Helping Those In Need

The second most important commandment

HOW FAR would you go to help a friend, a neighbor, or even someone you don’t know who is in dire need of assistance? Undoubtedly, varied are the ways to show one’s concern for the poor, the marginalized, and those struggling in life. As members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ), it is our Christian duty to demonstrate our love and compassion to someone in need for God to abide in us (I John 3:17).

 

Loving our fellowmen

The Bible, in no uncertain terms, makes clear that the most important commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, strength and soul (Mark 12:28-30). For this reason, we joined the Church Of Christ because we truly believe that it is only in this Church where we can render proper reverence, service, and worship of God. In having done so we will receive salvation on Judgment Day.

Moreover, to ensure our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ taught the second most important commandment that we should fulfill:

“The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these. The man replied, ‘Teacher, you are certainly right to say there is only one God. It is also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves. These commandments are more important than all the sacrifices and offerings that we could possibly make.” When Jesus saw that the man had given a sensible answer, he told him, ‘You are not far from God’s kingdom.’ After this, no one dared ask Jesus any more questions.” (Mark 12:31-34 Contemporary English Version)

Hence, according to Christ, loving our fellowmen is the second most important commandment. As Christ’s servants, such genuine and altruistic love must be manifested in our lives—it is something we should not avoid doing.

 

Manifestations of love for humanity

We can show such love for our fellowmen, especially the needy and impoverished, by doing humanitarian work. This is the reason the present Church Administration encourages us to be mindful of the plight of many less fortunate people who need help, sharing or giving material resources as much as we can or extending varied expressions of charity. This in accordance with Christ’s teaching as elucidated in His parable about the Good Samaritan, thus:

“A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to receive eternal life?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?’ The man answered, “Love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”; and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”.’ ‘You are right,’ Jesus replied; ‘do this and you will live.’ But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered ‘There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Take care of him,” he told the innkeeper, “and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him”.’ And Jesus concluded, ‘In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?’ The teacher of the Law answered, ‘The one who was kind to him.’ Jesus replied, ‘You go, then, and do the same’.” (Luke 10:25-37 Good News Bible)

The Church Of Christ today remains unwavering in its commitment to our destitute and disadvantaged fellowmen, in fulfilment of Christ’s mandate. This was recently highlighted by its walk-for-a-cause campaign, the Worldwide Walk to Fight Poverty. It aimed to raise awareness of the miserable condition of millions of our fellowmen gripped by abject poverty and to help them alleviate their sorrow and suffering. This and other charitable acts and projects initiated by the Church worldwide are made more significant in the light of unusual catastrophes, disasters, and tragedies that continue to occur on a daily basis. Indeed, there is no end in sight to extraordinary occurrences affecting many people today that call for each off us to prove our concern and compassion for others for the good of humanity.

 

Biblical precedents

God’s early servants fulfilled His commandment to love and help their fellowmen. Job helped the poor, the orphans, and the widows (Job 29:12-13). Apostle Paul showed his charitable act by bringing “contributions of charity and offerings” (Acts 24:17 Amplified Bible). In addition, a disciple of Christ named Tabitha was “rich in acts of kindness and charity which she continually did” (Acts 9:36 AMP2015).

Presently, the Church Of Christ, under the leadership of its Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, continues to extend its help across the globe to the poor and needy, members and nonmembers alike, through acts of benevolence and generosity especially to the victims of disasters and calamities.

 

The blessings

Those who help the needy and are concerned about the poor—not withholding their love for fellowmen especially when they have the means to do so—are not on the losing end because God lays I store His blessings for them:

“ … You must never have bad thoughts about a person that needs help. You must not refuse to help him. If you don’t help that poor person, then he will complain to the Lord against you. And the Lord will find you guilty of sin. Give the poor person all that you can. Don’t feel bad about giving to him. Why? Because the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do.” (Deut. 15:9-10 Easy-to-Read Version)

“Happy are those who are concerned for the poor; the LORD will help them when they are in trouble. The LORD will protect them and preserve their lives; he will make them happy in the land; he will not abandon the to the power of their enemies. The LORD will help them when they are sick and will restore them to health.” (Ps. 41:1-3 GNB)

