Tag Archives: Jon Mitchell

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

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

 

 

Baptism: Are We Saved By Works? — Jon Mitchell

The Scriptures clearly teach that baptism is something one must do in order to be saved and have sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).  Yet many disagree with this for several reasons.  One such objection stems from a very understandable line of thought, mainly this.  The Bible says we are not saved by works in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Baptism is a work.  Therefore, baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Certainly baptism is something one does, and therefore is a “work.”  However, is it a work of merit (by which one earns salvation)…or is it a work of faith (by which one receives salvation)?  Furthermore, who is the one doing the work?  Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed…or is it God who forgives and regenerates them through the blood of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit?

In answering these legitimate questions, it must first be pointed out that there are different kinds of works.  There are works of merit which are done to earn something.  Those who have done such works believe they deserve something; they believe they will be saved because they did good deeds and went to church, or read their Bibles, or something to that effect.  Yet all the good we might do cannot outweigh even one sin (James 2:10).  That’s why we need God’s grace and our faith in order to be saved (Rom. 3:27-28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).

There are also works of faith which are done to receive something.  Those who do works of faith believe that they deserve nothing because they understand that their obedience does not earn or merit their salvation.  They know their salvation rests upon God’s grace and mercy, not because God owes them anything.

This is why works of faith could also be called works of God.  In fact, Jesus calls faith exactly that (John 6:28-29).  Other works of faith which God commands are repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Rom. 10:9-10).  Jesus Himself will specifically state on the day of judgment that those who enter Heaven do so because of the benevolent deeds done by them in their lives, while those condemned to hell are in that terrible state because of the lack of benevolent deeds done in their lives (Matt. 25:31-46).

To those who say one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved because baptism is a work, I ask this.  Does one have to have faith in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (John 3:16; Mark 16:16).  Does faith require works, something done by you?  Yes (James 2:14-26).  Does one have to repent of sins in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30).  Is repentance a work, a deed done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to confess their faith in Christ before men in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:9-10).  Is confession a work, an action done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to do good to all men at every opportunity in order to go to heaven?  Jesus thinks so (Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:10).  Are benevolent deeds works, deeds done by you?  Yes.

So what’s the difference between obeying God’s commands to have faith, repent of sins, confess one’s faith before men, and do good to all men at every opportunity in order to be saved…and obeying God’s command to be baptized in order to be saved?  To ask is to answer.  Would one say that one does not have to have faith, repent of sins, confess faith, and do good to others in order to go to heaven?  Such notions blatantly contradict what the Bible teaches.  Yet if faith, repentance, confession, and doing good are required of us in order to be saved…why not baptism also, since it also is commanded by God?

What’s hard for some to understand is that even though works such as faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds are commanded by God, they are not meritorious works; we do not earn salvation through them (Luke 17:10).  Instead, they are works God has ordained we do in order to receive His salvation.  When all is said and done, salvation is still by God’s grace and mercy.

Baptism, therefore, is a work of faith.  It requires faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37), and is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns) forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Through it one receives (not earns) union with Christ in His death and is raised with Him to a new life (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).  The fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized by Paul when he wrote that God saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5).  This alludes to baptism, especially when we compare this phrase to John 3:5, 23 and Acts 8:36-39 and 10:47-48.  Yet Paul still says that baptism does not save us by “works of righteousness” (i.e., works of merit).  God does not owe us salvation because we were baptized.

Baptism, like faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds, is simply an act of faith by which we receive salvation.  This is so because baptism involves the working of God (Col. 2:11-13).  God does the work, not us!  It’s God who makes us alive through baptism, praise His name!

 

Editorial: Lessons on Encouragement from 1-2 Corinthians (January/February, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

One of the most important charges given to preachers and Christians in general is found in 2 Timothy 4:2:  “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  There is obviously an ever-present need to preach nothing more than the truth of God’s Word, and most preachers recognize the great need to always be ready to preach that Word both when it is well received and even when it is not.  Yet, a struggle exists within many preachers and teachers of the Bible to accurate apply the last part of 2 Timothy 4:2 to their heralding of God’s Word to others.  Many known false teachers both within the brotherhood and in the denominational world infamously shy away from any sort of preaching that would scripturally reprove or rebuke in any fashion.  Consequently, it is easy for sound Christians and gospel preachers and teachers to give more reproofs and rebukes than exhortation and encouragement in their sermons, classes, articles, blog posts, social media comments, and one-on-one conversations, all in an effort to “pick up the slack” and give the world the scriptural correction they need and won’t receive anywhere else.  It is also easy to do this without the longsuffering and patience God inspired Paul to command Timothy to have.

