Monthly Archives: February 2018

The First Commandment

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; This is the first commandment”-Mark 12:28-30.

For some time Jesus’ enemies had sought to entrap through trick questions, and had tried every devious means to bring him into disrepute. But now something quite different enters the scene. The respectable young man approaches Christ as a sincere seeker after the truth. His is not a trick question, nor is his motive evil. Jesus had so wisely answered his enemies that this young man instinctively recognized the fact that Jesus possessed wisdom far above the average, and so a straightforward question is put to the Lord.

At this time the Jews were divided into numerous sects and parties, each distinguished by some particular point of doctrine. For the most part they were mere quibblers. They searched the law with a fine toothed comb to find, what they believed, were the important laws; then they would emphasize these laws to the exclusion of all other laws. God never gave a law that was not necessary to be obeyed. David’s statement, “All thy commandments are righteousness” [Psalms 119:172] needed to be heeded then as it is now. No one can tamper with God’s laws without grave danger to his soul. No group of men have authority from the Lord to act as a court to pass upon the constitutionality of God’s laws. No law was ever given by the Lord but what it requires sincere obedience if we are to obtain the Lord’s favor. Obedience to Christ must not be predicated on our own judgment as to the importance or non-importance of his laws. He has given no command that can be ignored with safety. While we may not understand the reason of certain laws, the extreme limitation of our own wisdom should not cause us to question the wisdom of God. The highest wisdom we can manifest is to render complete, unquestioned obedience to all that God commands.

But in one sense there are two laws that stand above all others, and these are the first and second commandments. The first command requires unlimited love of our heavenly Father. The second requires that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. Elsewhere (Matthew 22:40) Jesus taught that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This can be explained by stating that all of man’s duties have either a God-ward or a man-ward bearing. All the laws of God center around our duty to God and to our fellowmen. If we love God supremely, that love will naturally lead us to obey all of his commands; and if we love our neighbor as we do ourselves, we naturally will do our full duty to him. Thus we see there is one com- mand that is above all others—to love God with all the heart.

Loving God supremely! What a rare person it is who puts God first in his life! Yet love is the greatest thing in the world (I Corinthians 13:13). It is even greater than faith and hope, yet how very rare it is! Professed Christians are to be found everywhere, but a soul completely surrendered to God is harder to find than diamonds. The outward forms of Christianity are to be found by thousands, but souls truly in love with God are so rare as to be almost unknown. How easy it is to practice the outward forms of religion, without practicing that which alone will make religion of any worth.

The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-4) possessed every good quality religiously in practice, yet they had forgotten the one thing that would make them acceptable to Christ. They were so busy in getting their doctrine straight that they all but forgot Him from whom all good doctrine comes. They had left their first love, and in so doing they had endangered their souls. The church at Laodicea made itself greater than Christ, and gave only a lukewarm service to him. This, Christ would not accept (Revelation 3:14-17), and so they were threatened with outright rejection unless they changed their ways.

These examples reveal to us the solemn fact that God will have all of our affection or else he will not take any. We cannot give a divided service to him and expect him to accept it. It is all or none! There is no real Christianity except in a deep, personal love for Christ. If we foolishly separate Christ’s person from his doctrines, those doctrines become as worthless as salt that has lost its savor. Christianity is more than a code of laws, or a set of doctrines. Real Christianity is personal love for Christ, and unless we vitally connect Christ with his doctrines, we will fail in life’s greatest undertaking.

Just here we meet with a difficulty. Many seem to be utterly unable to love Christ. They realize the hollowness of their professed faith in him, and recognize that their religion does not give them the exhilaration of soul, the peace of mind that makes religions satisfying. No religion can be a real part of a person, unless that religion is centered in the heart, in the affections. The core of the trouble is this: They have no personal acquaintance with Christ. We cannot love anyone unless we know him. It is only through acquaintance with a person that we can learn to love him. To the vast majority of professed Christians, Jesus Christ is merely a historical character who lived and died two thousand years ago. We need to learn that Christ is not a dead hero, for he is saying, “I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of hell and of death”-Revelation 1:18.

