Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing
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The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34 NKJV).

This text has to do with our perception of truth, how we view things. This is important because Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mat 5:14 NKJV). Then within two verses He connects our light with good works that glorify God. That means that while we are to have an active witness for Christ we need to be sure that we are not “blind leaders of the blind” (Mat 15:14 NKJV) which was one of the problems the Pharisees had.

It wasn’t that the Pharisees weren’t witnessing, but rather what their witness consisted of. Jesus made that clear when He said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Mat 23:15 NKJV). This becomes important to us because part of the Laodicean message is that we are “poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17 NKJV). We need to understand that part of that blindness is not knowing that we are indeed blind. We think that we have it all, when in fact we have nothing. In the end the whole thing becomes a vicious, deceptive cycle that feeds itself.

There are many factors involved, but perhaps the one thing that starts it off best is the fact that people are going to believe what they want to believe. Paul’s testimony to this problem is that, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess 2:9-10 NKJV). He goes on to say that because of that they will receive “strong delusion” (2 Thess 2:11 NKJV) which usually is a fatal condition.

As an example let’s look at s problem surrounding the sixth commandment, with a brief discussion over the change from the word “kill” to the word “murder.” Some would contend that it is only a matter of semantics while others will argue for the word “murder” as being a more accurate translation.

Actually the words are interesting in themselves. Killing is not necessarily murder, but murder is always killing. In other words the term murder is a narrowed down subset of the word kill. When someone goes into the military and is engaged in combat, usually someone dies. It is never considered murder even though one person kills another. When someone defends himself from a lethal attack and kills the aggressor, it is always considered justifiable homicide, never murder. Murder, therefore, is considered to be the previously well thought out act of killing someone (premeditated) which is really killing under certain circumstances.

When Jesus commented on the Ten Commandments He never restricted them but rather He always expanded their meaning. To Him adultery wasn’t just physical; it had its base in the heart and was committed by a thought. When He got to the sixth commandment He said,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, `You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, `Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, `You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mat 5:21-22 NKJV).

Later on He would explain what He said, ”But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Mat 5:39 NKJV). He, therefore, constantly advocated forgiveness and restoration and put down all thoughts of retaliation and violence. Toward the end of His ministry on earth He would demonstrate that in dying on the cross without a fight and even pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV).

Those in the early church understood Christ’s instruction and refused to defend themselves in the coliseum when facing gladiators. So, why do we want to narrow down the commandment against killing another human being when Christ gave no such authorization?

I would like to suggest a couple of things:

  • By narrowing down the meaning it answers to our sinful nature. We want to be able to do that which God says not to and often we attempt to circumvent those kinds of things for that purpose. Besides, we love to get even and are basically bloodthirsty critters cheered on by Satan.
  • The model of God that we have accepted tells us that God is much like we are. He carries a big sword and doesn’t spare any of His opponents. Many times we see that He has little patience with those that go the wrong way and often kills in a very public display of anger.

As Ellen White has said often enough in many ways,

“Man will rise no higher than his conceptions of truth, purity, and holiness. If the mind is never exalted above the level of humanity, if it is not uplifted by faith to contemplate infinite wisdom and love, the man will be constantly sinking lower and lower” (PP 91.2).

In other words, if our concept of God makes Him the same as we are, then there is little hope of anything other than sliding right into hell. Jesus established the importance of a correct concept of God when He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NKJV). So, perhaps what we need most is a little eye salve in order to clean up our vision so that we can get a better concept of God’s character.

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Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing — 18 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post, reminds me of the sanctification process. That we need to die to sin daily and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to transform our characters to resemble that of Christ. At times, we want to do things our way – even in discussions on the Word or witnessing - forgetting that our way might not be God’s way. I find hope in this; that God has not left us alone even in this present age. Christ’s promise, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth,” (John 16:13) sure is alive today. May we claim it in Jesus name that our eyes may see, and we may keep, the Main thing as it is, Amen.

