Category Archives: 2017 – Oct

Editorial: The Solution To Our Troubling Times (October, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

I write this editorial the week after the shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee.  Last Sunday afternoon, I had gone to Wal-Mart after worship services to get my daughter a birthday cake for a birthday party we were having for her at church that night.  As I was standing in the checkout line, my smart phone lit up with a notification from Fox News that there was a church shooting.  As was the case when my phone notified me of the shooting that took place in 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, my first prayer was for the safety and health of all within that place of worship, followed by a prayer that this church was not a church of Christ and that my brothers and sisters in Christ were not the ones suffering through this tragedy.  Sadly, when I then opened up the notification to read the news story I discovered that it was in fact a church of Christ who was the victim of this particular atrocity.  Since then, my heart both rejoiced to learn that most of those wounded have stabilized and sank with sorrow at the news of the death of a single mother of two, Melanie Crow Smith, as well as the news of the critical condition of the minister of that congregation, Joey Spann, who was wounded in the chest and hand after shouting for everyone to run.  (I’ve since heard that he seems to be improving, for which I and others are thankful to God.)

This shooting is just the latest of a long line of tragedies and divisive actions which make the times in which we live very troubling indeed.  In the past decade alone, in addition to the shootings at Burnette Chapel last Sunday and the church in Charleston in 2015 we can recall the movie theater shooting in Colorado; the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut; the Washington Navy Yard massacre; the tragedy at Virginia Tech; the shooting in Arizona which killed a little girl and wounded others, including a congresswoman; the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin; the bloodshed at San Bernardino, California; the slayings at the Orlando night club last year; the tragedy in Dallas which also occurred last year and Charlottesville this year; many more incidents of violence could be cited.

There also seems to be much division and animosity drawn along lines of race and ethnicity in our society today.  The president of Lipscomb University recently made national news after inviting minority students to his home to discuss their experience at the university.  After hosting Hispanic students in his home and serving them tacos, he then invited African-American students to his home the following night and served them traditional “southern comfort” food such as collard greens and corn bread at a table decorated with a cotton stalk centerpiece.  The students were offended, some of them taking to social media to air their grievances after trying to express them to the president, Randy Lowry, who later publicly apologized for insensitivity.  This controversy took place days before the aforementioned Burnette Chapel shooting in which a black gunman of Sudanese background opened fire on an assembly of Christians of different races, causing some pundits and commentators to wonder if racism played a factor in the shooting as it had clearly done in the similar incident in Charleston in which a white gunman had opened fire on a predominately black congregation.  Also taking place on the same day as Burnette Chapel was another controversy in which National Football League athletes and coaches knelt instead of standing during the singing of the National Anthem.  This controversy had its roots last year in the actions of a quarterback who had knelt during the Anthem in protest to another controversy: alleged police brutality against African-Americans in recent years, something which gained and kept national attention after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following Michael Brown’s death and a grand jury declining to charge a police officer with wrongdoing.  Since Ferguson, more protests, riots, and incidents of proven and alleged discrimination against minorities and police officers have taken place.  Much more could be cited, but these serve to illustrate the troubles facing our country and culture these days.

It is my sincere and firm conviction that the love of God is the solution to our troubles.  As Carolina Messenger writer Lorraine Smith wrote in last month’s issue, love is “an overworked word with underfelt meaning.”  We tend to throw that word around a lot without really stopping to think about or put into practice its meaning.  Yet if both Christians and non-Christians would put the biblical meaning of God’s love into practice with all whom we come into contact, we would very readily find that love to be the solution to our troubling times.

Consider what 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says about the love God has for us and which He desires for us to have for each other.  The passage states that love is “patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.”  The kindness of godly love in itself would cause all acts of violence such as the aforementioned shootings to cease, since kindness demands that we would all treat each other the way we would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12).  Such universal adherence to the kindly conduct prescribed by the Golden Rule would also exterminate all racism, bigotry, and discrimination.  Applying the other tenets of godly love would only further solve the division amongst us if they were universally applied.

What if the patience, kindness, humility, and respect of godly love had been in place by all from the very beginning with the Lipscomb controversy?  Much if not all of the contention would have been avoided if both sides had shown patience with each other from the beginning.  From what has been reported, President Lowry by his own admission initially dismissed the students’ expressed concern about the cotton centerpiece, something for which he later acknowledged as wrong and apologized.  In turn, some of the students showed little patience with his dismissiveness, instead taking to social media to complain about it.  Having read their posts  and similar posts about the controversy, including the subsequent comments of many from all sides, much of which were extremely profane and insulting to all parties involved, it is clear that such unkind, boastful, arrogant, and rude communication only exacerbated the problem and resulted in even more division.  The patience and kindness of godly love, if shown from the beginning in love’s humility and civility by not only all initially involved but also by all who have since made observations, would have gone a long way towards solving the problem.

The Bible also says that godly love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”  Imagine if all sides of the National Anthem controversy put these tenets into practice.  What would happen if everyone who attended a football game and saw an athlete kneel instead of stand attentively during the National Anthem decided to NOT resent it or be irritated by it?  What if the athlete who considers kneeling in protest saw the uproar resulting from others doing it and, rather than insisting on doing what he wanted to do above all, decided to put others’ interests above his own (Phil. 2:3-4) and protest in a way less controversial?  Would a solution to the problem be more easily attainable?  Probably.