We must remember that there is just as much value and need for exhortation and encouragement as there is for reproof and rebuke (Ga. 6:2; 1 Th. 5:11, 14; 1 Ti. 5:1; He. 3:12-13; 10:24-25).  Spiritually building up and edifying fellow Christians to help them become closer to God and overcome sin in their life requires more than telling them what they need to work on.  It equally requires open acknowledgment and appreciation of what we are doing right, and encouragement to keep it up.  For every (hopefully scriptural and constructive) critical sermon, lesson, article or comment made, there needs to be another which openly acknowledges the good done by Christians and thanks them for it.  Yes, the sermons, articles, and comments which bring out what we need to do better are more times than not correct and they are sure to get numerous “likes” and comments like “Amen!” and “Preach it, brother!”  However, after a while of being regularly saturated with lessons and articles which repeatedly say, “We have this problem,” “We’re not doing what we need to do in this area,” and “We could do better here,” a lot of us will get discouraged and begin to wonder if we can do anything right in the sight of God (or the Christian or church leader who regularly shows us our errors.)  There is a place for reproof and rebuke, but there’s also a place for exhortation.  As Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt. 23:23).

This is why I believe 1-2 Corinthians are books which every Christian needs to read at least once a quarter.  We typically think of Paul as a no-nonsense, “let ’em have it with both barrels” kind of preacher, especially in his letters to the Corinthian church.  This perhaps is due to our human tendency to give more focus on the negative than the positive, which is a big reason why we might be unbalanced with the emphasis on “reproving and rebuking” rather than “exhortation, encouragement, and patience.”

In reality, it is interesting to see how God inspired Paul to both encourage and rebuke the church at Corinth in a balanced way.  He would acknowledge and show appreciation for the good the Corinthians were doing and continually state and affirm the great love he and God have for them and the love they have for each other…all while also repeatedly bringing up their shortcomings in very blunt and sometimes sarcastic ways while admonishing them to repent.

Consider the following examples from both of Paul’s inspired letters to Corinth, a church which had so many faults that it makes some of our worst days in our own congregations look like a picnic in comparison!

Beginning in 1 Corinthians, notice how before rebuking them for division (1:10-13) Paul called them God’s church, sanctified, saints, and wished upon them grace and peace (1:2-3).  Notice how he told them he thanked God for them, openly acknowledged their strong points, and told them they were in fellowship with God (1:4-9).  Brethren, how often do we openly wish God’s grace and peace upon others, even while we “let them have it”?  How often do we openly tell our fellow Christians, especially those who have easily perceived faults, that we thank God for them and bring up the good things about them?

Let’s keep reading.  After calling them spiritual infants due to their worldliness (3:1-4), Paul then called them God’s field and building (3:9), God’s holy temple (3:17), and told them all things were theirs and they were Christ’s (3:21).

After sarcastically mocking their “high and mighty” attitude (4:3-8), he stressed that his goal was not to shame them (4:14) and told them he considered them to be like his children (4:15).  Do we do this when we correct others?

After rebuking them for tolerating fornication amongst them and going to court against each other over trivial matters (5:1-6:8), he reminded them of how they had overcome many grievous sins and were washed, sanctified, and justified (6:9-11).  What a great example of balance!  How needed are the reminders that all is not lost, that those whom we correct have still done some good and are still in Christ!

Right before rebuking them for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), he commends them for their obedience to apostolic traditions (11:2).  This reminds me of how I’ve yet to find any Christian in need of correction who was not obeying any of God’s commandments.

While rebuking them for their misplaced priorities concerning spiritual gifts (12-14), he reminds them of how they are the body of Christ and each one of them is needed (12:12-27).  It’s very easy for some Christians, especially some who have unrepentant sin in their lives and need rebuking, to think they have nothing to offer to the kingdom.  There was a time in my life that I felt that way when sin reigned in my life.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and when Christians realize this it can be great motivation for them to repent of their sins.

After rebuking them for their error concerning the resurrection (15:1-49), he builds them up by painting them a glorious picture of that wonderful Judgment Day and then reminds them of how their work is not in vain (15:50-58).  All of us need reminding of this.

