WE LIVE IF YOU STAND FAST

“Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
I Thessalonians 3:7, 8

Earlier in this chapter, Paul spoke of sending Timothy to Thessalonica to find out about their spiritual progress and report back to Paul. Timothy returned with excellent news. The church in Thessalonica was strong, as was their love for Paul. It was about this encouraging report that the words of our text were directed. In a time of “affliction and distress” in Paul’s life, hearing of the spiritual growth of the believers in Thessalonica greatly strengthened the man of God. Paul said to the members of the church in Thessalonica, “we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith.” There was nothing that would more encourage the heart of the great missionary than hearing that the church at Thessalonica was standing strong in their love and faith.

His next phrase was, “For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” In other words, their steadfastness revived him, giving him comfort and strength. Every sincere Christian worker knows what Paul is writing about. Perhaps nothing can breathe new life into a discouraged servant of the Lord more than seeing spiritual growth and progress in those he works with. Their steadfastness comforts us when we are weary and strengthens us when we are weak. The consistency of God’s people reminds the laborer that our efforts are not in vain. Just seeing the people who are faithful to the house of God and to the work of the Lord is a source of inspiration to the heart of a shepherd or teacher. Trials are an inevitable part of this great work, but the reward of seeing fruit that remains keeps cheering our hearts.

It is highly probable that many Christians do not know what their steadfastness and faithfulness do for their preacher. The ministry is about people. Seeing the Lord work in the lives of people and seeing those people respond to the truth of God’s Word provide the motivation for the man of God to continue. The opposite, of course, is also true. The thing that drains the vitality out of the preacher or missionary more than anything else is seeing the sheep regressing spiritually. We all want to see people come to know the Lord and grow in His grace. You will greatly encourage others “if ye stand fast in the Lord.”

LIVING IN NOD

“And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”
Genesis 4:16

Tragedy came to the first family. Cain killed his brother, Abel. When God confronted Cain about his sin, he was not honest and repentant. As a result, God cursed Cain. Our Scripture records that “Cain went out from the presence of the LORD.” Of course, there is a sense in which we are always in God’s presence since He is everywhere at all times. But the phrase refers to leaving the place of God’s manifested presence and blessing.

What a sad commentary. Cain willingly walked away from God and from the faith of his family. The rebel dwelt in a place referred to as “the land of Nod.” The name “Nod” means, “wandering.” It is very similar to the word that is translated as vagabond in Genesis 4:14, when Cain said, “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth.” Cain was in exile, banished from the place of God’s blessing. His life was not a place of peace and rest. Wandering, restlessness, and uncertainty characterized his life.

Does this not illustrate for us the way of the transgressor? When a person leaves the will of God and walks away “from the presence of the LORD,” he should not expect a path of comfort and blessing. LIVING IN NOD, wandering here and there, living in a world of instability, describes the unhappy lives of many rebels.

We realize that all of us will sin against the Word of God and against the will of the Savior. But when we sin, the reasonable thing to do is to confess our sin and seek the forgiveness of God. When we have wronged another person, we should seek his forgiveness as well. But there is something in our prideful, human nature that resists honest confession and true repentance. Stubbornly, people will walk away “from the presence of the LORD” rather than get their hearts right.

When Jonah got his assignment to preach the Word of God to Nineveh, he also rebelled and fled “from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3). Jonah found out that leaving God’s will leads to a difficult place. Sometimes people talk about how hard it is in the will of God, and we know that there are times it is certainly difficult to follow the Lord. But the hardest life is not the life of service and obedience, it is the life of rebellion and stubbornness. Living in harmony with our Savior is always preferred to LIVING IN NOD.

IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME

“Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Matthew 15:7-9

What is it that makes worship true and meaningful, and acceptable to God? Is it when the worship makes us feel good? Is it when our worship appeals to the appetites of the unsaved or unspiritual? Is God obligated to accept any form of worship, simply because it is what we offer? These are questions that should be considered by Christians and church leaders in our self-pleasing society. These questions are also addressed in our text. Jesus rejected the worship of these religious leaders. Jesus said in quoting from Isaiah, “in vain they do worship me.” Their religious activity was vanity.

