A Forgiving Spirit

There is no more important characteristic found in the human heart than forgiveness. It’s importance is seen in the home, church, community and nation. Someone has said there are “three kindred spirits in the heart — giving, thanksgiving and forgiving. Usually where one is found, all are found.” A forgiving heart is an essential quality every child of God should have (Eph. 4:32).

Reasons To Be Forgiving

God commands it (Mark 11:25). This should be sufficient reason for any right-thinking person to be forgiving because God’s promises rest upon obedience to His word. But forgiveness on mere obedience to command usually falls short of what it should be. Anything done out of a sense of duty or necessity is usually not from the heart (cf. 2 Cor. 9:5-7). Consider the parent who makes the child say “I’m sorry” when, in reality, he is not sorry at all. He says it but only to appease his parent.

The example of Jesus (I Pet. 2:21; Phil. 2:3-5; Luke 23:34). As our example in all things, He would not require of us that which He would not do Himself. Even when His life was taken from Him, He had a forgiving attitude. It is said of Him, “He gave all, then forgave.”

We have been forgiven. God, in Christ, has forgiven the sins of the Christian (Eph. 4:32). As Christ has forgiven him, he is to forgive others (Col. 3:13). One who is unwilling to forgive after he has been forgiven is viewed disdainfully by the God of heaven (Matt. 18:21-35).

In order to have future forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15).

What It Means To Forgive

Forgiveness is more than just speaking the words. It must be sincere and from the heart. It must be patterned after the forgiveness God has granted to us. It must be accompanied by actions which befit true forgiveness.

Forgiveness involves a kind attitude — abandoning all animosity and hatred. All bitterness, anger, wrath, clamor and evil speaking should be put away (Eph. 4:31). We can hold no grudges. One must deny the impulse to get even and seek to do the forgiven one good.

Forgiveness involves forgetting (Heb. 8:12), but what does it mean to forget? It is impossible for a person to completely obliterate the wrong from his mind. Rather it means to not hold the person accountable for it anymore. When forgiveness is granted that should end the matter. It should never again be dredged up or held against the one who has been forgiven.

Forgiveness should be given by the “golden rule” (Matt. 7:12).

One should always be willing to forgive — even at repeated offenses. Matthew 18:21-22 has the apostle Peter asking, “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

Jesus was willing to forgive those who crucified Him, but they were not forgiven until they acknowledged their wrong and repented of it (Luke 23:34; Acts 2:36-39). When one refuses to repent, he is to be regarded as a “heathen and a tax collector to you” (Matt. 18:15-17).

No One Cared For My Soul

The 142nd Psalm contains “a prayer of David when he was in the cave.” David, while hiding from King Saul, thought he had been deserted by all his friends. In one of the saddest verses in the Bible, David said, “Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul” (Psa. 142:4).

Is it possible that you have a friend or neighbor who, like David, feels that no one cares for their soul? In all likelihood, within the last two years one of your friends or neighbors died unprepared to meet God. What did you do to prevent this tragedy? Did they know that you cared for their soul?

Do your children know you care for their soul? If you do, they will know it from your instruction in the Word of God. Before the Israelites entered the promised land Moses told the people, “these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6,7).

Do your friends know you care for their soul? One of Paul’s greatest desires was for the salvation of his nation (Rom. 10:1-3). The obligation he felt to preach made him cry out, “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

When was the last time you invited your friends to a Bible study? It seems as though we can find time to discuss everything in the world except the salvation of a soul which is worth more than the world itself (Matt. 16:26).

Do your brethren know you care for their soul? “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). Love for the brethren is expressed by action. Do you help or hinder the public assembly? Are you an encouragement to others or a constant complainer? You can not encourage and complain at the same time.

At the judgment your concern, or lack thereof, will be made known. Imagine the heartache of one of your neighbors saying, in the words of one of our songs, “You never mentioned Him to me, You helped me not the light to see; You met me day by day and knew I was astray, Yet you never mentioned Him to me.”

