Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

“For Men Shall Be…Blasphemers…” – Jon Mitchell

The apostle Paul warned Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers…” (2 Tim. 3:1-2, ESV, emp. added).

“Blasphemers” comes from the Greek term blasphemos, which literally means, “speaking evil, slanderous, reproachful, railing, abusive.”  So Paul was warning of those who would speak evil, who would be slanderous and reproachful, who would be railing, people who would be abusive.

The enemies of Stephen used this same word to falsely accuse him of blasphemy against the law of Moses, God, and the temple…and in doing so they were ironically guilty of the very thing they accused him of doing (Acts 6:11, 13).  We therefore see how it is possible to blaspheme men, to slander or speak evil of others, to be reproachful of brethren or to rail against them, and to be verbally abusive towards them.

Paul also used this same word to describe himself before he was converted, when he was a blasphemer and persecutor of Christ and the church.  By doing so, he shows us how it is possible to blaspheme God as well.  Normally that’s what we think of when we think of blasphemy.  I would like to challenge the reader to consider how we can blaspheme our fellow man as well, especially in the context of discussing church leadership in keeping with the theme of this issue of the Carolina Messenger.

Our Lord commanded us to put away “slander,” along with anger, wrath, malice, obscene talk from our mouths, and lying (Col. 3:8-9).  Slander (blasphemia) literally means, “slander, detraction, injurious speech, to another’s good name; impious and reproachful speech injurious to divine majesty.”  It is no coincidence that it is listed right alongside of anger, wrath, malice, obscene talk, and lying.  Why would we slander someone, speak reproachfully and detractingly about them, or try to injure them with our words?  Why gossip about them, or unrighteously criticize them and spout off at them?  Why insult them?  Because of anger, wrath and malice.  We’re mad at them.  We hate them.

Brethren, we’re Christians.  And as Christians we are called upon to be different from the world.  We are commanded to let no “corrupting talk” come out of our mouths.  Instead, we are to allow only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).  Do we really want to be the type of Christians condemned by James, people whose tongues are proven to be “a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” who use our tongues to bless God one minute and curse each other the next?  (James 3:8-10)  Because if we ARE that type of Christian, we need to know that our religion is “worthless” in the sight of God (James 1:26).

This brings me to Titus 3:1-2:  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”  “To speak evil” (blasphemeo) literally means, “to blaspheme, revile.  To hurt the reputation or smite with reports or words, speak evil of, slander, rail.”  Notice how God lists the command to avoid this sin right alongside the command to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient and ready for every good work, to avoid arguing, and to be gentle and show perfect courtesy to everyone.

You know, it is very easy to speak evil of rulers and authorities rather than be submissive and obedient to them when we disagree with them.  We currently have many leaders in our government who act in very ungodly ways and promote many ungodly things.  As Christians, we are obligated to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) and oppose all ungodliness while exposing it for what it is (Eph. 5:11).  If the President, Congress, or the Supreme Court command us to do something that violates God’s Word, we are not obligated to obey them.  That said, many Christians seem to think that having a blatantly ungodly man in office gives them a free license to not only speak out against what he’s promoting that is ungodly, but also to blaspheme the man personally by insulting him as a person.  Yet, God inspired Paul to tell Christians who were living under the rule of Nero, a man for more ungodly than any American president, governor, or congressman, to be submissive while speaking evil/blaspheming no one (Tit. 3:1-2), and to be subject to the governing authorities while giving respect and honor to them (Rom. 13:1, 7).  Not only is it possible, it is also commanded for Christians to still show respect and honor to a governing authority while at the same time actively standing against whatever policies he promotes which are ungodly and/or with which we disagree.

This not only applies to the government.  Take the leadership in the church and in the home.  Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands AND respect them (Eph. 5:22-24, 33).  Children are commanded to obey AND honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3).  Christians are commanded to obey the bishops of the church and submit to them (Heb. 13:17) AND respect them and esteem them very highly in love (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

In these cases, the principle of Acts 5:29 also applies.  Wives are not obligated to obey their husbands in something sinful.  Children are not obligated to obey their parents if their parents want them to disobey God.  Brethren are not obligated to obey elders if the elders are promoting false doctrine.

However, what about when husbands, parents, and elders ask of us something that is completely scriptural…but we just happen to disagree with it and have a different opinion about it?  Over the years, I’ve observed more and more Christians blaspheme these authoritative figures in their lives and not even know it.

