Below are informative articles written by our minister Aaron Erhardt (unless otherwise noted)
Rich In Grace
Rich In Grace
There have been some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. For instance, Jordan Rice was thirteen and unable to swim when his family became trapped in a car by flood waters. When crews arrived and tried to rescue Jordan, he told them to help his younger brother first. Jordan’s brother was saved just before a wall of water swept Jordan and his mother away.
Arland Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed into freezing waters in the middle of a snowstorm. When a rescue helicopter arrived and threw him a lifeline, he immediately gave it to another passenger. When the helicopter came back, Arland did the same thing again and again. When the helicopter returned a final time, Arland was dead. He had used his last ounce of energy to save a stranger.
Jesus Garcia was a railroad brakeman in Mexico. On November 7, 1907, he noticed that some hay on the roof of a boxcar containing dynamite had caught fire. He drove the train at full-steam out of town before the dynamite exploded, killing him but sparing many people. He is now revered as a national hero.
Four chaplains who were aboard a troop transport ship that was hit by a submarine’s torpedo quickly rallied together and began handing out life jackets and directing people to safety. When the life jackets ran out, they selflessly gave away their own. Then the four men linked arms and sang as the ship sank.
Even dogs have left some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. When a drunken man fell asleep on a train track in Kazakhstan, his four-legged-friend pushed, pulled, and nudged him off the tracks just as a train struck and killed the dog.
These examples and many others, like a soldier jumping on a grenade to save fellow troops or a boyfriend taking a bullet for his girlfriend, are all admirable and praiseworthy. However, no story of self-sacrifice in the history of the world is more impressive than that of Jesus Christ. It was planned longer, rings louder, and looms larger than all of the others. In fact, His sacrifice was so great that few people, even Christians, really appreciate its many facets.
The Supreme Sacrifice
The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, or in the garden, or in the manger. It began in heaven when He laid aside His glory and consented to come to earth. He left the abode of God for the abode of man and exchanged exaltation for humiliation, magnitude for servitude, a radiant crown for a rugged cross, and a hallowed throne for a hollowed tomb. And it was all for us!
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Christ was rich and then became poor so we could become rich. But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps we have a divine commentary in Philippians 2:6-8:
“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.”
Notice that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God.” It is in this sense that He was rich. He shared in all the glory and majesty of Godhood (John 17:5) before coming to earth. Then we see that Christ “made himself nothing,” “took the form of a servant,” “was born in the likeness of men,” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.” It is in this sense that He became poor. And why did He do it? So that we might become rich spiritually (Ephesians 1:3).
Paul refers to this great sacrifice as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Corinthians text. That is because it was undeserved kindness on His part. He acted freely and favorably toward unworthy inferiors. He didn’t have to become poor for us, He chose to do it. He chose to walk the dusty streets of earth so we could walk the golden streets of heaven. He chose to wear a crown of thorns on His head so we could wear a crown of righteousness on our head. He chose to die physically so we could live spiritually. His grace is our gain!
The culmination of the Lord’s great sacrifice was, of course, the cross. He suffered the most brutal and torturous form of execution in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was so severe that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Only the most degraded offenders, like insurrectionists and slaves, were subjects of crucifixion. Before looking at the cross, however, let’s first consider the horrific punishment that preceded it — scourging. Below is an excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective… The victim was tied to a post (Acts 22 25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it" (Vol. 4, p. 2704).
Eusebius adds to this graphic image in his writings:
“For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view” (4:15, p. 122).
Then Christ faced the nails. He was taken outside the city and crucified for all to see. His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). Below is another excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank into unconsciousness and death” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
The high cost of a free gift!
Jesus did not have to do it. He chose to do it. His great sacrifice, which started in heaven and culminated on the cross, brought hope to the hopeless and life to the lifeless. It did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. It made us rich in grace!
Back in 2012, a lifeguard named Tomas Lopez was on duty at a beach in Florida when someone rushed over to his post and said that a man had gone out too far and was drowning. Without hesitation, Lopez swam out and pulled the man to shore with the help of some other beachgoers. There, they gave the man CPR until paramedics arrived and he ended up surviving.
Rather than being heralded as a hero, however, Lopez was fired from his position. His company informed him that the drowning man was “out of the protected area” and said that anyone who swam there did so at their own risk. In other words, the dying man was not in Lopez’s jurisdiction. Two other lifeguards were also fired for saying that they would have done the exact same thing.
Penalized for doing good. Punished for helping another person. That was certainly something the apostle Paul could relate with. He too had been treated badly for doing good and would have known exactly how Lopez felt in that moment. Paul once helped someone get their life back by freeing them from a demon, yet he was severely persecuted for doing so. The incident is found in Acts 16.
“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour” (Acts 16:16-18).
Paul and his friends (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) were in the city of Philippi working with a new congregation when a demon-possessed slave girl started following them around day after day. She kept shouting that they were servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim the way of salvation. Though what the girl said was true, it is probably not a good idea to have a demon endorsing your work. That would kind of be like having a staggering drunk with a bottle in his hand shouting, “These guys can make you sober.” Therefore, Paul finally let out a shout of his own. He turned around and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,” and the spirit left her that very hour.
Think about the good that Paul just did for this girl. She was being held captive inside her own body by a demon. Her innocence and independence had been seized by an evil spirit. And now she got her life back. The nightmare she had been enduring for a long time was finally over. You would think this should be reason to rejoice, right? However, that wasn’t the case at all. Her masters were not celebrating, they were furious. That is because they were exploiting the girl’s problem for profit. They were making a lot money off her demon possession. All her greedy masters could think about was dollar signs disappearing. And as they say, “No good deed goes unpunished!”
“But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (Acts 16:19).
The love of money has a way of making people crazy. It can cause otherwise normal people to do things that are totally irrational (and almost insane), like chug an entire bottle of hot sauce or go streaking through the mall. I saw where people have sold advertising space on their bodies. For the right price, they’ll let you tattoo your website on a prominent part of their body, like their forehead or bald spot or bicep, for all to see. That’s how crazy the love of money can make people. A man named Mike Merrill went even further than that and sold “his life” to shareholders, who now get to make all his decisions for him (what he eats, who he dates, what kind of music he listens to in the car). They have literally bought the rights to his life!
The love of money had blinded this girl’s masters so badly that they could not see the good being done. It kept them from seeing that a person had been set free; liberated from the unspeakable horrors of demon-possession. All they could see was dollar signs going down the drain. One writer said, “It was almost as if the evil spirit, having been cast out of the slave girl, had entered into her owners and turned them into furious, raving beasts.” They seized Paul and Silas, dragging them into the marketplace to stand trial.
There is a sense of irony here. Before his conversion, Paul had been “dragging” off others to stand trial (Acts 8:3), but now he was the one being dragged off to stand trial. Why Timothy and Luke were not arrested with Paul and Silas is not stated.
They were taken to the marketplace. That was basically the city square. It was the social center of town where business of all sorts was conducted. — It was where the sick was treated, the unemployed waited for work, and the magistrates heard court cases. — This was the charge leveled against them:
“These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21).
Rather than stating their real reason for the complaint, the girl’s masters came up with a charge that would arouse strong emotions among all the magistrates and any onlookers. It was sure to get everybody there fired up! First, they appealed to the people’s prejudice — “these men are Jews.” Anti-Jewish sentiment was high in Philippi and really throughout the whole Roman Empire. They were tolerated, but not very well-liked. Second, they appealed to the prime objective of Roman law — “they are disturbing our city.” More than anything else, the Romans wanted to keep the peace. They wanted to maintain order and have civil obedience at all costs; and they had very little patience for anyone making waves. And then finally, they appealed to civic pride — “they advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” This evoked the response they were hoping for. The fickle crowd rose up in a frenzy and demanded justice!
The magistrates immediately stripped Paul and Silas and had them beaten with rods. These rods were thick as a man’s thumb and would have left their backs bloody and bruised. Whereas the Jews were limited in the number of whippings they could administer, the Romans had no such restrictions. A prisoner could be beaten for as long and hard as the officials wanted. All the text says is they received “many” blows. — Was it 40? 60? 100?
This form of punishment was so brutal that Roman citizens were supposed to be exempt from it, and there are recorded cases of people dying from the beating. One writer said, “It was an experience not soon forgotten.”
Then the two missionaries were placed in “maximum security” in the local jail. This would have been a damp, dirty dungeon with little or no lighting infested with rodents. There was probably a musty smell in the air and blood stains on the floor. It would have been a terrible place to be.
If that were not bad enough, the text says their feet were fastened in stocks. This was a cruel move on the part of the jailer, for those stocks were not just to hold you in place; they were a form of torture. A prisoner’s legs were spread far apart and then locked tight. This left him in an awkward, uncomfortable position with no way to move or stretch out. You can imagine the cramping that must have set in as the hours slowly passed by.
If I were in their spot, I think I’d be having a pity party. I’d probably be saying to myself, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” — Here they were being punished for doing good; for helping somebody. They had been convicted on trumped up charges, brutally beaten in public, thrown into the inner-most part of the prison, and had their feet fastened in stocks. I mean who has ever heard of casting someone into jail for casting out a demon? — If that were me, I’d be singing the blues. These two men weren’t singing the blues, however, they were singing praises!
