A monthly publication by the Klang Church of Christ, containing articles written by bro. Roger D. Campbell, to help educate, edify, encourage and equip the saints of God.


I S S U E   N U M B E R :


           February 2012



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“WE OUGHT TO OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN”


Students of God’s word are familiar with this Bible quotation, which is found in Acts 5. Do you recall who said those words and the circumstances under which they were spoken? Understanding their background will help us appreciate them more.

The Jewish Sanhedrin had arrested Jesus’ apostles, but an angel of God opened the prison doors and helped them escape. The angel then charged them, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20). When the Sanhedrin learned that the apostles were preaching once more in the temple, they again sent to have them captured. The high priest told the twelve, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” In response to the high priest’s statement, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

So, it is clear: instead of obeying men, Jesus’ followers should obey God. In the apostles’ case, recorded in Acts 5, there was a specific question over which “sparks flew.” Would it be acceptable to preach the gospel (preach in the name of Jesus)? The Jewish leaders’ answer was “No,” but the Lord’s answer was “Yes.” The Sanhedrin commanded the apostles not to do it (Acts 5:28), while the Master commanded them to do it (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47). The high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin were voices of authority, but Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). To which voice of authority should, and would, the apostles submit: to men’s decree, or to God’s? Their answer was plain: they ought to obey God. In fact, that is exactly what they did. Even after the Sanhedrin both threatened and beat them, the apostles privately and publicly continued to proclaim Jesus as the Christ on a daily basis (Acts 5:40-42). The apostles of our Lord not only gave the correct answer with their mouths; they lived that answer in the choices that they made!

Acts 5:29 is a principle that each one of us needs to learn well (and not just be able to quote the words, but actually apply them in our lives). If we want to please God, then we will seek to obey Him in every instance, despite what any human(s) say. “But, what if humans try to prevent us from doing something that God wants us to do?” We should obey God. “But, what if humans try to get us to do something that God forbids us to do?” We ought to obey God. God’s “rules” rank higher than men’s do!

“But there could be unpleasant circumstances if we choose to disregard what other people want and instead obey what God’s word tells us to do.” That is correct. If we doubt that, we should go back and look again at what happened to the apostles. They were threatened and beaten for their commitment to living for and preaching the words of our Lord. The suffering of the early saints later escalated beyond threats and beatings, as Stephen (Acts 7) and the apostle James were killed (Acts 12). The challenge, brothers and sisters, is to have the faith and courage to do what is right in God’s sight, regardless of what consequences we might have to face for deciding “to obey God rather than men.” Those words are not simply a fancy formula that we memorize in order to impress others. No, “We ought to obey God rather than men” is the mindset or heart-felt “motto” of every faithful servant of the Christ.

Long before there were Christians, in the Old Testament era some of God’s people faced the choice either to submit to the Lord’s will or to men’s. Through the prophet Samuel, God commanded King Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites, charging him, “Now therefore heed the voice of the words of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:1). Saul later admitted that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” (15:24). Wrong choice. The proper voice to obey was God’s, not the people’s.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon once ordered all the inhabitants of his empire to bow down and worship a golden idol. When Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah, three Israelite men, refused to do so, they were thrown into a fiery furnace. In the end, by God’s power and mercy they were not harmed by the fire, and their lives were spared (Daniel 3:1-24). But, let us not miss this point: even if they had lost their physical lives in that furnace, they made the correct decision. They were forewarned about the punishment that they would receive if they did not submit to the king’s decree, yet they chose “to obey God rather than men.” Right choice.

God blesses those who boldly choose to do His will, despite the unpleasantries that they might have to endure. May He help us to be that kind of people.





THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH’S HEART


The Bible clearly declares that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. That truth bothers some people. “I know that is what the Bible says, but it does not seem fair that God would purposely harden a man’s heart.” What about it?

The word “Pharaoh” is found in the Bible about 280 times. Who was Pharaoh? “Pharaoh” was not a personal name, but rather a general word or title for the king of Egypt. A number of different Pharaohs are mentioned in the Scriptures. The Pharaoh who is the focus of our study was king when Jehovah sent Moses to deliver His people out of Egyptian bondage. That particular king is the one that the Bible describes as having a hardened heart.

Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? First, it is a biblical truth that the Pharaoh who ruled in the day when the Israelites were rescued from Egypt had a hard heart. Sometimes the Bible simply says that the man’s heart was hardened, without indicating who was involved in the hardening process. For instance, following the plague that caused the Egyptians’ livestock to die, “Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go” (Exodus 9:7).

There are other verses in which we read that the Lord God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It is written, “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12). So, there is no denying that God had a hand in causing Pharaoh to have a hard heart. But, that is not all.

Did you realize that there are some Bible passages that indicate that Pharaoh hardened his own heart? It is true: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them as the LORD had said . . . But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go” (Exodus 8:15,32).

