A letter from a Plain Truth reader brings up this basic question: How clearly must God speak on a subject before we obey Him?
MOST CHURCHGOERS refer to God as "the Lord." Did you ever wonder why? Even people who are not religious talk about the "Lord," if only when some major crisis arises in their lives. But have you ever wondered what the title Lord means when applied to God? Any dictionary will supply you the answer. A lord is "one who has dominion over others; a master, chief or ruler; one who has authority." A lord has the authority to tell others what to do. That's what Jesus understood the word to mean. He asked: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46, Revised Standard Version). God is the supreme Lord. He has the authority to tell us all what to do: Yet how many who claim to believe the Bible understand that? And further: Just how clearly and specifically must God tell us what to do before we are expected to do it? To illustrate, consider a challenging letter from K.R., a reader of The Plain Truth magazine. He wrote in response to an article on the subject of Easter. "The reason for Easter's celebration appears to be the same reason why Christians celebrate Advent, Christmas and birthdays. The issue concerning the celebration of Easter in the article and otherwise is why we shouldn't celebrate. "Several Bible verses were quoted, supposedly supporting the view on why we shouldn't celebrate Easter. The first was Deuteronomy 12:30-32 telling us not to worship 'God in their [pagan] way...' Easter is indeed of pagan origin.... "Easter being taken from a pagan tradition is of no concern to me or other Christians.... I or any other living Christians haven't stolen Easter from any pagans that we know of. "My question still is, 'why not celebrate Easter?'" As K.R. admitted in his letter, "Easter is indeed of pagan origin." So we agree on that point. Where we disagree is on what God's view is of pagan religious customs. "Easter being taken from a pagan tradition is of no concern to me..." K.R. asserts. Yes, but should it be a concern? K.R. did not see that these verses apply to him. The gist of his argument is that he must have definite, specific, pointed commandments from God or else he is going to do exactly what he wants to do. So K.R. closed his letter with: "My question still is, 'why not observe Easter?'". How specific does God have to be? Let's examine that question. The voice of God thundered 10 specific, direct commandments from Mount Sinai. They were uttered in simple, unmistakable language. All the people of Israel heard. Then the commandments were engraved on tables of stone so they could not be erased or altered in any way. There was to be no room for the least doubt on the part of, anybody as to what God meant. And yet from the days of those who stood on the foot of the mountain and saw the lightning and smoke and heard the thunder and received the tables of stone until this day, most people have managed to find reasons for not obeying the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are memorized, they are featured in religious publications, they appear on wall plaques and on jewelry. A spectacular movie was made about them. Still, how many people do you know who obey the very specific Fourth Commandment "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" or the clear Ninth Commandment against lying? Or the direct Tenth Commandment against coveting? Human beings are quite able to reason around them all to their spiritual hurt! How specific does God have to be before it is no longer possible to reason around what He says? Actually, it never has been God's purpose to be specific and emphatic about every detail He wants us to know! In fact, the Bible says those who do only what they have been specifically commanded to do are "unprofitable servants" (Luke 10:17), fit to be cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25:30). Let's understand this vital point.
What Is the Bible?
The Bible is God's instruction book for human beings. It is a revelation of the knowledge we need to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. In the pages of the Bible God reveals what His will is for us — how we should live, how we should • conduct ourselves in relation to our neighbors and especially in relation to God Himself, how to be happy, successful, healthy, how to receive eternal life. In short, how to choose the right and avoid the wrong in every situation. How can one book contain all that information? God is practical. If He had to spell out in precise, descriptive words every single decision every human being who ever lived ought to make in every possible circumstance and condition of life, the Bible would be so enormous in size that it would be unusable. It would have to contain hundreds, even thousands of volumes. Then the sheer size of the Bible would serve as an excuse for not obeying what is in it! But God has made it easy. The entirety of His will and law is summed up in one word: Love. He knew we'd need more information than that to direct our lives, though. Therefore He elaborated by stating the two great overall laws: Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew. 22:37-40). To help us understand more clearly yet what is expected of us, God divided up the two great laws into ten commandments. The first four in general show how to love God and the other six show how to love neighbor. Still, God knew that even this would not be enough to show us what is right in every circumstance of life. So He inspired the preservation of one volume — the Bible — full of examples and principles to illustrate the applications of His Law. That one single volume is all that is needed to know how to please God. He did not intend, nor does He intend to be, explicit and specific about every facet of our lives. The burden is upon us to study the biblical examples and principles to see what they reveal about God's way of thinking and looking at problems. It boils down to a question of how greatly we desire to learn God's will. It's a matter of how open and receptive we are to what the Bible commands, to what it implies, yes, to what it suggests and hints at. Our character is revealed by our actions — whether we respond positively to the Bible or try to reason around it.