The passage goes on to say that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  It seems to me that with every allegation of police wrongdoing and racism in recent years, there are many who do not care about first finding out whether the police officer in question is in fact guilty of the discrimination and bigotry of which he is charged.  Many assumptions of guilt are made, often based on appearance and in many cases not even that.  Such lack of concern about obtaining the truth only more intensely fans the flames of the chaotic anarchy of the riots plaguing our society in recent years.  These tumults in turn result in more “rejoic(ing) in wrongdoing,” as many take advantage of the strife to loot, assault, and rape.  Would the riots and protests that were the catalysts to even more criminal activity and loss of life and property have taken place if everyone in our society refused to “judge according to appearance,” but instead decided to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24)?  How much better would our society be if everyone cared solely about punishing only those found beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law to be guilty of bigotry and criminal conduct, and rejoiced that the truth was found and upheld when such was done?

God’s Word ends its discourse on godly love by saying that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  We all let each other down, disappoint each other, and hurt each other because we are all human and fallible.  What would happen if we all chose to bear with each other in all things, basically putting up with each other?  What if we all gave each other the benefit of the doubt instead of automatically assuming the worst about each other?  What if we all genuinely hoped for the best for each other and were all willing to endure each other’s mistakes and follies while actively working with each other to make our positive hopes for each other a reality?  How much better would our culture be?

Am I being naïve?  If I think that everyone will have God’s love for each other, of course (Matt. 7:13-14).  Yet, more people can be like this than we might think, Christians.  It depends on each of us to make it happen.  You see, only those who truly put the will of the Christian God first in their lives, continually striving to penitently grow in God’s love in every area of their hearts, with come to show God’s love to every person they see.  Yet that will never happen unless you — each of you — brings the gospel to them and lives it in front of them (Matt. 28:19-20).

Robert Engle, the Burnette Chapel usher who stopped the gunman last Sunday, refused to be called a hero, ascribing that honor to others and calling on everyone to pray not only for the victims but even for the shooter and his family.  That’s godly love.  Imagine if more were like that.            — Jon

 

 

 

Advertisements

Centurions In The New Testament — Dave Redmond

Our brotherhood is composed of many active and former military service members, frequently living in locations away from their original home.  There is therefore interest, and possible empathy, concerning the Roman centurions who are recorded in New Testament scripture.

The centurion was not the equivalent of just any Roman soldier.  In today’s military, he would be among the middle to upper officer ranks, major to brigadier general, or among the highest enlisted ranks.  The name implies that he would be in charge of 100 men, but this could be 80 to several hundred.  Some achieved this status after first serving in the Legion, or soldierly class, while others were appointed.  It was an honor to be selected, and these are some of the qualifications:  centurions had to be literate, to read orders, to have letters of recommendation, to be at least 30 years old, and to have former military service.  The Roman writer Vegetius describes them as men chosen for their size, strength and dexterity; they were to be vigilant, temperate, active and “readier to execute the orders he receives than to talk,” strict in exercising and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers.

The word centurion appears 20 times in the New Testament, sparsely among the synoptic gospels and more prolifically in the book of Acts. We will focus upon three very instructive accounts, and then note two other examples.

Our first example occurs during Christ’s ministry (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10).  Knowing Jesus’ reputation as a healer, a centurion approached and pleaded with Him concerning his servant who was paralyzed and “dreadfully tormented.”  In Luke’s account, the centurion’s servant was described as “dear to him” and “sock and ready to die.”  He also recorded that elders of the Jews begged earnestly on the centurion’s behalf, noting that “he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”  Here we receive a glimpse of the character and reputation of this centurion.  While Jesus readily offered to “come and heal him,” the centurion demonstrated humility and faith when, according to Matthew, he replied to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.”  He recognized Jesus’ absolute authority and compared it to his own.  “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  Jesus marveled at his answer, and credited this Gentle with “such great faith…not found even in Israel.”  He commanded the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”  As a man ready to obey orders, the centurion obeyed Jesus.  The timing is noteworthy, as Matthew records that his servant was healed “that same hour”!  This centurion’s life reflected a love for his fellow man, as evidenced by the building of a synagogue and seeking help for his dying servant.  He recognized the power and authority of Christ, and through an obedient faith his servant was healed.

Our second centurion is recorded near the time of Jesus’ death.  It is with profound sadness that we recall the suffering of our Savior.  Before the crucifixion, Roman soldiers (not recorded as centurions) humiliated Jesus, stripping His clothes, putting on a scarlet robe, placing a crown of thorns and a reed in His right hand, mocking Him, spitting upon Him, and leading Him to be crucified (Matt. 27:27-31).  While we do not condone any of their actions, we understand that Jesus was delivered to be crucified by the governor, Pilate (Mark 15:15).  Their actions fulfilled prophecy, according to God’s will.  Afterwards, it was a centurion, and apparently his men, who were trusted to guard Jesus (Matt. 27:54).  After witnessing the earthquake and the things which had happened, they “feared greatly,” saying, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (cf. Mark 15:39).  Mark also records that Pilate inquired of the centurion whether Jesus had been dead for some time, facilitating transfer of the body to Joseph of Arimathea for burial (Mark 15:44-45).  Luke emphasizes that the centurion “glorified God” in his pronouncement, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” (Luke 23:47).  In each of these accounts, it was the centurion who was chosen to guard Jesus, and because of his “vigilance and temperance,” these honest observations lend credibility to the truth of the crucifixion and the surrounding events.  Vegetius described centurions as men “readier to receive orders than to talk.”  Fittingly, the short but powerful pronouncement of this centurion has echoed through time.

