Archive for the ‘The Kingdom of God’ Category

Sep 30

Stockpile

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

In the fall, many beehives can become rather defensive and harder for beekeepers to work with. Why would this be?

 

In the spring, the hive is mostly empty of food, and the bees are bringing in fresh nectar and pollen and are rearing brood at astounding rates. In the fall, an entire summer’s worth of work is stored up in the hive – potentially 100+ pounds of honey and stored pollen, the honey all having been painstakingly evaporated from nectar and covered with a thin wax seal.

 

All summer, tens of thousands of bees labored to gather and preserve what is now contained in the hive. To compare it to our own lives, think of the basement or pantry shelves, full of a summer’s worth of canning; or think of a barn full of hay and corn bins full of corn.

 

By fall, the bees have put an enormous investment into what is stored in the hive, and they are depending upon it to get through the winter. It is their reward for hard work in the past; it is their hope for a continued future.

 

Not only do bees have more goods stored up in the fall; enemies have also increased. Hungry creatures abound in the fall, eager to get a share of the bounty which the bees have stored and converted.  Hornets and wasps want to pick off members of the hive, or consume larvae.  Even bumblebees will wander into a hive to try to steal honey.

 

Bees have no eternal future; like ants, their future is here on earth. They have laid up treasure on earth, and once they have procured it, they must defend it.

 

Man has an eternal future. The less he has on earth, the less he has to worry about, to preserve, and to defend.  The more he sends before him, storing up treasure in heaven, the better his eternal future will be.

 

Let us learn from the bee. Like the ant, we can learn the values and rewards of hard work, diligence, and saving.  But we can also learn that earthly treasure brings earthly entanglement.  May our hard work, diligence, and saving be directed to the next world – to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (I Peter 1:4).

 

Originally published in The Witness September 2016.

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In:Endurance, Obedience, Separation & Nonconformity, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Rewards for a Life of Work

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“It’s really a shame – to work hard all your life, and have it all taken away in the end.”

 

A relative said this about another relative, who was spending a lot of money staying in a retirement home. As soon as he said that, Solomon’s words flashed into my mind.

Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?  yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun.  This is also vanity.  Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20).

Solomon’s words capture the pain of a realization, near the end of life, of the vanity of laying up treasure on earth. For those who have spent their lives in pursuit of material gain, riches, and pleasures, life’s sunset finds them realizing that it is all over now; the pleasures, the riches, the gain – all of it is over and will be left behind.  Life is now just a slow decline to the grave.  Was that worth it?

 

The heavenly-minded Christian, however, has a mindset and reality much different from that of the treasure-accumulating worldling, or that of Solomon. For us, our focus is not on chasing pleasure or treasure on earth.  Jesus said,

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

At the end of a life of work and service, the Christian does not realize that everything is over and must be left behind; rather, he realizes that his reward is just about to begin! We have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4).  Our hard-earned inheritance cannot be taken away from us, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).

 

Originally published in The Witness September 2016.

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In:Miscellaneous, The Church, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on In Praise of Unity

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore (Psalm 133).

 

“Church unity” was a phrase I grew up being somewhat afraid of. In response to the ecumenical movement, many in the Protestant/Evangelical churches seemed to view any talk of “unity” as an invitation to compromise – a sellout to the Roman Catholic Church.  “We don’t want unity for unity’s sake, at the expense of truth,” they would say.  “What we need is unity around truth.”

 

There is something tragically wrong with the mindset that “we need unity around truth.” Unity is not something we have around truth.  Scriptural church unity is doctrinal truth.  Far more than just being a shared agreement about a list of theological statements, Scriptural unity is “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), which we are to be eager (World English Bible), diligent (Tyndale), and busy (Wycliffe) to preserve.

 

Scriptural unity is being of one heart and one soul.[1]  It is having the same mind and speaking the same thing, having the same discernment, and having the same love one for another.[2]  It may even mean sharing the same purse.[3]  It is an imitation of the Trinity.[4]  It is being identical to each other, and becoming more and more alike as we all become more like our common Savior.

 

Where this unity is, there is an anointing of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. [5]  There is power to plead with God.[6]  There is apologetic group witness.[7]  There is a single answer for the young and weak, whoever in the church they ask.  There is power to strive together for the faith of the gospel, without fear of adversaries.[8]  There is power to convict the sinner and bring him to his knees before God.[9]  This unity is a witness to the world.[10]  There is peace as in all the churches, and contention must cease.[11]

 

[1] Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19; Acts 4:32.

[2] I Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:2.

[3] Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35.

[4] John 17:11, 20-23.

[5] Acts 1:14; 2:1-4; 4:33.

[6] Acts 1:14; 4:21-31;

[7] Acts 4:21-32; I Corinthians 14:23-25.

[8] Philippians 1:27-28.

[9] I Corinthians 14:23-25.

[10] John 17:21-23.

[11] Acts 15:25, 31; I Corinthians 11:16.

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In:Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Does God’s Moral Standard Change?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19a), Moses declared.  Indeed, God cannot change; “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).  This is a truth which is clear in Scripture.

How, then, can some affirm that God could have changed His standard of conduct for man?  How would it be possible for God to require more of His children in the New Testament than He required of the Israelites, under the Law of Moses?  How could God change His law divinely revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai?

This very argument is urged against those who believe that the New Testament gives a radically higher code of conduct than the Old Testament – for instance, regarding divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, etc.  Those who use this argument continue to follow Moses’ instructions regarding these topics under the assumption that since God never changes, His instructions to the children of Israel through Moses must still be binding for Christians today.  What light does the Bible shed on this argument?

God’s Requirements Do Change

A careful investigation of the Scriptures will reveal that God’s requirements – His instructions to mankind – do indeed change if the situation of mankind changes.  God’s own standard of morality – what He had in mind from the beginning as the standard of perfection – His ultimate, perfect will for mankind – never changes.  However, what He actually does require of man differs based on mankind’s situation.  When God commands something different, it is because something about man changed – not because God changed.

Meat-Eating

Let us examine the different sets of instructions which God had given to different people at different times.  When Adam and Eve were first created, God gave the following instructions:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so (Genesis 1:28-30).

God gave Adam and Eve three commandments: 1) Multiply, 2) have dominion over the rest of creation, and 3) eat plants.  Following the Fall of man and throughout the pre-Flood era, God never took back or changed His instructions regarding the eating of plants and not meat.  It is quite likely that sinful, disobedient men did eat meat without God’s permission and it is certain that animals did so,[1] but God had not changed His instructions as far as we know from Scripture.

However, following the Flood, God gave this set of instructions to Noah and his descendants:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.  But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat (Genesis 9:1-4).