In more and more homes wives are either refusing outright to submit to their husbands or they’re doing so with a complete lack of respect…and in either case they blaspheme – speak evil against – their husbands while doing so.  Wives, that’s not respecting your husbands (Eph. 5:33).  That’s blaspheming your spouse!

More and more children are either outright refusing to obey their parents while blaspheming them, or else they obey while refusing to honor their parents by slandering and grumbling against them.  Children, that’s not honoring your parents (Eph. 6:2).  That’s speaking evil against your parents who brought you into this world!

And in the church, friends…even in doctrinally sound churches which promote healthy teaching about the gospel, worship and morality…there is a growing problem of blaspheming the eldership, speaking evil and railing against them when brethren disagree with them over a matter of expediency, opinion, and personal judgment.  Christians, that’s not respecting those who are over you in the Lord and esteeming them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thess. 5:12-13).  That’s not letting the leadership of the church keep watch over your souls with joy and not with groaning (Heb. 13:17).  No, that’s blaspheming your fellow brothers in Christ who are trying to keep watch over your souls and help you grow spiritually!

American brethren, I know we value our freedom of speech and expression…but the Constitution doesn’t trump the New Testament!  It’s one thing to disagree with the government, one’s spouse, one’s parents, or an eldership with respect and love.  It’s quite another to do so while blaspheming them.  To disagree with respect and honor is a sign of maturity, love, self-control, and having the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  To disagree blasphemously by speaking evil against them and railing against them shows nothing but worldliness, spiritual immaturity, and that you’re on a road you don’t want to be on…a road that leads to hell.

What’s especially terrifying about this is that we don’t realize that we blaspheme GOD when we blaspheme our brethren in the church, whether they be elders or not!  Look at Paul.  He referred to himself as a blasphemer before he became a Christians…but what was he doing during that time?  He was persecuting the church.  Yet, according to Jesus Paul was actually persecuting HIM (Acts 9:4).

Therefore, we are blaspheming and hurting GOD when we purposefully blaspheme and hurt our brethren.  Think about that for a minute.  We speak evil against the elders or that brother or sister we don’t like and in the process blaspheme our Lord and Redeemer…but that’s not all.  We are also causing division and contention in the church, something which God hates (Prov. 6:16-19) and causes the church to become weaker before breaking the congregation apart completely.  And because we spend our time doing that, guess what we’re NOT doing?  We’re NOT shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation because we’re too busy grumbling and complaining (Phil. 2:14-15).  We’re NOT spreading the gospel in this lost world because we’re too focused either starting or putting out small fires of pettiness in the home and in the church, and we wonder why the church isn’t growing and our country and world is growing farther and farther away from God…

            And Satan is laughing and laughing and laughing…

What’s the solution?  How are we to react to blasphemy against us or our brethren?  How are we to repent of our own blasphemy should we be guilty of it?

We must keep our conduct excellent and let our light shine among everyone with whom we come in contact, both in the church, outside of the church, and in the home (1 Pet. 4:12; Matt. 5:16).  We must consciously choose to treat EVERYONE the way we would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12); if everyone in the church did that, no blasphemy, gossip, or backbiting would exist and the gospel would be proclaimed to every single person on earth.  We must hold fast to God’s Word in all aspects of our lives and in our relationships with everyone rather than grumble or complain (Phil. 2:14-16).  When we encounter a brother or sister who speaks evil against someone, we must gently correct them rather than joining in or keeping silent (Gal. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:24-26), and if need be withdraw fellowship from them (1 Cor. 5:11-13; Matt. 18:15-17).  Do this, and we WILL shine as lights in the middle of this dark, blasphemous world!

jonandelizabethmitchell@hotmail.com

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“Preach the Word…Do The Work of an Evangelist” – Michael Grooms

To stand before a group of people and proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ is at the same time the greatest honor and the most humbling experience.  It is the greatest of honors because the message proclaimed is that from the very words of God.  The preacher is a messenger of God, insofar as the message preached is indeed the word of God.  It is the most humbling of experiences because no man is worthy of the task.  The preacher must first examine himself before he proclaims the word of God to others.  Such an examination may reveal inadequacies in his life.  Having thus examined himself in the light of God’s word, having prayed for God’s mercy, and having applied the message to his life, he may then be ready to preach the message to others.  Even the great apostle Paul realized this truth.  He stated, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).  He referred to himself as a chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) who was placed into the ministry not because he was worthy, but because he was a recipient of the mercy of Christ, who enabled him and counted him worthy (1 Tim. 1:12).  Every minister of the gospel would do well to echo these sentiments.

