Life as a journey
In the Bible a manís life is often compared to a journey, and the way he lives is like walking a path. Now for each of us there are many different ways we can live, or "paths to follow", but in Godís sight they can all be classified into one of two directions: the way of righteousness, and the way of sin.1 The wise King Solomon spoke of these two paths when he said, "In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of error leads to death" (Proverbs 12:28). In the same vein, we can compare Godís commands in the Bible to a "road map" which describes the way of righteousness. Those who put on Christ seek to follow him, and so they begin walking his path of righteousness. But this is a dark and confusing world, and the "map" we have is not always easy to interpret.
Such situations provide a test of our spirit. Those most committed to the path of righteousness will be more cautious, and will choose to be more conservative and strict about Christís commands. They will chose the narrow way which Jesus, being much wiser than Solomon, described:
Those less committed to the strict path of righteousness, on the other hand, will be looser, more broad-minded, and tolerant, allowing greater diversity. Included in the definition of the adjective liberal in Websterís dictionary is the following: "...loose...broad-minded, tolerant..." The liberal attitude is to be looser with commandments, more tolerant of deviations, more broad-minded about right and wrong. Few people today admit to being liberal, but most are. It is the "wide" way of sin which Jesus described; the popular way that leads to failure, and eventually to death. Those in the Church who loosen Godís commandments, and teach men to do the same often gain a great following because that "way is easy", but they put their souls in jeopardy. To err on the side of permissiveness is the mistake of the modern liberal element; it leads to the erosion of obedience, and increases conformity to the values of the world. This mentality is very popular and satisfying, but it always leads to an eventual falling away. And Jesus condemned that approach to righteousness, saying,
Now, it is natural to ask, "Is it not possible to interpret laws too strictly? " The answer is, yes, when doing so defeats the purpose of the law. It is possible to make a path which is too narrow and confining. People follow paths to get somewhere. If the path is so confining that progress is impeded, then it is too narrow. A highway that is only a couple of inches wider than the width of cars is going to slow traffic to a crawl, and it will cause many more accidents. Godís commands are designed to promote doing good. If his law is interpreted so narrowly that righteousness is discouraged or defeated, then the interpretation is false to Godís will.
The Pharisees often erred in over-strictness. They revered Godís laws to the point of worshipping legalism, which then defeated the very purpose of his laws. For example, their rigid, narrow interpretation of what could be done on the Sabbath was a yoke upon the necks of godly men, making it harder for them to do any good on that day. Jesus rebuked them for their narrowness, saying, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Another example of their over-strictness concerns Mosesí laws of cleanliness. They extended them by adding their own traditions which carried the matter of cleanliness to ridiculous extremes:
And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mark 3:4-5).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23).
Our liberal brothers are too broad with their views, focusing only upon the " weightier matters", showing justice mercy and faith, while "neglecting the others". For example, some of them look upon the New Testament as only a "love letter", not a book with commands. But Jesus promoted strict obedience to even "the least of the commandments". On the other hand, our conservative brothers are too narrow with their views, taking a blind, legalistic approach to the laws of Christ, while often being like the Pharisees, and "neglecting the weightier matters". For example, there are those who condemn Christians for using church funds to help support such things as Christian colleges and universities. They would rather see our Christian colleges and universities fail, it seems, than use church funds to help support them; even though it would mean having to send their children to be taught by unbelievers. Yet, they do not object if even their own members send money directly to such places. It reminds me of the Pharisees who objected to Jesus healing people on the Sabbath:
Alas! I have admonished most of you, my brothers, both "liberal" and "conservative". But to quote Paulís words, "...you forced me to it..." (2 Corinthians 12:11a). I do not enjoy faultfinding. For if I alienate you, my brothers in Christ, who do I have left? How much more joyful it is to work together in harmony with you. How true are those beautiful words which say, " Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1). I am only trying to show how both sides have erred. The excessive tolerance of our liberal brothers, and the excessive narrowness of our conservative brothers have both missed the mark. Thus, neither side has the right to condemn the other. We have all been guilty of misunderstanding when it is that we should be tolerant, and when it is that we should be strict. I rejoice that my Heavenly Father has finally opened my eyes to understand, and I am now writing these things to help you understand.
