Category Archives: 2017 – May/June

Editorial: Finding Comfort and Encouragement in Revelation’s Throne Room (May/June, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Revelation has always been a book we understandably hesitate to study, considering that the book was “signified” (1:1), i.e., written in symbolic language that is difficult to understand and of which are many interpretations vastly different from each other.  However, interpretation of Revelation might be less difficult than we think.  Remember, we are told to “speak the truth” (Eph. 4:15; cf. Jn. 17:17) and “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2).  So when we seek to understand Revelation so we can teach it to others, we must first go to the rest of Scripture to find the meanings behind the symbolism.  Doing so when we study John’s epistle from Patmos will help us see the many parallels between the physical events and people of the Old Testament and the spiritual truths presented in Revelation (cf. Heb. 8:1-5; 10:1; Rom. 5:14; Col. 2:16-17), and will lead us to a scriptural and logical explanation of its symbolism.  We need to study this great book in order to truly become what God would have us to be and receive the comfort and encouragement from Him we need during the trials of life (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3-5).  There is hardly any place in Revelation where this fact is more evident to me than in chapters 4-5, chapters I regularly peruse when I need encouragement and strength during difficult times.

I have always wished I could have been with John when he saw “a door standing open in heaven” and heard the voice “like a trumpet” telling him, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (4:1).  I cannot imagine how it must have been to be “in the Spirit” and witness that magnificent scene in heaven, to have the awesome privilege to see the “one seated on the throne” with “the appearance of jasper and carnelian,” to marvel at the “rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” that was around the throne (4:2-3).  Reading of this rainbow brings my mind back to how a rainbow was a sign between God and man that He would never destroy all of mankind with water again (Gen. 9:12-17).  Its emerald color reminds me of spiritual life, especially when I see in nature how plants which are living and thriving are green and remember how Scripture at times uses the symbolism of plant life to describe people (Is. 40:6-8; Judg. 9:7-15; cf. Rev. 9:4).  So when I read of the emerald rainbow surrounding God’s throne, I am filled with comfort because I remember His covenant with me, that He is always with His faithful followers who have spiritual life (Matt. 28:18-20) and will cause everything to “work together for good” for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28; cf. John 14:15).

The “twenty-four elders” who are seated on the “twenty-four thrones” around God’s throne (4:4) also remind me of the covenants God has made with man, specifically the old covenant made with the twelve tribes of Israel (Deut. 5:1-2) and the new covenant taught by the Spirit-inspired twelve apostles (Acts 2:42; Eph. 3:3-5).  The crowns on their heads remind me of the authority these covenants have in the lives of those under them (cf. Matt. 28:18).  When they fall down before God’s throne and cast their crowns before Him I am reminded that the authority found in the old and new covenants comes from God (4:10; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).  Their white robes remind me of how obedience to the laws of these covenants makes one spiritually pure in the sight of God (Is. 1:18; 1 Jn. 1:7-9; cf. Rev. 3:4-5, 18).  This motivates me to continue to strive to not let sin reign in my life (Rom. 6:12-18).

The “flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder” coming from the throne no doubt reminded John that he was in the presence of God (4:5; cf. Ex. 19:16-20).  The “seven Spirits of God” symbolized by the “seven lamps of fire” burning before the throne (4:5) remind me first of the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God (2 Pet. 1:20-21) which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105), as well as a “fire” in my mouth (Jer. 5:14) and “a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jer. 29:9).  The symbolism of the number “seven” also reminds me that God’s Word is “complete” or “perfect” (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25; cf. 1 Cor. 13:10), just as on the seventh day God saw that His creation was complete (Gen. 2:1-2) and just as our forgiveness of others is to be complete as well (Matt. 18:21-22).  Thus, this passage motivates me to continually preach and obey God’s Word in its completeness (Ps. 119:160), because there is never a time in my life when I am not in His presence (Heb. 4:12-13).

Reading about the “sea of glass, like crystal” before the throne (4:6) reminds me that Scripture at times uses the symbolism of “the sea” to describe multitudes of people (Rev. 17:1; cf. Is. 60:5).  When I think of pure crystal which is completely transparent with no spots or discolorations, I remember that faithful Christians are also without blemish in the sight of God (Eph. 5:27; 1 Jn. 1:7-9; Is. 1:18).  This reminds me that I am not alone, that I am joined with multitudes of other Christians who stand before God’s throne serving Him faithfully and receiving His forgiveness and protection (Rev. 7:14-15; cf. Heb. 4:15-16).

John also saw “four living creatures” (4:6).  The first one was “like a lion,” the second “like an ox,” the third “with the face of a man,” and the fourth “like an eagle in flight” (4:7).  Reading that there are “four” of them brings to mind how Scripture at times uses this same number as a metaphor to describe the entirety of our physical planet (Is. 11:12; Jer. 49:36).  Associating these “four living creatures” with the physical planet makes even more sense when I am reminded of how their descriptions in verse 7 correspond with the fourfold division of physical life on this planet described at the creation (Gen. 1:21-26), with the “lion” representing wild animal life, the “ox” representing domestic animal life, the “man” representing human life, and the “eagle” representing winged creature life.  John saw these “four living creatures” surrounding God’s throne (4:6), and observed that “day and night they never cease” to proclaim the holiness of God and give to Him “glory and honor and thanks” (4:8-9).  This reminds me of how the Bible teaches that animals and nature give praise to God along with mankind (Ps. 69:34; 148:4-10).

