“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV
Occasionally, while giving Bible studies, I will hear someone say, “Once Jesus fulfilled the commandments He did away with them. He fulfilled them so we don’t have to.” Well, let’s take a look at that. Does fulfill mean to do away with? My Websters Dictionary tells me that fulfill means to carry out. I don’t think carrying something out and abolishing it can be the same definition. My Roget’s Thesaurus tells me fulfill is the same as pleasing or sufficing. I don’t think you please of suffice something by abolishing it either.
Now that we have looked at Roget and Webster’s definition of the word “fulfill,” more importantly let’s see how the Scriptures use that word. Even more important and accurately, how Matthew himself uses that word.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Matthew 3:13-14 NKJV
So Jesus fulfilled the rite of baptism. Did He abolish it after He fulfilled it? No, of course not. We know that the command to be baptized is all over the New Testament. Matthew, the same writer who tells us Jesus fulfilled the rite of baptism also records Jesus’ command,
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Matthew 28:19 NKJV
So Jesus did not abolish baptism when He fulfilled that rite, but rather set an example for us to follow. Likewise, Jesus did not abolish the law by fulfilling it, but rather gave us an example to follow.
Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, which some people in some cultures now classify as barbaric. I have heard a few good Christians question why God chose circumcision for a sign that you belonged to Him? In certain safe circles faithful Christian men have asked, “why the penis of all places?”
We all know circumcision is no longer a sign of a covenant between God and us – thank goodness! Still it puzzles some believers as well as unbelievers alike as to why God ever had anyone do this. My purpose here is to answer the question, “why did God ever tell us to do this” and in the process we will see the gospel where before many people only saw a painful ritual.
The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT
God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating anymore, so instead of just trusting in God’s promise, he took his much younger handmaid Hagar and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This is the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of just trusting God to write them on our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (SeeGalatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.
So God had Abraham practice circumcision.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT
Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Abraham was trusting in his flesh to work things out, so God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh he was trusting in, so that he could realize the gospel is not “me plus Christ” but “Not I but Christ.”
For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT
… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98
Abraham had that part of his body circumcised because that was the part of his body he was trusting, more than he was trusting in God’s power. Now we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water washing self away, and dying to self, we rise up taking the new breath we now live, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.
Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual. For example, female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance is still widely practiced. It is seriously harmful to women and its practice often has ulterior motives.
Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer Biblical or morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would say, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or “embarrassing” an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second, most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available. And with the health benefits, your parents may have made no mistake at all.
Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.
In Oklahoma it is against the law to spit on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what the penalty is though. But I do know the penalty for making an ugly face at a dog is a fine or jail sentence. I guess it depends on just how ugly of a face you make. In Texas it is against the law to milk another person’s cow, or to shoot a buffalo from the second floor of a hotel. In Alaska it is considered an offense to shove a live moose out of an airplane.*
While these laws sound pretty crazy, I bet if we searched the history behind them, some of them might actually start to make sense. Apparently someone at one time in Alaska must have tried to shove a moose out of an airplane. There is a spirit behind each of these strange laws, which is consideration for other people and creatures. Spitting on the sidewalk may seem innocent enough, until your ten year old son walks barefoot down a sidewalk that a man with a hacking cough just passed by! Making an intimidating face at a dog that brings it to the point of violent frustration is not very considerate either. Therefore we have come up with millions of laws, some of them quite bizarre, just because there are people out there who have no consideration for others.
In heaven Lucifer rebelled against God’s law of love. He thought it would be better to have a lawless society. Well, guess what? The more lawless a society becomes, the more laws it needs. The Spirit of God’s law is simple,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27
Apparently Lucifer thought being considerate of your Creator and His created beings was just too much to ask for. However, if we would have just respected our Creator and His creatures we would not need all the millions of strange and not so strange laws we have today. If we loved others and were thoughtful of their needs, we would not need a law book at the courthouse telling us we can’t spit on the sidewalk or take milk from our neighbor’s cow. Likewise if we would just love our spouses we would not need divorce laws, alimony laws, child custody laws, child support laws and even restraining orders.