Truly, our Beloved Heavenly Father has the power to open our eyes so that we can see more clearly how to obey him. He deserves all of our praise and adoration forevermore, because He is the source of all truth, and light, and goodness. Knowing this, I have prayed and searched, spending thousands of hours seeking greater understanding. At last, He has revealed to me, his humble servant, through his Holy Word, when we should be tolerant, and when we should be strict, so that we can know how to obey him more perfectly. And now, with great joy in my heart, I hereby share with you that simple, but very beautiful way to obey him more perfectly.
When we are dealing with specific laws of Christ (the number of which are a tiny fraction of the numerous laws of Moses), when we have direct commands given by Jesus himself, or by any of his representatives in the New Testament, then we must be guided by the spirit of Christ which He taught about in his sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). That attitude of the heart which says, "I will do more than I think is necessary. " Any brother who fails to demonstrate that spirit should be rebuked and disciplined. On the other hand, different interpretations about examples, and inferences made from various scriptures should be matters of personal conviction, and not cause for division. Christians can be united together within the heart and core of Christianity by obeying his direct commands with this "second-mile" spirit, but all the rest should be considered part of the command which says, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12b). And in these personal decisions, each man will reap in this life whatever he sows (unless taken away by injustice).
Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Paul said that Christians were not under law, but under faith. Nevertheless, he went on to say, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yes, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). When a command has been given, the true Christian spirit may be expressed as follows: The righteousness based upon this spirit says, Do not say in your heart, "What is the least I must do that is necessary?", but rather, say in your heart, "I will do more than is necessary!" Do not say in your heart "If there is any doubt about a command, I will not obey it.", but rather, say in your heart, "If there is any doubt about a command, I will surely obey it!" Having this attitude within our hearts will end a host of our disputes, and will unite us closer together.
Jesus illustrated this kind of spirit of the heart in his great sermon on the mount. The many sayings Jesus gave then were not designed to simply give us a new list of laws (for without this attitude laws are useless). Those sayings were given as illustrations of this vital spirit of the heart. For example, when Jesus spoke of one of the laws of Moses which required equal retribution, he contrasted that law with this new attitude which leads a man to go beyond necessity, and thus, not only fulfill the requirements of law and justice, but also promote love and good-will:
This attitude will draw us closer to God by increasing our strict obedience to his commands. Strict obedience is absolutely necessary to please God. A builder is faithful when he strictly follows the blueprints created by the architect. What would you think of a builder who says: "I think I can use less steel reinforcing than the plans call for"? Strict obedience to a designerís specifications is necessary for success both in the natural realm, and the spiritual realm. This Christ-like attitude will also promote good-will among men by doing more than is required of us. A Christian who possesses this attitude will honor his father and his mother even more than he thinks is necessary, thus bringing joy into their hearts. He will be even more generous than he thinks is necessary, thus, rousing the needy to give double praise to God. He will be even more patient than he thinks is necessary, thus, easing the stress on himself, as well as everyone around him. He will be even more forgiving of personal offenses than he thinks is necessary, thus, promoting peace and the bonds of love. A Christian wife will honor and obey her husband even more than she thinks is necessary, and her Christian husband will love her and care for her even more than he thinks is necessary, thus making their marriage stronger, more beautiful, and more joyful.
A Christian who possesses this attitude will honor and reverence God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, even more than he thinks is necessary. He will let his light shine before men, and will work to glorify God, and promote his kingdom even more than he thinks is necessary. A believer in Christ who possesses this spirit will say, " I may not think baptism in water is necessary, but I will do it anyway." He will say, "I may not think immersion is necessary, but I will do it anyway." She will say, "I will dress even more modestly than I think is necessary." She will say, "I may not think womenís head coverings are necessary during prophesy and prayer (1 Corinthians 11), but I will do it anyway."