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:25-26).
There have been some pretty remarkable “coincidences” over the years. Some are almost too creepy to even believe, but they’re true. For instance, in 1974, a man died when his moped was hit by a taxi in Bermuda. One year later, his twin brother was riding that same moped when he was struck and killed by the same taxi, driven by the same person, and carrying the same passenger. Isn’t that creepy?
In 1950, a church exploded in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. The blast demolished the building, shattered windows in nearby houses, and forced a local radio station off the air. Choir practice was supposed to begin at 7:20 that night, five minutes before the explosion occurred. Yet none of the 15 members were injured because all of them were running late. That’s creepy!
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both assassinated while in office. Both men were shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while sitting beside their wives (neither of whom were injured). Moreover, they were both in the presence of another couple and each time the man with them was also wounded.
Lincoln and Kennedy were both succeeded by vice-presidents named “Johnson,” who were both born in the year “08.” Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 and Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908. Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and fled to a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theatre. Both assassins were detained by officers named “Baker.” And finally, both assassins used 3 names (John Wilkes Booth / Lee Harvey Oswald) and each had 15 letters total in their name.
Those are certainly creepy coincidences. Almost too creepy to even believe. But what happened in the Philippian jail that night was no coincidence, it was providence. It was the deliberate work of God through natural means and circumstance to accomplish a purpose.
The earthquake was so powerful that it unlocked every single cell and unloosed every single chain holding the prisoners, and yet the roof didn’t collapse, the walls didn’t crumble, and there wasn’t the slightest injury to anyone. Do you see what I mean? This was God’s doing!
When the jailer awoke and saw the cells opened, he assumed everyone had escaped and was about to kill himself. That may seem drastic to us, but under Roman law he was as good as dead anyway. Jailers were held personally responsible for their prisoners. If they escaped, you were executed. And in that society, it was considered more honorable to take your own life than to let someone else take it. Just as he raised the sword, however, he was spared by a voice in the dark.
“But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved’” (Acts 16:28-29)?
The jailer, who had probably already heard Paul and Silas witnessing in the jail, seems to have interpreted the earthquake as an act of God; and it compelled him to ask the most important question that anyone could ask — “What must I do to be saved?”
The missionaries told the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus and then started sharing stories about their wonderful Savior. They probably recited how He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, how He confounded the wise and healed the sick, how He was betrayed by a friend and crucified on a cross, and how He triumphantly conquered the grave on that third day. And in that very hour, the jailer and his family were baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins. They did exactly what Jesus had said to do in Mark 16:16 — “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
The earthquake was not designed to deliver the prisoners, it was designed to deliver the jailer. That was the reason God made the “jailhouse rock!”
November 17, 1892
(Restoration Movement Journal)
The Lord’s Supper
D. L. Miller
"And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him" (Luke 22:14). "And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and said, take eat; this is my body" (Mark 14:22). None of the controversies which arose in the first centuries of Christianity were more bitter than that known as the Paschal dispute. It grew out of the question as to the proper time for observing the Lord's Supper and resulted finally in dividing the eastern and western Christians, and gave the world the Roman and Greek churches. But through all the disputes which arose and the differences that obtained in this great controversy, the validity of a full meal known as the Lord's Supper, or Agapae, in connection with which the cup and loaf of the communion were given to the disciples, was never questioned. All parties agreed that Christ ate a full meal with his disciples the evening preceding his betrayal and death and that "as they were eating Jesus took bread and blessed, and brake it, and gave it to his disciples and said, take, eat; this is my body." All further agree that the Apostles following the example of the Master introduced the Lord's Supper and Communion into the Apostolic Church. Both divisions of the church adhered to the example of Christ and the practice of the Apostles until it was set aside by the Romans. The more conservative eastern churches continued to observe the Love Feasts for many centuries and some of them still adhere to the Apostolic practice.
As intimated in the foregoing paragraph the New Testament clearly sets forth that Christ, the evening before his apprehension, mock trial and death, ate a meal with his disciples. Each of the evangelists gives an account of this meal, John and Luke calling it a supper. It was the principal meal of the day, and, as above indicated, was eaten in the evening. Just at the close of the meal Jesus instituted the communion, or, as it is sometimes called, the Eucharist. A difference of opinion obtained as to the exact time when the Supper was eaten, but this in no way changes the facts given above. The fact that there are persons who refuse to follow the example of Christ, and the practice of the apostolic church, and who, by way of derision, charge us with observing the Jewish passover, when, in accordance with divine example and inspired practice we hold our love-feasts, does not change God's plan, and, hence, should give us no concern.
The meal was observed by the apostolic church much the same as our people observe it today. All the brethren able to do so, brought together a portion of the meal. In the evening they ate together, each one helping himself from a common table. After eating an economical meal, the bread and wine, the emblems of the body and blood of Christ, were administered, and either before or after communion they saluted each other with the holy kiss of peace. The Supper was designated as a feast of charity, or love-feast, and was continued for several centuries, until it was swept aside by the corruption that flooded the church as a result of the increase of wealth, pride and power, which also set aside many of the simple teachings and examples of the Savior of the world.
If Christ ate a full meal with his disciples the evening before his crucifixion, and instituted the Communion in connection with it, and everybody admits that he did, and if his disciples established the practice of eating a supper in connection with the Eucharist in the churches which they organized, and if the apostolic practice of eating a supper on communion occasions was kept up during the first, second and third centuries, then we ask, Who has a right to set aside this part of God's plan? By whose authority was the primitive practice prohibited and set aside? History says it was finally prohibited by the councils of the Roman church. We prefer to follow the example of Christ and the apostolic practice rather than the mandates of human councils.
The first proposition in the last paragraph is, as was said, admitted by everyone acquainted with the New Testament; the second can be clearly shown by the epistolary writings of the inspired apostles, and the third is universally admitted by church historians. We will examine first the proof given by inspired writers, and then give the historical argument.
TESTIMONY OF THE WORD
Paul refers very clearly to the practice of the early church, 1 Cor. 11:20-22. Here he calls the meal the Lord's Supper. Note that the Communion is never called the Lord's Supper in the New Testament. Neither is the Lord's Supper called the Communion. The Greek words from which these terms are translated are different. Some have interpreted Paul's language here as prohibiting the Supper, but such interpretation does violence to the text. Our best commentators say that it was the abuse of the meal, and not its use, that Paul condemned. Henry, in his exposition on this text, says, "Heathens used to drink plentifully at their feasts upon sacrifices. Many of the wealthier Corinthians seem to have taken the same liberty at their love-feasts. They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions themselves bought." It was this abuse that Paul condemned. Benson says, "Christ having instituted his Supper, after he had eaten the passover, the disciples very early made the rule to feast together before they partook of the Communion. The feasts were called Agapae, or 'love-feasts.'" With the views expressed here agree Lange, Schaff, Stanley and others.
Peter and Jude both refer in unmistakable language to the fact that the disciples held love-feasts in the early church. Speaking of wicked persons who found their way into the church, they used the following language: "Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceiving while they feast with you," 2 Peter 2:13. "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear." Jude 1:12. Clarke, in his commentary on Jude, says: "The feasts of charity, or love-feasts, of which the apostles speak, were in use in the primitive church till the middle of the fourth century, when by the council of Laodicea, they were prohibited to be held in the churches; and having been abused, fell into disuse." Benson, on Peter's language, says: "These previous suppers, it appears from Jude, verse 12, were called agapae, love-feasts: because the rich, by feasting their poor brethren, expressed their love to them." These references are sufficient, and show conclusively that the apostles established the practice of eating a meal, which they called the Lord's Supper, or feast of love, in connection with the communion.
The universal agreement of church historians in regard to the practice of the apostolic church, constitutes a strong argument in favor of the practice of the Brethren in keeping the Lord's Supper. Dr. Schaff, one of America's most profound scholars, in his Church History, Vol. I., page 473, A.D. 1-100, says: "In the apostolic period the Eucharist was celebrated daily in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (agapae), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God."
Again, in Vol. II., page 239, A.D. 100-311: "At first the communion was joined with a LOVE-FEAST, and was then celebrated in the evening, in memory of the last supper of Jesus with his disciples."
Speaking of the observances of the church from A.D. 311 to 590, Vol. III., page 402, the same author says; "Next followed Maundy Thursday in commemoration of the institution of the Holy Supper, which on this day was observed in the evening and was usually connected with a love-feast, and also with feet-washing." Waddington, in his History of the Church, page 27, says: "The celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist was originally accompanied by meetings which partook somewhat of a hospitable, or at least, of a character, and were called agapae, or feasts of love. Every Christian, according to his circumstances, brought to the assembly portions of bread, wine, and other things, as gifts, as it were, or oblations to the Lord."
Jenkyn, in his exposition of Jude, verse 12, says: "The institution of these love-feasts was founded on the custom of the church, which immediately before the celebration of the Lord's Supper, used to have a feast, to testify, continue, and increase brotherly love among themselves; as also to the poor, who hereby were relieved."
