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 :


            March 2012



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THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH


When you read or hear the words “church growth,” what comes to mind? Let us first define a couple of terms. When we speak about “the church,” we have reference to the church which Jesus Himself built (Matthew 16:18), and of which He is the Head (Ephesians 5:23). Do not confuse the Lord’s church with man-made denominations. For me personally, I have no interest in the “growth” of denominations, unless that “growth” in some fashion hinders the work or influence of Jesus’ blood-bought church (Acts 20:28). In such a case, it gets my attention. If we are interested in God’s church growing, then we need to learn about that from the New Testament, which is our only standard, correct?

What is the meaning of the word “growth?” It means increase, development, or expansion; similarly, the verb “grow” means to spring up and develop to maturity [www.yourdictionary.com]. The growth or increase of the church can take place in at least three general categories: numerical growth, internal (spiritual) growth, and geographic growth. Let us look at these one by one.

(1) Numerical growth – God and all those who love His Kingdom want to see this happen. God adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47). That is how numerical growth takes place: God’s people teach the gospel, lost people hear it, believe it, and obey it. That is the only way for one to be born again, and that is the only way for citizenship in the Kingdom to increase in number (John 3:3,5).

In the Book of Acts, we often read specific references to the church’s numerical growth. After the initial 3000 souls on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), we later read of about 5000 men (4:4), that “believers were increasingly added to the Lord” (5:14), “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” in Jerusalem (6:7), “a great many people were added to the Lord” in Antioch (11:24), and many other similar statements.

If we want the church to experience numerical growth today, then we must work. Indeed, we must work, and work, and then work some more. We need to sow the seed diligently, always seeking for good soil – those “with a noble and good heart” (Luke 8:15). [Note: An increase in attendance is not necessarily evidence of church growth. If one local church’s attendance increases by ten people because ten saints left a second congregation to begin attending there, then in reality, there is no net gain. No souls have been saved, so there is no true numerical growth.]

(2) Internal, spiritual growth – We must not overlook this aspect of church development! Much is said throughout the New Testament about the edification or building up of God’s people. Christians are instructed to “edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). In another of Paul’s letters to a local church, he said that he and others did all things for the edification of the saints (2 Corinthians 12:19). Even in a worship setting that involved miraculous gifts, the Holy Spirit’s message was that all things were to be done “for the edification of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

The key to the church’s spiritual development is God’s word and commitment to it. “. . . I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you and inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is pleasant and helpful to personal relationships between church members for them to eat, play, and socially spend time together. But, brothers and sisters, please, please do not think that planning meals and fun social outings is the path of strengthening people’s faith and their spiritual commitment to King Jesus. If we want members to grow, then we need to get them into the Book and put the emphasis on spiritual matters! That is the truth, whether people support such an idea or not.

Churches grow spiritually when the members grow. Christians can (and need to) grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), in love (1 Thessalonians 4:9,10), in faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), in abilities (Matthew 25:14-30), and in service (Hebrews 6:10- 12). Thank God for His saints in our generation who make their personal spiritual growth a top priority.

Another way in which churches can grow internally is to develop strong, scriptural leadership. It is God’s will for every congregation to have faithful shepherds to rule over it (Acts 14:23). Those churches that do not yet have elders/pastors need to make it their goal, with God’s help, to develop faithful brothers who can serve as overseers.

(3) Geographic growth – I love Acts 16:5, where it is written, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” That verse points to spiritual growth, numerical growth, and possibly geographic growth. We must take seriously the task of establishing new congregations in areas that do not have them. It is thrilling to read about such happening in the first century, and it is just as exciting to hear and read about faithful brethren doing that today. Regardless of the type of true church growth that takes place, let us thank and praise God for it.




GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS TO ISRAEL ON HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE PROPHETS


The nation of Israel was blessed to have faithful prophets of Jehovah proclaim His message to them. At the same time, however, God’s people always faced the potential of having false prophets arise to lead them astray. Peter sets forth this historical fact about Israel during the Old Testament era: “But there were also false prophets among the people . . .” (2 Peter 2:1).

What instructions did the Lord give to Israel about how to deal with false prophets? Read the answer from Deuteronomy 13:1-5:

       (1) If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives
       you a sign or a wonder, (2) and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which
       he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ – which you have not
       known – ‘and let us serve them,’ (3) you shall not listen to the words of that
       prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to
       know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
       soul. (4) You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His
       commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.
       (5) But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because
       he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought
       you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage, to entice you from the
       way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away
       the evil from your midst.

God Himself referred to such a person as “a prophet” (13:1,3); the context makes it plain that such people were not true messengers from Jehovah.

The Lord’s appeal – Do not heed the message of the false prophets. God’s clear charge was “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet” (13:3). In order to carry out that command, what would the Israelites need? First, they must be able to recognize a false message when they heard it. That required, of course, that they be familiar with God’s truth in order to discern what message was different from it. Second, in order not to be pulled away by false prophets, they must have a strong conviction – they must be committed to following the way of Jehovah. Knowledge of what God says is essential, but knowledge without conviction is insufficient.

