The truth makes one free (John 8:32), but the truth is not free. It must be bought, often at a great price (Prov. 23:23). The price may be high in terms of searching, sacrificing, and suffering. When one forgets the price paid so that he may have the truth, he often forgets the truth itself.
The writer of Hebrews warns against drifting away from the truth (2:1). He says, “hold fast the confession of (their) hope without wavering” (10:23). He reinforces it all by reminding of “the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (10:31-35).
By the end of the first century all spiritual truth was revealed. The faith was delivered once for all time (Jude 3). The Scriptures were completed. They give us everything we need for “doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
While the revelation of truth ended, the struggle so that “the truth of the gospel might continue with (us)” was just beginning (Gal. 1:8, 9 cf; 2:1-5). That struggle continues for every generation. Each new Christian needs all the help he can get with buying the truth and selling it not. Being reminded of past struggles for truth and sacrifices on its behalf is useful to that end.
We must pray to be spared temptation in any form (Matt. 6:13). Yet, when trial and tribulation come because of truth, the wise will profit from them (Rom. 5:3-5 f; Jam. 1:2). They can be disciplinary learning experiences, if we will allow them to be (Heb. 12:11).
Brethren must avoid schism, division, or faction. The church must firmly correct or reject any who cause such (Tit. 3:10 f; Rom. 16:17,18). Yet, factions (heresies) are trials that serve a useful purpose. They often separate the genuine (approved) from the superficial among brethren (1 Cor. 11:19). We may be forced to abandon indefensible positions borrowed from the world around us. After the present crisis passes, the knowledge gained can help avoid similar troubles in the future. The sacrifices and sufferings that often accompany a controversy, rather than defeat us, can strengthen our resolve to press on to a better person. They can also cause us to be careful in the future, lest we have suffered in vain (Gal. 3:14).
The value of past struggles, separations, and sacrifices depends on how vividly we remember them. There is no value in remembering them with bitterness, resentment, or hatred. There is great value in remembering the reasons behind the sacrifices, and the issues that caused the struggles, and the lessons learned at the time. We need to remember these things often, though we “already know them, and are established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12). Like Israel of old, we need to be told:
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, everyone of you. . . . Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren (Deut. 9:2,3,4,9).
Many of the Israelites who had been at Baal Peor were still alive. Their eyes had seen what happened when their brethren accepted the invitation of the Moabite women to join them in idolatry:
They invited the people to sacrifice to their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor” (Num. 25:2-5).
They were to be careful “lest you forget the things your eyes have seen.” They were to remember them all the days of their lives. They were to teach them to their children and grandchildren lest they forget them. They simply could not let what happened at Baal Peor become a “dead issue” in their minds. There was always the danger that history could repeat itself.
Many of the problems of later 1900s might have been prevented if brethren had remembered the lessons from the problems of the later 1800s. The church gas been troubled by a number of major issues during the past 100 or so years. There have been open divisions because some joined themselves to the traditions of men. Consequently, there have been periods of unusually high levels of controversy. Many are alive today who have vivid memories of the sacrifices, sufferings and struggles during these periods so that “the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” When they tell their children and grandchildren of these things, they are not asking for sympathy for what they had to endure. They “joyfully accepted the plundering of (their) goods.” They do not want this and future generations to have to repeat the same struggle, make the same sacrifices, and endure the same sufferings that they did; Nor do they want them to make the same mistakes they made. They want them to know the things their eyes have seen. They want them to know “the truth of the gospel.” They want them to appreciate the sacrificing, suffering, struggling, and studying that has made it possible for them to have it.
Satan has not retired from the mischief business. He will be looking for different avenues to make mischief for this and future generations as long as the world stands. Old issues seldom die, they just become dormant waiting for another opportunity to become active. Each generation must fight its own battles for truth. We hope that by keeping alive an awareness and understanding of past battles that our children will be prepared for present and future battles.
Those who forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Therefore, we keep reminding lest we dare forget.
As Paul reminds us: “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:6-12).