Saturday, 30 August 2014

Preventing Divorce

     While our God is unquestionably a God of love (1 John 4:8), there are actually some things the Bible says he hates – among which is the termination of lawful marriages (Malachi 2:16). It goes without saying that God’s people must never teach or practice anything that would condone, endorse, promote, or encourage that which God hates. But what positive steps can be taken to prevent divorce?
     Divorce is prevented when spouses fulfill their God-given responsibilities toward each other. If every married couple respected God’s marriage law and followed God’s instruction manual, divorce would be non-existent. “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3 NKJV). Husbands must love and honor their wives and be Christ-like leaders in the home (Eph. 5:23-33; 1 Pet. 3:7). Wives are to submit to, respect, and love their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). Imagine how many marital problems would be resolved if every spouse was more patient, kind, humble, selfless, and trusting (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
     Divorce is prevented when children are taught, by example and instruction, to respect the institution of marriage and to view it as a permanent union. The influence of television, the movie industry, and our worldly society must be superseded by the good examples of Christian couples, the faithful instruction of Bible class teachers, and the healthy environment provided by Christian parents.

    Divorce is prevented when we encourage our singles to be faithful Christians and to marry faithful Christians. Granted, marrying a professing Christian will not automatically ensure a successful marriage, but when both partners share the same faith and the same commitment to a divinely-governed marriage, the odds are stacked considerably in their favor.

    Divorce is prevented when Christians study their Bibles diligently to understand the Lord’s will concerning marriage. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the will of God (Hos. 4:6). When discussing controversial issues like divorce and remarriage, it’s an easy cop-out to say, “Well, I haven’t really studied it enough.” While this may be a valid excuse for an immature Christian, there comes a time when a child of God must study this subject to the point he or she knows what the Bible teaches. It affects too many lives to be complacent and content with ignorance.

    Divorce is prevented when church leaders have enough conviction, courage, and concern to take a firm stand and publicly teach and defend the truth on marriage, divorce and remarriage. Jesus and Paul did not remain silent on this issue, even though it was as controversial in the first century as it is today. Teachers of God’s word will be held accountable both for what they teach and for what they neglect to teach (Acts 20:26-27; 1 Tim. 4:16; James 3:1).

    Divorce is prevented when Christians refuse to compromise with the world (Rom. 12:1-2). The devil succeeds when couples divorce and remarry contrary to God’s will, when unscriptural marriages are tolerated in congregations, when the word of God is ignored or twisted to accommodate sinful unions, and when brethren are led to believe this issue is unimportant. By exhibiting lax attitudes toward God’s marriage and moral laws, the church succumbs to the destructive influence of the world.

    Divorce is prevented when Christians are united on what the Bible teaches concerning this matter. Accepting a wide variety of interpretations and applications does anything but prevent divorce. If the “agree to disagree” mentality is allowed to prevail, unlawful marriages will continue multiplying in the church, generating more conflict and putting more souls at risk. Divided scholarship must never be used to justify disunity among brethren.

    In our attempts to prevent divorce – compassion, patience, and kindness must always be shown (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Confronting sin must never be done in a mean-spirited way, neither should our love for sinners induce us to tolerate or condone sin. We must speak the truth in love and restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness (Eph. 4:15; Gal. 6:1), while being careful not to forget our primary aims of obeying the Lord and saving souls.

–Kevin L. Moore

Originally appearing in The Exhorter (April-June 2000) and republished in The Summit Chronicle 6:1 (January 2008): 6. 

Related Articles: Dave Willis' The Truth About Divorce

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Counting the Cost of Being a Missionary (Part 2 of 2)