The preacher is first and foremost just that, a preacher.  It is very easy for a preacher of the gospel to become inundated with many tasks and responsibilities as he feels the pressure to meet the demands and expectations of others.  This can lead to a life that is very busy, but sorely lacking in proper study and preparation to preach the word of God.  If one gives his life to the preaching of God’s word, then he should guard that charge from distractions that would diminish his ability to do so effectively.  The preacher is to “minister to the saints” (Rom. 15:25); that is, he is to serve them in their spiritual needs.  This is not the task of the preacher alone, but that of every Christian (Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:10). When the preacher capitulates to the expectations to do the work which God expects of every church member, he not only robs them of the fulfillment of having done their duty, but may find his duty as a minister of the gospel hindered.  Elders do well who protect the preacher from unnecessary burdens that hinder his ability to focus on the study and proclamation of the word of God.  The apostles had the wisdom to understand this.  When approached with the complaint that the Hellenist (Greek speaking) widows were being neglected in their care, the apostles stated that it was not fitting for them to “leave the word of God and serve tables” (Acts 6:2, NKJV).  They charged the church with the task of finding those who they would appoint to that task so that they could devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).  While preachers are not apostles, they are to be ministers of the word.  The wisdom of the apostles should guide elders, deacons, preachers, and all members in being certain that each fulfills their own duties and responsibilities.

What makes a good minister?  In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warns the preacher Timothy of the impending departure from the faith and his duty to preach concerning the truth of God’s word.  He then states, “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Tim. 4:6, emp. added).  He continues to admonish Timothy to avoid “profane and old wives fables,” to exercise toward godliness, and to be an example to the believers.  He reminds Timothy to give attention to reading, exhortation, and doctrine.  Timothy is instructed to meditate on these things, to give himself entirely to them, and to “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). This is how the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to define a “good minister.” A good minister will not fail to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).  He will not shun to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).  He will speak those things that are proper for sound doctrine (Tit. 2:1).  

Unfortunately, the “corporate” mindset of our society has affected the way people define roles in the church today.  While there are many elderships which view the role of the elder as a shepherd, too often elderships conduct themselves as a board of directors.  This mindset has also affected how elders and church members often view the role of a preacher.  The preacher is identified as an employee of the church.  He is hired to preach and visit.  Often, he is hired to do the work that others in the church should be doing.  The plea of the restoration movement is to “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent. Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names. In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all matters, charity.”  If the church is to speak where the Bible speaks and call Bible things by Bible names, then should not this principle define the roles of those who serve in the church?  The employer/ employee relationship that so often defines the role of preachers in churches is nowhere to be found in the scriptures.  The two epistles of Paul to Timothy and his epistle to Titus define the role of the preacher.  In Ephesians 4:11, the scriptures teach that God gave the role of evangelist, just as he did that of apostles, prophets, and pastors (elders).  Each of these roles was intended by God to fulfill a purpose in the building up of the church, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).  The roles of apostles and prophets have been fulfilled and are no longer extant. The roles of evangelists (preachers) and pastors (elders) as well as that of deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13) are all ordained by God and defined in scripture.  It is proper for churches to support one who preaches to them, not because he is an employee, but because God has thus ordained (1 Cor. 9:14; Mark 10:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 2:6; Gal. 6:6).  By so doing, the church enables the evangelist to devote himself to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).   In John 10:12, Jesus spoke of the hireling who flees because he does not care about the sheep.  The church needs fewer hirelings and more servants of God in its pulpits!

It is imperative that evangelists and elders foster good relationships!  The failure to nurture such relationships has hindered the work of many churches.  Those churches which are blessed by elders and preachers who love and respect each other are empowered by such.  Stephen Guy has served the Lord’s church as both a preacher and an elder, as well as helping to train many preachers as a college instructor.  The following are the words of brother Guy as spoken to this author:

“Young and older preachers alike look for a congregation to spend their life in ministry.  The relationship between a minister and congregation has been compared to a marriage.  At the center is the elder/ preacher relationship.  The elders do make the final decision on the hiring and firing of the minister, and the minister answers to his elders as every member.  The relationship between an eldership and minister should be one of mutual love and respect.  However, in a number of congregations a corporate mentality has crept into the elder/ minister relationship in which the elders act as CEOs and the ministers are treated or function as hirelings. The Bible says that elders are not to lord over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3).  This includes the sheep, known as the minister and his family. The shepherds are to treat every sheep in a godly manner. If the minister is not acting in a godly manner or being effective, they should be corrected in the same way as any other member, in love.  There are times when it is best for the minister and elders to part ways, however it should be done in love and be God honoring.  Elders and ministers who love the Lord, and one another, make for a great marriage.  Elders and ministers, if you are enjoying such a relationship, pray for and praise, publicly and privately, one another, and the congregation will follow your example.  One compliment from an elder can make a minister’s day, and one compliment from the minister will make an elder’s year.”

