Sunday, March 12, 2017

Matthew 6:6 - Did Jesus Forbid Group Prayer?

"When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most assuredly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. -- Matthew 6:5,6 -- World English.
Some have claimed that Jesus' words as recorded above would condemn all prayer in public, including what some might call "group prayers," that is, prayers where one person leads a group in prayer, as is the custom in many Christian gatherings. In reality, Jesus was not discussing group prayers at all. The prayers he describes of the "hypocrites" was not a group prayer, but of one who solely prays in public in order to be seen and heard by men. He does not describe these prayers as one person leading a group in prayer, but of individuals who make a performance before men.

The scriptures do indicate that there were what could be called "group prayers" amongst the early Christians. "They prayed, and said..." (Acts 1:24) "They heard it, lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said..." "And when they prayed." (Acts 4:24,31) "When they had prayed..." (Acts 6:6) "When he had spoken these things, he kneeled down and prayed with them all." (Acts 20:36) "Kneeling down on the beach, we prayed." -- Acts 21:5.

That group prayers were the custom is also indicated in what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14 about such prayers. He speaks of one who speaks a language not understood by the congregation, using himself as an example, saying: "For if I pray in another language, my spirit [breath] prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." (1 Corinthians 14:14) In other words, if he came into a congregation and spoke a prayer in a language not understood by the congregation, it would not bear any fruit in the congregation. since the congregation would not understand what his breath was communicating. And he asks the question: "If you [speaking in a foreign language] bless with the spirit [breath], how will he who fills the place of the unlearned say the 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, seeing he doesn't know what you say? For you most assuredly give thanks well, but the other person is not built up [since the other person did not understand the language in which the prayer was spoken with the breath]?" (1 Corinthians 14:16,17) Thus he says: "I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in another language." (1 Corinthians 14:19) The fact that Paul speaks of saying "amen" to the prayer of another indicates that group prayers, led by one person in prayer, were indeed the custom in the early church gatherings.

However, the fact of saying "amen" to another's prayer also brings up another thought. It indicates that one's agreement with and participation in the thoughs presented in the prayer is shown by saying "amen" to the prayer. In some groups I have attended, the person who leads in prayer may sometimes say things to which I find that I cannot conscientiously say "amen" to, since, for instance, the words said may promote false doctrine and/or practices that may be idolatrous in nature, etc. In such cases, if possible, I may say my own prayer silently, or simply just refrain from saying "amen" to the prayer. I do believe that one can, at least before God, refrain from participating in a group prayer when his conscience cannot agree with what is being spoken, simply by not adding his "amen" to that prayer.

The one leading in prayer should indeed make sure that he is earnestly praying from the heart to God (James 5:16), and not just to be heard by man, and yet a "group prayer" should be a blessing, edification, to those who hear the prayer, a prayer that they could say 'amen' to. This is part of what Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 14. Many, however, do pretentiously lead "group prayers" that are very long and involved (Matthew 23:13; Mark 12:40; 20:47), often saying the same things over and over. (Matthew 6:7) Some turn a prayer into a long sermon, resulting in not actually praying to God at all but simply to heard by the audience listening. We cannot, as Jesus, judge the hearts of others, but we can, if we suspect a prayer not be in accord with God's will, refrain from giving our "amen" to that prayer.

Yet our prayer should also be: "Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 15:5,6.

Angels and Angel Worship

"Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship [obeisance, bowing down to] of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God." -- Colossians 2:18,19, New King James Version
Unless otherwise noted, scripture citations are from the World English Bible version. References and links to other works does not necessarily mean that we endorse all that other authors state, nor that these authors necessarily agree with our presentation.
Paul is talking about the high office that the church is striving for, to be joint-heirs with Christ. As such, along with Christ (Hebrews 1:6), the angels would bow down to those who attain this office. He tells the Christian not to let anyone disqualify you from this office by self-debasement, claiming that we should not seek such a high office so that the angels should bow down to us, but rather we should bow down to the angels, that is, seek to be subservient to the angels, not to be exalted above them.
Nevertheless, this scripture is often quoted in reference to the usage of angelic statues, ornaments, jewelry, etc., that has greatly increased in the last few decades. Regardless of the meaning of this scripture, we know from other scriptures that idolatry is wrong, so how should a consecrated Christian view the images of winged female and child angels?

Practically every which way we turn today, we are confronted with pictures, small and sometimes large statues of winged angels, female angels (often very sensually displayed), as well as winged child angels. These images of "angels" have been around for a long time, and many Christians purchase them and display them without knowledge of their true source or implications. We need to note that the scriptures no where speak of angels such as are being depicted, so we wonder where does all this fascination with such ornaments come from? Much of this evidently has more to do with the graven images of winged gods and goddesses of the heathen religions than the Bible. The exaltation of the supposed "innocence" of childhood is also a concept taken from heathen religions. The fallen human flesh often confuses adoration and worship of the creation with spirituality due to the emotionalism that is often attached with the carnal aspects of idolatry, which emotionalism is many times confused with "the spirit of God." Today "New Age" paganism appears to be behind this increase of idolatry in this connection, for many Christians have not studied the Bible well enough to realize that these "angelic" works of men's hands are actually idols. Pagans often use the Bible to their advantage, so as to promote their pagan philosophies and idolatries, and many professed Christians seem to fall for their deceptions very easily.


