Speaking where the bible speaks, and silent where the bible is silent.

Solomon writes about life under the sun in the book of Ecclesiastes. His evaluation is the same at the end as it was in the beginning. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

Vanity simply means the quality of being worthless, useless, or futile.I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl 1:14). Just imagine trying to grasp the wind. That is what Solomon is telling us about life under the sun. Life is here for a moment and suddenly gone away to return no more.

What advantage is there to our labor or pursuits? All is vanity and grasping after the wind or vanity and a grave misfortune. A man who gains much in life but is not able to use it is considered a great affliction (Eccl 2:11,16; 4:8; 6:2). Consider a very wealthy man who has many mansions, many automobiles, and several planes at his beacon call. Yet, he cannot live but in one house at a time, drive one car at a time, or fly in one plane at a time. As one man once wrote, “If you have more than you can use, you have too much.”

First, Solomon looks at wealth or riches and says, “What good is it to become wealthy only to leave to an heir who will ruin it all” (Eccl 2:18-19)? Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, is a prime example of someone who ruined all Solomon had worked for before he was was cold in his own grave. We see that all the time. Parents labor hard to build an estate only to leave it to heirs who did not build it. The heirs either waste it or bite and devour one another over how much each one will get. It is pure vanity.

Second, Solomon looks at having a party. His assessment is, “It is better to go the house of mourning” (Eccl 7:2)  When someone dies who is close to us, we reflect on our own life and its brevity, and at least for a short time try and live a good and moral life. When we are at a party all we do is have a good time and forget how close we are to death and judgment. There is no thought to the seriousness of life. All is vanity.

Third, Solomon looks at wisdom. He asks, “How does a wise man die? He answers, “As the fool” (Eccl 2:17). What good is it to be wise if in the end we die like a fool? He is not discounting the advantage of wisdom. In fact, he says, “A living dog has more hope than a dead lion” (Eccl 9:3-4). At least the living dog can see tomorrow. Even so, if a man has all the wisdom this world has to offer, when he dies his wisdom profits him nothing. Thus, wisdom is also vanity.

In the end, life under the sun is an endless pursuit of frustration. There is never enough wealth, never enough fun, and never enough wisdom. All are endless pursuits. In the end, when we open our hands to see what we have caught, there is nothing but the wind. All is vanity.

We need to look at all the things he examines and pronounced as vanity. They are all things of this life. He looked at this world. He looks at the skillful works of a man’s hand, piling up gold, and gathering all his ambition. Everything a man would do as he went about life and simply viewing things of this life, he found them all unfulfilling. When he was through with them he found them a disappointment. It seems he often had an idea that some of these things will be rewarded, but before he was through with them he was calling them names: an evil disease, a terrible affliction and, emptiness.

Look at another man whose pursuit was not life under the sun but life with the Son. When we read Philippians we hear Paul say something entirely different than Solomon. Paul was not pursuing life under the sun. He pursues life with the Son. Extra biblical literature tells us that Paul, Saul of Tarsus, came from a wealthy family. He will tell us he was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews and a Pharisee of Pharisees (otherwise no one excelled him) (Philip 3:4-6). He may well have been in pursuit of being President of the Sanhedrin.

Saul of Tarsus had it all going his way. He had the resume to credit him as one who is important. Even so, Paul found his ambition empty. In fact, he had all those resume stuffers he counted as loss for Christ (Philip 3:7). More important to him was to know Christ, the fellowship of His suffering and be conformed to His death (Philip 3:10). Life under the sun was meaningless to Paul. Life with the Son meant everything to him.

Even in times when life was hard for Paul he simply wanted to know Him and the power of His resurrection. Paul does not look back on his life and consider it empty. He looks back and says, “Rejoice and again I say rejoice.” To know Him and be known by Him made life have meaning. Life under the sun would not dampen his view of life with the Son. He wanted Him and pursued Him. And in the end he will say, “I have not labored in vain or run in vain” (Philip 2:16).

To make this point even clearer, Jesus said it this way: If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matt 16:24-26)? Paul lost his present life. He gave up his career, he gave up his family’s wealth and all the accolades that come with such. He exchanged it for a world of being hated, being persecuted, and losing his freedom. Yet, this is Paul’s conclusion of the whole matter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7,8).

