feast: What Is the Church's Work Today (Part 2)
What We Are Involved in and What We Are Doing
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 01-Oct-96; Sermon #FT96-06; 57 minutes
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
Accountability Atomization Close inspection Condition church Convoluted reasoning Destruction faith Different functions Division Explosion Faith First love God's sovereignty Healing booklet Implosion Job Joseph Tkach Knowledge Laodiceanism Magic mountain dream Patterns Phillip Keller Respect of persons Responding Roller coaster Scattering Scrutiny Shepherd's responsibility Spiritual foundation Testing of faith Things happen Wolf
As we enter the Part 2 of this sermon that I began the other day, I'm beginning by reminding you of its purpose. I want to make a bit of review here at the beginning, but I will add some things hopefully to clarify some things that I felt might have been a little bit vague as I reviewed the sermon in my mind.
The purpose of this sermon is to give you what I perceive happened in the greater Church of God. The second thing—what I feel the church's work is today (as a result of that). And, three, therefore, why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing.
I want to remind you that I nowhere said that I am against the preaching of the gospel to the world. I also told you very early in that sermon that we are preparing for that very thing, just in case. But, right now, it's not the main thrust of what we're doing. We are aware that that is a responsibility that God gives to the church, but we do not feel that (at this time) it is of the highest priority of the church. Other things need to be done first.
Now, bringing a person to holiness through "the preaching of the gospel within the church" -that is, "the feeding of the flock"—is a far more difficult, hard, time-consuming part of a person's trek to the Kingdom of God. "The preaching of the gospel to the world" at the very beginning is the easiest part of the entire process (and also the shortest part as well). God's work is creating. He is the Creator. Salvation is creation; and God is right in the middle of His work (according to Psalm 74:12). A major portion of God's work is creating faith within us (John 6:28-29), so that we will respond in trust.
We also saw, briefly, that the church is compared to a human body that consists of many parts. The parts (that is, the members) don't all have exactly the same function. That's why he [Paul] said God placed some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, and so forth—and it goes right down into every portion of the body. Some parts of us are eyes, some are ears, some are nose, some are mouth, and on and on. So we don't all have exactly the same function (even though there are also many similarities as well).
Secondly, we also saw that the entire body that God is working in and through doesn't always have the same function either. I began to give you examples. Noah, who was doing the work of God just before the flood, is called a preacher of righteousness. But God's work through Noah changed dramatically in one-year's time—from what he did before the flood until what he did after the flood. Abraham's work was different from Isaac's. Joseph's work was greatly different from that of Jacob's. Same God though; but He called them (and placed them, and used them) to do different things—even though the general path was all pointed in the same direction (that is, the successful culmination of God's purpose that He is working out through men). Joshua's purpose was to settle the land. Moses' purpose was to get them there. Same group of people; but there was a change in their operations and functions.
Now turn with me to Numbers 9 (while we're speaking here about the Israelites) because I think that there is a verse that catches the essence of this principle that we were talking about as that sermon concluded.
Numbers 9:21 - And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
Do you see the purpose of this section here? Beginning in verse 15, God is teaching us that He is sovereign. He is running the show. He determines where and when His work will go. He determines if we rest. He determines if we move. And He gives the indication [of] the direction that He wants us to go. Now, in this case, that was revealed by the moving of the cloud or the pillar of fire. So whether by night (by the pillar of fire) or by day (by the cloud), God indicated the direction.
If you know anything at all about the history of the children of Israel walking through the wilderness, they didn't always go in the same direction. They didn't always go in the direction that the people thought they should go. Remember when they came out [of Egypt], right away (it says) God didn't take them directly into the land of Palestine. Instead, He suddenly made a right-hand turn; and they went directly south - away from Palestine. That must have seemed awfully strange to people. "Hey! We want to go to the east!" The One who's running the show said, "No. I want you to go to the south. And, not only that, [but] I'm going to take you into a boxed canyon. And I'm going to open up that boxed canyon by dividing the sea. We're going to get on the other side (after you're all baptized); and then I'm going to take you to a mountain. And then I'm going to give you my law; and then we're going to march for a couple of years before we get there." God has His purposes. God is doing the leading.
Numbers 9:22-23 - Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed: they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
We're going to show you (eventually) that it was God who blew the church apart. God decided that. That was His work; and He wanted the church blown apart, for whatever His reasons were. I think that we can see that a lot of the reason had to do with our spiritual attitude.