Notice that now, following the Flood, the flesh of animals is given as food just as plants had been given earlier.  Did God’s moral standard change?  No; the situation of mankind changed, as the post-Flood climate seems to have been much different from the pre-Flood climate, and animal proteins and fats were now needed for survival and growth.  In other words, God did not change; man’s situation changed.  Does God’s change in instructions somehow challenge God’s unchanging nature?  Apparently it does not; the unchanging God gave a different set of instructions, showing us that these facts do not contradict in His infinite wisdom.

The Law of Moses

At a later time in history, God gave a complete set of laws to His chosen people, Israel.  The Law of Moses, given on Mt. Sinai, contained rules concerning moral, ceremonial, religious, civil, environmental, and hygienic behavior.  Up to this time, this was the fullest revelation of God’s will and plan for mankind, and He intended for the Israelites to prosper in obedience to this revelation:

I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.  O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!…Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:28b-29, 32-33).

Why was the Law of Moses given?  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Wherefore then serveth the law?  It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Galatians 3:19).

The Law was given because of transgression – because of sin.  However, it was only intended to be a temporary solution to the problem of sin.  Notice that Paul said the Law was added “till the seed should come”.  The context reveals that the “seed” of whom Paul is speaking is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

The Israelites accepted the obligations in the Law of Moses, and God promised that He would not break the covenant He had made with Israel (Judges 2:1).

The Law’s Moral Teachings

So what were the moral requirements contained in the Law of Moses?  If it is true that God’s standard of morality never changes, what commandments contained in Moses’ law would we still be under the obligation of keeping?

War was commanded under the Law of Moses (Numbers 25:16-18; 31:1-4; Deuteronomy 7:1-3; commandments regarding how war was to be conducted are found in Numbers 10:9; Deuteronomy 20:1-20).  Divorce and remarriage were allowed (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 22:13-29; 24:1-4).  The swearing of oaths was commanded under certain circumstances (Exodus 22:10-12; Numbers 5:19-22; Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 10:20-21).

It is commandments like these which our Protestant friends wish to keep living under when they insist that God’s moral requirements never change.  They wish to keep their war, their patriotism, their divorce and remarriage, and their oaths.  However, they are not consistent in respect to obeying the Law of Moses.  There are many moral teachings contained in the Law of Moses which few, if any, Protestants or Evangelicals obey.

For instance, while Protestants (rightly) reject outright polygamy,[2], [3] the Law of Moses actually accepted it, with some restrictions:

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.  If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.  And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.  If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.  And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money (Exodus 21:7-11).

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

Another requirement of the Law of Moses is that men should not trim their beards.  Many Evangelicals are either clean-shaven or have short beards.  Few have long, Mosaicly-prescribed beards.

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard (Leviticus 19:27).

Another requirement not often obeyed is this one regarding the use of fabrics in clothing:

Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11).

Most professing Christians freely wear clothes made of synthetic/cotton or synthetic/wool cloth.

Another point most professing Christians – who profess to be following the Law’s rules on divorce and remarriage – do not notice or follow is that in the Law, divorce is only allowed to men.  Wives were never permitted to divorce their husbands.  Yet in America today, the majority of divorces are initiated by the wife.[4]

We must note Paul’s words in Galatians 5:3:

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

James wrote:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).

If we have undertaken to obey the Law of Moses and put ourselves under that yoke, we cannot pick and choose which commandments we wish to obey and ignore the ones we do not wish to obey.  If we are going to obey the Law of Moses, we have to obey the entire Law of Moses!

The New Covenant Prophesied

God had promised not to break the Covenant that He had made with the children of Israel, that is, the Law of Moses (Judges 2:1).  However, He knew that the Old or Mosaic Covenant was not perfect (Hebrews 8:7-8).  The children of Israel, although they had promised to obey and keep the covenant, broke it again and again and again (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:9).  A new covenant was needed – and God, through the prophets, told His people that the day was coming when a new covenant would be made.

The first prophet to foretell this new covenant was, surprisingly, Moses himself.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.  And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.  I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

This prophecy of Christ and His teachings (which is explicitly applied to Christ by the apostles – Acts 3:22-32, 7:37-38) foretold that this Prophet would be like Moses, would be an Israelite, and would speak all the words which God commanded Him.  Moreover, it was these words – the words of this Prophet – which all would be obligated to hearken to (hearken means “to hear and obey”).

In what way was Christ like Moses?  How was He more like Moses than any of the other Old Testament prophets?  Moses had authority from God to give new commandments to the people, which they were obligated to obey.  All of the other Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, etc. – pointed back to the Law of Moses for the people’s standard of behavior.  They did not have authority from God to hand down new commandments to the people.  However, Christ had the authority from God to give new commandments – new laws – which then another group of apostles, prophets, and teachers would point back to as the authoritative basis for life in God’s kingdom.  In this way, Christ was like Moses.

The rest of the prophets, while pointing back to the Law of Moses as authoritative for their time, yet pointed forward to a new day, when the Prophet like unto Moses would institute a new covenant.  This new covenant – and the new revelation of the kingdom of God which would accompany it – was foreseen to have ethical teachings distinctively different from those of the Law of Moses.  Isaiah prophesied:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).

This prophecy foresees the spiritual house of the Lord (I Peter 2:5) which would be established in the last days.  “Many people” would be attracted by this new revelation of God’s plan and purpose for man, a veiled prophecy of the coming of the Gentiles to faith in God and obedience to the new covenant.  It was foretold that this new law would come out of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, as actually occurred when the Twelve Apostles and others spread out from the land of Israel, taking God’s new covenant Word all across the then-known world.  Finally, in this age, the Lord would “judge among the nations” and “rebuke many people.”  This new covenant age would affect far more than just the nation of Israel, as had been the case with the Old Covenant.  God’s rebukes and reproof would have their effects for the Gentiles as well.  And what would be the effects of these judgments and rebukes?  War and carnal fighting would cease, just as Jesus and the Apostles taught.[5]

Isaiah later prophesied:

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.  As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever (Isaiah 59:20-21).

The work of the Redeemer – the Messiah – would be to turn the descendants of Jacob away from transgression.  Then the Lord – the Father – gives a description of the New Covenant: The words which He would command the Messiah to speak would never depart from His mouth, or from the mouth of His spiritual seed, forever.  These words – the words of the Messiah – would be repeated forever.  They would be the lasting message which God wants repeated.  We must obey and teach these words (for other prophesies by Isaiah regarding the new covenant, see Isaiah 42:1-10; 49:8; and 55:3).

The prophet Jeremiah also foretold of the new covenant.  In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This new covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.”  It would be a covenant of laws written on the heart, rather than on tables of stone.  We must learn from the words which Christ taught, the words of the new covenant, rather than the words of the old covenant written on tables of stone.

Did Jesus Change the Moral Requirements?