God warned a prophet by saying: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezek. 3:18-21).

 

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You Were Late

We had visitors at worship services on Sunday morning. It would have been nice for you to meet and welcome them into our midst. Unfortunately, you couldn’t do this because you weren’t in the building yet — you were late!

Our visitors needed help finding the proper classrooms for their children. Someone should have helped them. You couldn’t — you were late!

Our visitors didn’t have a class book which would help them follow along in our study. It would have been nice for someone to make sure they got a copy before class or maybe to share their own book with them. You couldn’t help them — you were late!

Our visitors needed help finding the proper page in their Bible — they did not have years of Bible study behind them. You could have helped them, but you were still on your way to services. You got up late, left home late and walked into the meetinghouse late.

Before we started Bible class, one of the brethren fervently prayed unto God and mentioned by name some who were sick. I know you didn’t hear him and couldn’t say “Amen” to his prayer — you were late!

When Bible class began the teacher announced the page in the class book where the brethren would be studying today — of course, you couldn’t hear him either — you were late!

When you finally stumbled into the classroom you had no idea what the class was discussing. You would have known if you would have gotten up on time and left your house when you should have in order to get to services on time — but you were late!

The person beside you on the pew missed part of what was taught because they were trying to help you find the proper page in the class book and in your Bible. It was a shame that you had to disturb them — but you were late!

Not only were you late, but so were your children. They got to disrupt their classroom just like their parents did. It’s nice to see that your children are being trained to put God first and worship “in Spirit and in truth.”

By getting to services late you got to show your children how much the Lord really means to you. If someone important had announced their intention of visiting with us on Sunday, you would have made sure that you were here on time. But, since its only the Lord Jesus Christ who has announced His intention of being with us (Matthew 18:20), you felt no need to get here on time, so you were late!

By showing up late every Sunday you don’t have to worry about your children getting to know others who are interested in spiritual things. Why, if they got to class early your children might even look at the bulletin boards their teacher decorated with Bible scenes or have time to review the class book their teacher spent weeks preparing.

One advantage of coming in late is that your car is closer to the parking lot exit — you can get home sooner and complain about not getting anything out of services.

Order In The Assembly

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). With what frame of mind should one approach God’s throne? Though we have free access to God through Christ, we must always remember that we are servants approaching the throne of the King of Kings. Approaching such a King should always be done with the utmost reverence. Sometimes when Christians assemble together for worship they are disrespectful in the presence of their King.

During a gospel meeting several years ago in Evansville, Indiana we had different speakers each evening. When the meeting was over, one lady told me she was a bit confused because it appeared that two of the men contradicted each other. One said that before services we should make sure we talk with everyone and make them feel welcome. Another man said we should come in the building and sit quietly. I understood the woman’s confusion. Is there a solution? I believe we should greet our brethren and those who visit with us. But I also believe that before services begin we should find our pew, sit down and hush. I have observed men attempting to start the song service when people in the audience were still talking and passing the babies back and forth. In these cases, the audience was not only rude, but disrespectful to their King. Even those totally lacking in the social graces should be able to understand that when a song leader or preacher gets in front of an audience it’s time to be quiet!

It used to bother me to see someone sleeping when I was preaching. But, I noticed that these same individuals could sleep through any sermon. I finally realized it wasn’t the preachers it was the preaching that bored them. They had no concept of redemption and no appreciation for God’s Word. If a speaker would get up and talk about fishing, hunting or how to get rich quick in real estate you would have their undivided attention. Sometimes people are on medication which makes them sleepy, but my concern is for those who stay up till 3:00 a.m. watching the late show!

“Sleeping saints” are a detriment to every congregation. They are a bad example to our children and those who might be visiting. Congregations should not use such men in their public worship. It’s hard to tell your children to pay attention to the message when the man who helped serve at the Lord’s table is sound asleep.

I have even seen a few “sleeping shepherds.” Any elder who sleeps through the sermon is unfit to shepherd the flock. It is impossible for an elder to guard the flock (Acts 20:28-30) and stop the mouths of false teachers (Titus 1:11) when he is taking a nap.