Every time that God indicates a change, the church has to adjust to that. We have to operate our faith; and our faith is based upon what is written in this Book! God wrote what is in this Book so that those "upon whom the ends (the goals, the purposes) of His work are come upon" would be able to look and see the direction that they were to go. It's already written here. The patterns are here. They are in the Book. They are primarily in the prophecies. Some of them are in the historical things; and some of them are in the law (as we see right here). So we are to receive our faith from the patterns that He has laid down already.
Obviously then, if He has blown the church apart, He is expecting a different pattern to be followed from the one that has been followed these past forty or fifty years. Something has to change. So the conditions—forced on us by our environment and what God wants us to accomplish—are going to determine the direction that we go in. See, that's what we learn from the Israelites. The conditions that were created by their sin... The conditions that were created by the attack that came from the Amalekites… The conditions that were created by not having enough food, not enough water... Fornication in the camp… (You name it.) But, when something happened, Israel had to adjust to the circumstances. So now we can read those things and recognize that a change has to be made now from what we have been doing in the past. Israel's journey didn't always follow the same unbroken path for forty years. I could use kind of a crass statement from the world; but I won't use the crass statement. I'll only say to you—"things happen." (I think you get the point.)
Now let's turn to Psalm 11:3. We'll just anchor in on that verse once again and head in a direction that I think will be helpful to us in determining what we feel needs to be the church's work today.
Psalm 11:3 - If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
I just want you to be aware that it doesn't say, "If the foundations be shaken." It says, "If the foundations be destroyed." That's worse than the foundations just going through an earthquake. We'll look at a verse (a little bit later) that connects the foundations with the rest of the building, and we'll see what it says there.
So what do the righteous do when the foundations are destroyed? I think that we can agree that the church is not in the same condition that it has been in quite a number of years. And I think that we would generally agree that the condition of the church is not good at this time. Eighteen years ago—Mr. Armstrong was warning then that it was in mortal danger! And now, eighteen years later, I propose to you that it's even worse. I mean, we're scattered all over the place! Then we were, at least in one body. So things haven't gotten any better. We are badly divided; and the dividing hasn't stopped. In fact, brethren, it is worsening. We haven't reached the bottom yet.
Now I'm going to use something—a ploy, I guess you might say—that Amos used in Amos 3 (where he asked a series of questions). The answers to those questions are actually very obvious. But, he did what he did in order to make us think about the answers; because we will be led to see that there's really only one logical answer.
Do organizations (like companies and corporations) break up because things are going well and they are in sound condition? Well, the answer to that is (obviously) "No".
Do churches (congregations) divide because everybody is in agreement as to what their beliefs are and what the policies ought to be?
Do families divorce - husband go one way, wife go another way (and who knows where the children go)—because they are strong in their trust of each other? Obviously, the answer to that is "No".
Did the church break apart because of persecution from the world? Did you see screaming headlines proclaiming "Christians—enemies of the state"? Were Christians being jailed, thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, machine-gunned over bulldozed pits? Were Christians being herded into prison camps?
Were the problems internal? Was what drove us apart a matter of the heart (matters of belief, of doctrine, of policies, of attitude)?
Brethren, what happened is that the church imploded—woof! (like this)—before it exploded! And it imploded because we were spiritually sick (weakened by years of poor spiritual diet combined with huge doses of self-righteousness and neglectful application). As a body, we lost our first love. We fell asleep and became self-concerned. We drifted from God.
Now again, a series of questions. When sheep scatter, what is the first responsibility of the shepherd? Is he to ignore them and go his own way? Or, should his first job be to begin re-gathering them? (Again, I think the answer to that is obvious.)
Then what should he do? Don't you think that it is logical that the shepherd's next job—his highest priority—should be to fix whatever it was that caused the sheep to scatter? If a wolf came in, you'd get the wolf (see, once you get the sheep back together again). If the fences have broken down, then you fix the fence. If there's something wrong with the sheep themselves, you've got to do something about that. Sometimes that occurs.
I don't know how many of you have read A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. But Philip Keller said in that [book] that there are sometimes sheep… He described one particular sheep (that he had) that was a ewe, which (he said) was the best one in terms of the way it looked. But this ewe had a problem. She "worried" the fence. She would lean again the fence, and lean against the fence, and lean against the fence until she finally broke the fence. Then he found out that this ewe was teaching her lambs to do the same thing. He said (despite his desire to continue a line of sheep coming from this very good-looking ewe) he had to destroy the ewe because she was destroying the flock. So sometimes those things have to be taken care of. The shepherd's first responsibility (after he begins to re-gather sheep) is to get at the problem that caused the sheep to be scattered.