From Mosheim, in his Commentaries, Vol. I., page 197, we quote as follows: "The expression, 'to break bread,' when it occurs in the Acts of the Apostles, is for the most part to be understood as signifying the celebration of the Lord's Supper, in which bread was broken and distributed. We are not, however, to consider it as exclusively referring to this ordinance of our Savior, but as also implying that feast of love, of which it was the customary practice of the Christians even from the very first, always at the same time to partake.”
Brown's "Bible Dictionary," under agapae, says: "This is a Greek word, and signifies properly 'friendship.' The feasts of charity, which were in use in the primitive church, were called by this name. They were celebrated in memory of the last supper which Jesus Christ made with his apostles, when he instituted the Eucharist. These festivals were kept in the church, toward the evening, after the common prayers were over, and the word of salvation had been heard. When this was done, the faithful ate together, with great simplicity and union, what every man had brought them; so that the rich and the poor were in no wise distinguished. After an economical and moderate supper, they partook of the Lord's body and blood, and gave each other the kiss of peace."
Coleman, in his "Ancient Christianity Exemplified," uses these words: "After the example of the Jewish passover, and of the original institution, the Lord's Supper was at first united with a social meal. Both constituted a whole, representing a communion of the faithful with their Lord, and their brotherly communion with one another."
Cave's "Primitive Christianity" has these words on the Lord's Supper: "Out of the oblations brought together they took provisions 'to furnish the common feast, which in those days they constantly had at the celebration of the sacraments, where the rich and poor feasted together at the same table.' These were called agapae, or 'love-feasts' (mentioned by Jude, and plainly enough intimated by Paul), because thereat they testified and confirmed their mutual love and kindness — a thing never more proper than at the celebration of the Lord's Supper."
Dean Stanley in "Christian Institutions," page 39, speaking of the Eucharist and the repast during the first two centuries, says: "The two remained for a time together, but distinct, the meal immediately preceding or succeeding the sacrament. Then the ministers alone, instead of the congregation, took charge of distributing the elements. Then, by the second century the daily ministration ceased, and was confined to Sundays and festivals. Then the meal came to be known by the distinct name of agapae. Even the apostolic description of 'the Lord's Supper,' was regarded as belonging to a meal altogether distinct from the sacrament. Finally the meal itself fell under suspicion. Augustine and Ambrose condemned the thing itself, as the apostle had condemned its excesses, and in the fifth century that which had been the original form of the Eucharist was forbidden as profane by the councils of Carthage and Laodicea. It was parallel with the gradual extinction of the bath in baptism."
Neander, who is called the father of Church History, says, in his History of the Christian Religion, Vol. I., page 325: "We now speak first of those feasts of brotherly love, as they were afterwards; when separated from the Supper of the Lord, they went under the name of agapae. At these, all distinctions of earthly condition and rank were to disappear in Christ; all were to be one in the Lord, — rich and poor, high and low, master and servant — were to eat at a common table.”
Lange, in his valuable Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:20, page 234, says: "By this the apostle designates neither the agapae (Jude 12), the so-called church feasts (as Romanists interpret, who would thus elude the argument furnished against their sacrificial theory of the Eucharist); nor yet the Holy Supper (verse 23), by itself; but the combination of the two as it was found in Christian churches, according to the apostolic custom, and in accordance with the first institution of the Supper, which, as we know, followed upon a regular meal. The Supper spoken of in the text was a festival, to which each one contributed a portion. But in Corinth such a meal as this, where all appeared as one family, living on common property, could not take place; since, by reason of the cooling of their love, each one kept and enjoyed, for himself the portion which he had brought."
Other historical evidences might be adduced, but these are enough to show that the practice of the early church was to hold love-feasts in connection with their Communions. With the foregoing facts before us, with the example of our blessed Master, with the practice of the inspired apostles, and with the usage of the early Christian church, all on one side of our practice, we do not feel much concerned about the criticisms that may be offered against it.
[Continued in November 24, 1892 issue]
WHO SET THE LORD'S SUPPER ASIDE
In the introduction of Christianity the poor heard the word gladly and accepted the teachings of Christ willingly. Not many rich in this world's goods, or noble, as the world counts nobility, united with the church. Simplicity and humility were the leading characteristics of the new sect. Everywhere it was spoken against; it was poor in revenue but rich in love. The feast of love was then kept with singleness of heart. But as the church increased in numbers, it gained likewise in wealth. The rich came into the fold, and class distinction, born of wealth and pride, was felt. Then came the first innovations. Even in Paul's time the eating of the Supper had fallen into such disorder in the rich and opulent city of Corinth that he wrote to the church at that place, rebuking them severely, saying to them, You are not eating the Lord's Supper, but your own, because you eat in disorder and do not tarry one for another. (I Cor. 11:33, 34.)
It never occurred to the apostle that because the Corinthians abused this institution of the Church that therefore it ought to be set aside. The Holy Spirit did not lead him in that direction. He corrected the abuse and gave them directions how to eat the Lord's Supper: "When ye come together to eat, tarry one for another." If Christian teachers in all ages had followed Paul's example in dealing with abuses, the love-feast would be as generally observed today at it was in the apostolic church.
As to the sacred character of the meal at the first, and of the abuses that gradually crept into its observance, we quote Dr; Schaff, one of the most eminent church historians of our time. He says: (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia under Agape.) "Originally the character of the feast of love was strictly devotional; the feast culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist. At the same time, however, it was a social symbol of the equality and solidarity of the congregation. Here all gave and received the kiss of love. Here communications from congregations were read and answered. As now the congregations grew larger, the social differences between the members began to make themselves felt, and the feasts of love changed character. They became entertainments of the rich. In Alexandria 'the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs' of old (Eph, 5:19; Col 3:16), were supplanted by performances on the lyre, the harp, and the flute, in spite of Clement's protest. In other places the rich retired altogether from the meetings, and the feasts of love sank into a kind of poor house institution."
This change did not take place all at once nor without efforts on the part of many, who remained faithful, to retain the love-feast as it had been delivered to them by the apostles. The Council of Gangra, held probably before the middle of the fourth century, made the following decision: "If anyone despises the feasts of charity which the faithful make, who, for honor of the Lord call their brethren to them, and comes not to the invitation because he condemns them, let him be anathema." (Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 5, page 487.)
But the anathemas of the Council availed nothing against the riches and pride which now, that Christianity had become popular, flowed into the Church. Forty years later the third Council of Carthage, A.D. 391, decreed that the Communion should be taken fasting, thereby separating the Eucharist from the Lord's Sapper. This decree was followed by others, forbidding the feasting in churches and prohibiting the love-feasts altogether.
The action of the various Councils did not fully suppress the Supper. In many of the churches the faithful few kept the feast of love. While the multitudes kept not the feast, the faithful adhered to the example of Christ and kept the Lord's Supper as it had been delivered unto them. But they were not allowed to observe it in peace. In A.D. 541 the Council of Orleans strictly prohibited the feasts. Still some did not give it up and it was found in some of the churches near the close of the seventh century, when the Council of Trullo A.D. 691 prohibited them under pain of excommunication.
Dr. Bingham, speaking of the efforts of the various councils to set aside the love-feast, says, "So difficult a matter was it to extirpate the abuses of ancient custom, without destroying the custom itself, which was innocent in the original and of so great service to the Christian Church, while it continued free from abuses, that it was the envy and admiration of the Heathen." (Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 5, page 489.)
The more conservative Greek Church did not follow the example of the Roman Catholics, but adhered to the feasts of charity for many centuries, and it is said that in some of their Churches it is still observed.
The action of the Council of Trullo resulted in suppressing the love-feast in the Latin Churches. Those who continued to observe it were expelled from the Church. Thus, after the effort which extended over a period of about three hundred years, an institution of the apostolic Church was set aside.
The reason assigned for this action was that abuses had crept into the observance of the feast, but the real cause was that the wealth and pride created caste distinctions in the Church and the wealthy refused to eat with the poor. For a time an effort was made to make the feasts suit the upper classes, and orchestras and choir singing were introduced, and the simple meal of the apostles became a bacchanalian feast. Then the very men, who thus perverted the Lord's Supper, used these abuses as an argument against the institution itself; and, as we have seen, after a long time succeeded in having it set aside.
Why was it that no attempt was made to correct these abuses? This was done, but pride and wealth carried the day. The principle was lost sight of in the general demand to have the feast set aside, and the Councils weakly gave way to the popular clamor for a change. So it has been in all ages of Christianity. So it is today. The truth is set aside to please the carnal mind. One by one the practices of the apostolic Church, feet-washing, trine immersion, the love-feast, and other practices of the primitive Church, were set aside to meet the demands of those who were not willing to follow the Master in all things.
The Brethren in their reformatory movement sought to introduce again primitive Christianity. They have so far succeeded, but unless care is exercised, history will repeat itself and popular demand will result in setting aside many of the plain and simple commands of the Master. If abuses creep into the Church, let us correct them and not sacrifice the principle that is abused. There is about as much wisdom in such a course as was displayed by the man who, to destroy a few vermin that lodged in his house, set fire to it and destroyed the whole structure.
