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Editorial: Am I As Stubborn As A Mule? (March/April, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

All of us have heard the phrase, “stubborn as a mule.”  This term was probably coined by frustrated farmers after they observed how difficult it was to get their donkeys to pull their assigned loads in the field.  (A case could also be made that the phrase was thought up as an observation made by frustrated spouses about their significant others.  I say that because I know what my wife’s answer to the question posed in the title of this editorial would be!)

Regardless, I think there’s a lesson we can learn about our relationship with Christ when we examine exactly why a mule is stubborn.  The reason it balks at pulling a load is not because it doesn’t hear the command to “giddy up.”  Rather, it would simply not hear it.  It has more than enough strength and ability to pull that load, but it would rather graze in the green grass of the pasture or bask in the noonday sun than work for his owner.  Our human minds are several levels above that of a mule, but we sometimes manifest the same characteristics.  How many times have we heard a clear command from God as revealed in His Word, but we, like the mule, try to evade obedience because the biblical command does not coincide with our mind’s individual prejudices and desires?

When I was a child, I was reluctant to hear my mother’s call because I knew that if I listened and obeyed her it would result in some unpleasant chore that would encroach upon my playtime.  That’s why I chose not to see my dirty hands and ignore her command to wash them, because I would rather have been eating.  This kind of evasive thinking is found in the minds of mules and children, but it should never be found in the thinking of mature, responsible adults (1 Cor. 13:11).

Yet, while the eternal destiny of souls are at stake, there are professed Christians who exhibit indifference and intolerance toward the true teachings of God as revealed in the totality of the Bible.  They do so because such teachings are contrary to their personal desires or disrupt their convenient, worldly way of life.  Jesus talked about such people when He quoted Isaiah by saying, “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matt. 13:14-15).

What a pity it is for people who could (and should) know God’s truth which is His Word (John 17:17), but reject it because it does not suit their evil lifestyles or tastes!  For example, God commanded that men have faith (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10), repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19), and be baptized — literally in the Greek, immersed — in water in order to obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38), and thereby be put into Christ and His body, the church of Christ, by the Holy Spirit through their baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Eph. 1:22-23).  How sad it is for such commands to be rejected simply because they violate the wishes of family (Matt. 10:34-37) or the traditions and doctrine of religious groups (Matt. 15:1-9) who seek the god of convenience rather than the God Who demands obedience (1 Sam. 15:22; Acts 5:29; Heb. 5:8-9).

Other examples could be given.  We continually see reports from a media who gladly supports what they report about those in our country and elsewhere who selfishly and stubbornly promote homosexual “marriage” and the murder of innocent children through abortion, despite what God wishes (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Prov. 6:16-19).  Spring Break and summer are coming, and we will see many who choose to stubbornly flaunt their bodies through immodest apparel and actions, fornicate, and partake of alcohol and other hallucinogens regardless of the will of their Creator in such matters (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Thess. 5:6-8).

Closer to home, let’s examine ourselves and our own attitudes (2 Cor. 13:5).  Does our own stubbornness keep us from treating others as we would be treated (Matt. 7:12)?  Husbands and wives, are we so determined to have our own way that we end up treating our spouses in ways contrary to the will of the One who united us in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; cf. Matt. 19:1-9)?  Children, you know as well as I that the primary reason you disobey your parents and thus disobey God is due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:1-3).  Parents, is our adamant refusal to put the spiritual raising of our children before unneeded work, TV times, our golf game and favorite book due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6-9)?  Brother and sister in Christ, does our constant criticism and backbiting against the shepherds of our local congregation come from being stubbornly adamant about having our own way above all (Heb. 13:17)?

Through the inspired apostle, our Father in heaven said this:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:1-8).

Do we have the mind of a mule, or the mind of Christ?  Jesus left being in the form of God, equality with God, and the glory of heaven for a wretched, hard life among men which ended in an agonizing, humiliating criminal’s death on a cross…and He did so because He considered us more important than Himself.  Are we anything like Him?

A stubborn mule looks only to its own interests.  It does not put the interests of its owner before itself.  Stubborn Christians look only to their own interests.  They do not put their Father’s interests before their own, nor do they care about the interests of their brethren.

Christians who are like their Savior are not like that.  Like Him, they sacrifice their own interests to serve God and the church.  May we be listed among their ranks!