“The twenty-four elders” joined with “the four living creatures” in offering worship to “Him who lives forever and ever,” ascribing “glory and honor and power” to Him because He “created all things” (4:9-11).  This reminds me both of the association of “the four living creatures” with the physical creation of God and the correlation between “the twenty-four elders” and the spiritual laws of God given to man via the twelve tribes of Israel in the old covenant and the twelve apostles in the new covenant.  This reminds me that everything—both physical and spiritual—is created by God and exists to please Him (Col. 1:16-17).  This is why He is worthy to receive all “glory, honor, and power.”  This passage would have reminded the original readers of Revelation who were surrounded by the idolatrous worship of Roman emperors that Jehovah is supreme.  Two thousand years later I am reminded of the same and encouraged to always give God glory in all aspects of my life, both physically and spiritually (Matt. 6:33; John 4:24).

I am always edified when I read of the “scroll written within and on the back” in “the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (5:1) and how the only One able and worthy to open it would be the “Lamb of God,” Jesus Christ (5:6-7; cf. Jn. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Is. 53:7).  The fact that the scroll is in “the right hand” of God tells me of its importance (cf. Heb. 1:3; Matt. 25:34).  Reading that it was “sealed with seven seals” tells me that its contents are complete, because other places in Scripture use the number “seven” to describe how God looks at certain things in a complete way (Prov. 30:15, 18, 21, 29; Ps. 12:6).  No one “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” could open the scroll or look into it (5:2-3)…except Christ (5:9).  This reminds me of how much I need Jesus and how much I owe Him (Rom. 5:6-11).

This fact is reiterated even more when I read of how John wept loudly when it seemed no one would be able to open the scroll (5:4).  It would later be revealed that the contents of the scroll describe the Christian age (Rev. 6-8; cf. 1 Cor. 10:11), the time when all men would be able to finally obtain redemption (5:9; cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:1-4).  This sheds light on why John cried, because it appeared at this point in the vision that Satan would win and man would be lost.  However, one of the elders comforted him and informed him that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll…” (5:5; cf. Gen. 49:9-10; Is. 11:1-2; Jn. 1:32-33; Lk. 4:16-21; 1 Sam. 16:19; Matt. 28:18).

John then saw Jesus, “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”  He stood among the elders between God’s throne and “the four living creatures” (5:6).  This reminds me of how Christ is at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3), making intercession for us (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25).  John described Him as having “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” 5:6), which immediately reminds me of how the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God is described as all-knowing (Heb. 4:12-13; cf. Jn. 1:1, 14).  The Lamb took the scroll from God’s right hand, causing “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders” to fall down before Him (5:6-7).  Each of them are described as “holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:7).  Reading this and seeing how the harps are later correlated with the worship of God in song (Rev. 14:2-3) reminds me that my Lord deserves my worship of him in prayer and song because He saved me on that cross (5:9) and make me part of His kingdom and priesthood (5:10).

Reading chapters 4-5 of Revelation with the rest of Scripture as my primary guide to interpreting its symbolism always encourages and admonishes me.  It also reminds me of all my Lord has done for me.  I hope it does the same for you also.  May John’s testimony of what he saw in that open door of heaven continue to remind us all of what Jesus has done for us and what we must do for Him!

— Jon

 

 

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Is There Only One Church? — Stephen Scaggs

This is an extremely pertinent question with a surprisingly simple answer. Jesus gave a satisfyingly simple answer when He replied to Peter, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:16; emp. added). That should settle the matter — the Lord only built one church, just as He said He would. However, for the rest of this article, we wish to ask: (1) “What is a church?” (2) “What do we mean by church?” and (3) “How does this affect me?”

There is a lot of confusion over such a simple question. Much of the confusion is simply because “church” is an ambiguous word in modern English. Many associate church with a building. On some cities in America, there are church buildings on every corner. One need only open a Yellow Pages for one’s town and see several entries under the subsection of “churches.” Some cathedrals have the most beautiful architecture.  However, when Jesus said that He would build His church, did He have a cathedral in mind?

What Is A Church?

It should come as no surprise that God did not write the Scriptures in modern English. Usually when one reads the English word church, this is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia. In the first century, ekklesia was a common noun. Luke uses this Greek word referring to an angry mob that was in an uproar against Paul and his teachings (cf. Acts 19). This word was everyday street language in the Greco-Roman world. Ekklesia is a compound noun; that is, it has two components.

The first part “Ek” is a preposition in Koiné Greek. It is the same preposition for Exodus. It means “out of.” The second part “kaleo” is a verb in Koiné Greek. It means “to call.” In a literal translation, an ekklesia was a “called-out” assembly. It never refers to a building; in ancient times, the Greeks had a separate word for the place where an ekklesia met: the ekklesiasterion. In ancient times, city-states called out to the people to assemble for a task.

This word would develop in Christian usage. The New Testament writers use this word exclusively to refer to the called-out saints, with a few exceptions. Peter wrote that God has “called (kaleo) us out of (ek) darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). It seems that Peter was making a play on words of ekklesia. However, when used as a compound, we opt for an exact translation like “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation.” God has called us together into one body out of darkness for glorying in Him; He has formed us into the ekklesia (i.e., church).

What Do We Mean By Church?

When we assert, “There is only one church,” we are not asserting that there are not individual congregations. A clear example of this is in the book of Revelation. When Jesus spoke to the seven ekklesias of Asia Minor, He was speaking to seven literal groups. In his Roman letter, Paul basically wrote, “The various individual congregations of Christ greet you” (16:16; emp. added). However, there is only one church.