An acquaintance with Christ requires spiritual and mental contact with him. He can be just as close to you as your right hand. Did he not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” [Revelation 3:20] He also said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”-John 14:23. That is real Christianity! A personal walk with Christ, having him in our homes and in our lives. If we have a friend whom we love dearly, we enjoy conversation with such a friend. We listen to him talk and talk with him. Christianity needs to be put on such a sensible basis. Christ can talk to us daily through the instrumentality of his word; and we can talk to him through the instrumentality of prayer. Prayer should be something more than stilted, ritualistic words, barren of real spirituality. It is talking to Christ and the Father just as easily and confidentially as talking to friends. This is perhaps modern Christianity’s greatest failure. We have made Christianity but a mental acceptance of an historical Christ, rather than an act of opening of our hearts that he may dwell therein. How well I remember the old childhood song, “And so we walk together, my precious Lord and I.”

While on earth, Jesus’ personality was such that people instinctively flocked to him by the thousands. No one can be around Jesus without being profoundly impressed by his personality. That same personality lives and glows on the printed pages of his word. The burdened sisters, Martha and Mary, knew that Jesus was the only friend to whom they could turn in their sorrow. The sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with the tears of her penitence, and wiped them with her hair, knew that in Christ her sinful soul could be regenerated into something fine and beautiful. Christ can be the safe to all needful souls today if they only understood the facts about him. We need to dwell in his spiritual presence, and by so doing we will learn to love him. Get acquainted with the real Christ and the stream of love will flow with refreshing abundance from your heart. Even though Christ is personally in heaven, there is not a day nor an hour but what we may approach him before the throne of grace, and find “help in the time of need.” [Hebrews 4:16]

Here we are reminded of the fact that there is much confusion as to whether we truly love Christ. Some people through their religious teaching are beset with gloomy doubts and fears, and dolorously sing, “‘Tis a point I long to know. Oft it causes anxious thought. Do I love the Lord or no. Am I his or am I not.”

As long as there exists doubts in our minds as to our real relationship with Christ, we can find no real happiness in our religion. The husband or wife who doubts each other’s love will never find in their marriage that which they expected. We need the “full assurance of faith.”

Others will say with a great show of emotion, “I know I love Jesus because of the wonderful feelings in my heart.” Well now, love is not all emotion. Love is based on something more substantial than passing feelings. The emotions of the morning hour may seem but a passing fancy in the evening, or a lovely dream that has no reality nor substance. Love is something that is constant and steadfast, and can be as real as the body of flesh in which we dwell. But there is a real test which we can make that will ascertain once and for all time whether we truly love Christ. Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me”-John 14:21; and again “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” [John 14:23] A plain, simple, infallible test! That test is obedience. The king of heaven and the Lord of the earth has a right to require obedience from his subjects; and his subjects have a divine obligation to yield themselves to his laws. Those laws are for their own good, and not chains of bondage placed upon us by a cruel despot. “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous”- I John 5:4. Commandments based on holy love cannot be a galling yoke of servitude.

The anxious, worried mother who lays down the law to her small son that he must not play in the street, does not give such a law just to assert her authority as a parent. She lays those restrictions on the child for its safety. Even so, Christ has given us laws and restrictions because he knows far better than we do the constant dangers to which we are exposed. To obey Christ’s laws shows proper respect for his authority, and is an acknowledgement of his wisdom and love. He who will talk loudly and with gushy emotion of his love for Christ, while at the same time refusing obedience to Christ’s word, knows not the meaning of love. Jesus said, “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings”-John 14:24.

A recognition of Christ’s exalted place in the universe reveals why he is entitled to our full and complete obedience in all matters of religion. Jesus once asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Only through hearing and obedience can we build on the rock of eternal safety—Matthew 7:24-27. Christ is the author of eternal salvation only to those who obey him—Hebrews 5:9.

Now we come to a very important question, and that is: Why should we love Christ? The apostle John has given us the great motive of love: “We love him because he first loved us”—I John 4:19. The love which Christ has shown toward the world is beyond all human expression. It is that which “passeth all understanding.” “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich” -II Corinthians 8:9. Lets get it clear-Jesus did not have to die! Jesus was not compelled to come to the earth. He did not have to endure poverty and the trials of this life. No earthly power accomplished his death upon the cruel cross of Calvary. He could have avoided it all had he chosen to do so. All that he sacrificed and suffered was done gladly and willingly. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he revealed to his disciples that he could call the legions of angels to his aid, who would have scattered his enemies like chaff before the wind: but he did not call for them. On the contrary he chose to die-to die the most horrible death human hands could inflict simply because that was the only way by which he could save the sinful souls of men. “The wages of sin is death,” and inasmuch as “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” the entire human race was doomed! But Christ loved man, and could not endure the thought of man’s destruction, and so he in love decided to pay our debt to God. We sometimes sing:

“On the cross he sealed my pardon, Paid my debt and set me free.”