Yes, this life and all that is in it is vanity. Peter said, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Pet 3:10,11). All the great poetry and artworks will be destroyed. All the great innovations since the world began will be forgotten. All the great architecture will come tumbling down. All the money and all the gold and silver ever mined will be dissolved. “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim 6:7). So, what isn’t vanity? Solomon wisely wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13). Everything else is nothing but vanity.


The Truth

The church in Christ believes that the words of Jesus Christ are the infallible truth (Jn 17:17). The church of Christ has no creed but Christ and His Word. Because Jesus is perfectly sinless, His words and those of the Holy Spirit are without deceit — inerrant and perfect (Isa 53:9 ff; John 6:63; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22). Jesus gave His infallible Word to His apostles (Jn 15:20; 17:8 ff;; 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 1:11–12). Christ’s apostles wrote God’s revelation forming the New Testament Scriptures. They wrote through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26 cf; 16:13). The first churches collected these Scriptures under the oversight of the apostles in the first century (Jn 16:7–13 ff; 1 Cor 14:37; Eph 3:3–5; 2 Pet 1:16–21; 1 Jn 1:1–4). The church of Christ knows that these Scriptures can make one complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17). The church does not add or take away from God’s Word (1 Cor 4:6 ff; Gal 1:6-12; 1 Pet 4:11; Rev 22:18–19). While Jesus’s words are spirit and life, the Law of Moses and the commandments written on stone brought death and are now obsolete (Eph 2:14-16 ff; Col 2:14; 2 Cor 3:7; Heb 8:13).

The Gospel

The church of Christ stands by the Gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1–4). Christians consist of believers who God saved by grace as God raised them with Christ after they have died with Christ to one’s sins and have been buried with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:3–7 ff; Eph 2:4–6; Col 2:12–13). There is one baptism that is in Jesus’s name and is an immersion in water (Eph 4:5 f; Acts 10:47–48). The one baptism is for those who believe, confess faith, and repent in dying to one’s sins (Mk 16:16 ff; Acts 2:38; Rom 10:9–10). This baptism is for the forgiveness of sins by which the Lord adds the saved to the church. These are born again through Christ’s resurrection (Jn 3:5 ff; Acts 2:38, 41, 47; 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3; 3:21). Through baptism, one is born of the water and the Spirit having been washed in Jesus’s name. At baptism, the Spirit sanctifies and justifies the believer (1 Cor 6:11). The saved walk in the newness of life and continue in the faith (Rom 6:4 ff; Col 1:22; Rev 2:10).

Love One Another

Christ’s church truly loves God and one another. Christ’s disciples are known by their love for one another (Jn 13:35 cf; 14:21–24 ff; 1 Jn 3:10, 16; 5:1–3). Their love for God includes their love for one another in which they observe all that Christ has commanded (Jn 14:23–24 f, 1 Jn 5:2–3; Matt 28:20). The church loves one another so much that they follow Jesus’s pattern and lay down their lives for one another for there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another (Jn 15:13; Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 3:16–17). The church gives relief to Christians who are suffering (1 Cor 16:1-3). They love their neighbors as oneself, and do to others as each would have others do to them (Lk 6:31 cf; 10:27). They love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Lk 6:27–31).

Scriptural Leadership

Christ’s church maintains the name of Christ in identity because Christ is the Head of the Church, which is His body (Rom 12:4–5 ff; Eph 1:22–23; Col 1:18). Being the Head, Christ built the church and bought it with His blood (Matt 16:18 f; Acts 20:28). The church of Christ bears His name as His bride (Acts 20:28 ff; Rom 16:16; Eph 5:22–34; Rev 21:9). Christ is the chief Pastor of His church (1 Pet 5:4). Christ’s Spirit established that elders are to manage their own congregation and are to lead by example (Acts 14:23 ff; 20:28; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 4:14; Tit 1:6–9; 1 Pet 5:1–4). The inerrant and complete Scriptures do not mention archbishops, reverend fathers, church priests, council presidents, senior pastors, popes, leadership by committee, etc. The Scriptures exclude such man-made traditions for adding or taking from God’s Word. These elders are the husband of one wife, have faithful children, and meet specific Christian characteristics (1 Tim 3:1–7 f; Titus 1:6–9). With Christ being the Head, Jesus established the man as the head of the wife (1 Cor 11:3 cf; 8–9 f; Eph 5:22–24). God’s Spirit instructs women to subordinate to their believing husbands. Husbands are to love their wives by nourishing and cherishing their wives giving their lives for them (Eph 5:25 cf, 28–29, 33 ff; Jn 15:13; 1 Jn 3:16). Women are forbidden to teach or rule over men because God created man first and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden (1 Tim 2:11–15). Women are forbidden from the commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ to become speakers in the assembly (1 Cor 14:33-40). Even so, both men and women are both one in Christ and share in the same eternal inheritance (Gal 3:28 f; 1 Pet 3:7).