When we assert, “There is only one church,” we are not talking about church buildings with an exclusive designation as “Church of Christ.” James used the word synagoge for “assembly” (2:2), which described a building designated for worship and instruction (called “synagogues” by the Jews); thus, we know some first-century believers assembled in buildings designated for such.  However, it’s highly unlikely they had signs for their buildings. Often early believers used a fish symbol to signal their meeting places during times of persecution. Some also met in each other’s houses (Acts 2:46). However, there is only one church.

When we assert, “There is only one church,” we are not referring to denominations. Indeed, while there were factions in the various congregations (see 1 Corinthians), the church is not a conglomeration of various groups. We cannot be united until we lay down our interpretations and bias. However, there is only one church.

When we say, “There is only one church,” what we mean is that all believers who have responded in faith to the gospel by repenting of their sins and being baptized in water collectively form one group of people – the “called-out” of God. Then the Lord adds these people to His church (Acts 2:47).  These people spend the rest of their day following learning and following the pattern of the New Testament, living daily conformed to the Lord’s will (Eph. 5:17).

How Does This Affect Me?

It means that instead of turning to find a church in our Yellow Pages, we ought to turn in our New Testaments to find how to be like the church of the New Testament.

How do we become part of this one church?  We read several conversion stories in the book of Acts, perhaps the most famous of them being found in chapter 2.  When those who had heard the gospel responded in faith by repenting and being baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins, then and only then did the Lord add them to His church (Acts 2:47).  Those who are in the church are people enrolled in heaven (Heb. 12:23).  Jesus is the head of the church and the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18).

Despite giving our various congregations proper names, the one church does not have a fixed, proper name. Many writers attached descriptors to describe them: those who belong to the firstborn, namely Jesus (Heb. 12:23), or those who belong to the living God (Acts 20:28). If one has multiple trees, they might need to differentiate maple, elm, or pine. However, the Lord only had one church, so it had no purpose to do so.

We must not divide the church. Our society is permeated with denominationalism, the idea that somehow the one church is segmented into smaller denominations like a giant pie. However, the New Testament warns against division, whether in petty squabbles or in a larger factitious way. Jude condemned those who divide as those devoid of the Spirit (Jude 19). Those in Corinth were people of the flesh because they divided (1 Cor. 3:1-4). Why do we not stop all this denominational foolishness and simply be Christians—members of Christ’s church? Isn’t that what He wants? Isn’t that what He laid out? To be Christians only and only Christians?

Jesus desired that His followers that would come to believe on Him through the apostles’ teaching would be united.  His prayer was, “May they be as one…” (John 17:20-23).

Conclusion

A local church is “of Christ” is if is practicing New Testament Christianity.  A local church is “of Christ” if the membership and the leadership are committed to being Christians only.  A local church is “of Christ” if Christ and His Word are the foundation.  There are plenty of buildings with signs that say a church is “of God” or “of Christ,” but their practices say they are not.  And there may be churches which do not use the phrase “Church of Christ” on their sign, but they are “of Christ” because they are trying to follow New Testament Christianity.  A sign does not choose whether a church is “of Christ” or “of the devil.”  One must conform to the pattern of the New Testament to have salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

My goal as a Christian is not about figuring out who is saved and who is lost.  I have a hard-enough time worrying about my salvation than worrying about other’s salvation. My goal as a Christian is to preach the simple message of Jesus, teaching the whole counsel of God, and to live my faith with simplicity so that when people see me they will say, “That’s a truly God-fearing individual. I want to have the kind of faith that lives.” Certainly, there are people who have swerved from the truth and whose teaching is gangrene, upsetting the faith of some, but the Lord knows those that are His (2 Tim. 2:14-23). As a Christian, I must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting my opponents with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

The Lord only built one church.  If you would like to know more about it, the answers are in your New Testament.  The writers of the Carolina Messenger would love to help you answer any question with a biblical book, chapter and verse, and encourage you to open your Bible and see if such things are so (Acts 17:11). 

Stephen preaches at the Collinsville Church of Christ in Collinsville, VA.  He is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN.  He is married to Rebekah and they have two children.

 

 

 

 

What The Bible Says About Homosexuality — Travis Main

In any discussion of opposing groups regarding the topic of homosexuality, there are a litany of “facts” provided.  Whether the issue is the number of practicing homosexuals, the health risks, the prevalence of violence in homosexual relationships, the number of faithful or promiscuous partners, the conversion to heterosexuality, or the genetic factors suggested to influence homosexuality, there is debate.  An examination of human studies, polls of acceptance, or agendas of various homosexual proponents is not the focus of this article.  What does the Bible say regarding the practice of homosexuality?  This is the central thrust.  Christians as a priesthood of God (1 Pet. 2:9) have a responsibility to teach the truth of God’s Word (Matt. 28:19-20) and protect it (1 Pet. 3:15).

1 John 4:21 declares:  “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.”  This is the obligation of a Christian.  The command of loving mankind applies to everyone.  It applies to those in all manner of goodness or sin.  Jesus came to save those in sin (1 Tim. 1:15).  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  However, the times of ignorance are over and man is called upon by God to repent (Acts 17:30).  Thus, it should be the loving motivation of Christians to share the truth of God’s Word to all mankind with no partiality (James 2:1).

Christ declared he would establish his church (Matt. 16:16-18).  After Jesus’ resurrection, he declared, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).  He promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them “all truth” and “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26; 16:13).  This leads us to the following statement by the apostle Peter:  “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

The great importance of this verse is the fact that the apostles did not write by conjecture, cultural teachings, or personal opinion.  The words they wrote were directly from God and are the teachings of Jesus.