Now a word of warning. No one should regress into legalism, and insist upon interpreting every application of the "second-mile" spirit to mean that the we must do exactly double what is commanded in every case. This is a very complex world. Every situation requires a degree of good judgment based upon considering all of many possible extenuating circumstances. There is just no substitute for using wisdom and "common sense" in all of our decisions. Let no man insist otherwise.
The law of liberty
Now concerning tolerance. Compared with Jewish law, Christians enjoy enormous liberty. Here are a few scriptures to illustrate that fact: "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17); "For freedom Christ has set us free..." (Galatians 5:1a); "For you were called to freedom, brethren..." (Galatians 5:13); "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty" (James 2:12). We as Christians have been freed from the yoke of legalism. For truly, laws are a burden. Paul told the Galatians: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Living under the control of laws and regulations is a yoke upon the necks of righteous men. Because Paul said,
Yet, such liberty does not free us from the necessity of obedience to commands. For remember, Jesus our Lord and our Savior said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Remember, when complying with his direct commandments we must go beyond what is believed necessary, in order to guarantee obedience. We must be absolutely "conservative" and uncompromising about his commandments; we must "err" on the side of strictness. We must "go the second mile". But the vast realm of everything else comes under the law of liberty, to be used with love and wisdom. For when Paul said, "All things are lawful for me", he also added qualifications, saying, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12). And again, he said, "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up" (1 Corinthians 10:23). And so, our liberty should be limited to those things which are advantageous, and which build up. We should use our freedom creatively to be constructive, and helpful, doing that which is beneficial and profitable. We should not abuse our freedom nor misuse it. For Paul gave command, saying, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (Galatians 5:13). And Peter commanded, saying, "Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God" (1 Peter 2:16).
Now wherever there is great freedom, there will always be great differences in beliefs and practices. Of course, we should try to learn about what is most desirable for every part of our lives, and teach such things to others. But we should never create division over opinions; we should allow each brother to live his life in freedom, working out his own salvation. For Paul wrote:
However, even though we are under the law of liberty, and all things are lawful for us, nevertheless, remember Paul said, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself" (Romans 14:7). And again, he said, "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (1 Corinthians 10:24). There is a time when it is very important that we curtail our freedom for the sake of a brother. And that is when our behavior could lead them into temptation, causing them to stumble and sin. Paul commanded against this, saying,
If we let godly love rule our hearts, and humbly obey Christís direct commandments (given by him or by any of his representatives in the New Testament) with a spirit which says, "I will do more than I think is necessary", while extending liberty to our brothers for all the rest, then we will be fulfilling the law of Christ. When Christians model the life of Christ in this way, it will reunite us.
Consider the example of how we assemble together in our churches. I have visited about two dozen churches in my area whose worship attendance ranged from 15 or 20 to over a thousand. All of them met in specially constructed (or altered) buildings. The most popular time of meeting was during Sunday morning. The hour varied. Some of them had separate Sunday School meetings. One church only held Sunday School on Sunday morning, with their "worship service" being conducted in the evening. One church met on Saturdays. Most of them held a morning and an evening service. A few of the churches divided their membership on Sunday mornings into two consecutive " worship services", because their building could not accommodate all of them at one time. Many of them held worship services on other days as well, the most popular time being Wednesday evening. Most of the meetings lasted between one and three hours (including Sunday School). Most of them relied upon the Bible as their main source of teaching. A few also used other authoritative books from which they taught. Some of them used a standardized book containing rather specific instructions for their worship ritual. Almost all furnished song books.