It is not so much strange lawmakers who create strange laws but rather strange and selfish behavior. Even in the Old Testament we have some laws that some people find quite strange, for example, why did God have to give this command in Leviticus 20:2?
Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death.
If parents would have just been faithful to their children we would never have needed this “strange” law. It is not God who was strange, thus necessitating this strange law but rather a strange society. Strange and unnatural laws become necessary for a society that does not have natural love. Natural love creates natural laws that are simple and brief, written on our hearts so that obeying them comes as naturally as following our own hearts. As a matter of fact God’s law could be as simply stated this, “Have a heart people!” And with that one simple law being accomplished we would need no other law, for having a heart for God and his creatures would make laws about offering your children to Molech and shooting buffalo from the second floor of a hotel totally unnecessary.
My 9th grade algebra teacher graded our tests on the curve. This meant that the highest grade would be counted as 100%. So if the highest grade was 80, our 70 would be considered 70/80 instead of 70/100, thus raising our percentage and grade considerably. There was only one problem. The same girl got 100% right on every test, so we never got a break! The standard always stayed right where it belonged at 100, instead of 70 or 80. The mornings after our tests, we would be anxious to get out results, and to see what kind of a break we got with the curve, and every morning following our tests, we would be disappointed to find that there was no break. Someone kept the standard right where it belonged. That someone was not a popular person with the rest of the class. Why? Because they kept the standard where it belonged, and left the rest of us with no excuse for getting the poorer grades that we got. She was plenty popular the rest of the school year when she acted just like us, but when it came time for tests, her study habits made the rest of us look bad, and it was just easier to ridicule her for her study methods, than it was to actually study ourselves. Likewise, as long as our church blends in the world we will never be ridiculed or persecuted either. Satan has no reason to persecute a church that looks just like the world. As long as this girl was acting like us it was fine, but we found her study habits to be annoying.
I imagine Judas found the woman washing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume to be quite annoying. Not that the perfume did not smell good, but Judas clearly had no intentions of giving all he had for Jesus. On the contrary, instead of giving he tried to take whatever he could. But how do you justify your selfishness in the face of someone else’s giving spirit? Easy, you make them look like a fanatic. “What a waste” Judas said, “The money she wasted on perfume could have been better spent on the poor.” I guess Judas considered himself to be poor, since he wanted the money himself. So he makes the woman out to be fanatical. Do we do this today? Someone gives more of their time and effort for Jesus than we are willing to give, and so to make us look balanced, we portray them as extreme. The woman was no fanatic. She was in love with Jesus! But when people are doing more out of love than we care to do, we label them “legalistic,” “extreme,” or “fanatical” when in fact they are just simply in love with Jesus. Judas was not irked by her behavior when she was sinning all over the place. That did not make Judas look bad. But when she gave all she had to Jesus out of love, that exposed Judas’ selfishness and Judas became offended by her converted behavior.
In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus gives us the beatitudes which are also stepping stones to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete Jesus says,
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT
Once God’s people become filled with righteousness and pure in heart, by God’s grace they will keep the standard right where it belongs, not because they are legalistic or fanatical, but because they are in love with Jesus. Now here is the key. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for doing right. Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by doing what is wrong. We deserve that, and there is no reward for that. I once heard a man who kept getting harassed by creditors, saying he was being persecuted for being a Christian. No he wasn’t! He was persecuted for not paying his bills!
When God’s grace converts us our standards will rise above the world’s standards, and just like the kids in my algebra class, and Judas, they will not like that. They will persecute us, but Jesus says to rejoice! For ours is the kingdom of heaven.
Many years ago when I was a literature evangelist, I found myself working one day in the rolling green hills of North East Oklahoma. I remember meeting a lot of rejection early in the day. What bothered me the most as I was selling Christian books, was that many saw me only as a salesman, instead of appreciating my passion for sharing Jesus. Rejection plus being misunderstood equaled loneliness for me. About midday, I walked into a Taco Mayo restaurant for lunch. Long before cell phones were common, and Bible apps created, I carried my Bible with me everywhere I went. I sat down at a table and opened my Bible “randomly” and found this verse,
Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him. Psalms 126:5-6 NKJV
That verse hit the spot! My career in soul winning was just beginning, and this was long before I would begin Bible studies with a family who would start attending church only after I studied with them for seven years in their home first. This was long before I would meet Fred, a man I studied with in Oklahoma, who got baptized later after I had already been serving in Texas years later. It was also years before I would meet the members of a small Pentecostal Sabbath keeping church, who would all become members of the Mineral Wells, Texas Seventh-day Adventist Church, after studying with them and just as importantly befriending them for four years. (I tell people the entire Pentecostal church became Adventist which is true. I also tell them the entire church consisted of 5 members.)