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  2. So what you are saying is that it is wrong to defend your family from someone bent on destroying them?
    And those in the military are breaking the 6th commandment when they fight and kill in battle? So we are to let those such as Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Adolph Hitler and others just like them, go on their merry way butchering other human beings?
    Where does it forbid military service in His word?
    What do you do with the concept of cities of refuge in the old testament? Cities set up for someone that kills someone to flee to in order to be safe from the one that comes after to avenge the death of a kinsman?
    How many times do you 'turn' the other cheek when abused and used by someone?
    How long does one submit to the torture and death of others without attempting to put a stop to it?

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    • Gerry, what you are asking is what most people ask. How many times? I don’t know, it might be more along the lines of doing things our way rather than God’s. I know this whole thing sounds ridiculous but it isn’t my idea, it is Christ’s.

      The problem with retaliation is that it usually makes things worse. I think people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King understood that yet neither of them just sat and did nothing. You can’t remain passive and hope the problem goes away. The real question to me is how do you go about changing a situation.

      Certainly, in this world we live in there will be those who are bent on being brutal. If it were just a simple matter of killing the brute then why doesn’t God just do them in? Perhaps Habakkuk had the answer when God responded to his question about God’s apparent do nothing attitude. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4 NKJV). In other words, it’s what happens in the end that matters. This little bit of time is just a training for Heaven and the character we develop here will be what determines where we end up for all eternity.

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    • Gerry, the problem with war to "correct" things is that there really isn't such a thing as a "just war." Motives are always mixed; there are wrongs and evils on both sides. That's why Seventh-day Adventists have generally chosen to enter the medical corps in the army when drafted -- thus saving lives, rather than destroying them.

      Jesus clearly taught that his followers should not retaliate, but personal retaliation isn't quite the same thing as a government's attempt to stop tyrants like Hitler and Idi Amin. I can tell you that many German people, Polish people, Dutch people and others were happy that other nations made it their business to stop these tyrants. So there are no easy answers.

      The subject of capital punishment is also part of the discussion. God clearly commanded execution for certain types of crimes. And even now, it is clear that in some countries with stricter laws, including capital punishment, a much smaller percentage of the population dies each year when murder victims and legal executions are added together. The way I see it, God gave governments the responsibility to enforce the portion of His law that deals with man's relationship with man, while the matter of man's relationship to God is not for any human being to regulate.

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  3. I came into the Adventist church latre in life, and am still trying to sort out things in my mind.
    When I learned about the spirit of the law along with the letter, I understood to a point. My life was such that there comes a time when things have to be done, and my family has a large history of military service.
    My dad [WWII] his dad [WWI] and even back further.
    I served during the Vietnam era, didn't understand that 'war' then, still don't. But because I grew up being taught that there are some things worth fighting for, it never occurred to me not to volunteer. Never made it to Nam, but had a brother that did.
    I guess my point is that, for me, there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough.
    I have the greatest admiration for those that don't carry weapons, and still go into harms way. Can't say I understand it, though.
    Maybe in time.
    Guess it will take time.

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    • Dear Gerry,

      Your post preceded mine by about 3 hours, yet I hadn't seen yours before posting mine. I am so happy that you did decide to become a Seventh-day Adventist! As I guess you can see, we don't all view things in exactly the same way, nor does any of us seem to have all of the answers. I sincerely hope that my point of view can be of some little help to you in at least clarifying some of the questions. (Sorry about the typos.)

      By the way, I really admire the courage and integrity of Desmond T. Doss, but I cannot bring myself to agree with his position. Take care and God bless!

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      • R.G., Even though I disagree with you on some things to me your comments are good and important. I think we need discussion even some heated ones at times. May God bless you always.

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  4. Tyler, I feel that your article had a very good and important point to make. However, with all due affection and respect, I must say that I have a number of problems with the way you made your point. Your arguments, if carried to their logical conclusions, would lead to some very unfortunate (and, I must say, extreme) results.