It is with fear and trembling I approach this last subject: children. Children usually mimic the behavior of others. If they see their parents are unconcerned about worship, they will be too. We must teach our children to be reverent in the presence of our Savior (Matt. 18:20).

An older preacher once said that when children misbehave during services we should “Take them out, wear them out, and bring them back in.” I wholeheartedly agree. If it doesn’t work the first time, do it again. I still remember my father putting this into practice. When he picked me up and headed towards the “outdoor cry room,” I knew I was in major league trouble.

Let us all consider our attitude as we come before our “High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1).

They Get Nothing Good Done

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

So much of the history of the struggle between good and evil can be explained by Edmund Burke’s observation. Time and again those who profess to be good seem to clearly outnumber those who are evil, yet those who are evil seem to prevail far too often. Seldom is it the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good men are willing to stand up and fight for what they know to be right. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in the scriptures.

They Get Nothing Good Done

When good men do nothing, they get nothing good done. To be good, one must do good. The Lord commands his people to do good (Luke 6:35; Eph. 2:10). Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

In the parable of the talents, Jesus described a man who did nothing. When he received his Lord’s money, he “went and digged in the earth, and hid his Lord’s money” (Matt. 25:18). When his Lord returned, he returned to the Lord just what he had been given (Matt. 25:25). Notice, the servant did not do any outright evil, such as stealing the money, but then neither did he do anything good. He did nothing and he got nothing good accomplished. Jesus said he was a “wicked and slothful servant” (Matt. 25:26).

Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea for doing nothing. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:15-17).

Too many Christians and too many churches do nothing. They are standing idly by, they are mere spectators. They sit on the sidelines instead of actively participating and working for the good. If good wins, they join in the celebration though they did nothing to produce the victory. If evil wins, they will complain long and loud though their own apathy helped produce the undesirable result.

When Jesus found a fig tree with “nothing thereon, but leaves only” He cursed the tree and “presently the fig tree withered away” (Matt. 21:19). What will He do with those who claim to be good and yet who do nothing? John the baptist warned, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:10; John 15:2).

They Help Evil To Triumph

When good men do nothing, evil triumphs. Evil, sin and sinful men must be opposed. God commands those who are good, not just to avoid evil but actively oppose it.

Christians are to not only to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but (also) reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Those who do nothing about sin and evil, help the sin and evil to prevail. One who is silent when there are those around him in sin becomes a partaker with them (Eph. 5:7).

In the days of Elijah, the silence of many had allowed the evil of Ahab and Jezebel to prevail throughout the land of Israel. “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word” (1 Kings 18:21). The silence of the people spoke volumes of their indecisiveness and inaction. Their failure to stand up, speak up and speak out permitted wicked and evil men to run rampant.

Jesus told of a traveler who was robbed, beaten and left him half dead. The men who did this were wicked and did a very wicked thing. But the Levite and priest allowed this evil to continue unanswered by doing nothing as they each “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32). Fortunately for the traveler there was one man, a Samaritan, who was willing to stand up for what was right (Luke 10:33-36).

Jesus warned “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). In the fight against evil there is no middle ground, no gray area, no neutrality. Those who are not actively and vigorously fighting against evil are helping evil to triumph.

They Are No Longer Good

When good men do nothing, they are no longer good. Many have the mistaken notion that good is merely the absence of doing that which is wrong. Not so! One is good not merely because he does no evil, but because he is actively working for what is good. “Let him eschew evil, and do good” (1 Pet. 3:11). James explained, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

The eldest of Israel, Reuben, knew his brothers’ murderous plot against their younger brother Joseph was wrong. He started an attempt to deliver Joseph, but as he hesitated and vacillated, the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery. When Reuben heard what they had done, he realized his failure to act had helped to bring about this evil result.

