciples there try mightily to convince him to stay. Instead, he leaves with them two close friends: Aquila and Priscilla. Shortly after Paul leaves, a man by the name of Apollos comes to Ephesus and begins preaching the baptism of John (a belief system which is no longer valid). He is converted by Aquila and Priscilla and begins preaching the truth of Jesus Christ (Acts 18:24-28).

About two years later, Paul returns to Ephesus in the midst of his third missionary journey. Paul will spend a greater period of time in one place at Ephesus, on this occasion, than anywhere else of which we have record in his travels. Acts 19:8-10 records that he spent three months speaking in the synagogue, plus an additional two years teaching in the school of Tyrannus.

It is easy to see why Paul would spend so much time in Ephesus when one understands the immensity of the city. In the first century, Ephesus is estimated to have had approximately 300,000 inhabitants. Combine that with the fact that it is a central port and trade city along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the leading cities promoting trade to the eastern regions, and you have one of the most bustling cities of the first century. The presence of the temple of the goddess Diana, a central attraction within the city and considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, shows the great need of this city for the preaching of the Gospel.

 The effect of the Gospel upon this city can be seen at the conclusion of Acts 19. A riot takes place at the hands of Demetrius the silversmith because Paul is taking too much business away from him. He makes shrines to the goddess Diana and has become uncomfortable with the powerful preaching of Paul. Therefore he, along with some of his colleagues, seeks to take matters into his own hands until the town clerk talks some sense into those gathered (Acts 19:24-41). After these things occur, Paul will leave Ephesus and continue his journey.

A few years after leaving the city of Ephesus in Acts 19, Paul will write the letter to the Ephesian brethren. This letter is one of four written by Paul while under house arrest in the city of Rome (Acts 28:30-31). This beautiful letter, dated between 62 and 63 A.D., shows the degree of love and concern which the apostle has for these brethren. Though this letter is short by Biblical standards, many beautiful, memorable, and informative passages of Scripture inhabit its pages.

The city of Ephesus will play a major role in the evangelizing of the surrounding region throughout the end of the first century. However, that did not make it immune from problems and deficiencies as is brought out by the Lord in His letter to the church many years later (Rev. 2:1-7). The Biblical history of Ephesus is a fascinating one. It is one that should be remembered when considering the excellence and impact of the Gospel, as well as the influence it can hold in the community.

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David’s Spiritual Maturity

Every good parent sees the need for their children to continue to develop and grow physically and intellectually. It is equally necessary for every person to understand the importance of continued spiritual growth and maturity. David illustrates what spiritual maturity accomplishes when he wrote, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever” (Psa. 131).

In this short three verse psalm, David extends to us the direction of spiritual development and maturity. Oftentimes man equates spiritual maturity to Bible knowledge and recitation, but it is the implementation of the acquired knowledge that brings maturity. Consider three points David teaches about spiritual maturity from this psalm.

Spiritual Maturity Rejects Arrogance. David begins the psalm by stating, “My heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty.” David says his heart is not haughty, a Hebrew term meaning exalted or arrogant. He does not consider himself better than those around him. It is not uncommon to see some Christians who perceive themselves as above many of their own brethren and certainly above those in the world around them. David shows this as a sign of spiritual immaturity. The mature servant of God understands that all men are equally in need of his love and mercy. Therefore, the acceptance of the grace of God in no way makes us better than the rest of mankind; we have simply accepted what has been placed before us where others have not. One who is spiritually mature will not set himself up as better than those around him, but will show forth a loving desire to help and encourage his fellow man, recognizing he has the same needs and shortcomings.

Spiritual Maturity Understands Limitations. David continues the psalm with these words: “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” The phrase “exercise myself” means to “walk in, or meddle with.” David states that he does not insert himself into great matters. As king of Israel, there are certainly many great matters David has to oversee. However, David is acknowledging those things that are above his station. He recognizes there are things that only God can handle. Men are not able, or equipped, to control and remove every problem and situation that arises. The spiritually mature individual understands when to work at a problem and when to leave it in the hands of God. There are some Christians who feel the need to fix every problem, right every wrong, and be the ultimate enforcer of all things relating to God and his Word. While we must uphold truth, stand where God commands, and never waver in our convictions, the mature Christian understands there are some things that are too high for man; and only God is able to fully understand and resolve them.

Spiritual Maturity Accepts Discipline. David also relates his growth when he writes, “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.” The word “behaved” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “leveled, smoothed, likened.” David has leveled and silenced himself. He has learned how to be quiet and handle himself correctly. He compares it to the weaning of a child. He states that his soul has been weaned from the unevenness of childish ups and downs to the steadiness of maturity; from the constant need for questioning to the understanding of the value of silence and observation. The spiritually mature disciple is one who is “level-headed.” He is not constantly up one minute and down the next. Undeniably there will be ups and downs in the life of the servant of God, but the mature servant’s faith in God remains level and solid. There are not doubts and fears pertaining to the truth of God’s Word or the faithfulness of his actions; but a silent recognition of who he is, what he has done, and what he will do.

There is much that can be learned about spiritual maturity from this short psalm. As servants of God, may it always be our endeavor to develop spiritually so that we can have the same level of strength, conviction, and humility exhibited by David through these beautiful words.

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