Finally, the Messiah Himself came.  Jesus said, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).  He came and preached the gospel of the kingdom and the new covenant which was to govern it.  So to answer the question, “did Jesus change the moral requirements given in the Law of Moses?”, we must go to the primary source: Jesus’ words themselves.  A comparison of the moral teachings of the Mosaic Law with those of Jesus and His Apostles shows clearly the difference between them.

Sword

Moses said: “If men strive…And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:22a, 23-25).  Jesus said:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Matthew 5:38-42).

War

Moses said:

When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Jesus summarized the Law’s teaching on neighbors and enemies (the enemy portion is a summary, not a direct quote), then went on to give a new teaching:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Paul said:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

John said:

If any man have an ear, let him hear.  He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:9-10).

Polygamy

As we saw above, Moses regulated polygamy, but did not completely forbid it.  Jesus, however, restored marriage to its Edenic state – one man and one woman for life.  He restored marriage to how it was “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:3-9).  Paul reinforces this by stating, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2).

Divorce and Remarriage

As noted above, the Law of Moses allowed a relatively easy divorce for most husbands, and allowed remarriage for most cases of divorce as well.  However, Jesus completely shut that door, leaving only the “fornication clause” as a reason for divorce.  (It is to be noted that neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever allowed remarriage after divorce, for any reason or in any case.)  See Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:10-16.

Lust

Moses said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  While the Law also forbade coveting another man’s wife, there was no commandment saying that all sexual lust was sinful.  Jesus, however, taught:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Circumcision

Moses commanded regarding every baby boy born to the Israelites, “And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3).  The New Covenant, however, did away with the need for circumcision – a major theme of the Apostle Paul’s writings.  Jesus introduced the new and spiritual circumcision, the fulfillment of the type of the physical action: “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:10-11).

Headcovering

Moses commanded that the high priest should wear a mitre during his duties in the Tabernacle/Temple:

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.  And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.  And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.  And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the girdle of needlework (Exodus 28:36-39).

However, the new covenant introduced a new teaching:

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head…For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man (I Corinthians 11:2-4, 7).[6]

Oaths

Moses said:

Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (Deuteronomy 6:13).

And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:12).

If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth (Numbers 30:2).

Jesus said:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

James said:

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation (James 5:12).

Fulfilled

Jesus said:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18).

What would it mean to destroy the Law and the prophets?  Jesus did not teach that the Law was useless; He did not claim that it was not a genuine revelation from God; He did not teach that the Law was wicked.  Rather, He came to fulfill the Law.  He taught a new way, in which we would not only do what the Law taught (do not commit adultery) but also the higher righteousness which God desired (do not lust).  He taught a new and higher way, in which the righteousness we act out now (love your enemies) surpasses the righteousness demanded by the Law (thou shalt utterly destroy them).  Thus, Paul said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4).

Moral and Ceremonial

Protestant reformer John Calvin was not impressed when he encountered the Anabaptists’ teaching that Christians could not be government officials and could not swear oaths.  In response to this, he wrote:

Therefore, there resteth none other evasion, to these enemies of all order, but to say, that God requireth a greater perfection in the Christian Church than he did among the people of the Jews. Now this is very true, touching ceremonies. But that we have any other rule to live by, touching the moral law, as we call it, than had the ancient people, is a false opinion…

Therefore to say that Moses did but half teach the people of Israel to honour and serve God, is a blasphemy, first forged by the Papists, and now renewed by these poor fantasticals, which take for a revelation from heaven, whatsoever fables they have heard of their grandmothers.[7]

Calvin’s claim, that the New Covenant did have more perfect ceremonies, but that the moral law of Moses was still in effect, is still repeated today.  Is this Scriptural?  Is Moses’ Law divided into two parts, one of which was done away by Christ, the other part which is still binding?

There are at least six reasons why this argument does not hold water.

Such a division is never mentioned in Scripture. The Mosaic Law is so far-reaching that it is hard to divide all of the laws neatly into just two or three categories.  There are moral teachings (regarding murder, stealing, etc.); there are ceremonial or religious teachings (the sacrifices and temple services); there are civil teachings (commandments regarding jurisprudence, the cities of refuge, etc.); there are hygienic teachings (regarding the proper disposal of waste, the treatment of lepers, etc.); and there are environmental laws (regarding the harvesting of birds and cutting trees).  How are we to neatly divide all of these laws into two or three categories, and then decide which ones apply to us today and which ones do not? Who gets to decide what applies today and what does not? Some laws bridge the gap between moral and ceremonial, and other, requirements.  For instance, lepers were banished from the camp to avoid the contamination of others; this could be called a law regarding hygiene or sanitation.  Yet the ceremony governing the readmittance of the leper into the community upon healing is undoubtedly a ceremonial law. Different types of laws are often intermingled in the same contexts.  For instance, beginning in Deuteronomy 22:5, we have a moral law regarding cross-dressing, which was forbidden.  The next two verses (6-7) have an environmental protection law, regarding the harvesting of birds.  The next verse has a law regarding construction of a new house – a moral commandment, because the reason for the law was “that thou bring not blood upon thine house”.  Verse 9 has a law that “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit…be defiled.”  This law does not seem to fit neatly in either the moral or ceremonial categories.  A similar classification-defying law follows in verse 10.  With this mixture of moral, ceremonial, and other types of laws in the same contexts, how are we to declare which apply today and which do not? Finally, the Ten Commandments (with the possible exception of the Fourth Commandment on the Sabbath) are clearly moral commandments.  Yet even these have been “done away” in Christ (II Corinthians 3:6-10).

The Hardness of Your Hearts

Why were the requirements of the Law of Moses lower than what God actually wanted?  The answer is found in the words of Jesus, as He was explaining why His teaching regarding divorce and remarriage was more rigorous than that of Moses.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matthew 19:3-9).

Why did Moses allow things which were outside the perfect will of God, and which Jesus did away with?  Because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts.  If they had soft hearts, responsive to God’s will and the voice of His Spirit and willing to obey, God could have given the Israelites the commandments He gave through His Son.  Why could He not?  They had hard hearts – and it is not within man’s power to change his own heart from a hard heart to a soft, living one.  Death is the consequence of sin, and when man’s spirit dies, he cannot resurrect it himself.  Christ came that we might have life again (John 10:10).  God had promised that the hard hearts of the Old Covenant would be replaced, under the New Covenant, with soft, fleshy hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-21).  We learn in the New Testament that this soft heart is God’s own heart – His own Spirit – His own nature – imparted to us (see, for instance, II Peter 1:4).  Thus, with Christ Himself living within us, we are enabled to live as He did in the world and show the world what kind of Being God is.  For instance, we are now enabled to treat our enemies well, just as God does (Matthew 5:45, 48; Luke 6:35-36).