One Bible Student took note of this long ago. Here is a quote:
There is no arrangement in God's Plan to have any of those on the spirit plane male and female. According to the productions of Art, there are no male angels; but according to the Scriptures, there are no female angels. Possibly the reason why so many artists have supposed that angels are females is that there are more women in the Church than men. But the entire idea is erroneous; for angels are an entirely separate order of beings from mankind. Man never was an angel and never was intended to be an angel. Man is of the earth, earthy. He fell from the position of king of the earth and became a degraded being; and the Divine intention and promise is that when Messiah shall reign humanity shall be lifted up from sin and degradation and brought back to human perfection.--Acts 3:19-21. ---- ZWT, November 1, 1911, page 414, Reprints page 4914.
Some image examples of heathen winged goddesses online:


Angels, as such, are never depicted in the Bible as having wings. Some point to Zechariah 5:9 as an example of female winged angels. There we read: "Then lifted I up my eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were two women, and the wind was in their wings. Now they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah basket between earth and the sky." Actually, Zechariah was seeing a vision. (In the vision just before Zechariah had seen a "flying roll." (Zechariah 5:1) The women here are not described as angels. This whole vision is of wickedness. (Zechariah 5:8) Many Bible Students believe that these two women represent two demonic religious systems/covenants (compare Isaiah 56:10-12; Galatians 4:24), receiving power (ruahh, translated "wind" in the KJV) from the demons, the power of the air. -- Ephesians 2:2; 6:12.

There are winged creatures spoken of in the Bible called seraphs (Isaiah 6:2,6) and cherubs. These have been traditionally thought of as angels, although no scripture identifies these winged creatures as angels or even as spirit beings. Regarding cherubs (Cherubim, Hebrew), Easton's Dictionary states:
They are first mentioned in connection with the expulsion of our first parents from Eden (Genesis 3:24). There is no intimation given of their shape or form. They are next mentioned when Moses was commanded to provide furniture for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:17-20; 26:1,31). God promised to commune with Moses "from between the cherubim" (25:22). This expression was afterwards used to denote the Divine abode and presence (Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; Isaiah 37:16; Psalms 80:1; 99:1). In Ezekiel's vision (10:1-20) they appear as living creatures supporting the throne of God. From Ezekiel's description of them (1;10; 41:18,19), they appear to have been compound figures, unlike any real object in nature; artificial images possessing the features and properties of several animals. Two cherubim were placed on the mercy-seat of the ark; two of colossal size overshadowed it in Solomon's temple. (Ezekiel 1:4-14) speaks of four; and this number of "living creatures" is mentioned in Revelation 4:6. Those on the ark are called the "cherubim of glory" (Hebrews 9:5), i.e., of the Shechinah, or cloud of glory, for on them the visible glory of God rested. They were placed one at each end of the mercy-seat, with wings stretched upward, and their faces "toward each other and toward the mercy-seat." They were anointed with holy oil, like the ark itself and the other sacred furniture. Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Cherub". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". http://www.biblestudytools.net/Dictionaries/EastonBibleDictionary/ebd.cgi?number=T791.

A close examination all the scriptures in reference to cherubs will show that one cannot definitely determine what these creatures are, whether spirit beings or fleshly beings. There have been good arguments both ways. However, if we assume that they are spirit beings, we have nothing in the scriptures that would classify in the sense of "angels". The cherubs described on the ark of the covenant had wings. Thus we conclude that the cherubs were winged creatures, whatever shape or form they were. (Exodus 37:7-9; see also 1 Kings 6:27; 8:6 2 Chronicles 3:11,13; 5:7) However, angels in the Bible never appear with wings nor as females. It is possible that the cherubs of scripture were confused with the pagan gods and goddesses with wings and thus the images of these winged gods and goddesses came to be referred to angels. Many are familiar with the arguments that cherubs are angels. However, we suggest (we do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given): Cherubim Are Not Angels by Tony Warren

Seraphs (Seraphim, Hebrew) are only mentioned in Isaiah 6:2-7. This, of course, is a vision. Whether it is meant to say that in heaven there is a rank of spirit beings called "seraphs" cannot be determined from the scripture. Nor can we definitely determine from the scripture that these seraphs are considered "angels".

Consider Him that You Don't Grow Weary - Hebrews 12:3

The World English Bible translation is used throughout this study unless otherwise stated. God's Holy Name is shown as "Jehovah".

"For consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don't grow weary, fainting in your souls." -- Hebrews 12:3

(1) TO "CONSIDER HIM" seems to be to take note of, to have in mind, to reflect upon and not to easily forget how our Lord endured various trials and oppositions of sinners against himself. In our own experiences we have, as the Lord's followers, endured some opposition of sin and sinners against ourselves; but we have not yet resisted to blood. (Hebrews 12:4) We have not yet passed through the trying experiences through which he passed. When we remember that while we are poor, imperfect creatures like our neighbors, he was "holy, guiltless, undefiled," (Hebrews 7:26) then it is good to reflect that he endured patiently the opposition of sinners. When trying experiences came to him, he did not consider them as being merely from the individual with whom they originated, but as being, on the other hand, under the supervision of the Father. If, therefore, the Father permitted such experiences to come to him, he was bound to prove his loyalty by patient endurance. As he said, "The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" -- John 18:11

(2) So it is with us, Spiritual Israel, "Jehovah your God proves you." (Deuteronomy 13:3) In proportion as we are able to take our Lord's viewpoint in our experiences in life, we may be calm. If the Father permits trying experiences for our testing, or for the testing or proving of others, in ways we may not understand, it is for us to rejoice to have his will done. The poet has beautifully expressed this thought when he says: --
"My times are in Your hands, My God, I wish them there."
 