God permitted him to carry the burden of our sins to Calvary, and there he died “the just for the unjust, that he might reconcile us to God.” “For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die; but God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” -Romans 5:6-8. No wonder John exclaimed “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we might be called the sons of God!” [I John 3:1] Surely such a love as that of Christ’s should strike a responsive cord in our hearts, and break down our stubborn wills. Knowing the depths, the heights and the breadth of his love, a heart is callous and hard indeed that will not respond to the story of the cross. That is why the first com- mandment is greater than all others. All service to God is predicated on the motive of love; and as his children it should be the highest privilege of our lives to show our gratitude for his infinite grace.

A wealthy, childless woman sought to obtain a child of her own by adoption; and so she went to an orphanage to select one of the little, motherless girls there. In looking them over, she became interested in a very lovely little girl some five years of age, and took her to a room where they could converse by themselves. She told the child of her wealth, of the beautiful home in which she lived, of how she could educate the child, and buy her everything her heart could desire. The child was much impressed, and then with a child’s frankness, asked: “What do I have to do to get all of that?” The lady burst into tears, and drawing the child to her heart, said, “All you have to do is love me, and be my child.” Surely this would not be a burdensome task for the child; but that is exactly what God is saying to us. Heaven with its eternal and never fading glories, awaits us. The celestial city with its walls of jasper, its gates of pearls, and its streets of gold is offered to you on the one simple and wonderful condition that you love God and be his child. Who can rightly call God a stern and dictatorial ruler? His “rod of iron” is the iron of infinite love. No metal can equal it for endurance and strength. It rises to the highest heights, reaches down to the lowest depths, and forgives the greatest of sins. Why not yield your heart in full and complete submission to his will?

What was the Sin of Moses?

In Numbers 20, we read about the story of Moses bringing water from the rock and committing a sin that was so egregious that it kept him from entering the promised land. There seems to be a different explanation of this sin for every commentary ever written, so perhaps we can’t all agree on the specificity of the sin, but surely we can learn some valuable lessons from the discussion.

There were actually two events that occurred where God commanded Moses to take water out of the rock. The event in Numbers 20 happens near the end of the 40 year wandering whereas the first event happens near the beginning in Exodus 17.  It appears that Moses did not sin during the first event, so let’s analyze his actions here before we go on to the matter at hand.

In Exodus 17:5-6 we read that it seems this particular event was more of a private ceremony between Moses, God and the elders of Israel. God said that He would stand on the rock and Moses was to take the rod that he used to turn the Nile into blood and strike the rock and the water would spring forth. Verse 6 says only, “And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” This simple statement speaks volumes about the character of Moses. Time and time again in the face of trials, adversity and constant complaining from the people he was leading, Moses suppressed any selfish feelings and simply followed the commands of God. In Numbers 12:3 we read, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

In spite of his humility, we find out that Moses is a human being in Numbers 20. Up until verse 8, the story is very similar to the Exodus account. Moses was still supposed to take the rod, but God asks Moses to do everything else differently. This time the entire assembly (not just the elders) would be brought before the rock to witness God’s greatness. “And before their eyes,” you are to SPEAK unto the rock so that it will give up its water.

Verse 9 says, “And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing he did correctly here. What was the sin of Moses? Here are your choices. First of all, without any command to do so, in his anger, he presumed to speak on God’s behalf to rebuke the people. Next he says, must “we” bring water from this rock. I believe by “we” Moses is referring to himself and Aaron; but even if it is assumed that Moses is referring to himself and God, he is still missing the opportunity “in the eyes of the people” to show that all glory belongs to God. Instead of speaking to the rock as clearly commanded by God this time, he smites the rock as he no doubt remembers he was commanded last time. But even then, he takes it upon himself to beat the rock one more time for good measure. So what was the sin of Moses? It appears that it is a culmination of all of these things as God makes it clear in several passages. In the 12th verse we have, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Deuteronomy 32:51 says, “because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.” Psalm 106:32-33 says, “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”

From these passages we see that Moses “believed not” or had a moment of weakness in his faith and failed to sanctify God. Sanctify means to “set apart.”  God required the whole assembly to be present to demonstrate to them that He should be sanctified as their powerful and gracious God. Notice that despite Moses, He accomplished this goal as we read in the 13th verse, “This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” This is why the water still sprang forth even though Moses did not heed the Lord’s command. Although Moses failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people, God was still sanctified. As we read in Romans 8, nothing, not even flawed leadership can separate us from the love of God.