    For instance, if we are not to substitute the word "murder" for the word "kill," then the disciples were sinning when they went fishing, and Jesus participated in their sin when He ate (and miraculously multiplied) the fish. Even if, when insisting on the broader term, "kill," we understand this to mean the taking of human life, then Saul was right, and Samuel sinned in killing Agag. Yet it was actually Saul who was in flagrant disobedience to God. Enough on the way you made your point. Obviously, there are times and circumstances where the taking of human life is not only permissible, but it can even be a sin to allow the person to live. I believe that the Norwegian authorities are sinning against God and humanity in allowing a mass murderer to live.

    I am convinced that we need to maintain a correct balance in our views, and divine wisdom is needed in order for us to do so. Historically, was there ever a time when it was right to participate in war? Yes, I do think so. Look at the Hussites defending Bohemia from the Roman hordes. But, is it right, for instance, to join the U.S. military, so as to fight and kill wherever the nation's leaders see fit? I really doubt it. Yet, if your own country is invaded, is there not generally a patriotic duty to defend it?

    The American military and authorities (for example) may not like allowing a person to pick and choose in which wars to participate, but what else can a conscientious Christian do? Conscription really tramples on freedom of conscience, doesn't it, unless there are truly robust protections for conscientious objectors? Is there any consistency is being unwilling to bear arms, yet going out with the soldiers, in the capacity of a medic, to support their efforts in every other possible way? Sorry, but personally I just can't see it. Furthermore, if someone is attacking my wife and children, and if I'm in a position to do anything about it, you'd better believe that I could justify the use of lethal force!

    Jesus always expanded on the implications of the Ten Commandments, but not necessarily in every conceivable way. He condemned inward hatred, but not the execution of criminals. He condemned the lustful look, but gave no countenance to enforced celibacy.

    So, what's my conclusion? We all need a far more humility, placing our whole trust and faith in our Saviour, and being a whole lot less sure of ourselves.

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  5. To Inge, Gerry, and R.G., I quite frankly didn’t think I would get the range of comments that you gave. This business of killing is a hot button topic for most religious groups and I believe what you have said is how most Christians would react to it. I would like to answer some specific things that each of you brought up.

    First of all R.G. as I look at the last six commandments it seems to me that the only sensible conclusion is to consider them applicable to humans only. I simply can’t imagine applying adultery, honoring your parents, stealing, and coveting to include animals.

    When it comes to defending one’s family that always hits a nerve. I wonder though if you would react the same way if someone was physically attacking your family for religious reasons. How would you react to persecution? I mentioned the Christians in the early church taking up a non aggressive posture under such circumstances. Many of them had direct contact with the disciples of Jesus and I can’t imagine them getting an incorrect message through John, Peter or any other disciples within the inner circle.

    Inge you mentioned the commands of God to execute. Would you be comfortable with the following commands of God concerning your own family?

    "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city,`This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.” (Deut 21:18-21 NKJV).

    "If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die-- the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel” (Deut 22:22 NKJV).

    Adultery is one thing that Jesus had to deal with when the Pharisees brought the adulteress before Him. He could have objected on the grounds that they didn’t include the male involved in the act but that wasn’t the position He took. In fact He never even mentioned that part of the law. What He ended up doing was to forgive her instead of stoning her and He encouraged her to stop sinning which was not in accord with God’s command concerning that particular sin. Perhaps He viewed it as another of those things that “you have heard that it was said to those of old” (Mat 5:21 NKJV) which needed to be modified.

    As far as war is concerned I think Inge had some good points in her comment on that. There are times when patriotic duty is wrong unless you think that a German citizen was correct in defending the Nazi regime against attack. Under any circumstance a medic’s job is saving lives not taking them and I don’t really think we can put them in the same category as other groups within military service who actively support the effort to kill.

    That brings up the whole problem of why God commanded all the wars that Israel was involved in, in the first place. The original plan God had for Israel was the following.

