DANGERS IN THE CHURCH
- Read John 2:14–16.
- Jesus found conditions in the house of God distasteful.
- He also found them displeasing and dangerous.
- There has always been dangers.
- There were a number of crisis in the church of Jerusalem:
- Crisis of rapid growth. Need for teaching and looking after new Christians.
- Crisis of benevolence.
- Crisis of discipline.
- Crisis of persecution.
- Paul spoke of grave dangers confronting the church (Acts 20:28–30; I Timothy 4:1–3; II Timothy 4:1-4).
- At times through history, there has been the introduction and teaching of false doctrines which have divided and, at times, destroyed God's people.
- There are dangers confronting us in the church today.
- Disregard for the word of God:
- Israel (Jeremiah 36:20–24). Any nation or people who lose regard for the word of God are ultimately bound for destruction.
- In this case, it was the king excising (cutting up) the word of God with a penknife. This is expressive of what many people think of the word of God today.
- There are those who emphasize portions of it to the disregard of other parts. Some sections of God's word are important to them; other sections are not important at all
- There are those who would compromise it. They concede principles for the sake of peace, or unity, or policy, or popularity. The love the praise of men more than the praise of God.
- As in the case of Israel and Israel's king, they burned the scroll, the word of God, in the fire.
- They were not afraid.
- They were indifferent to it. No one raised a finger in defense of it; voiced no objections to what was being done to the word of God.
- Men burn the word of God today in the fires of religious bigotry and prejudice.
- Give attendance to reading (I Timothy 4:13).
- Study to show yourself approved (II Timothy 2:15).
- Search the Scriptures (John 5:39; Acts 17:11).
- Men seek the sensational to satisfy human appetites.
- Jesus performed miracles and drew a great deal of attention, but it was not sensationalism. It was to prove, establish, and confirm His identity and the authenticity of His word.
- Herod Antipas wanted to see Him perform miracles.
- Many followed Him out of curiosity to see Him do these wonderful works.
- The Jews were often asking him to “Show us a sign.”
- The Devil said, “Throw Yourself down” (Matthew 4:6).
- Even His disciples: “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them” (Luke 9:54).
- In the Corinthian church, some seemed more interested in the sensational, like speaking in tongues (I Corinthians chapters 12 and 14).
- It is difficult to get people of our day interested in the study and hearing of the plain gospel of Christ.
- They are accustomed to professional entertainment and unusual happenings and events. They go from one high to another.
- They are accustomed to news about the atomic and hydrogen bombs, speed several times faster than sound, and men being hurtled out into space.
- It seems to take new, unusual, exciting, and dramatic events to attract attention. Even our children and grandchildren in this age are always look–
ing for the exciting and sensational, else they cannot be kept entertained.
- It is difficult to interest people in just a Bible class, a gospel meeting, or a teacher's training course. There must be an excited interest and a highly emotional response stirred and fired in our daily activities or else interest lags and fails.
- To do a thing because it is good and right is not as common as it ought to be.
- Cares of this world (Matthew 13:22).
- The seeking of things (Luke 12:29–30).
- Life is not possessions (Luke 12:15).
- Treasures laid up on earth (Matthew 6:19–20).
- Trusting in riches:
- Hope (I Timothy 6:16, 20).
- Trust—to believe in and to be persuaded by these things. Place your confidence in them; make friends with them (Mark 10:24).
- Believing and practicing a purely social gospel.
- In this particular period of the twentieth century, a social gospel is being preached and the practice is advocated.
- Even in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, preachers and elders are telling the people that it is not what Jesus preached, but what He did.
- Leaders in the church are denying the necessity of preaching the doctrine of Christ—making this insignificant—and contending that it is life–style that counts.
- It is true that Christians are to look to the interests and needs of others and give unselfishly to solve problems and meet the needs of other people, but the proper spiritual relationship must be secured and maintained between the individual and God.
- Lack of devotion (I Timothy 4:15).
- Shamelessness (Jeremiah 8:12; Philippians 1:20).
- It is doubtful that there has been an age in which people so openly and flagrantly engage in sin and are not ashamed.
- They boast of misdeeds and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Brethren are often loose in their living and neglectful of their duty to God and are not ashamed.
- May we highly regard His Word, be unattached by the sensational, lose our love for the material, establish and maintain the proper spiritual relationship with God, and be more devoted to Him and His cause.
- May we conduct our lives in such a manner that we will have nothing of which to be ashamed in the judgment.