True Worship

The church of Christ consists of true worshipers worshiping God in spirit and truth. Christians do not worship for show or for display of talents (Matt 6:1–8; 23:4–6; Mk 12:38–40; Rom 12:3–8). These believers worship with their spirit and mind according to the Truth — the Word of God (Jn 4:23–24 cf; 17:17 f; 1 Cor 14:15). Christians are not to forsake the assembly, but seek to come together to worship, edify, and stir one another to love and good works (1 Cor 14:26 ff; Heb 2:12 cf; 10:24).

The church of Christ assembles every first day of the week for the breaking of bread, so they commune with Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The congregation partakes of the Lord’s Supper when gathered together as the whole congregation in the assembly (1 Cor 10:16 cf; 11:17–34; 14:23). The assembly meets every first day of the week — the Lord’s Day — when Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 20:7 ff, 1 Cor 11:20, 33; 1 Cor 16:1–2; Rev 1:10, 13, 20). Churches of Christ follow the example of Christ by blessing and breaking bread representing Christ’s sacrificial body, and they bless and partake of the cup of the fruit of the vine representing Jesus’s sacrificial blood (1 Cor 10:16 cf; 11:17–34 ff;  Matt 26:26–29; Mk 14:22–25; Lk 22:19–22).

The church of Christ gives freely without having to follow the obsolete command to tithe (2 Cor 9:6–15 f; Acts 2:44–45 cf; 4:32–35).

The church of Christ sings and makes music in their heart to the Lord (Eph 5:19). They do not use intrumental music because Christ and His apostles never commanded such to be used in the church. All who speak, sing, and pray in the assembly must do so by understandable and meaningful words and not with unintelligible sounds and lifeless instruments (1 Cor 14:7–19). The congregation sings among themselves with one voice in thanksgiving to God and to teach one another (Rom 15:5–6 ff; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

Conclusion: Caution, not all churches of Christ are the same. Many have deviated from God’s Word, though most keep the name and parts of its doctrine. The true chuches of Christ speak where the bible speaks and remains silent where the bible is silent (Rev 22:18,19). Its only source of truth is New Testament scriptures (Jn 17:17 f; 1 Pet 4:11). They continue in the doctrine of Christ and His apostles (2 Jn 9 f; Acts 2:42). They inherently believe that the old law is abolished (Col 2:14), all scriptures came from the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16,17), and that they must rightly divide the scripture through a great study of His Word (2 Tim 2:15). If you are looking for the New Testament church established in the first century, the churches of Christ is the nearest thing to it on planet earth.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

Grace Came From God

He loved us first (Rom 5:6, 8 f; 1 Jn 4:10, 19). When you love someone first, you take a risk of being hurt or rejected. That’s what God did. He took that risk for us. Before we asked, before we did anything, from the foundation of the world Christ was slain for the sins of all (1 Pet 1:18-20 ff; Rev 13:8; Jn 1:29; 1 Tim 2:6; 1 Jn 2:2).

God in His grace provided salvation for all through the death of His dear son (Tit. 2:11). We cannot obtain salvation separate and apart from Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6 f; Acts 4:12).

Faith Is Man’s Response

We Believe, we trust with our hearts, with our whole lives the One who loves us so (Heb 11:6). It is true we are not saved by the works of men but we are saved by the works of God. John says verily the faith is a work of God (Jn 6:29). What does belief involve?

