What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Notice how strongly God expresses the concept of separation from what is spiritually impure. The Canaanites, and all of the other nations that are mentioned, were to be completely wiped out on religious grounds. This is because religion has such a powerful influence on conduct.
Israel never did this, and the Canaanites were a constant thorn in their side through their false gods. Through Israel's social and business interactions with them, they were persuaded to follow the Canaanites' god's practices—even to the extent of sacrificing their children in the fire.
In order to properly understand this command to exterminate these peoples, it must be understood that, though God was their Ruler, Israel was a nation of this world. Israel was put into the place of God's avenging angels—His agents—to take vengeance on those nations. However, the key is that Israel was a nation of this world, which is something that the church is not. When Jesus was before Pilate, He said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36).
The lesson for us is that we are to be, as it were, this harsh with ourselves in getting rid of the sin within us. As Jesus says, "Pluck out your eye. Cut off your hand."We know that He does not mean this literally! He wants us to understand the spiritual principle that is involved. We have to be willing to go to that extent—to fight "tooth and nail" the contamination of sin that so easily besets us, which can so easily be picked up from contact with this world.
So the spiritual lesson for us is that God is equally demanding toward us—that we do not allow this world to influence us in any way that will contaminate our holiness, imputed as a result of Christ's sacrifice. Israel did not follow through, and soon no difference could be seen between them and the Canaanites. God's commands to be different make the witness and provide the means, the environment, for sacrifice.
In order to keep from being uncontaminated by the world, there must reside in us a strong measure of religious intolerance, or we will find ourselves compromising. What we call "human nature," and what the Bible calls "carnality," produced this world. It loves this world and is easily attracted to its practices and its attitudes. To attain the Kingdom of God, we cannot tolerate those things in ourselves.
2 Chronicles 9:22-28
God's Word provides an example of compromise for us to learn from, if we are wise enough to heed it (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11). This example comes from the life of the wisest king ever to live, one whom God blessed with wisdom that no one could gainsay, who had wealth and ability no one had ever possessed before. God loved this man greatly—He even spoke directly to him more than once, and because of the man's humble response, blessed him far beyond what he requested. This king, a man of peace and learning, was commissioned to build the most beautiful Temple to God in Jerusalem. The man, of course, was Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba.
To understand why Solomon's compromises seemed so small and insignificant to him when he succumbed to them, we have to understand the situation of Solomon's reign. We could compare it to America today. As Psalm 18:43-44 suggests, David and his armies had essentially subjugated all of the world that mattered at the time. King David of Israel was "the head of the nations," and faraway kings he did not even know trembled at the mention of his name. As the sole superpower in the region, wealth poured into Israel. When Solomon was made king upon David's death, not a nation on the face of the earth would have considered attacking Israel. It was just too strong.
So, Solomon ruled the known world, and as time progressed and in that strength, he did not see the need to obey God fully in all that He had commanded the kings of Israel to do. In his power and wealth, he saw no problem with compromising just a little with God's instruction. As we will see, Solomon failed completely in his old age, but the seeds of that failure were sown early in his reign.
His sounds like the perfect, storybook career until we notice God's instruction to kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, which specifically warns against multiplying horses, multiplying wives, and multiplying silver and gold. Was Solomon unaware of these instructions? Of course not. David, a man who knew God's law intimately, would have been sure to instruct his son in them and have him write a copy of the law as commanded. Surely, Solomon could not have been ignorant of them. He, then, must have known it was wrong to import horses and chariots from Egypt, but because of his wealth and might, he must have considered this infraction too minor to take seriously.
Why did God not want Israel's kings to import warhorses? Armored warhorses and the chariots they pulled can be compared to today's tanks, which are devastating when fighting foot soldiers. A nation with this level of war materiel put their reliance on it as it made the army such a powerful fighting machine. Why should a nation trust an invisible God to fight its battles when it could see rank upon rank of seemingly invincible horses and chariots?
God wanted His people to rely on Him. Solomon knew this, since he wrote in Proverbs 21:31:"The horse is prepared for the day of battle: but deliverance is of the LORD." The issue of importing horses may have seemed a small thing to Solomon, but it was important to God. From all indications, his compromise in this matter began his slow separation from God.
Compounding his compromise concerning warhorses, by the end of his reign, Solomon had a substantial harem (I Kings 11:1-3). As he began his reign, would Solomon have considered "multiply[ing] wives for himself," especially to this extent? Probably not. When he was tender of heart, needing God to help him rule this great people and kingdom (see II Chronicles 1:7-12), he doubtless walked carefully, making sure he did what was commanded in everything. But once secure in knowledge, wealth, and power, he began to forget the God who had spoken to him, placed him in power, and given him all that he had.
