There Are Other Ways

“Of course there aren’t—there is only one way—namely, God’s way. Every thinking, biblical Christian will agree.”

But wait a moment—often there are several ways that God’s one way may be carried out.

“What are you talking about? How can there be both one and several—both at the same time?”

Well, there can often be several ways of accomplishing (or failing to accomplish) God’s one way.

“How about a ‘for instance?’ I don’t get it.”

OK. Try this on for size: You are to tell the truth, but you may do so in a variety of ways. God says, for instance, tell the truth IN LOVE?  You know, telling the truth may be done lovingly or harsh, thoughtlessly—in ways that make the truth a hindrance to communication rather than a help. Is it still the same truth when spoken in these two distinct ways?

“Truth is truth, isn’t it?”

Yes.

“Then how could it be anything else but truth—even when spoken harshly?”

Consider this: Suppose you want another to know that you care about him/her? So you say, “I want you to know what I think about you . . . ,” and that’s as far as you get before the other person interrupts and says, “and I want you to know what I think about you,” and he begins to tell you off! Then the truth that you were about to speak (“I think you are a caring person”) may never surface, and a wrong idea emerges instead. Thus the truth is attempted, but failed to be heard.

“Guess there can easily be such misunderstandings.”

Sure can—and believe me they abound. So, be sure the truth really comes across, or you may try to speak truth and, instead, communicate something else—even the opposite!

When in Rome

When St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, asked Ambrose, “At Rome they fast on Saturday, but not at Milan; which practice ought to be observed?” Ambrose replied, “When in Milan, I do as they do at Milan; but when I go to Rome, I do as Rome does” (Epistle 36). It’s all too easy to follow Ambrose’s advice, isn’t it?

“But Paul did that, didn’t he? He said he’d become ‘all things to all people, that he might win some.’”

Ah! You know about his words in 1 Corinthians 9:19! But they are often misunderstood, and therefore, misapplied.

“How so? They seem plain enough.”

Yes, at first sight you might conclude so. But he also said some other things . . .”

“Like what?”

Like “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord, and don’t touch the unclean thing.” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

“Oh! I guess he did say that too. Did he contradict himself?”

Certainly not.

“Then, how do you explain the relationship of the two verses to one another?”

The difference is this—

When Paul said he would adapt to Jews or Gentiles, he was saying he was willing to adapt—regardless of what inconveniences it might mean to him, to personally. He would even become a “slave” to them to do so! But he would not adapt his message, or any of his personal practices, in a way that would contradict what he was preaching. He would endure any disadvantages that proper adaptation would mean to him, but he would engage in nothing that could alter the message. He could take it on the chin, but the message must never do so! In 2 Corinthians 6 he is urging Christians to completely abandon heathen temple worship, and such partnership with unbelievers that would involve him in paganism of any sort.

“So, I can adapt to all kinds of disadvantages personally to witness to unbelievers, so long as that doesn’t mean participating in things that are abhorrent to God?”

“You’ve got it! For instance, you may want to win a Roman Catholic to Christ, and you may have to spend time and money in doing so, but you can’t participate in a mass with him, because Jesus was sacrificed once-for-all on the cross, and doesn’t need to be sacrificed (in what Romanists call an “unbloody sacrifice”) again in the mass. It is a travesty to have anything to do with it. Christ’s work on the cross was all-sufficient!

“So, I can take time out of a busy schedule, travel at my own expense, do whatever might inconvenience me, to win my Roman Catholic relative to Christ, but I can’t participate with him in anything that would contradict the Scripture’s teaching about the Gospel.”

Good! I couldn’t have said it any better myself!

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Controversy in the New Testament

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood. All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church. We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.” The term is used pejoratively; but should it be? Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception.
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics.
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me, why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

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Evil

There is evil in this world—all sorts of evil, and in every sort of place, including the church. I don’t need to tell you; you know about it and could give illustrations innumerable of it. But if God is good—how come? How could this be true?

There are two common answers:

  1. Evil is coeval with God; He can do nothing about it. But if that were true, how could you worship Him, ask Him for things in prayer, etc.? He would be a feeble, god not worth calling upon, since He might be unable to respond. Such a helpless god could want to change things for the better, but is unable to do so.
  2. Evil exists, God knows it, but from time to time allows evil to occur.

Both views present a god unworthy of worship.

Well, then, what is the truth?

Simply this: God controls all things, even the existence and activity of evil.

We must remove the word “allows” when speaking  of God and evil.   He doesn’t merely allow evil to occur. If so, there would be another power, or force, in the universe as great as (or nearly so) as God. It is a force wanting to express itself in various evil ways, but must seek permission from God to do so.  So when evil occurs, God has given way to this force and allows it to have its way .

But God is in control of all things.  What does that really mean?  Think about it—who is the force that determines if and when evil occurs-for His own purposes? There is no second god-like force; He is the sole force in the universe.  All evil is according to His determinate purposes—always for some good purpose. God doesn’t allow evil; He has planned all good and evil.  Actually, all the “evil” we talk about today is actually a good that we shall someday see to be such. God  doesn’t allow it—He foreordains it.