All of these congregations conducted some form of praying, singing, and preaching/ teaching. Some of them observed the Lordís Supper. All of them collected financial contributions. In at least one I heard a woman utter what some claim to be " speaking in tongues", after which the minister interpreted what the Holy Spirit was supposed to have said through her. I attended the early service of one church who announced they were going to baptize an infant (by sprinkling) at the second service. I did not remain to witness that. Every one of the churches allowed women to speak as freely as men, both in classes and in the audience of the general assembly. Most of them employed women in active roles of one kind or another. Many of them appeared to give women full equality with men, including using them in roles such as teaching, preaching, leading prayers and singing. Many of them made appeals for repentance at the end of the sermon, and some engaged in small-group prayer-encouragement sessions near the end of the sermon, often in a prostrate position. Every church, except for the Churches of Christ, also employed electronically amplified mechanical instruments of music during their service. All of those had a piano. Many had an organ. Many had guitars, drum sets, and synthesizer instruments, usually played as a band. Singing varied from congregational, to choir, to solos. The use of instrumental music varied considerably. For a few, it accompanied most activities; either providing background music for something else, or as the primary activity. Most had some kind of imaginary image of Christ. A few also had imaginary images of angels and other Bible characters. Most of these images were pictures, but one church had statues. In every church there appeared to be one leading personalityóa priest/pastor/minister; some being more dominant than others. In only a few Sunday School classes was there an opportunity for group discussion.
In every church there was some expression of caring for one another, some much more than others. In every church the people were reverent toward God, and well mannered toward other people. The degree of reverence and/or adoration which they displayed varied from rather formal to somewhat emotional; on occasion some knelt, others stood with their arms uplifted. Feelings appeared to be most intense when band music was played; feelings appeared to vary from a controlled but intense adoration for God and Christ, to a mind state of ecstasy causing a few of them to jump up and down, and/or shake their heads and slap their hands together. I judged none of this to be excessive. I saw no display of any kind of disorder in any of the meetings I attended. Interestingly, the members of the church which displayed the greatest formal reverence to God (kneeling, bowing, quiet solemnity), wore the most casual clothing, and were least expressive of their feelings toward God and others. In every church, the people were courteous and friendly, some more than others. No expression of ill-will was ever made to me. As a rule, the smaller the church, the more friendly they appeared to me.
In their manner of assembly, all of these followers of Christ were obedient to some of his commands. They were, of course, obedient to his command not to forsake assembling themselves together (Hebrews 10:24-25). They were also obedient by engaging in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8), in singing (Colossians 3:16), and in teaching (Colossians 3:16). They were obedient, more or less, in worshipping God with reverence (Hebrews 12:28), and in showing love toward others (Romans 12:10). For those who observed the Lordís Supper, all were properly reverent (1 Corinthians 11:23-34). All financial contributions were properly voluntary (2 Corinthians 9:7).
However, all of these churches were disobedient to some of Christís commands. All were disobedient to the command forbidding women to speak (1 Corinthians 14:34). All were disobedient to the command for women to keep their heads covered appropriately (1 Corinthians 11). (Although I did find one godly woman who covered her head with a lace shawl for the purpose of obeying that command.) Most were disobedient to the command forbidding women to engage in leadership roles, and to teach men (1 Timothy 2:12). The church where "speaking in tongues" was claimed failed to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). The church which "baptized" the infant violated two of Christís commands: First, they were doing this with an unbeliever (Acts 2:38), and second, they failed to properly immerse in water. Those churches who displayed images (in one form or another) which they claimed were of Christ and other Bible characters were being deceitful, because no one knows how Jesus or any other Bible character looked. Most violated, more or less, the command that singing be used as a means of teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16). Either the high volume artificial music overpowered the song service, and drowned out the words people uttered, or the singing was so feeble that the artificial music became the focus of attention. The only exception to not being able to hear the words of the song concerned those who had microphones to amplify their voices; they were usually heard. However, even those churches not using instruments sometimes employed excessively loud singing, sometimes with fancy vocalizations which, like instruments, certainly added to the sensual beauty of the music (some of which was very moving), but nevertheless it often distracted from what the words were saying. Few, if any, expressed their affection with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16). All, more or less, violated the general purpose of the assembly, which was intended to be a time of mutual upbuilding, as well as for collectively worshipping God. Instead, the vast majority sat as a passive audience in a theater-mode, enjoying an entertaining and educational performance. Several churches had membership populations so inflated that it could hardly be otherwise.
Now, how can the "second-mile" spirit of Christ, and his law of liberty be used to reconcile us in these examples of how we assemble together as churches? Of course, we first need to know what the specific commands of Christ are which apply. I have listed below the ones I have found, each with a single supporting scripture:
Worship God our Heavenly Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, with reverence (Hebrews 12:28).