(3) If we faithfully endure to the end, the reward will be ours. If we prove our loyalty and keep our faith that God is supervising our affairs, and and that those who are walking uprightly will not be moved (Psalm 15), we shall some day hear his "Well done, good and faithful servant". -- Matthew 25:21.

(4) We know that our Lord endured physical opposition. But our English word "contradiction" properly translates the original, implying verbal contradiction of his words. As we consider our Lord's case, we see that the people opposed him, not physically, but in his words, his teachings. It was left for the high priest and Sanhedrin and soldiers to do him physical violence and put him to death; and he could have resisted them if he had so chosen.

"WHEN HE WAS REVILED, DIDN'T REVILE BACK"
 
(5) The Apostle, therefore, seems to refer to the contradiction of his words. This is implied by the apostle Peter, who says, "When he was reviled, he didn't revile back." (1 Peter 2:23) So when we consider the three and a half years of Christ's ministry, we find that his doctrines were disputed, and that he was slandered. The Jews said that he had a demon (John 10:20); that he performed his miracles by the Prince of demons (Matthew 12:47); that he was a blasphemer. (Matthew 26:25; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) These contradictions and oppositions on their part might have called out from him some very just, truthful statements, respecting them. He might have given them as good as he got, and better. He might have told them that the Devil was working with them, etc. His perfect power of language would have given him ability to more than cope with them. When they thought to entrap him in his words, he entrapped them in their words. But he did not revile. He did not render evil for evil, nor railing for railing. This, the Apostle shows, is the proper course.

(6) But in the daily affairs of life, when people say all manner of evil against us, when they revile us, it is natural to the fallen flesh to think of something evil to say in return. Thus these things become tests upon us. If we yield to such a spirit, we are following the course of the enemy and not that of the Lord.

(7) "Consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don't grow weary, fainting in your souls." when attacked by the Adversary -- whoever may be his agents and whatever may be their missiles. He cannot harm but will only increase our reputation in Jehovah's sight, if we endure faithfully; and he can do no outward harm that God cannot overrule for the good of his cause -- though that good may mean "siftings" of "chaff" and "tares" from the "wheat." -- Matthew 3:12

(8) Evil speaking, backbiting and slandering are strictly forbidden to God's people as wholly contrary to his spirit of love, even if the evil thing be true. (1 Peter 2:1; Ephesians 4:25,29,31) As a preventive of anything in the nature of slander, the Scriptures very carefully mark out only one way of redress of grievances. -- Matthew 18:15-17.

PROFESSED CHRISTIANS OFTEN WORST SCANDALMONGERS
 
(9) Many, even among advanced Christians, seem to be utterly in ignorance of this Divine ruling, and hence professed Christians are often the most pronounced scandalmongers. Yet this is one of the few special, specific commandments given by our Lord; and considered in connection with the statement, "You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you," the constant violation of this, our Lord's command, proves that many are not far advanced in friendship with Christ as his disciples.

(10) Let us look carefully at this rule, which if followed would prevent gossip, "evil speaking," "backbiting." See, as above cited, Matthew 18:15-17. Its first provision, for a conference between the principals alone, implies candor on the part of the accuser, who thinks that he has suffered. It also implies his thinking no evil of the accused. They meet as "brothers," each thinking his own course the right one, to discuss the matter; to see whether they can come to the same view. If they agree, all is well; the matter is settled; peace prevails; the threatened break has been averted, and no one is the wiser. In the great majority of cases, a frank, open discussion between the principals will bring about harmony. But both must be equally candid and governed by the Spirit of Jehovah.

(11) Thus did our Lord guard his true disciples from the insidious sin of slander, which leads onward to other and grosser works of the flesh and the Devil, and stops growth in the Truth and its spirit of love. Let us also note that those who hear slanders and thus encourage slanderers in their course of wrongdoing, are partakers of their evil deeds; guilty partners in the violation of the Master's commands. God's true people should refuse to listen to slanders and should point the offender to Jehovah's Word and the only method therein authorized. Are we wiser than God? Experience teaches that we cannot trust to our own judgments and are on safe ground only when following the voice of the Shepherd implicitly.

WE SHOULD REFUSE TO HEAR GOSSIP AND SLANDER
 
(12) If any Brother or Sister brings to you an evil report of others, stop him at once, kindly but firmly. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11) Refuse to have any share in this violation of the Master's commands, which does great mischief in the Church. If the Brother or Sister be only a "babe" in spiritual matters, call attention to the Lord's ruling on the subject. (Matthew 18:15; I Timothy 5:19) If the conversation is not addressed to you but merely in your hearing, promptly show your disapproval by withdrawing. If, after having had his attention called to the Lord's command on this subject, the slanderer still persists in "evil speaking," "backbiting" and telling you his "evil-surmisings," reprove him more sharply, saying as you go, "I cannot, must not, hear you; for if I did, I would be as criminal in the matter as you are, violating the Lord's command. And even if I were to hear your story I could not believe it; for the Christian who does not respect the Lord's Word and follow his Plan for the redress of grievances, shows so little of Jehovah's spirit that his word cannot be trusted. He who twists and dodges the Lord's words would not hesitate to twist and misrepresent the words and deeds of fellow-disciples." Then withdraw fellowship from such until his error has been confessed with promises of reform. If to any extent you listen to such conversation, or express "sympathy" with it or with the gossiper or slanderer, you are a partner in the sin and in all its consequences; and if a "root of bitterness" is thus developed, you are more than likely to be one of those "defiled" by it. -- Hebrews 12:15.