What was the context of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? What the Bible says about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was connected with God’s charge to him to release the Israelites, Pharaoh’s refusal to do so, and the ten plagues that Jehovah sent against the stubborn ruler and his people. When Aaron and Moses appeared before Pharaoh and told him that God said, “Let My people go,” the king’s proud response was, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:1,2). With such a mindset, this Pharaoh was on a crash course with disaster! God would use ten miracles/plagues – ten disasters that would touch Egypt and crush Pharaoh’s will. Following those, he would comply with God’s demand to release Israel.

What was the purpose of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart? It certainly was not to cause him to be lost eternally. God takes no delight in the wicked choices of evildoers and does not want one single person to perish (Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9), so it is inconceivable that He would work to ensure that Pharaoh would be a rebellious, lost person. Hardening the king’s heart was not about his own personal spiritual standing with God. Rather, it was done in order to get Pharaoh to heed the instructions of the Almighty concerning his dealings with the children of Israel. Pharaoh needed to be persuaded (1) that the God of Israel is the one, true God and (2) to release the Israelites. God told Moses, “But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3:19,20).

How did the Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart? God did not take over Pharaoh’s heart and force Pharaoh to be obstinate and rebellious. No, the Lord gave him commands that his headstrong nature did not want to accept. The Creator charged the king to submit to Him, and he resisted. God pushed and the king pushed back, his heart becoming harder and harder. Again, this process was connected with the plagues or miracles that God sent. They infuriated the king. But, ultimately, the plagues would work their intended purpose. God told Pharaoh, “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). God later told Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him” (Exodus 10:1). In the end, following the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian family, which was the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh gave the Israelites their freedom.

It is extremely important to see that Pharaoh had a free will, or freedom of choice, throughout the whole process. After each plague that God sent on the land of Egypt, Pharaoh could have chosen to change his mind and do what the Lord told him to do – release His people. Before the eighth plague came, God sent this message to Pharaoh: “How long will ye refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Exodus 10:3). So, the truth is, at any time Pharaoh could have humbled himself and submitted to God’s will. He simply refused to do so.

All that God has ever said or done has been done for the benefit of mankind, with His every word and action somehow being related to His plan to save us via Jesus. May we always be ready to submit to Him.




“LAYING ON HANDS” IN THE BOOK OF ACTS


In the Book of Acts, there are several examples of one human “laying” his hands on the body of another human. Which people did such a thing? What was the purpose or point of doing it? Here are some cases of laying on hands that we read about in the Book of Acts, and with each of them except one, we will list them in the order that they appear in the Bible.

(1) Acts 5 – The Sanhedrin council laid hands on the apostles. “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:17,18). Obviously, when the adversaries of the Cause of the Messiah laid hands on the apostles for the purpose of imprisoning them, their action was not endorsed by the God of heaven, and such a deed was not part of the church’s work of evangelism, edification, and benevolence.

(2) Acts 8 – John and Peter laid hands on new converts in Samaria. After some in Samaria obeyed the gospel, the apostles “sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, For as yet He had fallen upon none of them . . . Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17). One new convert, Simon, the former sorcerer, offered to pay money to have the power which the apostles demonstrated – the power to lay hands on other disciples, with the result being that those disciples received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-20). Every indication is that only the apostles of the Christ possessed this special type of power. Philip, who preached in Samaria, performed miracles (Acts 8:6), but not being an apostle, he could not “pass on” the power to do miracles to others.

(3) Acts 9 – Ananias laid hands on Saul of Tarsus. Before the Lord sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, He appeared to him in a vision, telling him, “And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight” (Acts 9:12). When Ananias arrived in Damascus, he “entered the house, and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:17,18).

In this instance, the laying on of Ananias’ hands was for the purpose of healing Saul’s blindness. This example shows that in the first century non-apostles also did miracles and, at least in this case, a non-apostle did it by laying his hands on the ailing person. There is no proof that when Ananias laid hands on Paul, that he received the Holy Spirit at that time. True, Saul’s reception of the Spirit was connected indirectly with Ananias’ coming (Acts 9:17), but Saul received the Holy Spirit in a direct, miraculous fashion, via baptism with the Holy Spirit, just as the other apostles did (2 Corinthians 11:5).

(4) Acts 13 – Saints in Antioch of Syria laid hands on Barnabas and Saul. “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers . . . As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3). The ones who were sent away are the same ones that had hands laid on them – that would be Barnabas and Saul. Saul/Paul was already a Spirit-empowered apostle before the Antioch brethren laid hands on him, so the purpose of their laying hands on him and Barnabas was not to impart to them miraculous powers. Their laying-on-hands action was taken to show their support of and endorsement of Barnabas’ and Saul’s mission. It was a way of saying, “We are behind you and with you in this task. Godspeed.”