He then ends his first letter to them by sending them “hearty greetings” from brethren elsewhere (16:19-20) before wishing God’s grace upon them and expressing his love for them once more (16:23-24).  What a stark contrast from some discussions I’ve seen in which scriptural correction was given!

2 Corinthians is no different.  He starts the letter by openly wishing upon them grace and peace from God and Christ (1:2).  He then gives them a very uplifting message about comfort (1:3-5), before informing them that they are the reason he and his fellow apostles suffer (1:6) and his hope in them is unshaken (1:7), all before requesting their prayers (1:11).  What a stark contrast from sermons, articles, and comments made by myself and others in the past which simply say to Christians, “Shape up!” without also comforting them and telling them, “I care so much about you, and here’s what I’m willing to do to show it.  I hope in you.  I believe in you, so much that I’m asking you to pray for me.”

Paul then speaks bluntly to them about their need to forgive the penitent among them (1:23-2:11).  Yet, even while doing so he goes out of his way to tell them that he didn’t think he was better than them (1:24a), acknowledge that they stand firm in their faith (1:24b), and inform them of how it tore him up to have to rebuke them (2:4a), all before making sure they knew that he didn’t want to hurt them because he loved them very much (2:4b).  How much we can learn from this!   Rebuking people requires more than telling them to repent while specifying their errors.  It also requires telling them that you love them while acknowledging what they are doing right.

Even while defending himself and his companions from the accusation of being “peddlers of God’s Word” (2:12-3:1), he tells the Corinthians that their walk with Christ is such that he could use them as a “letter of recommendation” (3:2-3).  What a great example for us, friends!

Instead of complaining about it, Paul then speaks positively about the terrible ordeals he and his companions went through (4:8-11) before informing the Corinthians of how he willingly went through these trials for their sake (4:12-15).  Brethren, let’s be honest.  We tend to complain to each other about the problems brought upon us in this life, problems quite small when compared to Paul’s (see 11:23-27).  Why not speak of how God upholds us even in the midst of our sufferings as Paul did, before informing our brethren that we would go through it all over again if it would help just one soul in that congregation get closer to God?

Notice how Paul says to the church, “We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”  (5:20b) and “we APPEAL to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1).  Let’s try IMPLORING brethren to repent and APPEALING to them rather than beating them up over the head about it.  Pleading rather than lecturing might produce better results.

Before admonishing them to be different from unbelievers rather than unequally yoking themselves to them (6:14-7:1), notice how Paul went out of his way to tell these Christians that his heart was wide open for them while encouraging them to widen their hearts also (6:11-13).  Notice also that while he ends his admonishment for them to cleanse themselves, he calls them “beloved” (7:1) and urges them again, “Make room in your hearts for us” (7:2a).  Our brethren need to know how much we care for them and love them while we rebuke them.

Paul then acknowledged that his previous letter brought them grief which led them to repent (7:8-10) before going out of his way to let them know that they were doing a great job repenting (7:11) and that their repentance and subsequent encouraging of Titus comforted Paul (7:13).  Notice how Paul told them that he had been boasting about them, and that their actions proved his boasts to be well-founded (7:14).  See how he told them that Titus’ affection for them was growing and that Titus remembered how obedient they were (7:15).  Paul then told them about his joy over them and that he had “perfect confidence” in them (7:16).  This is Corinth, remember…and yet look how Paul is speaking positively of them here.  The church in America overall has a lot of problems, but she has a lot of good in her too.  We must acknowledge that.  It might just help our brethren to become better.

While talking up the Macedonians, Paul told Corinth (of all people!) that they “excel in everything” while encouraging them to excel in their giving also (8:7).  He then acknowledged that they had already excelled in their benevolence before urging them to keep it up (8:10-11) and thus prove that Paul’s boasts about them were right (8:24).  He talks of their readiness to be benevolent and again informed them of his boasts about them to others, who in turn were inspired by them (9:2), all before exhorting them to give more and in the right way (9:3-11).  He then told them of how others were glorifying God because of their generosity (9:12-15).  What a great example for us in how to stir up brethren to get more involved in church work!

Take note of how Paul, even while defending himself against his detractors at Corinth, again “entreated” and “begged” them to repent (10:1-2).  Notice also how even in the midst of his sarcastic rebuke of them (10-12), he talks of his hope that their faith would increase (10:15), his fear that Satan would lead them astray (11:3), his love for them (11:11), and his anxiety for them and all other churches (11:28).  This is before he tells them that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (12:15a), that it was “all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b), that he was praying for them (13:7, 9), and that they were more important than him (13:9).  He then ended his letter to them in a very positive note (13:11-14).