—Jon

 

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Editorial: Why Emphasizing Scriptural Doctrine Is Right (January/February, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

In our post-modernistic culture which shies away from the notion of absolute right and wrong, many do not embrace the idea that one can hold to a position which is authoritatively right and thus make all contrary positions authoritatively wrong. As with most other cultural trends, this relativism has seeped into the minds of many in the religious world, even to the point where embracing and defending doctrinal truth is labeled sinful. In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Presbyterian author Timothy Keller writes, “Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace.”

Some within the Lord’s church toy with this notion as well. This writer has discussed theology with many brethren in the church over the years, most of whom are preachers. In many of these discussions I’ve observed that some tend to shy away from the notion of stating with scriptural proof that a particular belief or person is absolutely wrong; others react with outright hostility to the idea that I or anyone else could state with authority and scriptural proof that they or anyone could hold to an erroneous religious belief.

I recently read two blog posts by brotherhood writers. One, authored by Jack Wilkie and titled “A Dangerous Trend In The Churches of Christ,” starts out by saying, “Right doctrine that leads to right actions is critically important, but if we’ve come to the place that our rightness outranks Jesus in terms of where we direct our attention (and I believe we have), we have a problem.” Citing the above quote from Keller, Wilkie then criticizes our “constant dwelling on the doctrines that set us apart from others, like baptism, music, women’s roles, and the like,” before talking about our supposed condescension towards outsiders, an unfriendly, unwelcome attitude we theoretically show towards any who question us, and our “ever-shrinking window of fellowship.” While he repeatedly clarifies that we must teach correct doctrine, the majority of Wilkie’s piece seems to promote the idea that we overemphasize correct doctrine, resulting in making us shallow, prideful, fearful people who de-emphasize Jesus, the cross, and the grace of God.

The second blog post, authored by Steven Hunter and titled “Has Our Bible Replaced Our Lord?”, asks this about our true faith: “Is it in the Scriptures themselves, or the Person to whom the Scriptures point us—Jesus?” Hunter wonders if we “have become more about our Scriptures than the Lord who gave us the Scriptures,” comparing some in the Lord’s church to the Jews whom Jesus chastised when He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). Criticizing using the Bible “as a method to win debates and arguments,” “search(ing) the Scriptures to prove others wrong,” and “read(ing) the Scriptures in snippets to establish a doctrine,” Hunter believes the Scriptures “more often make us into Pharisees because we sometimes care more about being right in our obedience than in our carrying the whole of the purpose of Scripture.”

Those who hold to these views are likely sincere, but they overlook some facts of great importance concerning the value of focusing on the Scriptures. First, without emphasizing the Scriptures one would know absolutely nothing about God’s grace, the cross, Jesus, His will, salvation, the promise of heaven, or the curse of hell. One cannot look to Jesus or focus on Jesus without looking to the Bible.

Secondly, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that we must focus on the Scriptures if there is anything concerning the Christian religion about which we need instruction or correction. If we want to be right as God is right, we cannot achieve that goal without the Bible. If we want to grow more complete spiritually or be thoroughly equipped for any work God considers worthy, we must go to God’s Word.

Much false doctrine exists because most do not do this. The Scriptures command us to expose such error (Eph. 5:11; Jude 3; etc.) by “speaking the truth in love”; this is how we grow more like Christ (Eph. 4:14-15). God’s Word is that truth (John 17:17). Thus, we must teach topics on which error is taught by others such as baptism, worship, and the like. Doing so, even in love, may put us in a negative light in other’s eyes, but such can’t be helped (2 Tim. 3:12-13). The whole counsel of God must still be proclaimed, and the Bible is the sole source of that counsel.

The Scriptures are a major part of the method God chose to use to save us. One cannot overemphasize their importance; indeed, many are lost because they de-emphasize them. May we never do so.

—Jon

Editorial: Is The Bible The Only Way God Communicates With Man? (November/December, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

We call the Bible the Word of God, and so it is (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Yet if a sincere yet unknowledgeable soul asked you to explain why you believe the Bible is from God, or why you believe it is the only way God communicates with man today, would you be able to explain it to him?