It includes a declaration of faith—Confession (Acts 8:37 f; Rom 10:9-10). One must declare faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world, the Son of God.

This involves a decision of faith—Repentance (Acts 3:19 f; 2 Cor 7:10). Repentance means turning from serving sin to serving God.

It calls for a demonstration of faith—Baptism (Col. 2:12). There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion about baptism but the Bible is clear that baptism is an essential part of our coming to Christ for salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16).

According to Romans 6, baptism not only pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (that’s why it must be an immersion) but is our own spiritual death, burial and resurrection with Christ (vv. 1-11, 17-18). When we are immersed in obedience to the gospel, we die to sin to live in it no longer, the old man of sin is buried and we are raised a new person in Christ.

Baptism is an act of faith whereby we experience the grace and power of God (Col. 2:12). The saving power is not in the water but in the Lord (1 Pet 3:21).

In baptism we are not only united with Christ but also added to His church with all the saved (Acts 2:47 f; Gal 3:26-27). The same act that puts us into Christ, puts us into His spiritual body, the church of which He is head and Savior (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18).

However, baptism is just the beginning of the new life in Christ. There must also be a Devotion of faith – living for Jesus every day for the rest of our life (Lk 9:23). Trusting in God alone for his salvation, the Christian will want to be in church, study the Bible, give, pray, teach others the gospel, live a holy life and keep all the commandments of God. This is the continuance in the Word of God (the doctrine of Christ) the apostle John speaks of in John 8:31 and 2 John 9. Seeking to live for Christ but being honest with God about his sins, he is cleansed by the blood of Christ and enjoys the fellowship of God and His church (1 Jn 1:5-2:2). Being faithful until death, he is assured the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

 There is no question that God places a high value on the knowledge of His word. The prophet Hosea recorded the words of God in Hosea 4:6.. “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from being priests for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will forget your children.”

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn” (Ben Franklin). It is not that mankind is ignorant. In fact, mankind is quite inventive and creative. Man travels in automobiles, planes, trains, and even space shuttles to the stars. However, as Jeremiah wrote, “For My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jer 4:22).

Some people will spend twenty plus years of their valuable time to get educated in the knowledge of mankind but won’t spend one hour a week to learn of God’s Word. It is like Jeremiah said of God’s people, As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble” (Jer 44:16,17).

A college education is a good thing to have in this life. Education in God’s Word is even a better thing to have not only in this life but in the life to come. As Paul wrote, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philip 3:8).

People today hold no value in God’s Word. God’s laws of marriage, morality, honesty, loyalty, and commitment are no longer kept. Sadly, many in the body of Christ have forgotten the laws of God and choose to do as they please regardless of the consequences. Many are unwilling to learn what the will of God is. They had rather yield to their own ungodly lusts and desires.

The prophet Jeremiah recorded the words of God in Jeremiah 2:32.. “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” When we begin to spend more time with the world in pursuit of all the worldly attractions we will forget about our commitment to God, Christ, and the church. This is exactly what happened to Israel and Judah and why Hosea and Jeremiah wrote about their forgetfulness.

The quickest way to lose your family to the world and the quickest way to lose your soul to Satan is to neglect the spiritual needs of both. Satan is always luring us toward his way of thinking. He dangles temptation in front of us like he did Eve. Once he has our attention and our affections, we will lose our focus on God. It is then that we will forget.

We look at our country and wonder, “Has America forgotten the law of God? Do people even care anymore what God has to say about anything?” But a better question for those of us who are part of the body of Christ is… “Have we forgotten the law of God? And do we even care anymore?”

Some believe that faith is simply instilled in the believer without any knowledge necessary. We see a very different picture in Scripture. In 1st Thessalonians 5:21 we have the command: “Prove all things; hold firm to what is good.” Responsible Christians following this command are going to make sure that they have a basis of proof for their beliefs. Depending on the subject area, this will include evidence, verification of facts and locations in the Bible, and authority from the Bible. The Christians in Berea were highly commended because they used this approach. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

The Apostle Paul had persecuted Christians, even putting them to death (Acts 26:10). Yet he could say that he had lived in all good conscience (Acts 23:1). Though what he had done was clearly wrong, he felt he was doing God’s will at the time. He had “…a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)  He felt like he was doing God’s will. After he learned the truth more fully, he showed from the scripture that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:20-21) even though he did not believe this while he was persecuting Christians. If his first zeal had been directed by a knowledge of the Scripture, he would have already known not to persecute Christians.