Summary

God’s ultimate standard of right and wrong – what He had in mind originally for man – never changes.  However, His instructions to man do change based upon changes in man’s situation.  For instance, the change brought about by the global Flood brought about a change in God’s instructions regarding diet.  Similarly, the change in heart made possible by the work of Christ is accompanied by a change in the moral requirements God has given to His people.  Whereas Moses, because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, allowed divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, polygamy, etc., Christ forbids these and teaches a higher level of ethics for His children.  Those who have soft, spiritual hearts and have entered the New Covenant will submit to these requirements which Jesus communicated.

[1] See Andrew V. Ste. Marie, “Did Animals Eat Meat Before the Flood?,” Creation Matters 16(1) (January/February 2011):1-4.

[2] At least they do today.  Martin Luther actually taught that in some circumstances, it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife because Abraham did.

[3] While no Protestant teacher today that I know of would say that it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife at a time, many actually do endorse a form of polygamy by approving of divorce and remarriage.  Mennonite bishop George R. Brunk I humorously wrote, “The Mormons dragged polygamy out of the Old Testament into their church and Protestantism did the same with divorce.  A member of the one group drives his wives abreast and a member of the other drives his in tandem style and neither has a word in the Gospel to justify himself” (“Notes and Items,” Sword and Trumpet 5(4) (October 1933):23.)

[4] Of all divorces, 67-75% are filed by wives (varies by state).  This number is significantly higher among those divorces in which minor children are involved.  See David W. Bercot, The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down, 2003, Scroll Publishing, pp. 51-52.

[5] Whereas most Protestants today take this passage from Isaiah and similar ones from the Old Testament to be prophecies of the Millennial Reign of Christ (still in the future), the early Christians uniformly interpreted it in a manner similar to my explanation here.

[6] Note that Paul calls this teaching on the headcovering/head un-covering an “ordinance,” or a “tradition” – something transmitted or handed down.  This indicates that Paul handed it down to the Corinthians from another source.  He was not making up something new; he (and the other Apostles) had received it directly from Christ Himself.

[7] John Calvin, A Short Instruction for to arme all good Christian people agaynst the pestiferous errours of the common secte of the Anabaptistes.

 

Originally published in The Witness, November 2014.

By Justin Martyr

 

From Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew.  Justin was martyred c. 165 A.D.  From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 253-254.

 

But that the Gentiles would repent of the evil in which they led erring lives, when they heard the doctrine preached by His apostles from Jerusalem, and which they learned through them, suffer me to show you by quoting a short statement from the prophecy of Micah, one of the twelve [minor prophets].  This is as follows:

 

And in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be manifest, established on the top of the mountains; it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it.  And many nations shall go, and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and they shall enlighten us in His way, and we shall walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And He shall judge among many peoples, and shall rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  And each man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to terrify: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.  For all people will walk in the name of their gods; but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever.  And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will assemble her that is afflicted, and gather her that is driven out, and whom I had plagued; and I shall make her that is afflicted a remnant, and her that is oppressed a strong nation.  And the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, and even for ever.

 

…Now I am aware that your [the Jews’] teachers, sirs, admit the whole of the words of this passage to refer to Christ; and I am likewise aware that they maintain He has not yet come; or if they say that He has come, they assert that it is not known who He is; but when He shall become manifest and glorious, then it shall be known who He is.  And then, they say, the events mentioned in this passage shall happen, just as if there was no fruit as yet from the words of the prophecy.  O unreasoning men!  understanding not what has been proved by all these passages, that two advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonoured, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife.  For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’  Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world.  For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus.  For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us.  For the vine planted by God and Christ the Saviour is His people.

On March 28, 2014, a debate was held in Boston, Massachusetts, on the topic “It’s Just War: Can Christians Fight?”  Two men took a position of Biblical nonresistance and two took a Just War Theory position.  Defending nonresistance were David Bercot, an attorney and scholar of early Christianity, and Dean Taylor, popular speaker, author, and an ex-Army soldier who left as a conscientious objector.  Defending the Just War Theory were two theologians, philosophers, authors, and professors, Dr. J. Daryl Charles (an Evangelical Protestant) and Dr. Peter Kreeft (Roman Catholic).  The debate lasted two hours and was held before a large audience.

 

A range of products related to the debate, including CD and .mp3 CD recordings, a partial transcript with commentary, and a complete transcript, are available from Sermon on the Mount Publishing.  Click here for more information.

 

 

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In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on The Matthew Road to the Kingdom of Heaven

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What Is Wrong with the “Romans Road to Salvation”

 

By Joel Mahorter—British Columbia

 

You may have heard of the “Romans Road to Salvation,” a collection of verses from the letter of Paul to the Romans. It usually consists of at least some of the following verses, in roughly this order:

 

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Note the last half of the verse is not quoted! “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

 

People use these verses to present everything they think someone needs to know in order to “get saved” and have an assurance of getting to heaven. A person is usually told that all they must do is have faith (or believe) in who Jesus is, what He did by His death on the cross, and to accept His free gift of salvation. Often a person using “Romans Road” will mention the need to feel sorry for your sins and ask God for forgiveness, although the verses used do not mention this. Some will suggest that you must turn from your sins, although it is not common to hear a definition of what that really means. The person who is being shown the “Romans Road” is then commonly advised to pray a prayer asking Jesus to come into his heart and become his personal Savior. People who do that are usually assured that all of their sins, including the ones they have not yet committed, are already forgiven and that a place in heaven is assured for them. The people who use this and similar presentations would not say that a short presentation could have everything a person should know about being a Christian, but that it contains everything necessary to “get saved” and have assurance of going to heaven.

 

It does not seem to occur to many people who use the “Romans Road” that it is strange to try to present how to become a Christian … but without ever referring to what Christ had to say on that topic. Likewise, few people seem to question the idea of asking someone to pray a prayer that Jesus never asked anyone to pray, or of offering an assurance that Jesus never offered anyone. Nor does it seem odd to many people to present a message supposedly about how to become a disciple of Jesus, using nothing but quotes from a letter written to people who were already disciples of Jesus. Sadly, even though Jesus had much to say on the topic, what He said is often not mentioned.

 

It is worth noting that a letter like Romans can be used to construct several different “roads,” all leading in different directions. That is not to say that Romans contains false information; it is just the reality of what can be done when taking a few small snippets out of context from a larger work. Even in the early days after Jesus, what Paul said about salvation in his letters was being twisted, and this was leading people to destruction. 2 Peter 3:14-18 warns about this.