It is true that many people during biblical times came to know God without reading Scripture.  In fact, no inspired record of any written communication between God and men exists from Eden until He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai and then inspired Moses to write the Pentateuch (Ex. 20:1-17; 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9-11).  Before Sinai, Genesis records God speaking directly to various patriarchs, people and kings (cf. 1:28-30; 4:9-15; 12:1-3) and also indirectly through miraculous prophetic interpretation (40:1-23; 41:1-39).  Genesis also speaks of God-fearing people from families, countries and backgrounds different from those to whom we read that God directly spoke, implying that God also directly communicated with these people even though we have no specific record of such (14:18-20; cf. Josh. 2:9-13).  This divine, miraculous communication outside of inspired Scripture would continue at certain times with certain people during and even after inspired men started writing the Old Testament (cf. Num. 22-24; Josh. 1:1-9; Judg. 6:11-27; et al).

It would also continue during the time when the New Testament was being written.  Men who already had inspired Scripture in the form of the completed Old Testament still directly received communication from Deity during Christ’s time, sometimes without knowing so (Matt. 1:20-25; 2:12-15; John 11:49-52; 12:28-30).  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would directly communicate with them after He had gone (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15), which the Spirit did starting at Pentecost and afterwards (Acts 2; cf. 4:31; 5:1-10).  Later, the apostles would lay their hands on other Christians like Stephen and Philip and give them the ability to miraculously receive communication from the Spirit and thus prophesy (Acts 6:5-6, 8-10; 7:55; 8:18, 26-29).  During this time, some of these apostles and prophets were inspired by the Spirit to write the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Does God communicate to us directly today?  While He spoke to the Hebrew patriarchs in various ways at various times, He now speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. John 15:15), who is interestingly referred to as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14).  When Jesus told the writers of the New Testament that they would be inspired by the Spirit, He said the Spirit would only communicate to them what the Son and the Father directed (John 16:12-15; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).  Thus, whenever we read our Bibles we are reading a message from the Son of God, Who is the only way the Father communicates with us today.  Any other method of communication is cursed and forbidden (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).  Not being Scripture, it would not equip us to any truly good work anyway (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The miraculous spiritual gifts imparted by the apostles  through the laying on of their hands — some of which being direct communication from Deity (1 Cor. 12:1, 4-11) — ceased “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10), a reference in the literal Greek to that which is complete or mature.  The same Greek term is used to describe the complete Word of God (Jas. 1:25; Rom. 12:2).  Thus, the Bible says that miracles involving men — including receiving miraculous, direct communication from Deity — would cease when the New Testament was completed.  God does not lie (Tit. 1:2), so we can be confident that, rather than waiting and searching for some other form of communication from Him, all we need is to go to His Word and “rightly handle” it in order to be on the right path (2 Tim. 2:15).

Yet, can we know that the Bible truly comes from God?  Consider this.  No one can successfully dispute the overwhelming secular evidence that the Bible contains 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years on three different continents in three different languages.  These authors came from very different backgrounds and wrote in very different environments about extremely controversial subjects…and yet there is harmony and continuity in the Bible which is unmatched because all were inspired by the same Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).  That combined with the overwhelming scientific foreknowledge within Scripture (cf. Is. 40:22; Job 26:7; 28:25; 38:16; Ps. 8:8; Eccl. 1:6-7), the hundreds of prophecies historically fulfilled, and the archeological discoveries continually made which support biblical events show the Bible to be what it claims to be: from God.

Thus, let us “in humility receive the word implanted” (Jas. 1:21) and encourage others to do likewise!

— Jon

 

 

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

 

 

 

Editorial: Discouragement – Satan’s Greatest Weapon (September, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Discouragement.  A tool Satan can use so much more easily than many of the others in his arsenal.  It sits off to the side, looking harmless, assumed to be nothing more than a normal part of life.  How little we realize that with discouragement Satan can open doors in our hearts and minds which are so tightly locked up against his other tools…and once he’s inside our hearts and minds via his key of discouragement, he can use any other tool he wants.

God’s Word records many sad accounts of followers of God who lost heart and gave up.  When Moses sent the spies into the Promised Land, all but Caleb and Joshua came back with discouraging news.  The fearful saw the size and strength of their opponents rather then remembering the size and strength of their God (Num. 13-14).  Elijah  did great things for God which resulted in the conversion of thousands of Israelites (1 Kings 18:1-40; 19:18).  Yet, he had become so discouraged when Jezebel threatened his life that he deceived himself into thinking he was the only servant of God left (1 Kings 19:1-18).  After Peter promised that he’d never leave Jesus’ side, he ran with the rest when the Lord was arrested and a few minutes later became so afraid that he denied even knowing Christ (Matt. 26:31-75).  He did so because he was discouraged after seeing the apparent lost cause his Lord’s ways had become upon His arrest.

