In common with the early disciples, we come together on the first day of each week to break bread and to remind ourselves of our relationship to God through His Son. With laser-like skill, the apostle Paul focuses on the depth of that relationship in his letter to the Ephesians.
Using a before-and-after scenario, he shows what we were like prior to baptism and then contrasts our relationship to God after immersion into Christ:
“You who were dead in trespasses and sins…walked according to the course of this world…aliens from the commonwealth of Israel…strangers from the covenants of promise…having no hope…without God in the world” are now “His workmanship…have access to the Father…are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God…we are a building fitly framed together…a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2).
Truly, we are most privileged and it behooves us to look for ways to keep our position clear and untarnished by the ways of sin, the sins which come from within ourselves and which dominate the world around us. That is why we are here to follow our Master’s wishes and to gain strength and courage from being together.
The attitude of the world
It is now recognized in the business world that for an organisation to be successful it must first identify and then adhere to an accepted set of standards. The irony is that as regards moral standards, the world has none! There is an increasing tolerance for everything. We live in a society that accepts immoral behavior, illegal protest, diminished respect for the law, addictive behavior, a gay lifestyle, obscene language — all of which are abhorrent to our Heavenly Father. We see political figures, sports heroes, pop singers and entertainment personalities who commit serious moral offences revered and forgiven by their audiences. The concept of universal tolerance is applied to many situations as the behavior of blatantly wicked people is overlooked and sometimes even extolled as a virtue.
Being part of the world, yet not of it, presents a huge challenge. We must try to maintain the ability and courage to apply God’s standards in this morass of ungodliness.
Denial of God
At one time, the fear of God regulated human behavior. We do not believe the doctrine of the fiery torment of sinners, but this heinous doctrine served as a deterrent to people. Today, there are few who fear God. In fact, the majority deny His very existence.
From the earliest chapters, the scriptures make it abundantly clear that there is a God in heaven, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth who must be feared and obeyed. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16,17).
The first human pair ignored the expectation of God and His ordinance with devastating consequences. The sad fact is that ever since the transgression of Adam and Eve in the garden, when mankind is confronted with a choice between obedience to God’s commandments and self-will, self-will usually prevails.
This tendency to rationalize and bend the Lord’s rules to suit our own desires is exemplified in Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground. No doubt it made sense from a human perspective to bring an offering grown and tended by his own hands: after all, Cain was a farmer. But there was a right offering and a wrong offering determined by God, and He would tolerate no deviation.
The rejection of God’s standards
By the time of the flood, the antediluvians had a total disregard of any criteria but their own. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Gen. 6:5,6).
Noah was unique for this time period in that he was a righteous man. It is said of him, “Thus did Noah according to all that God commanded him so did he” (Gen. 6:22). Noah accepted the arrangements for the building of the ark.
The choice of animals to be saved was not a matter of negotiation between Noah and God. Noah did not reason no snakes or alligators because they are too dangerous; no elephants because they eat too much; no monkeys because they could be disruptive or no lions because they could hurt other animals. These matters were not up for discussion. God had determined and Noah obeyed.
The rejection of God’s standards and the subsequent consequences are clearly seen in what came within a few generations after the flood. The building of the tower of Babel was an episode characterized by human pride and human achievement and resulted in the confusion of tongues which plagues us to this day. God’s standards became buried under layers of human lust as exemplified by Sodom and Gomorrah and their destruction remains an example of the eternal judgments of God.
The epitome of self will
Self will is epitomized in the reaction of Pharaoh to the command, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go…And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:1,2). In the face of tremendous divine pressure, made known through the plagues, the Egyptian monarch resisted. We can almost hear him reasoning; “If I release these Israelites, there goes my work force and the supporting structure of our society will be at risk. No it is impossible!”
God was not concerned with Pharaoh’s reasoning and so, in one stroke, by the death of the firstborn, He destroyed the whole cultural, socio-ecconomic base of Egypt and delivered His people. Pharaoh had to learn that no amount of self-interest and denial of God could impede the outworking of His purpose. God must be feared and obeyed.
The path of obedience
The divine retribution at the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts all illustrate intervention by God against the ungodly. Although He is slow to anger, the Lord does not allow the wicked to go unpunished. “The LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish… For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee” (Ps. 1:6, 5:4).
The same rule is found in the New Testament: “Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:10). The lesson is clear; there is a standard of right and wrong: it is God’s standard. Those who chose to ignore it and relish wrong, do so at their peril.
The Lord Jesus Christ chose the path of obedience and as the temptations in the wilderness demonstrate, was prepared and totally committed to the will of his Father. Even in his hour of extremity, he was resolute. “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
In the lovely section which has come to be known as the sermon on the mount, our Lord repeatedly used the phrase, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…” (Matt. 5). He then proceeded to amplify various commandments from the Law of Moses. The “one greater than Moses” was revealing new depths of understanding. Murder and adultery begin in the heart; marriage is to be treated as sacred; oaths are forbidden; there is to be no retaliation; love must be shown to enemies. Here are six cardinal principles that are not negotiable. We must acknowledge them and do our utmost to behave accordingly.
We are here to seek God’s help, to ask His forgiveness and renew our faith. We must examine ourselves and correct misdirection of our efforts by comparing our ways to Jesus, who demonstrated the absolute standard of right and wrong. Forgiveness is offered to people who are genuine and sincere in trying to serve God, not to pseudo Christians, nor to hypocrites, nor to people who only want to serve God part time. The mercy of God endures forever, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever” (I Chron. 16:34). He is kind and loving to those who love Him but, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
Let us take the emblems with joy and thankfulness, keeping in mind the unalterable standards of God while acknowledging that God has not dealt with us according to our iniquities, but has removed them as far as the east is from the west.