     Ironically, the longer one stays on the mission field, the more difficult it becomes to leave. Instead of “doing his time” and “getting it out of his system,” the missionary may very well find that the burden which brought him to the mission field in the first place has only grown stronger and is keeping him there. Being aware of a need is one thing, but to actually see it with one’s own eyes is another. It will change a person’s life forever. Any thoughts of leaving make the missionary uneasy and heavy-hearted. And if he stays long enough, he may find that he cannot leave. Is this a price I’m willing to pay?
     Now that some may be questioning whether the price is too great, let’s consider the alternative. What if you never become a missionary? What price is to be paid then? While being a missionary is unquestionably hard, I sincerely believe that not being a missionary is even harder. Keeping the gospel to yourself is like trying to hold a live coal in your hands. Admittedly some have become so callused that it doesn’t bother them very much, if at all. However, if you have any appreciation for what the Lord has done for you and are the least bit concerned about the lost and dying world, how easy is it to sit idly by and do nothing? “O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace . . . . But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 4:19; 20:9b NKJV).
     On the other side of counting the cost are the dividends of your investment. I honestly feel sorry for those who allow their fears and doubts to hold them back and never get to experience the extraordinary missionary life. I have met few missionaries who have regrets about what they have chosen to do. Surely one can stay home and avoid all the apprehension, anxiety, homesickness, frustration, culture shock, et al., but consider how very much will be forfeited.
     Missionary work offers unique challenges that are hard to find in other professions, and consequently tremendous spiritual, mental, and emotional growth is inevitable. It has been said that the strongest trees grow in the wind, and the apostle Paul was almost certainly the caliber of man he was because of his missionary experiences (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-18). It doesn’t take a spiritual giant to become a missionary, but it is nearly impossible to remain spiritually dwarfed on the mission field. This honorable, worthwhile, and rewarding vocation is anything but dull, monotonous, or boring. It is challenging, character-building, and life-changing.
     On the mission field the Bible seems to come to life in a more vivid way than in other environments. I have met several people in the course of my missionary work who have reminded me of characters I’ve read about in the Bible. It is so amazing to encounter a modern-day Cornelius or Lydia or Timothy and to see the word of God transform their lives before your very eyes. Working with people for whom the gospel is new, fresh, and exciting has great rewards. There are no preconceived misconceptions about the church of Christ. Non-essential cultural baggage is more easily stripped away as the Bible is studied and applied afresh. Fundamentals are not taken for granted. Ethnic integration, a real family atmosphere among brethren, and even the inevitable problems are all reminiscent of the early days of Christianity.
     Although “sacrifice” is viewed by many as a dirty word and as something to be avoided if at all possible, it tends to be blown way out of proportion. We live in a society that stresses comfort, security, convenience, luxury, and the accumulation of material things. People want to be happy and feel good, but they don’t want to give, to be inconvenienced, or to make sacrifices. That’s why so many end up miserable and discontent. Yet sacrifice is an integral part of being a Christian (Romans 12:1), and this is not because the Lord wants us to lose out on anything advantageous – to the contrary!
     Those who tend to emphasize the sacrificial aspect of missionary work are usually the ones who have never done it. But often what may initially look like a sacrifice or a hardship turns out to be a doorway into a life of tremendous blessings (cf. Mark 10:30; Luke 9:24). While God is not primarily interested in our comfort and convenience, he is interested in blessing people through us, and consequently blessing us in the process. As a missionary I in no way feel slighted or deprived. I actually feel bad for those who have not had the same opportunities and experiences that I have been privileged to have. Any so-called sacrifices fade into insignificance when compared to things like close friendships around the world, souls won to Christ and headed for heaven, established and growing churches, new cultures, exotic foods, breath-taking scenery, and a multitude of priceless memories. To experience the Lord working in your life and in the lives of those around you puts the concept of “sacrifice” into a whole new perspective. You never have to be afraid of God or of what he will do if you unreservedly put your life into his hands.
     To be a missionary or not to be a missionary, that is the question. There is a price to be paid either way. Wanting to make a difference in this world is a noble pursuit, but how much greater is the aim of making a difference in eternity. With the Lord’s help, the potential impact you can make, along with all others who are willing to take up the challenge, is unfathomable. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
--Kevin L. Moore

*Adapted from my book, The Single Missionary [2002] 77-85.

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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Counting the Cost of Being a Missionary (Part 1 of 2)

      Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple one must first “count the cost,” and if the potential disciple is not willing to make a full commitment to the end, he shouldn’t even start (Luke 14:26-35 NKJV). I believe the same principle also applies to prospective missionaries. If you venture into the mission field unprepared and unaware of what you’re getting into (i.e. not having counted the cost), you’re in for quite a shock. And if you do not possess the necessary determination, adaptability, and fortitude to stick it out and persevere, you will have wasted a lot of time, money, self-esteem, peace of mind, and dignity. Better to not even go at all than to unnecessarily renege on a solemn commitment.
     It is very important to have realistic expectations. Be sensibly aware that the missionary life is not always exciting, adventurous, satisfying, or even visibly productive. It seems glamorous to just about everybody except those on the mission field. It involves a lot of hard work, apprehension, frustration, and disappointment. Some will put the missionary up on a pedestal and laud his feeble efforts, making him feel uncomfortable and unworthy. Others, unaware of what it’s really like, will question his use of time and money and criticize his lack of results. Some will view him with disdain because he has forsaken loved ones to preach to foreigners when there are needs at home to be met. Certain ones will act uneasy around him because, in their view, he is not a “regular Christian” but a hard-to-relate-to peculiarity, and conversations will tend to be awkward and one-sided. Once you step into those missionary shoes, your life will never be the same.
     For those who are accustomed to having a parent, teacher, or boss setting their schedule and standing over them with a list of chores, assignments or duties which are expected to be completed by a predetermined deadline, a rude awakening awaits on the mission field. The missionary is responsible for organizing and implementing his own schedule. If he is not a self-starter and a self-motivator, he runs the risk of becoming lazy, disorganized, and ineffective. But if he is being supported to do the Lord’s work, he has a solemn obligation, both to God and to his supporters, to exercise good stewardship of his time and resources (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). Most conscientious missionaries tend to go to the opposite (workaholic) extreme, but if you feel that inefficiency may be a problem for you, start working to overcome it right now!
     While it is possible to be content in any situation in life (Philippians 4:11), this is not to say that a missionary will ever be fully satisfied. As long as he is on the mission field, there will be degrees of longing for family, friends, brethren, places, foods, events, and the cultural norms of home. And once he has adapted to his new environment and established new relationships, if he returns to his former homeland he will experience the same feelings in reverse. It is almost like a permanent state of homesickness, and few missionaries are ever completely satisfied on this side of eternity (cf. Philippians 1:8; 2:26; 2 Corinthians 11:28).
--Kevin L. Moore

*Adapted from my book, The Single Missionary [2002] 77-85.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

Are You Sure the Thief on the Cross Wasn’t Baptized?