We close by quoting the eloquent language of our dear Bro. James Quinter, when speaking on the subject of the Lord's Supper. He says: "In celebrating the Lord's Supper, in the light in which we view it, while the sacred emblems, the bread and wine, representing the body and blood of the Savior, remind us of his death for us, and point us to his second coming, this feast of love may be regarded as a representation of the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which is to take place when the Savior comes, and his people shall gather themselves together from the East, and from the West, and from the North and from the South, and sit down in the kingdom of God. O my friends, do not believe that anything commanded by the Lord is a mere formality. If it be sustained that a thing is of the Lord, it cannot but be admitted that it must have good effects, if properly observed. And in this ordinance, this feast of charity, we find there is a power, there is a benefit, there is a utility; and for these reasons, — because we believe it to be commanded by the Lord, and because we have practically seen and felt its beneficial effect, — we contend for its observance in accordance with the custom of the apostolic church. I believe that in all things, the more closely we adhere to the practices of the apostolic church, the better. And if that is to be our model, then we must have a feast of charity; we must have something else that we can eat together besides the sacred emblems of the Communion."
Jesus the Lamb
Jesus the Lamb
There have been many stories of amazing animals who saved lives. These remarkable creatures behaved in extraordinary ways to rescue someone in danger. Here are a few examples.
- Mila the Whale. When a 26-year-old woman experienced leg cramps during a diving competition without breathing equipment and was unable to reach the surface, Mila the Whale gently grabbed her leg and pushed her to the top of the pool.
- Willie the Parrot. When a 2-year-old girl began choking on a Pop-Tart while her babysitter was in the bathroom, Willie the Parrot started screaming, flapping his wings, and saying things like, “Mama! Baby! Mama! Baby!” The babysitter ran out of the bathroom and found the girl gasping for air. Her face and lips were blue. The babysitter was able to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver on the child.
- Lulu the Pig. When JoAnn Altsman had a heart attack and collapsed to the ground, Lulu, her daughter’s pot-bellied pig, ran out of the house and laid down in the street to stop traffic. Finally, one person stopped and followed the determined pig back to the house, where they found Altsman in pain on the floor. She was immediately rushed to a hospital.
- Mandy the Goat. When Austrian farmer Noel Osborne fell in a remote area and was severely injured, his goat Mandy huddled beside him for five days, keeping him warm. She even fed the man with her milk. Eventually, his friends found him.
These stories of animals “coming to the rescue” are impressive and heartwarming. They show that heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and smells. However, my favorite story involves “Jesus the Lamb.”
When mankind fell into sin and was in danger of eternal death, Jesus the Lamb knew just what to do. He left the comfortable confines of heaven and wrapped Himself in the womb of a woman. Nine months later he emerged as an infant in the tiny town of Bethlehem.
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).
Jesus the Lamb was on a rescue mission, though you would not have known it by looking at Him. As He was growing up, Jesus appeared to be just like everybody else. He had a mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and cousins. He played in the streets, attended synagogue services, and helped his dad in the family business. There was that one occasion in Jerusalem, however, that must have raised some eyebrows.
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:41-47).
Jesus the Lamb started garnering more attention when His ministry began at age 30. He was a powerful preacher who spoke with authority and offered hope, help, and healing to the people. He also performed miracles. It was not long, though, before envious enemies tried to destroy Him.
Jesus the Lamb attracted those who weren’t very attractive. He was a friend to the despised and downtrodden. In fact, one of the most memorable chapters of the Bible, Luke 15, came in response to the self-righteous ranting of the religious leaders about Jesus’ associations.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable” (Luke 15:1-3).
Jesus the Lamb knew this rescue mission would require bloodshed. He knew that in order to save man’s life, He had to lay down His own life. It was not a surprise. He even told the apostles exactly what was going to happen.
“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).
Jesus the Lamb voluntarily went to the cross to save man. He was “lifted up” to lift us up!
“Crucifixion” was the worst form of execution in the Roman Empire. It was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, shock, asphyxia, or dehydration. The ISBE says, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
Mila the Whale saved a woman from drowning, and Willie the Parrot saved a child from choking; but only Jesus the Lamb could save mankind from eternal death. The question is, do our actions demonstrate that we truly appreciate what He did? Do we pray fervently, talk graciously, help willingly, give generously, evangelize eagerly, and attend services regularly? Are we growing in grace and knowledge, and letting our light shine before others? Jesus the Lamb died for you, are you living for Him?
Ants in Your Pants
Ants in Your Pants
You have probably heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, but do you know how it came about? It is named after a Swedish inventor named Alfred Nobel. He was a very successful armaments manufacturer who amassed an enormous fortune inventing various kinds of explosives, including dynamite and the blasting cap.
In 1888, Alfred was astonished to see his own obituary in a French newspaper with the headline: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” The paper had actually confused Alfred for his brother, Ludvig, who had just passed away.
After reading the mistaken obituary, Alfred became very apprehensive about how he would be remembered and decided to make some drastic changes. He updated his will and specified that most of his fortune (worth about 250 million US dollars) was to be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer “the greatest benefit on mankind” in five areas, including peace. Alfred wrote, “I was so shocked by people’s perception that I committed the rest of my life to work toward world peace.”
Alfred got a rare opportunity to see how the world would portray his life and define his legacy, and that prompted him to make some major changes. The “Merchant of Death” became a promoter of peace. But what about you? If your life ended today, how would the world remember you?
Would the world remember you as a workaholic, a chronic worrier, a deadbeat dad, a greedy hoarder, a loose canon, a lazy bum, a neglectful mother, an unfaithful wife, a dishonest liar, or a selfish scrooge? Or would your legacy be more positive than that? Would they say things like, “He was a great husband,” “She was a loving mother,” and most importantly, “They were a committed Christian?” We all need to realize that the decisions we make today will determine how we’re remembered tomorrow.
Your legacy is being written right now, what does it say about you?
Helping Needy Non-Christians
Helping Needy Non-Christians
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of worship services in the early church was a meal they shared together called the Agape, or love feast. It was an integral part of their assemblies in which members ate as one body, regardless of their status in society. Whether rich or poor, master or slave, male or female, this meal was an expression of their mutual devotion as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was at the conclusion of this meal that they observed the Lord’s Supper.
“The early church developed special fellowship meals that came to be called love feasts (Jude 12) and that usually were closed with the observance of Communion. Those were congregational meals stressing fellowship, affection, and mutual caring among the believers. The emphasis on oneness led very readily into a celebration of the unifying accomplishment of the Savior on the cross” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 267).
This may seem strange to Christians living today because we are not used to eating a meal together before the Lord’s Supper, yet that is exactly what they did in the early church. Rather than sitting in pews with just a tiny wafer and sip of juice, they gathered around tables for a love feast.
“Churches today generally observe the Lord’s Supper much differently from the way the first century church did. Now, Christians observe the ordinance with a pinch of bread and a modicum of drink, but the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper with great banquets… These meals came to be known as ‘love feasts’” (Max Anders, 1 & 2 Corinthians, p. 197).
The Passover celebration involved a meal that satisfied hunger as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Since it was during this time — “as they were eating” (Matthew 26:26) — that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it is not surprising the early church had a similar meal setting.
“In the modern church the Lord’s Supper is not in the physical sense of the term a meal… But it began from the Passover, a feast of hungry men, who were to clear the table and to leave nothing; and the Lord’s Supper began in the Christian Church as a meal in which physical as well as spiritual hunger was satisfied” (William Barclay, The Lord’s Supper, p. 56).
Just as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from physical bondage in a meal setting, the first Christians commemorated their deliverance from spiritual bondage in a meal setting. That’s why it was called a “supper.”
The word for “supper” in Greek is deipnon and refers to the evening meal, which was a time when people filled up on food while enjoying one another’s company. This is the term used in the familiar expression “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). Hence, the word conveys the idea of eating together.
“…the deipnon was the main meal of the day, where people sat down with no sense of hurry and not only satisfied their hunger but lingered long together. The very word shows that the Christian meal ought to be a meal where people linger long in each other’s company” (William Barclay, 1 Corinthians, p. 102).
A meal that afforded outcasts, such as the very poor and slaves, an opportunity to mingle with the upper echelon of society as equals was rare in that culture and would be a remarkable testimony for the early church. In fact, slaves were considered property in the Roman Empire and were often terribly mistreated by their masters. They could be whipped, branded, or even killed for any reason. Therefore, a setting where such social barriers were removed must have been quite a draw for them. And it was probably the best meal they had all week!
“The Love Feast, the Agape, was one of the earliest features of the Church. It was a meal of fellowship held on the Lord’s Day… For many of the slaves it was perhaps the only decent meal they ever ate” (William Barclay, Jude, p. 192).
We know from the many passages addressed to slaves in the New Testament that they made up a large part of the early church, and love feasts probably had a lot to do with that. It is easy to imagine those Christians telling their fellow slaves about the affection experienced at these great-tasting feasts. This undoubtedly led to more of them visiting the assembly and ultimately being saved.
We read about two abuses that took place at love feasts in the early church. The first abuse involved a selfish spirit that advanced division rather than unity (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). It seems the wealthier members had become impatient waiting for the poorer members to arrive at their feasts and ate without them, leaving the latecomers with little or nothing to eat. This embarrassed them and totally defeated the purpose of the Agape, which was intended to bring everyone together as one body in love. The text says,
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk… do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 21, 22).