DANGERS IN THE CHURCH
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves and the money changers doing business. When he had made a whip of chords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money, and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise’ ” (John 2:13-16).
The conditions Jesus discovered in the house of God were not only distasteful to Him but extremely dangerous. The temple had become a place of merchandise; a great commercial center used by leading Jews to prey upon their fellow men as they came from all parts of the world to observe their annual feasts in Jerusalem. It was inconvenient, if not impossible, for them to bring from such great distances, the sacrifices the law required them to make; so it was necessary for them to buy them after they arrived in the city. The traffic in this trade had evidently become so abominable to the Lord that it was intolerable. He reprimanded them for desecrating this sacred place and drove them from the temple porches.
Dangers in the Early Church
There were a number of crises in the church at Jerusalem. One of the first problems confronting God's people in the infancy of the church was its very rapid growth. About three thousand people were added that first day. To guide and train and discipline such a multitude, with heterogeneous background in language and custom and learning, must have posed a challenge of Herculean proportions.
These early Christians in Jerusalem were faced with the crisis of persecution. They were threatened and harassed, pursued and oppressed until “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). Although their lives were daily endangered, the apostles would not be intimidated. The Sanhedrin “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you
judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ ” (Acts 4:18–20).
The persecution served to strengthen the faith and love of some, it “weeded out” those who were not worthy to be His disciples, and it helped in the promotion of the kingdom of Christ by the promulgation of His gospel in places beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judea. These early Christians were faced with many other problems such as discipline of those who walked disorderly and the means of support for so many who were affected by drought and famine.
Paul spoke of grave dangers which would confront the churches down through the ages. “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29–30).
He later warned Timothy of some of these dangers in these words: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (I Timothy 4:1–3). And, again, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (II Timothy 4:3–4).
At times, almost innumerable, through history there has been the introduction of false doctrine which divided and, in may instances, destroyed the character and identity of God's people.
The church, I suppose, has never been free from the threat of dangers from without and within. We are warned “that there would be mockers in the last times who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18; II Timothy 4:4). It behooves us, therefore, to be constantly on the alert and jealously guard the purity of the church of the Lord.
Dangers Confronting Us Today
The dangers lurking on every hand to ambush and damage the Lord's cause are legion. The work of the church is often impeded and its influence in the community seriously impaired by divisive doctrines, jealous spirits, pet theories, and hobby addicts. These dangers, under the guise of causes designed to save the church from apostasy, are usually championed by a few dissident brethren unhappy with their role in the brotherhood, or by a handful of brethren who have been deluded by the specious arguments of a talented preacher with a strong personality and persuasive powers.
But, I have references in this lesson to some dangers which are more widespread, that directly touch more lives, and that are not as easily and readily recognized.
1. Disregard for the Word of God: Any nation or people who have lost regard for the word of God are bound for destruction. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). “Because you [Israel] disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof” (Proverbs 1:25). Malachi asked: “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears” (Malachi 3:2)?
No man who is heedless and inattentive to His voice and ignores His divine injunctions can abide the day of His coming or stand when He appears. “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded ... I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes” (Proverbs 1:24–26)
The career of God's people in the Old Testament was a very checkered one, alternating between good and bad, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, and pledges to love and keep His word and the flagrant disregard and nonobservant of it. They were delinquent in duty far more than they were steadfast. They were a fluctuating, wavering, vacillating people through the entire course of their national history, and the reason for it is traceable directly to their attitude toward the word of God.
There was one period, it seems to me, when they were at their lowest ebb in want of respect and reverence toward the mandates of heaven.
Jeremiah was the prophet and Jehoiakim was the king of Judah. God gave instruction to His prophet to have Baruch, the scribe, to take a “scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations ... It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:2–3).
“And they went to the king, into the court; but they stored the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the hearing of the king. So the king sent Jehudi to bring the scroll, and he took it from Elishama the scribe's chamber. And Jehudi read it in the hearing of the king and the hearing of all the princes who stood beside the king. Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning on the hearth before him. And it happened when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe's knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth. Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words” (Jeremiah 36:20–24).
2. Excising the Word of God: King Jehoiakim hated the word of God because it pronounced evil against him and the entire nation of people over whom he ruled. So, he cut it into shreds with his penknife. This is what some people think of His word today. If it conflicts with their beliefs and practices, or if it condemns their obstinate, evil way of life, they simply cut it out and shred it into pieces, and accept the delusion that they have effectively disposed of that part of it which was out of harmony with their own settled religious concepts.