Could it be that there is much worship today that could be described similarly? Could it ever be that our worship would be categorized as vanity? The word “vain” means “to no purpose.” Their worship was meaningless; it was a waste. Obviously, they considered their worship to be of some purpose, but God did not accept it. He did not accept it because it was offered in hypocrisy. They were not sincere worshippers, but hypocritical worshippers. They were like actors, putting on a show. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” They were acting like they were something that they were not. Their words were declaring something that was not consistent with what was in their hearts.

A lack of sincerity and honesty makes our worship vain. If we would be honest, there are times that we can be just as guilty. If our hearts are not surrendered and we sing “I Surrender All,” that is called hypocrisy. When we sing “I Am Satisfied With Jesus” and we are resisting some area of His will, our worship is not sincere.

Secondly, their worship was in “vain” because they honored the traditions and commandments of men over the Word of God. “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Worship and service that is not based on or in agreement with His Word is not acceptable to God. Our worship should be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

“And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned. And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.”
Numbers 14:40-42

In Numbers 14, the Israelites chose to believe and act upon the evil report of the fearful spies and reject the report of faith given by Joshua and Caleb. As a result, the older generation would perish, wandering in the wilderness, never seeing the Promised Land. After Moses pronounced this judgment, our text tells us that the children of Israel attempted to go forward “early in the morning.” Now that they had rebelled and heard their sentence, they wanted to do God’s will. “Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.” Moses spoke to them directly. “Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the LORD is not among you.” They did not listen. They marched forward in their stubbornness and were defeated by the enemy.

On the surface, one might question why God would not bless their attempts to move into Canaan since they had confessed their sin and were now ready to obey. For one thing, they still had not learned their lesson. Initially, God would not let them go into the Promised Land because they would not do as He said and they insisted on their will. The next day, when they demonstrated an interest in going into Canaan, God gave them another command, “Go not up, for the LORD is not among you.” Had they really repented of their stubbornness, they would have obeyed Him. What did they do? They ignored God’s command and insisted on their will and were discomfited by the opposition.

Partial obedience should not be confused with true obedience. Genuine obedience means that we do what God wants, as He wants, and when He wants. We should not believe that we could postpone our obedience until it is convenient for us, and then assume that God will bless our actions. On the surface, this may appear to be obedience, but in reality, it is not.

WE ARE OF GOD

“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
I John 4:6

The apostle John speaks with great confidence when he says, “We are of God.” This statement was not made in an arrogant way, but as a statement of fact. He could say this from several positions he held. As a child of God, born of His Spirit, John knew that he was of God. As a preacher of the gospel, called and sent by the Lord Jesus Christ, he could say, “We are of God.” Likewise, as an apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he knew that he was “of God.” His message was not of this world. His words were not mere opinion.

It is with great assurance that we believe and cleave to the Word of God because we know it is not of human origin. It is with unwavering faith that we trust our eternal souls completely on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, because we know that He was not a mere mortal who was wrongly executed in the prime of His teaching career. He was God, who chose the path to Calvary as a loving and eternal sacrifice for our sins, and who was triumphantly raised from the dead on the third day.

There is a tremendous reaction and resistance in our world when a committed Christian claims that WE ARE OF GOD, and that our way is God’s way. We live in a very
pluralistic society that wants theological views and dogma to always be tolerant of diverse and false teaching. However, this cannot be reconciled with the absolute values and doctrines of the Bible. There are not many gods, many ways to Heaven, or many true religions. Our God is the true God, the God of the Bible, the God who created everything with His spoken word.

John said, “he that knoweth God heareth us.” He was not speaking of an intellectual knowledge of God, but a practical and experiential knowledge of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who know Him as Savior, in whom the Spirit of God dwells, “heareth us.” Born-again Christians acknowledge and discern that our doctrine is from God. One of the real evidences of conversion is the recognition of truth and a readiness to receive the Word of God as it is faithfully declared.