As a side note, the question might be asked, “Why did God tell Moses to bring the rod if he wasn’t supposed to use it to smite the rock?” I believe the answer to this is found three chapters earlier in Numbers 17 and also gives us some insight into the words Moses used in rebuking the people. The 17th chapter tells the story about God selecting Aaron’s rod by having it blossom. It was to be kept by the ark of the covenant as a sign to remind the people of their rebelliousness. Compare what Moses presumes to say on God’s behalf in 20:10 with what the Lord says here in 17:10. “And the LORD said unto Moses, bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.”

Sun Tzu, in his book the Art of War, wrote to always attack where they least suspect it. Sometimes that could mean where the enemy thinks they have strength so they are not as vigilant. Satan caused Job to sin through his impatience, Peter to sin through his failed courage, and unfortunately Moses to sin on his least humble day. How much easier would it be for Satan to attack us in this same way? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  It’s easy for us to focus on the sin of Moses. Stains look so much worse the whiter the robe of righteousness. We shouldn’t forget that Hebrews 11:38 says the world was not worthy of men like Moses. Although this one sin didn’t block his entry into the spiritual Promised Land, it did stop him from entering the physical one.

~ Marc Hermon

Two Sons and a Loving Father

Finding fault in others, while missing or overlooking our own faults, is a characteristic that humans have perfected.  Jesus observed this human failure and addressed it though his wise teaching many times.  In the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), Christ provides an example that is easy to miss, but one Christians should take quite seriously.  The message of the older son in this story is often overlooked because the focus seems to be on the wayward son, the rebel.  But Jesus told this story to share two types of error into which children of God can fall.

The younger son had little respect for the father and the stable life that he had provided.  He selfishly asked for his inheritance so that he could go off and focus on himself.  He leaves, wastes everything, hits bottom and then humbly returns to ask forgiveness. Just being accepted back by his father would be good enough.  But before this son can say anything, the father sees him in the distance and runs to hug him as an expression of his love.  The father then throws a big party to rejoice because of the return of his lost son.  Sometimes we think that this is where the story ends, but in reality, the story is just beginning.

The older brother had been out working in the field, and when he returns, he is surprised that there is a party.  When he finds out the reason for the party, he does not react well.  This older son shows just as much disrespect for the father as the younger son had shown, by selfishly questioning why his brother deserved the attention.  It wasn’t an innocent question asked in love because the story goes on to explain that he was so angry that he didn’t even go inside the house.

It may have seemed that the older brother did everything right because he didn’t appear to be rebellious. The reality is that he was tempted to believe that his obedience trumped the mercy of the father.  He showed no more respect for the father than his younger brother did.  Too often we can be tempted in this same way.  We attend church every Sunday.  We let people around us know that we are Christians.  We take pride in our obedience.  Each of these are good things to do but not things that by themselves provide salvation.

In the end, the father tells the older son that “all I have is yours.”  One might think that this statement was about the money and land the father had and that the younger brother would get nothing.  The story doesn’t work that way though.  The father had much more to give than money and land, as the younger brother has already learned.

The story Jesus told addresses our need for the Father and his loving care for us.  The Father desires our service, but he desires service that is grounded in our humble devotion.  He wants all to be saved:  2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” We become like the older brother when we think that we can, through works and obedience, earn salvation by ourselves; when we act like the Father loves us more because we do good things.  We must recognize the depth of the Father’s love, the value of being His servant and the inheritance that awaits and live in faithful obedience as a result.

Jesus told the story of the loving Father to teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that we are all loved like children by a Father that loved us so much that he gave His only son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Whether we rebel outwardly or inwardly, he still rejoices when we repent.