 

With those dangers in mind, here is a different “road,” one based on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew:

 

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus began His preaching ministry with this call to repentance. God had always called people to turn away from sin. For those who do so, the coming of Jesus brought a new opportunity. Now the kingdom of heaven was about to be established on earth. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus never told anyone that it was impossible to be righteous. Rather, He called people to live a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Jewish religious leaders. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, even the righteousness required by the Law of Moses was not sufficient in God’s kingdom (see especially Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, while announcing a new kingdom, Jesus also taught a new law. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The way that Jesus called people to is a difficult one. The easy way that only requires acceptance of some truths or good intentions without any real work or suffering is the way to destruction. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Good words without obedience will not get a person into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not leave room for any doubt about who does the will of His father when He said the following: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31) To agree to do the will of the Father, and to actually do the will of the Father are two very different things. “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires the simplicity and humility to accept what Jesus taught, like a young child would accept what his earthly father taught. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Being perfect or complete is not an option, but a demand. So many people think they cannot be perfect, but Jesus taught how it was possible: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21) Again Jesus makes it clear that obtaining eternal life requires us to obey God. Jesus left us the example of simple obedience to His father and He calls us to follow Him in that. Good intentions alone will not get us where Jesus went. Jesus taught plainly what would be required of those who wanted to be His disciples and find the way to life. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27) Nothing less than true self-denial and self-inflicted death of our fleshly desires and following Jesus will lead to life. If we seek to keep our lives or the things we love in this world, then in the end we will lose our lives. We must really forsake everything, and not just the extremely wicked things. Jesus had to give up heaven and submit Himself to death before He could be resurrected. We must walk in His footsteps if we want to follow Him into His kingdom; there are no shortcuts.

 

If we live in the fear of God that comes from the knowledge that Jesus is going to come back to judge the living and the dead and repay us for what we have done, we will be ready to face the trouble that Jesus faced: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13)

 

The one who endures all these troubles and yet remains righteous will be saved in the end, but the one who turns back will face certain destruction. With that in mind we will heed the strong warning that Jesus gave: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

 

Unlike “Romans Road” and similar presentations, this one will not end by giving you any assurances that Jesus did not give. The information presented above is possibly not enough for you to truly count the costs of following Jesus. Just from reading the verses above it may not be clear to you some of the specific ways that Jesus calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross. Perhaps you have anger against your brother and need to hear that Jesus taught that even angry words would put you in peril of hell (Matthew 5:21-22). Perhaps you lust after women and need to hear that Jesus said that even private lust was adultery and could cause you to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-30). Perhaps you are divorced and have been remarried while your first spouse is still living, and need to hear that Jesus said that you are committing adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). Perhaps you desire to defend your possessions, loved ones, or yourself from evil people, and you need to hear that Jesus said to love even your enemies and not to resist evildoers (Matthew 5:38-48). Perhaps you have chosen not to forgive someone and need to hear that Jesus taught that God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Perhaps you want more things than you need and need to hear that Jesus commanded you not to store up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). No prayer or belief or intention will do you any good if you do not follow the road of self-denial, suffering, and death that Jesus walked.

 

If the way presented here seems different than what you understood the way into the kingdom of heaven was like, then you would do well to read all of the Gospel of Matthew, and then the rest of the Gospels. Keeping in mind the danger mentioned previously, consider everything that Jesus had to say about entering into the kingdom of God and being ready for His return and judgment. If you are not able to present the gospel that you believe using the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, then you can be sure you have been deceived and that you believe a different gospel than Jesus taught. The same is true for the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

 

When you have understood Jesus’ message, then you will be ready to read Romans and all the other books of the New Testament. If you start with the Master first, you will find that Peter, John, Paul, James, and Jude all preached and walked the same “road” that Jesus did.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

 

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In:Anabaptists, James, Matthew, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Kingdom of God

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By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

  “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath” (James 5:12)

 

“I am content.”

 

A twenty-four year old young man stood before the city council of colonial New York City and said these words.  What was he content with?  He was content to be put back in jail.  For what cause?  For refusing to disobey the words of Jesus.

 

Early in 1745, young David Zeisberger had set off with Christian Frederick Post to learn the language of the Mohawk Indians.  The two young Moravian missionaries were arrested and charged with refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England.  The colony of New York had a new law which stated that “Every Vagrant Preacher, Moravian, Disguised Papist [Roman Catholic], or any other person presuming to reside among and teach the Indians” who had no license and had not taken the oath “shall be treated as a person taking upon him to seduce the Indians from his Majesty’s interest.”  The council read the new law to David, and asked him if he would take the oath.  He replied, “I hope the honorable Council will not force me to do it.”  They said, “We will not constrain you; you may let it alone if it is against your conscience; but you will have to go to prison again.”

 

“I am content,” David told them.  So back into jail he went, with his companion, for a total of fifty-one days.  “We count it an honor to suffer for the Saviour’s sake,” David wrote.

 

These two Moravians sat in a New York prison for standing against the swearing of oaths.  For others, refusal to swear has led to death.  How does God view the swearing of oaths?  Is swearing really that bad – or might it be, as some suggest, an act of worship which is highly pleasing to God?

 

What does Jesus say?

 

What is an Oath?

 

Before discussing whether oaths are right, we must first understand what oaths are.  Those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling God to witness to the truth of a statement.”  (We will see why they define it this way later.)  However, Jesus had a different definition of oaths.

 

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?  And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?  Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.  And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.  And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon” (Matthew 23:16-22).

 

In this passage, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for making rules concerning which oaths could be broken without guilt and which ones had to be kept inviolable.  Notice what the Pharisees were swearing by: the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar.  Obviously, these were oaths, and Jesus treated them as such.  However, none of them were “calling God to witness”!  We see then that this cannot be the true definition of an oath.  There are two parts to an oath: 1) the oath itself (“I swear”) and 2) the confirmation: what is being sworn by.  People swear by many things, for instance, “I swear to God” or “I swear by my mother’s grave.”  Some even swear without a confirmation, just saying “I swear that…”  There are the judicial oaths in courts, service oaths for public office or military service, and the Hippocratic oath for medical professionals.  These are all oaths.  The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms that oaths are sworn by something greater than the swearer and are used for confirmation of something asserted: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife” (Hebrews 6:16).  We see in this verse that the purpose of oaths is for confirmation of a statement based on the authority or weight of something greater than the swearer.

 

First Oath in the Bible

 

The first recorded oath in the Bible was given by a Godly man, Abraham.  In Genesis 21:22-24, 27, & 31, we read:

 

“And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.  And Abraham said, I will swear…And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant…Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.”

 

The Law of Moses

 

Amid the flames, clouds, smoke, and trumpetings on Mount Sinai, God gave a covenant to Moses to give to the people of Israel.  This law would be the standard of righteousness until the Messiah came to replace it.  The Mosaic Law has plenty to say about oaths, and it is essential to understand exactly what the Law allowed and did not allow when we are discussing the subject of oaths.

 

Under the Law of Moses, oaths were permitted, and the children of Israel made extensive use of them in Old Testament times.  In fact, under certain circumstances, the Law actually commanded the use of oaths.  In Exodus 22:10-12, we read:

 

“If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.  And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.”