By contrast, “he that is not of God heareth not us.” Those who are not born of God cannot hear God’s truth in their hearts.

CONTENT, OUT OF GOD’S WILL?

“And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!”
Joshua 7:7

The Israelites were finally in the Promised Land. The first city they faced was Jericho, and God gave them a mighty victory. The next challenge was Ai, and there, because of Achan’s sin, God’s people were humiliated and defeated. As Joshua heard the devastating report concerning the trouble at Ai, he cried out to God in anguish. This was certainly not what Joshua expected to happen in Canaan. He was looking for God to defeat the Canaanites and give the people their inheritance.

Our text is a part of Joshua’s prayer. Not knowing that Achan’s covetousness and disobedience were to blame for their defeat, Joshua complained to God as to why He
allowed this event to take place. Why would God bring them into Canaan that they might be defeated? Notice the words of his grievance, “would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” It is as if Joshua, in his rashness, is saying that they would have been better off staying safely on the other side of Jordan. This may have seemed easier, but it would also have been out of God’s will.

What can we learn from this? There are two thoughts for us to consider in this event. First, we should think about how we ought to respond in times of defeat. This was a demoralizing loss for God’s people. We can be confident that when we find ourselves in spiritual defeat, the place to put blame is not on God. Rather than accusing God for allowing it to happen, it would be wiser for us to ask what we might have done to contribute to the overthrow. God directed Joshua to find out the sin that resulted in this catastrophe.

Then, we see how inappropriate it is to ponder the past life as though it might have been better to remain in the wilderness than to seek to conquer our Canaan. Joshua was wrong to consider that it might have been better to be “content…on the other side Jordan!” They spent forty years wandering in that wilderness because of their unbelief. To go back there would be a step in a very bad direction. It is never good to be content out of God’s will. It would be better to try and fail in God’s will, than to be content in a place God does not want us to be.

FROM VILLAIN TO HERO

“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”
Acts 28:3-6

Paul and those he traveled with, destined for Rome, were shipwrecked on the island of Melita. Luke records that Paul was gathering sticks for the fire when a viper bit him. “The barbarians” that witnessed it initially said, “No doubt this man is a murderer.” After further review, and realizing that Paul was not affected by the venomous snakebite, they “changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”

In a few moments time, their opinion of Paul greatly changed. They were actually wrong on both counts. First, they misjudged the man of God and thought he must be some evil person since the snake chose to bite him. Next, they wanted to deify him because he was not harmed by the bite. Both opinions were overreactions. Their behavior reminds us of how quickly the opinions of men, like the wind, can change directions.

We need to be careful not to judge people or situations too quickly. As with Paul, things are not always as they appear. Because someone is the subject of great affliction or persecution does not mean he is out of God’s will or living in sin. Some of our greatest examples of Christians were those who endured trials that were not caused by their disobedience, but rather, were caused by their commitment to obey God’s Word. Similarly, we should not elevate those we respect or admire to a higher place than what God gives them in His Word.

I am thankful for the way the Lord has used men and women to help me in my spiritual journey. I have admired the resiliency and faithfulness of God’s saints when attacked and ridiculed, but they are not gods. All of us are imperfect creatures; we all make mistakes. Let’s be careful not to get out of balance in either direction when it comes to our estimation of others.

NEGLECTING GOD’S HOUSE

“Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.”
Haggai 1:9

After God’s people returned from their captivity in Babylon, Haggai greatly influenced the progress of rebuilding the temple. The book of Haggai records some of Haggai’s message to the people. In our text, God is using this inspired prophet to point out the fact of and the consequences for their wrong priorities. Their sin was NEGLECTING GOD’S HOUSE. The words were direct, “Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” The people were content to attend to their private homes and responsibilities while leaving God’s house unattended. Secondly, they were suffering God’s chastisement because of it. “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” God was not blessing their personal lives or their work because they were NEGLECTING GOD’S HOUSE.