Instead of correcting his error, Reuben sought to cover his guilt by agreeing with his brothers to lie to their father about Joseph’s disappearance (Gen. 37:18-35). Reuben had “good intentions” and he was not even present when Joseph was sold into slavery, but he knew his inaction and absence made him just as guilty as the rest of his wicked brothers. This guilt continued to haunt him through the years (Gen. 42:21-22).

The prophet Obadiah severely condemned the Edomites for doing nothing when evil was befalling their brethren, the Jews. When Jerusalem was invaded by her enemies, the Edomites “stood on the other side” doing nothing but watching the slaughter as spectators. God said by their failure to act and to help their brethren “even thou wast as one of them” (Obad. 11).

Today, there are preachers and Christians who fail and refuse to meet the real foe, refute error and fight the enemy. Instead, they have turned to viciously savaging their own brethren. They are filled with bitterness and hatred and they maliciously attack, slander and misrepresent other Christians and gospel preachers.

Paul warned about such men and behavior among those professing to be Christians, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Those who engage in such behavior are spiritual cannibals.

While the conduct of these so-called Christians is shameful, what about those supposedly “good” men who do nothing? Those stand on the other side and do nothing but watch as their brothers are being slandered, slaughtered and devoured, they cease being innocent bystanders and idle spectators. Their failure to act not only allows evil to triumph, but makes them just as guilty as the spiritual cannibals they refuse to reprove and rebuke. In God’s words, “even thou wast as one of them” (Obad. 11).

Conclusion

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Those who fail or refuse to do good in the face of evil are sowing some dangerous seeds. They are doing nothing good as Jesus commanded them to do; they are helping evil to win and have ceased being good and have become partakers of the evil they did nothing to stop.

Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not sit by and do nothing. Stand up and be counted, speak up against evil and speak out against evil men and their sinful deeds.

What Will You Leave Behind?

During every funeral, I remind the audience that funeral sermons are for the living, not the dead. Words spoken in the hour of death can encourage the living to remain faithful to the Lord. After the first martyr gave his life for the Lord, Luke tells us that “devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2).

Acts 9:36 tells us of Dorcas, a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds.” While at Joppa, she grew sick and died. The disciples washed her and placed her in an upper room. When Peter entered the room “all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39). This godly woman was remembered what she left behind. Revelation 14:13 says our works will follow us. When you die, what will you leave behind?

“We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7). Why do so many people get all wrapped up with “possessions”? Jesus asked, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

What would you gain if you had the whole world? Whatever it is, it will not endure after the Judgment is passed (2 Peter 3:10).

What would you give in exchange for your soul? Whatever it may be, this is one transaction you will eternally regret. Judas sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16) — some Christians will sell out for far less. Some will sell their soul for a few more minutes sleep on Sunday morning, or another hour of TV on Sunday night. Gospel preachers have been known to exchange their hope of eternal glory for the praise of men (2 Tim. 4:3).

When you die, all that your spouse will have left of you are memories and pictures. Don’t wait till your spouse dies to express your love. Flowers at the graveside might make you feel better, but your spouse could only have enjoyed them in life.

Among the many laws in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 24:5 is one of the most quaint. It says, “When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife, whom he has taken.” God intended for the home to be pleasant for both parties.

The Psalmist tells us our “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psa. 127:3). How are you treating your “gift” from God?

You probably purchased life insurance so your spouse can meet the financial needs of your children in the event of your death — this is to be commended. In 1986 Christa McAuliffe died aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Some of her friends had purchased a $1 million life insurance policy for her children. But that money could not dry a single tear from her children’s eyes.

I am saddened by parents who get all wrapped up in material things so they can give their children “the best of everything.” My sons often drag me outside to play baseball (I hate baseball), but, I know they would rather spend 30 minutes with me than have a new bicycle.

What will your friends think when they read your obituary? Will they be surprised to find out you were a Christian? Will the reputation of the Lord’s church be harmed? Your death will affect them, for “none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself” (Rom. 14:7).

Three Generations

One of the greatest gifts God gives us is children. The Bible teaches, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is his reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:3-5).