3. Human Standards: Disregard for God's word is shown by giving great emphasis to certain portions of it and treating as unimportant other areas to which he has given as much attention. Human standards have been set up by which to determine the importance of what God has spoken. The rules of judging what is important and what is not important are very flexible and vary with individuals and with religious bodies. Thinks in God's word men wish to reject, because they are in sharp conflict with their own long established tenets, are placed
in the category of the unimportant. If something in the word of the Lord runs counter to their traditional dogmas, it can be quickly settled by deciding that it is not important at all.
When such a criterion is established as an expression of man's esteem for the divine record, the Bible is left in a shamble and the world in utter and hopeless confusion. Every man becomes a law unto himself. He assumes the prerogative to sit in judgment on what shall be accepted and what shall be rejected. It is reduced to this simple formula: “What I like is important, and what I do not like is unimportant.” Recently I was teaching a man in a Bible class on the subject of the manner and purpose of baptism. In the course of the discussion, he responded by saying, “Perhaps it does not make this much difference.” And I answered him by asking, “Who are we to decide that some things on which God has spoken are important while others are completely immaterial? Are we left to our own judgment? What may seem a matter of small moment to us may be of great significance to God. I am persuaded that anything that God has taken time to say is important. Although I may not understand the import of it, because God has said it and because He has said it for my acceptance, it is of eternal consequence.” He saw the truth of this and, at the close of the class that evening, I baptized him into Christ.
4. Indifference: When King Jehoiakim cut the roll of the Book into pieces with his penknife, the princes of his dominion and all the servants that stood by did not raise a finger in its defense. They saw it insulted, which was an insult to God, and they did nothing to save and preserve it. The astonishing thing is that they were not afraid. It seems to me that such treatment of the word of God would have terrified them and that it would have caused them such alarm and distress among them that they would have rent their clothes. Jeremiah suggests that this is what should have normally happened and what was expected of any of God's people who had respect and concern for what He had written.
Times have not radically changed since his day, nor have the people. The word of the Lord is still treated with the same coldness and carelessness. The word is preached from the housetops, and people are callous to its warnings and insensible to its pleas and promises. They hear it but they do not heed it
because they are indifferent to it. But God said He would punish those that stood by and said nothing in defense of it, as well as the king who destroyed it.
5. Burning the Word of God: Jehoiakim not only cut the word of God into pieces, but he threw each leaf, after shredding it with his penknife, into the fire burning in the brazier before him, until all of the roll was consumed. I doubt that there is a more reprehensible deed recorded in Bible history.
I makes us wonder how such a wicked creature could be king over God's people; how he and they could reach such depths of depravity. We lament his attitude toward the things God had said and we castigate him for his flagitious action in burning it in the presence of members of his cabinet. You cannot thus treat God's word with impunity. Although Jehoiakim hated it and committed it to the flames, he did not destroy God's inspired message to his people. “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: ‘They shall not lament for him’ ... He shall be buried with the burial of a donkey, dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 22:18-19).
It is altogether unlikely that any of us would be guilty of such an atrocious deed. No one in our acquaintance, I am sure, would literally burn in the fire God's sacred book. but there is no denying that all around us every day it is burned in the fires of religious bigotry and prejudice. It is burned by intolerant spirit and obstinate will, by the surrender of principle and by letting pass what is not true. We ourselves are guilty of burning God's word in the abatement of our convictions and the moderation of our stand for truth and right.
6. Neglect: I mention one other danger regarding our respect or lack of respect, for the word of God. For the most part, we come under a different classification from those who would tear the leaves from the Bible and burn them on the fire, or from those who would contend that some subjects upon which God has spoken are important and others are unimportant. The danger we pose to the very life and existence of the church is one of neglect to read and study God's word. “... give attendance to reading” (I Timothy 4:13). This is the answer to why we do not know more, do more, love more, and serve more.
The African preacher students in my classes in Tanganyika Bible School delighted to read the English translations of the Bible. They were even more delighted when they had learned enough English that they could deliver a lesson reasonably well in this greatest of European languages. They wanted the white man to know that they could speak his tongue and they worked assiduously at the job to be able to accomplish it.
One of my students requested that he be allowed to preach in English to the Sunday evening audience and he employed an interpreter to translate what he was saying in English into his own native language. In the course of his lesson, he wanted to admonish us to be stedfast. "Brethren," he said, "let us stand stagnant in the faith." I think his selection of words was far more an accurate description of what we do than either he or his hearers imagined!
