The Word Of God—In Our Lives
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”—Hebrews 4:12
The last of a four-part series on “The Word of God” by Richard Kindig, originally prepared as an audio-visual presentation for the
1992 International Convention of Bible Students in Poitiers, France.
We would now like to turn our attention to the Word of God in our own lives as brethren in Christ. As Bible Students, we have much to rejoice about. The Harvest Message has enriched our lives, and as the trouble in the earth increases, we can all have more and more appreciation for “the Truth” which we hold.
Emphasizing What God Emphasizes
But we would like to suggest that it is not enough for us as footstep followers of Jesus to teach what the Bible says is true. To be fully in harmony with the Word of God, we must emphasize what the Bible emphasizes.
How can we tell what the Word of God emphasizes? By what it repeats often, by what it states clearly, by what it stresses with strong language.
Two quick examples: Paul seems to be using the strongest possible language when he states that even if he died a martyr’s death, if he had not love, he would be nothing. (1 Cor. 13:8)
And in speaking of the Resurrection, Paul stated that he delivered to us as of the first importance, that Christ died for our sins, and rose again. (1 Cor. 15:3) These are examples of the ways in which the Word of God emphasizes some truths more than others.
The Word of God also draws contrasts and comparisons. Just as in the human body, every limb is controlled by opposing muscles which push and pull against each other, so it is in the Body of Christ, and so it is in the realm of ideas presented in the Word of God. The correct position can often only be found in the clash, or tension, of opposing views.
Philadelphia And Philaxeneas
For example, we are taught in Hebrews 13:1 to have strong brotherly love. But in the next verse we are told to balance this love among ourselves with active love toward strangers. The sense of the Greek text in these verses is that we should nurture brotherly love and affection—”Phila-delphia“—but balancing it with love of strangers: “Phila-xeneas.”
The Word of God is timeless, and fits all cultural situations. But we must be careful not to forget the historic context in which its principles are set.
For example, it was not really possible in New Testament times to ignore the brethren in our own vicinity, and forge instead relationships by telephone and travel with other, more like-minded friends. We suggest that we be very careful not to ignore the difficult relationship challenges that we find in our local ecclesias for the perhaps more agreeable, but more superficial relationships we can form at conventions. Travel may one day be restricted again. And we will need to master the art of loving one another in our local assemblies.
Let us consider some of the teachings of the Word of God that directly impact our relationships with each other.
Unity Of The Body
In Ephesians 4:3 we are taught to keep, or preserve the unity of the body. We do this not by merely avoiding conflict—the Word of God does not hold up tranquility as the goal, but rather by pursuing the Biblical peace in the sense of completeness—common cause—hammering out of differences, continual mutual work, dedication, and submission.
And so the Word of God is full of advice about how to act in a community of brethren. We are taught to love one another, pray for one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, admonish one another, serve one another.
Daily Bible Study
Let’s consider one of the most under-appreciated virtues on this short list: prayer. Daily Bible study, accompanied by prayer, is essential for walking with God. No one should be attempting to serve God without daily attention to prayer and thoughtful study of God’s word. Even Jesus, who had perfect powers of recall and a full, unlimited measure of the Holy Spirit, did not go without prayer for a single day as far as we know. He would lose sleep rather than miss out on his times of fellowship with the Heavenly Father.
An Active Prayer Life
Active prayer, based on our standing with God as justified believers, is the best way to resolve differences with employees, or bosses, or wives, or family members, or brethren.
There has never been a great man of God who was not a man of prayer: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, John—and Jesus.
The Word of God records the things that great men of God have prayed for:
- That a specific believer’s faith not fail. (John 13)
- That we might be successful in correcting the shortcomings in the faith of others. (1 Thess. 5:12)
- That God would forgive the sins of others against us. (Matthew 5)
- For personal wisdom. (James 1)
- That God would forgive our own newly-recognized sins. (Matthew 6)
- That God would indicate his choice for us in the outworking of duties he has given us to do.
We also find, when examining the prayers of great men of God, that they often included four elements: Adoration of God, Confession of sins, Thanksgiving for His blessings, and last of all, Supplication or requests for blessings to ourselves and especially others.
Another area of importance is submission to one another. In 1 Peter 5:5, we are taught that the younger should submit to the elder. Then Peter makes it a “two-way street” by saying, “yes, and all of us should submit to each other.”
Paul adds further insight by telling us that our submission to the leadership of others in the Church should be proportional to the actual work they do in Christ, and the fruitfulness it seems to have borne.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul discusses the “works” that we are able to perform because we are justified in Christ. He notes the impact these habitual actions have on our characters—and describes the impact of this fruitage on our future reward. Therefore, actual deeds are a barometer of spiritual strength, and are to be respected by the brethren. In 1 Corinthians 16:16 he urges submission to those who are committed to service of the saints. In 1 Timothy 5:17 he puts study and teaching high on the list of valuable services. In Hebrews 13:17 he urges us to obey our spiritual leaders and try to avoid making their task unpleasant. Yet in 2 Corinthians 3:1 he makes it clear that positions of leadership do not flow from a name, elected office, or a letter of commendation, but from the reality of a life of service. Lack of an official office is no excuse for lack of service to the brotherhood. And in 2 Corinthians 10:13-17 Paul sets down the principle that our work that we do for the Lord and His people is the measure of our influence. He speaks of a “measure” or “sphere” of spiritual authority, and directly links it to the actual success he has enjoyed in the Lord’s service.