(13) Be pure: maintain a conscience void of offense toward God and men. Begin with the heart; harbor no thoughts that in any sense of the word would be evil, but good things. (Philippians 4:8) To make sure of this, have Christ Jesus as your pattern, well and much before your mind. (1 Timothy 1:16; Ephesians 4:23; 1 Peter 1:13) When evil is obtruded upon you, either from without or from within, lift up your heart in prayer to him for the grace promised in every time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) Keep constantly before you the prayer, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer." -- Psalm 19:14.

LET US CULTIVATE APPRECIATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF DIVINE LAW
 
(14) While seeking to follow the various specific commands of Scripture, let us seek more and more to understand and come in sympathy with the principles which underlie the Divine Law. These will enable us to judge of the right and the wrong of such of our words, thoughts and acts as may not be particularly specified in Jehovah's Word. Indeed, as we come to understand and sympathize with the principles of Divine Law, to that extent we are getting the spirit of the Divine Word. Note the testimony of the Psalmist on this point, "How love I your law! It is my meditation all day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For your commandments are always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have kept your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil way, That I might observe your word. I have not turned aside from your ordinances, For you have taught me. How sweet are your promises to my taste, More than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts, I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet, And a light for my path." -- Psalm 119:97-105.

(15) Shun a contentious and fault-finding disposition as contrary to the spirit, or disposition of Christ -- contrary to love. A certain amount of combative courage is demanded in overcoming the world, the flesh and the Devil and their various snares. This fighting disposition may become a valuable aid to ourselves and to the Master's cause if rightly and wisely directed against sin, first in ourselves and secondly in others; if used for Jehovah and his people and against Satan and all his powers of darkness and superstition. This, in the Scriptures, is called fighting the good fight, and we all should be gallant soldiers in this battle for Right and Truth, lovingly defending our Captain's honor and his people's liberties. -- 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7.

THE POWERS OF EVIL WOULD MAKE COMBATIVENESS A CHIEF VIRTUE
 
(16) But such a good use of combativeness is not pleasing to the Prince of this world, who will seek to pervert what he cannot directly use. Consequently, he attempts with some to make combativeness a chief virtue. He encourages them to fight everything and everybody; the brothers in Christ, more than the powers of darkness; nominal churchmen, more than the errors and ignorance which blind them and make them such. Indeed, his desire is to get us to 'fight against God.'

(17) Let us be on our guard on this point. Let us, first of all, judge ourselves, lest we cast a stumbling-block before others; let us fight down in our own hearts the wrong spirit which seeks to make mountains out of trifles and disposes us to be captious and contentious over non-essentials. Greater is "One who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city." (Proverbs 16:32) Let us guard ourselves that our defense of the Truth be, not from motives of self-glorification, but from love for the Truth, love for Jehovah, for his people, our brothers. If love is the impelling spirit, or motive, it will show itself accordingly in a loving, gentle, patient, humble course toward all the fellow-servants. Let us be "gentle towards all." (2 Timothy 2:24) Let "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," (Ephesians 6:17) and which is living and active, do all the cutting. -- Hebrews 4:12.

(18) Many of our Christian brothers and sisters like to use the internet to debate doctrinal points. If we do use the internet for such a purpose, we need to be very careful to follow our Lord's example, and not let our fleshly tendencies to return reviling when we are reviled. If we present truths in public or semipublic forums, we will receive opposition and contradiction from others who may use vile language in order to discredit you and/or the truths we present. If we are not on guard, Satan may utilize our fallen flesh to cause us to retaliate in like manner. To do so would certainly not be imitating the one who is our Master, our Leader.

(19) Beware of all thoughts, feelings and conditions of heart directly or remotely connected with malice, envy, hatred, strife. (Ephesians 4:31) Give these no place in your heart even for a moment; for they will surely do you great injury, aside from leading to the injury of others. Keep your heart, your will, your intentions and desires full of love toward God and all his creatures -- the most fervent toward God, and proportionately toward all who have his spirit and walk in the way of his direction.

DO NOT TRUST TO CONSCIENCE ALONE
 
(20) If conscience were a sufficient guide you would have no need of the Scriptures. The majority of people have as good as no conscience; for they are blind to the principles and laws of God given to guide conscience; and still worse off than these are those mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:2. Hence the imperative necessity for carefully heeding Jehovah's Word, and walking circumspectly according to its light.

(21) We are not to faint in our minds nor become discouraged, feeling that so much has been said against us that we must give up the race. On the contrary, we are to feel assured like our Lord, that nothing can befall us except with the knowledge of the Father, who is working all things for our good. It was thus our Lord was prepared for his exaltation. So we, if we are rightly exercised by our various experiences and follow as closely as possible the commands laid down for our guidance, will find that even revilings, slanders, oppositions to righteousness, will work out blessings for us, as they did for our Lord.

(22) But how many become weary and are in danger of losing the prize because they fail to consider what the Lord faithfully endured of opposition! If such would consider that the Lord, who was perfect, suffered in every sense unjustly for righteousness' sake, and that their own conduct is imperfect, they would not be weary in well doing, but would learn to fight and to 'endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ' (2 Timothy 2:3); they would continue to "fight the good fight of faith."
(23) "For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin." -- Hebrews 4:15.