Above all, eternal life will be received by God’s servants who obey His commandment taught by Christ to care for the needs of others, especially the poor. The Bible made this very clear:

“Once a man came to Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me concerning what is good?’ answered Jesus. ‘There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.’ ‘What commandments?’ he asked. Jesus answered, ‘Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ‘I have obeyed all these commandments,’ the young man replied. ‘What else do I need to do?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me’.” (Matt 19:16-21 GNB)

by ROLAND A. AGUIRRE

MEN OF INTEGRITY

Joshua and Caleb

THEY WERE THREATENED TO BE KILLED WITH STONES BECAUSE THEY REPORTED THE TRUTH AND REMAINED FIRMLY BELIEVING IN WHAT GOD CAN DO FOR HIS PEOPLE. BECAUSE OF THIS, THEY WERE DEEMED WORTHY IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.
“The land we went to explore is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he … will give us that land where much food grows. Don’t turn against the Lord! Don’t be afraid of the people in that land! We will chew them up. They have no protection, but we have the Lord. So don’t be afraid of them.”
PROLOGUE

After being saved from slavery in Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments, The Israelites were on their way to the promised land—the land of Canaan. So, God commanded that the land be explored. After choosing 12 tribal leaders from Israel’s camp in Paran desert—two of them are Joshua and Caleb—and giving them instructions, Moses sent them as 12 spies. The men returned to the camp after 40 days of exploring the land 
(Num. 13:1-25).

THEY CAME BACK to Moses and Aaron and all the Israelites at Kadesh. This was in the desert of Paran. The men reported to them and showed everybody the fruit from the land They told Moses, “We went to the land where you sent us. It is a land where much food grows! Here is some of its fruit. But the people who live there are strong. Their cities are walled and large. We even saw some Anakites there. The Amalekites live in the southern area. The Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the mountains. The Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan River.

      Then Caleb told the people near Moses to be quiet. Caleb said, “We should go up and take the land for ourselves. We can do it.”

      But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people. They are stronger than we are.” And those men gave the Israelites a bad report about the land they explored. They said, “The land would eat us up. All the people we saw are very tall. We saw the Nephilim people there. (The Anakites come from the Nephilim people.) We felt like grasshoppers. And we looked like grasshoppers to them.”

      That night all the people in the camp began crying loudly. All the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron. All the people said to them, “We should have died in Egypt. Or we should have died in the desert. Why is the Lord bringing us to this land? We will be killed with swords. Our wives and children will be taken away. We would be better off going back to Egypt. They said to each other, “Let’s get a leader and go back to Egypt.

      Then Moses and Aaron bowed facedown in front of all the Israelites and gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh were among those who had explored the land. They tore their clothes. They said to all of the Israelites, “The land we went to explore is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land. He will give us that land where much food grows. Don’t turn against the Lord! Don’t be afraid of the people in that land! We will chew them up. They have no protection, but we have the Lord. So don’t be afraid of them.”

      Then all the people talked about killing them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the Meeting Tent to the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people ignore me? How long will it be before they believe me? I have done miracles among them. I will give them a terrible sickness. I will destroy them. But I will make you into a great nation. It will be stronger than they are.

      Then Moses said to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear about it! You brought these people from there by your great power.

      The nations have heard about your power. If you put to death your people all at once, the nations will talk. They will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he promised them. So he killed them in the desert.’

      Show your great love. Forgive these people’s sin. Forgive them as you have from the time they left Egypt until now.”

      The Lord answered, “I have forgiven them as you asked. But, as surely as I live, I make this promise. As sure as my glory fills the whole earth, I make this promise. All these men saw my glory. They saw the miracles I did in Egypt and in the desert. But they disobeyed me and tested me 10 times. So not one will see the land I promised to their ancestors. No one who angered me will see that land. But my servant Caleb has a different spirit. He follows me completely. So I will bring him into the land he has already seen. And his children will own that land.