Now let's turn to Ecclesiastes the 3rd chapter; and I'm going to read a number of very familiar scriptures to you. If you know your Bible (if you know Ecclesiastes), then you understand what I am going towards at this time. Solomon writes:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 - To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew.
And on and on it goes. I'm trying to help us to see that what caused the church to implode—and then to explode—with no minor scratch on the surface of a great body. Eighteen years ago (again), Mr. Armstrong was warning [that] the church was already in mortal danger. God was stirring him up in order to confront us with our choices—Repent! or I will follow through with the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. I remind you, brethren, that there are no hollow warnings with God. God is not like parents who keep telling their kids, "Johnny, don't do this" and "Johnny, don't do that," but never do anything about it. (Constant warnings, until the parent is finally so irritated and angry that they explodes.) God patiently stirred up Mr. Armstrong's mind and let us know that there was something seriously wrong already well in development. Mr. Armstrong said (in that 1978 sermon) that he first saw disunity developing as early as 1969 - nine years before that—and that that disunity was a signal of our internal spiritual problems. By 1978, Mr. Armstrong was very alarmed.
Now, the fact that it was A MAJOR PROBLEM is now clearly seen; and there is no quick fix! It took us since 1969 to get into this condition. How quickly are we going to turn this around? I don't know. But, you see, if God has commissioned me "the one to tell you" what needs to be done, then I will fulfill my responsibility. The quickness by which we are turned around depends on your individual responsibility and accountability in responding in your own personal life. I don't know what your sins are. I can only see John Ritenbaugh; and I'm held accountable for what I do in turning around [and] what my contribution was to the internal problems of the church.
I told you the other night—I was "asleep". But God (in His mercy), I think, woke me up earlier than He did you, in order to provide at least some kind of a shepherd to help turn you around. I don't think that He could have called a worse person, a weaker person, a more fearful person, a more ill-prepared person [than myself]. Yet, on the other hand, I do see some wisdom in it; because I will turn to God for strength - because I know that I just don't have it within me to do the kind of job that I've been given to do. The last thing in the world that I want to do is to (seemingly) shout and rant and rave at people about what's going on in the church. I want people to like me. So a Band-Aid isn't going to do whenever major surgery and a body cast are needed—because we did become morally and spiritually corrupt.
Now don't you think that it's time for us to do something else in order to fix the problem? When persons finds themselves sick, shouldn't they reconsider what has been done in the past (the way they've been living) and stop doing what they've been doing and make a change so that it will give their body a chance to heal? I say this because I want to remind you that, as early as 1978, Mr. Armstrong was really warning the church. That warning (plus what has happened since) proves that we were deteriorating morally and spiritually. [Still,] all the time (and all the while) that this deterioration was going on, the church was preaching the gospel to the world. [Therefore] that's not the answer to the problem.
It's a time to make a change (a shift in direction, a shift of focus, a shift in the intensity of what we've been doing) because something else needs to be done to straighten us out before we can again be used to preach the gospel to the world. I think that what has happened has happened (at least in part—maybe a major part) showing us that God is displeased. And that He wants to prepare us so that He can be pleased with what we do; and we can really give Him an acceptable sacrifice, because things will be done in the right attitude.
Jeremiah 7:3-4 - Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust you not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.
Do you understand what these people were saying? If we can update it, we're saying here (in a modern sense) "I'm in the church. This is the church. This is the church of God. This is the church of God. God dwells in this church. Everything is fine. I'm safe in the church. God's going to take us to a place of safety. Everything is all right". God says those are lying words, in this context. It might be "the temple of God"; but everything isn't all right.
Jeremiah 7:5 - For if you throughly amend your ways and your doings; if you throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour.
And then it goes on and on and begins to describe some of the sins those people were involved in.
Turn to chapter 26 and verse 13.
Jeremiah 26:13 - Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he has pronounced against you.
Mr. Armstrong quoted Revelation 2 and 3 several times during the course of that 1978 sermon, but the references were basically to two general areas: the message to Ephesus, and the message to Laodicea. When he referred to the message to Ephesus, he said that this church had "lost its first love". When he referred to Revelation 3 and the Laodiceans, he referred to us becoming lethargic and sleepy. These two are very closely related, but I want you to see what it says in Revelation 2 and verses 4 and 5 in the message to Ephesus.
Revelation 2:4-5 - Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly.