The Lord’s test – God tested Israel in the wilderness by the trials that they faced (8:1,2). He also tested His people via false prophets. It is written, “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet . . . God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (13:3). Those that love God comply with His commands (6:3-5). Those that follow false prophets are lacking something. What is it? They do not have a heart in which they love God with all of their being. For those who think that modern-day false teachers and their followers “are such loving people” that “really love the Lord,” we recommend that they read Deuteronomy 13:3. Why? Because that verse makes it plain that those who follow (and stay with) false messages do not love the Lord. You may not like that conclusion, but remember, the Lord is the One that said His people’s response to false prophets showed whether or not they loved Him with all of their heart and soul.

The Lord’s jealousy – He will not share with anything or anyone else the reverence and devotion that He alone deserves. Going after “other gods” is the way of disaster (13:2). Jehovah wants us to walk after His ways, fear Him, keep His commands, obey His voice, serve Him, and hold fast to Him (13:4). What does the message of false prophets do? Either directly, or indirectly, their message turns people away from the living God – “he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God” (13:5). Those who downplay the danger of false messengers do so to their own soul’s peril! Is it any wonder that the Christ told His disciples to beware of false prophets?! (Matthew 7:15).

The Lord’s prescribed punishment for false prophets – False prophets were to be put to death. That is correct. Read it again: “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death” (13:5). Does this truth not show us how serious it is in God’s sight to proclaim a false religious message?!

The Lord’s appraisal of false prophets – God called them “evil” (13:5). They may have some appealing traits, and they may take part in activities that in some manner benefit other humans, but God’s final analysis of them is that they are evil. Evil people will be raised to the resurrection of condemnation. Jesus said so (John 5:28,29).

The Lord’s answers to a frequently-asked question – “What good does capital punishment do?” In Deuteronomy 13, we find two of God’s answers to that inquiry. First, putting to death the evildoer (as in the case of a false prophet) would “put away the evil” that was among them (13:5). Second, “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (13:11). That is, capital punishment can be a deterrent to crime.

Here are three final observations. First, God really cared about the spiritual welfare of Israel. That is why He spoke such strict words about false prophets. Second, no false prophet has ever helped even one human serve God faithfully. Third, God’s people must have the courage to rise up and stand against false prophets and their destructive message.




LEARNING TO FORGIVE OTHERS


We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people who make choices that sometimes offend or hurt others. When a person has lived long enough, then he knows from personal experience what it means both to ask for forgiveness, as well as be asked by someone else to forgive them. It may be something minor, or it could be a major mistake, but seeking forgiveness and accepting the apology of other people are a part of life.

Are you a person that is willing to forgive those who have mistreated you? Young people and adults alike often struggle with the challenge of forgiving wrongdoers. Friends, family members, teammates, neighbors, and even members of the Lord’s church have to deal with words and/or actions that bring harm to their relationships. I have witnessed people say to one that wronged them or one of their loved ones, “I hope you burn in hell.” How tragic.

As children of the living God, we all need to learn to forgive others. Before proceeding any further, let us be clear that we understand the following realities. Being willing to forgive others is: (1) not a sign of weakness on the part of the one that forgives; (2) not an endorsement of the mistakes that the forgiven person has made; (3) not a guarantee that the ones doing the forgiving are saved in God’s sight; (4) not something that only a particular group of Christians is expected to do.

Do I have a heart that appreciates the forgiveness that I have received from God? If so, then I will be willing to forgive those who sin against me. If I do not appreciate the fact that God has forgiven me, a weak and unworthy servant, then I will refuse stubbornly and proudly to grant forgiveness to those who have wronged me in some way. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another; and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12,13). Read our Lord’s masterful message about an ungrateful servant whose lord forgave his debt, but he himself was unwilling to do the same for a fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-34). In the end of that story, what words did the unforgiving servant hear from his master? “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (18:33). Who is not able to comprehend those words and the point that Jesus was making?!

Am I willing to make Jesus the pattern or model which I will imitate? It is easy to claim that we want to be like Him in every aspect of life, but are we really willing to do so? The Bible says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Jesus had a heart that was willing to forgive others, even those who hated Him. We all recall the words that He spoke as His body endured the torture of crucifixion: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Joseph, the son of Jacob, showed a similar spirit when he refused to despise and take revenge against his brothers who sold him into slavery (Genesis 45:5-8).

Do I show love and compassion for others? I have no right to demand that a person “come crawling” to me to beg my forgiveness. I have no right to threaten a person with words like, “I will never forget what you have done, and I will make sure that everyone I know finds out what you did.” Look, some human deeds are evil from beginning to end, and some actions or words have consequences that cannot be removed. But, on our part, we must show compassion and mercy. The Master said, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). How does that apply to forgiving others? “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We know this truth: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).

