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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Are Paul's Writings as Authoritative as Jesus' Words?

Many years ago as a young man, I heard it said by a young lady of my own age that the apostle Paul just had a thing against women with the idea being that what he wrote on the subject of women had no authority but was merely the expression of personal prejudice on his part.  That young lady many years later became a preacher within her denominational body contrary to Paul's teaching on the subject in 1 Tim. 2:12.

Over the course of the many years that have transpired since that time, I have heard the same or similar comments regarding things Paul wrote.  It seems many believe he lacked the authority of Christ in the words he spoke or wrote.  That is the subject I wish to pursue in this article.  I add that the reality is that if what Paul wrote is not authoritative then we cannot stop there but have to go right down the line and ask about what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, and Jude wrote. 

The truth of the matter is every single word of the New Testament excepting only those words added by translators for clarification (usually marked by being printed in italics) came directly from God the Father including the words of Jesus himself.  In John 1:1 Jesus is called "the Word" (NKJV) and he is recorded as saying, "He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that his command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak." (John 12:48-50 NKJV)  He says again, "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (John 14:24 NKJV)  One could add to these references but the point has been made. 

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven he promised to send the Holy Spirit to his apostles.  "But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26 NKJV)  "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper (the Holy Spirit--DS) … even the Spirit of truth." (John 14:16-17 NKJV)  "But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, … he will testify of me." (John 15:26 NKJV)  Now here is where one needs to pay special attention.  Did the Holy Spirit speak free-lance style?  Listen carefully. 

"However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are mine.  Therefore I said that he will take of mine and declare it to you." (John 16:13-15 NKJV)  The apostles were commanded by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5 NKJV).  That day came on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. 

The important thing to see thus far is the chain of command.  Even though God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one, all being equally God, they have an order in which they of their own accord have chosen to work.  Jesus, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant." (Philippians 2:6-7 NKJV)  Jesus thus submitted himself to God the Father and spoke only the Father's words.  When the Holy Spirit came after Jesus returned to heaven it is clear from the passage just quoted in the prior paragraph (John 16:13-15) that he did not originate truth for he did not speak on his own authority but spoke what he heard.  He glorified Jesus by taking what was of or from Jesus and declared it to them. 

Thus when an apostle spoke by means of the Holy Spirit he spoke not out of himself but rather spoke the very words of God.  Peter speaks of "those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." (1 Peter 1:12 NKJV)  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter himself spoke just such a gospel sermon after the Holy Spirit fell on him and the other apostles.  Paul says, "No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:11-13 NKJV) 

If Paul was not an inspired writer (as well as a gospel preacher) then Peter was in error for he said of Paul's writings that some twisted them "to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures." (2 Peter 3:15 NKJV)  Not only does Peter compare Paul's writings with the rest of the scriptures but also says his writings can be twisted to one's destruction.  That would be a little hard to do if they were uninspired writings would it not?  If one recalls correctly Ananias was sent to Paul at his conversion with one reason being that Paul might be "filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  

Sometimes people latch on to a few statements made by Paul in 1 Cor. 7 and read into them more than they should in that they feel Paul is there giving uninspired advice or giving only his own judgment or opinion apart from any direction of the Spirit.  For example, Paul says in verse 12, "I, not the Lord, say," (NKJV) and then in verse 25 he says, "I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in his mercy has made trustworthy." (1 Cor. 7:25 NKJV)  Well, is Paul trustworthy or not?  He closes this very chapter with these words, "According to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 7:40 NKJV)  Do you think Paul had the Spirit of God?  Do you think he was questioning himself by making that statement?  You know better. 

Here is the bind that those get themselves into when they begin questioning scripture and taking some of it as inspired and other parts of it as not inspired—how do you decide which is which?  Are you that all wise and knowing so that you can declare beyond doubt that this scripture is inspired while that one is not?  How do the rest of us know you are that smart, even God-like, in your declarations?  How did you come to possess these mighty powers of discernment?  Maybe showing us a miracle would help the rest of us build confidence in you.  In New Testament times miracles were performed to confirm the word as being from God (Heb. 2:1-4).  We need confirmation of like nature if you are going to start cutting out scripture from the Bible for proof is needed that your word is from God when you do such cutting.   After all, you will be giving us a new Bible when your cutting is done. 