(Based on article beginning on R4802 -- Zion's Watch Tower Reprints Page 480

The Present Advantages of Faith

"Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him."--Hebrews 11:6, World English Version
PAUL the Apostle is in this text laying down a general principle as to what is the Divine pleasure. God is not pleased to deal with humanity as with the brute beasts. (See Matthew 10:31; 12:12) He did not make man to live a mere animal existence, appreciating only the enjoyment of his physical senses. Man was made to glorify his Creator and to have a knowledge of Him, in order to obtain the fullest happiness and blessing from the enjoyment of his God-given faculties. -- Psalm 41:1,2; Proverbs 16:20; Isaiah 43:7.

(2) As man shall in due time come to see his Creator's glorious character and the object of his own existence, and as he grows in ability to appreciate these, he will be most highly blessed. (Proverbs 3:13,18; Psalm 94:12) The knowledge gained will bring full confidence in God to all who become upright in heart and who desire to conform themselves to the grand purpose of their Maker in creation. (Isaiah 25:9) Mankind are now bowed down with the weight of the sin and the accumulated infirmities of the ages, in bondage to Satan and his evil reign. (Romans 5:12; 8:20; 1 John 1:8-10) Man has been the spectacle of the Universe. He has been the source of astonishment and sorrow to all the holy beings in God's infinite domain. His experiences, his weaknesses, his degradation, his sufferings under sin, have through all the centuries been preaching most powerful sermons, and have been giving impressive object lessons as to the effects of disobedience to God.

(3) Throughout the Millennial Age, the great Jehovah will do a mighty work through the Messiah. The great deceiver of the present world, Satan the Devil, will be bound so that he will not be able to deceive. (Revelation 20:1-3) Then will be a work of opening all the eyes long blinded to the glorious light of the goodness of God. "The eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness." (Isaiah 29:18b) It will be a work of unstopping all the ears long deaf to the voice of Truth. "In that [millennial] day the deaf shall hear the words of the book." (Isaiah 29:18a) The sons of men shall be washed from their pollution (Isaiah 4:4); their wounds and putrefying sores shall be anointed, bound up and gradually healed by the Great Physician (Isaiah 53:5; Revelation 22:2); their tattered raiment shall be exchanged for the garments of righteousness. (Zechariah 3:4) By the close of the Golden Age (Revelation 4:4; 21:18; 21:21) of Blessing man shall stand forth clothed and by his right hand, a glorious image of his Creator in the flesh. -- Genesis 1:26; Psalm 98:1,2; Isaiah 25:6-8.

(4) When man shall have attained the full likeness of God, he will not need any special development of faith; for faith will be inherent in him. He will have communion with his Maker; he will once more be a son of God. (Romans 8:21) He will know his Creator as even Adam in his perfection did not know Him. (Jeremiah 31:34) He will have had such revelations of the terrible nature and results of sin, of the marvelous love of God in his deliverance from sin, that he will have an established character, fixed for righteousness, and a hatred of sin that will be an all-sufficient safeguard throughout eternity. (1 Corinthians 15:53) After all this manifestation of the contrast between righteousness and iniquity, between the glorious sunshine of God's love and the horrible darkness and gloom of the pit from which they were lifted, any who still love and prefer the bondage of corruption will be destroyed in the Second Death. -- Revelation 20:13-15; Psalm 37:9-11; Matthew 25:46.

(5) When man first fell from his perfect estate, and the penalty of death was pronounced, the conditions did not manifest Jehovah as a loving God; and man thought he would be happier in his alienation and sin if he did not know about God at all. (See Genesis 3; 6:5) God gave, indeed, a hint of a coming time of restoration, when the Seed of the woman should crush the serpent's head; but the statement was vague. (Genesis 3:15) So, with very few exceptions, men tried to forget God, to give Him no place in their thoughts or their affections. Gradually they drifted further and further away from Him.

"HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD!"

(6) The apostle Paul in commenting upon this fact, declares that God gave mankind over to a reprobate mind. (Romans 1:28) As they did not wish to retain Him in their knowledge, He left them to their evil course, to pursue the lusts of their depraved minds, and to learn by sad experience the bitter fruitage of sin, and the misery, vanity and woe which it brings. (Roman 8:22) Man's perverse heart must be broken, before he can be brought to a realization of his condition as declared by the Apostle in the words, "having no hope and without God in the world"! (Ephesians 2:12) Humanity has had bitter experiences, and has gone down from one depth of depravity to another, until now mankind have become so alienated from God by wicked works and self-will that many do not know that there is a God. (2 Timothy 3:13) Others conjure up in their minds a demon, whom they worship as God. So the poor world is today in a sadly confused, benighted condition. -- James 3:16; Revelation 12:9.

(7) Many believe that there is some law of Nature, some law of development and progression; and thus they speak of Nature as God--an impersonal god. They cannot worship such a god; for an impersonal god could not sympathize with them nor deliver them from their troubles. The Bible, however, presents a God of intelligence, a God of sympathy, a God who cares for His creatures and who has a marvelous Plan for their restoration to His own glorious likeness. How glad we are that we can know this loving, living God! How glad we are that He lets His people into the secrets of His counsels, that He has made known His wonderful Plan to his true worshippers in advance of the inauguration of the great work! How it rejoices the hearts of His people, to know not only of our their glorious share and place in this great Plan, but to know also of the blessings so soon to come to the poor groaning creation!