Our next example, Cornelius, is one of two centurions whose name is recorded in Scripture.  Acts 10 reveals the character and actions of this obedient Gentile.  In the first verse, we find that Cornelius was devout, God-fearing, and an example to his household.  He was generous to all around him and always prayerful to God.  Although not yet a Christian, his prayers and charity were recognized by God.  After seeing clearly in a vision from an angel of God, he humbly asked, “What is it, Lord?”  Then the angel indicated that there was something that Cornelius must do, and that this would be explained by Peter.  Instead of questioning the angel, or going about his daily business, Cornelius immediately obeyed and sent men to bring Peter (vs. 1, 3-4, 5-8, 33).

In anticipation of Peter’s arrival, Cornelius invited his friends and close relatives to come and hear.  Cornelius received Peter with humility and a mistaken desire to worship God’s servant, falling down at his feet.  Recognizing the Lord’s holy presence, the centurion and his household listened intently to the words commanded by God through Peter (vs. 24-25, 33).

Also through a vision, Peter had been prepared to preach to Cornelius and his audience.  “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”  Peter preached the preparation for Christ by John the Baptizer and proclaimed Christ: His divinity, ministry, death and resurrection, and the remission of sins through faith (vs. 34-43).

In verse 44, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those Gentiles who heard the Word.  Peter and the Jews with him were astonished as they heard Cornelius and his company magnify God.  They readily understood that salvation was now available to the Gentiles.  They must have recalled and reflected upon the events of Peter’s first gospel message on the day of Pentecost, as the apostles were also filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).  Just as on Pentecost, Cornelius and his party were commanded to receive water baptism in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:47-48).

The account of Cornelius, a devout centurion, was central to the understanding that the gospel is for all people of all nations.  It was a fulfillment of the promise made to Abram centuries earlier, “In your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:4), and “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:14).

There are other citations which also lend credence to the character of centurions.  In Acts 22:25, Paul inquired of a nearby centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”  Paul knew his Roman citizenship conveyed protections, and that the centurion would be able to intervene as he did.  He told his commander, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman citizen.”  In Acts 23 and 24, centurions delivered Paul safely to the governor, Felix, and then guarded him under house arrest.  Later in Acts 27, Paul started his final voyage to Rome.  Julius, another centurion, was responsible for Paul and the other prisoners.  Along their journey, they stopped in Sidon, where Julius permitted Paul to visit his friends who might provide for his needs (vs. 1, 3).  Later in this account when the storm arose, Julius prevented the crew from escaping in the lifeboat.  After the shipwreck, Julius again intervened to prevent the soldiers from killing Paul and the other prisoners (vs. 11, 31-32, 42-43).  As Paul’s ministry was drawing to a close, we see that centurions played  vital roles in his protection.  These men acted decisively, with discretion and great courage.

In conclusion, we see that God worked through each of these centurions: one, as an example of great faith during Jesus’ ministry; another, to boldly proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God; still others for the protection of Paul.  Most importantly to us as Gentiles, Cornelius was called upon to help fulfill the promise that through Abram all nations would be blessed.

These centurions, though not perfect men, were chosen by God to accomplish His perfect will.

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC.  He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

 

Learning From Nadab and Abihu — Travis Main

Numbers 3:4 states, “And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord…”  The topic of our examination appears from this verse: Nadab and Abihu.  They died in the presence of, in the face of, or before the Lord.  The occasion involved an offering and the offering was strange.  The Hebrew term for strange means, “foreign, estranged, loathsome, or profane.”  What brought Nadab and Abihu to the presence of the Lord?  They had brought fire before the Lord for the purpose of worship.

“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therin, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.  And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.  Then Moses said unto Aaron, ‘This is it that the Lord spake, saying, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace” (Lev. 10:1-3).

This passage makes it clear God did not command the fire Nadab and Abihu offered.  God never suggested, requested, or authorized it.  Thus, Moses describes the fire as profane or loathsome.  Of great importance is the fact that the passage states Nadab and Abihu did not die from an accident with the fire.  They died when God purposely sent fire to devour them.  Moses provided the reason God acted in such a fashion to destroy Nadab and Abihu.  When individuals go before God, He requires glorification and sanctification.  Sanctification means treating something as set apart or holy.  Glorification means to make honorable.  Nadab and Abihu dishonored God with their behavior.

The issues presented by their actions for examination revolve around mankind’s treatment of God, the importance of God’s commands, and the intentions of mankind.

“Be ye holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16)

The concept of sanctification and holiness relates to more than purity or being without sin.  God first used the term holy in Exodus 3:5 when He called a certain ground holy.  Ordinary and common cannot describe holy.  Approaching holiness requires reverence.  Reverence sees holiness and treats it with respect, humility, and even fear.  Fear closely draws to its side the knowledge that the individual cannot be equal to, but rather stands lacking in cleanness, stature, or quality to that which is holy.  Nadab and Abihu failed in this respect.  They approached their Creator in a manner which did not revere Him.  Their approach to worship treated God as nothing more than common.