Hollywood actors and television stars memorize entire scripts comparable in size to the New Testament, for a single production of a play or a motion picture. Many Christians spend a quarter of a century or more and never give serious study to the word of life. Neglect! Truly, they “stand stagnant in the faith!” These are dangers that really face the church and threaten to destroy the very fiber of her strength and character.
7. Sensationalism: In our country, sensationalism is the problem confronting the church. I do not mean that brethren are engaged in programs calculated to arouse great excited interest and emotional response, or even that they are employing incidents and materials of teaching which appeal primarily to the feelings as the criterion of achievement in the kingdom of God. Rather, I am saying that men today seek the sensational to satisfy their interests—that something new and unusual and exciting is sought. Dramatic events are wanted to attract attention.
There has been so much interests in many areas of the sensational until interest is almost nonexistent in anything that is not sensational. People have become so accustomed to professional entertainment and almost daily unusual happenings and events in life until that which was sensational yesterday is commonplace today. Atomic and hydrogen bombs, speed several
times greater than sound, men hurled into outer space, TV pictures bounced off a satellite, shooting for the moon, etc., must be replaced with other news and information of the melodramatic character to engage our attention and capture our interest. It is difficult to interest people in just a Bible class, a gospel meeting, or a teacher's training course.
They must be excited and stirred. If they are not fired to a high degree, we have failed. To do a thing because it is right and to continue to follow a course of right through life in conduct and service to God, are not as common as they ought to be. Peter and John said in their bold defense before the Sanhedrin: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). And Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). To know what is right and to form strong convictions upon that knowledge of truth constitutes a commendable decision. But, then to pursue that course of right because it is right is even more commendable. In the midst of strong temptation, Joseph asked, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9)? One of the great dangers confronting the church today would be removed if people would do their whole duty to God because it is right.
8. Materialism: In our opulent age and affluent society no problem poses a greater threat to the true spirit of Christianity and the strength of the church than the prevalent attitude that many Christians and others have toward material possessions. We have developed a materialistic psychology. Undue importance is given to material interests and there is excessive devotion to the wants of man. When we give prior consideration to the material well–being of the individual and make this the rule in the determination of one's conduct, we have turned to idolatry to worship the god, Mammon.
Even as Christians, we are prone to measure success and happiness by the accumulation of physical substance. A church is great or strong based upon its budget. If it has a beautiful and commodious plant, an impressive income to provide lavishly and luxuriously for its membership, it is an important and front rank power in the community, commanding attention and respect. Unless we are careful, we will measure the success of
a gospel preacher by the size of his income, the automobile he drives, the house in which he lives, the number in the membership of the congregation for which he preaches, the circle in which he moves, the frequency with which his name is before the brotherhood, and the places to which he is invited to conduct meetings.
I fear our standard of measuring greatness may not be the same as the one God employs. A man in the sight of God may be a “big preacher” and truly great who lives in some remote corner of the earth, who has never been known for his eloquence or education, whose resources are limited to almost non–existent, and who works quietly and untiringly to promote the cause of Christ among people who have been without opportunity to know His blessings.
“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). This man's thoughts were occupied with the times; he had an anxious interest in the things of this life. The times worry him and wealth deceives him, and the word of God is thereby smothered in his life.
The size of the fortune or the value of the possession is not what is important. It is man's attitude toward these things.
It is not what you'd do with a million
If riches should fall your lot,
But what you're doing at present
With the dollar and a quarter you've got!
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after ...” (Luke 12:29–30). There seems to be no subsidence in man's passion and pursuit of that which gratifies the flesh.
This “seeking food and drink and raiment” becomes the paramount goal in life. He exerts his entire capacity of physical and intellectual strength for the attainment of his object. Food is necessary to life and a house is necessary to the comfort of life, and a Christian should provide for “his own,” but these are not man's supreme achievements. Life is not abundant possessions
(Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth ...” (Matthew 6:19-20). It is not having treasures that is wrong, but the treasuring of them—the place they occupy in our hearts. We value things more that persons. The love of money, the desire for things, the cherishing of the material, the grasping for the seen, the enslavement to this world are characteristic of the carnal man and present a grave danger to the spirituality of the church.
Can we, with any confidence, claim that in “Christian America” are we less materialistic than people in communist countries when we identify material abundance with the abundant life? Yet, how little they have in common.