 

In this passage, we learn that if the animal was lost to the owner in some way, the man who was keeping it was to swear an oath that he was not guilty of stealing or destroying his neighbor’s animal.  This oath released him from being required to replace the animal for his neighbor.  The neighbor was required to accept the oath as confirmation that his neighbor was innocent.

 

In the book of Deuteronomy, God includes swearing by His Name as part of the service which He desired from the Israelites and mentions it in the context of a rejection of idolatry.

 

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.  Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;  (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).

 

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.  He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).

 

Oaths were also required in the service of the priests.  Numbers 5 records what was to be done with a woman who was suspected by her husband of unfaithfulness.  She was to be brought to the priest, who was to perform a ceremony to allow the Lord to reveal whether she was guilty or innocent.  Part of this ceremony involved an oath:

 

“And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen” (Numbers 5:19-22).

 

Not only were oaths permitted and commanded in the Mosaic Law, God Himself made use of oaths on more than one occasion.  For instance, in Jeremiah 22:5, God declares: “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.”  In Exodus 17, after a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah—nissi, “Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16).  (See also Deuteronomy 7:8; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13, 16; Isaiah 45:23).

 

So we see that not only were oaths permitted under the Law of Moses, they were actually required in some circumstances, and God Himself swore.  Nevertheless, there were restrictions which were applied even under the Mosaic Law which are important to understand.

 

Restrictions on Swearing

 

The Law of Moses strictly forbade false oaths – swearing to something which was not true, or swearing that a person would do something and then not doing it.

 

If a man swore to do something and was unable to perform it, the Law considered it sin and required that he bring a trespass offering to the priest.

 

“Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.  And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:4-6).

 

Numbers 30:1-2 also commands that oaths were to be kept:

 

“And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.  If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”

 

Swearing falsely was also forbidden.  Leviticus 6:2a, 3-5 says:

 

“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD…Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.”

 

God further declared in Leviticus 19:12:

 

“And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”

 

The prophets, who called the people to return to the Lord and repent of their transgressions, also spoke against false oaths.  Zechariah includes false oaths in a list of things which God declares that He hates.

 

“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).

 

In the book of Malachi, those who swear falsely are put in the same list with sorcerers and adulterers:

 

“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).

 

Another restriction was given by Joshua near the end of his life.  He warned against swearing by the names of false gods.

 

“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day” (Joshua 23:6-8).

 

Oaths were not a light thing among the ancient Israelites.  They took oaths very seriously.  An example of this is found in I Samuel 14.  King Saul, in the middle of a battle with the Philistines, swore an oath: “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies” (I Samuel 14:24).  All the people, who “feared the oath” (verse 26), refrained from eating anything, even when passing by a piece of honeycomb dropped from the hive – except Jonathan, who had not heard of his father’s oath.  He nearly lost his life for eating when his father had rashly cursed anyone who ate that day.

 

Oaths were taken so seriously that any oath or vow which a woman made was subject to the approval of her husband or father, who could nullify her oath or vow if he so chose (Numbers 30:3-16).

 

So we see that with some important exceptions, oaths were permitted and even required under the Old Covenant.  But the day came when the reign of the Law of Moses ended.

 

A New Kingdom

 

“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” cried John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2).  People from all over Judaea flocked to hear this man, dressed in camel’s hair, preach about the coming of the new Kingdom.  Then one day, John greeted the King Himself with these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).  “The law and the prophets were until John,” Jesus later said; “since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).  The reign of Moses’ Law had ended, and the King was here to establish the laws by which His Kingdom would operate.  Among the laws which He set up was a radically different standard on the swearing of oaths.

 

Jesus’ Words on Oaths

 

Jesus addressed the subject of oaths in the most influential sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:33-37, we read:

 

“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

 

Jesus made clear the radical new standard which He was requiring of those in His Kingdom – no oaths at all, for any purpose, in any way.  “Swear not at all,” He said.  There is nothing unclear about this instruction.

 

James’ Words on Swearing

 

Jesus was not the only one to instruct the citizens of the Kingdom of God to abstain from swearing.  The Apostle James wrote:

 

“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).

 

In this verse, we again find the answer to the question “does God want His children to swear oaths?”  James tells us “swear not,” and then instructs us to avoid swearing by heaven, earth, or “by any other oath.”  “Any other” would include swearing by God Himself.

 

This verse also gives us the answer to the question “is the subject of swearing really all that important?”  The Book of James discusses many topics – responding to the trials of life, partiality, the relationship of faith and works, controlling our tongues, strife, separation from the world, wealth, etc.  These are undoubtedly important issues.  Nevertheless, when he arrives at the topic of swearing, he begins with “But above all things, my brethren” – in other words, this one topic is more important than anything else discussed in the entire book!

 

What Were They Forbidding?

 

In spite of the clear instructions given by Jesus and James, there are some today – and there have been some for centuries – who insist that the swearing of oaths is permissible, or perhaps even highly pleasing to God.  They insist that what Jesus and James were actually forbidding was only false and frivolous oaths – not any oath.  There are some serious problems with this view.  First, if they meant to forbid only false and frivolous oaths, why did they not say that they were forbidding false and frivolous oaths?  Secondly, why did they use such absolute language – “Swear not at all,” “swear not…by any other oath”?  Thirdly, Jesus was clearly following the pattern of the other sections in the Sermon on the Mount where He raised the standards of the Law of Moses (“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…But I say unto you”).  The Law of Moses forbade false oaths, as we have seen; if Jesus only forbade false oaths, He would not have raised the standard at all.

 

Did Paul Swear?

 

Those who defend the swearing of oaths point to the epistles of Paul, claiming that he swore several times in his writings.  The verses quoted here are used to support this claim:

 

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9). “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 9:1). “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay” (II Corinthians 1:18). “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (II Corinthians 1:23). “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (II Corinthians 11:31). “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Galatians 1:20). “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8). “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness” (I Thessalonians 2:5). “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (I Timothy 2:7).

 

What is it in these verses which lead some to believe that the Apostle Paul swore oaths?  Do you remember that those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling on God for confirmation”?  In all of these verses, Paul calls on God to confirm what he is saying.  Those who defend oaths, then, take these as oaths and as confirmation that it is perfectly acceptable to God to swear oaths.  But God is not the author of confusion.

 

As we pointed out before, their definition of the word oath is faulty, and thus their conclusion regarding these verses is also faulty.  Although Paul did call on God to confirm his words, he did not use oaths (saying “I swear”).

 

Whenever a teaching of Jesus seems to be contradicted by Paul, we must find a way to harmonize the two which leaves Jesus’ words supreme – not the other way around.  Jesus is the King, and the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) – even if that servant is the great Apostle Paul.  (Of course, Paul’s writings never do contradict Jesus’ words.)