What a great example of balance that shows us how to rebuke with love and encourage even while admonishing!  We can definitely learn from this, friends.  Proclaiming God’s truth is a blessing, and those of us who share it with others have a high privilege.  Let’s always “speak the truth in love” (Ep. 4:15)!            — Jon

 

Editorial: “The Lord Is My Strength” (November/December, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Psalm 28:7-8 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”  The first phrase of verse 7 especially encourages me.  “The Lord is my strength.”  How true that is!  Continue reading Editorial: “The Lord Is My Strength” (November/December, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Editorial: “It Is Better To Take Refuge In The Lord Than To Trust In Princes…” (October, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

At the time of this writing, the 2016 election for president of the United States and other elected governmental offices on the federal, state, and local level will take place in a little over a month.  Much attention has been given to the presidential race over the past fifteen months or so since the first candidates in each party announced their candidacies.  Many in the brotherhood, myself included, follow politics closely, especially in presidential election years, and like to discuss the various candidates and races in person and online via social media and the like.

There was a time when I never thought much, if at all, about any connection between my Christian faith and political views.  However, that changed in 2000 when I became a preacher and, not coincidentally, began to take my Christian walk more seriously.  During that first year of full-time work I read and for the first time personally applied to myself Jesus’ command and promise in Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  I also read for the very first time ever Paul’s charge to Timothy:  “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Ti. 4:12).  These verses became very important to me, and still are.  I was 24 years old, a brand new preacher who had never planned to become one and had received no purposeful formal training.  My personal biblical studies and burgeoning experiences in dealing with brethren and the lost were, along with advice from older, more seasoned preachers and brethren, all I had to guide me.  I knew how easy it would be for people to condescend to me due to my age and inexperience, and so I was determined to do the best I could, however imperfectly that would be, to set the proper example before them in all areas of my life.  The only way I could do that would be to put God and his will as the top priority in every single aspect of my life as best I could.  That is still my goal today, and I still fallibly try to meet it.  It’s a good goal for all Christians to have.

I realized that if I as a Christian first and preacher second were going to “set the believers an example” by “seek(ing) first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then my politics would have to completely coincide with God’s revealed will.  Otherwise, I would be guilty of choosing to follow Matthew 6:33…except in the voting booth.  Christ’s condemnation of the hypocritical example the Pharisees set before those who sat at their feet (Mt. 23:2-3), at the time newly discovered and studied by me, weighed heavily on my heart and I did not want that same condemnation.  Thus it was that during that 2000 election year I started diligently researching God’s Word for guidance as to what governmental policy positions God would approve of and what kind of leader God would want America or any country to have so I could vote accordingly.

Something God said in the Psalms jumped out at me:  “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (118:9), and again, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (146:3).  This was a stark contrast to how I had looked at politicians previously.  An honest retrospection of how I had viewed my choices for president in the 1990’s and in 2000 made me realize that I had thought them to be the only ones who could not only  save America from its woes, but also make my personal life more abundant and fulfilling.  My political discussions with my brethren that year—and every election year since, especially this one—made it clear that I am far from the only Christian who thinks this way.  If I was going to truly trust Jesus’ promise that he would provide for my needs if I put his will first (Mt. 6:33), then I would need to follow God’s directive to put my trust in him instead of princes and politicians.  Christians, please take this to heart.

David’s inspired words also caught my attention:  “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me:  ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God’” (2 Sa. 23:3).  Solomon wrote something similar:  “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness” (Pr. 16:12).  God wants men who are just, righteous, and who fear him to rule over nations.  My initial reaction to this was to wonder if I could only vote for faithful New Testament Christians since only we by the blood of Christ are completely justified and righteous…until I saw that the Bible also spoke of non-Christians possessing these attributes to a lesser degree (cf. Mt. 13:17; Ac. 10:1-2, 7, 22).  I concluded that I could follow God’s parameters if I supported a candidate who, as best as I could tell, showed by the fruits or evidences of his personal and political life that he was just, righteous, and feared God (cf. Mt. 7:16-18).  Any candidate whose personal life, personality, and policy positions were proven to be unrepentantly ungodly could not receive my support if I was to truly heed Matthew 6:33, 1 Timothy 4:12, Psalms 118:8 and 146:3, 2 Samuel 23:3, and Proverbs 16:12…no matter how much they promised to make my own life and the country better.