Perhaps Solomon's reasoning went something like this: "When I imported horses from Egypt, there were no adverse consequences, so what would be wrong with taking additional wives for political reasons?" We do not normally see the results of sin immediately, yet they inevitably come. At some point, he learned this principle, writing in Ecclesiastes 8:11: "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." In any case, knowing this did not help him, as I Kings 11:4-8 records.
Wise Solomon fell victim to the same temptations that the rest of us so often face. He compromised on what he thought were small concerns—matters he probably considered well into the gray areas—to do things his way rather than God's. The danger of such reasoning is that small compromises weaken character, and over time, they lead to major sins. For Solomon, the results were devastating. His experience is a warning of what will befall us if we follow his example of compromise.
The psalmist writes in Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: His praise endures forever." Solomon's compromises gradually but inexorably distorted his understanding of God's laws and ways. He slowly drifted away from God, so that when he was old, unbelievable as it seems, he allowed his wives to turn his heart from the God that had given him everything.
From the "minor" infraction of importing horses, Solomon eventually condoned and was at least an accessory to the sins of idolatry and outright murder, sins that he would never have considered committing at the beginning of his reign. For, at the end of his life, Solomon worshipped Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech, the last having rituals that called for children to be given to the fire of his altar. By giving his royal sanction to worshipping these pagan deities, he set a precedent that was followed by many of the kings of Israel and Judah after him.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Asaph points out that God ordained the law of which he speaks. Law is inseparable from sovereignty. The god of any system can be identified by locating the source of its laws. From this principle, Herbert Armstrong concluded that the church is the only place on earth where the government of God operates.
In the beginning of the United States, our system of law and our standards of morality were lifted in principle—but sometimes almost verbatim—from the absolutes of the Bible. After the Civil War, the basis of our laws gradually switched from the absolutes of the Bible to human relativism, which claims there are no absolutes. It asserts that every system's values, indeed everyone's values, are as good as the next. This philosophy began as mere advice to be tolerant, but as it became more popular, its adherents urged people to be pragmatic, that is, to adapt, to make compromises in values, to do whatever needs to be done regardless of its conflict with others' values.
Concurrently, situation-ethics systems arose so that even churches eventually looked upon the Ten Commandments as mere suggestions. God was gradually erased from our public schools. Relativism has crept into every area of life so that it now dominates our moral and ethical thinking in education, religion, childrearing, marital relations, economics, agriculture, health care, social programs, etc.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment
2 Corinthians 6:14-17
This series of verses is not an appeal for us to break all of our worldly associations. Recall that Paul urges the Christian partner in a divided marriage to strive to maintain the relationship as long as possible. This, instead, is an appeal to avoid too close associations. He says not to go into the world, but come out of it (see Revelation 18:4). We should not deliberately make close associations with the peoples of the world. It is all right to do business with them and to work with them, but avoid becoming harnessed together with them.
The statement, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters," seems to hinge on whether or not we are allowing ourselves to become yoked into these associations. God does not want us in these close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with His standards. It jeopardizes the consistency of the Christian's witness for God because there is a spiritual force in the world that undermines the Christian because the unbeliever does not share the Christian's standards, sympathies, or goals in life.
Is it unfair that God should ask this of us? Remember, He has bought us with a price (I Corinthians 6:20). The price was the life of His Son, which obligates us to a life of purity and holiness. Once we accept that sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, we belong to Him. He is our Master, and He says, "Come out of the world and be separate." That is a demand that He puts on us.
Does God ever ask us for something that is not for our good? Of course not! And how is this for our good? Because He knows that it is likely that His people, though they have the Spirit of God, will have an extremely difficult time resisting the spiritual force that wants to lead them to compromise on the standards of His Kingdom. He thus obligates us to purity of life, to holiness, to separation from evil. We owe our allegiance to Him alone, and we cannot allow ourselves not to be a fit vessel for Him to live in.
There is no surer way to go backward in our spirituality, to blunt our feelings about sin, to dull our spiritual discernment until we can scarcely tell evil from good, and to dry up the source of our spiritual strength than by needless mingling with the world. We should stress the word "needless" because Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:9-10 that to avoid all contact with the immoral, one would have to go out of the world. There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate separating oneself by moving into a commune of believers or living alone like a hermit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part Two)
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Scripture indicates just how far this defection from truth—the falling away—goes. In three places, the Bible says that when Christ returns, people will mourn when they see the One from whom they have distanced themselves and oppose (Matthew 24:30; Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7). In Revelation 1:7, John says that every race or clan will be dismayed—apparently including most physical Israelites—because the falling away will be so widespread. The falling away does not have to include every person, but as a generality, the creation will defect from its Creator, leading to ready support of a man who exalts himself above God.
