Personal Spiritual Object Lessons
Study No. 61
I can relate personal incidents of which I am very ashamed. Time and again we Christians behave in an abominable fashion. Usually I like to dwell on the positive, avoiding negative incidents. But how can we learn the positive lessons the Eternal wants us to know, without object lessons now and then of how NOT to do something? After all, the Bible is a chronicle of manís foibles and sins, showing that NOTHING ever comes out right by disobedience to God. David, a man after Godís own heart, is remembered for his sin of murder and adultery involving Uriah and Bathsheba.
On a smaller scale, yours truly, and you as well, can provide many tragic, and sometimes comic, examples of just how weak we humans are. Yes, even with Godís Holy Spirit, we live and act out proof that unless these days of men are cut short by the coming of the Messianic Kingdom, we are all doomed.
The Time I Had to Eat Crow
Balaam made an "ass" out of himself, Numbers 22. This is a very humorous incident involving a perverse man who was trying to get around Godís clear instruction.
Once I had to "eat crow." The organization I was then a part of at that time condemned long hair and beards. I became a super-Pharisee over this matter. As the church became more liberal, I remained an inveterate Pharisee. One of my best friends in the church grew a beard, and I gave him a strict tongue lashing. Needless to say, I lost a friend.
Several years later, I happened to study what the Bible says about beards. To my amazement, I found that the Bible shows that it is preferable for a man to have a beard, that even our Savior wore a beard, Isaiah 50:6. And I began wearing a beard. Then I remembered what I had done. I had to "eat crow," and write him a letter apologizing for my abominable behavior. From then on, I became less inclined to "let somebody else have it," even if I was "sure" that I was "right."
At times I have been a very argumentative person. When I was part of a large religious organization, I reacted very vociferously when they instituted unscriptural doctrinal changes. There was the time in our home when I held two ministers at bay in a knock-down drag-out argument over the correct day of Pentecost. I felt afterwards that I had clearly "won" and was proud of myself. My wife, on a sickbed in the next room, over heard the entire spectacle. She informed me that I was entirely wrong in my spirit and attitude. I recognized that she was right. I, like Balaam, had made an "ass" of myself. It has taken many years for me to overcome this tendency of mine to be argumentative. But as a personal object lesson, this incident continues to be instructive to me.
Spiritual "To Do" List
At times I have not been the husband and father that I should be. My wife has on a couple of occasions written me a heart-to-heart loving letter describing her hurt feelings and how I'm so busy in doing other things that I have no time for her and the children. I pull these letters out once in a while, read them tearfully, pray about it, asking God to help me be a better husband and father. Thatís one of the major things on my spiritual "to do" list that I am working on. And I have a tangible object lesson that can help to point me in the right direction.
A Day of Atonement sermon that I will never forget brought out an important technique that I feel we should all practice. Every year, prepare a personal, private list of things you need to overcome. I call this my spiritual "to do" list. Put it in the back of your Bible or another private place. Refer to it throughout the year. Once a year, maybe just before Passover or the Day of Atonement, update your list. Check your progress. If you are not progressing, then you have a vital topic for your daily prayer, even something to fast about. Perhaps you can share one or two difficult items on your list with your mate or best friends so they can pray for you. Not that we should go around daily telling others our personal sins all the time. But there is a time to confess our physical weaknesses to one another, James 5:16. Unless you write them down, you may lose the impact of them. Sometimes, as I have done, write down some classic examples of your personal sins and faults.
Looking at a list of things I need to overcome, or a catalog of some of my sins, there is a tendency for me to get discouraged. The apostle Paul must have had the same feelings. As he reviewed what he was and what he had done, he exclaimed, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" Romans 7:24. "I thank God [I shall be delivered] through Jesus Christ our Lord," verse 25. We need to recognize what we are, but never forget that our Savior died and was resurrected so that we might overcome through His power and receive the gift of salvation.
How many times have we just prayed, "Father, forgive me for my sins!"? God knows what our sins are, but do we admit and know them? "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," I John 1:9. But if we do not admit them to the Eternal, we deceive ourselves, we are really saying we have not sinned, making Him out a liar (for all have sinned), and His word is not in us, I John 1:8, 10. "He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy," Proverbs 28:13.