As I continued to study, I noted with interest how little the Bible had to say about the pros and cons of various domestic and foreign policy philosophies which held such prominence in what people looked for in candidates.  I couldn’t find guidance on which specific economic, educational, healthcare, or foreign policies God would endorse.  Rather, I found that God would rather his followers live in an impoverished nation which was rich in righteousness instead of a wealthy, unrighteous nation (Pr. 16:8).  I also saw that he was looking for leaders who surrounded themselves with wise counselors whose advice they would be willing to heed (Pr. 25:5; 29:2; cf. 1 Ki. 12:6-15), men and women who were tough on crime and evildoers (Pr. 20:8, 26; Ro. 13:3-4) and who would not oppress the poor while also refusing to enable the lazy (Pr. 28:15; 29:14; 31:9; cf. 2 Th. 3:10).

Thus, I realized that if I was to put God’s righteousness first in the voting booth, a candidate’s positions on promoting what God calls righteous in our nation would have to matter more to me than their domestic, economic, and foreign policies per se.  All my life, the killing of innocents in the womb and the legitimizing of the abomination of homosexuality have been matters of governmental policy.  Both have been promoted and fought to be further legitimized, by various candidates, even though God condemns both (Ps. 139:13-16;  Ro. 9:11-13; Ez. 18:1-20; Pr. 6:16-17; Mt. 19:4; Ro. 1:26-28; 1 Co. 6:9-10).  In addition, I’ve seen candidates excuse away or defend certain crimes and criminals, candidates who themselves have oppressed the poor and needy or have promoted policies which do the same, while also enabling the lazy to continue to avoid honest work.  Keeping Jesus’ and James’ admonitions to heed all of God’s will in mind (Mt. 23:23b; Ja. 2:10-11), I realized that I could not support a candidate unless I could see that they were making an honest effort to promote and defend God’s righteousness in all of these areas and  humbly listen to wise counselors who upheld the same.  This would have to be top priority, more important than any attractive promises about healthcare, education, foreign policy, taxes, and the like.

The last biblical truth I found was that God ultimately decides who will rule America (Da. 2:21; 4:17, 32, 34-35; 1 Ti. 6:15; Re. 1:5; cf. Ro. 13:1ff).  If it is his will that an ungodly person rule our country, he will make that happen and, as Habakkuk also taught me, will do so likely to punish our country in an effort to bring us back to him (Hab. 1:1-11).  Since righteousness exalts a nation and God abhors evil rulers (Pr. 14:34; 16:12), the only reason he would allow an evil ruler is to bring a nation low in order to motivate it to come back to him (cf. He. 12:5-11).

Normally as far as I can tell, there has always been at least one candidate who has come across both personally and in the policies he promotes as just and fearing God.  This year is different.  For the first time in my adult life, it is generally agreed in both religious and secular circles that both major candidates are personally abhorrent by biblical standards, and both promote various ungodly policies.  Both have recently been under investigation for wrongdoing.  Both are well known for personally saying and acting both publicly and privately in ways that are extremely ungodly.  Still, both are loudly supported by those who wear the name of Christ…and the lost in the world are noticing.  Social media and the blogosphere show that many  are turned off to Christianity by what they (correctly) perceive to be our inconsistency.

Many Christians loudly support these ungodly choices because they are understandably scared.  Yet, let’s remember that God wants us to live by faith (Hab. 2:4), to put his righteousness first, even if it seems that doing so will bring harder times, and trust that he will still take care of us.  He doesn’t want us to put our trust in princes, in Trump or Clinton or anyone else.  He just wants us to put our trust in him.

God doesn’t ask our help to put the ungodly into power…but he does want us to bring souls to him.  The Bible doesn’t require us to vote, but we are commanded to let our light shine, set the proper example, bring souls to Jesus, and put his righteousness first.  Lost souls are watching us to see if God’s standards matter outside the church building.  Let’s not give them a reason to think they don’t.  If we choose to vote, let’s trust in God and put his standards first.

— Jon

Editorial: “For If These Qualities Are Yours And Are Increasing…” (September, 2016) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

It is so easy to take our Christianity for granted.  I say this not only from honest personal introspection but also from the admissions of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the years that they too at times fail to heed the warning from Paul to the Corinthian church which was the foundation of my editorial in the last issue of the Carolina Messenger“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Co. 10:l2).