Why?

Most people who ask the question—whether in distress or out of simple puzzlement—don’t really want an answer. They turn their attention to something else as you open your mouth to answer.

WHAT THEY ARE DOING INSTEAD OF REALLY ASKING A LEGITIMATE QUESTION IN SEARCH OF AN ANSWER IS COMPLAINING. AND THAT’S NOT GOOD!

Have you ever stopped such a person in the middle of his next comment or question to say, “Did you really want to know the answer to your question?” Try it sometime. It’s not impolite—just startling to him. People have gotten so used to others with no answers that they don’t expect them.

The answer you give may be something like this: “You asked why? I’d like to tell you.”

If your startled companion encourages you—even slightly—“Uh . . .yeah, sure,” then tell him something like this:

“What happened, about which you were wondering “why” was an act of God’s providence. You know He’s actively at work in this world. And what He does for His children is always for their good (quote Romans 8:28). Even though we don’t know what He’s up to in the problem, nevertheless, we can be sure of several things since you are a Christian:

  1. God is in the problem
  2. God is up to something in the problem
  3. God is up to something good.
  4. You may or may not find out what that is soon, later, or in the life to come.
  5. But, since you asked, that’s “why” it happened.
  6. Now, you can look for some good to come from the outset. But you must look!
  7. If you do, you may discover that this is the beginning of something exciting.

Sure hope so. And I certainly hope you don’t miss out on it.

Now, of course, you may want to say it your own way—eliminate the list (as such), or leave out a line or so. But one thing must be certain—you need to make it clear that GOD IS INVOLVED IN WHAT IS HAPPENING, BRINGING ABOUT GOOD IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, IN HIS TIME.

Give it a try and see what happens—it may open up a conversation that will be a blessing for both of you. But if you say the wrong things, in the wrong ways to the wrong person—well, don’t blame me!

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That Raised Hand!

In  Isaiah 5:25, we read that the Lord “raised His hand against them [His people] and struck them.”  Why? Because they “rejected” His “instruction” (v. 25) and, did so, because they “despised the Word of the Holy One of Israel” (v. 24). The results were nothing less than devastating: from head to foot she was beaten so severely that there was hardly a place left for further injury. Yet, even after such a punishment because of their turning from God’s Word, they still refused to repent (9: 13). So, God threatened them with more of the same: “His hand is still raised to strike” (9: 17, 21).

When  believers recognize the ways in which that same hand has beaten our nation in the recent past—tornadoes, floods, wars, financial loss, scarcity of jobs, foreclosures, etc., etc., it is hard for them to see anything else but that arm swinging again, inflicting even  more wounds! BAD—BAD ENOUGH! But look—the hand is raised to strike even again, and again, and—if necessary-again!

Should not a country that not merely neglects God’s Word, but often makes fun of it, suffer more?  If there is no concern for the Bible in the near future, who knows where will He strike next? Isn’t repentance essential?

Left Lanes

If you’ve ever driven in Europe, the first obvious problem is to learn to drive forward on left lanes. It’s so easy to go wrong—and even occasion an accident! How come? Because we Westerners (i.e.., those who drive west of the Atlantic ocean) are used to dong the opposite.

“Used to”—those are interesting words.  I suppose that they come from the idea of doing something regularly enough that it is what you do when you drive in the usual way in the USA.

Now, this “used to-ness” is a capacity that God built into us.  He did so for our benefit—so that every time we do something we would not have to learn the practice all over again. Now that would keep us from getting much accomplished. We’d spend most of the time trying to learn the practice which we would have to learn all over again.

The only problem is that we too often learn to do habitually lots of wrong things instead of righteous ones! It takes conscious effort to learn to do holy actions instead of, and –in addition to—regular practices (just like driving on the right side of the road).

Of  course, that’s the second factor—discovering which is the right side of the road—so far as God is concerned. Only the Bible can settle that matter. Other ideas are (at best) only guesses.

Cracked Cistern?

Let’s think of two ways in which we can fail the Lord. Jeremiah wrote:

My people have committed a double evil:
They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water,
And dug cisterns for themselves,
Cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.
—Jeremiah 2:13 (HCSB)

Sometimes we think only of one side or the other of our actions—what we did do wrong or what we didn’t do right—and fail to recognize both sides of the equation are considered by the Lord.

As a matter of fact, it is difficult to do one without doing the other. Man must have his satisfactions—his cisterns. He cannot abandon the Lord without digging some hole of his own in the ground. Of course, what he does, at length he discovers never “holds water.”

Why opt for that which does not satisfy when you can have an abundance of crystal clear water to drink? Why keep on searching for water where there is none? Your cistern is cracked!

God offers in Christ the refreshing water of life:

You let them drink from Your refreshing stream,
For in You is life’s fountain.
—Psalm 36:8, 9 (HCSB)

Why not drink and be satisfied?

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