David said, "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" Psalms 32:5.
So donít just pray, "Father forgive me of my sins." In your private prayers to God, be specific, confess your sins to Him. And they shall be covered. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." Psalms 32:1-2.
Donít Forget Past Sins
I'm not saying we should always dwell on past sins that are covered with the blood of Jesus. But we should never forget the lessons. Some may point to Philippians 3:13, "forgetting those things which are behind," to say that we should forget totally about our past sins. Not so. Paul had just remembered about his sinful past, when he was a super-Pharisee, even persecuting the church, verses 4-8. He knew he was not yet perfect, verse 12, and he rehearsed some of his old sins to remind himself of his former wrong actions, and that faith in Christ, the power of His resurrection, would be that same power to help him to press on toward the mark, the prize of our high calling. Paul knew his body was vile, and he would never let himself forget just how vile he was, and that the Savior alone would be able to fashion it like His glorious body.
David saw his sin with Bathsheba. He did not forget his sin, but even composed a Psalm about it. "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me," Psalms 51:3. Read the "Repentance Psalms," Psalms 51, 6, 25, 38, 102, and 143.
We should not dwell hopelessly on our past sins, but remember the personal object lessons and the power of the Master to pull us out of the ditch.
Catalog the Sins of Others?
If it is not wrong for us to remember our own past sins, is it all right to list some of the object lesson sins of others? Some would have us believe that we should put blinders on our eyes, and not even notice the sins of others, that we must only work on our own sins.
This is a classic example of Satanís divide and conquer techniques. If you donít bother to learn lessons from other peopleís sins you will likely repeat some of these same sins.
The Bible was written so we would not sin. The catalog of all the sins of Israel was written for us as examples, so that we will not sin as they did, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Romans 15:4. The book of The Acts of the Apostles is an unfinished book. It has been continually written these nearly 2,000 years as the people of the Almighty have chronicled their lifeís events. You and I are adding to that chronicle. All the books in the world could not contain all the events that have transpired in the history of Godís people.
Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes. My three older sisters each made grievous errors relating to sex and marriage. As I grew up, I saw firsthand the sad results of these sins. It led me in a totally different direction. In a sense, I am grateful for these dreadful spiritual object lessons.
No, it is not wrong to note the sins of others, in order to avoid doing the same things. But in so doing, never say "I would never do that!" Be not high minded, but fear, that without the Eternalís help you will be likewise cut off, Romans 11:19-22. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" Philippians 2:4. Let us not shut our eyes to the sins of others, nor condemn them (the Almighty is the judge), but instead have love and mercy. Hate the sin but love the sinner. Judge the act, not the attitude, of the other person. Remember the Indian proverb: "Lord, before I criticize another man, let me first walk a mile in his moccasins."
As I review some of the sins of others, my heart quivers at some of the incidents. Especially some of the statements made by professing Christians, even ministers.
Attitude Toward Departed Brethren
One of the most tragic incidents in our memory is the horrible death of a family of three we knew and loved dearly. It was a strange one car accident on the way home from the Feast of Tabernacles. Only one small child survived. The most tragic aspect to us, however, was not the untimely deaths of three of our friends. It was what the wife who was killed said to us a few days before the disaster. We were at a restaurant enjoying their fellowship. The discussion happened to fall upon another family that had recently left the church, with whom they had been close friends. The women said that she wished they'd go jump into a lake. After dinner, I felt a little uneasy about her attitude. So what if their good friends had left the church (it was over doctrinal issues)? Does that mean that they should have a hateful attitude toward them? What about II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15?
When we heard the news of this horrible accident, this womanís words haunted me. It has been a sobering incident to me ever since. I am not the one to judge that their deaths were a punishment from God for the words they expressed. But I certainly do not want to die with this type of expression on my lips. This personal object lesson has helped me to be more compassionate to those who have left the truth. May God help me not to have an attitude of bitterness toward anyone.