     The two criminals who were crucified on either side of Jesus initially participated in reviling him (Matthew 27:44). In the course of time, however, one of them had a change of heart. He believed in and reverenced God and recognized that he and his corrupt associate deserved punishment and that Jesus was entirely innocent (Luke 23:40-41). According to the majority of manuscripts the contrite felon addressed Jesus as “Lord” (v. 42a), although due to textual variation a number of English versions have omitted the expression (ASV, ESV, etc.). Nevertheless, simply calling Jesus Lord, of itself, is insufficient (Matthew 7:21).
     The request the man goes on to make is intriguing: “remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42b).1 How did he know about the Lord’s kingdom? Of all the words spoken by Jesus from the cross, there is no record of the kingdom having been mentioned. So when and by whom had the offender learned about it, and what prompted Christ to confirm his place in Paradise (v. 43)? By investigating the biblical record more thoroughly (particularly the third chapters of Matthew, Mark, and John), the groundwork is laid for unraveling this apparent mystery.
     “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’2 …. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-2, 5-6). Extremely large numbers were baptized as a result of John’s preaching, and certain religious leaders are the only known exceptions (v. 7; 21:25; Luke 7:30).
     Then we read in Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” While Jesus taught the same message, the impact was even greater and more far-reaching. “And Jesus went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom …. Then His fame went throughout all Syria …. Great multitudes followed Him–from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan [viz. Perea]” (vv. 23-25). And there’s more.
     “But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon [viz. the region of Phoenicia in southern Syria], a great multitude …” (Mark 3:7-8). The doctrine of the Lord’s kingdom had spread as far north as Syria, as far east as Decapolis and Perea, as far south as Idumea, and all the territories in between – an area of approximately 18,000 square miles (29,000+ sq. km). And there’s more.
     In John 3 we read of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Like many of the Lord’s early disciples, Nicodemus was blinded to heavenly truths because of his earthly focus. He was confusing spiritual birth with physical birth, so Jesus explains: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). God has always expected both internal and external responses from those who seek his favor, involving (a) submissive hearts, and (b) obedience to the divine will.3 If to be born of the spirit is the internal aspect of conversion,4 what does it mean to be born of water? Let’s keep reading.
     While Jesus goes on to emphasize both inward and outward expressions of faith (vv. 16, 21),5 consider what happens next. “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized” (v. 22). Why did Jesus baptize? Because unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salem, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized…. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified–behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (vv. 23-26).
     Moving on to John chapter 4, we read the following: “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples) …” (vv. 1-2). When the masses responded to Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom, his disciples did the baptizing. Further, the Lord sent out the twelve and later at least seventy more of his loyal followers to disseminate the same message (Matthew 9:35–10:7; Luke 10:1-11). John the Baptist had taught about the kingdom and baptized multitudes in Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan. Jesus and his followers baptized even more throughout a much greater geographical area (see above).
     Now back to the dying convict who requested of Jesus, “remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). It is no mystery that he knew about the Lord’s kingdom. How could he have not known?! The question is, had he or had he not been baptized in conjunction with this knowledge? Although absolute proof is beyond our grasp, which scenario is more likely?
     Many, who have bought into the abridged doctrine of salvation by faith alone (apart from obedience), often appeal to the example of “the thief on the cross” in an attempt to refute the necessity of baptism. But is it legitimate to assume and then boldly assert that this malefactor was never baptized, and somehow this sets a precedent for modern-day conversions?
     Here is what we know from the scriptures. The man had knowledge of the Lord’s kingdom. This is not surprising, seeing that for more than three years the message of the kingdom had saturated the entire region. And this message included instruction about repentance and baptism. Myriads had been baptized by John, while Jesus and his disciples baptized even more. It is neither impossible nor improbable that the man whom the Lord welcomed into Paradise had in fact been baptized. But don't miss this next point.
     Jesus affirmed that there is no access to God’s kingdom without being born of water and the spirit (John 3:5), and he subsequently enjoined repentance and baptism on all who received his teaching (John 3:22–4:2). He then granted entrance into this kingdom to a man who had apparently received that message (Luke 23:42-43). Either Jesus made an exception, or this man had met the necessary conditions. Could this be an example of restoration rather than conversion? (compare Acts 8:9-24)
     Admittedly there is no explicit reference to this criminal having been baptized. Still, he was living under the old covenant of the Jews, and Jesus had the power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Christ’s new covenant was not inaugurated before he died (Hebrews 9:15). Then following the events at Golgotha, baptism is likened to the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-6; 1 Peter 3:21). Under the new covenant of Christ, baptism is the defining point at which penitent believers become disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), have their sins forgiven (Acts 2:37-38), receive salvation (Mark 16:16), and are granted entrance into God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14; 2:12; cf. John 3:5).
     No one on earth today is in the physical presence of Jesus, or is living under the old Jewish covenant, or is exempt from the requirements of Christ’s new covenant. Therefore, appealing to the example of “the thief on the cross” in an effort to dismiss the requisite of baptism is presumptuous and reckless, and it demonstrates an ignorance of (or disregard for?) the overall context of scripture.
     “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20).
--Kevin L. Moore      
     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the NKJV, with added emphasis in bold type and added words in [square brackets].
     2 Note that “the kingdom of heaven” is the same as “the kingdom of God” (cf. Matthew 19:23-24). See The Kingdom of God Part 1.
     3 See Exodus 25:2; 35:5, 21, 29; Deuteronomy 4:29-30; 5:29; 6:4-9; 8:2; 10:2; 11:13; 26:16; 30:2, 10, 14; Joshua 22:5; 1 Samuel 12:20, 24; 1 Kings 2:4; 8:23, 61; 9:4; 14:8; 2 Kings 20:3; 23:3, 25; 2 Chronicles 29:31; 31:21; 34:31; Ezra 7:10; Psalm 34:15-18; 86:11, 12; 111:1; 119:2, 7, 10, 34, 69, 112; Isaiah 26:9; 38:3; 51:7; 66:2; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 8:15; John 4:23-24; Romans 1:9; 6:17; 7:6, 22; 12:11; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:21-24; 5:19; 6:6; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 1:22-23; cf. Psalm 78:8; Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9; Hebrews 3:7-19.
     4 The Greek word pneuma can have reference to either the human spirit or the Holy Spirit, and English translators have to make judgment calls as to whether the lower case “s” or the upper case “S” is used. See Soul and Spirit. There are other occurrences in John where pneuma clearly refers to man’s inner spirit (4:23-24; 11:33; 13:21). Compare also Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 3:20-21.
     5 See A Closer Look at John 3:16. 

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