With this great gift comes an awesome responsibility. Christians are commanded to bring their children “up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). What makes this job more awesome than most is its serious, far-reaching and often irreversible consequences. With most responsibilities if one fails there is usually opportunity to back up and start or try all over again. There is no second chance in raising our children. If parents fail to properly raise their children, once grown they are likely to be beyond hope. As the wisdom of Proverbs instructs, “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Proverbs 19:18).

The Bible is full of examples of successful and unsuccessful fathers. But the awful and far reaching consequences of a father that failed are no more dramatic than the failure of Jehoshaphat as a father. As king of Judah, Jehoshaphat ruled during the days of the “Divided Kingdom.” During the twenty-five years of his reign he sought to worship only Jehovah. He cleaned out the idols and false places of worship from Judah and sent men throughout the land to teach his people the Law of the Lord. Because of his faith and effort the Lord blessed Jehoshaphat and Judah with prosperity, power and peace (2 Chron. 17:3-19).

With all of the blessings the Lord had given him, Jehoshaphat was not content. He sought to make an alliance with Ahab,the king of Israel. Ahab was the wickedest king that ever ruled over either Israel or Judah. He did “evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” Ahab married the evil Jezebel of Sidon and built a temple to her idol Baal, which king Ahab worshipped (1 Kings 16:30-33). Jehoshaphat foolishly made a military alliance with this king by having his son, Jehoram, marry Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter, Athaliah.

All of the good Jehoshaphat had accomplished during his reign was destroyed by his singular failure as a father to provide the proper guidance and influence for his son, he did not recognize the truth, “Evil company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) and invited evil companionship and wicked influence into his own family. Jehoshaphat’s failure with his son brought wickedness, misery and death to his children, grandchildren and even his great grandchildren.

After Jehoshaphat’s death, his son Jehoram took the throne and murdered his own brothers, the other sons of Jehoshaphat. Jehoram followed in the path of the evil Ahab “for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 21:4-6). Jehoram ruled only eight years yet during that time his wickedness and foolishness was so great that his enemies killed all of his sons (Jehoshaphat’s grandsons) except one, Ahaziah. When Jehoram died a painful death no one was sorry to see him go (2 Chron. 21:16-20).

The wicked influence unleashed by Jehoshaphat lingered on. When Ahaziah was made king he continued the reign of evil for his mother, Athaliah the daughter of Ahab, “counseled him to do wickedly” (2 Chron. 22:2-3). Within one year Ahaziah was killed and his mother, Athaliah, seized power over Judah by murdering all her grandchildren (Jehoshaphat’s great grandchildren). Only one child, Joash, survived the massacre and was raised to king after seven years of wicked rule by Athaliah (2 Chron. 22:10-23:21).

Jehoshaphat was successful in every area of his life but one. He failed to raise his son “in the way he should go, (that) when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This failure overshadowed and ultimately eclipsed all Jehoshaphat’s successes. Three generations were destroyed by this one mistake.

What kind of inheritance will you leave to your children? Money? Property? Stocks and bonds? Your old car? A few antiques and photographs? Many a parent works all their life to leave a few dollars for their children to fight over and spend. How pitiful an inheritance this is in comparison to the father and mother who leave to their children “the training and admonition of the Lord.” As the wisdom of Proverbs tells us, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).
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The Appearance Of Evil

The apostle Paul wrote “some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Sometimes people “twist” the Scriptures because they have an evil heart and do not really care what God has said — they will twist the Scriptures to justify their own evil actions. Other people will unknowingly “twist” the Scriptures — usually as a result of a lack of Bible study.

If I were to make a list of the most abused (or “twisted”) passages in the Bible, I think that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 would be near the head of the list. In the King James Version of the Bible this passage simply commands us to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” This verse is explained by many folks to mean that if some act “appears” to be evil then we must abstain from it. Of course, the person explaining the passage gets to determine what “appears” evil and what doesn’t. If they don’t like going to the movie theater then you can’t go either — it “appears” to be evil. If they don’t like playing cards then you can’t play either — it “appears” to be evil. If they don’t like vanilla ice cream then you can’t eat it either — it “appears” to be evil.

