A P A R A B L E
Okay, you. You like adventure and always want to test to the limits. Tuck a small box of matches in your pocket and put on a good sun hat and sunglasses. Head up into the mountains a couple of hours from home. The air is crisp and clean. Evergreen trees are everywhere. And nobody else is here. You’re going to make a difference today.
Park your car on the portion of the parking lot that is closest to the road down to lower elevation where the city is. Walk off the paved area until you’re blocked from view in case someone should drive in. Listen carefully for traffic as you make your way through the rocks and brush until you come to a small clearing. Gather some twigs and dried pine needles into a small pile. Pull your match box out of your pocket, select a match, strike it, and apply the match and its flame to the pile. Watch the flame until it’s about six inches or so and spreading to nearby dried vegetation.
Then run to the car, hop in and head down the mountain, looking over your shoulder to see if the fire is visible yet. It is. Just a small plume of smoke now. Couldn’t see it if you didn’t know exactly where it is. When you are within phone range, you call the government service in charge of this part of the forest and report that you think there’s a small fire at the top of the range and give its location.
You have just completed a demonstration of the destructiveness of fire. And when the officers trace your phone number and haul you in for questioning you will have shown the power of the law.
While waiting to be tried and sentenced, you have time to think. “I was just trying to light a small fire,” you tell yourself. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Someday God is going to destroy the earth with fire, and I’m just helping Him.” The fire covered ten, then forty acres and finally ten square miles. The picnic areas were destroyed by the time the fire was extinguished.
Finally, you pause in your reflections. “I wonder if God wanted me to do that. It might be better to let God decide when it’s time to use fire to clean up the forest.”
The following questions are intended to complement “Worship in the Early Church.”
1. Leading thought. Do you and I get in trouble when we try to straighten things out for God? Can there ever be a church of Christians who doesn’t end up with its own fires to put out? Or fires to start? Is it possible to be over-eager to put the church on the right track? Or, on the other hand, to bolt for the exit at the slightest offense? Aren’t there two extremes — doing too much or doing too littleto fight sin? Which is the greatest temptation in your church, family, or heart right now? Wouldn’t it be better if we could go back in history to the time closest to the presence of the human form of God, Jesus?
2. A small company. Do you think it was God’s plan that only a few people who met Jesus would follow Him and immediately establish a significant church in Palestine? Could He have done just that if He had chosen to do so? Was a group of 3,000 people who gave their hearts to Jesus considered to be a “small group?” Now that they recognized there would be no worldly kingdom, what were the hopes for the future held by this stalwart band of Christians? Could they count on Jesus to answer all their questions about sin, salvation, and eternal life? Can we?
3. The truth. Have you ever heard a long-time member of the Adventist church comment about “the truth” as if it were property owned by us and only by us? How do you feel about being part of a movement guided by truth? Why do you think we don’t use that term (“the truth”) so often any more? What was the first truth early Christians needed to learn and believe? With His resurrection being so recent, why were there those who didn’t believe even though they had seen the resurrected Christ with their own eyes? Did Jesus anticipate their need to believe? Can we have faith in God and believe in Him as a Seventh-day Adventist even if we don’t understand all the church’s teachings? Did the early Christian church possess superior knowledge compared to us?
4. Peter preaching the gospel. Think of someone you know who does a lot of outdoor work and is blistered and sunburned. Now imagine that person standing behind the pulpit in ordinary work clothes and learning that he is the scheduled preacher! Will you excuse yourself or stay seated to see what he has to say? Humble though he was, what was Peter’s contribution to the establishment of the early Christian church? Why? Do you think Jesus is longing today to give our preachers and lay persons the kind of power He gave to Peter on the day of Pentecost? Do we sometimes confuse heavenly power with earthy theatrics and rush to dedicate the most dramatic of our preachers to deliver the spoken word? What can we do to be sure we are looking only for God’s humble followers to lead us in our local churches? Or is it inevitable that those seeking “celebrity” status will be the first to be chosen?
5. Paul on Mars Hill. Instead of devout Christians such as Peter had for his audience, what were the people like who came to hear Paul preach in the magnificent pagan city of Alexandria? Did all in the congregation hold their hands over their ears and refuse to hear what Paul had to say? Are you surprised by the fact that Paul did not refer to Scripture in his sermon? Have you ever been able to share the gospel with someone without opening the Bible? Under what circumstances might this method work? Why do you think it didn’t work with Paul? Was it a weakness of Paul that he chose a non-Scripture basis for what he had to say? At what times should you and I hesitate to point to specific Bible texts when we’re sharing our thoughts about what it means to us to follow Jesus?
6. Contrary to the law. Why do sermons sometimes bore us? How can we keep from being bored during the sermon? Should remaining awake during the sermon be our highest priority? What traditions have been set up in your church that encourage members attending the Sabbath services to worship together? What can you do to help your fellow worshipers seek for God and not mix Him up with music, words, and formalities that can provide either the framework or a distraction for worship?
7. Corinth. When Paul preaches in Corinth, he seems to be stuck on one topic — sharing. What did Paul say church members should share with one another? Give Paul half a dozen co-workers who share his zeal for the coming of Jesus, and what will he do with them? What does Paul’s mini-sermon on love as recorded in 1 Corinthians 13 do for his listeners’ growth in God’s love? Have you studied and practiced the statements in 1 Corinthians 13 lately? How do we benefit by putting love first in our walk with God?