Some of the excuses people make for their actions never cease to amaze me. I have to keep asking myself, do I ever make such excuses? (The answer, of course, is yes.)
I was previously an assistant to a leading minister of a large organization. GENERALLY SPEAKING, I found him to be ethically and morally upright. But there were times and circumstances where he had clearly done wrong public acts. Instead of admitting the guilt and attempting to ameliorate the damaging effects, he would attempt to cover it up with excuses that sounded good at the time.
When he was in charge of construction of church convention sites, he nearly bankrupted the building fund by lavish spending. He built an opulent house for himself while construction of the nearby convention center languished. He said that a higher rank minister "made him" build such an expensive house for himself.
Later, this minister was forced out of the church position and placed on a yearís "sabbatical" doing nothing, during which time he received full pay, conditional on his not publishing anything contrary to the church organization. It was really "hush money." After his sabbatical he made a break with the organization. Then he justified his yearís silence by stating that he couldnít make them stop sending the checks! As if he was forced to cash them! The funny thing is, his new group of followers believed this.
My minister friend then turned around and sued the organization he broke with, for severance pay. After doing nothing on full pay for a year, apparently now he felt justified to break I Corinthians 6 by going to court against the church. When cornered by another friend of mine on this issue, his defensive excuse was: "My lawyer made me do it!"
When am I, when are we all, going to face up to our individual responsibility for our sins? Adam and Eve tried to shift the blame from themselves. Please read all of Ezekiel chapter 18. Let us not shift the blame by phoney excuses.
Look at how I justified my sins by flimsy excuses. I was in a high office in a church organization for years, during which time, I saw firsthand political chicanery and misuse of church funds. Did I protest? Did I stop contributing my tithes and offerings? Did I quietly leave? No! I was loyal to an organization, even though I could plainly see it was going contrary to the plain teaching of Jesus Christ.
My excuse, as thousands of others have fallen back on, was: "God will take care of everything. He will correct His church." I failed to remember the Bible and history, as Israel and the New Testament Church were both allowed by God to apostatize. As I look back, I can see how much of a "dumb sheep" I was.
Lack of Brotherly Love
If you want to know the most important proof of Godís true church, donít just look at right doctrines (that is one proof), or signs and miracles. Look mainly at whether or not there is true brotherly love. "By this," Jesus said, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," John 13:35. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother . . . . We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death," I John 3:10,14.
It has been my observation over the years that brotherly love is contagious. If the church ministry and leadership exhibit compassion and kindness, it is very likely that this atmosphere will permeate the entire church.
Most readers are familiar with the numerous scriptural indictments against the ministry. Malachi 2, Ezekiel 34, and Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah 50:6 are only some of the great number of warnings against ministers who cause Godís people to go astray, against shepherds who feed themselves instead of the flock.
"The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and cruelty have ye ruled them," Ezekiel 34:4. What an up-to-date assessment of todayís false ministers!
Ministers today have time for golf or handball, but not time to visit the flock. In the ten years that I was part of Sabbath keeping organizations, I was not once visited by a minister for a pastoral call to assist me in my personal spiritual growth.
I will never forget a church potluck meal after services one Sabbath. A certain member was conspicuously absent. The minister replied, "I wonder what happened to him?" As I later discovered, this man had quit the church. Although this manís house was near the church hall, even on the route of the minister, the minister did not visit or call this man, to this day as far as I know. Did he not care for his flock?
I could personally relate many horrible incidents involving ministerial abuse of people. But let me spare you, because you can certainly match my stories. And further, there are the true incidents of scores of ministerial henchmen who collaborated with these religious dictators. I sorrow for both such types, and the gossips who spread vicious slander against others.
When I questioned an internationally-known minister as to his amoral conduct, he replied that he was "above" the qualifications for a minister stated in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. As I remember this, I shake my head. What an object lesson. This conduct is the antithesis of a true minister, the exact opposite of Matthew 20:25-28.
Hatred And Contempt For the Ministry
Because of many ministerial abuses, some laymen have contempt and disgust toward all who claim to be teachers. They arenít about to be burned again. While I can understand how people have been hurt ó I class myself as one of the wounded ó this spirit of contempt is not the spirit of God.