BLESSINGS PROPORTIONATE TO FAITH

(8) In proportion as the people of God come into close heart-fellowship with Him, in proportion as they hear His voice speaking to them through the Prophets of old, through Jesus and His Apostles, and through His daily providences, they hear a good Message, a glorious Message, one that assures them of His loving sympathy, of His great Power and of His purpose to exercise that Power for the deliverance and blessing of all the world. As the Scriptures themselves assure us, it is a Message of "great joy to all people." (Luke 2:10) Some can believe and receive this Message of good more readily than can others, and the more fully one receives it the more fully he will be blessed. Both knowledge and faith are necessary for that blessing. (2 Peter 1:5) Some do not now have the capacity for faith and some do not have the knowledge. (2 Timothy 3:2; Romans 1:28; 10:2; 1 Corinthians 1:21) Those who have no faith in this age will have to wait over for the next age.

(9) Some can look out into the realms of space and by modern appliances and mathematical calculations determine the distance to the sun, the center of our own solar system. With the aid of the modern scientific equipment they can sweep through the vast expanse of the universe and see something of its grandeur and its glory. They can study the movements of the planets in their various orbits, and forecast their future positions. They can ascertain also that there is a vast system of systems in the great material universe. Truly, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their [sound, footnote] has gone out through all the world." -- Psalm 19:1-4; New American Standard Version.

(10) But these wise men who study these wonderful works of the Almighty most often do not realize nor appreciate the love of God as manifested in His Son, our Redeemer. They have a certain knowledge of the Power of God, but very few of them appreciate His character. As the Apostle Paul has truly said: "In the Wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom knows not God." (1 Corinthians 1:21. R.V.) Jehovah does not purpose that any shall know Him save in His own appointed way. The wisdom of man cannot find Him out. -- 1 Corinthians 2:13,14.

(11) God is now seeking only those who have the true wisdom, in that they realize their own insufficiency, their need of instruction and guidance, and who can exercise the necessary faith when the Message of God is brought to them. (John 4:23; 1 Corinthians 2:7,13) All others will be able to appreciate the Message in the incoming Age of Blessing. (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:9; 26:9; John 12:47,48; Revelation 20:1-4,12,13) Those who are now too wise in their own conceits will be brought through humiliating experiences to a contrite and humble condition of mind. (Isaiah 2:11; 5:15,17; 10:33; 13:11; 24:1-6) The credulous will be given the true knowledge which will lead to a real faith. "In that [millennial] day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see." "And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction." -- Isaiah 29:18,24.

(12) Many noble minds are filled with the wisdom of this world. They think of the mighty Universe with its millions upon millions of systems of worlds rolling through infinite space. They look at the earth, and think of the comparatively insignificant size of the little planet on which we live. By the power of the microscope, they examine the wonderful construction of plant and flower. They scrutinize the marvels of the structure of molecules and atoms of matter, and of midgets, mites and microbes. Then they shake their heads and say: "The idea that a God of such infinite Power would concern Himself about humanity! He is far too busy to trouble Himself about us!" These must wait a further and more favorable time for their enlightenment. The Lord can deal as yet only with those who have naturally some faith and who have gained a sufficient knowledge of Himself and of His character to believe in His Love and to be desirous of coming into fellowship and communion with Him.

A SPECIAL CLASS NOW DEALT WITH

(13) The basis of the Apostle's argument in our text is that faith is the essential thing in coming to God. God will not receive any one who does not exercise faith. St. Paul recounts the faith of the worthies of old, who gained such victories through their faith, and who received the testimony that they pleased God. Then he declares that whoever would come to God now must believe. There are some who are drawn to Jehovah, who desire to come to Him. There are others who desire to get away from Him as far as possible and to keep away. These have no real knowledge of God, but are grossly blinded by "the god of this world." -- 2 Corinthians 4:3,4.

(14) The class referred to in our text as coming to God or as willing to come to Him, have a heart-hunger for their Creator -- a longing for Him that nothing else can satisfy. (Matthew 5:5) They say to themselves, "There is a God who made me. The more I learn respecting the vast Universe and of my own anatomy, the more I see the Wisdom and the Power of God, and the more I realize my own littleness and weakness and need. For this great God my soul is crying out, and I have been told that He has made a revelation of Himself, that to certain Prophets of old He revealed the fact that He takes an interest in His human creatures. I mean to study what He has declared through these His servants. I am also told that He has revealed Himself and His love further through Jesus Christ His Son; and that this Son of God came to earth and died for sinful man that he might live. If God has really given man His Message, I want that Message; I will draw near to this God, that I also may receive His blessing."

(15) Jehovah encourages all such through His Word. He says, 'Draw nigh to Me, and I will draw nigh to you.' (James 4:8) And as these come, seeking to know His will, He becomes the Rewarder of their faith. He points them to the one who is the Propitiation for the sins of all who come to Him. (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) He makes known to them that those who come to Him through His appointed Channel may have the Savior as their Advocate, upon the terms of faith and consecration to do his will. (1 John 2:1; Romans 12:2) Thus step by step they come into the fulness of salvation, and enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19) They are accepted in the Beloved Son of God.

CREDULITY NOT FAITH

(16) Many imagine that they have faith when in reality they have only credulity. Their so-called faith is not founded upon the Word of God and upon His promises. Such credulity will surely fail when the great testing time comes. Credulity is the acceptance of a thing without good reason, without sure evidence. Faith, on the contrary, is the acceptance of a thing because we have indisputable evidence of its reality, its truthfulness and its reliability. As we exercise faith in God, we come nearer and nearer to Him.

(17) "According to your faith be it unto you," are the Master's words. (Matthew 9:29) Every exercise of faith is based upon something real and tangible to faith. There is a mental tangibility for faith and also a physical, or outward, tangibility. True wisdom searches out the two grounds for faith. "The secret of Jehovah is with them that reverence Him; and He will show them His Covenant." -- Psalm 25:14.

