Paul wrote in his epistle to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Men find many things about which to rejoice – some good, some not so good. For the Christian, however, our highest joy should always be in the Lord.
This joy begins at conversion. Remember the Ethiopian Eunuch. After his confession of faith and baptism – “He went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39) And then there was the Philippian Jailor. After his baptism – “He…rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” (Acts 16:34) Maybe you remember your own joy when you came up from the waters of baptism.
But this is only the beginning. The entire Christian life is meant to be one of joy. Not that we do not experience sorrow as do all men. But for the Christian there is always that underlying joy. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22)
So as Paul put it: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice.”
The apostle Paul near the close of his earthly life wrote these words to Timothy who had labored with him in the gospel for many years: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Note that in this exhortation there are four generations – first Paul who taught Timothy, second Timothy who in turn is to teach faithful men, third these faithful men will then teach others thus making the fourth. This is the program that keeps God’s truth alive in the world.
The North Main Street Church of Christ has tried to faithfully follow this program for the past sixty years. Young people have grown up here having the gospel message instilled in their hearts. Older folks have benefited by having the truth reinforced in their lives by faithful teachers. There is really no way to estimate the number of lives that have been touched for good over the past sixty year period.
Now as we look to the future we must keep the same commitment to faithfully proclaim the truth from God’s word. In this way the church will continue to be “the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
God through the prophet Amos reminded Israel of the great privilege they enjoyed as God’s chosen people. He said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) It all started with their forefather Abraham and was later confirmed at Mount Sinai when God said to them, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.” (Exodus 19:5) What a privilege to be God’s special people.
But with privilege goes responsibility. It was expected of Israel that they obey the voice of God and keep his covenant. But they did not. And so the rest of the statement from Amos was a pronouncement of punishment: “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2).
Today we Christians are God’s special people. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.” (1 Peter 2:9) But let’s not forget that with privilege goes responsibility – responsibility to love and obey God.
In Earl Crow’s comments on the Old Testament account of the sun standing still for almost a day (“Should the Bible be taken literally?” Winston-Salem Journal December 17, 2016) we have an example of how many of our religious leaders, in an effort to adapt the Bible to modern culture, totally misread a passage.
First, the Old Testament statement that the sun stood still is no different than our saying we saw the sunrise. Both are statements of observed phenomena of the sun in relationship to the earth as it appears to man as he looks into the sky. Nothing is said in either case of how it happened.
Second, Crow’s saying that “a passage must be understood in the light of the cosmology of the day” seems to suggest that the Old Testament writer did not know that such a thing as the sun standing still was outside the realm of the laws of nature. But the text says clearly: “And there was no day like that before it or after it.” (Joshua 10:14)
The Old Testament writer knew as well as we that the sun standing still is against the laws of nature. That’s the very definition of a miracle – it’s supernatural. One either believes that God did it or not.
The Psalmist wrote of a time when he almost lost his faith: “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:2-3)
It can happen mighty easily. For example, a teenager in one of our inner-city ghettos sees the flashy clothes and fast cars of drug dealers and is thereby seduced into a life of crime. Or a young man or woman entering the business world observes some who moves ahead by unethical practices and is led to go in the same direction. It’s an old problem as can be seen by this Psalm written centuries before Christ.
What saved the Psalmist? Well, he tells us: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou cast them down into destruction.” (Psalm 73:16-18) We might say, “He went to church and learned that while the life of sin may look good now, ultimately these sinners will be destroyed.”
The New Year is a time for resolutions. Let’s resolve to make 2017 The Year of the Bible Reader for the North Main Street Church of Christ. Consider this message from Psalm 1.
- “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” (Psalm 1:1) There is certainly plenty of ungodly counsel around to lead us wrong. And there are also more than enough sinners who would like to serve as role models. Also there are many scornful skeptics who mock God. So what’s the antidote?
- “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) Being in the word is the Christian’s shield against all the counsel of the wicked one.
- Furthermore, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3)
Let’s all make 2017 our year for Bible reading.
On one occasion Jesus made this statement: “Ye have the poor with you always.” (Mark 14:7) It is so obviously true. Even in a land as prosperous ours. Even with our fifty some years of war on poverty, still it has not been completely eradicated from our own land. But not only is there the ever-present poor in the world – we have an ever-present responsibility to help.
A while back as I stopped by a drug story to pick up some medicine, a young lady asked me for help. Usually in Winston-Salem those who stand at traffic lights to ask for help, have a badge indicating that the person has been cleared by the authorities to ask for alms. This lady, however, had no badge. So before helping her I ask the druggist if he knew her. He did not but he made a statement which has stuck with me. He said, “If that’s her way of making a living, it would be okay to give her a couple of dollars.” I know one or two of those who stand on the corners with a sign asking for help. And I know personally that some of them at least work when they can get work. And when there is no work, asking alms is their only means of livelihood.
How should we view the poor? Some of them at least are doing the best that they can. We should see them as a real opportunity to practice true religion. Remember the Proverb: “He that hath pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will be paid him again.” (Proverb 19:17)
The Prophet Malachi wrote, “If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 1:8)
God deserves and expects our best. This is Malachi’s point. God would not accept as sacrifice the blind, lame or sick from the flock. He demanded the best. The same is true for us. We must do as one of our songs suggest: “Give of your best to the master.”
Again Malachi drove this point home in these words: “Ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this at your hand? saith the Lord.” (Malachi 1:13) And again, “Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrifices unto the Lord a corrupt thing.” (Malachi 1:14)
What are we offering to the Lord? Are we giving Him the best that we have?
When the devil tempted Jesus saying, “If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread,” Jesus answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:3-4) Jesus’ answer was taken from Deuteronomy 8:3.
We recognize the necessity of bread, that is, food to sustain physical life. But real life is more than that – there is a moral and spiritual side to human life. And for this we most certainly need the guidance of God’s word.
We live in an age in which there is too great an emphasis on the material and temporal. Our national concerns are over national security and economic conditions. These things are important. But knowing God’s word and living by that word is much more important.
The apostle Peter wrote: “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25).