 

The Early Church on the Swearing of Oaths

 

We have seen that whereas the Old Covenant allowed and even required some oaths, they are strictly forbidden under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.  The early Christians of the first two generations after the apostles held to this view.

 

Justin Martyr, about the year 160 A.D., wrote, “And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He commanded as follows: ‘Swear not at all.’”[1]  Irenaeus (student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Apostle) wrote: “He commanded them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all.”[2]  Tertullian wrote, “Of perjury I am silent, since even swearing is not lawful.”[3]

 

The Early Anabaptists

 

The early Anabaptists (Dutch Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, and Hutterites) took firm stands against the swearing of oaths.  Their writings on the subject are well worth reading, because they faced several of the same objections which we do today when we insist on obedience to Christ’s teachings on this subject.[4]

 

The Schleitheim Confession (written 1527), the earliest Anabaptist confession of faith, was written by the Swiss Brethren and took a strong stand against oaths:

 

“We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises.  In the Law it is commanded to be performed in God’s Name, but only in truth, not falsely.  Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law, prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false,—neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head,—and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you are not able to make one hair white or black.  So you see it is for this reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing on us.

“Now there are some who do not give credence to the simple command of God, but object with this question: Well now, did not God swear to Abraham by Himself (since He was God) when He promised him that He would be with him and that He would be his God if he would keep His commandments,—why then should I not also swear when I promise to someone?  Answer: Hear what the Scripture says: God, since He wished more abundantly to show unto the heirs the immutability of His counsel, inserted an oath, that by two immutable things (in which it is impossible for God to lie) we might have a strong consolation.  Observe the meaning of this Scripture: What God forbids you to do, He has power to do, for everything is possible for Him.  God swore an oath to Abraham, says the Scripture, so that He might show that His counsel is immutable.  That is, no one can withstand nor thwart His will; therefore He can keep His oath.  But we can do nothing, as is said above by Christ, to keep or perform [our oaths]: therefore we shall not swear at all.

“Then others further say as follows: It is not forbidden of God to swear in the New Testament, when it is actually commanded in the Old, but it is forbidden only to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem and our head.  Answer: Hear the Scripture, He who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by Him who sitteth thereon.  Observe: it is forbidden to swear by heaven, which is only the throne of God: how much more is it forbidden [to swear] by God Himself!  Ye fools and blind, which is greater, the throne or Him that sitteth thereon?”[5]

 

Menno Simons, in a book which he wrote against Reformed theologian Martin Micron, wrote:

 

“That these things are so your unscriptural glosses [comments, explanations] concerning the oath make plain.  Christ says, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool.  Matt. 5:33-35.  And you, Micron, say that nothing but light-minded, false oaths are hereby prohibited, as if Moses allowed Israel to swear light-mindedly and falsely, and that Christ under the New Testament merely forbade these, notwithstanding that all intelligent readers know that it was not merely allowed Israel to swear truly but it was also commanded them to do so.  Lev. 19:12; Deut. 10:20.

“If the Israelites then, as you hold, had the liberty in this matter that we have, and if it be such a glorious thing and an honor to God rightly to swear by the name of God, as you make bold to lie against your God, then tell me (Dear me) why Wisdom did not say, You have heard that it hath been said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, and I say the same thing.  Instead Christ says, Moses commanded not to forswear thyself, but I say unto you, Thou shalt not swear at all.”[6]

 

In another book, Menno wrote:

 

“Nearly everything which is transacted before the magistracy must be affirmed by an oath, although the Lord has so plainly forbidden the swearing of oaths to all Christians.  Matt. 5:34…We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to His Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth.  He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone.  Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world…it should be observed that Christ Jesus does not in the New Testament point His disciples to the Law in regard to the matter of swearing—the dispensation of imperfectness which allowed swearing, but He points us now from the Law to yea and nay, as to the dispensation of perfectness, saying, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time (that is, to the fathers under the law by Moses), Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (that is, thou shalt swear truly and fulfill thine oath): but I (Christ) say unto you my disciples, Swear not at all (that is, neither truly nor falsely), neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.  Here you have Christ’s own doctrine and ordinance concerning swearing.”[7]

 

Peter Reidemann, an important early Hutterite leader, wrote:

 

“Therefore Christ, in order to drive away the shadows that the light of truth—which light he is himself—may shine upon us, cometh and saith, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old: Thou shalt swear no false oath but shalt perform thine oath unto God.  But I say unto you that ye swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’—that is the devil.

“Now, if one should say, as they all interpret it, false and superficial swearing is forbidden, but when one sweareth out of love, necessity and the profit of one’s neighbour, it is well done and not wrong—this happeneth when human reason goeth before the knowledge of God, and where human cleverness desireth to rule over the Spirit of God, and not allow itself to be controlled by the same.  For just so did Eve look at the forbidden fruit, and chose the same at the counsel of the serpent, which she followed more than the counsel of God, therefore was she deceived by its cunning and led into death.  So it is still: whosoever will please men cannot be Christ’s servant.  For truly here one cannot let reason rule or twist the scriptures in accordance with human presumption or opinion, for that is futile, but one must give God the honour and leave his command unaltered…Therefore saith James, ‘Above all things, dear brothers, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into hypocrisy.’  Here James will have no oath at all, whether small or great, to avoid hypocrisy.  Therefore, let men twist it as they will and dress it up and adorn it as they may, no good will be found in human swearing, for Christ himself saith, ‘Let your speech be,  Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’  The evil one, however, is the devil, that teareth good from the heart of men and planteth evil.

“Therefore the devout will walk in the truth, allow it to rule and guide them and hold to the same; whatsoever it stirreth, speaketh and doeth within them, believe and observe the same; and this for the sake of the truth which is God himself, which dwelleth in them.  Therefore they neither need nor desire any oath.”[8]

 

The Dortrecht Confession (also known as the 18 Articles of Faith), written by the Dutch Mennonites in 1632, states in Article 15:

 

“Regarding the swearing of oaths, we believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus has dissuaded his followers from and forbidden them the same; that is, that he commanded them to ‘swear not at all,’ but that their ‘Yea’ should be ‘yea’ and their ‘Nay nay.’  From which we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden; and that instead of them we are to confirm all our promises and covenants, declarations and testimonies of all matters, merely with ‘Yea that is yea,’ and ‘Nay that is nay;’ and that we are to perform and fulfill at all times, and in all things, to every one, every promise and obligation to which we thus affirm, as faithfully as if we had confirmed it with the most solemn oath.  And if we thus do, we have confidence that no one—not even the government itself—will have just cause to require more of us.  Matt. 5:34-37; James 5:12; II Cor. 1:17.”[9]

 

Application for Today

 

To take a stand against swearing oaths is, at first glance, not nearly as costly a decision today as it was for the early Anabaptists.  They decided to stand with Christ on this issue at risk of life and limb.  Today, if we want to take a stand against oath-swearing, we simply ask to affirm instead of swear if necessary, and no one seems to care.  Nevertheless, Jesus’ teachings about oaths ought to affect our lives profoundly.