    "And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land” (Ex 23:28-30 NKJV).

    The problem was that His plan wasn’t Israel’s plan just like it wasn’t His plan that they have a human king (See Patriarchs and Prophets 543-544, 603). What God ended up doing was to let them have what they wanted. He gave them commands that were designed to bring out the best in a less than ideal situation. Through his servants God warned Israel what would happen if they rejected God’s leadership but they insisted on having their own way in spite of that (for instance 1 Sam 8).

    So God did the best He could in a rebellious environment. If Israel had followed God rather than their own stubborn will they would have never had to shed any blood. God’s original command was for them to go in and occupy - not slaughter. He would have taken care of their enemies just like He did with Gideon and Jehoshaphat (Judges 7:21-22; 2 Chronicles 20:17) but that’s not what happened so blood flowed like a river and God became to Israel a general of armies instead of a King of Peace.

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    • Tyler, as far as God's commandments go, it really isn't about my feeling comfortable with them.

      I believe that if Israel had faithfully followed the commandments given by God, including the ones you mentioned, they would have become the head and not the tail among the nations. As God suggested in Deuteronomy 4:6, others would have recognized them as a "wise and understanding people."

      Your question, Tyler, asks me to juxtapose God's civil laws, under a theocracy, into the 21st Century. This ignores the cultural context. In a culture where God's laws were strictly followed, there would be few executions for any reason. In today's culture, by contrast, few teenagers would live to be adults. ;)

      We reap the consequences in adults who demonstrate their moral corruption in responsible positions in both church and state.

      On the other hand, I agree with your observation that "If Israel had followed God rather than their own stubborn will they would have never had to shed any blood."

      God does not overrule our free choice, and He allows us to reap some of the consequences of our poor choices, even while He seeks to draw us continually to Himself.

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        • Why leave her (and us) guessing, Tyler? Just admit that not all taking of human life violates the sixth commandment. I do believe, however, that you had a very good point in the first place. It can be all too easy, at times, to say that something's not murder (especially when the law of the land allows it), when really it is.

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    • Tyler, you asked me about (government) persecution. For those early Christians to have sought to physically defend one another, they would have had to take on the civil authorities. They had no real power to do this, and to attempt it would have brought a stain on the gospel, while accomplishing nothing. It was better for them to show that their citizenship was in heaven -- that they were not afraid of those who could kill the body, but not the soul.

      I was explicitly talking about coming to the defence of others when in a position to do so. I believe that this is the Christian's duty. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

      Although you were addressing it to Inge, Tyler, I must respond to what you said about the case of the woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. You seem to have overlooked Jesus' own strongly worded statement in Matthew 5:17-18. While the types and ceremonies which had foreshadowed Christ and the Christian dispensation were coming to the end of their usefulness, and His death on the cross would automatically bring them to an end, aside from that, Jesus wasn't about to "modify" anything. Nor did He violate the law, which He had given through Moses, in any particular.

      It was the duty of the husband to bring the case against his adulterous wife. This had not been done, so there wasn't a case. In fact, even the scribes and Pharisees who had brought her to Jesus had voluntarily withdrawn -- and hence had withdrawn any charges.

      We need a deeper understanding, when it comes to the times when Jesus said, "You have heard it said... but I say... He was in fact bringing out the true meaning of what had been intended all along. He wasn't modifying a thing. May God bless you in the study of His word.

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  6. Not to be too tedious, I wish to be a bit more clear about Matthew 5:17-18. Jesus said that not one jot or one tittle would pass from the law until heaven and earth pass away. Well, heaven and earth are obviously still here.

    There is no longer a need for Passover lambs, since the Lamb of God was slain. The same goes for the other types and shadows. The law hasn't changed; the circumstances have.

    When the Jewish nation rejected Christ, punctuating it by the stoning of Stephen, that marked the end of the theocracy. Civil penalties for such offences as blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking would henceforth be inappropriate. The law hasn't changed; the circumstances have.