Mutual submission is, of course, not the only virtue laid down for us in our relationships with each other. We cannot read the New Testament accounts without being impressed with how vigorously the apostles argued their points with each other, and with worldly influences on the Church.
In Colossians 3:14-16, Paul prefaces his command that we teach and admonish each other with several requirements: that the Word of Christ dwell inside of us richly; that we have “bowels of mercies”—deep-seated, emotional feelings for each other; that we practice forbearing one another, or overlooking as much as we can of each other’s imperfections; that we show forgiveness to one another in the same way that Christ forgave us; that we love one another; that we cultivate peace not only in our individual hearts, but also in our collective “one body”; and that thankfulness pervade our relationships.
Having said all of that, Paul then tells us to teach and admonish each other—which we take to mean that we should communicate with each other truthfully and honestly about how we should live and act. And Paul recommends a positive, joyous tone in the admonishing—an atmosphere seasoned with spiritual music and the spirit of grace.
Knowing Those Who Admonish Us
Finally, Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 that we should know those who labor among us and admonish us. Perhaps that suggests that there could be those among us who are performing a service of labor and “admonishing” who have not been recognized by the Church. Perhaps it means that we should pay attention to what our leaders tell us, even when it is unpleasant. At any rate, we are “admonished” to overcome our negative reactions to being corrected, and recognize that those who perform this service to us are paying a price. Those who labor among us and admonish us should be highly esteemed.
Because the body will have lots of communication if it is healthy, the Word of God speaks much about “forgiving one another.” The necessity for much forgiveness implies that there will be many offences. Don’t be surprised by your brethren’s sins. Don’t piously put down our brethren by talking about how “at this stage of the Church” we can expect “lots of the `Great Company‘ and fewer of the `Little Flock’.” It is for God to judge. It is for us to forgive one another, just as Christ forgave us the much more important sins—the ones in ourselves.
The Bond Of Perfection
Of all the virtues the Word of God asks to cultivate in our relationships with one another, Love is the most important, the most emphasized, the most essential. There are hundreds of verses that speak of love. But let us go back to the text we considered a few moments ago in Colossians 3:14. There Paul listed a number of virtues, and put love “above all.” He called it “the love”—agape—which, he said, is the bond of perfectness. We all know that agape is a love based on principle. But we would suggest that Paul is here stating that if our devotion to principle is not binding us closer together, then it is not agape. The love is the bond of perfection—literally, of the end or finish of our course together.
Love is the bond of perfection because it combines in one word all of the elements of balanced character: it is sacrificial—willing to go to any length to serve others, even to the point of death. With Biblical love, there is no “practical limit,” no “drawing the line.” Christ, having loved his own, loved us unto the end—not just until death, but unto the end—to the full limit. And we are called to do the same.
While Biblical love is not based on emotion, neither is it devoid of emotion. It cares; it has gut-level feelings of compassion, interest, the ability to be righteously angry on behalf of others. We see it in Jesus, who was righteously indignant at the affront to God, and the injustice to poor pilgrims, represented by the unjust money-changers; yet he demonstrated no righteous indignation whatever in respect to his own perfect rights. Still quivering from the impact of the nails in his wrists and feet, he nevertheless felt moved with compassion by the pitiable condition of his enemies. They were so proud and yet so weak. So full of themselves, and yet so vulnerable. And so Jesus prayed for them as he taught us to do: “Father, forgive them.”
But though Biblical love is emotional or compassionate, it does not ignore the faults of others. Biblical love towers above human-minded love in that it disciplines. It will pay the price it takes to admonish another. The discipline of Biblical love may lead us to withhold privileges or even debar a serious sinner from fellowship to teach an appropriate lesson. It will argue for truth; it will communicate what’s happening in our lives honestly; it will set limits in our families or our work or our relationships with each other. It does not sweep offences under the rug, but confronts them honestly, and uses them as learning experiences for ourselves and other.
And finally, love, as the Word of God defines it, is forgiving. When all is said and done, there will still be offences that the rightful party has not borne, that we will have to bear ourselves. There will be punishment that is deserved by someone else, that we will need to take if we want to push forward in positive relationships with our brethren. There can be no legalistic limits to Biblical love. How many times shall we forgive? 70 times 7!
Yes, the love is the bond of the end. And we believe that expression has special force now. In a world degenerating into anarchy, the Body of Christ should be, and we believe will, grow in its ability to love and be bound together.
Our vision of our relationships as brethren in the final years of this age should not be clouded with pessimism, and a preoccupation with “standing alone.” We see the Word of God as teaching us here and in many other passages that we will become victorious as a body. It is unthinkable that the Body of Christ will pass into death in isolation from one another. Mutual love and forgiveness and joy are promised to us, and we believe the next several years will be a time for all of us to grow in our ability to enjoy these scriptural privileges.
With that thought in mind, we close with the prayer of the Apostle Peter: “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things (as the new heavens and new earth), be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace.” — 2 Peter 3:14