How many times have I heard disparaging comments made against ministers! Granted, if the reports are true of these ministers' life styles and doctrinal perversions, then they are certainly not Godís ministers. But does that mean we should denigrate them, make sneering and contemptible comments about them? No indeed!
It is sad but true that in large part, hatred and contemptible attacks on ministers come from other ministers! The most vitriolic attacks come back and forth between ministers who are no longer working together.
A well-known minister shouted in the home of a layman friend of ours, the following unbelievable statement: "If . . . [a minister who once worked with this minister] is in Godís Kingdom, then I donít want to be there!" The seeds of a long-standing personal enmity between the two ministers showed fruit in an attitude totally contrary to Godís Spirit.
This sort of statement has been made a number of times by many different people. Unless such an attitude of bitterness is corrected, I fear that such an one is excluding himself from Godís Kingdom.
What You Sow, You Also Reap
Jacob tricked Esau out of the birthright. His very name meant "supplanter," tricky deceiver. Years later, God taught Jacob a lesson through Labanís turning the tables on Jacob regarding his labor for Rachel. He was tricked into receiving Leah as his wife.
The Eternal must do such things with us frequently so as to teach us lessons we need to learn (see Matthew 7:1-5). I told you previously about my tendency to be argumentative. I had "cut down" a number of people with my sharp tongue. Well, one time, the tables were turned. A pair of ministers deliberately tried to bait me into an argument, being confident that I would explode, whereupon they could come down hard on me. Somehow (I know it was Godís help) I became aware of what they were doing and managed to restrain myself.
Later I was to learn that one of the ministers, knowing my German ancestry, had remarked to another church member: "You know how to handle Germans like Richard? You kick them in the rear to get them in line!" This man, known in ministerial circles as the "Montana bear" because of his quarrelsome over-bearing personality, is a classic example of one who has a total lack of feeling for lay church members. He, like Laban with Jacob, helped cure me of being a "striker," a quarrelsome person ready to argue at the drop of a hat (see I Timothy 3:1-3).
"We Are Not An Information Dissemination Service"
My wifeís sister and her husband and their two small children were a tremendous example of true Christianity to all who knew them. Their lives were snuffed out last year in a car accident. We miss them deeply. But sadder than the loss of their fellowship are some of the circumstances which occurred just prior to their deaths.
They, like ourselves, had left a church organization that was veering off the course of true doctrine and true spiritual love. Their leave was a more amicable one than ours. After a few years, they began to re-study a certain doctrine and wanted to get a copy of this organizationís material on the subject. They wrote a polite request for the article. The "Montana bear" refused to send the article. On official church letterhead, he wrote this note:
Since you once were a part of this group, but chose to disassociate yourself by your own free will and volition, your request is really outside our scope of service. In brief, Tom, we are not operating an information disseminating service. If you are genuinely interested in returning to the faith once delivered, and if I have misread your motive please inform me. Otherwise, we do not feel we owe you any obligation under the present circumstances.
These caustic comments almost seem to be designed to turn them off. Ever since their deaths, the ministerís unkind words have burnt deeply into me. No need to argue about who was right doctrinally. But what kind of shepherd is this who beats the flock? Read Ezekiel 34:1-6.
Is There No End of Sin?
I could catalog our sins all day. Like Daniel, 9:1-27, I am ashamed of my sins and the sins of Godís people, 9:5-6. Oh, how great is my sin and the sin of my people Israel, verse 20!
Although I am ashamed of these sins, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," Romans 1:16. The good news is that iniquity is conquered, the Messiah is come "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness," Daniel 9:24-27. He was "cut off" from the land of the living; not for Himself but for us, in our stead.
Yes, there is an end to sin. There is hope in Israel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the power that is available to us to overcome sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does overcome sin, II Timothy 1:7. The 6,000 years of manís history is filled with spiritual object lessons teaching us not to sin. The Bible is written that we sin not, but if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, I John 2:1. W
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