A Christian’s zeal should always be directed by knowledge from God’s Word rather than one’s own feelings or comfort level. Apollos gives us a good example. He “spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.” After having the way of God explained to him more accurately, he conformed to the truth and “vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 18:25-28) We also need to be ready to change our beliefs when something more accurate is proven from the Bible. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer (or defense) to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15). The defense that God tells us to have ready for others involves both a strong belief (faith) and the reasons we have that faith. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Tim 4:16). We can’t do this if we are not prepared to teach God’s Word (Heb 5:12-14).

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,…” (Acts 17:2). Let us base our feelings on our reason-based faith in the Scriptures instead of basing our faith and practice on just our personal feelings. Let us study God’s Word seeking His approval and not our own or that of others, rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

“You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asks you , and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away” (Matt 5:38-42).

Perhaps no utterance of the Master has resulted in greater consternation and misunderstanding than this passage. A misapplication of this precept has resulted in both fanatical religious positions on the one hand, and scoffing skepticism on the other. What is the meaning and application of this great moral commandment?

The Lord quoted the law of Moses directly in noting that law He was replacing (Ex 21:23-25 ff; Lev 24:19,20; Deut 19:21). This is the oldest principle of simple justice known to man.

Enemies of the Bible assail this law as brutal. Actually, far from being so, the purpose of this commandment was to prevent brutality. Human nature demands revenge for the wrong suffered, for this is justice, but hatred and anger produce excessive revenge. One man knocks out another’s tooth, so the other man kills the aggressor.

Civil government has as both its right and responsibility the administration of this justice (Rom 13:3,4). When it fails to do so, as in our nation today, crime is rampant (Eccl 8:11). The judge who fails to administer such justice neither fears God nor regards man (Lk 18:2-5).

Furthermore, Moses never intended this principle as a license for personal revenge, but as a guide to judicial equity. The Old Testament specifically forbids the taking of personal vengeance (Lev 19:18 f; Prov 20:22 cf; 24:29; 25:21).

A final consideration which demonstrates the lack of brutality of the command was the fact that, in practice, except where a murder was involved (Num 35:29-34), a money payment was accepted in place of actual maiming of the criminal.

However, the scribes and Pharisees had used this principle in much the same way most people use it today, to attempt to justify personal vengeance. Since the law of Christ clearly approves the essential and righteous role of civil government as an Avenger (Rom 13:3,4), and since the Lord’s precepts set against this statement of verse 38 pertain to personal vengeance, Christ must have directed His prohibitions against such “getting even,” not against civil officers in upholding the laws of the state.

It being necessarily true that the Master’s doctrine deals with personal vengeance, what does he teach about this subject? The principle Christ proclaims is “resist not evil.” Violence for violence is unacceptable to God. However, does this mean that we cannot prevent an evil against us? Does it mean we can’t allow legal authorities to come to our defense?

There are clear apostolic examples that teach a Christian has the right to take all legal measures at his disposal to protect his rights against the onslaughts of evil-doers, even to the use of the armed power of the state. When the Romans in Jerusalem threatened to beat Paul without a trial, the great apostle insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29). When the radical Jews of that same city bound themselves under a curse to kill Paul, the beloved apostle made use of the armed power of the state, two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen, to thwart their wicked scheme (Acts 23:12-24). When Festus would have sent Paul back to Jerusalem, where the Jews still waited to kill him, again the man of God demanded his citizenship rights and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:9-12). In all of these instances, the apostle Paul in all innocence appealed to the armed power of civil government.

Another basic rule of Bible study draws us to the same conclusion. Every statement must be taken in context. Jesus set a contrast between that which the Jews imagined the law of Moses allowed (v. 38) and that which the law of Christ demands (vv. 39-42). The scribes and Pharisees employed Moses’ precepts concerning vengeance to attempt to justify personally getting even with an adversary. “Resist not evil” is an absolute prohibition against personal vengeance or even an attitude of resentment as the result of wrong suffered.