~ Craig Hensley

The Coming of the Canon

Since the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, a great deal of misinformation has been circulating concerning the New Testament’s origins, namely, how its books were collected, when, and by whom.  Despite the book’s opening disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, its fabricated history has come to be believed by many as true, and is now frequently cited as grounds for distrusting the New Testament’s witness concerning Christ and the early church.  It is not within the scope of this article to expose all the errors—many, egregious, and obvious—that undergird the The Da Vinci Code’s storyline, but rather to answer with facts the very important question the novel has raised: “How did the New Testament come to be?”

Before getting into the meat of the answer, it may do us well to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with a frequently used term related to this subject — “canon.”  This word comes to us from Hebrew (qaneh) via Greek (kanon), and originally had the basic meaning of “reed” (our word “cane” is derived from it).  Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, kanon came to refer to a “standard” or a “rule.”  And since a measuring rod might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler), kanon came to mean a series of such marks, and hence, finally acquired the general sense of a “series” or “list.”  And so, when we speak of the “canon” of Scripture (as many do), we are speaking of the “list” of writings that is regarded as inspired, and therefore, the “rule” or “standard” for our lives.

Contrary to the thinking of some, authority precedes canonicity.  That is to say, the writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets did not come to possess authority because they were included in the canon, but were included in the canon because they possessed authority.  Simple, but very important.  And the recognition of their inspired authority did not take hundreds of years to develop.  Rather, the writings of the apostles and prophets were both presented and received as authoritative at the time of their composition.  Consider the following:

    Paul claimed that his writings contained “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthains 14:37), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:13).  Peter acknowledged these claims, referring to “all [Paul’s] epistles” (his accumulated body of work) as part of “the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15, 16).

    Peter wrote that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).  Jude acknowledged Peter’s inspiration, citing this very prophecy, exhorting his readers to remember it (Jude 17, 18).

    Luke recorded Jesus saying, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).  Paul quoted this statement, introducing it with the phrase, “For the Scripture says” (1 Timothy 5:18), leaving no question where he stood concerning Luke’s gospel.

Paul acknowledged Luke.  Peter acknowledged Paul.  Jude acknowledged Peter.  And other similar examples could be cited.  It was known very early on that a new covenant canon was in the making and whose writings God was using to make it.

And uninspired history offers further testimony to this.  The earliest Christian document we have outside of the New Testament is 1 Clement, a letter sent from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth around A.D. 95 while the apostle John was still walking the earth.  Its antiquity is evidenced by its reference to Corinth’s plurality of elders and its interchangeable use of the terms bishop and presbyter.  The second century false doctrine of distinguishing between the two had not yet taken hold.  In the letter, the Romans exhort the Corinthians to turn from their divisive behavior, and refer—either through citation or allusion—to 12 different books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter.  Clearly, it was known among these churches that these books were inspired (i.e. “canonical”).  Why else would they have been appealed to?  And, furthermore, the letter would not be expected to contain quotations from every book they knew to be inspired, just as lessons and articles, today, do not contain quotations from every book we trust.  These 12 were only a portion of their recognized canon.

All this is telling testimony.  Brethren in the first century didn’t need an “official” “Church council” to tell them which books were from God.  They knew by other and better means.  They could “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  They could test those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and those who claimed to be prophets (Deuteronomy18:21-22; 13:1-3).  They could “test the spirits, whether they [were] from God” (1 John 4:2).  Like the Bereans, they could weigh the unproven against the proven “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  They could even inquire of an actual apostle if needed.  And who knows what role spiritual gifts may have played in this work? (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:8, 10)

Still, did it take time for all churches in all places to be certain about all the books?  Yes.  In a world where geographic isolation was a profound reality, where no message could travel faster than a horse, where a man like Apollos could still have not heard about baptism into Christ even though it had been taught 20+ years before, where the limitations of scrolls and codices may not have allowed all the books to be gathered into one volume…where a government would seize and burn your Scriptures…yes, in a world like that, it took time for knowledge of the complete New Testament canon to become universal.

But it did happen.  By A.D. 170, every book of the New Testament had been acknowledged as inspired by multiple voices.  And two centuries years from that time, every book would be acknowledged by all.  Later Catholic councils did not determine the parameters of the canon, but only acknowledged the canon that was already in existence, the same canon of 27 books we trust today.

~ John Morris