Notice that some members were “going ahead” and eating their food before the others showed up, causing those who came late to “go hungry.” This behavior showed a total lack of regard for their brethren (i.e., the church of God) and “humiliated” those who had no food. Hence, the problem was not the meal itself, but how they were eating that meal.
Paul warned the Corinthians that their treatment of one another while feasting had a direct impact on the Lord’s Supper, which they observed afterwards. To partake of communion while denying the love and unity it represented would bring judgment upon them.
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29).
“Body” is a metaphor for the church in this verse. The problem was not that the Corinthians had a lack of consideration for the literal body of Christ on the cross, but for their brethren. In other words, they were not showing proper discernment for one another as the Lord’s body. The ERV puts it like this,
“If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty” (v. 29, ERV).
Paul then gave his solution on the matter. He did not call for the feast to be cancelled, but for their conduct to change while partaking of that feast. Remember, the problem was that some were “going ahead” with their own meals before the others could arrive. Therefore, he said to wait on them before eating.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (v. 33).
The problem could easily be solved by showing some respect for those members who ran late to the feast, most notably the slaves who did not control their own schedules. Again, notice the problem in verse 21 and the solution in verse 33 — “each one eats without waiting for the others… when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (ERV).
“The fact that he says ‘when you come together to eat’ assumes that he supported the idea of their fellowship meal, but they should ‘wait for one another’ before they partake of it” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 275).
If any of the Corinthians were just too “hungry” to wait for the others, they should eat at home (v. 34). This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases:
ERV: "If some are too hungry to wait, they should eat at home."
NCV: "Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home."
VOICE: "If someone is hungry and can't wait, he should go home and eat."
AMPLIFIED: "If anyone is too hungry [to wait], let him eat at home."
The second abuse that took place at love feasts in the early church involved false teaching. Some men used the meal as a cloak to sow their seeds of error on unsuspecting members. Jude puts it like this:
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted” (Jude 12).
Jude warned that some were exploiting the love feast for their own sinister purposes. Even then, however, he did not call for it to be cancelled. There is no indication whatsoever that they should stop eating together, they just needed to protect the meal from becoming a platform for evil.
In addition to the Scriptures, there is overwhelming extra-biblical evidence to suggest that churches continued to have love feasts for several centuries. Here are some examples:
The Didache, which was a treatise of church teachings written around A.D. 100, gives instruction for a Eucharistic prayer “after you are satisfied with food” (10:1), which implies that a meal was eaten before the Lord’s Supper was observed. It also says to come together on the Lord’s day to “break bread and hold Eucharist” (14:1), apparently making a distinction between the two acts.
Ignatius wrote to the church at Smyrna around A.D. 110 and said, “It is not lawful either to baptize, or to hold a love-feast without the consent of the bishop” (8:2).
Pliny, in his famous description of Christians to Emperor Trajan around A.D. 112, reported that they would “come together on a fixed day before daylight and to sing responsively a song to Christ as God” and then later “assemble again to partake of a meal, common yet harmless” (10:96).
Tertullian defended the love feast against heathen slander of excess in his Apology around A.D. 197. He wrote, “Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agapè, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy… As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste” (ch. 39).
Minucius Felix, in his dialogue called Octavius around A.D. 210, wrote, “Our feasts are conducted not only with modesty, but in sobriety; for we do not indulge in delicacies, or prolong conviviality with wine; but temper our gaiety with gravity, with chaste conversation” (31:5).
Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition around A.D. 215, links the Lord’s Supper to a broader meal. It says, “When they dine, the faithful shall take from the hand of the bishop a small piece of bread before taking their own bread, because it is blessed. Yet it is not the eucharist, like the body of the Lord” (26:1). It also encourages Christians to “eat and drink in moderation” (28:1) and to keep some food as “leftovers of the saints, so that the one to whom it is sent may rejoice” (28:3).
Origen rose to the defense of “love feasts” in his work Against Celsus around A.D. 248. He says, “The first point which Celsus brings forward, in his desire to throw discredit upon Christianity, is, that the Christians entered into secret associations with each other contrary to law, saying, that ‘of associations some are public, and that these are in accordance with the laws; others, again, secret, and maintained in violation of the laws.’ And his wish is to bring into disrepute what are termed the ‘love-feasts’ of the Christians, as if they had their origin in the common danger and were more binding than any oaths. Since, then, he babbles about the public law, alleging that the associations of the Christians are in violation of it…” (1:1).
Love feasts were eventually outlawed by various church councils starting in the fourth century. For instance, the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) declared, “It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord's Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God” (Canon 28). This was just one of several reasons why they gradually passed from the scene.
Just because love feasts were sometimes abused and then forbidden by man-made legislative bodies are not good reasons for the practice to be abandoned by those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity in its purest form. There is no question the early church shared a meal in their assemblies and, as William Barclay said, “It was a lovely custom; and it is to our loss that the custom has vanished” (1 Corinthians, p. 100). Amen!
Paul Railton of Consett, England, was fined and barred from driving for six months after a cyclist witnessed him "walking" his dog while driving. Railton was holding the leash out the car window as he drove slowly down the street. Though he pled guilty to the charge of "not being in proper control of a vehicle," the real crime was sloth.
"Sloth" is laziness. It can denote either inactivity or sluggishness in the performance of a task. Words like "apathy," "idleness," "indifference," and "lethargy" are often associated with sloth. A slothful person delays work and does not complete work already begun. He lives by the saying, "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow." He cuts corners and looks for the easy way out.
A slothful person asks someone else to change the channel, walks by an overflowing trash can without emptying it, drinks straight from the milk carton, coughs without covering his mouth, daydreams with a deadline approaching, doesn't flush the toilet, never uses a blinker, hides from the boss, cheats on tests, and arrives late to appointments. He walks a dog while driving.
The Bible has a lot to say about sloth, especially in the book of Proverbs. The writer frequently condemns the "sluggard" (ESV) or "slacker" (HCSB). Young's Literal Translation uses the word "slothful:"
- "As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the slothful to those sending him" (10:26).
- "The soul of the slothful is desiring, and hath not. And the soul of the diligent is made fat" (13:4).
- "The way of the slothful is as a hedge of briers, and the path of the upright is raised up" (15:19).
- "The slothful hath hidden his hand in a dish, even unto his mouth he bringeth it not back" (19:24).
- "Because of winter the slothful plougheth not, he asketh in harvest, and there is nothing" (20:4).
- "The desire of the slothful slayeth him, for his hands have refused to work" (21:25).
- "The slothful hath said, 'A lion is without, in the midst of the broad places I am slain'" (22:13).
- "The door turneth round on its hinge, and the slothful on his bed" (26:14).
- "Wiser is the slothful in his own eyes, than seven men returning a reason" (26:16).
The above verses describe the slothful person as an aggravating, unmotivated, excuse-filled, self-conceited drain on society. He is a disgrace to himself and his Creator. He will rust out long before he will wear out! This is the opposite of what Christians are to be. We are to be energetic and hardworking people (Colossians 3:22-24) who use our time wisely (Colossians 4:5).
God has always required man to work. It was expected of Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:15) and of Israel in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:9). In fact, there was a saying that developed among the Jews, "He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal." It is no wonder then that Jesus worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3).
Christians who were unwilling to work were disciplined in the early church. Paul said to "keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness" and "have nothing to do with him" (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14). He also taught that those who would not work should not eat (v. 10) and that those who do not provide for their families are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8). This emphasizes just how important it is for Christians to have a strong work ethic.
Ants in Your Pants
Ants are amazing creatures. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. They have the largest brain among insects; they have a second stomach to store food for other ants; they can communicate with one another through chemicals known as "pheromones;" they can farm smaller insects; and they can enslave other ants. Some ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight. (The dung beetle can lift 1,000 times its own weight). Ants move an estimated 50 tons of soil per year in one square mile. They are tiny yet industrious creatures.
In Proverbs 6, the slothful person is urged to consider the ants and learn from their ways.
"Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber" (vv. 6-11, NLT).
Ants are diligent. They work hard without having to be overseen. They do not procrastinate or piddle around. They are astute, energized, and motivated to do their tasks. Therefore, the writer of Proverbs says to the slothful person, "Get some ants in your pants!"
An old man and his wife were sitting in front of the fireplace one evening when she said, "Jed, I think it's raining. Get up and see." The old man continued to gaze into the fire for a while and then replied, "Why don't we just call in the dog and see if he's wet?" Sadly, that same slothful attitude characterizes many in our society. They are stuck in neutral. They have no drive in their lives. However, it should never characterize members of the Lord's church. Slothfulness is sinfulness (Matthew 25:26-30).
There have been many suggestions made about the “love feasts” in Jude 12. Some say they were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly. Others say they were meals eaten by Christians outside the assembly. Still others say that Jude’s expression refers to the Lord’s Supper or is merely figurative. The text itself provides no additional details.
I was surprised to see how many reputable sources say that “love feasts” were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly, usually in connection with the Lord’s Supper. Here is a sampling.
- Thayer: “…feasts expressing and fostering mutual love which used to be held by Christians before the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and at which the poorer Christians mingled with the wealthier and partook in common with the rest of food provided at the expense of the wealthy” (p. 4).