When a Christian suffers wrong, he should not “vow to get even” or seethe in resentment. He should do good to the evil-doer and leave vengeance to the Lord (Rom 12:17-21). God has at least three means of accomplishing this vengeance. He has authorized the punitive power of civil government, which involves the police officer (Rom. 13:3,4). Christ Himself, as God in ancient days, still “rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:17 f; Rev 19:15), and this involves the use of armed forces. God will reap final and complete vengeance in the last judgment of all men (Rev 20:11-15).

The Master stated four examples to illustrate this principle. Each teaches that we should not seek personal vengeance. Jesus commanded: “but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

In all ages, a “slap on the face” has been regarded as the grossest of insults, but it does not imperil one’s life (1 Kin. 22:24 ff; Lam 3:30; Jn 19:3; 2 Cor 11:20). Thus, the illustration is simple but demanding. When wicked people heap upon us the lowest and meanest insults, we must not retaliate in kind. Any loyal Christian has been called all sorts of demeaning names, has endured ostracism, and has been the object of vicious lies. One must never angrily turn on such an attacker as a dog on its tormentor. When Jesus was so stricken, he rebuked the offender, but refused to retaliate, although all the forces of heaven were at his command (Jn 18:22,23). He is our perfect example of enduring suffering without retaliation (1 Pet 2:18-24).

The Lord demanded: “And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also.”

This is a case of judicial injustice. It does not forbid the Christian’s use of the court in self-defense, as the apostle Paul so employed it. It does teach that even should one use the courts to persecute us, we should not seek vengeance. Be rather willing to lose that which by right cannot be taken from you than to seek personal vengeance (1 Cor 6:7). The Master enjoined: “And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two.”

Jesus commanded: “Give to him that asked you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not away.”

Did the Master teach an unlimited benevolence with our material goods? If so, we would soon be impoverished, and our families would be begging. People who insist that, when Christ demanded, “resist not evil,” the statement is completely unqualified, quickly point out that the context limits the statement we are now noticing and that other passages qualify it. If this is so for one, why not for the other?

The Lord himself promised, “If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Yet, he refused to grant Paul’s request (2 Cor 11:8,9) and informed others their prayers were not heard because they asked through improper motives (Jam 4:3). Even so here, Jesus teaches an attitude toward giving which is limited and qualified by the context and by other passages.

We must give to the needy cheerfully, not resentfully. We should not ask payment for charitable gifts (Lk 6:30). This attitude and action were demanded by the Old Covenant (Deut 15:7-11), is elsewhere taught in the New Testament (Acts 20:35 f; 1 Jn 3:17, 18) and was often exemplified by first century Christians (Acts 4:32-37).

Other passages do qualify the command. In our giving, we must not neglect the needs of our own family (1 Tim 5:8); we must put spiritual matters first (Acts 6:1-4); we are not to encourage the lazy (2 Thess 3:10-12); we should not use material assistance as an attraction to unbelievers (Jn 6:26, 27), and we must not give beyond our ability to do so honestly (Acts 5:1-11). But these limitations do not negate the fact that, as disciples of Christ, we must give willingly and without resentment to the worthy poor.

Our Lord does not demand that we be passive in the face of onslaught and danger. Today, churches of every denomination are being attacked by gunmen whose aim is to kill and destroy. However, this does not mean churches should start packing guns and start shooting back. Even so, there are means whereby churches can protect themselves. They could use security cameras, post unarmed guards, and even lock the doors. These kind of actions harm no one and protects the innocent.

God does allow us to protect our lives, our family, and our property. However, protection does not imply an eye for an eye. Christians should never be as Peter who took a sword for protection. Jesus said to him, “He that takes the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt 26:52). Christ does command us not to seek personal vengeance for wrongs suffered. We must be willing to bear the grossest insults, the greatest legal injustice, the most arbitrary power, and the needs of the poor with neither resentment nor personal vengeance. The standard is high and difficult, but if we would be partakers of the righteousness of His kingdom, we must strive to follow it. Christians should never fear suffering for the cause of Christ (1 Pet 4:16). It is to this end all Christians are called (1 Pet 2:18-21). Remember, “For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people” (Heb 10:30).