The life of the church in Laodicea was imperiled because its members equated material abundance with spiritual success and happiness. “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.’ ” The Lord hastened to tell them that this was not so, but that they were deceived about it. “And do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
9. A Purely Social Gospel: In this period of the twentieth century, many of our leaders in the church are advocating the preaching and practice of a social gospel. I consider this to be one of the great dangers confronting our people today. My observation is that it has kept the church from growing as it did twenty or thirty years ago.
You will likely ask, “What do you mean by a social gospel?” First, I do not mean simply a social gathering, a get together, a reception, a party, or a dinner. It is not entertainment that I have in mind.
The camaraderie of fellowship on a camp–out, a ski trip, or a back–packing expedition is not the subject under consideration. Although, of course, if emphasis is placed upon these things making them significant and prominent things in our lives, to the neglect, or exclusion of the spiritual, we would, without hesitancy, find serious fault with any or all of these matters. But it is not living, or disposed to live in companionship with others in a community, rather than in isolation, which is a real problem for the church of our day.
What obstructs the progress of the gospel of Christ and hinders the growth of His church is our emphasis upon the physical and the material rather than upon the spiritual. There are those among us, preachers and elders—and others— who feel and proclaim that it is not the doctrine of Christ that is important, but how we live in relation to other people. “It is not doctrine but life–style that is important,” I heard one influential leader in the church assert. “Jesus could have preached fifty years and that would not have done the job. It was how He lived that made the difference,” I heard one preacher say to hundreds in his audience.
No Christian who knows anything about his Bible, would ever discredit Christian living. It was what “Jesus began both to do and to teach” that made the difference in the world of the first century—and, I would like to add, in all succeeding centuries! How we treat one another is so important it cannot be over stressed. Loving one another, bearing one another's burdens, sharing with one another, helping the solution to the problems of our fellow Christians in the household of faith, and even the outsider, are principles that must characterize our daily lives in the horizontal relationship with others. We must be generous, unselfish, and untiring in giving our time and possessions to help those around us in need. But there is more to Christianity than this. “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:21)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is by the gospel that men are sanctified (John 17:17). We are cleansed, purified, and born again by that incorruptible seed, the word of God (James 1:21; I Peter 1:23; John 15:3). We are commanded to preach it to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15). Not only must our relationship with fellow man be right, but prior to and above that, our relationship to God must be right!
The word translated doctrine is found 207 times in the New Testament. That speaks something of its importance. I reject the idea and discount the teaching that it is not proper to discuss doctrinal matters, such as premillennialism, instrumental music, or any other such teachings, until every hungry person
in the world has been fed, every naked person is clothed, every prisoner has been visited, every sick person has been attended to, and every person's problems have been solved.
It has been said that after all these social needs have been met and all these human exigencies have been compassed and man's social requirement have been dispatched—when we have achieved the demands and consummated the requisites of those in the world around us, when this attainment in the social realm has been realized—then, and only then, will it be time for us to sit down and get our doctrinal P's and Q's in order and discuss our disunity and our differences. I reject this as being totally and absolutely false.
There were good people in this world before Christ came upon the scene. What Abigail did for David and his soldiers was admirable and necessary and very commendable. The Good Samaritan was unselfish, generous, and sensitive toward one in the predicament of having been beaten, robbed, stripped, and left half dead in the gutter. But this did not make him a Christian. He was bearing the fruits of a Christian; and I believe Jesus was telling what a Christian would do under these circumstances in life.
Not a better man, morally, lives in this country today than was Cornelius. He had religious convictions and a spirituality which recommends him, also. He was honest, generous, cared about other people, and had a splendid reputation among those who were not of his race or background. But he wasn't a Christian. A social gospel would not save him or justify him before God. “... Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and your household will be saved” (Acts 11:13–14). We have lost the distinctive reason for our existence as the New Testament church when we take the position that a social gospel will meet our needs and aid us in achieving our goals.
A man of great wisdom who once served some years as an elder in the Lord's church, commented that we may as well go join the denominations and be with family or friends if a social message will attain for us the desired results of eternal salvation. He further commented that he believed that we have, in many places, gone overboard to entertain our children in the church. Give them a little Bible so as to justify a preponderance of recreational activities.
“When the play stops, they go,” he said. “Teach them to be soldiers of the cross; commit them to Christ, and they stay,” was his sound advise. And I wanted to say “Amen” out loud!