- Arndt and Gingrich: “…a common meal eaten by early Christians in connection w. their church services, for the purpose of fostering and expressing brotherly love” (p. 6).
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “In the opinion of the great majority of scholars the Agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord’s command… The Agape was thus related to the Eucharist as Christ’s last Passover to the Christian rite which He grafted upon it. It preceded and led up to the Eucharist, and was quite distinct from it” (Vol. 1, p. 70).
- AMG’s Comprehensive Dictionary of New Testament Words: “Meal expressing and nurturing mutual affection eaten together by early Christians… At the beginning of the church, the Lord’s supper was celebrated during those feasts” (p. 641).
- History of the Christian Church: “In the apostolic period the eucharist was celebrated… in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (agape), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth, and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God” (Vol. 1, p. 473).
- Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “Certainly by the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (ca. AD 55) it is evident that that church observed the practice of meeting together for a common meal before partaking of the Lord’s Supper... The situation described here is possible only in the context of a meal more substantial than, and preceding the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper” (p. 660).
Tertullian (200 AD) went into some detail about “love feasts” in his Apology 39, though there is no indication they were connected to the Lord’s Supper.
“Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy… If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste… As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.”
Ignatius (110 AD) discussed when to “celebrate a love feast” in his letter to the Smyrnaeans (8:2), and Pliny the Younger (112 AD) reported to Trajan that “on a fixed day” Christians would assemble “to partake of food, ordinary and innocent food” (97).
The Didache (100 A.D.) gives instruction for a Eucharistic prayer “after you are satisfied with food” (10:1), which may imply that a meal was eaten before the Lord’s Supper was observed. It also says to come together on the Lord’s day to “break bread and hold Eucharist” (14:1), apparently making a distinction between the two acts.
Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (215 AD) links the Lord’s Supper to a broader meal. It says, “When they dine, the faithful shall take from the hand of the bishop a small piece of bread before taking their own bread, because it is blessed. Yet it is not the eucharist, like the body of the Lord” (26:1). It also encourages Christians to “eat and drink in moderation” (28:1) and to keep some food as “leftovers of the saints, so that the one to whom it is sent may rejoice” (28:3). Moreover, it specifies that the Eucharistic bread and wine should be taken "before eating anything else” (36:1).
We know that the Council of Laodicea outlawed “love feasts” in the fourth century (Canon 28). This legislation was later reiterated by the Third Council of Carthage and the Second Council of Orleans.
All of this made me wonder if there are any passages in the New Testament to support the idea that Christians shared a meal when they gathered together. The answer is “yes.”
According to 1 Corinthians 11, the church at Corinth ate meals prior to their worship service. These meals not only provided a good opportunity for fellowship, but they gave the wealthy members a chance to share their abundance with the poor. (That might have been the best meal the slaves had to eat all week). However, the rich got tired of waiting for the poor to arrive and ate without them. This left the poor with very little or no food.
“For in eating, each goes on ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (v. 21).
Paul rebuked this outrageous behavior. It not only missed the point of the meal, but embarrassed the latecomers. Therefore, he told those who were too selfish to wait for others to go home and eat.
“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (v. 22).
The Voice translation renders the first part of that verse this way: “What is going on? If a self-centered meal is what you want, can’t you eat and drink at home?” That seems to be the point.
Paul then launched into a discussion about the Lord’s Supper, which apparently followed the meal (vv. 23-32). This was because their treatment of one another while dining was incompatible with the selflessness of Christ and unity of believers reflected in the observance of communion done afterwards. He even gave this warning, "If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty" (1 Corinthians 11:29, ERV). He concluded his remarks with this instruction:
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (vv. 33-34).
For a long time, I thought they were waiting to “eat” the Lord’s Supper. I was wrong. It actually refers to the broader meal that was eaten before the Lord’s Supper. How do I know? Because whatever they were going to “eat” in verse 33 could be eaten “at home” in verse 34. That excludes communion.
Paul was saying that when you come together to eat this meal, which is capable of satisfying hunger and getting you drunk (v. 21), wait for one another. Those who are too hungry to wait should eat at home. This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases.
- ERV: “If some are too hungry to wait, they should eat at home."
- NCV: “Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home.”
- Voice: “If someone is hungry and can’t wait, he should go home and eat.”
- Amplified: “If anyone is too hungry [to wait], let him eat at home.”
- The Message: “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich.”
Brethren who oppose the so-called “second serving” of the Lord’s Supper argue that Paul said to “wait for one another.” Yes, he did; but that is not in reference to the communion. It refers to the eating of a meal that left some “hungry” and others “drunk” (v. 21) and could be eaten “at home” (v. 34).
Paul was not condemning the Corinthians for eating a meal. He was rebuking them for not eating that meal the right way. They needed to wait patiently for one another so that none would be neglected or embarrassed. The fact that he said “when you come together to eat” assumes that he supported the idea of the meal, but they were to “wait for one another” before they partook of it.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of a meal. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread…” (Matthew 26:26, emp. mine). That may explain why there would have been a “meal setting” in the early church. Moreover, the word "supper" is from the Greek deipnon and refers to "a formal meal usually held at the evening" (Thayer). This was the main meal of the day where people not only satisfied their hunger, but enjoyed one another's company with no sense of hurry. Yet in churches today, we use the word much differently. We try to have a "supper" without a meal setting at all!
Those who deny the necessity of baptism often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 1 to prove their point (“I thank God that I baptized none of you” and “Christ did not send me to baptize”). However, the surrounding context actually makes one of the strongest arguments for baptism. Likewise, brethren who oppose eating a meal when gathered together often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 11 to prove their point (“Do you not have houses to eat and drink in” and “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home”), when the surrounding context actually authorizes eating together.
The evidence indicates that 1 Corinthians 11 is describing an abuse of the “love feast” mentioned in Jude 12. It was a meal eaten in the assembly which expressed the love and devotion that Christians share. And as Dyron Daughrity said in his book on church history, "Something was lost when the Eucharist lost its original association with a fellowship gathering where like-minded people enjoyed food together" (Roots: Uncovering Why We Do What We Do In Church, p. 103).
"There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period (shortly after Pentecost) was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as when the ordinance was instituted. Most scholars hold that this was the prevailing usage in the first centuries after Christ; and we have traces of this practice in 1 Corinthians 11:20ff.”
— Alexander Campbell
We all agree that individual Christians are to help those in need, regardless of their spiritual status. We are to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). However, there is disagreement about whether churches have that responsibility. Some believe churches may use the treasury to help all those in need, while others say the treasury can be used only to help members. These positions can properly be identified as “saints first” versus “saints only.”
The “saints first” doctrine says that Christians are to be the priority when needs arise, but that non-saints can also be helped by the church; while the “saints only” doctrine says that non-Christians may not receive assistance from the church under any circumstances. So, which is it?
The weakness of an argument is often exposed in the realm of “consistency.” If it is wrong for the church to provide for the needs of non-saints, then it is not permissible to let them drink from the water fountain. After all, the fountain has been purchased and maintained with money from the treasury. (And calling it an “expedient” or “incidental” doesn’t change that fact). Moreover, if the church can provide them with something to drink, why couldn’t it provide them with something to eat? Why can it satisfy their thirst but not satisfy their hunger?
If the “saints only” doctrine were true, it would be wrong for the church to provide non-Christians shelter during a storm, a diaper from the nursery, or a tissue from the restroom. Think about it. The building and all its amenities have been supplied through the treasury; therefore, one would have to turn those folks away to be consistent. If the Lord’s money cannot be used to help needy non-saints, then they would have to be denied.
The weakness of an argument is also exposed in the realm of “absurdity.” Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine have no problem using the treasury to maintain the building and its grounds. Hence, they will spend the Lord’s money to feed the lawn (fertilizer) but will not take a dime to buy food for starving children. To do that, we are told, would be an offense worthy of damnation. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider a proposition that was defended in public debate:
“The Bible teaches that it is a sin for the church to take money from the treasury to buy food for hungry destitute children, and those who do so will go to hell.” (A. C. Grider debate with W. L. Totty)
Surely one can see that this is an absurd position that completely contradicts the loving and compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ. He was deeply concerned about the wellbeing of little children (Mark 10:13-16), yet we are told that His church should let them starve rather than take money from the treasury for food.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine will permit the church to “take” from non-saints, but not “give” to them in times of distress. Though generous members often step up in such situations, one can see how bad this doctrine makes the church look. You can help it, but it can’t help you!
God the Father & Jesus
God has always required His people to be benevolent, even to those outside His own. He made sure provisions were set aside for all the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28-29); and it is obvious that the Lord’s disciples were in the habit of using their treasury for all the poor in society (John 12:5; 13:29). It is no wonder then that the “churches of Galatia” and the “church of the Thessalonians” were told to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). They were to follow that same benevolent spirit.
Everyone acknowledges that Jesus did not practice limited benevolence, yet the “saints only” brethren say that His body must do so or be condemned. They label any congregation that would dare follow the Lord’s example in helping a non-believer “apostate” or “unsound.” Think about that. Any church that follows the example of Christ in the sphere of benevolence will not be accepted by “saints only” brethren.