As a rookie evangelist I had only had time to plant seeds, but not to watch them grow. I needed to learn patience. If I could have seen the future harvest, I doubt I would have felt so discouraged, as I sat there eating my burrito, before I found that verse full of comfort and hope. Still, I could have remembered a passage that my leader had written inside the Colporteur Ministry book he gave me.
Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to live as He lived, and work as He worked, because they depend on Him as the great Master Worker. Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess. Though apparent impossibilities obstruct their way, by His grace they are to go forward…. They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 679-680
While I sat in that Taco Mayo in Grove Oklahoma back in 1990, my evangelistic career was too young to see the results that years and years of patient toil brings. However I had stories and testimonies from veteran laborers, like Denton James, my union publishing director. He and his family found the way, when they moved into a home, and found an old Bible Readings for the Homelaying in the attic. Denton found the Adventist church through that book and became a literature evangelist, who trained many more people, like myself to be literature evangelists. Back in 2008 I worked with his granddaughter in Tampa Florida, who was serving as an ASI Bible Worker. Not long ago, Denton fell asleep, after many years of soul winning. All those souls and trained Bible Workers and Literature evangelists can all trace their success back to Denton James, who traced his success back to an old book found in an attic.
I often wonder who the Literature Evangelist was, who sold that book to the family, that left it in the attic to be discovered by Denton’s family moving in years later. Whoever it was, I wonder if they ever got discouraged like I did, that day I was working in North East Oklahoma. Whoever it was they may have seen many people get baptized as a result of their labors, or it is possible they saw no one get baptized. One thing is sure, that literature evangelist went to their grave with no clue that years later a man would pick up one single book that had been laying around in an attic for years, dust the cover off and read it, and not only become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, but lead hundreds to find Jesus, who would also lead hundreds more to find Jesus.
Since I don’t know who sold the book Denton found, I can speculate. Is it possible that was the only book he or she ever sold? Is it possible they quite soon after that because “it just wasn’t working out?” Still there will be thousands in heaven because of that one single book, that lied lost in an attic for who knows how long. I can see the evangelist coming home at the end of that day when they sold that one single book, and writing in their journal,
“It was a terrible day today. I worked hard all day long and met nothing but rejection, and doors slammed in my face over and over. Finally a man bought just one copy of Bible Readings for the Home,from me, but I heard his wife scoffing at him, saying something like, its just going to end up thrown away up in the attic with all the other junk you buy from peddlers. This is so discouraging I might as well quit. At this rate I will never help anyone find Jesus.”
Or I could have it all wrong, but I do know this. The literature evangelist who left that book, walked away from that home having no idea that hundreds would be in the kingdom because of an exchange that probably only took a few moments and netted only a few dollars or even cents.
Just like that book, that was buried in a dark attic for years, so it is with the literature and words I shared on that frustrating day in Oklahoma so many years ago,
The good seed may for a time lie unnoticed in a cold, selfish, worldly heart, giving no evidence that it has taken root; but afterward, as the Spirit of God breathes on the soul, the hidden seed springs up, and at last bears fruit to the glory of God. In our lifework we know not which shall prosper, this or that. This is not a question for us to settle. We are to do our work, and leave the results with God….. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6. -Ellen White, Christ Object Lessons Page, 65.
It is also true of the seeds you sow as well.
Click here for an archived copy of the March 1968 Southwestern Adventist Record magazine as Denton’s story was told long ago. His story is on page 19.