Needless to say, all such approaches to scripture end up being faith-destroying.  How do you have faith if you do not know what to have faith in and what not to have faith in?  Yes, I know these types proclaim their faith but genuine faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17) and not by one's own “I think so.”  It does not come by one declaring himself to be God and thus able to give man the true scriptures versus the false ones. 

The bottom line ends up being that one either has to hold to the scriptures as being authoritative, and verbally inspired by God, or else he holds to the words of some man that declares otherwise but can work no miracle in proof of his declaration. 

In closing yes the words of Jesus in red are authoritative but no more so than the words in black in your New Testament for the truth is the source of all inspired writings is God the Father.  When Paul or Peter or whomever the New Testament writer was spoke with pen and ink or otherwise on matters of the faith his words came from the same source that Jesus' did while Jesus was on the earth.  The idea that Paul was writing for Paul's sake promoting his own doctrine contrary to what Jesus would have said is as unscriptural as it gets. 

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJV) 

Postscript:  This article is not meant to imply that Bible translations, man-made, are infallible.  However, to the extent a translation accurately represents the original manuscripts of the New Testament, it is reliable.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Conversion of Lydia – Acts 16:13-15

In Acts 16:13-15 we find the account of the conversion of Lydia in the city of Philippi.  This is a very interesting conversion account and one that men have debated as to what actually happened.  It is a short account so let us read it and see if there is anything to debate or to cause controversy. 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. (Act 16:13 NAS77) 

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Act 16:14 NAS77) 

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Act 16:15 NAS77)”

Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as you recall, entered the city of Philippi to preach the gospel.  Their first opportunity, as far as we can tell, is to a group of women out at the riverside at a gathering place for prayer.  Lydia is one of the women assembled there. 

The first mystery to some people is found in the statement in verse 14 where it is said that "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."  Well, how did the Lord do that?  Did God take a kind of spiritual crowbar to her heart and mind and force conversion on her?  Did the Holy Spirit come upon her in some mysterious operation taking over her will and making her receptive to the gospel as Paul preached it?  Some think so.  The reality is there is no truth to such suppositions as will soon be shown. 

God opened Lydia's heart to the gospel simply by the preaching of the word.  How do I know?  That is a fair question.  If God acted miraculously on the heart of Lydia resulting in a sort of forced conversion, one of which she had no way of resisting, and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34 KJV), shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25), and teaches us that it is a sin to show partiality (James 2:9), then God did the very thing in converting Lydia that he says, through his word, that he does not do and that he condemns in us.  None of us believe that. 

Lydia's heart was opened by God's word in the same natural way yours and mine are.  For example, all of us have read passages in the Bible that condemn us for something we have done at one time or another resulting in a pang of guilt and sorrow within us.  Is that the Holy Spirit acting miraculously on my heart or is it the power of the word of God upon a man's heart?  Yes, it is the Spirit working but working through the word, not miraculously separate and apart from the word.  We retain the free will to either believe what we read thus allowing it to touch our hearts or the free will to pass it off and reject it.  

Our hearts are left free to choose either for or against the gospel thus we can be fairly condemned for choosing to reject it.  If it was otherwise how could it be said that God was fair to all?  In conversion, God treats all the same and does not play favorites. 

But, I want to make a note here about Paul's preaching that day.  In earlier articles, I have tried to show that in first-century accounts of gospel preaching all men who preached taught the same thing with the same results among those who believed.  Whether it was Peter, Philip, or Ananias doing the preaching, and now Paul the result was that in every case where the preaching was believed the result was that believers were baptized.  When we believe the words of Peter preaching by inspiration in Acts 2:38, we readily see why that was the case. 

What did Paul preach to Lydia?  We all agree he taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  With Paul, as with the other evangelists of his day, that included baptism for the remission of sins.  The text says Lydia was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:15) but when did she do this and why?  The verse before, verse 14, tells us that she was responding "to the things spoken by Paul." (NAS) 

Paul preached to her the gospel.  Paul preached baptism because Lydia was baptized in response to the things spoken by Paul (verse 14).  Baptism then is a part of the gospel.  The gospel cannot be preached without baptism being preached.  We see it preached by Peter, by Philip, by Ananias, and now by Paul. 