(18) These increase in faith as they go on in the path of obedience. Faith and obedience are like our two feet. We put one forward, and then the other, and then the first one forward; and so we develop in faith by continuing in the spirit of obedience, following on wherever Jehovah points the way. "We walk by faith and not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7) But we have good, tangible evidences all along our spiritual journey. Outside of all other evidences, the true Christian has in his own personal experiences abundant proof of our Father's love and care. The Master said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall upon the ground without your Father....But ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29.) As he progresses in the narrow way the child of God comes to learn the fulness of meaning in these words of our Lord.

FAITH A REAL SUBSTANCE

(19) So the Christian who walks closely with the Master finds the truth of the Apostle's words that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [proof, conviction] of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1.) Faith is not only a groundwork, or basis, for our hopes (itself also having a groundwork in proven facts), but it is a real substance -- a mental substance, so to speak, which stimulates and clarifies the mind. Faith is not a substance that we can hold in our hand or walk on with our feet. But it becomes a strength to our minds as we progress in the knowledge of God and of the things which God has to give to those who love Him above all else and who seek to render Him loving, devoted service. Faith becomes as real and tangible to us as any material substance -- even more so; for the things upon which our faith lays hold are eternal.
------Based on article appearing in Reprints 5716. Slightly updated, November 10, 2009

Brotherly Love (Video)

My own observation: The Greek word often transliterated as "phileo" is most often spoken of as "brotherly love", but this can be misleading as it would imply that God is our brother, and that we are brothers to God. God, of course, is the source of all, and has no brother. It would be better thought of as "friendship" love. -- Ronald R. Day, Senior

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Homosexual Behavior, the Bible and Christian Meetings

 
Q. Should homosexuals be invited to and/or allowed to attend congregational meetings of God's people?

A. If we look into the Bible, we see that there is no direct answer to this question. We might ask a similar question, however, so that we might be able see the Biblical principles involved. For instance, should "liars" be invited to congregational meetings of God's people? Should "fornicators" be invited to such meetings? How about thieves, alcoholics, idolaters, or even murderers, all of whom are barred from inheriting the kingdom? -- Galatians 5:19-21.

The question of who should be permitted to come to our meetings cannot be answered either "yes" or "no", for much depends on the purpose for which such an invitation or attendance is made. It certainly wouldn't be proper to keep such persons in fellowship as brothers in Christ if they do not show any desire to turn away from such practices, whether it be lying, fornicating, drunkenness, homosexual behavior, or whatever. -- "But as it is, I wrote to you not to keep company, if any man who is named a brother is a sexual sinner [fornicator], or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don't even eat with such a person. For what have I to do with also judging those who are outside? Don't you judge those who are within? But those who are outside, God judges. 'Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.'" -- 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, World English Bible.

Thus we can see that if one who is called a "brother" continues in such a sin, we are not to have regular fellowship with such a person.

But what about people on the outside who are not considered consecrated to Jehovah; is it acceptable to have them in our fellowship even if they are practicing homosexual behavior? This would depend on whether the point is to gain a repentant brother or not. All of us come from many backgrounds, and were before our repentance practicing fornication, covetousness (greediness), lying, etc. In this regard a worldly person who is practicing homosexual behavior should be shown the same regard as any other sinner who might be seeking the truth of Christ. All of us who are admitted into the family of God have left off some sinful life which we had before. "Do not be led in the wrong way! Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who are soft [lacking in courage; Strong's #3120], nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor those who are greedy, nor drunkards, nor those who speak abusively, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God." (Italics ours -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, RL Revised Rendering) Those who submit to God's spirit will come to have such a desire to serve God that such ones will willingly turn away from such practices. "For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." -- Romans 8:13, World English Bible.
Therefore, if a person who is practicing homosexual behavior, lying, stealing, murder, or any other sin, wishes to associate with us for the purpose of learning the truth of Christ and obeying the Good News, we should not hinder such a person; however, if such a person desires to associate with us for the purpose of saying he can belong to Christ without repentance from such behaviors, it is our conclusion that such cannot be welcomed over any prolonged period of time.

Q. Aren't homosexuals born with the desire for this behavior, and therefore should it not viewed as natural?

A. The question is actually in two parts. We will first treat the part (Part A below) about being born with the desire for this behavior, then the part (Part B below) about treating this behavior as something natural.

Part A:

Please note that the Spirit of God does not necessarily take away desires to sin; it does give us courage and strength to turn away from our desire for sin. "But each one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death." *James 1:14,15, World English Bible.) It is not sin to be tempted by a desire to steal — it is a sin to give in to the temptation to steal; it is not a sin to be tempted by a desire to commit fornication — it is sin to give into that desire; it is not a sin to be tempted by a desire to lie — it is a sin to give in to that desire. Likewise, it is not a sin to be tempted by same sex desires; it is a sin to give in to those desires.

Whether a person is born with such a desire is not the criteria by which to judge whether such behavior is sin or not. All of us are born with many desires that would tempt us to sin, some in this direction and others in another direction. This does not make carrying out the sinful behavior correct, or not sinful. When Adam sinned, we all inherited his sin as his descendants. "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners." (Romans 5:19, New American Standard Bible) "Because, knowing God, they didn't glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For their women changed the natural function into that which is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural function of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another, men doing what is inappropriate with men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error. Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with those who practice them." -- Romans 1:21-32, World English Bible.