My parents tell me, when I was two years old, one Sabbath morning the elder kept praying and praying in church, and I got tired of kneeling on my two year old little knees, so I finally stood up on the pew and started shouting, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” Well let me tell you something, I have felt like doing it a few times since then. Even at two years old I must have realized that public prayers are suppose to be brief.
In recent years I have been kneeling in congregational prayer for what felt like an eternity, and have thought to myself during the long drawn out prayer, “Why doesn’t the elder praying just ask the pastor if he can preach sometime. I am sure he would let him, and then that way the elder wouldn’t have to use prayer time to preach a sermon.”
Jesus mentored His disciples to pray longer prayers in private, Or at least He tried to in Gethsemane the night of His arrest, in Matthew 26:36-46. Jesus led by example, in long personal prayers, even lasting all night (Luke 6:12). He also taught that prayers should be genuine and not rehearsed.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Matthew 6:7 NLT
When we pray we are to talk to God as a friend. I even heard of an elderly Bible Worker, who when driving to Bible Studies, would make sure nothing was in the passenger car seat, because He pictured God sitting there, riding with Him to the Bible study as he prayed and drove. (I hope he kept his eyes opened as he prayed and drove!)
Many times in my Bible studies I ask people to have the opening prayer, and many are shy and say they don’t know how. I never pressure anyone to do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing, but several have been surprised how easy it is when I tell them. One man, who had already heard me pray many times, told me he wanted to pray but did not know what to say. I told him, “Just say “Dear heavenly Father, please send your Holy Spirit to be with us in this Bible study, in Jesus’ name amen.” His eyes opened wide and he smiled when he realized how easy it was.
God wants us to talk to Him as a friend. God also does not wanting us just babbling the same words over and over. He wants to have a real conversation with us. The psalmist talks about singing a new song (Psalms 40:3) and a song is like a prayer as songs and prayers are stories of our experiences. Just as God enjoys new songs He also enjoys new prayers.
While Jesus mentored His disciples to pray in private, He also mentored them to pray in public. He gave them a model prayer, not to be repeated over and over word for word necessarily, but a model for us to use to form our own prayer. God loves creativity. Not every song has to be sung the exact same way and by no means does every prayer have to be prayed the same way. While Jesus prayed long private prayers, notice how short His public prayer is.
Jesus starts by addressing His Father and setting a tone for reverence and awe. Our prayers may also be prayed with confidence knowing our requests are reaching the throne of the universe.
May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 NLT
I have a friend who was taught long ago by his parents to always ask people how their day was, and listen to them, before going on about yourself and your day. You may think you had a tough day, but before you dive into your prayer, telling God all about your heartaches, have you ever asked God how His day went? God saw way more heartaches in one day than we will see in a lifetime. We want God’s will to be done and His kingdom to come soon, not just to end our suffering, but to end God’s suffering, as He suffers not just with you and me, but with everyone in the world who suffers.
When Daniel asked for God to reveal the kings dream to him, Daniel did not save himself only, he saved the lives of all the kings men (Daniel 2:24). InMark 4:39 Jesus calms the storm at the disciples request, but the sea was not only calmed for their tiny boat. Like wise, all the other boats on the water benefited from the calmness. Jesus does not pray for Himself alone to have food. He prays for everyone to have the food they need. There is no selfishness in Jesus’ prayer. There is no selfishness in any genuine prayer.
“and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12 NLT
Jesus could have prayed, “Father forgive everyone else for their sins, but as you know I have never sinned,” but again there is nor self or pride in Jesus’ prayer.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:13 NLT
Jesus overcame by asking for the Father’s help along with everyone else. We can ask for His help and overcome as well. Jesus ends His prayer the way He began, by exalting the Father, Who gives us the confidence we need in our personal lives and ministry when we worship and follow Him.
In the Old Testament God wanted to be Israel’s king, but in 1 Samuel 8:5-7 Israel rejected God as their king and said they wanted to have a king like all the other nations have. Centuries later, Pilate asks the Israelites,
Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. John 19:15
So for centuries God’s own people were basically saying, “Give us any king but God!” Instead of discipling the nations, they were discipled by the nations.