Consider this.  If the sanctification and glorification of God stands so critical that the consequence of its absence meant death, how ought mankind approach God today?  Does the phrase casual worship service seem inappropriate?  Perhaps consider the irreverence of checking and sending texts and e-mail during worship.  If Moses approached the holy ground in his sandals toting along snacks and sipping on a latte or soda, would God have shown pleasure?

God does not stand on equal footing with a movie, picnic, or other common event.  Being in the presence of God is not a come-as-you-are event.  God is holy!  Nadab and Abihu failed to treat Him so.  We should draw from their example and not behave in the same fashion.

“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

The wind and the sea obey God.  Unclean spirits obey Him.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were punished.  The world disobeyed God and were destroyed, save eight souls.  Sodom and Gomorrah disobeyed God and God destroyed them.  Israel disobeyed God and He punished them in many ways from diseases, to wandering in the wilderness, to captivity, even to death itself.  Uzzah, like Nadab and Abihu, lost his life disobeying the commands of God.  Paul chastised the apostle Peter and the Galatian Christians for failing to obey the commands of God.  2 Thessalonians 1:8 declares destruction on those who do not obey God, while Jesus stands as the author of salvation to those who do obey Him (Heb. 5:9).  Why would anyone disobey God willingly?  Yet, this is exactly what Nadab and Abihu did.

Many people today despise following God’s commands, even some within religious bodies bearing His name.  They feel as if God provided His commandments as mere suggestions, used as guidelines, bendable depending on the situation.  Those who desire to follow God’s Word as it was given actively find themselves victims of mockery and shaming by others.  A favorite and misused term which others apply to them is legalist.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to the law.”  This sounds exactly like what God desires throughout the entire Bible.  When they stood before the Sanhedrin, the apostles declared obedience to God rather than to men.  Why would they do so if obedience to commands was subjective?

Now, one might quote Matthew 9:13, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, ’I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I am come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Upon reading, they would declare that God never desired exact obedience.  Yet, all Scripture shows He most definitely did desire obedience.  Contextually, Christ identified that one aspect of the law cannot be dropped and that individual still be pleasing to God.  One cannot worship without spirit and truth.  If a person goes through the motions of obedience in physical acts, but not obedience to a pure and holy spiritual nature, the physical acts presented to God result in God’s dissatisfaction.  He will not desire the sacrifice!

In view of Nadab and Abihu, they presented worship to God.  One might think that God would be thrilled with the “spiritual” demonstration of these individual’s hearts.  Yet, He rejected their worship because it failed to follow His commands.  In so doing, Nadab and Abihu demonstrated disdain in their worship rather than love for God.  They disobeyed and treated God in a profane manner.  Paul declared in his letter to Rome, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  Learn from Nadab and Abihu’s example of disobedience.

“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  (James 2:20)

Grease fires break out while cooking on occasion.  Good, well-intentioned individuals frequently take action to attempt to put out the fire with water.  This can result in the fire spreading further because “water and oil don’t mix.”  Good intentions do not by themselves result in God’s pleasure.

Nadab and Abihu worshiped God.  Worship indicates a desire to please.  Yet, they attempted to present worship on their terms.  They presented as Can did, who when presenting his offering to the Lord did not do so in faith.  The so-called faith of those who present worship to God is dead if the works are guided by intention and not truth.  God will be treated as holy and will be obeyed.  No matter of intent (again, see Uzzah) will cause God to smile on a worshipful action not requested.

God declared through the apostle Paul that preaching saves.  Jesus commanded the proclamation of the gospel to all creation.  Yet, men in their good intentions decided to present God’s truths through acting and drama rather than proclamation. God declared that man sing as one body to Him in worship.  Yet, the intentions of man to worship in song resulted in playing instruments, choral groups, and praise teams with handclapping rather than what God commanded.  Will God be glorified with such behavior?  Will He be sanctified when His commandments are ignored?  Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection.  The first-century church partook of this on the first day of the week.  Paul exhorted the Corinthians to take it properly and not treat it as a common meal.  Yet, through the intentions of man the Lord’s Supper is not taken every first day of the week in many places.  It is taken yearly, quarterly, monthly, or on special occasion.  In many places the Supper is offered with leavened break, water, or in the midst of a meal.  Is the intention worship?  These behaviors result in will worship condemned by Paul (Col. 2:23).  If Nadab and Abihu, guided by good intentions to worship God, could not worship Him in a pleasing fashion, what makes men think they can today?

As Paul exhorted the Christian regarding the Scriptures written beforehand, man can learn from Nadab and Abihu how to properly worship God.  Christians treat God as holy.  Christians love Him by obeying His commands.  Do not follow your intentions, Christians.  Follow the truth.

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years.  He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH.  He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.

 

 

Job’s Miserable Comforters — Roger L. Leonard

The book of Job addresses perhaps the most difficult of life’s questions: “Why does God allow human suffering?” This article deals with Job’s three friends who tried to answer this question. Some things they said were wrong and some right…but mostly they were wrong. We must also bear in mind that God allowed Satan to bring this suffering on Job.   (Note: Only chapter and verse citations are used for Job references.)

Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, “made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). When they saw him “they did not recognize him” and “they raised their voices and wept” (2:12). They sat with Job for seven days in silence (v. 13), which they eventually broke by launching into an oratory on Job’s problems. Becoming weary of their unhelpful counseling, Job eventually said, “You are miserable comforters, all of you!” (16:2) In the end they were condemned by God (Job 42:7-9).

But did they get everything wrong? They got a few things right.  Job’s friends were helpful in at least three ways (2:11-13): 1) They came to him when he was suffering. 2) They had empathy; “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads” (v. 12). 3) They were with him in silence for seven days (v. 13).

However, they finally broke their silence.  In chapters 4 through 25, we read a series of speeches with many false notions, primarily concerning why God allows suffering.  To them, Job’s suffering was because he had sinned.  So they insisted that he confess and repent so that God would bless him again.

Eliphaz

Eliphaz the Temanite is introduced in the first verse of chapter 2.  He is one of Job’s would-be comforters.  However, all three failed in their attempt to comfort their suffering friend.  Their sympathy shown in verses 12-13 of chapter 2 was replaced by accusations, false theology, and challenging Job’s character.

After Job’s complaints (3), Eliphaz speaks first (4-5) with a thesis of the innocent prospering.  In other words, Job was obviously not prospering because he must have done something wrong.

In response, Job declared his innocence. Then in a second speech Eliphaz asserts that Job does not fear God (15).. If Job feared God, he reasons, he would not face such suffering. Job responds that his friends are “miserable comforters” (16:2).

Eliphaz’s third speech is recorded in chapter 22. This time, he says, “Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquities without end?” (22:5). He enumerates Job’s supposed sins (vs. 6–9). From his perspective, God would only allow great evil to befall someone who had done something very bad. Job replies by asking for God to intervene on his behalf (23).

God intervenes and rebukes Job’s friends: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). These men are required to offer burnt offerings, and Job prays on their behalf. In the end, Job’s fortunes are restored (doubled), and he is blessed with new children in place of those whom the devil had taken.

Eliphaz exemplifies the world’s wisdom to suffering. To him that suffering was the consequence of sin and worthy of punishment by God.  He was wrong. Job’s life is a clear example of how the innocent sometimes suffer. God can allow suffering to strengthen a believer’s spirit and to change the lives of others for His glory.

Bildad

Bildad the Shuhite is first seen as one of three friends who come to comfort Job (2:11). He, Eliphaz and Zophar visit Job after hearing of the calamities that had befallen him. Bildad cannot believe Job’s horrific condition. He mourns silently with him for seven days (2:12-13).

Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak. In chapter 8, he suggests that Job’s children got what they deserved (v. 3). And of Job he said: “If you would seek and implore the compassion of the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, Surely now He would rouse himself for you and restore your righteous place” (8:5-6). The implication is that Job is not pure and upright and that material prosperity is directly linked to righteous behavior. Job responds in chapter 9, desiring to plead his case before God and lamenting the fact that there is no one to intervene for him.

Bildad’s second speech focuses on the theme that God punishes the wicked (18). His logic is that Job must have done something wrong since he is being punished.   In chapter 19 Job responds by saying: “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?” (v. 2). He also asks for his friends’ pity (v. 21) and declares that his God is alive and knows all things. God would be the one to judge him fairly, and Job trusts in Him (vs. 25–27).

Bildad‘s third speech focuses on the idea that a person cannot be righteous before God (25).  He says, “How then can man be just with God?  Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (v. 4)   Job answers in chapter 26, sarcastically arguing that God alone knows all things and fully understands the situation.

As noted above (42:7), Bildad and his two friends are rebuked by the Lord.  Job’s three friends then obey the Lord’s command to offer burnt offerings (42:8-9), “and the Lord accepted them.”

Job’s friends’ speeches exemplify how people often view suffering from a human perspective, assuming that suffering is always the result of personal sin.  In the end, these friends learn that God had allowed Job to suffer as part of His divine plan and that Job was not at fault for his trials.

Zophar

Zophar the Naamathite is first mentioned as the third friend who came to comfort Job (2:11).  The verses following show their response to his distress:  “When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept.  And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.  Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great” (vs. 12-13).

Zophar’s speech begins in chapter 11. Giving the strongest of the three initial speeches, he stated, “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (v. 6). Job responds in chapter 12 that the Lord brought this suffering upon him, and in chapter 13 maintains his innocence: “…I know I will be vindicated” (v. 18).

Zophar’s second speech states, “The increase of his house will depart; his possessions will flow away in the day of His anger.  This is the wicked man’s portion from God, even the heritage decreed to him by God” (20:28-29).  In chapter 21, Job says of the wicked:  “They spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol” (v. 13).  Job was suffering and yet had done no wrong, while others who did evil lived “…safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them” (v. 9).  This was why Zophar’s assessment of Job’s condition was in error.

Following Job’s long defense after Bildad’s third speech, a fourth man, Elihu, speaks up.  His two concerns are expressed thus:  “But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned against Job; his anger burned because he justified himself before God.  And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job” (32:2-3).

In the end, God rebuked all three.  “My anger burns against you…for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7).  Yet all three repented and offered sacrifices to God (42:9).