(5) Acts 19 – Paul laid hands on about twelve men in Ephesus. “. . . they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5,6). This is another example of disciples receiving miraculous powers after an apostle laid hands on them (Samaria, Acts 8:14-20).

(6) Acts 28 – Paul laid hands on the father of Publius. When Paul was en route to Rome as a prisoner, the leading citizen on the island of Malta, Publius, showed kindness to him and others. “And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed , and he laid his hands on him and healed him” (Acts 28:8). Why did Paul lay hands on that man? So he could receive physical healing.

(7) Acts 6 – The apostles laid hands on seven disciples whom the brethren in Jerusalem chose to help serve widows: “Whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6). The apostles had earlier said that after the seven were selected from the multitude of disciples, they (apostles) would “appoint” those men over the business of taking care of the widows’ needs (Acts 6:3). So, by laying hands on those seven, the apostles were officially setting these men in their new role. In this case, did the apostles’ laying on of hands also result in those seven, including Stephen and Philip, receiving miraculous powers? It is possible, as no miracles of those men are recorded until after Acts 6.

What about laying on hands today? There are no apostles alive to do it, and there is no more miraculous healing, so there could be no miraculous activity associated with laying on hands today. If we chose to lay hands on someone as a sign of support or putting them into a new role, we would be wise to give a clear statement explaining that what we are doing has zero miraculous connotation.




1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-4 – CARNALITY IN CORINTH


Every local church faces challenges and struggles. The Lord’s first-century church in Corinth was no exception. The members there had been washed, sanctified, and justified (6:11). Yet, as we read this epistle, we learn that there were problems that plagued the church there. Those problems were both legion and serious.

The apostle Paul labeled the members at Corinth as “carnal,” as we see in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4:

       (1) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people,
             but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
       (2) I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you
             were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;
       (3) for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife,
             and divisions among you, are you not carnal and
             behaving like mere men?
       (4) For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’
             are you not carnal?

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the church in Corinth had been in existence for about five years. It is obvious from the four verses quoted above that at least some of the members there were not maturing as they should have. Let us take a closer look.

Spiritual versus carnal – What was the Holy Spirit’s description of the saints in Corinth? Three times He called them “carnal” (3:1,3,4). They were people who were not successfully abstaining from “fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). They should have been spiritual people – spiritually-minded and spiritually-focused. But, no, they thought and acted like the world.

What happened in the minds and lives of God’s people in Corinth should serve as an eye-opening, sober reminder to all of us. It is still possible today for a child of God to become flesh and world-oriented instead of spiritual and Lord-oriented. What about you, my brother or sister? Are you carnal-minded, or spiritual-minded?

Babes in the Christ – Paul would have preferred to speak to the members there as mature brethren, but he could not. Why? Because they were conducting themselves “as babes in Christ” (3:1). Anyone that is in the Christ “is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), meaning that he has become a new or changed person. The term that applies to those who are recent converts is “babes.” This is not a derogatory word, but simply points to the reality that since they have not been in the Lord a long time, they are like babies in the spiritual realm.

The saints in Corinth had been in the Christ long enough that they should have progressed past the stage of infancy, and yet they were acting like spiritual babies. How sad. Even today there are those who were baptized into the Christ “ages ago,” but they have failed to mature spiritually. They whine. They cry for attention. They think only about themselves and what they desire. They want the church to pamper them. Yep, in short, they act like little babies. It is high time for some of us to stop being so easily offended, cease being hyper-critical, and put an end to being super sensitive. What words do the church’s babies need to hear? “Grow up!”

Milk versus solid food – Milk is for babies; solid food is for those that are more grown up. What kind of spiritual food could the saints in Corinth handle? You are right – only the milk (3:2). There is a time in a child’s physical development when it needs a diet of milk. There comes a time, however, when it is time to move on to more solid stuff. So it is in a Christian’s spiritual development.

The words of our text remind us of Hebrews 5:12, where it is written, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” Brother or sister, how about you? Are you still on a milk-only diet, or have you progressed to solid food? If we want to grow, we need to spend time, lots of time, in the word of God. Those who desire to grow and actually put their desire into action will be blessed (1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 5:6). Those who do not have such a desire, well, they will still continue to act like spiritual babies, even if they have been in the Christ for decades.

Proof of carnality – Paul’s words had a strong sting: “For you are still carnal” (3:3). What was the evidence of such? Envy, strife, and divisions existed among them (3:3). They acted more like worldly people than washed-in-the-blood-reformed people. They acted more like followers of worldly ways and worldly philosophy than followers of Jesus.

Appreciation versus allegiance – Some in the church at Corinth claimed to belong to Paul, while others claimed to be “of Apollos” (3:4). Both of those great men had preached in Corinth. The church should have appreciated what those two men had done for them. But, these two brothers were servants, not the Savior! Christians’ allegiance ought to be to King Jesus, not to mere mortals that struggle not to be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).


~ Roger D. Campbell ~


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