I have memories from Bible classes of my youth when other teenagers would ask questions about the morality of certain activities. Often a Bible class teacher would respond that the suggested activity was sinful because it “appeared” to be evil in the eyes of some folks. I am sure such teachers thought they had given a “Bible answer to a Bible question.” After class the teenagers would often talk about the “profound” answer we had been given, then we tried to come up with a list of things that wouldn’t “appear’ evil to someone — the list was mighty short.

I went to high school with several Mennonites and nearly everything I said or did “appeared” evil to them. My clothing was sinful because it wasn’t black. I drove a car that had chrome bumpers and they considered that sinful because it was “too flashy” (it’s still hard for me to imagine a beat-up AMC Rambler as “flashy”). We used electricity in our house and that was considered a sin — it “appeared” to be evil. Conversation without using words like “Thee” and “Thou” was taboo — it “appeared” to be evil.

Maybe by now you can see the problem. It is hard to imagine anything that doesn’t “appear” evil to someone! Worshipping God on the first day of the week “appears” to be evil to the Seventh Day Adventists. Referring to Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the Messiah “appears” to be evil to the Jews. Our disregard for the “Pope” appears to be evil to Catholics. Saluting the flag “appears” to be evil to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Preaching on the consequences of adultery “appears” to be evil to several “heretic finders” in the brotherhood.

The word translated as “appearance” in the King James Version is the Greek word eidos. Concerning this verse Marvin Vincent wrote, “As commonly explained, abstain from everything that even looks like evil. But the word signifies form or kind…It never has the sense of semblance. Moreover, it is impossible to abstain from everything that looks like evil.” (Word Studies in The New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 51).

Translations of the Bible render this verse in a variety of ways. The New King James, Revised Standard, American Standard, New Revised Standard, New American Standard and Moulton translate this verse as “abstain from every form of evil.” In similar fashion, the New International Version gives us, “avoid every kind of evil.” Weymouth sounds a bit more formal with, “hold yourselves aloof from every form of evil.” The Contemporary English Version, recently introduced by the American Bible Society, translates this verse as “don’t have anything to do with evil.”

In his commentary on First Thessalonians, H.A.W. Meyer wrote: “But (1) eidos never signifies appearance. (2) A distorted thought would arise. For as the apostle has required the holding fast not that which has the appearance of good, but that which is actually good; so also in ver. 22, on account of the close reference of poneros (evil, dp) to the preceding kalon (good, dp), the discourse must also be of an abstinence from that which is actually evil. (3) To preserve oneself from all appearance of evil is not within the power of man.” (Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Thessalonians).

In his critical commentary on the Greek New Testament, Henry Alford wrote: “These words cannot by any possibility be rendered as in E.V., ‘abstain from all appearance of evil.’ For (1) eidos never signifies ‘appearance’ in this sense: (2) the two members of the sentence would thus not be logically correspondent, but a new idea would be introduced in the second which has no place in the context: for it is not against being deceived by false appearance, nor against giving occasion by behavior which appears like evil, that he is cautioning them, but merely to distinguish and hold fast that which is good, and to reject that which is evil.” (Alford’s Greek Testament, Vol. III, p. 281).

In 1891 Cambridge University published a series of commentaries on the New Testament under the general title of The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. In the volume The Epistles To The Thessalonians, George Findlay wrote: “The Apostle does not advise the Thessalonians to avoid what looks like evil; the command thus understood encourages the studying of appearances, and tends to the ‘doing of our works to be seen by men’ which our Lord condemns (Matt. xxiii. 5). But in completing on the negative side the previous command, ‘hold fast the good (in prophesyings),’ he gives to it the widest possible extension: ‘Keep yourselves not only from this, but from every sort of evil.'”