If I want to please God, I must develop and maintain the habit of forgiving others. It is not optional. First, there is the Lord’s charge to every member of the church to forgive one another. Second, there is the reality that if I am not willing to forgive others, then my heavenly Father will not be willing to forgive me. Simply put, that translates into this: our willingness to forgive others is a condition of God forgiving us. Does the Bible really teach such a message? Listen to Jesus: “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

Brother or sister, are you still holding a grudge against a person that has asked for your forgiveness? If so, you need to let it go and forgive that person this very day! That is what Christians do. You will be the one that is blessed for showing the right attitude and putting out of your heart the bitterness that makes you miserable. Sincerely, from the heart, forgive that penitent person with no conditions attached (Matthew 18:35).

No one said that it is easy. Imitating Jesus and His forgiving spirit is difficult. It is challenging to forgive those who have harmed us intentionally or who have mistreated us over and over again. We may never be able to discard or overcome our emotions completely, but we must trust in the Lord and find the courage to do what we know is the right thing to do. Yes, we need to learn to forgive others.




Hebrews 3:12 – “BEWARE . . . DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD”


Hebrews 3:7-4:11 is a section of Scripture that points readers back to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and the reality that so many of them failed to enter the land of promise due to their unbelief. This passage served as a reminder to first century saints: if you want to please the Lord, then do not follow the path of the children of Israel.

In the midst of these verses, we read this clear warning in Hebrews 3:12:

       “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil
       heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.


That is a clear message for God’s people in any generation. Who in their right mind chooses to forsake the one and only living God? No one!

Here is what gives this warning or exhortation its “punch” or power. First, there were God’s stern words to Israel: “So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest” (3:11). Second, there is the truth that “they could not enter in because of unbelief” (3:19). No, God was not bluffing when He warned Israel. Those were real people that made real decisions that really did prevent them from entering the land of Canaan. That was serious business for them, and it is a serious message for every Christian to contemplate. Do I have your attention yet? Let us go back to Hebrews 3:12 and look at some facts.

Fact: God’s children can develop “an evil heart.” When God’s word says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart . . .,” then that means it is certainly possible for members of the Lord’s church to have such a heart. The timeless message of Proverbs 4:23 is, “Keep your heart with all diligence. For out of it spring the issues of life.” But, surely no follower of the Christ could have an evil mindset, right? Ananias, the liar, allowed Satan to fill his heart (Acts 5:3). What kind of heart does one have when the devil dominates it?! Christians are exhorted, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). It is not a pretty sight, but, yes, God’s people can develop an evil heart that needs to be purified.

Fact: It is possible for children of God to depart from Him. What is the whole point of Hebrews 3:12? Do not do it! Do what? Do not be guilty of “departing from the living God.” We are aware that many denominational people affirm that a child of God could never sin in such a way that he would be lost eternally. That is an unbiblical teaching, known as “Perseverance of the Saints,” “the Impossibility of Apostasy,” or “Once Saved, Always Saved.”

Look again at what the Bible says. The warning is, do not let this happen to you – do not depart from the living God. If such were impossible, then the words of Hebrews 3:12 carry no weight at all. Do you recall the Old Testament principles found in 2 Chronicles 15:2? “The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” Is it possible for God’s people to forsake Him? Yes. And, what does He do when that happens? He forsakes the forsakers.

When Jesus walked the earth, on one occasion “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). What do you call that? Departing from the living God. Some saints “wander from the truth” and have a soul that needs to be saved from death (James 5:19,20). What do you call that? Departing from the living God. Some people “have escaped the pollutions of the world,” only to go back and “are again entangled in them and overcome,” so “the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). What do you call that? Departing from the living God.

Fact: When people depart from God, it is because of a heart problem – “an evil heart.” It is not because of the environment, the government, one’s own family, or even being treated badly by other members of the church. No, people depart from God because they personally have a heart problem. The Master said that “an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil” (Luke 6:45). Fix the heart, and the right speech and conduct will follow.

Fact: A lack of faith is the bottom-line reason why people leave the Lord. Occasionally people leave the Lord hastily; more often, though, it is a longer process. Why do people leave the living God? In some cases, it may be a complex matter that we will never understand completely. However, in every instance, here is the bottom line: people depart from God because their faith is not strong enough. Look back at the words of our text: “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” People may get caught up in immorality, they may be deceived by false teaching, or they may be pressured by family members. But, in the end, their choice to forsake God is a personal choice for which they alone are responsible, and it happens because of “unbelief.” The Bible says so. Let us strive to maintain a strong faith that overcomes (1 John 5:4).

Fact: It (forsaking God) can happen to “any of you.” If we are tempted to think to ourselves, “That could never happen to me,” let us take heed lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).


~ Roger D. Campbell ~


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