Teach the Word of God (Colossians 3:16).
Sing songs for the purpose of teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16).
Observe the Lordís Supper with reverence (1 Corinthians 11:23-34).
Accept Godís will for women to be subordinate (1 Corinthians 14:34).
Women are forbidden to teach men (1 Timothy 2:12).
Woman are forbidden to have any kind of leadership over men (1 Timothy 2:12).
Rebuke those who sin (1 Corinthians 5).
Where to meet.
How often to meet.
How long the meetings should last.
How to teach, or sing, or pray.
How many sing at any one time.
How often to partake of the Lordís Supper.
What kind of teaching aids to use.
The kind of building in which to meet.
Using prayer leaders and/or song leaders.
What kind of other musical aids to use.
How to otherwise conduct the service.
Congregational property ownership.
Financial support for worthy causes.
Nothing is more apparent in our world today than the deep division which exists between believers in Christ. It was on the night before his betrayal and crucifixion that Jesus prayed these words:
Consider a few examples of unity in our world. A machine works well if its parts work together harmoniously according to the plan of its designer. Our bodies remain healthy as long as all of our organs work together harmoniously according to Godís masterful plan. A team works well if its members work together harmoniously according to the plans of its coach. A society works well when its members work together harmoniously according to its laws for justice. In order for any system to work well its members must work in harmony according to some higher plan. When all true Christians are obedient to Godís masterful plan, we will be united, and then his kingdom on earth will function with superb effectiveness. My brothers, if you have ever admired the power and beauty of an aircraft flying, or a gymnast performing, or an orchestraís music, or a skilled team working together, then you will be absolutely awestruck, and thrilled with delight by the power and beauty of Godís kingdom on earth when full unity is reestablished.
I close with this tender plea from that superb man of God, the apostle Paul:
3.may antistaynai tow ponayro (transliterated Greek) has been mistranslated as "do not resist evil", or "do not resist an evil man". The renown lexicographer, Thayer, lists first in his definition of ponayro, the following words: full of labors, annoyances, hardships. Translating that Greek word in Matthew 5:39 with the English word "evil" or "evil man" has brought many tragic consequences. Resisting evil and evil men is a major role of the righteous.
4.When Christ commanded that we bless our enemies he was referring to our personal competitors or adversaries, not wicked, evil men. The devil has perverted Christís meaning of the word enemy in order to protect the most vicious of his disciples from the just punishment they deserve. Interpreting the word enemy the devilís way has led many misguided Christians to passively surrender to evil men. Jesus surrendered only once, at the very end, and only because it was necessary for our redemption. Governments have been instituted by God to punish the wicked with justice, and God has commanded us to support them in this (Romans 13:3-4).
5.The word prophesy, like many other words, varies in meaning depending upon the context. No one living after the age of the apostles can claim to utter new knowledge, or make predictions, based upon divine inspiration. The most anyone can do, who prophesies today, is give instruction in religious matters.
6.True speaking in "tongues" no longer occurs. The power to speak unlearned foreign languages (like all miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit) was given during the time when the Church was just beginning in order to help confirm the truth of the good news of Christ for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22).
8.This scripture applies today, because the word prophet includes the following meaning: "An interpreter or spokesman for God." In that sense some men today may still be called prophets, even though the miraculous power to foretell the future has long since ceased. Any man today who interprets or proclaims the Word of God can properly be called a prophet.
9.Although women are forbidden to speak in the assembly, there is no command forbidding them to do such things as (1) come to the assembly, (2) learn there, (3) join in prayer, or (4) participate in singing.
10.Purity is part of holiness. Displays of affection, including kissing, should always be done with the utmost discretion and prudence. Nothing should ever be done which could, in any way, be interpreted by anyone as unseemly, or too familiar.
11.There is no command to meet on a certain day. Assembling together on the first day of the week, as is the manner of most, is an ancient and honorable tradition which I also observe, but it was never commanded.
12.There is no command about how often to partake of
the Lordís Supper. Paul said simply, "For as often as you eat this bread
and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians
Copyright 1997 by Walter
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