It is not only lamentable, but a travesty on God's church when a fellow worker with young Christian people feels compelled to designate a colleague and a brother–in–arms as a glorified tour guide! “Our work with young people should not be fun and frolic, but a constant effort to instill the true knowledge of God and the values of Christianity.” I believe it is time for us to seek out the old paths and “walk therein.”
10. Lack of Devotion: The distinctive need of the church today is the complete dedication of those who comprise it. Without constancy, fervor, and devotion, God's people can never accomplish what the Lord, in his eternal purpose, intended that they perform in this world.
Our own happiness as Christians is dependent upon a whole hearted service to God. "Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek him with the whole heart” (Psalm 119:2). Paul counseled Timothy to be an example “in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” and to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” Then he said, “... give yourself entirely to them” (I Timothy 4:12–15).
Half–hearted service is unacceptable service to God. “He is a double–minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). This is a man with two souls, one for the Lord and one for Satan. He has one for the Church and one for the world.
Such a person does not want to sever ties with the Lord and His people, but neither does he wish to relinquish his hold upon the world. He, like Peter, follows from afar. He has tasted enough of Christianity's blessings and promises that he would be perfectly miserable to abandon God's house altogether.
But he is attracted to the world, and its pull upon him is so magnetic, he would be unhappy if he did not maintain his connections with it. There are times when he really wants to follow the Lord and be counted among His faithful disciples, but first he must go say good–bye to those at home, or he must first go bury his dead father (Matthew 8:21).
He has prior interests. His affection for other things is deeper that his love for Christ. He has put his hand to the plow and has looked back. The vision of his spiritual eye is double.
It is wholly following the Lord that counts (Number 21:11–12). What is needed for the renewed strength and increased power of the church in its march across the ages and realms is a band of men whose hearts God has touched.
11. Shamelessness in Sin: “ ‘Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment they shall be cast down,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12).
We ought to be ashamed of our sins. Ezra rent his garments, fell on his knees, and spread out his hands to the Lord and said: “O my God: I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). But, instead of being ashamed, “the wicked boasts of his heart's desire” (Psalm 10:3). This is an age when men boast of their mischief (Psalm 52:1). Hearts are filled with furious desires and earthly ambitions.
Lust and wickedness of every sort convulse this old world and for it all men are not ashamed. We should be ashamed of the ugly marks of our national character and our promiscuous conduct, dissipation of life, dissolute appetites, unrestrained lust, and our abandonment to every monstrous evil that wicked men have been able to conjure. That which makes it so lamentable is that there is no shame. It is rather a flaunting show of profligacy. It reminds us of the situation in Corinth where one had taken his father's wife, and they were “puffed up and had not rather mourned” (I Corinthians 5:2). They were inflated with pride over this odious deed. The word suggests that they were lofty and arrogant about it. It would seem that they had no consciousness of wrong, whereas they should have been abashed by their guilt and disgraced by this discreditable conduct.
In so many circles of our society, virtue seems to have fled and vice has occupied the throne as the supreme mistress. There is neither consciousness of wrongdoing, nor painful feelings of regret because of the infraction of God's law and violation of His
moral standards. Men lie, get drunk, commit murder and adultery, and are not thereby disgraced. Our crime bill is twenty billion dollars a year. For each one dollar that is spent in churches, synagogues, and temples, twelve thousand dollars is spent in crime. Taverns in this country far outnumber all churches. About five hundred thousand divorces are granted in America each year. The rate is one divorce in every three marriages. Illegitimacy has increased three hundred percent over the last ten years. In all of this, there seems to be no humiliation or dishonor.
With Ezra we should fall on our knees and say, “O my God, I am shamed and blush to lift up my face to You.” Like the prodigal, we should say, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).
But we should be ashamed, not only of these things I have mentioned, but of the neglect of our duty and the disuse of our talents for the good of His cause. God's people absent themselves from worship, intentionally and deliberately, to pursue personal interest and pleasure and feel no remorse of guilt. They neglect to study and pray and speak to others about their salvation and have no compunction. They make and spend the large part of their income on themselves and give a pittance to the Lord, and are not ashamed. Shamelessness for our misconduct is one of the great dangers confronting the church.
May we awaken to these dangers and to the true values of life ere it is to late and so bring our lives into correspondence with the will of God that in nothing we shall be ashamed here nor before Him in the coming of Christ (Philippians 1:20; I John 2:28).