Some might respond by saying in earlier accounts found in earlier chapters of Paul's missionary efforts accounts are given where baptism is not mentioned - passages like Acts 13:12, 13:39, 48 and Acts 14:1, 14:21.  The reader ought to realize two things regarding such passages. 

(1) They are summary statements of what happened and not detailed accounts of conversion.  For example, Acts 14:21 simply says they "made many disciples."  There is no attempt to say how that was done.  Acts 13:39 says, "Everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." (NAS)  True, but what is not stated is what is to be believed.  In Acts 13:48 the text says "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (NAS)  Believed what?  If they believed what Paul preached then they believed, among other things, that they must be baptized.  But, the point is that such passages are just summary statements without details being provided. 

Let the reader ask himself this question.  None of these accounts mention a word about repentance nor should they given the fact they are, as has been stated, summary statements.  Do we believe that there is such a thing as salvation by faith without any repentance of sins?  Again, when it is simply stated that people believed it is a summary of what took place and not a detailed account of everything they believed and believed to the point of obedience. 

If we were studying the subject of biblical hermeneutics we would say the word "believed" when used in such passages as we have been talking about is used as a figure of speech called a "synecdoche."  A synecdoche is "a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part." (Hermeneutics, by D. R. Dungan, page 300)  As Dungan says, "This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners.  The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one.  Generally the first one is mentioned-that of faith-because without it nothing else could follow." (page 305) 

In more detailed accounts we know what was preached and what was believed by what was done.  Lydia was baptized because the text says she was responding to what was preached and Paul was the preacher.  

(2)  Paul preached the same gospel wherever he went, not one thing in one place and something else in another.  If you can find what he preached once you know he always taught the same elsewhere.  Paul says, "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8 NAS)  Paul did not preach different things in different places when it came to the gospel.  If he preached baptism to Lydia he preached the same wherever he went and we know he preached it to her. 

If Paul did not believe baptism for the remission of sins was essential to gospel obedience (and thus salvation) then please tell me how he could have written what he did in passages such as Rom. 6:3-4 and Gal. 3:26-27.  Tell me why when Ananias told him "now why do you delay?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16 NAS) that Paul did not object and respond to Ananias along the line of now look here Ananias, I know you have the Spirit of God but the minute I met Jesus on the road I believed and was saved and so both you and the Spirit are in error.  I need not be baptized to "wash away" any sins for they were forgiven me when Jesus appeared to me and I first believed.  Why did he not respond that way? 

It astounds me that people can claim to be saved by faith, apart from baptism, given the fact their claim to believe is fraud.  How can I believe in Jesus and yet deny what he taught?   Jesus taught both personally on the subject of baptism (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, John 3:5) and through his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets.  Believe in him, just not in what he has said, and you will be saved seems to be the idea.  What!  How does that work?  Someone needs to explain that. 

What does it mean to be faithful to God as a new convert?  Lydia says, as a new convert speaking to Paul and his party, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." (Acts 16:15 NAS)  That they did because they judged her, as she says, as one who was faithful to the Lord. 

What did she do to become faithful?  She believed what Paul preached (including baptism) and responded to it by acting upon it.  If one wants to become faithful to the Lord they need to do what she did assuming they have not already done so.  Would she have been judged faithful if she had not been baptized?  Think about that long and hard.  Paul taught it.  Let us say she refused to do it.  Would she then have been judged to be faithful? 

One final fact about Lydia's conversion that has caused trouble is that the text says "she and her household " were baptized (Acts 16:15 NAS).  The thought is that this means she and her young children maybe including infants.  It is easily seen that infants were not baptized for the simple reason that baptism is of no value to one who is not a sinner as its purpose is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and infants have no sin.  They are safe in the arms of God as is. 

But, there is another point as well confirming there was no infant baptism or baptism of very young children.  Baptism saves only when accompanied by faith (Mark 16:16) for it is "he who has believed and has been baptized" that shall be saved.  It is not he who is too young to believe and is baptized shall be saved.