The gospel which Jesus preached was heralded with the coming of John the Baptizer (Mark 1:1).  Under that gospel Jesus declared the only people who would enter the eternal kingdom of heaven would be “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).  This was the one gospel of the kingdom (Eph. 4:5; Gal. 1:6-9; Jude 3).  With the crucifixion of Jesus, the Law of Moses (given only to the nation of Israel) which was old and ready to disappear became obsolete (Heb. 8:13).  On the day of Pentecost when the first Christians were added to the church (Acts 2:47), the new covenant of the teachings of Christ came into effect.  The Holy Spirit was poured out and the apostles were given the promised truth.  The keys of the gospel were used as commanded by the apostles.  The teachings Jesus taught during his life were being taught to the world.  The entire world became subject to the law of Christ.

As the teachings of Jesus Christ from his apostles are examined, it is of interest to note that there is no same-sex couple ever mentioned in the New Testament (nor is there in the Old Testament).  When Jesus discusses marriage, he talks of man and woman (Matt. 19:1-9; Mark 10:6-9; Matt. 15:1-12; 5:31-32; cf. Deut. 24:1-2; et al).  The apostles who shared Christ’s teachings through the Holy Spirit also spoke of marriage between a man and a woman (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7; 1 Tim. 5:9-14; Matt. 22:25; Mark 6:17; Luke 14:20; Eph. 5:22-33; et al).  The mention of any marriage by the same sex is completely absent from scripture.  The question of whether or not man is authorized to marry a woman or a woman a man is clearly answered in scripture and its guidelines are also clearly taught.  God has authorized the marriage of a man and a woman (Matt. 19:5) and Jesus establishes that as a teaching from the beginning of mankind.

Matthew 22:23-32 discusses the resurrection of mankind and mentions the subject of marriage while doing so.  Jesus demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that there is an afterlife.  He was encouraging the Sadducees who were questioning him to use the words of God to infer a given truth.  There must be an afterlife if physical beings who had died were spoken of as alive.  He then mentioned that marriage does not exist in the afterlife, speaking again only of marriage between a man and a woman.  Following the example and authority of Jesus, if scripture only speaks of a man and a woman being married then marriage applies to only them.  It does not authorize the marriage of a man and an animal.  It does not authorize the marriage of two non-human beings.  It does not authorize the marriage of two people of the same sex.  It authorizes only the marriage of a man and a woman.  By this alone, this discussion could finish.  However, we will continue.

The New Testament is not silent about the sexual habits of same-sex individuals.  Romans 1:18-2:8 establishes that those who engage in activity which is ungodly and unrighteous will face God’s judgment.  If they do not repent, their stubborn disobedience will cause them to experience God’s wrath.  Is the activity of homosexuals ungodly and unrighteous?  This passage says yes.  The women desired women, something God calls unnatural (v. 26).  The men desire men, also abandoning their natural function.  What is natural?  God established man and woman to come together to create offspring.  They were to share their desires together in marriage, not in unauthorized, unnatural, sexual sin.  God declares such people who do not repent to be worthy of death (v. 32).  That judgment is in the hand of God.  Understand clearly, God does not wish that upon them (2:4; cf. John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9).  However, death is what they choose if they reject God and continued in an unauthorized lifestyle.

The covenant of Christ in the New Testament says:  “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed god, which was committed to my trust” (1 Tim. 1:8-11, emp. added).

The phrase “for them that defile themselves with mankind” is the Greek word arsenokoitēs.  Thayer defines it as “someone who lies with a male as a female.”  In other words, a homosexual.  This passage speaks of such behavior as “contrary to sound doctrine.”  It is lumped in with other sinful behaviors and appropriately assigned with that which is called “lawless and disobedient.”  Those who are disobedient will “pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Paul discussed the sinful behavior of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  He declared they had repented from a number of sins which would have kept them from the kingdom of God.  Among those sins from which they had repented was homosexuality, translated from the same Greek word previously discussed.  While the ultimate penalty of punishment is the same as previously mentioned, the concept of repentance is still very alive in the text.  One practicing homosexuality does indeed have the option of stopping his or her behavior and thus is able to please God.

There are those who declare they were born with desires for the same sex.  As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I will not argue genetic factors.  An examination of scripture finds an answer for the proposition that at birth there was such a desire.  Paul stated, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that year are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Furthermore, James also said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).

Temptation is part of our life upon the earth.  Yet, giving into it is not something from which we cannot escape.  There are all manners of sins which entrap mankind every day.  Through Christ we can triumph in this swiftly fleeting stay on earth.  We can overcome our trials with love for God and one another by authorized behavior in Christ (John 14:15). 

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years.  He is the creator of www.churchofchristarticles.com.

 

God’s View of Marriage and Divorce — Gary Hampton

Man’s Need for Companionship

Marriage was designed by God to fulfill a basic need of man, companionship. The first five days of creation repeatedly have God observing his work and noting “it was good” (Gen. 1:9, 12, 18, 21, 25). The Almighty made man on the sixth day and noted, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18).

The Creator brought every animal he had made to Adam to be named (Gen. 2:19-20). “The relation of man to the animals of the field would not fill this loneliness of man. Adam knew this from his naming of the animals” (William E.Woodson Writings and Notes).

God’s revealing to man of the special creation who was to serve as his companion for life brought forth a wonderful statement from the man. “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Moses’ inspired addition seems fully appropriate. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24).