Zophar and his friends exemplify how suffering is often viewed from a human perspective.  While it is true that those who do wrong often suffer, God also allows suffering for reasons often unknown to us.  Instead of assuming all suffering is due to our wrongdoing, we should joyfully endure trials, pray in faith for wisdom, and consider God’s compassion (Ja. 1:2-8; 5:11).

Job erred in professing his righteousness (42:1-6), yet his trials and suffering were not caused by his behavior.  God used them as a lesson on His sovereignty in the end, blessing Job with twice as much as he had before (42:10).

What can we learn from the errors of Job’s friends?  We should not assume that troubles are due to personal sin (cf. John 9:1-3).  Instead of telling a hurting person to confess wrong and repent (especially when we do not know why they are hurting), we can encourage them to faithfully endure.  God always knows their pain and He has a purpose in allowing it.

What good might we learn from Job’s friends?  When a friend is hurting, go to them and cry with them, spending time together.  Our presence is powerful, even if we don’t know the words to say.

People do not need our surmising as much as they need our sympathy.  The apostle Paul wrote:  “Mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).  Let us do our best not to be “miserable comforters.”

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA.  He graduated from Lipscomb University in 1988 and the Nashville School of Preaching in 1992.  He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.

 

 

 

The Lessons of Grace — Stephen Hughes

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  This is a common passage often used to prove that Christians are saved “by grace alone through faith alone.” Grace, however, does not mysteriously come down from heaven to save people. Grace primarily took the form of Christ dying on the cross for us. Secondarily, but just as importantly, grace also took the form of the Holy Spirit teaching us through His word. Without it, we would not know about Christ’s amazing sacrifice, let alone what we must do to be saved.

True faith must include obedience on our part, and true grace must include teaching on God’s. God taught Noah to build the ark to save his family, He taught the children of Israel the Mosaic Law to lead them to Christ, and He taught all peoples today the gospel. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote about “the grace of God that brings salvation [and] has appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11). He continued to write about what this grace teaches us: how we ought to live and the reason we as Christians ought to live this way.

How We Ought To Live

In the next verse, Paul explains that grace is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:12). Since grace is not mysteriously bestowed upon us, it gives us instructions to follow; since faith necessarily includes obedience, it is our duty not only to believe in that grace, but also to obey it. Paul wrote in another letter, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Grace is exceedingly abundant, but it is also precious because it was bought at a price. If we continue in sin, we are treating the sacrifice of Christ on the cross with contempt, and we should not expect a reward when we leave this earth.

There are two things mentioned that we must deny and three we are to embrace. We must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. These two things are really all-encompassing terms that refer to sin. The Greek word for “ungodliness” is a combination of a negative and the root word meaning “to revere; to worship.” This is a complete lack of piety, reverence, and worship toward God, and it is something that grace teaches us to deny.

Along with ungodliness, we also ought to deny worldly lusts. John described the three major categories of sin, “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Lust is defined as an unlawful desire. The Bible uses the same Greek word to express covetousness, lust, and desire, while in English, we tend to think of these things separately. All desire is not sinful (cf. Luke 22:15), but recall that “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (James 1:14-15).  While desire is not always sinful, we ought to be vigilant to keep it from turning into lust — this is always sinful.  Such things ought to be denied; succumbing to these lusts brings forth death, just as grace teaches us.

Conversely, Paul offers three things that we ought to exhibit: to live soberly, righteously, and godly. There are two families of Greek words that are translated as “sober” in the New Testament, and sometimes both are found in a particular verse. Paul used both in his epistle to Titus, but used only one of them frequently. This Greek word is a combination of two others and literally means “to save the mind.” Paul exhorts Christians of every demographic with this word (Tit. 2:1-8) which culminates later in the chapter when it becomes something that graces teaches to all men (Tit. 2:11-12). The opposite of this would be doing anything that would lead one’s mind to be compromised in any way. This includes abusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription and recreational, but it can also include being “drunk on love”—which is really being carried away by one’s own sexual lusts.

If we remain sober, living righteously and godly becomes much easier. If one is righteous, then he will be innocent, holy, and just. To live godly is to be pious and reverent toward God. We are called to live in this way, and grace teaches us to avoid things that would cause us to neglect righteousness and godliness in this present age.

Christ Will Return

After Paul discusses what grace teaches us to do, he tells Titus that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). This is our motivation to live soberly, righteously, and godly. When Paul was soon to be martyred, he stated that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The crown of righteousness is waiting for us in heaven if we are looking forward to Jesus’ return. This is our blessed hope, but if we are in sin, we have no reason to look forward to His return—it would mean our doom.

Our only hope is to be “faithful until death, and [He] will give [us] the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna to whom this was written were persecuted and were most certainly looking forward to Christ’s return, since it would mean the end of their persecution. They would have then received a crown of life, a synonym for the crown of righteousness. This is symbolic of the riches and rewards of heaven. Grace teaches us of Christ’s return and the rewards that would follow the faithful.

The author of Hebrews writes of the alternative. “For if we sin willfully after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). While those who love Christ’s appearing and abide by the lessons of grace will receive the crown of righteousness, those who ignore these lessons have sinned willfully and should expect judgment with fear.

The Hebrews author continues, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy …. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28-29). God views those who have obeyed the gospel but have fallen away as if they have walked all over His dear Son, not recognizing the extraordinary price that He paid for their sins to be forgiven. Not only this, but they have insulted the Spirit of grace, that same grace that teaches us how to live in this present age. Grace will not save if it has been insulted in this manner.