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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Ashamed of Jesus and His Words

In Luke 9:26 Jesus made the following statement, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (NAS)  There are two things here that we are told we must avoid if we are to keep Jesus from being ashamed of us in the day he returns to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31) – (1) being ashamed of Jesus and (2) being ashamed of the words of Jesus.

We might well ask what is there about Jesus to be ashamed of.  The answer is obvious, nothing at all.  But lest we think we are clear on this count and before we begin to pat ourselves on the back thinking we are not ashamed of him let us think a little deeper about the matter.  Is Jesus just talking about our state of mind about him when he gives this warning against being ashamed of him?  I think not.

Jesus made another statement found in Matt. 10:32-33 which I believe ties in with the Luke 9 passage just quoted above.  He says, "Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my father who is in heaven.  But whoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my father who is in heaven." (NAS)  It is easy to say to ourselves I am not ashamed of Jesus and mean it but as the American idiom goes "when the rubber meets the road" and we should speak of Jesus, speak up and be heard when that test comes, is it not true that too often, maybe most all of the time, we hold our silence and fail to speak on his behalf?  I think that is generally true.

We do not speak because we do not want to be embarrassed or shamed by the world that ridicules faith in Jesus thus we are more concerned about receiving honor from men rather than the honor that comes from God alone.  We do not speak because we do not want to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3).  We do not speak because we do not want to wield "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:17 NAS)  We want to just get along.  As the saying goes there are two things you do not talk about lest you get into a fight--religion and politics.  However, man said that not God.  Jesus never held his peace and he was continually involved in verbal fights.

Yes, I am sure there is a time and a place for such discussions of Christ.  But here is the problem--we never find the right time or place do we?  It is like the right time and place never arises with us.  It is out there somewhere but we just never have found it and unless our hearts change we never will find it.  The bottom line is we are embarrassed or ashamed to talk of Christ to others unless we know them very, very well (immediate family?) and have judged what we think their reaction will be beforehand.  Others may know we are believers for we attend services regularly but they would never know it by our talking about Jesus.

Contrast that with Christ while he was on earth.  Every day he was talking religion, talking of God his Father, talking of faith and obedience and God's will for man.  Every day he was into discussions and often arguments with men over religion.  Is he our example?  Will we follow that example?  Are we afraid too?  Who are we more afraid of—other people or God?

That said there were two parts of the verse we are discussing, Luke 9:26.  We are also warned against being ashamed of the words of Jesus.  There are far more people who are willing to confess Jesus before men and uphold his honor in that regard than there are people who are willing to accept his words. 

First of all, I want all to understand that the words of Jesus are not just confined to the words printed in red in your New Testament.  Jesus, in John 16, spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit and said this, "He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you." (John 16:13-14 NAS)  What was Jesus' that the Holy Spirit was to disclose?  The words of Jesus.

My copy of the original ASV of 1901 New Testament has on its title page these words: "The New Covenant commonly called The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  That is what it is exactly.  Every word on its pages came from Jesus either directly or indirectly through the Holy Spirit.

Great indeed is the number of those who claim to be Christians that will not believe but parts of the word and are thus ashamed of the words of Jesus.  How many denominationalists will ever preach what Peter preached, by means of the Holy Spirit, in Acts 2;38, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins"? (NAS)  They are ashamed of those words of Jesus and do not believe them and will not abide in them and will not teach them.  To them those gathered on that Pentecost day were saved the minute they repented and as they would put it "received Jesus into their hearts" so you cannot believe these words about baptism for the forgiveness of sins that Peter spoke on behalf of Christ.

You can go to other passages and try and convince them.  For example, Ananias told Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." (NAS)  To them, Ananias did not know what he was talking about Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit for they say baptism cannot wash away sins even if God says it can.  To them, the Holy Spirit should have worded that passage differently.  

Peter says, by the Holy Spirit, "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21 NAS) but not with them for they will not believe the words of Jesus and are ashamed of all such as related to baptism.  Even when Jesus spoke directly on the subject, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 NAS) it is not accepted.  Of such people, it will never be said of them that they obeyed Jesus who said, "If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death." (John 8:51 NAS)  His word is what they are not keeping.  This is only an example, one topic, where people are ashamed of the words of Jesus, even religious people.