When we become a Christian, our perspective is supposed to change from the will of the flesh to the will God. We must become new creatures. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17). We must put off the old man of sin. “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…” (Col 3:9-10). We have a higher calling based on new criteria.

Men use the standard of culture to make their decisions. The culture factors nothing into its decisions except popularity and pleasure. It is shallow and filled with frustration and hopelessness. God’s will bases its commands on holiness. Yes, Christians may get sick but not the kind of sickness brought upon us by our misconduct.

Marriage is rapidly decreasing in the United States as cohabitation increases. The majority of couples marrying today have lived together first. Sex outside of marriage and cohabitation are rampant in our world today and illustrative of the flesh versus holiness dilemma. Cohabitation is living together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. Some call it shacking up, some call it living together, some call it a prerequisite to marriage, but no matter what you call it, God calls it a sin.

The fleshly idea is that cohabitation is necessary for couples to “get to know one another” before marriage. Whatever the motivation, it is contrary to God’s will. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” All sex outside of marriage is a sin. Fornication refers to any sexual activity with someone whom you are not married to. Adultery is when a married person has sex with someone outside of their marriage.

Adultery and fornication exclude men from the kingdom of God (1 Cor 5:9,10 f; 1 Cor 6:9). They come from an evil heart of unbelief (Matt 15:19). They corrupt the beautiful gift of sexuality given by God only to biblically qualified married couples.

Cohabitation can cost you advances even in this wicked world. How many politicians have you heard who have a live-in partner vs those who are married? How many preachers do you know who cohabitating with someone? Fact is, when corporations are given the choice between hiring a married person or a cohabitator, more often than not the married person is chosen because they are judged to be more responsible in life.

Divorce is higher among those who cohabit before marriage than those who do not. Cohabitators who marry each other are more likely to divorce than people who marry but have not cohabited first.

Worst of all, cohabitation will cost you your eternal life. A cost-benefit analysis clearly establishes marriage as superior to cohabitation. God’s plan for marriage is proved right again (Gen 2:18-25).

Remember, cohabitation is just a dressed up word for fornication and fornication is a mortal sin! Bottom line, marriage is not something you practice for but something you work through for a lifetime. This is good and acceptable with God.

Will there be rewards of heaven or the punishments of hell come the day of judgment?. Some dismiss the question by saying, “If I get to heaven, it won’t matter about degrees of reward.” Some will quote David who said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps 84:10). It is true that the lesser part of heaven will be greater than the best part of hell. However, make no mistake about it, God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name (Heb 6:10).

God’s wonderful grace has made a home in heaven available for everyone who will prepare for it. We can rejoice in the assurance that every child of God is assured of an “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). Heaven will not be a disappointment for anyone. On the other hand, the “best” that hell might have to offer promises no relief.

Sorer Punishment

A “sorer punishment” awaits those who are apostate. The rhetorical question of Hebrews 10:28-29 compares the death penalty under the law and affirms a more severe punishment for those who “who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace.” Punishment for disobedience under the law was severe, but there is a more severe sentence for those who depart from Christ.

The same point is given in 2 Peter 3:20-21, where the apostle explains that the consequences for apostates are “worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” There is a sad destiny that awaits those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8). But Peter says it is worse for those who have enjoyed salvation and abandoned it.

Jesus showed that some will suffer a more severe punishment. “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto you, Chorazin! woe unto you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” (Matt. 11:21-24). For all the evil that characterized the heathen cities of Tyre and Sidon, and the vile degeneracy of ancient Sodom, it will be “more tolerable” for them than for the impenitent people among whom Jesus personally ministered. That it will be “more tolerable” means that their judgment will be less severe. This did not imply that the less advantaged heathen and immoral would escape punishment, only that those with the greater advantage will receive a more harsh sentence (Matt. 23:14 f; Jam. 3:1).

In the parable of the wicked servant, the Lord sets out the same principle. He distinguishes between one whose disobedience is knowing and willful and one who sins in ignorance. “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Lk 12:47-48). “Many stripes” and “few stripes” represent degrees of punishment. This is reasonable justice. The principle behind it is “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (v48). All sin is sin, but some sin is greater (Jn 19:11) and justice demands greater consequences for greater sin.

