Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity

If you’re a Christian, it’s a good bet you’ve read and/or heard the Sermon on the Mount more than once. And if you’re like me, you probably think you’re pretty familiar with this straight-forward message Jesus delivered during His time here on earth. But in a sermon a few weeks back, the speaker said something that prompted me to take a deeper look.

I hadn’t thought before about what a radical message this must have seemed when first preached. Matthew even tells us people who heard Jesus were “astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28, KJV). Throughout Jesus’ words a message is woven that tells us our human way of looking at things is wrong. Something that makes no sense to us might be exactly what God is looking for, and the things we’d consider reasonable might not be what He wants at all. This sermon is about showing us a new way of thinking and living.Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Questions Of Law

Following the Beatitudes (which we talked about last week), Jesus describes people who follow Him as salt and light. All the attributes described earlier are meant to be visible in His people, showing the world good works that will cause them to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16, WEB). Jesus then makes a statement about how His teachings relate to the Old Testament Law and Prophets. People often like to take Paul out of context and say Christians today have nothing to do with the Law, but that’s not what Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) taught. Continue reading

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Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God

Recently, a friend shared a post titled “After 20 Years … there remains but a poor case for a divided Church of God.” It’s arguing that there’s no good excuse for the church of God to exist in different organizations. It broke apart because of doctrinal differences, but now people believing the same things are divided up into innumerable different groups. Why haven’t they got back together yet?

It’s a lamentation I’ve heard pretty much my entire life. My parents met attending the Worldwide Church of God and I was only 6 years old when the major split happened. I’ve grown up in off-shoots of that church group including United Church of God and various independent groups such as Christian Biblical Church of God and the now-nonexistant Bellville Church of God.

  • Quick note for my regular readers: this post is addressed to people in church groups that split off from the Worldwide Church of God (most in 1995) due to major doctrinal differences. If you read something here that seems “odd” it’s probably because of not sharing my target audience’s background. Please bear with me going off on this specific topic for one post 🙂

I don’t really remember Worldwide. But I’ve heard about the huge church groups with hundreds of attendees each week and the Feasts of Tabernacles where multiple thousands gathered to celebrate God’s holy days. I’ve heard (and still hear) Herbert Armstrong quoted in multiple sermons every year. I’ve seen groups trying to re-create the “good old days” when the church had a central government, word-wide cultural influence, and its own university. And I read articles like the one my friend shared that wonder why we don’t have that any more and urging a return to unity.

I’m writing my post today because I feel this type of argument is glossing over the true issues. Perhaps we’re so nostalgic for what was that we’re missing a greater what could be.

Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo by Pearl, via Lightstock

Defining “Disunity”

First, we have to decide what we mean by disunity and division. This writer said he observed division when a church group of 800-1,000 people was split into four different congregations due to an administrative decision. He also describe the many different groups that grew out of a Worldwide background as currently disunified. It seems he means that division exists when all God’s people in a given location aren’t meeting together and when there are different church groups in existence instead of a single over-arching organization.

But is that an accurate description? Should we expect God’s church to all fall under one human label or to all meet in the same location? Or do some people just think that’s a good idea because that’s what they thought was going on in Worldwide? This gets to a key question: How does the Bible define “the church of God”? We can’t even try to be the ideal version of something until we know what that ideal version looks like. Continue reading

Firstfruits From the Rejects

All the holy days point to Jesus Christ, often in multiple ways. For the soon-approaching Pentecost — the Feast of Firstfruits — Jesus is Himself “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” because He was the first of God’s people to raise from the dead to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He’s also the one who redeemed us, making it possible for us to be firstfruits, and He’s the reason we receive the Holy Spirit, which was first given to the New Testament church on Pentecost (John 14:26; 16:7).

On the surface, the term “firstfruits” simply refers to the first agricultural produce of the harvest season. In the Hebrew scriptures, firstfruits were offered to God before you harvested anything for yourself. This offering occurred after Passover on a Sunday morning and kicked-off the 50-day count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:1-21).

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest, pays a key role in God’s plan. Even churches that no longer keep the other holy days often mark Pentecost because that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). In Leviticus 23, instructions about the wave-sheaf, 50-day count, and Pentecost occupy more than 1/3 of the entire chapter. Clearly, there’s something here we’re supposed to take careful note of.

Gleanings and Ruth

Embedded in the holy days discussion of Leviticus 23 is a peculiar verse. It doesn’t seem related to the chapter’s subject, yet it follows immediately after the instructions about Pentecost.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

Why would God put this law in place while discussing the holy days? It doesn’t seem to make sense. It does, however, connect Pentecost with the story of Ruth. In Jewish tradition, Ruth is read every Pentecost, and perhaps that’s a clue as to why the law of gleanings is discussed here.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem they’re both poor and Ruth was a “stranger,” a Moabitess instead of an Israelite. She more than qualified for gleaning under the law given in Leviticus, as well as the repetition in Deuteronomy 24:19 which added the “fatherless” and the “widow” to the list of those who could glean.