Michael serves as the pulpit minister for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.  He can be reached at gospelpreacher@charter.net.

The Signs of an Apostle – J. Terry Wheeler

I have become a fool in boasting.  You have compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds  (2 Cor. 12:11f).

The second letter to the Corinthians is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible.  It is as clear a picture of the heart of the great apostle Paul as one can find (2 Cor. 6:11).

In that letter he is answering many concerns:  “Where has he been?  Why hasn’t he come back as he said he would?  Does his apostleship really compare to the other apostles?  He acts crazy, takes no money, has a pathetic ‘pulpit’ presence; why do we even listen to him?”

Titus, who had recently visited the church at Corinth, has his own questions for the apostle which the second letter answers:  “Are you sure they are going to have their contribution ready?  It sure didn’t look like it when I was there.”  Corinth was forever questioning Paul’s authority (1 Cor. 9:2, 3).  There were differences with him that the other apostles did not seem to share: he was not married nor did it seem he ever intended to be (1 Cor. 7:7; 9:5); he did not take a dime from Corinth to help in his ministry (2 Cor. 12:13); in fact, he worked as hard in secular labor as he did in ministry (1 Cor. 9:6); he was much more active than the rest (1 Cor. 15:10); he was much more at home with the Gentiles than the others (1 Cor. 9:21); he was the last apostle commissioned (1 Cor. 15:8), which meant no personal contact with Jesus (so far as anyone knew).  And of course, his history was blotted with the innocent blood of Christians (1 Cor. 15:9).

To a congregation that prided itself in preachers and in impressing the surrounding area and community with its sophistication, Paul was, for some, the last guy they wanted to depend on for spiritual guidance (1 Cor. 1:12; 4:10).  Add to that the obvious fact that some had designs on the church.  They wanted to make it their hang-out, their little nest-egg.  Paul’s influence threatened their machinations (1 Cor. 15:33, 34).  The quicker they could dispose themselves and the church of that, the better for them.

It is to this last bunch of brethren that Paul speaks so frankly in the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians.  He is confronting these fellows, who even presume to put upon themselves the designation of “apostle of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13).  His love for even these false teachers is plain.  The pain in his heart is obvious and saddening (2 Cor. 12:15).  But he has had enough of their interference with the Corinthian brethren (2 Cor. 13:2).

The first time he came was to start the church and introduce them to the Savior (Acts 18:1-18).  The second time, he was so disappointed in them, he had to leave lest he “cut loose” on them, to their destruction (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4).  But now, after Titus returns to them with this letter, and they have had a chance to meditate on its contents, he will be at their doorstep (2 Cor. 13:1).  And he will not leave till this whole mess is settled one way or another.

It is exactly in this context that Paul speaks to them of his apostolic credentials.  These would be the validation of all Paul has done in Jesus’ name (Mark 16:20).  He reminds them of what they have already seen from him, and strongly indicates that, if they want it, there is much more to come (2 Cor. 13:3).

What he designates as “signs of an apostle” are the miracles, wonders, and mighty acts of power that fill the New Testament and so fire our imaginations today.  it is a demonstration of control over nature (John 2:7-11), over the hidden “nether” world (John 11:43, 44), and over future events (John 13:38).  It involves what man has dreamed over for eons but what has always seemed elusive to him: the ability to corral and harness all the threatening forces that surround us daily, a power reserved, apparently, only for Deity.

It is this power that the Son of God came to us with and demonstrated so freely for our benefit.  It is the same type of power that his authoritative representatives continued to demonstrate (Acts 2:43; 3:6, 7; 4:33; 5:12).