"By Every Word"
Jesus was very aware of how to use the Scriptures. Just before starting His public ministry He had to overcome Satan in the most significant spiritual battle that has ever taken place. It was a struggle for rulership of this whole world. Jesus had to decide, under great stress, whether He was going to obey God and thus qualify to be King over this earth, or whether He was going to do the easy thing and compromise with Satan, thus making Satan the king. Preparing for this monumental encounter, Jesus had "fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry" (Matthew 4:2, Revised Standard Version). The original Greek means "extremely hungry." "And — the tempter [Satan] came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread' " (verse 3). Satan appealed directly to Jesus' greatest physical need at the time — something to put in His stomach. Jesus could have reasoned as follows: "Of course I'm the Son of God. I'll show you I can turn stones into bread. Watch me!" But Jesus did not do it. Why? The answer is this: Jesus was familiar with examples in the Scriptures that speak against vanity. Satan was appealing, by the word IF, to Jesus' vanity to prove He was the Son of God. — To have yielded to temptation was equivalent to obeying Satan. Jesus could have rationalized His actions like so many humans do. He could have said, to borrow a phrase from K.R.'s letter, "My question still is, 'why not...?'" Notice, however, Jesus' answer and what it reveals about how we should heed the Bible: "But he answered: It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (verse 4). And Jesus was particularly referring to the Old Testament because the New Testament wasn't even written yet! The apostle Paul declared — when speaking of examples recorded in the Old Testament, rather than specific commands!" Now these things are warnings for us... they were written down for our instruction..." (I Corinthians 10:6, 11, Revised Standard Version). Christians are to heed what is written in the Old Testament. That means when God told Israel not to adopt pagan customs (Deuteronomy 12:20-32) and not to eat unclean meats (Leviticus 11), we ought to pay attention to His judgment on those subjects, and not try to reason around it. The same holds true for the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing and all the other laws ordained for the good of mankind. One of the incidents in the Old Testament Paul described as being recorded and preserved for our instruction illustrates the very question of how specific God has to be. It is the little understood story of Balaam.
See What Balaam Did
Balaam was a prophet who lived at the time the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Balak, a local king of Moab, didn't want Israel as his neighbor. So he sent some messengers to try to hire Balaam to come and cast a curse on the Israelites. Balaam dearly wanted to accept the reward from Balak and curse Israel. There was only one problem: God specifically forbade him to do it. "Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). That should have been that. Balaam should have refused to hear any more from Balak's messengers. Now knowing God's will in the matter, he should have gone out of his way to support God's decision. He should have stayed as far as possible from the edge of the cliff. But no, Balaam coveted the reward in the same way most moderns do what they very well want to do. Balaam reluctantly told Balak's messengers "The Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you" (verse 13). "But I surely would like to" is to be understood. Well, Balak sent messengers of greater importance to try to convince Balaam. Notice Balaam's attitude in verse 18: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." In other words, he asserted that he would only do what God specifically, explicitly commanded him, nothing more, nothing less. And God had specifically commanded him not to curse Israel. Nevertheless, as verse 19 shows, he tried to talk God into changing even His specific command. The story goes on for the next two chapters, Balaam grudgingly doing only what God specifically and directly commanded and yet trying all the while to get around having to limit himself and lose a financial reward. "All that the Lord speaketh [clear, precise commands], that I must do" (chapter 23:26). "I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad" (chapter 24:13). In spite of even God's plain, directly spoken commands, Balaam's attitude was "My question still is, 'why not...?'" Why not take the coveted
"God inspired the preservation of one volume — the Bible... That one single volume is all that is needed to know how to please God."
reward? Why not do what I want to do instead whenever God does not tell me what to do in specific terms? I'll do what God says only if expressed in language legally air tight and free of all possible loopholes, and impossible to reason around? Why not observe Easter? Why not eat ham? The Bible condemns Balaam's method of carnal reasoning (Jude 11).
The Right Approach
How should we use the Scriptures to choose the right course of action in any given situation? First decide what the question is. Then, look into the Bible for direct commands — also for examples, indications, implications, clues — anything that reflects God's thoughts on the subject. Instead of only asking, "Why not?," also ask "Why?" Our lives should not be guided by apparent absence of instructions. We should have a sound reason for doing what we do (I Peter 3:15). Attitude is very important. One must have a fear of doing wrong. Such a fear is essential to the ability to make right decisions. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Earnestly desire to do what God commands — and also what He suggests and even hints should be done. After all, He is Lord of heaven and earth, the Supreme Ruler. If you are not able to come to a clear conclusion as to what the Bible says on a matter, always give God the benefit of it doubt. Better safe than sorry. It cannot be overly emphasized that true Christianity is a way of life, a way of thinking — a matter of being open and receptive to the way God looks at things, the way He thinks about things. In the World Tomorrow David will be made king over all the tribes of Israel (Ezekiel 37:24). What attitude did he have that he can be entrusted with such an exalted and powerful position? David never argued with the Almighty. He loved and respected God's specific laws, commandments, statutes and judgments (Psalm 19:7-10). But more than that, he loved all God's precepts, His testimonies and His words (Psalm 119:99, 103, 128). Yes, he exclaimed, "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!" (Psalm 139:17.) David's attitude showed where his heart was. He was not seeking loopholes. He did not try to rationalize and find excuses. His mind was open to the faintest suggestion or hint of what God wanted. Listen to the confident testimony of God Himself: "I have found David... a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will" (Acts 13:22). How specific does God have to be to you?