God’s Law for Marriage

Jesus’ most thorough teaching about marriage arose because of the Pharisees’ question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3). The Lord thought the answer was implicit in Moses’ account of the creation of man and woman. “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matt. 19:1-6).

God saw marriage as a permanent relationship, only to be severed by death. Paul explained, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband” (Rom. 7:2).

God’s basic law for marriage is easy to see when one removes the exception from Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9 with “except for sexual immorality” replaced by an ellipsis). God intended for marriage to last for life because it fulfills an important need of man, companionship. God’s law applies to “whoever,” not being limited to Christians. “There is not any indication of what is termed ‘covenant legislation’ which only applies to Christians; all others being free to divorce and remarry as much as they wish prior to conversion and remain with the last marriage partner before one becomes a child of God” (Woodson 4).

Divorce Is A Sensitive Issue

Divorce is nowhere to be found in God’s original plan. It is a difficult subject to discuss because it involves the pinnacle of human relationships. The failure of that relationship is painful to the most innermost core of a man’s heart. William Woodson observed, “It deals with matters which, with very few exceptions, are and can be known for sure only by a very small number of people” (1).

Divorce is very personal. “Nothing could be more delicate than the intimacies of marriage; nothing could be more difficult to discuss than those aspects of these intimacies which have been perverted and destroyed” (Ibid). It can become quite volatile as the extended families of both partners sense the pain their beloved is experiencing.

Divorce Was Not in the Original Plan

The Pharisees apparently understood Jesus to be saying that God intended for one man to be married to one woman for life. They were driven to ask, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Jesus responded, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:7-8). There is a significant difference between their question and the Lord’s answer. They asked why Moses commanded, but Jesus said Moses permitted.

There were two primary schools of thought among the Jews. “Shammai interpreted Deut. 24:1 as follow: ‘The man is not to release his wife unless he have found something indecent in her.’’ In contrast, “Hillel allowed as a charge the fact that in cooking the wife had burnt her husband’s food” (Lenski 727). It is easier to follow the more lax view of Hillel, which is precisely what is represented in the Pharisees’ question. Jesus returns to the creation, making it clear that divorce was never part of God’s original plan.

Fornication, The Exception

Jesus set forth the only exception to God’s law for marriage when he included “except for sexual immorality.”  The word porneia is used “of illicit sexual intercourse in general” (Thayer 532). Some elaborate on all the possible sexual sins to violate God’s law regarding relations that are to be reserved only for one’s mate. It is sufficient to say that God only intended such intimacy for the two companions within a marriage.

Jesus was speaking to “Jews who knew nothing of a woman divorcing her husband, he naturally specifies only the case of a husband divorcing his wife. The fact that among us where also wives divorce their husbands his words apply to them equally, needs hardly be added; see Mark 10:12, who writes for Gentiles” (Lenski 230).

Paul’s Instructions

Part of Paul’s first epistle to the church of God in Corinth was written in response to questions the brethren had asked. One questions seems to be, “Should a Christian, who is joined to Christ, separate from the union of marriage?” (1 Cor. 7:10-11). The Lord had answered this, likely in the very verses we have already examined. The general rule was that they should not even separate. “If she and her husband cannot live harmoniously together let her remain unmarried. She is not permitted to marry again. That would be adulterous” (Lipscomb 98). The Christian woman who has separated from her husband, but found that she cannot live the single life and remain pure has only one path open to her. She is to be reconciled to the husband whom she has injured” (Ibid).

Paul went on to speak regarding “the rest,” which seems to involve the marriage of a “believer and an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Paul, as an inspired apostle, gave his divine instruction in reference to a situation not addressed by the Lord in his personal ministry. If the brother married to an unbelieving wife is pleased to dwell with her, he is free to do so; he is not to put…her away” (Woodson 3).

Verse 15 contains Paul’s instructions for a believing companion when the spouse chooses to depart. “The only terms on which he will continue the marriage is for the Christian to leave the Lord and become a pagan. The Christian has-not-been-and-is-not-bound-to-leave-the-Lord ‘in such cases’ [en toi toioutoi] to preserve a marriage the price of which is for her to” leave the Lord. The Christian “is not bound [dedoulotai]. The Christian is called…in peace, to be in peace with God whatever the difficulty imposed by impossible demands by another, husband or not” (Ibid). We might say the Christian is not enslaved to the unbeliever to whom he/she is married.

Conclusion

God gave man a companion for life when he made Eve and established the first marriage. He intended marriage to be for life. Divorce is a very sensitive matter involving many emotions. It was in no way a part of God’s original plan.

The Lord gave one reason for divorce, sexual relations that violate God’s law. Paul’s instructions regarding Christians married to Christians are intended to have them stay together. Separation would not allow one, or both, to marry another. Christians married to unbelievers can remain with them, yet they are not enslaved to them. The Christian should allow the unbeliever to depart in lieu of surrendering their relationship to the Lord. Doing such in the most peaceful way possible may ultimately lead to the salvation of the spouse (1 Cor. 7:16). 

Gary served as the director of the Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies in Knoxville, TN, for nearly six years and is now preaching for the Siwell Road Church of Christ in Jackson, MS.

Works Cited

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1960. Print.

Lipscomb, David, and J. W. Shepherd. First Corinthians. Vol. II. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1974. Print. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977. Print.

Woodson, William E. “The Problem of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage,” Writings and Notes of William E. Woodson. Henderson, TN: Tom L. Childers, 2013. PDF.