The Greek expression translated "gave up" (Strong's #3860) in the World English translation means "to give over to" or "to turn over to". Thus because of Adam's sin, mankind was turned over to these evil desires. Our being born into this world with these desires does not mean the desires are not sinful, or that God approves of our carrying out the desires. If one is born with a tendency to steal, should he claim it is an acceptable practice for him to steal, since he was born that way? If one is born with a tendency to kill, should he claim that it is an acceptable practice to commit murder, since he was born that way?

Part B:

Should homosexual behavior be treated as something natural?

This depends on the meaning given to the word natural. In the Bible there are several Greek words that are translated by natural and nature (as in "by nature"). The words (Strong's #5446, 5449) used in Romans 1:26,27 refer to that which is what considered the proper course of a man and woman sexually, when it describes men and women as changing the natural for that which is not proper by nature. Its source has the meaning of "puff" (Strong's #5456) which implies the outcome of a thing. The usage of Romans 1:26,27 indicates that homosexual behavior is not the intended physical use of the human body.

Nevertheless, as regarding sin, it could be considered natural, for we read that as believers were once "by nature (Strong's #5449) the children of wrath." The outgrowth of the condemnation upon man through Adam's sin is the sinful nature and God's wrath, so that, as an outgrowth of sin, homosexual behavior could be considered natural, but as an outgrowth of God's original purpose for the human body, it is not natural.

Q. What should be the attitude of Christians toward those in the world who are homosexuals?

A. We believe the scriptural answer to this should be: The same as that toward any other sinner in the world. They are to be treated with the same respect and concern as anyone else; we are not given any permission from God or the Bible to pronounce any special condemnation upon them. When we are told to love our neighbors (Matthew 19:19; 22:39), Jesus does not limit that love so that it does not include our neighbors who practice homosexual behavior. Jesus does not limit that love so that it does not include our neighbor who practices fornication, stealing, lying, etc. Indeed, to pronounce a special condemnation of others for their sin would be to condemn ourselves, since no one is without sin of some kind. (Romans 2:1; 3:9,23; 1 John 1:8) Additionally, any actual hate campaign being done against homosexuals in the name of Christ has to be done without his authority. -- Matthew 7:21-23.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that a Christian should condone any sin of anyone -- not even his own sin, whether that sin be lying, stealing, cursing, fornication, or whatever. Likewise, with the homosexual sin. Recognizing that we are all sinners, all of us need that application of the blood of Christ to cleanse us of our sin so that we may reckoned as justified before God. -- Romans 4:5; 5:9,18; Galatians 2:16,17; Ephesians 2:1-10.


Q. Are those of the world who practice homosexual behavior until the day they die condemned for all eternity: eternal damnation?

A. No, we do not find such a thought in the Bible. The condemnation upon the unregenerated who practice homosexual behavior is the same as is upon all the world through Adam -- death. (1 Corinthians 15:21,22; Romans 5:16-19) The Bible promises a time when all the heathen will be blessed in the coming day of judgment. But to understand this, we recommend a prayerful and thorough consideration of the studies listed at the end of this page.

Q. If a person is a homosexual by nature, how do you separate the person from what he is?

A. We are all, by nature, born into this world as sinners. We ARE sinners. This we have shown above. Some have a tendency to sin in all kinds of different directions. Having a desire to do something, however, is not the sin. We should not let our sinful desires define who we are. It is what one does with that desire that can lead to the actual sin. Such is controlled by our thoughts: we can entertain the thought of sin, or we can suppress our thoughts related to the desire. "Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin." (James 1:14,15, New King James Version) Nevertheless, if one has a passing desire to take what belongs to another, but does not take it, is he considered a thief? If a person has a desire to tell a lie, but does not succumb to such a desire so that he he does not actually tell the lie, is he yet a liar? If a thief stops stealing, is he still to be considered a thief? If a liar stops lying, should he still be considered a liar? A person may feel quite natural in offering gifts and prayers to idols, but does that make it right? But if an idolator turns away from his idolatry, is he still to be considered an idolator? The apostle Paul, when he described the various works of the flesh, then said, "such were some of you." (1 Corinthians 6:11) In other words, the apostle said that some of the Christians in Corinth had at one time been idolaters, covetous, drunkards, adulterers, fornicators, etc. "But", he goes on, "you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." It is not that they all of sudden no longer had any desire to commit the sins mentioned. But by their submission to the power of the holy spirit, they were able to overcome these tendencies, so that the thief was no longer a thief, and the drunkard was no longer a drunkard, etc. Faith is the key, but oh how lacking most of are in faith! The more faith we have in God, the easier it becomes to overcome sinful tendencies. The perfection of our faith in God through Jesus should be our goal. If any thing is lacking, we should pray even more, and seek also the prayer of others in the faith, that we might "grow" in faith, and overcome sin. -- 2 Corinthians 10:15; Galatians 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 3:9,10; 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Hebrews 6:1; 12:1,2; 13:7; James 5:14-16.

See Our Studies:

Studies by Others

Presentations by Some Associated with the Bible Students Movement
Aids - A Modern Pestilence
Clouds of Fear, Linings of Hope - Richard Kindig
A World Divided - Peter Karavas
Morality in the Church
I just found out my son is gay, how do I speak to him as a believer?
The Gay Marriage Law - How Do We Respond? (Christian Questions Radio)

Christian Questions Radio

Can Gay Rights and Christianity Co-exist?
The Gay Marriage Law - How Do We Respond?
Does God Approve of Gay Ministers?
Should We Support Gay Marriage?