Yet one can’t help but notice a sharp contrast between Paul’s warning to Corinth and the exhortation given by Peter at the end of his life to his faithful spiritual family:  “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pe. 1:10).  Put side by side, the divine imperative given through these two apostles would be this:  Always be careful to never fall.  Here’s how to make sure that never happens.

I remember the first time I read the qualities listed by Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-7 which make up the theme of this issue and of which he was referring in verse 10.  It was on the occasion of preparing for my very first Wednesday night devotional as a youth minister intern in Greenville, Illinois, in the summer of 1999, only seven months after my graduation from Harding and when I was just beginning to consider the possibility that I could dedicate my life to the ministry.  Perhaps it was due to the majority of my life up to that point being filled with mandatory math classes from kindergarten through early college, but I remember my first thought upon reading the passage being that it was very much like a mathematical formula.  Basically what Peter was saying to Christians was, “Diligently add virtue to your faith, knowledge to your virtue, self-control to your knowledge, and so on…and the sum will be eternity with God!”

The diligence factor is an important part of this spiritual formula which cannot be overlooked.  One could even say it’s what starts and ends the formula in that “giving all diligence” (NKJV) or “make every effort” (ESV) is commanded even before the first commanded addition to our faith (v. 5) and is commanded towards the end of Peter’s discourse with his command to “be all the more diligent” (v. 10).  Diligence is also implied in the statement found in verse 8:  “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

For all our adamant and legitimate refusal to acknowledge any legitimacy in the erroneous Calvinistic tenet commonly known as “Once Saved, Always Saved,” our Creator and Master knows how easy it is to unconsciously adapt that same mindset into our Christian mindset.  Our Savior knows how simple it is to conclude that simply because we were immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins into the Lord’s church of which there is only one, worship according to the New Testament pattern by observing communion and giving of our means every Sunday in a worship service which is without instrumental accompaniment or any other man-made additions or subtractions, and adhere to biblical church organization by refusing to call our preachers “pastors” because the New Testament gives elders and bishops that particular designation, we have no need to focus on any other aspects of Christianity.  We were saved by our obedience to sound doctrine concerning salvation and continue to observe sound doctrine concerning worship and the church, and that’s quite a lot more than those deceived souls over in the denominational world are doing…so that’s the only thing that really matters in the end, right?

Sure, I may not know the Bible nearly like I should.  Yes, I tend to hold grudges pretty easily.  Okay, I tend to gossip, complain, and jump to conclusions quite a lot.  All right, so there’s not that much difference between me and your average non-Christian except for my church attendance…and okay, other than my belief in God and my willingness to “Amen” his teachings when preached from the pulpit (as long as I feel that they apply more to the rest of the church — especially you — than they do to me), there’s quite a lot of difference between Jesus and me.  But that’s okay, because I was baptized, it was immersion, I worship without a piano, and I’m a member of the church of Christ.

God wants more.  He is pleading with us and warning us to be more than churchgoers who believe in Jesus.  He wants us to know Jesus.  He wants us to act like him and follow him.  In addition to our faith, God wants us to have the same virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love that Jesus has.  He wants us to not only initially obtain these qualities, but diligently grow in them each and every day of our lives.  Only by purposefully and diligently pursuing these traits will we never fall and stay saved because we will never take our Christianity for granted.   Instead, we will continually repent of our faults and be encouraged by our growth and God will be pleased and continue to help us and forgive us.

— Jon

God’s Promises to Abraham — Jon Mitchell

There is a reason God promised that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” (Ge. 17:5).   The Hebrews came from him through his son Isaac, while Arabic Muslims regard him as their ancestor through Ishmael.  And of course, all Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ (Gal. 3:29).  No wonder his name was changed from “Abram,” meaning “exalted father,” to “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude” (Ge. 17:5)!  A study of the various promises God made to this great man reveals his importance to the overall plan of salvation revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture.

For example, the Lord promised Abram that his descendants would be “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2; cf. 13:16; 17:6; 18:18).  This promise was fulfilled when Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac and grandson Israel became a nation of great numbers during their time in Egypt (Ge.. 46:3; Ex. 1:7; Dt. 26:5), a nation which would become great and powerful under the direction of godly leaders such as Moses, Joshua, and David who directed Abraham’s descendants to faithfully serve the Lord.