 

Women: Their Role In The Church — Lucy Mitchell

The teaching of Jesus that we will keep His commandments if we love Him is the most fundamental basis for Christians.  However, will we still obey those very teachings if God’s Word teaches something which makes us uncomfortable?

When studying Genesis 2:21-22, we find that God created man and woman in a different way.  He first made man from the dust of the ground, then from the side of man He made woman.   Although God named Adam, notice that it was man who named her woman. “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh and she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23; 3:20).  God’s method of creation suggests the difference between men and women.

We have a blueprint for today, just as it was written in the beginning and put into action, about how to keep peace and harmony, both between man and woman and  also the family, society and the church that Christ was to establish.  As for the woman, God has molded her, given her an important role, and in Proverbs 31:10 tells her that “her price is far above rubies.”  When she was created, she was the crowning act of His creation.

Somehow, people today seem to dislike the original model and are trying to cheapen it.  Some have indicated that the teachings are “out of date for today’s woman” because of culture differences.  Some even say women should have more of a leadership role since there are more women than men in some congregations. However, God did not intend that the authority in the church be by popular vote or that we could add or subtract to fit our liking.

1 Corinthians 11:3 gave the authority that equates spiritual matters to the man over the woman with the same authority as He gave Christ to have over man.  He has already told us what He expects from men and women in worship. Do we disobey because we do not like His instructions?  1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 teach that women should remain silent in the assembly (except for singing—Eph. 5:19) and does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

What then is the role of the woman in the church?  If we are honest in our searching we will find that the Bible speaks of women who have had very important roles in serving God throughout the ages.  Older Christian women have a duty to instruct the younger women, using Scripture and their own insights gained from years of service. In fulfilling the role that God established for her she is to act as a godly woman.  This role involves support, service and teaching younger women as Titus 2:3-5 instructs the older women to do.

She is to admonish them to exercise self-control, to be affectionate to their own husbands, to correct and admonish their children, to be restrained in their passion and desires, to be modest in how they dress and to have good character.  What better person to teach about these things than a godly woman who has herself weathered these circumstances, both good and bad, that constitute godliness, marriage and children?  The instructions were not limited to married women, however, because only four of the admonitions are directed to those who are married.

Sadly many families are swimming in a sea of chaos because men refuse to follow God’s instructions as to how to be godly leaders, husbands and fathers as shown in Scripture (Eph. 5:25-33; Col.3:19,21; Titus 2:2,6-8; Deut. 6:1-9).  When men are spiritually strong and obey what God has said, they find an outpouring of blessings in store for them.  But what happens when men do not stand up for the truth and choose to disobey God because they are not spiritually strong?   Here is when we begin to see women overstepping and reversing their role in the church, home and society in ways which God never intended.

Clearly God has said that men are the leaders in the home, the church and even in the way people live.  They are to be the head of the household and bind their families close in the teachings and love of Christ.  He used the word “husband” (meaning “house bound”) for this very reason.   As the father in the home, he should be F—faithful, A—in authority, T—a teacher, H—head of his household, E—an example, and R—redeemed.

Since men have been given those instructions by God to attend to the public worship assembly, sometimes a woman feels as if there is nothing left for her to do.  However, God has given her different talents which are vital for church growth that will help both others as well as herself to grow and serve.  Just as the men must grow to maturity, so must women.  Stepping out of our comfort zone is sometimes very difficult, but it is definitely needed so that our obligation and role as a Christian woman can be fulfilled.

God has given women a different set of talents which are vital for church growth that help them serve so well.  All women can serve in some of the following ways: visiting the sick and shut-ins, writing cards of encouragement, using their phone for both encouragement and edification, praying privately with other women, preparing communion, inviting others into your home, having Bible studies, teaching children and other women, visiting members, attending teacher workshops and gospel meetings, managing the church library and church bulletin, transporting the elderly and disabled, as well as many other opportunities (when made aware of) which would help the church to grow.  Women cannot do everything, but the things that can be done should be done with joy and gladness in their heart.

We have many examples of godly women at the church in Rome such as Phoebe,   Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa and Persis (Rom. 16). Other examples are Dorcas (Acts 9), Lydia (Acts 16), the virtuous woman (Prov. 31) and the older women (Tit. 2:2-4).  These examples were given for our learning.  There is much for women to do and we must not allow the things of this world keep us from obeying God in doing our part.

In our society we are seeing some women forsaking what He said for them to do as a help meet to their husband.  That role was set in action from the day they were created and before the fall (1 Cor. 11:7-9).   From the beginning she was to support her husband.   The oldest institution isn’t the church, but marriage.   “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder (separate)” (Matt. 19:6b).    Titus 2:4 says that women need to be taught to love their husband and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 teaches us how to love.

Therefore one of the roles wives have in the church is to love their husbands and set an example to other wives to do the same.  This seems very obvious since we married them, but looking at it from the world’s view of the wife it appears that those teachings of how to love him are no longer taught.  Older women are commanded to teach the younger women these things as well as how to love their children.  As the most early and influential person in every aspect of a child’s life, mothers have an awesome responsibility to train, correct and help to direct their paths to Heaven.  What will be our excuse as the mothers of our children if we gain the whole world and, because of our lack of training, lose the souls of our children?