Instead of just letting Ruth glean, Boaz offered her protection (Ruth 2:9), provided food for her (2:14), and told his reapers to drop grain on purpose so she could glean as much as she wanted (2:15-16). When she first meets Boaz, Ruth’s relation to him is strikingly similar to us when first encountering Christ. He is good, and wealthy, and powerful while we have nothing. We don’t deserve anything from Him, and yet He offers us blessings beyond expectation.

Opening Salvation

When Jesus died, He opened up the covenants to non-Israelites. Prior to accepting His sacrifice, we were all “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were the sort of people who couldn’t expect more than the gleanings.

But He answered [the Gentile woman] and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:26-27)

Jesus did honor this woman’s faith and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28), but by-and-large people outside Israel didn’t have access to God before the cross. Strangers who converted, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16; 2:12), were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t really happen until after Christ’s Passover sacrifice, His ascension to the Father on wave-sheaf Sunday (click here for a timeline), and the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter didn’t realize this included Gentiles until latter (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18), but speaking by inspiration of the Spirit He still proclaimed salvation for all whom God calls. This was a huge step in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 12:47), and it’s connected with Pentecost.

Redeemed Firstfruits

In the epistle of James, we’re told the Father “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The church is composed of the first people God will “harvest” from the world. We’re a rather unusual sort of firstfruits, though.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

God picks us up from the things devalued and discarded by the world. In other words, He finds His firstfruits among the gleanings. He’s taking people who are underwhelming and overlooked and transforming us into something glorious. Like Ruth, we were strangers who are brought into fellowship with God’s people by a Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Tit. 2:13-14).

Why Do We Keep The Passover?

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan (also called Abib), and the first day of the sacred year on the Hebrew calendar (Rosh Hashana starts the civil year). This means Passover is exactly 14 days away. As we draw nearer this important holy day, I wanted to shift our focus onto why Passover is so important for Christians today.

As I started thinking about reasons to keep Passover, I realized I’d either have to make this a series of posts or be much more concise than the subject deserves. Instead of a series (though there will be other Passover posts coming up), I decided to just write a brief overview of some reason to keep Passover and then invite you to join me in exploring them further. If this post inspires any of you to study Passover, I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments. And if you write a blog post about Passover, please share a link here so we can all read it.

It’s A Command

Exodus chapter 12 describes the events of the first Passover in Egypt, when the children of Israel were protected from the plague that killed all Egyptian firstborn. After delivering instructions specific to that Passover, the Lord reveals that Passover celebration will continue forever among His people. Continue reading

What Is The Church?

The church is a family, not a business. Most people won’t argue with that, or at the very least they’ll make a case that it’s both. But that’s not always the impression you get when listening to church leaders talk.

When I go to church and hear a sermon, I expect to hear a teaching on God’s word, not an up-date on that church organization’s media outreach, how many associate pastors have been hired, or how much money their latest donation campaign brought in. Sermons like that just don’t make it seem like the church group is modeling themselves after the New Testament church established by Jesus Christ. Sometimes (in my more cynical moments) I wonder if we’re even trying.

The Church’s Commission

In John 13-17, Jesus delivers the longest uninterrupted discourse we have record of near the end of His life. Usually we look at “the Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 for Christ’s take-away message to His church, but a good case can be made for viewing this section of scripture in that way as well.

Jesus starts out by demonstrating servant leadership in washing His disciples’ feet. That’s how He wants them to lead after He’s gone — by humbling self and serving others (John 13:12-17). Then He connects their walk as His followers with what He’d previously identified as the Great Commandments: love God, and love your neighbor.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

What Is The Church? | marissabaker.wordpress.comIt might not sell as well as “preaching the gospel,” but love is the succinct mission statement of Christ’s church. It’s not something you tack on as an afterthought — “we’ll do this, this, and this with love.” Love is the essential character of God. If we want to be like God, we have to embody His love.

As we move into John chapter 15, the focus stays on individuals. There are multiple branches abiding in the True Vine, but the message is to each one individually (“every branch in Me,” “a man, “you abide in me”). There’s no diffusion of responsibility for bearing fruit; it’s something every person is told to do.

Sometimes in church, we’re told it’s enough to tithe to an organization that’s bearing fruit. This makes me think of the parable of the talents, when the Master tells the servant who buried his talent, “you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest” (Matt. 25:24-27). Supporting an organization that’s doing good things is better than nothing, but it doesn’t exempt us from personal action.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:6, 8-9)

The first time in this section of scripture that Jesus mentions selecting and sending people to go and do something, it’s to “bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). That’s shortly followed by telling the disciples they will “bear witness” of Him (15:27). Fruiting and witnessing will involve preaching, but that’s not the foundation.