I will say this; it is not easy to live up to the demands found in this Luke 9:26 passage.  It takes courage, great courage, to speak of Jesus to others and defend the words of Jesus.  It takes great courage to overcome the fear of contention, fights, debates, and strife that will naturally arise when one does speak up and does not hold his peace.

I am reminded, however, of the passage found in Matt. 10:34-36 where Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household." (NAS)  We all want peace but each of us has to make up his/her mind as to where we prefer that peace--here or the hereafter.  Which will last the longest? 

Jesus suffered a violent death and it was because he spoke up and did not hold his peace.  Most historians think most of the apostles suffered similar fates and we know from history of burnings at the stake and violent deaths of many early Christians.  Again it was not because they held their peace but because they spoke up.  They were not ashamed to speak up for Jesus and were not ashamed of his words.

It takes strength to defend the very words of the New Testament, the words of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, said clearly, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NAS)  Many seem to feel that day is still in the future.  They are wrong.  It may continue to get worse but that day is already here.  Here is the proof.

People commonly believe that people in and from every denomination will be saved thus proving Paul's point when he said "they will not endure sound doctrine."  Follow the train of thought here.  If people are saved from every denomination, all teaching different doctrines, then there is no such thing as sound doctrine.  If one denominational doctrine is as good as another there is no such thing as sound doctrine or enduring sound doctrine.  That being the case what Paul prophesied is already here and does not need to await the future.

One can take the commonly accepted stance that the church of which one is a member does not matter and all will speak well of him, they will be glad to hear he feels that way.  One can take the stance that baptism is not for the remission of sins and receive the applause of men.  But, that will not change what the Bible says about either of those subjects.  "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets." (Luke 6:26 NAS)  What we ought to do is quit being ashamed of the words of Jesus and start following them.

If Jesus is ashamed of us on the last day we are not going to be saved.  Most who read this article probably have children.  How would a parent feel, how does one feel, when his children are ashamed of him and his words?  Now apply that to how Jesus must feel when we are ashamed of him and his words.  There can be little doubt it hurts him deeply.

We all need to take Luke 9:26 to heart and do better.  It will take a great deal of strength and courage, even faith, to do so.  It will also take love for God.  Do we have what it will take and will we do it?  That is the question we all must answer. 

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

God’s Plea -- Be Reconciled to God

The word reconciliation is a very emotionally laden word.  There are millions upon millions of people in this world of billions who have sorrow in their lives that words cannot express.  It is a sadness that continues with them daily, month by month, year by year, and how can they tell anyone?  What can they say?  They cannot verbalize their feelings even to themselves let alone to others.  It is sadness, depression, emptiness, a sorrow that words cannot describe.

Why such sorrow, such longful mourning, such a sense of despair; because there is alienation within the family.  Families are torn apart because one member or another became alienated and will no longer have anything to do with the rest of the family or at least with the one with whom they are alienated.  The alienated one becomes angry and lives in bitterness, hate, and resentment.  Sometimes both parties involved come to feel that way but often it is a one-party matter.  The individual feels that he/she was done wrong and mistreated whether true or not; that is how they see it.

I knew a family, and there are many such families, whose only child, a son, ran away from home while alienated as a teenager and that was the last they saw him or heard from him, at least for many, many years, into decades.  They had no idea where he was.  The mother died without ever seeing her son again or knowing what became of him.  I cannot imagine the pain that mother and dad dealt with all of those years.  No doubt that mother would have rejoiced in tears to have seen her son at her bedside, just one time, as she passed from this world into the next.  However, that was not to be.

I did recently learn, I had lost touch with the family for years, that before the father’s passing the son had communicated with him.  Whether there was a genuine reconciliation or not I know not as I received my knowledge of this from a third party.  But how sad it was that this family had to go through this.

When I came to know the mother and dad they were devout church members.  I am sure faith in God is all that allowed them to live all those many years from middle age on into old age.  The one who suffers the least in these family breakups is the alienated.  They feel justified, maybe a sense of getting even, I will show you, and so in their desire to do this, they emotionally kill the other party and seemingly find some fulfillment in doing so.  The Bible would call this malice or hatred and condemn it but the alienated feels justified.

