As a part of the work of the Council of Elders, the Doctrine Committee deals with questions that are passed on to us by pastors who in turn received them from members of their congregation. The questions usually are technical in nature and often reflect a departure from the core message of the Bible.
I submit that when we read the Bible in the interest of getting it technically correct, we tend to miss the message. If we miss the message, we are really missing the point God is making.
I advise all speakers in my area that the Bible makes its own point. Once you understand this, sermonettes and sermons become easier to prepare and give. I further advise that the greatest need for the speaker and for the non-speaker alike is Bible knowledge. What does the Bible say? What is the message from God to His people at any given time? Indeed, what is the message in the Bible for man?
Have we ever gotten off-message in our discussions or messages? Sometimes. That is how questions are generated, about words as Paul mentioned to Timothy.
Do we have an example that illustrates this?
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This scripture is used many times to define God. There was the attempt from the distant past to teach the Trinity concept out of this statement. The religious Jews to this day remain monotheistic, as they define it, believing that there is only one deity. Rejection of Jesus Christ as God in Judaism is normal and sometimes an emotional issue.
What is the issue here? There are no other gods. The nations around them believed in many gods (plural), and horrible practices went with this belief. Moses continues, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5—the context explains why this statement is made!). In reference to the context, the Ten Commandments are restated in chapter 5, and the First Commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The Church of God has understood that God is one but also has gone on to understand how God is one. This is an essential part of the message. John declares Jesus to be God in John 1:1-2. The chapter also discusses the relationship within the Godhead of the Father and Jesus before He became flesh, when He was flesh, and after His resurrection from the dead.
John would quote Jesus as saying, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus explains, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus would also say: “He who sent me is with me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). One of the most profound statements that defines the relationship is, “I do nothing of myself, but as my Father has taught me” (John 8:28). And later, as John has recorded in His prayer in John 17, Jesus confirms the love the Father had for Him and says that the same love would be in His disciples. He also said that He Himself would be in His disciples.
I ask: What is the message when the relationship about God and Jesus Christ is described? It is a vital message for us.
A Second Example Is the Gospel Message
This message has been so distorted in the Christian world that it is hardly accepted that a literal kingdom will be instituted on this earth at Christ’s return complete with His saints who will “possess the kingdom.” One of the interpretations of late-first and second century theologian Origen is that the Kingdom represents the hearts and minds of the faithful captured by the love of God and pursuit of Christian teachings. Eusebius, influenced by Origen, later represents the Kingdom as the Christian Church composed of the faithful.
Paul says, on the contrary, and means it literally, that flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom of God, but that we will be changed from corruption to incorruption, from mortal to immortality. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but He who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus never got off-message, insisting that the Kingdom of God, which is the way his message was characterized by His disciples, was yet ahead of them and that entrance into it was through their resurrection from the dead. His message was continually, what one must do and believe to enter the Kingdom of God.
The apostle Peter, acknowledging the centrality of Christ’s role in the Kingdom, refers to it as “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master now, and He will reign supreme in the coming Kingdom (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). As Savior of mankind, He is “the door” and “the way” by which we have access to God the Father and salvation in God’s Kingdom (John 10:9; John 14:6).
Luke records the account of all that Jesus “began to both do and teach, until the day He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom he presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3, emphasis added). He never got off-message.
His Church was established and is being built by Him for the one purpose of calling people to achieve entrance into the Kingdom of God when Jesus will bring His rule to earth. The calling, of course, is unique, and His Church will have this foremost as its message—the great purpose of God and entrance into the Kingdom of God upon Christ’s return. Everything we teach has to do with that one purpose and must be related to that one purpose. “All things work together for good [even in tribulation!] to those who love God and called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When God calls us, it is for one purpose. When He allows trials, it is for one purpose. God never gets off-message. When preaching the gospel to the world or to the Church, the message is the same. Everything God says relates directly to this one idea—eternal life as one of His children in the Kingdom of God.
Personally, it is this one truth that sustains me. The suffering of Jesus Christ tells us what He was prepared to go through so that we may have the same weight of importance in our lives. He wants us to stay on-message. There is a reason it is called the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A Third Example: Various Calculations of the Hebrew Calendar
A lot of people want try to formulate a calendar that they claim to be revealed in the Bible. This is a prime example of some of the technical questions that we receive. “These are the Feasts of the Lord, holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their appointed times,” Moses instructed the priests (Leviticus 23:4). It is not my purpose to explain the Hebrew calendar to you. I can and will explain the Holy Days and Feasts in relation to what God is doing. God’s Feasts were given according to preset seasons alluded to in Genesis 1:14. I am glad I don’t have to formulate a calendar. The Holy Days were given according to a calendar, and that calendar has an origin long before the Church of God was established by Christ.
The message embedded in the Feasts and Holy Days is our responsibility to teach as we search out God’s great plan of salvation. God had this purpose from the beginning, and we have been the blessed beneficiaries of such knowledge. Our job is to stay with this message. Those who have devised a different calendar have to continually justify their position. How easy it is to lose the message!
Some 30 years ago, a minister friend of mine who had a rabbinic background gave a sermon titled “Keeping Time Together.” This is God’s intent, for the Body of His Son, who purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), to work together in harmony and observe God’s Feasts and Holy Days in their appointed times. We don’t shirk our duty to proclaim the Feasts of the Lord, nor will we miss the message contained therein.
Paul tells Timothy, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Here the context begins in 6:1 and involves servants and believing masters and teaching otherwise.
The message from God doesn’t turn on a word. The understanding is in the context of the whole Bible. Every biblical writer knew what others who preceded them wrote and built on what they wrote as the work of God unfolded in their time. Every part of the Bible has to do with every other part. God has always had a message for man. It all contains the same purpose and God is clear in his message to us. Let us not miss the message.