Well, there's excellent advice here. Whether we understand it or not, the first works had to do with what they believed about (and ‘in') the gospel. One of the major things that drove the church apart was in 1991 [when] they changed the gospel of the Kingdom of God (and began preaching "another gospel"). Our faith comes from hearing the word. Our faith comes from the gospel. If the gospel is changed, faith is going to change. If it's not the right gospel, then we are headed down straight into hell fire—because what we do is conditioned by what we believe. We conduct our lives according to what we believe. If we aren't hearing the right gospel, then everything changes.
Now what happens when "the foundations" are destroyed? Turn with me to Jeremiah 50:15. (The message here is not against Israel. It's against Babylon.)
Jeremiah 50:15 - Shout against her round about: she has given her hand: her foundations are fallen, [just like ‘the foundations are destroyed'], her walls are thrown down.
What happens whenever "the foundations" are destroyed? The whole building comes down! Are we going to reach that point where there's not one stone upon another? You know from I Peter 2 (or, ought to understand from I Peter 2) that we are the stones in the temple. Are we going to become so badly divided that we are atomized? Well, if God wills it (because that's going to be good for us), that's the way it's going to be going. But I feel a responsibility—as a shepherd—to do what I can to stop that (to do what God permits me to do). He has led us in this direction. Of course, I hope and pray that I am doing the right thing; [and] that I'm not misleading anybody at all, because I certainly don't want to do that.
Okay now. Let's ask a question. What is the spiritual foundation of our life? I've already told you the answer. It's faith. What does Hebrews 11:1 say? It says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." The King James translators chose to use the English word ‘substance' for that Greek word that was written there. Do you know what ‘substance' means? It came into the English language through the French language. "Sub" means under. "Stance" means stand (in English). Faith is what stands under! Faith is "the foundation". Faith is the motivator. It's the mover. It's what we believe in. That's where our faith comes from. It's what we believe in. So it is faith that supports the whole structure—all the super structure that is up there. (That super-structure is you and me and what we believe.)
I'm going to tell you two things that happened to me and to Evelyn back in the late ‘80s. They're personal things, but I can look back on them now as something that played a significant role in our lives [then] and, at least partly, [in] what we're doing now. The first one happened, I believe, in late 1987 or early 1988 when Evelyn and I were beginning to become concerned (already) about what was going on. The thing that triggered this was the first edition of the new HEALING booklet that they put out.
Those people at headquarters already knew that she and I were not pleased with the things that were going on in the church. It was not because we were vomiting all over a congregation or secretly trying to subvert (or undermine) anybody at all. There are people here from the North Hollywood and Glendale churches, and they will tell you that I never did anything like that there (and neither did Evelyn do anything like that). We did not in any way express our displeasure before the congregation—even though we were beginning to become troubled by what we were beginning to become aware of (and observe). We wondered where it was headed.
The first printing—of the HEALING booklet—I read in my automobile [while] waiting for Evelyn to do something. I don't know what it was, [but] when she came out, my first comment to her was: "Boy! They need Mr. Armstrong to write for them." It didn't make a great deal of logical sense to me. There was something missing out of it. I couldn't perceive exactly what it was. Evelyn was the one who picked it up, [that is] what the real problem was there. At any rate, they were beginning to call us in the office and talk with us. It wasn't angry. They weren't angry with us. I sincerely think that they were trying to help us to see things from their perspective. (And we couldn't see things from their perspective.)
Well, we were before two of the very top echelon men there (whose names you would recognize immediately), and, in the course of the discussion that was going on (about the HEALING booklet), the one man made an incredible statement. I want you to think about this a little bit. He said to me, "I can disprove anything you say about healing." And he meant it. Such vanity! He meant that if I picked up something like this Book here and said to him, "It says in this Book [the Bible] that God heals," that he could disprove it—because he was trained in those things (in arguing, debating). "Convoluted reasonings" is what he meant.
But that wasn't the worse one. A little bit later Evelyn said very plainly, "The thing that we don't like about the new HEALING booklet is that faith has been taken out of it." And then came the most incredible statement of all. This other man replied, "That's because we didn't want any faith in it." These people were representatives of Jesus Christ [and] of the Church of God, and they didn't want faith in God in this booklet? I'll tell you—that set our heads spinning.
Well, it was probably about a year later that something else happened to me. Evelyn wasn't involved in it at all. I think this happened in late '88 or early '89, something like that. I've lost account of the exact time, but it was some time in that area. I had an unusually vivid dream. My dreams are the kind (normally) where they're just absolutely stupid (all mixed up), and I make no attempt whatever to think about them even. But this one [dream] was unusually vivid, and another headquarters' personality appeared, just briefly. (Just pffft! like that, and he was gone.) Looking back on it several years later, I can begin to understand why he might have been in there. This man was evangelist rank, and he is with the Worldwide [Church of God] to this day. He was not a main part of the dream at all.