But before he goes into these sensational aspects of his ministry, Paul stresses the humble parts of his service: his deprivations, his sacrifices, the dangers he was constantly facing, his emotional turmoil – the things that no one would count as valuable or helpful, and what his antagonists in the church were struggling so hard to avoid (2 Cor. 11:1-12:11).  But it was his use of these things to establish legitimacy that, to use Paul’s phrasing, “cut the ground out from under” the false teachers (2 Cor. 11:10-12).  They were into comfort, privilege, prominence, monetary satisfaction, and worldly sophistication, even to the point of lasciviousness, uncleanness, and fornication (2 Cor. 11:19-21; 12:21).  Paul was showing the church that, between him and them, there was no comparison.

It is intriguing to consider just what Paul might have had on his mind to discipline the members.  It is also interesting that Paul is somewhat afraid of further humiliation in their eyes, as if what would discipline them would humble him (2 Cor. 12:21).  But come what may, if they needed sharpness, as Paul put it, to get the point (that “rod” he referred to in the first letter – 1 Cor. 4:21), he was ready to supply it (2 Cor. 13:10).

Discipline is a principle in the Scriptures that, for our day and age, seems absolutely tasteless, if not downright mean.  We can hardly stand the idea of someone speaking so directly as to hurt our feelings (2 Cor. 2:2).  To contemplate actual physical discomfort as something good someone might truly deliver upon us is insulting and oppressive.  And to consider that God would be happy with that outrages us and throws us into total confusion.  Such things cannot be love at all, right?

But God would “beg” to differ.  Since we are so given to fleshly pleasure and comfort, stress and even pain are necessary tools to discipline our thinking and therefore our behavior (Rom. 8:5-13).  Paul disciplined himself as an athlete would, so he could win his “race” (1 Cor. 9:26-27).  But when one cannot (or will not) exercise such effort over themselves, the church must care enough to exact enough discomfort to bring the brother back to serious attention to spiritual matters (1 Cor. 5:5).  And if the church won’t, then God will (1 Cor. 11:31, 32; Heb. 12:4-11; Rev. 2:14-16).

Generally, discipline is not considered a miraculous manifestation as the Bible puts it forth.  It is a social and personal concern that Christians exercise toward each other as the need reveals itself (Heb. 10:24; 2 Thess. 3:14, 15; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).  Or it is a matter of providential care, God working within nature to provide us the necessary discipline for our sakes (Amos 4:7-10; Hab. 3:17-19; Rev. 2:22, 23; 9:20, 21).  But in the early years of the church’s development, the miraculous powers that declared God’s presence and power were called on to not only convey the truth of God, not only bless and heal in the context of that message, but would also be used to bring discomfort on the enemies of Christ and of righteousness, to discipline the church.

So what exactly would these signs be? It would be the impressive stuff, even the deadly stuff, that apostles could do to glorify Christ (John 14:12).  It brings to mind the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira at the feet of the apostle Peter, which had a marvelous salutary effect on the church at that time (Acts 5:1-11).  It brings to mind Paul striking Elymas the Magician with temporary blindness, which certainly impressed Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12).  These wonders would be likened to what Paul did at Ephesus, when simple articles of clothing like handkerchiefs that Paul had touched could be brought into the presence of the demon-possessed and the demon would be forced out that instant (Acts 19:11, 12).  But ultimately, as Paul implies, it would be whatever it took to get the church’s attention to either withdraw from the false teachers or to help reclaim them after their repentance (Rom. 16:17, 18; Gal. 5:12; 6:1).

To speak directly to the point, the signs of an apostle would be the miraculous works that only an apostle could do to underscore the authority of Christ, which the apostle represented (Matt. 10:8, 40).  It would be of a broader sweep than the spiritual gifts obtained by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (1 Cor. 14:18).  It would also mean a certain depth in the demonstration of power unique to them (2 Cor. 12:12).

It should be pointed out that, since Paul is the last apostle commissioned, and since there is no apostolic succession as far as the New Testament is concerned, it must follow that when the last apostle passed away, then the signs of an apostle died with him.  On the other hand, those who would claim latter day apostolic commission from Christ must be ready to defend the claim with the same sort of signs (raising the dead comes to mind here – 1 John 4:1).  Since God, like the truth, is perfectly consistent, we can expect no more apostles today.  The completed New Testament serves in their place (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

It is worth noting that the book of Romans was written by Paul immediately after this third visit (or even during), while Paul was in the same locality (Rom. 15:22-25).  Most scholars are convinced that Paul wrote the book from Corinth itself.  That being the case, the book of Romans strongly implies that the problems of Corinth were truly settled to Paul’s satisfaction.  The secular history of the Corinthian church definitely bears that out.