The parable of the Laborers

Before considering degrees of reward in heaven we need to consider a parable which is often cited as proof that all rewards will be equal. In the parable of the hired laborers, workers entered the vineyard at different times of the day, some early, some at the third hour, some at the sixth and the ninth, and even others at the eleventh hour. At the end of the day, when the laborers were given their “hire,” all received the same. “But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have worked but one hour, and you have made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do you no wrong: did not you agree with me for a penny?” (Matt. 20:1-13).

The assumption some make is that the parable applies to the rewards of heaven. Among several objections to this view is the fact that the dispute between the employees and employers was over what had been earned, whereas salvation is by grace. Eternal life cannot be “wages” paid (Matt. 20:8). It is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23). Neither is it imaginable that heirs of heaven would be envious of what has been given to others. Further, the terse dismissal of the complainers (“Take what is yours, and go your way”_Matt 20:14) hardly accords with the welcome assured for the saved (Matt. 25:34 f; 1 Thess. 4:17).

Many understand the parable as teaching the acceptance of the Gentiles over the protest of the Jews. The application is that the Jews had been in God’s service over the centuries and might think they were more deserving than the Gentiles, who had come into God’s graces very late, “the eleventh hour.” This interpretation has much to commend it and could be easily applied as such.

However, it is more likely that the parable was in response to Peter’s question in the previous chapter. The rich young ruler had turned away rather than sacrifice his many possessions (Matt. 19:22) and Jesus had commented on how riches obstruct entrance into the kingdom. This prompted Peter to say, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Matt. 19:27). Implied was a self-righteous boast as well as the expectation of an earned reward. Peter’s concern may have been that the young ruler had given up nothing, yet was rich, whereas they had given all, but were poor.

Indeed, there would be benefits, both temporal and eternal (Matt. 19:28-29), but Jesus gave the parable that immediately follows to show that a “What’s in it for me” attitude is not to be the reason for following Christ. The point is that one should not try to bargain with God over whether to do his will. This is the approach argued by Satan: that rewards would be the only reason anyone would serve God (Job 1:9). The workers in the parable required a contract. They would not work on the basis only of “whatsoever is right, that shall you receive.” They did not work until they knew exactly what they would get for it (Matt. 20:2, 9, 13). For comparison, what if we had a “contract” that giving ten percent would mean a return of one hundred percent? What if perfect attendance for a year would guarantee season tickets to your favorite baseball team? Suppose there was a bounty of $10,000 for every person led to conversion. The message of the parable is not about whether all rewards are equal, but whether one works in the service of the Lord for the right reason.

Heavenly Portions

It must be admitted that the scriptural evidence for degrees of reward in heaven is less obvious than it is for degrees of punishment.

Jesus said plainly that “he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). Many Bible students have thought this is illustrated in the parable of the pounds (Lk 19:11-27). The rewards were of like nature, yet different in degree. “Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have you authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound has gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be you also over five cities.” Both would have a place in the kingdom, but the rewards would be different.

A strong case can be made also from I Corinthians 3:10-15. Paul is discussing the work of preachers, as those who “build” on the holy foundation (v11). The work is represented by “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.” All are to be tried by fire. The fire of hell is not in view. Rather, fire is part of the illustration to show the difference in the quality of the work done. “If any man’s work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (v14). The “reward” is not salvation, because he will be saved even if his work burns. The reward must, therefore, be something in addition to eternal life. On the other hand, if his work is “burned,” he will suffer loss. Loss of what? Not loss of heaven, but a loss of the reward he would have had if the work had endured. This reward may be what Paul expressed as his hope regarding the Thessalonians. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19 f; Phil. 4:1).

Let us also be mindful of the Hebrew writer in chapter 11 with what is often called the “faith chapter”. This is the hall of fame of those who have shown great faith in God. ” Notice what they endured and ask yourself, “Was this so they could receive the same reward of those who lived a long, healthy, and prosperous life?

“Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (vv33-38).

As the Hebrew writer duly noted, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection”.

Yes, there will be degrees in heaven and hell. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).

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