When we read Jesus’ final prayer, He mentions several more things His followers should and will do. They will “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). They will keep His word (17:6). They will believe in Christ and His mission as the One Sent (17:7-8). They will not be like the world, though they are sent into the world (17:14, 16, 18). They will become one with God in His love (17:21-23, 26).

What we’re doing as Christ’s followers involves so much more than systematizing preaching of the word. Individually, our responsibility is to love God, attach ourselves to Him, and keep his commandments. Our connection to the Vine will result in bearing fruit for His glory. If our church’s mission by-passes that and goes straight to “we need to preach the gospel,” then we’re missing the mark.

Works Powered By God

I try not to directly engage with the speakers I hear in my local church on this blog, unless I can be in agreement with or say my writings were “inspired by” what I heard. To introduce this next point, though, I have to reference a message I heard last week where a church leader talked about their vision “to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity by bringing many children to glory.”

This phrase is lifted out of Hebrew 2:10. Whenever anyone quotes an isolated phrase of Biblical text, it’s a good idea to check it out in-context to get a fuller idea of the meaning.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb 2:9-11)

Do you see anything in this passage about our role in bringing God’s children to glory? No — that’s the sole province of God our Father and the Captain of our salvation. We are “those who are being sanctified;” Christ’s brethren who He is bringing to glory. That’s where we show up in this passage of scripture.

What Is The Church? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It is the height of arrogance to assume we can do “the work of God.” God does God’s work. This does involve equipping His people for certain tasks and giving them what they need to bear good fruit. We can do work that He gives us, as explained here:

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Belief is a key foundation of our faith. Here, it’s also defined as “the work of God” that we’re given to do. Considering the context — people asking about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes (John 6:5-15, 25-27) — you can also read that belief is a prerequisite for doing works powered by God. This agrees with a later verse in Christ’s last Passover discourse.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)

When we’re in relationship with Jesus Christ and our foundation is strong in Him, we will do works like He did and for the same reasons He did. Christ’s every action on this earth — works of healing, inspired preaching, miracles — all pointed people toward the One True God. That is our mission also.

But this is done through individuals, not organizations. If an organization is doing good works, it’s because there are true Christians within it whom God is working through. The true church is the body of believers that Christ is building — the collection of individuals He is working with. Within the church, God works with each person to help them bear fruit. The fruit won’t look the same for everyone. Some will preach, some will support preaching, some will heal, some will serve within the body, some will have great wisdom, some will model exemplary faith (1 Cor. 12).

Preaching will result whether you treat the church as a business or as a family, but what fuels preaching in each situation is very different. In one case, you have an organization focused on spreading God’s word as much as they can. The emphasis is on what we’re doing, who we’re training, how many we’re reaching. In the other, you have a group of people so in love with God that they have to share His message. The focus is on loving God, rooting yourself in Him, and then bearing fruit for His glory, which involves pursuing the same things He values. Which church would you rather be a part of?

How Should We View Other Church Groups?

How Should We View Other Church Groups? | marissabaker.wordpress.comWe all know there are divisions in the church today. There are large groups, small groups, corporate churches, independent churches, and then factions and rivalries inside and among many of them. I think we can all agree this is not an ideal situation — that Christ’s intention is for us to be “at one.” Often we think the way to achieve that unity is for “all those people out there” to just “come to their senses and join my church.”

But what if there isn’t anything wrong with “them”? What if they are already in God’s church, and the problems lie with us picking and choosing a “my church” to stick with? Take the churches of my faith background as an example. There are literally hundreds of different groups that are all keeping the 7th Day Sabbath and God’s Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and each of them considers that a defining “thing” about our particular variety of Christianity. Yet there are still people, especially in the larger or more exclusive groups, who think if you aren’t keeping the Sabbath with their church is doesn’t really count. And then we tell ourselves we’re better than “mainstream Christianity”!

Other Sheep

There was a similar problem in the New Testament church, with divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers. Up until Acts 10, the disciples assumed only Jews were being called to know Jesus Christ. Then, God showed very clearly that He was opening up the chance for salvation to everyone.

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1-2)

This man was already serving the God of Israel, but the Jews wouldn’t have had anything to do with him. Unless there were other Gentile believers around, he didn’t have anyone to fellowship with except his family. Some of us have probably been there, without a local group to fellowship with or feeling like we’re unwelcome in the ones that are there. In Cornelius’s case, God took care of this problem by sending him a vision telling him to send for Peter, and then God told Peter to go (Acts 10:3-27).