Along these same lines, the Lord also commanded Abram to leave his country and family and travel to “the land that I will show you” (Ge. 12:1), the land of Canaan (12:5-6).  At that point God promised Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7), a promise he kept centuries later starting during the days of Joshua (Josh. 21:43-45) and ending in the days of Solomon (2 Ch. 9:26; cf. 1 Ki. 8:56).  This promise was based on the condition that Abraham’s descendants remain faithfully obedient to Jehovah (Josh. 23:14-16; cf. Le. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68).  Old Testament history reveals how Abraham’s descendants repeatedly fell away from the Lord and as a result repeatedly lost control of their land and were taken into foreign captivity (Judges; 1-2 Kings; 1-2 Chronicles; Jeremiah; Lamentations; etc.), with the ultimate destruction of their claim to Canaan delivered to them by God through Rome after they rejected Christ as the Messiah (Mt. 21:33-46; 23:29-39; 24:1-34; Mk 13:1-30; Lk 19:41-44; 21:5-32; 23:27-31).  After the abominations visited upon them by Rome in the latter part of the first century AD, Abraham’s descendants through Israel could never again lay complete claim to the land possessed by their ancestors.  Even today, after the United Nations worked to reunite Jews with the land known in biblical times as “the Promised Land” in an effort to help them recover from the horrors visited upon them during the Holocaust of World War II, Abraham’s descendants through Israel daily fight numerous enemies from the nations surrounding them in order to hold on to just a small fraction of the land originally promised by God.  Since the days of the Truman administration, many in this country and elsewhere believe that the United States and other allies of Israel should help her retake Canaan’s land primarily because it is the will of God.  However, political pundits and commentators who claim that Israel currently has a divine right to the land directly east of the Mediterranean overlook the fact that God’s promise to Abraham was conditioned upon his descendants continued loyal obedience to him, a condition which they failed to keep (Je. 31:32).

Abram and his wife Sarai, or Sarah as she would later be named (Ge. 17:15), were childless when Scripture first introduces us to them (Ge. 11:26-30).  By promising to make of him “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2), God in effect was promising Abram “offspring” (Ge. 13:15-16).  After Jehovah declared himself to be Abram’s “shield” and promising him that his “reward shall be very great” (Ge. 15:1), Abram pointed out that he was still childless and that his current heir was his servant Eliezer of Damascus (15:2).  The Lord then promised Abram that “your very own son shall be your heir” rather than Eliezer (15:4), and then declared that his offspring would be compared to the innumerable stars of heaven (15:5).  Abram “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6), a passage quoted by centuries later by Paul to prove to Judaizers that one under Christ’s covenant were not required to do the works of Moses’ law in order to be justified (Ro. 4:1-25), and quoted by James to show that a person is justified by works of obedience to the commandments of God in addition to faith (Ja. 2:20-24).

Abram’s faith in God’s promises to give him offspring was not always constant, however.  This is shown in the numerous times he dishonestly presented Sarai as his sister rather than as his wife in efforts to preserve his life from those whom he feared would take it (Ge. 12:10-20; 20:1-18).  It is sadly ironic that due to Abraham resorting to lying because of a lack of faith that God would keep him safe in order to keep his promise of granting offspring to him, the son God promised to him would eventually follow his father’s sinful example and lie about his own marital standing in order to save his life even after God made him a similar promise (Ge. 26:1-11).  May Christian parents today heed this lesson and be warned about the power of their own example and the influence it has on our children!

Abram and Sarai’s faith in God’s promise to give him offspring was shown to be weak on another occasion when Sarai convinced him to obtain a child through marriage to her servant, Hagar (Ge. 16:1-4a).  This polygamous union resulted in the conception and birth of Ishmael (16:15-16), which in turn caused considerable strife in Abraham’s family both then and in the years to come (16:4b-6; 21:8-11).  However, God was able to use their weak faith and the sin that resulted from it.  Centuries later, he would inspire Paul to use the polygamous marriages of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar and the two sons that resulted from them to allegorically illustrate the differences between the Mosaic covenant and Christ’s covenant in order to show the superiority of the latter (Ga. 4:21-31).  He also used this sinful episode to fulfill his promise to make Abraham “the father of many nations” (17:5) by causing Ishmael also to be the ancestor of a great nation (16:7-12; 21:12-21).    Yet, the strife resulting in Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s promise is felt even today as we see Isaac and Ishmael’s descendants still at war with each other.  One cannot imagine how different the world would be if Abram and Sarai’s faith had been stronger and they had decided to wait for God to fulfill his promise to them on his own time (Ps. 25:3; 27:14).