God’s own people wanted to be like the other nations so much so that they were willing to deny their Savior so they could fit in with the world. Much of their compromise with the world was to avoid being persecuted or even just laughed at. In John 11:50, Caiaphas suggests getting rid of Jesus so that the whole nation does not perish. What He was suggesting was, getting rid of Jesus’ teachings which, if not done away with would bring down the wrath of Rome. What Caiaphas was forgetting was, if they did away with Jesus then the nation had no reason to exist! What is the point of preserving something if it no longer serves a purpose? Why exist just to exist?
Do we find the same mentality in our day? For example–
Let’s water down our teachings lest someone ridicule us. No reason to invite persecution, we can preserve ourselves by making our teachings look as much like all the other churches as possible.
If we do that, we have defeated our entire purpose of existing as a church! After the reformation, during a religious awakening, God did not bring the Seventh-day Adventist Church forth to blend in and look like all the other churches. Think about it. There were already churches, even Sabbath-keeping churches, that looked like all the other churches. Why would God bring forth a church if it would be like what was already there?
Other churches have a gospel that will prepare you to die, and that is all well and good, but God has brought forth the Seventh-day Adventist Church with a sanctuary message and a gospel that will prepare you to never die! See Malachi 3:1-3. Should we be ashamed of this gospel? Should we try to water it down to look like all the other gospels out there?
Even now Rome is extending her hand to the Protestant churches, saying we all understand salvation by grace instead of works. We all get what Luther was saying now, so let’s all come together. However, you cannot say you understand salvation by grace while observing a man-made day of worship, one that man worked out on his own! When you understand salvation by grace, you rest from your works and man-made religion by resting your faith in the Creator on the day that He made holy.
Years ago I met with another Adventist family in my neighborhood for a Neighborhood Youth Bible Study on Sabbath afternoons. One Sabbath our church was having a “revival” with some Christian rock music. Someone from the church invited me and my youth study group to come. I thought, why not? Instead of a Bible study for this week, let’s just show the kids that we also have fun. After the concert, I asked a teenager in my group how they liked the concert. I was hoping they thought it was really cool. Instead, they looked at me disappointed, and said, “I wish we would have just had the Bible study instead.” Their statement hit me like a two-by-four right between the eyes! I realized then, what was being offered they could find anywhere, but we have a special message that is not just found anywhere.
Instead of blending in we need to stand out. In Samuel’s day Israel had a special message that would have saved the world, but instead of discipling the nations they were discipled by the nations. Likewise, we are told by Jesus to go and make disciples of other nations, not become disciples of other nations. Caiaphas thought the best way to preserve the church of his day was to get rid of Jesus and His gospel.
The Lord directed Ezekiel in giving His message. And I believe it is still valid today:
“You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” Ezekiel 2:7 NLT
Today, companies will sometimes change their products to meet consumer demand, but we cannot do that, because the product (the message) is the Lord’s. However, we can learn something else from modern companies. More often they change the packaging of a product to make it more appealing to customers, and that’s what we can and should do in our culture. We need to communicate the same age-old truth in a way that our culture can understand.
I pray that the Lord will give us the wisdom to present His unchanging truth in a way that this generation can understand.
Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson suggests that “Over the long centuries, people have struggled to understand the role and function of government and how citizens should relate to it. What gives rulers the right to rule?”
I believe it is worthwhile to think about the role of government and our individual responsibility.
Former United States President Richard Nixon, defended himself in the Watergate scandal, by telling reporter David Frost, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I suspect that in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall.
I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution with which the President must conform. This Constitution declares who has the ultimate authority. It reads, “We, the people.” Not “I, the President” or “I, Thomas Jefferson, or Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.” The power and authority of the Constitution comes from “The People!” Therefore the United States president is not above the law.
In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. And the church as a body has authority derived from the Scriptures and the leadership of Jesus Christ as represented in the body of the church.
God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” -Ellen White, Last Day Events, p. 56.
Just as in the United States, the President is not above the people, the church leaders are not above the church. While working in a different Adventist conference many years ago, my boss told me to do something on the Sabbath which my conscience did not think was appropriate. My boss told me the conference president expects me to do it so I better do it no matter what! (Please keep in mind my boss said this and the conference president never actually made such a threat.) I thought to myself, Sorry, Jesus died for me, not the conference president. I have to be faithful to Jesus.