It gets worse for those who fall away. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31). Not only will the Lord take “vengeance on those who know not God, and who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8), but also on those who have known Him and have turned away. We do not want to find ourselves in that position on Judgment Day.

Conclusion

Recall Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, and let us consider the following verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As Paul wrote about the relationship between grace and faith leading to salvation, he also wrote about the good works that we were created to do. He continues this theme in his letter to Titus, saying that Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). Let us always utilize the lessons that grace has taught us concerning how to live this way.  Let us be eager to obey the Spirit of grace and be zealous for the good works that He created us to do. 

Stephen is the Associate Minister at the Seven Hills Church of Christ in Lynchburg, VA.

 

Second Realized Eschatology Debate Recap — David W. Hester

Editor’s Note:  The October, 2016 issue of the Carolina Messenger featured an article written by Dr. Hester in which he shared his thoughts and perspectives about a debate he had participated in with Don Preston in Ardmore, Oklahoma concerning the doctrine of realized eschatology.  Since then, Dr. Hester and Mr. Preston have conducted a second debate over this erroneous doctrine and Dr. Hester has agreed to share his thoughts on this debate with us again.  This misguided doctrine, also known as the “AD 70 Doctrine” or “AD 70 Theory” among other designations, has slowly gained a degree of prevalence in the brotherhood in recent years and needs to be scripturally refuted.  We appreciate the efforts of Dr. Hester and others to show from the entirety of God’s Word the numerous errors and contradictions found within this theory.

———————————————————–

The second debate between myself and Don K. Preston took place June 15-16, 2017 at the Eastern Meadows Church of Christ in Montgomery, AL. This was the fulfillment of a pledge I made in the original agreement I signed with Preston in 2016. The propositions for this debate were the same as the first: “Resolved: The Bible teaches that the Second (final) coming of Christ and the attendant resurrection of the just and the unjust, is yet future, and will occur at the end of time.” Affirm: David Hester; Deny: Don K. Preston. “Resolved: The Bible teaches that the Second (final) coming of Christ and the attendant resurrection of the just and the unjust, occurred at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.” Affirm: Don K. Preston; Deny: David Hester. Kyle Massengale, of Madison, AL served as my moderator, with Mike Kiser of Sylacauga, AL assisting; Preston brought with him William Bell of Memphis, TN as his moderator. Steve Wages, Director of the Cloverdale Center for Family Strengths at Faulkner University, served as the independent moderator and timekeeper.

Since I was to be in the affirmative the first night, it was my intent to “set the table,” so to speak, and to control the agenda. At the beginning—and before I defined the proposition—I brought up one of the assertions I made in the Ardmore debate. For Preston’s doctrine to be true, one has to redefine words, phrases, and passages of Scripture. The approach he and his cohorts take is very much like that described in the book Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. In it, Alice meets with Humpty Dumpty, who is sitting on the wall. They engage in conversation, which quickly goes nowhere; Humpty Dumpty is using words very differently from Alice. After she challenges him, he gruffly says, “When I choose a word, it means what I choose it to mean; nothing more or less.” That is the approach taken by AD 70 advocates—the “Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutic.”

I then made 10 affirmative arguments—a mix of formal logical syllogisms and arguments from specific biblical passages. They are as follows:

  1. A nine point argument, in proper logical form, concerning the resurrection of the dead and the second coming of Christ—which proves my proposition to be true. It had as its foundation the fact that when Christ comes again, he will do so “literally, visibly, and personally” as he went into heaven in Acts 1:9-11.
  2. An argument which focuses on the fact that Jesus will come upon the wicked unawares—in contrast to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which was certainly not unaware to the wicked Jews!
  3. Christ will convict the wicked at his second coming (Jude 14-15). Who was convicted by the Roman general Titus at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?
  4. The Lord’s Supper stands as a rebuke to Don and his disciples; if the Lord has already come, then why take the Supper now (1 Cor. 11:26)?
  5. The Greek structure of Revelation 1:7 indicates that “every eye will see him,” indicating actual sight, “all the tribes of the earth” will wail because of him, indicating the nations of the earth (compare the LXX text in Gen. 12:3 and 28:14), and “those who pierced him” utilizes the word translated “pierced” that is only used one other time in the NT—John 19:37. This involves the very people who crucified Christ! Where were they in AD 70?
  6. The “Day” in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 is certainly not the destruction of Jerusalem, and the “fire” contemplated in the text is not the fires of Jerusalem burning. Whose works were revealed by the conflagration Titus imposed?
  7. The “end” described in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is at the end of time, when Jesus will deliver the kingdom back up to God.
  8. In Luke 20:34-36, Don and his disciples stand rebuked—for Christ declares that “in that world” (heaven) they neither marry nor are given in marriage, and cannot die any more.
  9. In Matthew 13:47-50, when Jesus describes that his holy angels will separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into a fiery furnace, did anything akin to that happen at the destruction of Jerusalem? Could the godless armies of Titus be likened unto the angels of heaven? And, where was the fiery furnace located in Judea where such could have taken place?
  10. A seven point argument from Hebrews 9:26 was employed, focusing on the phrase “the end of the ages,” and the fact that Jesus only made one sacrifice of himself for sin. I followed that with a quotation from a debate Don had in 2006, where he said that “the process (and ground) of taking away of sin undoubtedly began at the Cross, as Hebrews 9:26 affirms. It was not perfected and completed there, however.”