Reading again from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and applying it to the wife’s love for her husband, we find that we must be patient because it is difficult at times learning to live with someone who is different from ourselves.   Be kind rather than acting nicer to friends then to our husband.  Be happy instead of envious over his successes.  Do we act in an arrogant way toward him or are we humble?  Do we speak rudely to him instead of being courteous?  Love is not selfish, but are our own needs put before his?  Many do not know how to control their tongue instead of being easily provoked.  Love thinks no evil; therefore we need to keep pure thoughts in our marriage.  Love bears all things, believes, hopes and endures all things.  Therefore the Christian wife protects and has hope for what is the best in her marriage.  With these things in mind it is easier to endure all things during the good times and bad, when the kids leave home and just the two of you are left.  That is when the first part of verse 8 comes into view.  Then we can continue to renew that devotion to each other because we find that loves never fails.

Fifty-seven years ago I met and married Mike Mitchell, a godly man who had been raised in a strong Christian home.  As a new wife and Christian, I had no knowledge as to what God expected or had in store for me.  Because of my husband’s concern, I learned to participate in Bible studies and how to search the Scriptures.  A few years later, when he decided to leave the engineering field and become a minister, we were blessed to sit at the feet of many strong gospel preachers and their wives.

Many of those older godly women became close friends and have now gone on to their blessed reward.  By instructing me both by their example and the Word on how to be a better wife and mother to our children, I wanted to be a better example as well.  It took much courage for me to begin teaching the children’s classes at first and then the teenage girls.  My faith grew stronger as I began teaching ladies classes and conducting special ladies’ days throughout the country.  In doing this I have discovered many women who desire to better their knowledge, become a stronger Christian, be an example to others and to find a purpose in their life.  Women simply need and long to have encouragement from older women in today’s society.  We must not let them down.

Sisters, be that godly woman who desires to serve God and His church as instructed in His Word.  Do all that you can in serving others and in teaching what God has instructed.  Love others more than yourself.  Pray always for guidance.  If you are married, make it the strong marriage as God would have it.  Teach and train your children as the precious privilege it was intended to be.  Love your enemies and be willing to forgive others who have done you wrong.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.

My prayer is that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:9-10).

Lucy lives in Rickman, TN, and teaches a ladies’ class at church.

 

 

Instrumental Music: A Matter of Authority — Rick Lawson

When flawed and fragile man approaches a righteous and mighty God, he must be very careful to offer the kind of worship that God desires. This is especially critical when one understands what the Word of God teaches concerning the types of worship that exist.

For example, Jesus clearly taught that man can offer worship that is vain or worthless (Mt. 15:8, 9). Paul preached that the people of Athens were worshiping God ignorantly by having set up an altar to the “unknown god” (Ac. 17:22, 23). The same apostle, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, condemned some in the first century of offering “will worship” to the Almighty (Co. 2:20-23). In that context, the will worship seems to involve a form of asceticism, in which men denied themselves certain physical necessities in an attempt to become more spiritual. Rather than worship according to God’s will, they attempted to worship according to their own wills.

Of course God does not accept vain, ignorant, or will worship. The only worship that is accepted by God is true worship. True worship is that which is offered both with the right attitude and in the way that God has authorized (Jn. 4:23, 24). What kind of music does God authorize men to use in their worship today?

God plainly instructs that whatever men do in religion must be done in the name of Jesus (Co. 3:17). If a man knocks on the door and says, “Open in the name of the law,” then he means he has authority from the law to demand that the door be opened. Doing things in the name of Jesus means doing them by His authority. If we offer to God that which is unauthorized, God will not accept it, and we may even be punished. Look to the account of Nadab and Abihu. They offered fire before God that was unauthorized, and the result was fire from heaven that burned them up (Le. 10:1, 2). The kind of music authorized by God is very specific. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Co. 3:16). It seems clear that the purpose of singing in worship is connected to the idea of teaching and admonishing one another. No mechanical instrument, however skillfully played, can teach or admonish as can the human voice. This is the reason that a more general term is not used by God. If, for example, God had authorized “vocal music,” then men could sing, hum, or even whistle in worship. However, neither whistling nor humming can teach the great spiritual lessons taught in our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Learn the lesson from the sons of Aaron. Do not trifle with God by offering that which He has not commanded.

Consider this parallel passage, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ep. 5:19). This instruction precludes making melody on the keys of an organ, the strings of a guitar, or upon any instrument invented by man. The specific instrument authorized by God is the heart of the worshiper. Many believe that they can substitute some mechanical instrument in place of the heart and that God will accept it.  Perhaps those folks should ask Cain if substitutes in worship are fine with Jehovah (Ge. 4:5). Ask Jeroboam how it worked out when he placed golden calves in Dan and Bethel, rather than returning to Jerusalem to worship God faithfully (1 Ki. 12:28-30). Inquire of king Saul if substituting himself as a Levitical priest and burning a sacrifice to God was worth losing his kingdom (1 Sa. 13:12-14). God does not accept substitutes in worship.

When asked, many can easily understand that when God specified gopher wood for the ark that all other kinds of wood were ruled out. For some reason the logic becomes cloudier when God specifies singing to be used in worship today. Hear God’s instruction in James, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Ja. 5:13). The command to sing is very specific. If God had given the command “make music,” then men would have a choice in how to make the music. A piano would then be fine. So would an organ, or even a full orchestra. However, God said “sing.” If one single sentence in the New Testament authorized the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship today, churches of Christ would cease their pleading to avoid them. How easy it would have been for God to do so, yet He did not. That settles the matter for true disciples of Christ.