Then he [Peter] said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28)

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34-35)

And just to clear up any lingering doubts in the minds of Peter’s Jewish companions, God gave Cornelius and his family the Holy Spirit before they were even baptized.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. (Acts 10:44-45)

They really shouldn’t have been so surprised. Christ’s ministry on earth was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), but He still spoke with a Samaritan woman in John 4, healed a Gentile woman’s daughter in Matthew 15, and had this to say in John 10:

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)

From the very beginning of the New Testament church, Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t going to work with just one group or one type of people. He had bigger plans.

Church Squabbles

Several things happened in the aftermath of Cornelius’s conversion. First, Peter had to defend his choice to even talk with a Gentile. Once the whole story was known, though, there wasn’t much to say.

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18)

That wasn’t the end of the squabbling, however, because church culture started becoming an issue. The way I see it, the whole circumcision debate that became such an issue in the early church boiled down to a group of people who thought everyone else had to worship God the exact same way they did. They didn’t want the Gentiles bringing in any of their culture or ideas about how to worship, and they certainly didn’t want anyone to “get away with” anything.

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

There’s quite a discussion about this question in the rest of Acts 15. The basic decision was to lay no unnecessary burden on the new converts. Precisely why physical, male circumcision is unnecessary under the New Covenant is something addressed in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 7:18-19). My point is that this question was a big deal to some people, and it caused division, dissension, and dispute in the church. Yet the consensus upon examining the issue was that it wasn’t really anything to get worked up about either way. There were far more important things to focus on, like the keeping of God’s commandments and developing a relationship with Him.

So far we’ve seen church culture/background divisions and doctrinal divisions in the New Testament church. They also struggled with another sort of division that we face today, regarding which human teacher you follow.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13)

Paul would no doubt have much the same thing to tell us today — that we should stop squabbling about who we follow or what group we’re in and be unified in Christ. The message is not to convert everyone to your faction and then get along. It’s to be unified right now — to be peaceful with the people you’re currently squabbling with both inside and outside “your” group. There are Biblical guidelines for resolving conflict (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:1-11), and none of them involve starting a new church group because you can’t agree on when the barley in Jerusalem is ripe, or excommunicating a family because they want to keep the land Sabbath on their farm (true stories).

Made One

We have different ways of dividing ourselves now other than Jews vs. Gentiles or circumcision vs. uncircumcision, but the principles laid-out for how these groups were to interact give us guidelines for how the churches of God should look today.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (Rom. 10:12)

There is no difference — how strange that must have seemed to them! As strange as telling a former Catholic and a former Baptist who meet in the same group now that there was never any difference between them in God’s eyes; as strange as telling a Sabbath keeper with a Worldwide Church of God background that there’s no difference between them and a Messianic believer.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation (Eph. 2:11-14)

There used to be dividing lines, but no longer — they are all done away in Christ.

For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:18-22)

There aren’t multiple groups in God’s eyes. Every person He has called into His family is part of the temple He is building. He doesn’t expect everyone in His family to look or act exactly alike, so why should we?

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.

How Should We View Other Church Groups? | marissabaker.wordpress.comIf the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:12-25)

And there you have it — God is working with a wide variety of people who are filling different roles as He sees fit. When we decide a certain person, or type of person, doesn’t have a place in our church group, that’s like saying our bodies would be just fine without an eye or a foot.

Say, “Come”

God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t make a habit of calling people to follow Him unless He has a plan for working with them. It is not our place to decide who God is and is not working with, or who He should call. How arrogant is it for us to assume we can decide which people God takes an interest in?

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.  …

But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. … So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Rom. 14:4, 10, 12-13)

There are times in the church when we have to make judgements concerning right and wrong. Sometimes the fruits seen in a person’s life call for them being excluded from fellowship until they return to God’s way of life, but those incidents should be rare and very carefully considered (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). As a general rule, the actions we need to be most concerned about are our own. God isn’t going to have people in His family who can’t get along with each other and who refuse to work with certain people. His plan is for the whole world to repent and be saved (John 3:16-17). If you’re excluding people from God’s family, even just in your own mind, then your thoughts are not in line with His.

At the end of the book of Revelation there is a beautiful picture of the future where “a pure river of water of life” flows out “from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” A tree of life grows by this river, and the “leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” who will see God’s face and live in His light (Rev. 22:1-5). In this future, what do we see the Lamb’s wife — the church — doing?

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)

We’re welcoming anyone who wants to come, inviting them to freely partake of what God is offering. We aren’t picking and choosing who’s allowed in — we’re inviting everyone to come and learn. This is something we have to start learning how to do now. I think sometimes we expect all this will be easy when we’re spirit beings, but if that was a magic cure-all for bad attitudes, Lucifer wouldn’t have fallen (Is. 14:12-21; Ezk. 28:11-19). It is imperative that we learn how to relate to one another now, for if we cannot be faithful and obedient on a physical level in a command so important as “love thy neighbor as thyself,” why would God entrust us with true riches? (Matt. 22:36-40; Luke 16:10-12).