Even though the scope of II Thessalonians 2 is more indicative of the world than the church, this trend will still put pressure on us. The spirit of the age guides the world, but it also always influences the church to some degree. As one evangelist once said, “If it is in the world, it is in the church.” Peter gives us warning:
You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (II Peter 3:17-18)
This is the conclusion to a warning that in the last days there will be scoffers, walking according to their own lusts, and denying the surety of Christ's return. This, too, indicates a defection from once-held truth. Peter says that, since we have been warned about these things, we must stand vigilant against them. He warns against falling from our steadfastness or losing our spiritual stability. Obviously, the apostle did not believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security, and there is good reason for his warning.
The danger for us is probably not a ready acceptance of atheism, nor a sudden sprint into one of the rising belief systems. The greater threat is the slow and gradual one, the peril of neglect, of apathy, of little compromises that set the stage for larger defections. Without a steady walk with God and a consistent practice of His Word, we may forsake the rare understanding that we have been given in favor of the wisdom of men and the opinions of the day. Even now, in corners of the church of God, baptized members shrug at things that the Creator God calls abominations. These viewpoints do not arise from the Word of God, but from its dismissal, as the ideas of the age fill in the cracks little by little.
True Christians believe that this present world will end when Christ returns. God has a superior way of life for mankind, and that way is open now to those whom He has called in this age. However, when He returns, the door closes for us. Those who have a love of the truth will be on the victorious side, and those who do not will be condemned. They will have had their pleasure in unrighteousness, and God will give them over to what they have been seeking all along.
In verse 18, Peter counsels us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. If He is the desire of our hearts, we will seek Him, and He will be our reward. If the world is what we find attractive, we will love the world and perish with it.
God does not direct us to arrest the falling away that is taking place in the world, but to make sure we do not let things slip in our lives. We are urgently warned to take heed that no one deceives us (Matthew 24:4), to take care lest we be weighed down by the cares of this life (Luke 21:34), and to take heed lest we fall (I Corinthians 10:12), so that the day of Christ's return will be a day of victory for us rather than a day of condemnation.
David C. Grabbe
The Falling Away
Contrary to popular belief, we live in one of the most difficult and dangerous ages in all of human history. Some would be willing to argue this, saying that civilization has come a long way and that mankind is not as cruel as the record of history shows that he once was. Certainly living in the first century in the Roman Empire must have been difficult, they might say as an example, since we have the Bible's account of the apostles living in constant danger—and most of them died horrible deaths!
That is true. From what the Bible shows, that constant danger promoted closeness to God; the apostles relied on God to keep them safe and provide deliverance for them at every turn. While we are not being hunted down for our religious beliefs, the danger we face today is far greater—spiritually—in that it does just the opposite: It promotes a slow separation from God. We know this kind of danger by the illustration of the frog in the pot of water. The increase in temperature happens so slowly that the frog fails to realize that it is in trouble until it is too late to jump to safety.
What produces this danger for us, the called-out children of God? What is the signature attitude of the era that we live in? What failing among the majority of people will cause the loss of our freedoms and the downfall of our nation? It is compromising with the laws and principles of God.
We live in a nation that has largely compromised the character it once possessed. Just a minority uphold the Christian principles that underlay documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which provided the foundation for America to become the envy of the world. Now, so many are willing to trade their hard-won freedoms for a little temporary security, essentially selling their birthright.
We face an analogous situation among the greater churches of God. We live in a time when the majority of those with whom we once fellowshipped have compromised the beliefs they used to hold dear. Many of these people have joined worldly churches, or worse, losing faith altogether, have slipped back into the world. Some have contrived strange new doctrines to live by, and despite attending services among the scattered churches, too many have nearly lost their faith and zeal for this way of life.
In our church history, we can see how deadly even a little compromising with God's ways is. It almost always leads to greater compromises until a person is so far from what has been revealed in Scripture that he has apostatized, cutting himself off from God. What a sad end after such a promising start!
In these perilous times, it is of the utmost importance that we resist the urge to use our human reasoning to compromise with God's law. We must be particularly careful in what we perceive as the "smaller areas" of God's Word. Why? Because Satan often makes his greatest inroads by getting us to relax in little things and gradually convincing us to do the same in more vital matters. If he can just get his foot in the door, he feels he has won a great victory and can make us slip away from God. Paul, however, exhorts us, ". . . nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27).
Once we compromise, the process of sin has commenced, and godly character, which is so precious to God, begins to erode, opening the way for sin on a larger scale. If a wise man like Solomon went from ignoring a seemingly obscure admonition to the flagrant breaking of many of God's commandments, we, too, can certainly yield to the peril of compromise. We must learn to spot and avoid the little compromises that lead to big sins.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
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