If so, then we must take note that “the signs of an apostle” most certainly got their attention.  Perhaps simply the referencing of them in the second letter so put the “terror of the Lord” in them, that that was all that was needed.  We would hope so.

It is also worthy of note that the referencing of the signs is indeed all we do have in our day, the Lord obviously thinking that that is sufficient for us.  May such a reference to the Lord’s authority be effective with us.

CharSaint@aol.com

The Human Conscience – Terry Gunnells

The most valuable technological invention for travelers in recent years has been the Global Positioning System (GPS).  It is a magnificent travelers’ aid but it is absolutely useless if it is not properly set.  The beginning and the end of this article shall be that the conscience is the component of humankind that makes us God’s special creation.  Our conscience separates us from the animal world but unless it is properly trained, it is of no value.  This article will not deal with pathological disorders that damage the function of the conscience.

There is no Old Testament word which can clearly be translated “conscience.”  The only word that is used is leb, which is generally translated “heart.”  The functions of the conscience in the New Testament probably are equivalent to the Old Testament.  Though the Greek word syneidesis, translated “conscience,” is used 31 times in the New Testament, it is never clearly defined.  It functions as a self-evaluation in relation to a standard – Romans 2:14-15; the conscience assures one of consistent, integrative, non-wavering Christian living; its inner stirrings motivates one to act constructively without the threat of punishment – Romans 13:5; Acts 24:16; inhibits us from misleading others – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9; produces guilt and self-condemnation – 1 John 3:19-20.

It is obvious from Romans 2:14-15 that Paul understood the world to be divided into two groups of people.  The Jews had the Law and if they died under the Law, they would be judged by the Law.  Gentiles were endowed with a God-given moral compass which gave them a natural sense of right and wrong.  Neither of these groups could claim exemption from the Judgment of God.  One had knowledge; the other only had an innate conscience.  This being said, there must be a part of the conscience that is moral and ethical by nature and a part that can be educated.  To get right to the point, one cannot know the scheme of redemption by osmosis or nature.  He or she must be taught (Romans 10:17).  One cannot be taught wrong and behave (obey) right.  It is only when one is taught right that he or she can trust his or her conscience.  His or her GPS must be set right.

Assuming that the Hebrews were right to equate the conscience with the heart, we must examine the spiritual heart.  The spiritual heart has at least four components.  First, the intellect which allows one to think, reason and understand.  This allows the hearer to contemplate and deliberate on the facts, both pro and con.  Having comprehended the message correctly, it then becomes the theology by which the hearer lives which is his or her guiding principle (GPS) called the conscience.  If one misunderstands the message, like Eve did, then the end result is error, and, of course, one operates on a false premise and his or her destination is in peril.  The value of the conscience is limited to what truth it knows.

The third component of the spiritual heart is the will.  That is where decisions are made.  At this point the doctrine of the free will of man enters the picture.  An honest seeker of truth, one of spiritual integrity, is given the freedom to choose or refuse to do right or to stray from the straight and narrow path.

The fourth component of the spiritual heart is the emotions.  This is so powerful and can override the use of reasonable decision making if not kept in balance by the intellect.  Satan uses the power of emotions to confuse the truth and hold one in a path of destruction because of tradition or the fear of the reprisal of men (John 12:42).

In the integrative workings of the spiritual heart, the conscience depends on correct information from the intellect; the will depends on an informed conscience and the emotions which send a vote of approval or disapproval based on what one likes or dislikes.  It allows love to pour into the heart to make the decision to serve God.

Perhaps the most noted example of one’s conscience being set wrong is the Apostle Paul.  He was a full-blooded Jew, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1), educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a renowned Doctor of the Law (Acts 5:34; 22:31).  Paul was so committed to defending the faith of his fathers that he killed Christians (Acts 22:3-4).  As a matter of fact, he was on his way to Damascus with letters (warrants) in hand to arrest the Christians there when he was stricken down and chosen to be an Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:3-5).  When Paul stood before the august Jewish Council, the first words out of his mouth were, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1).  Apparently the High Priest didn’t think much of Paul’s statement and ordered the men standing nearby to smite him in the mouth.

When the GPS realizes the traveler has made a wrong turn, it immediately begins to urge the driver to make a “legal U-turn.”  This is the equivalent to the Christian’s conscience warning or forewarning us that we are leaving the straight and narrow path and we must make a “U-turn” and return to the true path of righteousness.  This is spiritual repentance.