We become discouraged when we make the same mistake that these folks made and start paying more attention to the obstacles than the opportunities.  We become discouraged when we start believing Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), instead of the Father “who cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2).  What has the God who cannot lie promised us?  He has promised us that our work is not meaningless, so be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58).  He has promised us that our trials and hardships make us stronger if we allow them (Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5).  He has promised us that the hardships we endure seem painful now, but they cause us to become more righteous later if we allow ourselves to be trained by them (Heb. 12:1-11).  Do we believe His promises?  Do we?  Our actions always prove how strong our faith really is (Jas. 2:14-26).

God can do great things with a heart which is His and a mind which believes it.  Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who refused to be discouraged, went on to do great things for God and His people for years afterward.  Elijah recovered from his discouragement and went on serving God, resulting in being brought directly into heaven rather than being allowed to die.  Fifty days after a discouraged Peter denied Christ, he converted thousands of people through courageous preaching.  All of these men faced what they thought were impossible situations, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope whatsoever…but it turns out they were wrong.  Why?  Because they forgot that God was with them (Phil. 4:13).  Once they remembered that, look at the heights to which they climbed!

What heights can you reach with God’s help?  What can God do with you?  Does He have your heart and mind, or is Satan having his way with you?  Remember James 4:7 and Hebrews 12:12-13, dear friends.  Don’t let Satan discourage you!       — Jon

 

Editorial: The Psalm Which Holds The Bible In High Regard (July/August, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

In keeping with the theme of this issue which focuses on David, we would be amiss if we did not mention the book of Psalms.  David authored a great many of the psalms in this Old Testament book, and there is much to be gained by us as Christians by studying the psalms found within it (cf. Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Within them David and the other inspired authors cry out to God during times of sorrow, despair and trouble and praise Him with gratitude and awe for His kindness, power and wisdom.  These deeply heart-felt and personal talks with the Almighty lend great insight to us as to how to greatly improve our prayer relationship with God, teach us how to lean on Him and revere Him instead of taking Him for granted, and show us that we are definitely not the first followers of God to struggle with sin, sorrow,  and severe trials which bring us low.

The Psalms also teach us about the importance of God’s Word and the impact it must have on our daily lives.  Perhaps no psalm teaches this in greater detail than Psalm 119.  The author of this psalm is not formally revealed in Scripture; some believe David wrote it while others tend to think it was written later during the time of Babylonian captivity.  Regardless of its human authorship, its ultimate Source is God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  176 verses in length, this psalm makes up the longest chapter in the Bible and is two chapters away from being in the exact middle of the biblical canon of Genesis-Revelation.  It is very interesting that the longest psalm in the book of Psalms and the longest chapter in the entirety of Scripture is completely dedicated to showing the great need to know God’s Word and the numerous benefits which come from meditating upon it and obeying it.  Thus, this editorial will examine several of the precepts found within this psalm in order for us to better clearly see the value of the Bibles we possess and how important it is to meditate upon them much more than we perhaps do and apply their commands to our lives.

The psalm begins by stating that those “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord…who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” are “blessed,” ’esher in Hebrew, literally “happy” (vs. 1-2).  We must note how verses 1 and 3 correlate “those whose way is blameless” and those who “do no wrong” with “those who walk in the law of the Lord” and “walk in his ways,” showing that one cannot be forgiven of sins by God without obeying His Word.

We then read how the psalmist states that God has commanded that His precepts “be kept diligently” (v. 4); Christians likewise are commanded to be diligent in keeping God’s command to add Christ-like qualities to their faith (2 Pet. 1:5-10).  The psalmist then prays that his ways “may be steadfast in keeping your statutes”, anticipating that “having my eyes fixed on all your commandments” will result in avoiding being “put to shame” (vs. 5-6).  Looking back over our lives, how many times can we see that we would have avoided being put to shame ourselves in various ways if we had only done what God had told us to do in the first place?

In a society which encourages giving priority and acceptance to the young, in particular the young who engage in and uphold debaucherously sinful immoralities, the question asked in verse 9 is more relevant than ever:  “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.”  Yet no young person will be able to do this unless their parents take seriously their charge to teach them God’s Word right from the beginning of their lives on a daily basis (Deut. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:4).