Jesus said that those who love “only their brothers” are no better than tax collectors and Gentiles (Matthew 5:46-48). Would that principle not apply to the church, or is it only individual Christians who must be better than them in showing love to everyone? This is devastating to the “saints only” position, for it encourages churches to practice the very kind of “selective love” that Jesus spoke against!
Two passages that draw a lot of attention in this discussion are Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27. Both of those verses speak of helping more than just Christians. They say we are to help “everyone” and especially the most vulnerable in society like “orphans and widows.” However, those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine argue that this is strictly for individuals and that the church must be excluded from such work. Is that true?
While it is true that Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 are for individuals, they are not for individuals only. The “saints only” advocates draw a line of distinction that was never intended. We will consider each passage separately.
Galatians 6:10. The fact that Paul addressed “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2) and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. Furthermore, earlier in chapter six Paul said to “restore” those caught in a transgression (6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (6:6). Could the church assist in efforts to restore and share? Then why couldn’t the church assist in efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later? That seems inconsistent. Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine draw a line of distinction that was never intended; a line that no one would conclude on their own without help from “saints only” proponents.
James 1:27. The fact that James addressed “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), which is a reference to the church, and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. He also discussed behavior in the assembly just a few verses later (2:2), dispelling the argument that he intended to distinguish between individual and collective action.
Some say the word “himself” in James 1:27 proves that it is exclusively for the individual. However, it is not uncommon for personal pronouns to be used when the church is being addressed. For instance, the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3 repeatedly use “he” and “him” even though they were sent to churches. That is because churches are made up of individuals!
James 1:27 defines “pure and undefiled religion” as helping the most vulnerable in society — orphans and widows. Yet the “saints only” brethren say churches cannot do that and be pleasing to God. To them, it is an egregious sin for any congregation to practice pure and undefiled religion.
When a writer in the New Testament wanted to make a distinction between the church and the individual, he said so clearly (1 Timothy 5:16). That is not the case in Galatians 6:10 or James 1:27. There is nothing stated anywhere in those texts to indicate collective action was being forbidden.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine point to passages where a collection was earmarked for needy Christians and argue that this is the exclusive pattern for the church. However, Paul said the collection was “for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Since “all others” is from a Greek term used of non-saints in many other passages (pantas — John 12:32; Acts 5:11; Romans 16:19; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Peter 2:17, etc), it is certainly plausible that they were to be included. Even if one does not think it is a probability, he should at least be willing to admit that it is a possibility. Therefore, we should not be overly dogmatic in saying non-saints must be excluded.
While it is not the church’s responsibility to eliminate poverty from the world, which is an impossibility (Mark 14:7), it is to do good as means and opportunity permit. That task is not just for the individual. I hope that has now been proven. The Scriptures teach saints first, but not saints only.
If a congregation does not want to use the treasury to help non-saints, that is their decision. However, they should not condemn those churches who decide differently. It is a shame that lines have been drawn and fellowship severed over this issue. I would suggest that we respect autonomy rather than require allegiance in such matters. As for me, I would rather stand before God having done too much to help others than not enough.
(1)If the church cannot provide a hungry non-Christian with food, how can it provide a thirsty non-Christian with water? To be consistent, wouldn’t the water fountain need to be for saints only?
(2)What kind of religion is the church to practice? Is it to practice pure religion, impure religion, or no religion at all? See James 1:27.
(3)Is it scriptural for the church to buy fertilizer to feed the lawn? If so, is it okay to feed grass but not needy people?
(4) Did God the Father practice limit benevolence?
(5)Did Jesus and the apostles practice limited benevolence?
(6)Suppose a widow needs financial assistance after her husband’s sudden death. He was a devout Christian, but she is not. Could the church help her and the kids?
(7)Could a church participate in efforts to “restore” those caught in a transgression (Galatians 6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (Galatians 6:6)? If so, why couldn’t the church also participate in efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later (Galatians 6:10)?
(8)Does the teaching of Jesus about “loving more than just your brothers” in Matthew 5:46-48 apply to the church or is it only individual Christians who must show love to everyone?
It's Not About Performance
It's Not About Performance
We have all been programmed to be performers. — Grades in school are based on performance. Badges in scouts are based on performance. Positions in sports are based on performance. Paychecks at work are based on performance. — It is all about how good we do; how well we perform in a certain area.
Sadly, this mentality often gets carried over into the religious realm. Since we are so used to things being “performance driven” in society, we just assume that the same is true spiritually. Therefore, we develop a checklist of “do’s” and “don’ts” and gradually start to put our confidence in that checklist. We trust that those little checkmarks we are accumulating will ultimately tip the scales in our favor and merit us a home in heaven. But this is not what the Bible teaches.
The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This means we have all messed up badly and deserve to be punished. The Bible also teaches that we can never work good enough, hard enough, or long enough to repair the damage our sin has done. We are utterly incapable of fixing the problem. Our only hope of being spared is to trust in Jesus Christ and His performance, not ours.
This is not to say that obedience is unnecessary. It is very necessary. Jesus said that one must “do” the will of the Father to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). However, our obedience is a yearning, not an earning. We are calling out, not cashing in. We should never trust in our own actions to merit salvation.
In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about two men who went into the temple to pray — a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee put a lot of stock in his performance. He trusted that his own good works would justify him before God. In fact, his prayer is an example of the checklist mentioned above. First, he thanks God for what he “doesn’t do” (v. 11) and then he thanks God for what he “does do” (v. 12). It is clear the Pharisee thought he had enough checkmarks to impress heaven. Yet the Lord says it was the tax collector who went home justified that day!
I fear that a lot of Christians are like the Pharisee. They foolishly trust in their own performance to obtain justification before God. It is all about accumulating checkmarks! The truth is, however, we are all imperfect people who could never do enough to earn God’s approval. In fact, the very idea is insulting to Him because it undermines grace and causes man to put confidence in himself. What we need to do is be more like the lowly tax collector whose approach was mercy-based, not merit-based. And while we strive to be completely obedient in all things, that is not the source of our assurance. A Christian’s confidence is in what Christ did, not what we do!
Just Say "No"
Just Say "No"
“The Top Tens” website came out with a list of the best decades to live in since 1900. Can you guess which one topped the list? The 1980s. When I think about that decade, things like acid wash jeans, cassette mixtapes, and Nintendo come to mind. I also think about the great movies of that time, like Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, and Beverly Hills Cop. There was the tragic shuttle explosion in 1986 and the powerful “Tear Down This Wall” speech by President Reagan a year later. However, one of the things I remember most, probably because of my age at the time, was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. She traveled the country, flooded the airwaves, and partnered with countless celebrities to repeat one simple word — NO!
“Just Say No” would have been an appropriate slogan for the Pharisees in the first century, but for an entirely different reason. These men were strict Jews who thought very highly of themselves and were constantly finding fault in others. They considered just about everything to be a sin. Therefore, they engaged in their own kind of “Just Say No” campaign.
The Pharisees were obsessed with keeping the “traditions of the elders” (a set of oral instructions that had been compiled over the generations). These traditions were very cumbersome, going beyond the Word of God and adding to the Word of God. Yet the Pharisees believed these traditions were a requirement that had to be observed by all the Jews. To them, violating a tradition was equivalent to violating the law itself. This was especially evident when it came to the Sabbath.
Though the old law prohibited working on the Sabbath, it did not go into much detail about the work itself. However, traditions were developed over time that attempted to list exactly what could and could not be done. This resulted in 39 different categories of “forbidden labor.” For instance, you could not take a bath because water might spill on the floor and wash it. You could not swat a fly because killing it would be slaughtering. You could not drag a chair across the dirt because it might make a rut, which would be plowing. Washing, slaughtering, and plowing were all categories of forbidden labor.
You could not climb a tree because a leaf might accidently fall off and make one guilty of reaping. You could not wear false teeth because if they were to fall out and be picked back up, the person would be guilty of carrying a burden. A woman could not even look at her reflection because she might see a gray hair and try to pluck it out, which would be working. Other forbidden labor included tying or untying a knot, washing or drying clothes, lighting or extinguishing a fire, and separating good fruit from spoiled fruit.
If a hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, you could not eat it because the hen had worked. If reaching for food when the Sabbath began, the food had to be dropped on the floor. Cold water could be poured into warm water, but not warm water into cold water. And something lifted up in a private place could only be put down in a public place (and vice versa).
Interestingly, many of their traditions had convenient “loopholes.” For instance, you could not take the saddle off a donkey. However, you could unloose the saddle and let it fall to the ground on its own. You could not carry clothes out of a burning house. However, you could put on several layers of clothes and wear them out of the house. You could not travel more than 3,000 feet from home. However, if you placed food at that precise point before the Sabbath, you could travel another 3,000 feet because the food was considered an extension of the home.
When it came to medical treatment, their tradition said that only lifesaving measures could be taken. You could prevent death, but not do anything to improve health. This is why Jesus caused such a stir for healing on the Sabbath.
Obviously, these traditions were way over the top. They bound where God had not bound, put an enormous burden on the Jewish people, and changed the focus of the Sabbath from a day of “rest” to a day of “restrictions.” Therefore, Jesus was very antagonistic toward what He called “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).