    As for penalties relating to the last six commandments, such as the death penalty for worthless sons and adulterers, the law hasn't changed, as far as there no longer being a need for such civil statutes. But wickedness is increasing in this world until even Christians can't seem to see the wisdom in the statutes of Jehovah. Is this not another sign of the end?

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  7. R.G. this will be my last comment dealing with the sixth commandment. I really feel that this whole thing is getting bogged down in argument while the main point of the article is being overlooked which is that the knowledge of both God and Jesus is the main thing.

    I was using the sixth commandment to illustrate what I meant by people believing what they want to believe. I then explained what I believe on the subject. I knew it was controversial as testified by the comments made concerning it.

    Both you and Inge are right in saying that we can’t apply many of the Old Testament commands exactly the way they were applied 3000 years ago. Circumstances do indeed change and so does our general understanding. When Jesus gave the sermon on the mount He was clarifying its meaning and taking it to depths of understanding that most of us should be able to appreciate. He wasn’t modifying it per se but defining it differently from what the Jews understood it said, “to those of old”. Here is the way Ellen White understood its depth which many commentators agree with.

    “All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life; the spirit of hatred and revenge, or the indulgence of any passion that leads to injurious acts toward others, or causes us even to wish them harm (for "whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer"); a selfish neglect of caring for the needy or suffering; all self-indulgence or unnecessary deprivation or excessive labor that tends to injure health--all these are, to a greater or less degree, violations of the sixth commandment” {PP 308.5}.

    As far as I am concerned the sixth commandment deals with our attitude toward life, particularly human but not exclusively so since we also have a responsibility toward the earth and everything on it (That incidentally doesn’t mean we can’t kill a gnat).

    Concerning persecution I think you know as most do that the persecution of Christians during the first century wasn’t just from governmental sources. I was also from religious groups, particularly the Jews, and from individuals both from outside and from inside the church. What is interesting to me is that prior to Gethsemane the Gospels mention that several of the disciples were carrying swords. After Peter attempted to separate the high priest’s servant’s head we don’t hear anything about them carrying swords again throughout the rest of the New Testament. It therefore seems to me that they got a complete change of attitude concerning such things even when persecution is involved.

    As far as the woman caught in adultery is concerned, Ellen White does state that it was the husband’s duty to charge the woman with the sin. The problem is that she makes no reference to scripture neither does the SDA Commentary on the incident mention that provision (for that matter neither does Matthew Henry’s Commentary). If the scripture she is referring to is Deut 22:13-21 then understand that it has to do with the man detesting his wife and charging her with adultery after which an investigation is to be conducted. It has nothing to do with discovering his wife in the act.

    From verse 22 to 30 Deuteronomy deals not only with adultery in its various forms but also one case of incest and makes no mention as to who discovers it or who brings the charges. Leviticus 20:10 which also lists adultery along with various other sex related sins, like Deut 22, doesn’t indicate who discovers or who charges only that the sinners should die. In fact I can’t find the text that specifies the husband as being the only one who can charge his wife with adultery. If you can find it I will keep my mouth shut on the matter! The law does, however, state that both the man and the woman were to die which is something that the Pharisees conveniently chose to overlook.

    When the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus He faced two problems, the obvious entrapment and the terrified woman. He handled both in the most loving way. He never exposed personal sins to the public but wrote everyone’s sins down without reference to any specific individual. Then He personally forgave the woman in the capacity of a Rabbi which was to her full acquittal.

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    • Dear Tyler,

      It's unfortunate that such an important point has been overlooked. I guess that illustrations are more effective when clearly true.

      Tyler, my point did not depend on its being the duty of the husband to bring charges against his wife. The fact is that, by the time Jesus got around to considering the charges, there was no longer one single accuser present, much less two or three witnesses. No witnesses = acquittal. It's that simple. Jesus did not set aside the law, nor did He change it.

      By the way, I loved the E. G. White quote.

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