Two great examples in the Bible of men whose sons became alienated were David with his son Absalom and in the New Testament the case of the prodigal son.  David suffered immensely over Absalom.  It would take up too much space to retell the story of David’s relationship with Absalom so let me speak here only of David’s love for Absalom even after Absalom rebelled and had sought to overthrow David as King and take his father’s life.

Prior to David’s army going into battle against the army of Absalom David commanded Joab, the commander of his own army, to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (2 Sam 18:5 NKJV)  When word was sent back to David as to how the battle had gone the first thing David wanted to know was, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” (2 Sam. 18:29 NKJV)  When he was told that was not the case, that Absalom was dead, the Bible gives us some of the most heart-wrenching words ever uttered by a father.

“O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place!  O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33 NKJV)  The Bible says David, “was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept.” (2 Sam. 18:33 NKJV)  You always love your child no matter how deeply they grow to despise you.  Oh, what it would have meant to David if there could have been reconciliation before it came to this but reconciliation requires two willing parties.  One alone is not enough.

The New Testament example of alienation did not end in tragedy as was the case with David and Absalom but rather in great joy, in rejoicing.  In the prodigal son, we have a son who was not as alienated as Absalom was but who, nevertheless, was not satisfied and wanted to part ways from his father.  He felt he was being held back from the good life while at home.

The New Testament example of the prodigal son is too well known to repeat here other than to mention the father’s overwhelming joy when he saw his son coming down the road home.  “When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20 NKJV) 

Thus we have two examples of alienation with two totally different endings.  One wonders why people refuse to be reconciled when reconciliation is the road to peace, joy, and happiness.  Whatever the cause alienation begins with perverseness of the heart.

The account of the prodigal son and his father is really about you and me and God.  We are God’s creatures, his people, “It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NKJV)  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” (Isa. 53:6 NKJV)

We are or have been, depending on where we are now in our standing with God, like the prodigal son.  We left God when we chose sin over him.  “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Rom. 3:10 NKJV)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23 NKJV)

The gospel message is God’s call for the prodigal to come home.  It is the message of the father seeking the son or daughter who has gone astray who waits patiently until their return if only they are willing to be reconciled.  He is longsuffering and forbearing not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV)

The gospel is as if God was standing and calling to us to come for as Paul said to the Thessalonians, “He called you by our gospel.” (2 Thess. 2:14 NKJV)  It is “the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19 NKJV)  “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17 NKJV)

It is an invitation but it is more than that.  It is a plea, “as though God were pleading through us:  we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20 NKJV)  Reconciliation is a choice, a decision to be made.  The son I told you about earlier whose father and mother I knew made a choice, a choice to not be reconciled for those many years.  It was a bad choice.  It is a horrible choice, even a tragedy, any time a person makes the decision that he will not be reconciled with those against whom he is alienated.  All are losers, none winners. 

We ought to be reconciled to our fellowman if alienated.  We are to forgive one another so that we might be forgiven.  “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14 NKJV)  We ought to grow tired of fussing and fighting, of anger, hatred, and bitterness.

You know if we were to ask the question of why heaven is going to be such a grand and joyous place we would have to talk not only about what will be there but also about what will not be there--all of these evil things that burden the heart and bring tears and sorrow.  Heaven is a place of love.  It is not a place of alienation, anger, and bitterness. 

The Bible says when Jesus drew near the city of Jerusalem, as he drew near to it for the last time (from afar), “he wept.” (Luke 19:41 NKJV)  What do you think brought him to tears?  In Matthew, we find his feelings expressed when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37 NKJV)  This was God crying for his lost alienated children who would not come home.

God’s plea is that we be reconciled to him.  He is the prodigal son’s father, figuratively speaking, looking down the road to see if we will come home.  Are you going to tell him you are not willing?  If so is that where you will find happiness and contentment—find it in alienation?  We ought to come home to God with tears of rejoicing that the alienation is over and we are home at last, that wonderful word and wonderful place--home.  Home is where you belong, where I belong, where we all belong, home with God.

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