Want to overcome sin?  Be able to say along with the psalmist:  “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11).  Yet the only reason the psalmist was able to say this because he sought God whole-heartedly (v. 10), talked of God’s rules with others (v. 13), meditated upon His precepts and fixed his eyes on God’s ways (v. 15), and found just as much delight in “the way of your testimonies” and “your statutes” as he did in “all riches” (vs. 14, 16).  It is therefore no wonder that he had stored up God’s Word in his heart so much that it not only helped him avoid sin, but it also helped him to not forget it (v. 16).  Brethren, are we the same?  Do we find great delight in studying the Bible, so much so that we entreat God to teach it to us as the psalmist did (v. 12)?  What topic is discussed by us with others the most: politics, television, sports, the kids, gossip, complaints…or the laws of God?  Do we find it difficult to remember what the Bible says…yet find it easy to remember sports statistics?  Is God’s Word truly stored up in our hearts?  How much sin is in our lives will let us know.

We ask God to “deal bountifully” with us just as the psalmist did (v. 17), but is our purpose for wanting God’s blessings in our lives like the psalmist’s?  “…that I may live and keep your word.”  Could we honestly join the psalmist in saying, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20)?  Are the “testimonies” of God found in His Word our “counselors” (v. 24)…or do we rely more upon our own wisdom or feelings for counsel?

Many believe they can be faithful in the sight of God without following the Bible.  Yet when the psalmist had “chosen the way of faithfulness,” he “set (God’s) rules before” him (v. 30).  He clung to the Lord’s testimonies (v. 31), ran in the way of His commandments (v. 32), and asked God repeatedly to teach him “the way of your statutes” and give him understanding in order to keep His law (vs. 33-34).  We rightly cite Paul’s words in Romans about how faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), but Psalms 119 shows us exactly how God wants us to hear His Word and the type of faith He wants it to produce.  Christians, are we like the psalmist?

Despite the protection from severe, life-ending persecution the First Amendment gives us in this country, many American Christians hesitate to openly speak of their faith to others because they fear ridicule and ostracism.  The psalmist was not like that.  He prayed, “Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word” (vs. 41-42).  He acknowledged the ridicule thrown his way, but he trusted in God and His Word so much that he wanted to answer the ridicule.  He was not afraid to “speak of your testimonies before kings,” knowing that he would “not be put to shame” because “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (vs. 46-47).  He saw that “the insolent utterly deride me,” but nonetheless “I do not turn away from your law” (v. 51).  No matter what, even “though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,” the psalmist was determined to “not forget your law” (v. 61).  Indeed, in spite of the persecution thrown his way he still acknowledged that God had “dealt well with your servant…according to your word” (v. 65).  He even saw the spiritual benefit of his hardships when he wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (v. 67) and “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (v. 71).  In fact, the psalmist saw the benefit of delighting in following the commandments of God when he said, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (vs. 92-93).  What an example for us to follow!

The psalmist loved God’s law so much that it was “my meditation all the day” (v. 97).  As a result of his continual daily study of God’s Word, he was “wiser than my enemies,” had “more understanding than all my teachers,” and “understand more than the aged” (vs. 98-100).  More importantly, it resulted in him being able to say, “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word” (v. 101).  Friends, if we can get to where studying and obeying the Bible is “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103), then we will not only gain wisdom (“Through your precepts I get understanding”) but also come to “hate every false way” (v. 104).  That is how God’s Word can be “a lamp to (our) feet and a light to (our) path” (v. 105).

Do our eyes “shed streams of tears” because “people do not keep your law” (v. 136)?  Do we have a “zeal” which “consumes” us because our “foes forget your words” (v. 139)?  As I study Psalm 119, what continually keeps my attention is the evidence that the psalmist was a man whose whole life completely revolved around pleasing God, striving to be like Him in every way possible, and passionately wishing that everyone else could be the same way.  What great benefit could come if every Christian on earth could be the same way!

Much more could be said about Psalm 119.  An in-depth study is far beyond the scope of this piece.  So we shall close by examining one final passage:  “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (v. 160).  God’s Word will never pass away, and only by whole-heartedly taking into account everything it says will one come to know and obey the truth.  May we all come to know it and obey it more fully!

— Jon

carolinamessenger@gmail.com

 

Editorial: Why Do Churches of Christ Observe The Lord’s Supper Every Sunday? (March/April, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Sunday is a very special day for those in the Lord’s church.  It is the first day of the week, the day we assemble together to worship our God in spirit and truth (John 4:24) while encouraging each other to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).  It is also the day we observe communion or the Lord’s Supper.  The majority of denominations in Christendom do not do this.  Thus, many regular visitors from other religious bodies have seen us observe communion each Sunday and wonder why we don’t partake of it on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.   It is proper that New Testament Christians know exactly why we practice what we do (1 Pet. 3:15).