Instances of Opposition
Below are three instances in the gospel accounts where Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders) tried to bind their traditions on Jesus and His associates.
- In Matthew 12, some Pharisees accused the disciples of violating the law for eating grain on the Sabbath. The charge would have included reaping (for picking the grain), threshing (for rubbing the grain), and winnowing (for blowing off the chaff).
- In John 5, some Pharisees accused a man Jesus healed of violating the law for taking up his bed on the Sabbath. The charge would have included carrying a burden (for holding the mat).
- In John 9, some Pharisees accused Jesus of violating the law for using saliva to make mud on the Sabbath. The charge would have included kneading (for making clay out of spit and dirt) and rendering nonvital treatment to someone. Their tradition only allowed treatments to prevent death, not to improve health.
Perhaps the most well-known clash Jesus had with the Jewish leaders over tradition involved handwashing as is recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. In that text, the disciples were accused of eating with defiled hands because they did not wash first. (This was not a matter of hygiene but of ritual. It was a ceremonial rinsing for the purpose of removing any possible contamination, like having contact with a Gentile). The Jewish leaders took this very seriously. Some rabbis taught that a certain demon could enter the body through unwashed hands while others said the act of washing assured eternal life. One imprisoned rabbi would use the little water he was given to wash his hands rather than drinking it because he thought it was better to perish than to transgress the tradition. He nearly died of thirst.
The ceremonial rinsing had very rigid requirements. It was to be done before every meal and between each of the courses. The water had to be kept in special stone jars that could not be used for any other purpose. First, the hands had to be held with fingertips pointing upwards so the water could run down to the wrist. After each hand was cleansed with the fist of the other, the procedure was repeated but with the fingertips pointing downwards. Then and only then was the person considered clean.
Jesus used this confrontation to expose the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and accused them of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. This shows just how strongly Jesus felt about binding where God has not bound.
Application for Today
The Pharisees thought they were just being “conservative,” but they were really being extreme. In their zeal to do right, they became obsessed with manmade traditions and found fault in anyone who did not adhere to them. They became the “Just Say No” crowd of the first century.
Sadly, some Christians fall into that same trap today. In their desire to do right, they fail to distinguish between truth and tradition, which inevitably leads them to oppose many things that are not wrong. For instance, some oppose displaying the cross on church buildings or pendants, using modern translations of the Bible, singing contemporary hymns in worship, wearing casual attire at services, celebrating religious holidays, and designating a minister’s area of work (youth, family, worship, etc). None of those things are a violation of truth, they just go against long-held traditions.
May God help us to keep manmade traditions in their proper place. They are not equivalent to God’s Word and should not be viewed as such. Nor should we impose them on others. We do not want to be the “Just Say No” crowd of the 21st century!
Christmas & Easter
Christmas & Easter
Though Christmas and Easter are commonly regarded as the two most important holidays of Christianity, they have been a source of controversy among members of the Lord’s church. Since these holidays originated with men and are not commanded in Scripture, we have had sharp disagreements on how they should be viewed. Some members ignore the two holidays altogether, others treat them as strictly secular holidays, and still others use them to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Savior. For a long time, I found the first two options acceptable but strongly opposed the last one. I just did not believe we could observe religious holidays that were not specifically commanded by God. However, I have since changed my position.
As with every position I take, this has nothing to do with personal preference or popular opinion. I am not seeking to please myself or others; I am simply trying to be consistent with the Scriptures. Wherever they lead me is exactly where I want to stand regardless of the consequences.
Dedication & Purim
One reason I changed my position on celebrating (manmade) religious holidays is because Jesus did so. He took part in such observances and never expressed concerns about their right to exist.
The “Feast of Dedication” was a Jewish holiday that came about during the intertestamental period. It commemorated the cleansing and rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus after it had been defiled by Greek oppressors. (The desecration included sacrificing pigs on the altar to pagan gods). This feast was also called the “Feast of Lights” because the Jews would light lamps to honor the occasion. Today, it is called “Hanukkah.”
The “Feast of Dedication” was a religious holiday that did not originate with God. When He revealed the various feasts that Jews were to observe, this was not one of them. It came about of the people’s own volition during the four hundred years of divine silence between Malachi and Matthew. Yet Jesus participated in this holiday without reservation (John 10:22-23).
The Lord’s presence at the “Feast of “Dedication,” along with the fact that neither He nor the writer John raised any objections to it, is strong evidence that it is okay to keep such holidays. Moreover, it is likely that the feast Jesus observed in John 5:1 was the “Feast of Purim,” which was another religious holiday that did not originate with God. It was instituted by Mordecai to commemorate Jewish deliverance from attempted genocide by the Persians (Esther 9:26-28). Hence, we have examples of Jesus doing the very thing some brethren take issue with today. The feasts of Dedication and Purim were no different than Christmas and Easter in terms of their origin; they both came about by mere men. Yet our Lord had no problem observing them.
The Jews knew that the feasts of Dedication and Purim were not divinely mandated, but that did not stop them from creating and observing those holidays to honor God. Nor did it keep Jesus from participating in them during His time on earth. Why then would we oppose parallel holidays today?
I find it interesting that when the establishment of Purim was recorded in Esther, the inspired writer did not offer any words of condemnation. He never added “and this was a sin” or “in violation of the law.” It seems apparent that he saw the creation of a new holiday to honor God as a good thing and had no reservations about it at all.
Another reason I changed my position comes from Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he gave approval for brethren to observe “special days” that they regarded as being religiously significant. He said they could keep those days according to their own convictions and should not be condemned by others for doing so (Romans 14:5-10). Whether it be Passover in the first century or Christmas and Easter in the twenty-first century, the application is the same — individuals who choose to observe these days are to be accepted. The only qualifier given is that the observance be done “in honor of the Lord.”
While it is true that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week, that does not preclude a special celebration annually. If they want to do that in honor of the Lord, Paul clearly says we are not to pass judgment on them. The only way this could become wrong is if they bind such observances on others or teach that they are somehow required to be right with God (Galatians 4:10-11).
Since Jesus observed the (manmade) religious holidays of His day and Paul permitted Christians to keep whatever "holy" days they want so long as they honor of the Lord, how can we possibly say it is wrong for individuals to celebrate Christmas and Easter? They have every right to do that. In fact, the only one in sin is the brother who refuses to accept them.
Shepherds in the Church
Shepherds in the Church
Leaders are essential. Every football team needs coaches, every business needs managers, every school needs administrators, and every flock of God needs shepherds. This article will explain the role of shepherds in the church and the responsibility of the sheep toward those shepherds.
The word “church” is used in two senses — universal and local. The universal church consists of all the saved everywhere, while the local church consists of those who work and worship in a specific location. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul said he was writing to the “church of God at Corinth.” Obviously, he was writing to one particular congregation (or local church).
Local churches are to have qualified leaders. These leaders are referred to in a variety of ways in Scripture. They are called “shepherds” or “pastors,” “overseers” or “bishops,” and “elders” or “presbyters.” These terms are all used interchangeably and refer to the same group of men. In fact, we see all three of these Greek terms used together in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5:
“Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders (presbyteros) of the church to come to him… Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos), to care for (poimaino) the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:17, 28).
“So I exhort the elders (presbyteros) among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd (poimaino) the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight (episkopeo), not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
I get the impression that Luke preferred the term “elder,” Paul preferred the term “overseer,” and Peter preferred the term “shepherd.” Without question, the most dominant model for spiritual leadership in the Bible is “shepherd.” That metaphor appears over 500 times across both the Old and New Testaments. This is how "AMG’s Comprehensive Dictionary of New Testament Words" defines the word for shepherd: "a. In a lit. sense: to guide, guard, and otherwise take care of the flock, as well as lead it to nourishment. b. In a spiritual sense: to act as a shepherd taking care of souls, i.e., ensuring they have good food, guiding them in the right way, and taking care of those who are weak and sick."
One of the most well-known Psalms, Psalm 23, captures the idea of a shepherd’s responsibilities. Though this psalm is often read at funerals, it is actually about living with God as your shepherd.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).
Notice that a good shepherd provides for the needs of his sheep. He nurtures them, leads them, protects them, comforts them, and helps them to prosper. He is a trustworthy leader who the sheep willingly follow.
In Bible times, the shepherd often lived with his sheep. At night, he would lead them into a barricaded area usually made of brush, sticks, or rocks. These makeshift-sheepfolds were built with one opening, and that’s where the shepherd would lie down. You’ve heard the expression “over my dead body.” Well, that’s literally the way it was for a shepherd. If wolves or robbers were going to come inside and harm the sheep, it would have to be over his dead body.
I want to share a brief excerpt with you from the book “They Smell Like Sheep.” It helps to demonstrate just how intimate of a relationship shepherds had with their sheep.
“When a tiny lamb was born into the wilderness world, the shepherd took the trembling newborn into his hands, warming it and caressing it. Among the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the tender hands of the shepherd. The gentle voice of the shepherd was one of the first sounds to awaken the lamb’s delicate eardrums… Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and his alone. They followed him and no one else. Of course, the lambs understood clearly who was in charge. Occasionally, the shepherd might tap an unruly lamb on the