We could name more than a few ancient landmarks that have been moved in recent generations. One of those is the importance of God’s house, the local church. NEGLECTING GOD’S HOUSE is as common in our day as it was in the days of Haggai. This neglect can be found in numerous forms. Some neglect the doctrinal significance of the local New Testament church. Confused by false teaching and tradition, they do not embrace the New Testament ekklesia, the assembly of a called out membership, which the Bible calls, “the house of God” (I Timothy 3:15). Others neglect the practical importance of God’s house by attendance that is inconsistent. When social,
vocational, and family functions take priority over God’s assembly, there is NEGLECTING of GOD’S HOUSE.

In Haggai’s day, God wanted His house to be a priority. Nothing is said in Haggai’s message to indicate that God wanted the people to neglect their family duties or their community obligations. These things are important, but not to the neglect of God’s business. Many are NEGLECTING GOD’S HOUSE by their lack of financial support
or their failure to contribute brotherly love and service to the Lord’s house and work. Haggai’s message is still needed today.

TALEBEARING

“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”
Proverbs 11:13

There is much said in the Bible about the sinfulness of tale bearing. God uses different words in describing the tendency to bring harm to others with our words. The word “talebearer” is used only six times in the Scripture. But then, we also find the use of words such as slander, whisperer, tattlers, backbiter, evil speaking, etc. All of these terms are used in reference to sinning with our lips and using words as damaging weapons toward others.

In considering this form of wickedness, we should ask ourselves what harm words can cause. The answer is obvious. A great deal of damage can be inflicted because of evil conversations. It hurts the one who is talked about, the one who is doing the talking, and all who hear. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” They hurt, they wound, and they cause severe damage. Words that are spoken against us or against others may remain in our memory for a lifetime. They hurt emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Reputations sometimes suffer irreparable damage by critical words.

Perhaps the most destructive force in the Lord’s churches is the power of negative or malicious words. This should not be so. Imagine how much stronger our churches would be if words were used to build up rather than to tear down. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” God wants our words to be healing, not hurtful.

Why are the words of professing Christians sometimes so unkind or vengeful? It must be because of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and hatred that are allowed to remain in the heart. Our words reveal in many ways what is in our hearts. When we love someone and want his life to be blessed, our words will not be evil toward him. If we have forgiven others as we have been forgiven, we will not curse them with our lips. One reason for tale bearing is because we want to see people hurt.

As Christians, we are to love others the way Christ loves us, and we are to forgive them as we have been forgiven. When our hearts are right with God and others, our words will not be full of bitterness and wrath.

WHAT IS A FUNDAMENTALIST?

“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Matthew 4:4

The word fundamentalist is used in a variety of ways today. A modern dictionary defines fundamentalism as “emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching,” or “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.” Generally speaking, a fundamentalist Christian seeks to live by the precepts and principles of the Word of God. This is what God wants. He wants us to live by the commands and promises of Scripture. In this Scripture, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

We are to live by the Bible. We are to make decisions based on the teachings of the Lord of God. We are to guide our homes according to the Word of God. We are to govern our finances according to the teachings of the Bible. We are to maintain priorities that reflect the wisdom found in the Scriptures. Our relationships, hobbies, and values should be influenced by the words of Scripture. A fundamentalist Christian is a Bible Christian.

In our text, Jesus was being tempted of the devil to turn rocks into bread. Satan will always be tempting us to act in ways that are contrary to the Word of God. False and compromising religions have been deceived in this temptation. When doctrines and traditions are held that are not in agreement with the Word of God, this is not pleasing to the Lord. We often hear of churches redesigning their ministries to be more acceptable in our culture, when in fact, some of the changes are clearly forbidden in the Bible. When methods and programs are introduced that conflict with the teaching of the Bible, churches are getting away from the biblical model. Being innovative and progressive may not necessarily be wrong, as long as, these changes do not violate the plan that God has given us in His Word.

In our text, Jesus told the devil that God distinctly intended for us to be governed by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” We need to read and study the Bible, and be willing to accept the truth of Scripture as the final authority for our lives.