It does not matter what church affiliation you belong to, you have to follow your conscience and what the Holy Spirit has convicted you is truth based on Scripture. If any leader, secular or ecclesiastical, tries to place his authority above your conscience based on the Scriptures, then consider,
The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 292-293
Papal errors are not confined to the papacy. The church in Christ’s day was quite papal when they crucified Him even though the word “papal” was not recognized yet.
“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 2:12. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 414)
Jennifer Schwizer wrote a compelling post on clergy sexual abuse. However sexual abuse is only one form of abuse of power. Pressuring people to violate their conscience in any way whatsoever is abuse. The ugliness of sexual abuse is not so much what it does to the body, but even more so what it does to the soul and conscience. You don’t have to use sex to rape someone’s soul and violate their conscience. Anytime someone puts their power over your conscience it is rape. (Thank God for the millions and millions of clergy members throughout the ages and across all denominational lines who have ministered to God’s children faithfully, without ever harming a single soul. Because of them we have confidence in the clergy, and people can find in them the mercy and love of Jesus.)
Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss (another church leader) told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.
“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it. David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 719)
While we need to be respectful of authority, we also need to remember the ultimate source of authority. And while we respect those in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head. Even Martin Luther, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation, tried his best to be respectful of the leaders of his church. It was not his goal to start a new church, much less a movement that would change the world. He sought to bring his leaders into harmony with the Scriptures, and it was only after his efforts to work within his church failed, that he felt he had to make a choice between allegiance to God or allegiance to his leaders. Martin Luther was loyal to the only One who loved him enough to create him and die for him. Likewise we should make every effort to submit to our leaders as far as we can without being disloyal to the One who died for us.
Dispute over biblical truth did not stop with the age of Luther. It is our job to continue to press forward and put into action the truth that is contained in Scripture. And sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes it causes heated arguments. And sometimes leaders weigh in with their opinions on one side or the other. Any particular interpretation of a biblical passage is not automatically more “right” because a church leaders says so. God has designed the governance of our church in such a way that, if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us individually, the mind of the Spirit will be met through the vote of the church body. And that is why the vote of the General Conference should be regarded as authoritative.
No one person or relatively small group of persons has authority to dictate his or their opinion to the rest of the church body, no matter how strongly they feel on the matter. Leaders need to respect the vote of the members, and members need to respect the position of leadership, as far as it is biblical.
I have met people who are afraid to speak up in board meetings or church business meetings, because they feel they are too young or poor, and their influence would not be felt. I have also observed people abusing their age or money to hurt others. I would like to encourage all—no matter how young, old, rich or poor you are—you need to speak your convictions in these meetings. And, no matter how young, old rich or poor you are, you need to respect others when you do. We all have a right and a responsibility to speak, and we all have a responsibility to respect each other when we do so.
A family I am friends with bought a huge home many years ago and their daughter invited her friends over for their first get together at the new home. Unfortunately jealousy set it in with one of the daughter’s friends who made a comment about the home and her thinking she is all that and so rich. The daughter was very hurt because the money her family has had never crossed her mind. Her friend saw the house and only thought about how rich they must be. The family saw the home and only thought, “What a nice place to have all our friends over.” Granted the kitchen pantry was bigger than my whole apartment at the time, but while the daughter’s friend associated the huge house with money, the family only associated it as a place to meet with friends!
The family had money but they needed friends. Money doesn’t buy real friendship. And in this case it was a stumbling block to a real friendship. Not on the part of the family with the big home, but on the part of the friend they invited and reached out to.
I was not born poor but I was not born rich either. Sometimes as a kid when I would see people with nicer things than we had, I would wonder, why couldn’t I have just been born rich? As an adult I read about a very rich American family, who had a daughter, born with a defect that surgery only made worse to where the daughter was totally incapacitated. I then realized while I had asked why I couldn’t have just been born rich, there were rich people asking why they couldn’t have just been born healthy.
Some rich (and poor) people have health issues not all the money in the world can cure. Some even use their wealth to squander their health. They need a health message. Rich people need healing.