First, God commands us to have authority from His Son on what we do concerning the Lord’s Supper and everything else (Col. 3:17).  Jesus speaks to us today through the inspired writings of the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), so we must go there to find the authority of how and when to partake of communion.

There we read of how Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night in which He was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23), which was a Thursday night.  So why do we not partake of communion on Thursdays?  It is because the church of Christ was not yet in existence when He instituted the Supper.

On that night, Jesus said to the apostles, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom(Matt. 26:29; cf. Mark 14:25, emp. added).  Luke records, “…for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God…for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes(Luke 22:16, 18, emp. added), and then after instituting the Supper, “…just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at my table in My kingdom…” (vs. 29-30, emp. added).

Note that Christ promised them He would not partake of the Supper with them until “that day” when He drinks it with them in His Father’s kingdom, that it would fulfilled in the kingdom of God, and they would eat and drink at His table in His kingdom.  This is significant because Scripture teaches that the church of Christ is God’s kingdom.  Both Jesus and John the Baptizer preached that God’s kingdom was “at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15), i.e., that it was coming soon.  Jesus told His disciples that the kingdom would come in their lifetimes (Mark 9:1).  He promised Peter He would build “My church” upon the rock of Peter’s confession, and then promised to give Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:15-19).

Do you see how Christ refers interchangeably to the church and kingdom, thereby proving they are the same? All three terms are always talked about in these passages in the future tense, signifying that at the time they were not in existence but would soon come in power.  Keeping this in mind, remember that before His ascension He answered a question about when the kingdom would come by telling the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:6-8), a promise fulfilled ten days later on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  This was also the day three thousand souls were added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).  Starting in Acts 2, the rest of the New Testament would always interchangeably refer to the kingdom of God and Christ’s church as having already come and presently existing (Rom. 14:17; 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:4, 6, 9).

Thus, the kingdom of heaven — the Lord’s church — came on the day of Pentecost, a Jewish holy day referred to as the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23:15-16.  From this passage, we learn that the day of Pentecost (a Greek term meaning “fiftieth day”) would always be “fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.”  In other words, Pentecost was always observed on the first day of the week.  Thus, God’s kingdom — the church of Christ — came on a Sunday.

Remember how we saw earlier that Christ promised He would not again drink of the fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper with His disciples until “that day” when the kingdom of God came (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18)?    The day the kingdom came was on a Sunday.

This is why Luke records that one of the very first things these newly baptized and converted three thousand souls did on the first day of the church’s existence that Sunday was to “continually devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42, emp. added).  “The breaking of the bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17; cf. 11:23-25).  Thus, the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to observe communion on the day the kingdom came and the church began, which was the first day of the week.  The fact that they were “continually” doing so suggests by definition that it was a fixed habit.

Further evidence that this is so is found in Luke’s account of the church at Troas (Acts 20:7).  As with the Jerusalem church, these Christians gathered together for the purpose to observe the Lord’s Supper (“break bread”) on Sunday, and did so with the apostle Paul’s approval.  Additionally, remember Paul’s directions to both the churches of Galatia and Corinth to take up collections every first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2).  This implies that he knew they had the assembling together every Sunday.  Since he taught the same thing at every congregation (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1), we can be confident that all the early churches gathered together to observe communion and give of their means on Sundays under his direction.  And just as the Jews under the Old Law knew that God’s command to observe the Sabbath applied to every Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; Num. 15:32-36), we can learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11) and know that the New Testament teaching concerning communion applies to every Sunday.

Many profess to be followers of Christ and observe communion only a few times a year, or during special occasions like weddings.  Undoubtedly this is done sincerely, but their practices nonetheless are traditions of men (Matt. 15:7-9).  Christians must have authority from Christ on everything we do, and we find that authority only in the New Testament.  In those pages we read of Jesus promising not to partake of communion with His disciples again until the day the kingdom came, a Sunday.  We read in Scripture of how the early Christians observed the Lord’s Supper only on Sundays.  This is how we can and must observe communion each Sunday in the name of Christ and be confident that He is with us when we do so as He promised (Matt. 18:20; 26:29; cf. Heb. 2:11-12).

— Jon