It is evident that the New Testament is not written in the format of a rule book. Because much of the Bible is historical in nature, it is important to recognize the power of approved example to authorize actions today. Examples of the early church, approved by the inspired apostles, are just as binding as direct commands of God. God expects us to recognize the pattern of the New Testament church and to follow that pattern. Are there any examples of how the early Christians worshiped? The answer is yes. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi for their faith in Christ, they “prayed and sang praises unto God” (Ac. 16:25). Paul would later write to the church in Corinth that he would “sing with the spirit,” and “sing with the understanding also” (1 Co. 14:15). The Hebrews writer quoted Psalm 22, writing, “…I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises unto thee” (He. 2:12). Another of the Psalms is quoted in Romans, “…I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name” (Ro. 15:9). Even Jesus, as our perfect example, sang hymns with His disciples the very night of His arrest (Mt. 26:30). What does each of these examples have in common? S-I-N-G! Not playing or plucking, strumming or humming—just the simple human voice offered as the fruit of our lips in praise to His name (He. 13:15). The example of the early church could not be any clearer.

As a thought exercise, imagine that God had commanded to sing and play mechanical instruments in worship. When Jesus said to believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16), both are required; therefore both are equally important. When Peter preached repent and be baptized to be saved (Ac. 2:38), which of the two requirements may be ignored? Obviously if God said that we must sing and play instruments in worship then we would each have to sing and play. In denominational worship usually one person, or at most a few, are playing while the rest sing along. In order to justify common practice, a verse would have to be shown that states that singing or playing instruments in worship is authorized, and in that case either would be optional.

Consider some objections to using only singing in worship. Some might say, “I don’t think God really cares about the kind of music that is used in worship.” Elevating man’s thinking over God’s commands has gotten many people into trouble through the years. Naaman nearly thought his way into a future of leprous agony (2 Ki. 5:11). Moses thought that striking the rock was just as good as speaking to it (Nu. 20:8-12), and it cost him the opportunity to go into the land of Canaan and see it for himself. God’s thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts (Is. 55:9). Man can think a thing is right and it be the very thing that causes his destruction (Pr. 14:12). If the kind of music did not matter to God, why would he instruct over and over to sing? It is obvious that God does care about the kind of music that is used in worship today.

Some insist that the use of instruments in the Old Testament shows that God is pleased with their use today. Would that same line of reasoning apply to other avenues of worship from the Old Testament? They also offered animal sacrifices. Shall we? PETA would love that! They burned incense in worship, traveled to the city of Jerusalem several times a year for feasts, and married their dead brother’s wife to raise children in his name. The point is that just because God commanded a thing in the Old Law does not authorize it under the Christian age. The Old Testament is not to be treated like a restaurant menu, where one may pick what he likes and ignore the rest. Listen to the inspired apostle, Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Ga. 5:2, 3). If one tries to follow any of the Old Law, he becomes subject to all of it. Indeed, in the very next verse Paul points out the folly of striving to use the Old Law as justification for today.  “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Ga. 5:4). Two brief points concerning musical instruments during the law of Moses: 1) They were only used in the outer courts of the temple (typifying the world) and never in the Holy Place (typifying the Church), and 2) God pronounced woe to those who “invent to themselves instruments of music, like David” (Am. 6:1, 5). Every jot and tittle of the Old Law has been fulfilled and replaced by the Law of Christ (Co. 2:14).

Sometimes the claim is made that mechanical instruments in worship are simply aids to the voice. This claim is false. Instruments used in worship are an addition rather than an aid. That distinction is a critical one. If worshipers need help to remember the words or notes to a song, the songbook aids in that area. If the song leader needs an aid to pitch a song, a tuning fork or a pitch pipe can aid him. Many things aid us in our worship to God. Electric lights, air conditioners, public address systems, even church buildings serve as aids to worship. Aids are simply expedients, and therefore acceptable to God. To introduce an unauthorized activity into worship is to abandon the authority of the Scripture and enthrone the doctrines of man. The use of a piano, organ, or any other mechanical instrument in worship is just such an addition. The music from such an instrument certainly may drown out the human voice, but it does not aid it in any way.

Often it is claimed, “I think the singing sounds better when accompanied by an instrument.” The better question is, “What does the singing sound like to God?” After all, God is the audience of our worship. We ought to strive to please Him and not fickle men (Ac. 5:29). In this age of human entertainment thinly veiled as worship to God, the instrument might be more exciting to men. Some denominational churches distribute free earplugs in the foyer to dull the deafening onslaught of the “house band!” No matter how much men may enjoy vain worship, only true worship is pleasing to holy God. God says sing, so His faithful people sing.

Perhaps more often than any other justification, we hear, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say we can’t use instruments in worship.” Thankfully, this reasoning is not used in other areas of life. “Chevrolet didn’t say not to fill my car’s fuel tank with orange juice.” “The doctor didn’t say not to drink drain cleaner for my nasal congestion.” How foolish men can be. When God authorizes a specific item to be used, it rules out everything else. When Jesus told the man whose sight was restored to go wash in the pool of Siloam (Jn. 9:7), He did not list off every other pool in Judea. He did not need to because He had specified the pool to wash in. So it is with the kind of music God desires. When He specifies singing it prohibits anything other than singing.

Many believe that the church of Christ is “that weird church without music.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Christians do have music in worship. It is the beautiful music called singing, and it is the very kind of music that God has authorized in His holy Word. A refusal to use mechanical instruments of music in worship is not some quirky doctrine that Christians use to make themselves distinctive. It is a matter of Bible authority, and it lies at the very heart of a proper interpretation and application of God’s will for man today.

Rick is a 1999 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, an instructor for the Georgia School of Preaching (Marietta and Adairsville campuses), and has served as the evangelist of the Adairsville, GA church of Christ since 2013.