By now we can see that in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Paul is speaking about us abstaining from every manifestation and form of evil — he was not telling us to avoid things that simply look like evil to someone else (a rather arbitrary standard). Since this is the case, why do so many Christians twist this passage into meaning something Paul never intended? With many people I think you could blame laziness. Let me show you what I mean.

When a teenager asks what is wrong with going to the public beach, what do you tell them? You could tell them this practice “appears” evil in the sight of some and therefore they can’t go. But friend, parading around half-naked at the beach is not wrong simply because it “appears” evil to someone else. It is wrong because of what the Lord taught on modesty (1 Timothy 2:9). It takes more time to explain what modest apparel is and how when a man “looks at a woman to lust for her (he) has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Sometimes parents are too embarrassed to explain the affect our clothing (or lack thereof) might have on members of the opposite sex. So, instead of explaining lasciviousness and lust to their teenagers, they will talk about the “appearance” of evil. It usually does not take a teenager long to see through the diversion — they quickly see that the “appearance of evil” standard is arbitrary at best.

What is wrong with smoking a cigarette? I know it “appears” evil to some people — but I seriously doubt if one person in ten actually thinks it is “evil.” If you are trying to discourage your children from smoking on the basis of its “appearance” you are wasting your time. Instead, talk with them about drug addiction — something the Bible plainly condemns. Study what Paul said about “sorcery” in Galatians 5:20. “Sorcery” is from the Greek word pharmakia, from which we get the English word “pharmacy.” It might take a bit longer to explain, but at least you will be on solid ground — instead of trying to determine who might find the “appearance of evil” in smoking.

If your neighbor wants to know why you don’t buy a lottery ticket you could reply, “Well, I know it appears to be evil to a lot of folks and so I can’t purchase one.” Have you ever considered that the purchase of that same ticket might “appear” to be a good thing to some people. Before introducing the lottery, most states had politicians telling us how much good was going to be done with the proceeds from the sale of lottery tickets — they made it sound like buying a lottery ticket was the patriotic thing to do — it would help the public schools and keep taxes low. If you argue about the virtues of the lottery on the basis of its appearance, you have already lost the discussion. Instead of discussing the lottery (a topic the Bible does not mention), we need to discuss covetousness (a topic the Bible has a great deal to say about). Paul tells us to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). What is it that motivates people to buy a lottery ticket? If they really wanted to help the schools they would give the money directly. If they want to try and get “something for nothing” they will gamble on a lottery ticket.

Study and apply what the Bible actually says about morality instead of setting arbitrary standards.

Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts

Teaching the Gospel is not always easy. Probably the most difficult problem the Christian faces in trying to teach the Gospel is teaching a person who has a closed mind.

How often do we meet a person with an attitude that shouts “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” In other words, “It does not matter whether or not what you say is true, I am going to believe and do what I want.” You could point to many Scriptures; you could provide examples from the New Testament; you could quote the very words of Jesus, yet such a person will remain unmoved. Such an attitude would be almost humorous if it were not so sad. We need to understand the world has always had such people in it and learn not to be discouraged.

For 120 years Noah preached repentance to a wicked world and warned of the impending Flood. For 120 years people slapped their hands over their ears whenever they saw Noah coming down the road. But then came the day when God shut the door of the ark and the rain drops began to fall. The only ones who were saved were those who had spent 120 years with a hammer and saw in their hands, instead of their hands over their ears.

Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet” to us today and for good reason. His mission was very similar to Noah’s and his audience was just as stubborn. For about 40 years, Jeremiah preached to the rebellious people of God to repent or face the wrath of God. Jeremiah had good reason to cry because his audience not only refused to listen to him but also, instead of putting their hands over their ears, they made fists and put them in Jeremiah’s face.

Jeremiah was declared a dangerous fanatic; beaten and put in stocks; his writings were burned by a king; he was called a traitor, beaten again and thrown in a dungeon; he was thrown into a cistern where he sank up to his armpits in mud; and finally he was carried off to Egypt. It is amazing what great lengths people went to not hear Jeremiah.