What I saw in my dream was Magic Mountain—which is an amusement park just outside of Los Angeles on Interstate 5, as it goes north out of the city. What I saw in particular was the roller coaster. I was looking up at Magic Mountain. Because it's on a high place, and I was looking up at it. Suddenly the roller coaster broke away from its track and began flying through the air in kind of a serpentine manner (like so, like a roller coaster would go on its tracks). It did this for a considerable distance. It was carrying a full load of people, as those roller coasters usually are. But, suddenly, it plunged in a slanting direction, and it crashed into the corner of a light buff (or yellow-colored) slab-sided building that looked exactly like the building that the Norwalk churches that I pastored in, for six years, looked like. The crashing roller coaster blew a major hole in the corner of the structure, and the whole building shook considerably. It remained standing but there was a big hole there now.
I didn't understand everything instantly. I did tell Evelyn about it in the morning, because it was so arresting. We began to think about it a lot more seriously—that maybe there was something to this. I did know that it affected me emotionally, and I did understand (almost immediately) that what the church was going through was going to be an emotionally stressful time. We didn't figure out for quite a while that I think the corner of the building represented faith. There was going to be a major effort made to destroy the very cornerstone of God's spiritual building—and that is faith. The building would remain standing, but it was going to go through a very earth-shaking period of time. Looking back on it, I think that you would agree that it did happen. And now, here we are, scattered all over the place.
I think the thing that we need to begin doing is (first of all) looking at God's part in all of this.
Matthew 10:29-30 - Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Now think, just briefly, about the theme of Psalm 139, where it's expounded there how close God's attention is to you and me. How the Psalmist said that even if he was at the bottom of the sea, God would be aware of him. He couldn't go anywhere on earth that God would not be aware of him. That God knows our thoughts from afar off. Another place it says that we are "the apple of His eye".
And so we have to ask the question, "Is God sovereign over His creation and His church?" Do things that happen in the church take Him by surprise?—when He's aware that even a sparrow falls, and that a sparrow can't fall without Him giving permission. That's mind-boggling! That's stunning! I can't comprehend a mind like that—that is so ‘aware' that even little birds don't escape His notice, no matter where. Even if they're on the other side of the earth (in Australia, somewhere), He's aware of what's going on! Do you think that something could happen in the church ("the apple of His eye", where the focus of His attention is) without Him being aware of it? [Or] that, somehow or another, Satan sneaked in, and he destroyed the church? Or, somehow or another, Joseph Tkach sneaked in. And God said, "Oh no, I didn't want him; but what am I going to do now? He's in there."
If we think of things like that, I don't think that we have the right picture of God. Does God merely react? React to what Satan or to what His children are doing? Brethren, He's the Creator. He's leading the show. He's the one that's forming and shaping. He knows what's going on. It's not the creation that's making Him do something. He applies what needs to be done to His creation. Let's not take His job away from Him! Satan didn't force God's hand or force his will on God.
I think that what happened was that God could see, from afar, where the church was drifting. And (like He did with Job) He commissioned Satan to do what he did. (Satan may have suggested it, but God had already thought of it.) Did you see the taunt that God gave to Satan?—"How about my servant Job there?" Do you know what God said that's not printed? He said, "I'll bet you can't break Job." And I think that that's happening to the church. I think God said, "I don't think you can break My children. They have their weaknesses; but those who are really My kids - they're going to remain faithful." God will help us do that! You can tell that Job really went through it. Boy! His faith was tested, and he was purified by what he went through. But he came through with flying colors too. He wasn't perfect. He had things to learn. We have things to learn as well, but all things do work together for good for those who love God, and for those who are the called. But I think that we have to understand that God blew the church apart. Nothing happens in God's creation without His express will permitting it (doing it). Remember what Psalm 74 said? "God is right in the middle of things, delivering."
Okay now. He's let us get into this. We've got to get out of it. It's our problem now. He's with us, but nonetheless He wants to see what we're going to do. Will we respond like Job? I hope so. (Maybe even better.) Did you notice that God drew the line and said to Satan this far and no further? God never gives us a test that is too great for us. He always provides a way of escape. But brethren, we have to exercise our faith. We have to be turning to Him for that strength. The purpose of this trial, brethren, is to drive us back so that we see God. You can't see God when you're asleep. (I'll show you more of that later.) We were losing sight of Him.