Sometimes we forget all the needs of the rich when we drive by their huge mansions or see them drive by in their Lamborghini. We must be careful not to make assumptions that they are even rich. For all we know they are about to lose the mortgage on their mansion and are never going to get out of debt for that Lamborghini. Are they really better off with all that? A rich man had a Lamborghini. So he has four wheels. My Hyundai has four wheels too. So he has a mansion. He has a place to lay his head. I have a place to lay my head too, and really don’t need 20 more rooms that I am not in.
After all, while I may tempted to think life would be just perfect if I only had what they have, there is someone thinking their life would be just perfect if they only had what I have. I’ve heard it said, the richest man in the world is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.
In Acts 26 we see Paul standing in his prisoner clothes, hands bound, while talking to King Agrippa who was dressed in all his splendor and glory. Paul tells King Agrippa,
“I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”Acts 26:29 NKJV
What Paul was telling Agrippa was, “I don’t need what you have. You need what I have!”
So today there are rich people who need true friendship. Who need true healing, and true forgiveness. We can reach the rich once we realize, we don’t need what they have. The world is after what they have, and God has promised to meet our needs in Christ Jesus and not in the rich people of the world. We will reach the rich once we realize we have what they need- a redeeming Savior!
You can study this week’s SS lesson on reaching the rich here.
They told her they loved her. They said she was beautiful. They promised her she would be special. Next thing she knew she was being dragged out of bed by the people who dragged her into bed, by the people who praised and flattered her, and now she was kneeling half naked, humiliated before a popular religious icon. Eyes closed not wanting to be confronted by this religious leader, and not wanting to see the stones that would soon be crushing her head. She waited in terror. It seemed like eternity. When would it be over?
Barely peeking through one eye she sees the popular religious icon doing something in the sand. Not sure what. She hears foot steps as men walk away. What is going on? Then she hears a word she had not heard in years directed at her.
The new popular religious icon didn’t address her as “slut,” or “whore.” He called her “woman.” He was addressing her with the same title of respect that He gave to his own mother, who had spoken with angels and given birth to the Son of God.
“….where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:10 NKJV
She opens her eyes and looks around. They are all gone! She makes no accusations against the men. Was she a victim of human sex trafficking? Or was she just out to turn a quick trick and make a little extra money? Given what we know about her, the answer could be yes to both questions. What we do know is, terrified as she was, she was ready to face the consequences without blaming anyone else for the choices she had made, and the role she had played, which now brought her half naked and humiliated into the presence of a Man of righteousness. Yet incredibly, as guilty as she was, it was her accusers who ran away. As she laid helpless at His feet no one could condemn her! Whoever this man was, she was knew He was like a savior to her. But He was more than a savior. He was the Savior!
What was next? A sermon? A lecture? Nowhere is it recorded, but I can see Jesus placing His coat over her naked body. The Holy One Who would be hanging naked on a cross in front of the entire universe one day, takes off His coat or robe or whatever He has and covers this woman, protecting her human dignity more than just covering her sexuality. He doesn’t preach to her. He ministers to her. Did you know you don’t have to be a preacher to be a minister? Ministering to sinners doesn’t always have to include a sermon. An ill timed sermon can do more harm than good. This popular religious icon, named Jesus, could preach with the best of them, but He knew when to preach and when not to preach. He also knew when to minister.
He called her woman. He placed His coat over her naked body and gave her the sense of dignity she had been promised by the men who ran away. Then He did not preach to her with words, He ministered to her with words.
His words were brief and clear, yet somehow we get them mixed up. Have we ever told someone “Go and sin no more, and then I will stop condemning you!” That’s not what Jesus said. He said clearly, “Neither do I condemn you.” Present tense. “Go and sin no more.” Future tense.
The world told her they would stop condemning her once she stopped sinning. Jesus promised not to condemn her, so she could stop sinning.
They called her a whore and a slut. Jesus called her a woman.
They promised her she would be special and then humiliated her. Jesus gave her dignity back and made her special.
Note: Sex trafficking is still alive today as much as it was in Jesus’ day. See how you can help abolish human sex slavery in your area. If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking in the United Sates Call 888-3737-888.