Somehow, there are those who believe Jesus was exempt from prejudiced audiences. Even the Son of God who spoke with all the power and truth of Deity faced people whose attitude expressed, “Don’t confuse me with the facts” There were those who refused to listen to Christ; others mocked Him; one occasion a mob tried to throw Him over a cliff and another time some tried to stone Him. The prejudiced against Christ and His message grew to the point that to silence Him, His critics crucified Him.

After all the “plugged” ears Christians run into, (See, Acts 28:25-27), not only should Christians learn not to become discouraged, but also learn an important lesson on dull ears and closed eyes. Christians should beware of plugging their own ears, shutting their eyes and closing their minds to God’s Truth — the Bible.

Christians can “turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:4) and become just as stubborn and prejudiced and even more so than those in the world (See, 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; Titus 1:13-16). If there is anything worse than a person of the world with their fingers in their ears, its a professed Christian with their fingers in their ears.

The proper attitude for the Christian is to “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good,” (1 Thes. 5:21), studying to show thyself approved, (2 Tim. 2:15), and “examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things (are) so” (Acts 17:11). It is an attitude that “thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; bears all things believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:5-7). The Christian with the proper attitude towards other and the truth has his fingers turning the pages of his Bible instead of stuck in his ears!

Character Matters

Many people are willing to take a chance on others never discovering their wrongdoings. Many of these, however, are caught and punished for their misdeeds. Others get by with evil works because they are able to fool people all the days of their lives.

Others refrain from doing things which are wrong because they know society does not approve of those things. They are afraid to take the chance of being discovered in their evil schemes by the public. As the standards that are acceptable to the majority vary, though, so will the standards of such people. Just think of what is practiced now in the way of immorality that does not even cause an eyebrow to be raised that would have provoked the strongest kind of censure just a few years ago. One who allows society to establish his standards will never be anything but an advocate of the status quo.

Still others who would be willing to take the chance of doing many things which are evil even though they might be apprehended by society are deterred by a fear of God. Anyone who has any knowledge of the Bible knows that it reveals that all sin will be found out and judged (Eccl. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5: 10). Numbers 32:23 states, “…and be sure your sin will find you out.” Hebrews 4:13 speaks of the same thought when it says, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Those who refrain from doing that which is wrong because they know it would displease the Lord are to be commended. However, God desires more than fear. Surely the person who has trained himself to follow the Lord’s will ought to realize that he should do those things that are right because they are right. The religion of Christ does not encourage people to do all they think they can “get by with.” Rather it teaches that those who are the Lord’s disciples are to become good in their hearts (Matt. 15:18-20). Jesus shows the heart to be the wellspring of actions: evil proceeds from the heart (Mark 7:20-23), so should goodness. God has commanded those who desire to be His children to change their hearts (Rom. 12:1-2) and to become godly in their manner of life. God said, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16).

As disciples, our goal ought not to be abstaining from evil only because we are afraid of punishment but rather to be holy even as God is. James 1:13 cites the supreme goodness of God: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” Verse 14 shows that temptation comes because of lust, inordinate desire, which entices one to sin. God is so completely good that evil is not an enticement to Him, He is not even tempted by it. Since temptation comes because one is drawn by his own desires toward that which entices, then the impossibility for God to be tempted must mean He has no desire for anything that is evil.

Can you think of something you once practiced which was sinful but that you have now discarded? If so, you are becoming more like God. How great to be able to reach a state where you have no desire to sin.

Just how far have you gone toward real goodness? What do you do when you think no one is looking? What would you do if you could hide your deeds from the Lord? Surely honest answers to these questions will help each of us evaluate ourselves properly. Our answers will enable us to see the progress we have made as a Christian and to realize more fully that our own goodness is very meager and that great challenges are before us and, with deep humility of our own unworthiness, that we must seek God’s abundant love and grace to help us be the kind of people we ought to be, the kind He would have us be. The secret to good character is a converted heart.