Sometime ago, after our daughter gave us a large-screen GPS, we set it to travel from our home in Barnwell to the small town of Estill which is about 30 miles away.  Having traveled to Estill several times previously, I automatically assumed the GPS would send us down Highway 3 which is the way I always went.  Does that not remind us of the majority of the religious world who operates on assumptions and self-will (Proverbs 3:5)?  I had the GPS so frustrated.  I laughed and told my wife I was running it crazy.  It said to turn left at every crossroads, which would have taken us back toward the satellite’s best route.  On one occasion, when it was obvious we had taken a different route than the satellite had planned, the GPS simply conceded and said, “Recalculating.”

When our way differs from God’s way, the only one who must recalculate is us.  God’s planned path of righteousness will not change; therefore we must change.

When we arrived in Estill we decided to follow the instructions of the GPS back home and were surprised that there was a much better way than i had traveled in the past.  Now those who know me know that I have made a major religious recalculation and found a much better way.  Like Paul, I did what I did for years with a good conscience but I was mistaught, and as Paul told Timothy, “I did it out of ignorance” (1 Timothy 1:13).  Under the Christian Dispensation one cannot plead ignorance (Acts 17:30).

If the conscience is the theology by which we live, it becomes what Peter calls the hidden man of the heart (1 Peter 3:4).  The heart is the core or central innermost part of anything.  It’s the part of us that God sees (Matthew 15:8).  I often tell people God is not a lip reader; He’s a heart reader.  It was the part of the prodigal son who cried out, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight…” (Luke 15:21).

One cannot study the conscience without studying guilt.  It’s what made the prodigal son come to himself (Luke 15:17a).  Without a good case of guilt, we might never repent.  True repentance is changing because we want to be reconciled to God.  A hypocritical repentance is saying we’re sorry to escape punishment.

There are certain religions that control their constituents by making them feel guilty and ashamed.  This is called Ecclesiogenic guilt or depression fostered by the church.  There’s no forgiveness; no grace.  All problems, sickness, financial are a result of one’s lack of faithfulness to the Church.  It is based on “if you had done this or that,” these things would not have happened to you.

When our conscience hurts, we still may have peace with God because we are His (1 John 1:7-9).  I loved my father so much, when I did something wrong I ran to him because I trusted him to do right by me.  I see that as how God helps our conscience when we feel guilty.  Guilt causes us to make things right and trust God.

Brother Gus Nichols told this story.  One night he could not go to sleep which was uncharacteristic of him.  He tossed and turned and finally Sister Nichols said, “Gus, what is wrong with you?”  He said, “I think I offended brother Jones and I can’t get it off my mind.”  She said, “Get up and go over there (to his house) and get it straightened out,” which he did.  He came back home and fell asleep like a baby.  That’s objective guilt – that’s what keeps us straight.  That’s the purpose of the Christian conscience.  To kick against one’s conscience is to kick against the pricks like God told Paul in Acts 9.

Then there is doubt!  Where does doubt come into play?  The story is told of the boy who approached his mother and asked her if the shirt he had in his hand was too dirty to wear to the event he planned to attend that evening.  She did not bother to look at the shirt and immediately said, “Yes, it’s too dirty.”  The boy said, as most teenager would, “But Mom, you didn’t even look at the shirt!”  She said, “I didn’t have to look – if you had enough doubt about the shirt’s cleanliness to ask, then it is too dirty!”  Perhaps this is the real meaning of Romans 14:23.

Paul says what we think is permissible might bring ruin to a weaker brother.  He went on to address the subject of ambivalence or doubt.  If there is even a glimmer of doubt about a thing, don’t do it.  When a man defies his conscience he has sinned already.  So, if a man’s core is his faith, and his conscience is a part of his core, then to some extent his faith and his conscience play a similar part in directing his path.  Aquila and Priscilla had to reset Apollos’ GPS.

He, like Paul, was zealous in what he was doing but he had to recalculate.  The admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians might well fit this context too.  He that thinks his GPS is set right had better take heed lest he end up at the wrong destination.

When the theology is right, the conscience is right and we can trust it to be our guide.  The time has come, however, that men’s consciences have been seared with a hot iron (the sensitivity dulled) and they fell no shame or guilt at egregious sin or when they stray from the paths of righteousness.

teg8891@aol.com