To inherit God's Kingdom, we need to endure to the end of this age, relying on God's power to help us.
The Feast of Tabernacles always seems to be over too soon. You sing the last, emotional hymn, perhaps with tears in your eyes. Somebody gives the final prayer. You linger as long as possible in the auditorium to fellowship. Your children say good-by to new friends. And then you are in the parking lot, your car loaded. All is ready for the trip home — except you and your family. Living another year in the world is a challenge you would rather not have to face. The air is heavy as you and your family become lost in thoughts about what a joyous time the Feast is, and what it pictures. And somewhere, you will probably say to someone, "See you next year!" But will you? Most people who have been in God's Church for some time have, unfortunately, known brethren who have left the Body of Christ, some of them perhaps good friends.
Lost family members
The news that a brother or sister has given up the hope that lay in him or her gives you an overwhelming feeling of sadness and emptiness. You search for the reasons why the person left and wish you could strike out at the dark forces that led him or her away to spiritual destruction. It is like losing a family member. And that's what these former brethren were — family members! Begotten members of the Family of God who, like the failed seed in Christ's parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15), were either trodden down, withered away or were choked by the adversary who would like to destroy every one of us in like manner! God tells us that to inherit His Kingdom, we must endure to the end (Rev. 2:26, 3:21). "Enduring to the end" means overcoming our human nature, the pulls of this evil world and the attacks of Satan the devil. How can you make sure you endure to the end? Is there anything standing in your way right now that could cause you to turn away from God's Church and forfeit God's Kingdom? If so, you need to follow Peter's instructions: "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (II Pet. 3:17).
Why brethren leave
Why do brethren leave God's Church? Here are some major reasons: • Caught in personal sin. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). But true members of God's Church have been called out of sin and forgiven by God, after repentance and acceptance of the sacrifice, of Jesus Christ. And we are to serve sin no longer! As Paul asked, "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom. 6:2). We are all in the process of overcoming sin. We have to die daily (I Cor. 15:31), which means constantly repenting when we see sin in our lives and ever striving to measure up to the perfect example of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13). John wrote, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). It is an ongoing process. Are you grappling with some sin that seems impossible to overcome, no matter how hard or how many times you try? It could be anything — Sabbath keeping, overeating, smoking, gossiping. Well, don't give up or become discouraged. And don't let any sin become so big in your life that it takes you out of God's Church. Go to God on your knees and ask Him for the strength to overcome. Go to God's ministers for help — that is what they are there for. You can do all things through Christ (Phil. 4:13). God wants you in His Kingdom, and will give you all the help you need to develop His mind and ingrain His way of life into your character. And when God has forgiven you, forgive yourself Get up and go on — don't wallow in guilt. Grow in grace and knowledge (II Pet. 3:18). • Disagree with doctrine. Do you know what this Christian test is all about? Government. God's government. God allows us to be tried to see whether we will obey Him perfectly, immediately, agreeably, every time, throughout eternity. Only after Abraham had proved his obedience to God, by being willing to sacrifice Isaac could God say, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (Gen. 22:12). Abraham qualified for God's gift of salvation by his obedience. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, was exalted to Lordship over the universe only after He became obedient even unto death (Phil. 2:8-9). In light of this knowledge, it is even more saddening that some brothers and sisters have fallen away from God's Church over points of doctrine! At baptism they supposedly gave their lives to God and determined to obey Him forever, but something along the way made them stumble. Paul warned that "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine" (II Tim. 4:3) and charged Timothy and other ministers that they teach no other doctrine than that Christ put into the Church through His apostles (I Tim. 1:3). "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (II John 9). True Christians practice what God's Church teaches, and will be blessed by God for so doing. Notice Paul's compliment to the Romans: "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (Rom. 6:17). • Imagined injustices. Hurt feelings can pave your very own roadway right out of God's Church, if you allow them to. Petty jealousies and minor offenses can turn into roots of bitterness (Heb. 12:15) and drive wedges between friends, between employers and employees, between husbands and wives — and between you and God's Church. Though Scripture does not fill in all the details, an imagined injustice may have been at least part of the cause of Lucifer's rebellion against God (Isa. 14:12-14, Ezek. 28:12-15). Given charge over perhaps a third of all the angels and the responsibility to take care of the earth, Lucifer somehow came to feel wronged. Maybe he felt put down — after all, here was this whole vast universe, and his dominion was only one planet. The Bible does not say how long he dwelt on thoughts like these — it could have been eons — but in the end he decided to abandon God's government and take to himself powers God had not given him. The result? Read Genesis 1:2: "And the earth [became] without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." "For the creature [creation] was made subject to vanity" (Rom. 8:20). And that is the exact cause of many divisions between brethren and the Church — vanity. Dwelling on imagined injustices only leads to trouble. Have you felt wronged by what someone in the Church — a minister, a deacon, a writer in The Good News, another member — has said or done to you? Maybe you deserved that responsibility or honor, but someone else got it? You wonder what so-and-so meant when he made that little offhand remark to you? Is it really important? Will you eventually choose to leave the Church because of it? Go to your brother (Matt. 18:15). Talk it out. Many times hurt feelings are only the result of poor communication. God's Church is made up of the begotten members of God's Family — let's all deal with each other in humility, with unselfish, deep love, as befits the future Gods we are. • Church leadership. Many times brethren who leave God's Church do so because they forget about the uniqueness of this spiritual Body and who heads it. Paul reminded the Ephesians that "There is [only] one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:4-6). There is only one true Church, and Christ is the Head of it (Eph. 5:23), under God the Father. Under Christ are those human leaders He has placed in charge: apostles, prophets (of which there are none in the Church today), evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). Through these leaders works the government of God to which we are to respond: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17). Don't get to feeling that you can "go it alone" without God's Church and the leadership He has placed in it. You can't. If you are developing a sense of enmity or resentment toward God's leadership, quickly ask God to humble you and help you submit. It is this organization through which God is working. God will not work with people who forget that.
The pain to the rest of us is great when Satan snatches away one of our brothers or sisters. But God warns that as the end of this age draws nearer, more, unfortunately, will turn aside: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first" (II Thess. 2:3). This Feast, which pictures the fantastic world just ahead of us, is also a time of self-evaluation. It is a time to examine our spiritual condition, just as we do during the Passover season. Peter wrote, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things [develop the Christian qualities listed in verses 5-9], ye shall never fall" (II Pet. 1:10). Remember Paul's words: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12). If we are constantly vigilant and growing toward God's Kingdom, which this Feast annually reminds us of, then we can rest assured, because we have a God who "is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). What a magnificent promise! Have a great Feast, and see you next year!