 

Jesus wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no.  James says the same thing.  Our speech ought to be so reliable that we do not need oaths to confirm what we say.  We should be known as honest people because Jesus has transformed our lives.  We do not need oaths anymore because everyone knows that whatever we say will be true and reliable.

 

We also must be careful in our everyday speech to avoid oaths.  Interjecting “I swear” into a conversation is an oath, a violation of the command of Jesus Christ.  Such expressions as “by George,” “by Jove,” or even “by golly” are abbreviated oaths – the confirmation without the swearing.  If we use these expressions, perceptive people will not take us seriously when we say we do not believe in swearing oaths.  Furthermore, they are, in and of themselves, violations of Jesus’ commandments and therefore sin.

 

Lying and exaggeration must be completely eradicated from our speech.  Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the criticism that we refuse to swear because we know we are not telling the truth.  May such things never be heard.  Rather, may all know that we refuse to swear oaths because we have accepted the Kingdom of God, with its high standard of honesty, and are following the commands and teachings of Christ and the Apostles which forbid oaths – and everything we say is scrupulously honest and, as God grants power, within the standards of righteousness which He has set for His Kingdom.

 

May we earnestly pray to God that He would tame our tongues.  “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  God can tame it for us, and a tamed tongue must be one of the most remarkable proofs of a regenerated life.  “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).

[1] Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, p. 168

[2] Ibid., volume 1, p. 408

[3] Ibid., volume 3, p. 67.  A few early Christians allowed swearing under some circumstances, but discouraged it.

[4] There were over ten different groups of early Anabaptists – some of them quite strange.  Some of these groups allowed the swearing of oaths.  For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the early Anabaptists, we are referring to the Dutch Mennonites, the Swiss Brethren, and the Hutterites.

[5] J. C. Wenger, translator, “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith,” Mennonite Quarterly Review October 1945, pp. 251-252

[6] Menno Simons, “Epistle to Martin Micron,” 1554, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 922-923

[7] Menno Simons, “Confession of the Distressed Christians,” 1552, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 518-519

[8] Peter Reidemann, Confession of Faith, Plough Publishing, pp. 197-198, 204-205

[9] Dortrecht Confession of Faith, in A Devoted Christian’s Prayer Book, 1967,  Pathway Publishers, pp. 107-108

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In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on The Beatitudes: The Values of the Kingdom of Heaven

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  Matthew 5:1-12 Authorized Version

 

The Sermon on the Mount is undoubtedly the most influential sermon ever preached – and rightly so, considering that it was preached by God Himself.  This sermon is the largest single collection of Jesus’ Kingdom commandments and teachings in one place in the Gospels, although by no means the only one.

 

Jesus began the Sermon with the beatitudes, which reveal attitudes of heart and life which God values.  The values which God has and which He has designed His Kingdom to work around are very different from the values of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The regenerated Christian is to have the same system of values which God has, for we are to have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).

 

The first attribute which God values and blesses is humility – “poor in spirit.”  Humility is necessary if we are to have salvation.  The proud man cannot come to God and beg for his soul.  It takes humility to do that.  Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

 

The next is mourning.  The world places little value on mourning; it values parties, merry-making, pleasure-seeking, and fun.  But there is a time to mourn, and those who mourn in season are blessed by God.

 

God also values meekness.  Webster defines meekness, “Softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injuries and provocations…humility; resignation; submission to the divine will, without murmuring or peevishness.”  The kings, emperors, and conquerors of this world, who fought with weapons of force to get what they wanted, have all passed away sooner or later – but the meek and peaceable Kingdom of God has endured through the centuries.  When all the warriors of this world are forgotten, the meek will still exist and will inherit the earth.

 

God also values a longing after righteousness.  The world wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “intolerance.”  The apostate church wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “legalism.”  But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness have the wonderful promise of God that they will be filled.

 

The merciful are valued by God, although the world prefers to think “he is getting what he deserves.”  The Godly man, motivated by mercy, gives aid to all.

 

Purity is valued highly by God.  God Himself is pure and holy, and would have His people to be as well.  The Apostle James tells us that part of the duty of pure religion is “to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

 

Peacemakers are valued in God’s Kingdom.  While the world prefers people who are pushy and get what they want by force, God values people who are willing to bring reconciliation and peace into highly charged situations.  Those who make peace imitate the Lord Jesus, Who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

 

Finally, God values those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and the sake of His Son.  When we are persecuted, we have the opportunity to show the character of our Heavenly Father to the fallen world by loving and forgiving our enemies.  This is exactly what Jesus did on the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

 

God will grant grace to live in a way which conforms to the value system of His Kingdom.  “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

 

Originally published in The Witness, April 2013.

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In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Repentance: Jesus’ First Sermon

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.  From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Matthew 4:12-17 Authorized Version

 

After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry with this short and simple sermon: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Despite the fact that this is the message which Jesus preached, some today believe that repentance is not a part of the Gospel and is unnecessary for us today.  However, throughout the New Testament, repentance is given as a condition of salvation and a part of God’s message to men.

 

After Jesus sent them out to preach, the twelve disciples “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12).  Jesus taught that “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).  After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that repentance was part of the message which He wanted to be preached throughout all nations: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  On the day of Pentecost, when asked by the crowd what they should do, “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).  On a later occasion, Peter said: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

 

Paul also preached repentance.  Acts 17:30 says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”.  Speaking to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said that while he was with them he had spent his time “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).  When standing trial before King Agrippa, Paul described his message this way: “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).

 

Some say that we are only required to repent from the single sin of unbelief.  While it is true that we must repent of unbelief, that is not the only sin we must repent from.  We must repent of our deeds (Revelation 16:11), of our sins (Revelation 9:21), of the sinful works of our hands and idolatry (Revelation 9:20), from dead works (Hebrews 6:1), of uncleanness (II Corinthians 12:21), and of wickedness (Acts 8:22).

 

Some may think that repentance is a dreary responsibility – laying aside sins and habits so dearly enjoyed.  This is not how repentance works!  The “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4b) – it is an act of love and goodness on God’s part to bring a person to a place of repentance.  God has meant people to live in holiness and a relationship with Him, not in sin!  Repentance may seem burdensome or even impossible, but after you have repented, you will not regret it.  I have never met someone who has said, “I wish I had never repented.  That was a foolish decision.”  Turning from sin and to God is always a good decision because that is how God meant life to be.

 

 “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

 

Originally published in The Witness, March 2013.

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