Back again in the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 8. [This is] something that we have to work with - a very important principle.
Ecclesiastes 8:11 - Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
I wanted this verse only to provide an anchor for a principle to reinforce something that I said a little bit earlier; and, that is, that with God there are no hollow warnings. When God says something (as Isaiah 55 says), "His word goes forth out of His mouth and it accomplishes what He wants it to accomplish." So, if God gives a warning, then it's going to come to pass unless the conditions are met. We read the conditions. He said, "Amend your ways, and I'll put you in the land. I'll let you dwell in the inheritance." So we have some changes. We want to understand that there are no hollow warnings [with God].
One of the most poignant illustrations of this is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God told them that "in the day you would eat thereof, you would surely die". On the surface, God didn't tell them the truth; but did they die? They sure did. So we can understand that to mean that in the day that you eat thereof, you are as good as dead. They violated His word. [They] ate; and they died (just like He said). It wasn't a hollow warning. Humanly, they could have said, "Hey! I took a bite of this thing and nothing happened. I didn't die." We have to be careful we don't allow human nature to deceive us. We can sin; and—because the penalty seemingly does not occur immediately—we begin to think that God was looking the other way—or that He didn't care, or that His word really doesn't have the authority that He says it does. (But indeed it does.)
Now let's look, briefly, at how God does judge (some of the parameters of that judgment) by first turning back to I Peter 1:17.
I Peter 1:17 - And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.
God does not judge with respect of persons. What this means is that converted or unconverted, sin is still sin. Sin, sin, sin. It doesn't matter whether a person is converted or unconverted. It doesn't matter whether a teenager does it or whether an eighty-five year old person does it. The wages of sin is death. In that case, His judgment is without respect of persons. It doesn't matter whether the king does it, or whether the king's slave does it. Sin is sin. Sin kills—regardless. What God does is (in His mercy) that there are patterns that He works within so that we can recognize His hand in what is going on. Now let's look at a couple of these patterns.
James 3:1 - My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
Even though God judges without respect of persons, some receive closer inspection than others. In this case (you can understand that) God's scrutiny of me is going to be more thorough than His scrutiny of you, because He has put me in this position and He has given me whatever gifts are necessary to fulfill it. So I have to measure up to that responsibility, and so part of the cost of that is that I am held more accountable than others. That goes up and down the whole body. If it's good for the ministry, it's good for others as well. God does take that into consideration so that we will understand.
Back in Luke is (I guess you might say) a variation of this same pattern.
Luke 12:45-48 - But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delays his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 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. 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.
That's very clear. "To whom much is given, much is required." This puts us (as a church, as a body) into a somewhat precarious position because of what God has made available in terms of technology (the printing press, the radio, television, telephone—all of these means of mass and personal communication). In addition to that, He supplied us with an apostle through which He raised up the end time church to do a work, and then [He] supplied us with a multitude of ministers. Congregations spread all across the United States, Canada, and much of the world besides. I believe that we have been given more knowledge (of more important spiritual things) than any comparable group of people since, at least, the first century.
Now a question—How intense then is His scrutiny of us going to be? Well that's something that we need to seriously consider in terms of repentance. We have been given very much. Maybe the food lately (the last number of years) has not been good, but there was still (for most of us) plenty of things available from the years in which our spiritual level was very high - on through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and even into much of the ‘70s. The material that was being churned out by the servants of God was of very high quality [then], even though we (ourselves) were a pretty ragged bunch—compared to the way we looked physically, as we moved into the ‘80s and ‘90s. It almost seemed (as though) as the church progressed materially, it regressed spiritually. That leads right into Laodiceanism, which I'm going to get into in the next sermon.
We have used up our time for today. But I want to remind you that because much has been given to us and because there are no hollow warnings with God, the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 did come down upon the church in increasing intensity through the years, until finally we have been scattered. I don't want you to feel down—because God did what is good for us. He hasn't abandoned us. He is with us; and He did these things for our good.
Whether we like to give him credit or not, Mr. Tkach (despite what happened) did us a favor. It has caused us to re-evaluate (first of all) our convictions and (then) our convictions in terms of our life. From that is going to come the blessing of God, because (as we amend our ways) He is going to bless. He won't withhold those things either.
My next sermon will conclude this series. We will lead up to that point where I can describe to you very clearly what Laodiceanism really is and give you a very graphic picture of it—from which you should be able to evaluate where we need to change.