I reserved time at the end of my speech to address some of the responses to written questions I asked Don prior to the debate. His replies were stunning, to say the least.

For example, Question 2: “Is it your conviction that the literal global flood of Genesis is the type of the localized destruction of Jerusalem, seeing that it was used by Peter in a universal call to baptism (1 Peter 3:21)?” Don’s response: “Yes, the flood was definitely a type of AD 70.”

Also, Question 4: “Was Jesus, the Son of God, spiritually separated from God when he died?” Don’s response: “Yes.”

Question 5: “Were the dietary laws of the Law of Moses still binding upon the Jews after Acts 10?” Don’s response: “Yes.”

To say that I was champing at the bit to address these responses is the understatement of the year. Preston asserts three outrageous things: first, the flood was not global, but local; second, Jesus was spiritually out of fellowship with God at the time that he died on the cross; and finally, the Law of Moses was not completely done away with after the cross—even after Cornelius and his household had obeyed the Gospel.

In preparing to answer Don’s assertions, I came across a book he endorsed: Beyond Creation Science, by Timothy P. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn. In his endorsement, Don called belief in a global flood a “sacred cow.” He further called the book “scriptural.” Yet, the authors claim that Genesis 1-2 actually picture the establishment of the Jewish economy, with Adam and Eve being poetic symbols in a “temple motif.” In other words, Genesis is a myth; an allegory. During our debate, Don took particular umbrage to that particular suggestion; yet, what other conclusion can be drawn?

After the first night, I received a private message from a preterist. In part, it read: “Thank you for reading the message and replying. I confess I hold to a fulfilled eschatology view. However, I disagree with the Beyond Creation Science view strongly. I thank you for pressing Don on this subject because he has in the past refused to talk about it to any extent. Don replied to my post of what I sent you as ‘I have not taken a firm stand in the local flood issue, versus universal. Still open to studying that concept.’” This same individual said the following about the authors of the book: “Covenant Creation holders, while nice guys on other topics and in real life, seem to be the Climate Change holders of the fulfilled eschatology world. They tend to act like, ‘How dare you question this view. It is established fact and indisputable.’ Sounds like Climate Change holders.”

During my first speech, I used the phrase “Don and his disciples” over and over again. “Don and his disciples teach;” “Don and his disciples affirm;” etc. That was calculated to get under Don’s skin. However, I wasn’t counting on it raising the ire of William Bell. During the first break after my speech, Bell came over to our table on my side, leaned over with both of his hands on the table, glared at me with fire in his eyes, and said that I was violating the rules of the debate by attributing beliefs to the men at Don’s table that they did not hold. I immediately stood up from my seat (which put my eyes at Bell’s chest when he stood up), and said, “If Don has a problem with it, let him address it when he gets up there. Otherwise, what I said stands.” He subsequently left and went to sit down at his table. This exchange was revealing. Apparently, Bell thinks of himself as a disciple of Don! Also, Don never mentioned it during his speeches as an issue. Interesting.

I also thought it was revealing that during the second night Don said that I misrepresented his position when I pointed out his redefinition of “the end of the age” by inserting “the Jewish age” in every NT passage where it occurs, thus pointing out the absurdity of it. He had a big issue with that…but, wait! If he does not believe that the phrase refers to the Jewish age, then down goes his belief system. If it does not refer to the end of the world, though, then what DOES it refer to? Something else that Don and his disciples are working on?

Of all the ten affirmative arguments I made the first night, Don responded to none of them. He apparently thought he was in the affirmative. At least he defined the proposition, though, on the second night. Don kept wanting to rehash the first debate throughout his speeches. This was indicative of the fact that he had nothing new to offer, and no replies to anything I said. We, on the other hand, responded to every one of his arguments the second night. Don cast disparaging comments about my teaching ability (thus sounding more like a disgruntled student who receives a failing grade than a mature, dignified speaker), and said that my first negative speech was the “worst he’d ever heard” in all his years in debate. Well, of course he would say that, because I answered his assertions! He himself called his doctrine “strange” in his first negative speech—and strange it is, indeed. It is “strange” because it is false doctrine.

It is my hunch that the debates we have had will go a long way towards diminishing the influence of Preston among our brethren. I know for a fact that some preterists who have been privately grumbling about Preston are now becoming emboldened to step forward and challenge him. It will be interesting, indeed, to see this play out over the next few months.

The debate will be made available very soon on DVD via Eastern Meadows Church of Christ. The Gospel Broadcasting Network, which recorded the debate, provided us with high quality video and audio (Parts 1 and 2 can be accessed on their YouTube channel) and are making us master copies to use for the DVDs we will distribute.  Debates are very helpful, when conducted properly. It is my hope and prayer that more of them will take place concerning a wide variety of subjects. It is in this format that the Truth of God shines.

dhester@faulkner.edu

David is on the faculty of the F. Furman Kearley School of Theology at Faulkner University, where he also is Director of the annual Bible Lectures.  David is also Education Director at Eastern Meadows Church of Christ in Montgomery, AL.