On yet another occasion, Sarah’s faith in God’s promise was shown to be lacking (Ge. 18:1-8; cf. 18:22; 19:1ff).  Even though God had already specifically promised Abraham that Sarah would bear him Isaac in their old age (17:15-19), Sarah laughed to herself when she heard the Lord repeat the promise to Abraham and wondered how she and Abraham could conceive after menopause (18:9-12).  God called her on the lack of faith shown by her laughter, even though she initially denied that she had laughed (18:13-15).  A year later, God fulfilled his promise to them in spite of her laughter and she bore Abraham a son in their old age, naming him Isaac, which means “he laughs” (21:1-7).  Interestingly, by telling Abraham to give the promised son that particular name even before the episode in which Sarah laughed (17:19), God proved that he knew of Sarah’s reaction in advance…and yet gave the promised and the blessing of children anyway.  What a testimony to his love, grace, and patience (Mt. 5:44-45)!

In spite of these lapses, Abraham and Sarah’s overall faith in the promises of God stand as an example for us today.  Their faith in God’s promises was what prompted him to obey his extremely difficult command to leave their home and family to travel to an unknown and distant land (He. 11:8-9; cf. Ge. 12:1-5).  Sarah’s faith in God’s promises, even though proven to be weak on at least two occasions as we’ve seen, was still the reason the Lord kept his promise to her (He. 11:11-12).  As a result, she is the spiritual “mother” of Christian women who follow her example of respectful, pure, modest, quiet conduct today (1 Pe. 3:1-6).  Likewise, Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of numerous offspring gave him the strength to obey the extremely burdensome command God gave to test his faith when he told him to sacrifice Isaac (He. 11:17; cf. Ge. 22:1-12).  His faith in God’s promises was so strong that he considered that God would resurrect Isaac  in order to keep his promise to him (He. 11:18).  Thus, his faith exemplifies what true obedience to God is all about (Ja. 2:14-26).  The times when their faith was weak also serve as a warning for us to be watchful when we think we are strong (1 Co. 10:11-12).

Undoubtedly the most significant and important promise God made to Abraham is found in the statement, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Ge. 22:18; cf. 26:4; 28:14; 12:3).  Peter pronounced this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (Ac. 3:17-26; cf. Dt. 18:15-19).  Later, Judaizing Christians who believed salvation to be dependent upon adherence to the laws of Moses sought to limit this promise to those who were either physical descendants of Abraham or to Gentile Christians who were circumcised and kept the Mosaic commandments (cf. Ac. 15:1ff).  This prompted Paul to address the issue in his letter to the Galatians by first stating those who have faith are “sons of Abraham” (Ga. 3:7), i.e., his true descendants.  God’s promise to Abraham that in him “all the nations” would be blessed was fulfilled when God justified the Gentiles by faith, proving that in a sense Abraham had had the gospel preached to him centuries earlier (Ga. 3:8; cf. Ge. 12:3) and that under the Christian covenant Jew or Gentile who believe in God as Abraham did are blessed just as he was (Ga. 3:9; cf. Jn. 8:39; Ro. 4:11-12; He. 11:8-10).  Those Jews who tried to be justified by Mosaic Law (Ro. 9:31-10:13) would be “under a curse” (Ga. 3:10; cf. Dt. 27:26; Je. 11:3; Ez. 18:4; Ro. 3:10-19).  They would not find justification through works of the Mosaic economy which required perfect obedience, but rather through faith as the Old Covenant itself foretold (Ga. 3:11-12; cf. Hb. 2:4; Le. 18:5).  Paul went on to clarify that true sons of Abraham would have faith specifically in Christ by pointing out how Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” via his crucifixion (Ga. 3:13; cf. Dt. 21:23; 1 Pe. 2:24; Ti. 2:14; Ep. 1:7).  Therefore, it would be only “in Christ Jesus” that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” in order for them to “receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Ga. 3:14; cf. Ge. 12:3; Jn. 7:37-39; Ga. 3:2; Ac. 2:38-39).  This is why Paul would specify how the promises God had made to Abraham did not say “‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Ga. 3:16; cf. Ge. 12:7).

Paul later taught that the true heirs of Abraham are those who have become sons of God through faith in Christ (Ga. 3:26; cf. Jn. 1:12; Ro. 10:9).  This happened when they put on Christ via baptism into him (Ga. 3:27; cf. Ro. 6:3-8).  This is why Christians “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Ga. 3:29).  May we preach God’s promise to Abraham to others so they may become heirs as well (Mk. 16:15-16) and receive forgiveness and eternal life!

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