      Not one of you will enter and live in the and I promised to you. Only Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun will go in.”


(Quoted from Numbers 13:26-33; 14:1-13, 15-16, 19-24, 30 of the International Children’s Bible)

Illustrations by MARCO GILBERT LARDIZABAL

The fault in the stars

The (mis)guidance given by
horoscopes, lucky charms,
and other divination tecniques

By MANDY A. NEPOMUCENO

HOROSCOPE COLUMNS are a familiar section in newspapers and astrology-related books and magazine articles are a glut on the market, while talks and programs about them even pepper the television and radio. A city study suggests that over 90% of adults around the world know their zodiac signs; there is even a thriving astrological community online (Nicholas Campion, Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West: Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement. Routledge, 2012).

There are also people, old and young alike, men or women, in various nationalities and cultures who perform rituals or acquire ornaments or knickknacks, believing that those can enhance their fortune and “charm” luck to their side. Truly, the allure of these things endures even in this age of technology. It is one thing to know or read about them; to believe in them is another. A ready justification is always that it is “a bit of fun.” Still, there are people who take charms and “readings” very seriously. For them, these give meaning to otherwise random events in their lives. They rely heavily and even make important life decisions based entirely on predictions or amulets, putting their entire trust even when addressing the biggest, most profound issues. And if disappointments come, they blame the fault in their stars, while frantically searching for another trinket they believe would be more effective and powerful.

Should someone who truly believes in the Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ also be found owning a lucky charm or engaging in the practice of astrology? Is it just harmless fun to engross oneself in them or are they potentially dangerous to one’s soul?

 

A treacherous paradox

Astrology, a divination technique, is the belief that the stars and planets strongly influence our lives. People who are into it claim that to understand its appeal is to get comfortable with paradoxes: It feels simultaneously cosmic and personal; spiritual and logical; ineffable and concrete; real and unreal. (Julie Beck, “The New Age Of Astrology,” 18 January 2018, The Atlantic). Aside from astrology, there are also dozens and quite possibly hundreds of methods of prediction that fit into the category of divination. Since earliest times, some people have gazed into the skies to predict their future—from the Babylonians and Egyptians in 2000 BC to the Greeks and Romans in 200 BC (James Herschel Holden, A History Of Horoscopic Astrology, 1996).

In the same vein, lucky charms are prevalent in most world cultures, and have been for eons. They might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, or even in the arrangement of living spaces according to what they claim as mystical energy levels—some people turn to them to help achieve a goal.

What makes them appealing to others is their promise to supply answers for both the “big” and “little” questions people regularly face. For instance, from giving character analyses to providing daily advice, those beliefs claim to offer a systematic approach by which people can make order in their lives (www.equip.org/perspectives/divination). These become even more seductive because some people claim that they work! Thus, to naively and outrightly proclaim that they do not work will never get anyone to give them up.

What needs to be shown is how offensive those are before the Almighty God. The Bible proclaims, thus:

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.” (Deut. 18:10-12 New International Version)

Those beliefs are insulting to God because they attribute to planets and stars and other things the power that belongs to God alone and because they try to find His will by means other than what He has appointed. Throughout the Bible we are taught that God Himself, not the stars, will guide us in our life’s journey and big decisions:

“Our God is merciful and tender. He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.” (uke 1:78-79 Good News Bible)

The Almighty God reveals to us that the key to receiving His blessings is obedience to His commands, not in performing vain rituals or obtaining any fancy object:

“The holy God of Israel, the LORD who saves you, says: ‘I am the LORD your God, the one who wants to teach you for your own good and direct you in the way you should go. If only you had listened to my commands! Then blessings would have flowed for you like a stream that never goes dry. Victory would have come to you like the waves that roll on the shore.” (Isa. 48:17-18 GNB)

All forms of divination, thus, should be rejected. Trusting in them instead of in God’s providence is a gross violation of the first and greatest commandment. Apostle Paul urged believers to test everything and hold fast to that which is good (I Thess. 5:21) and not to be deceived by empty philosophy (Col. 2:8), false prophets (Matt. 7:15), or any belief that can potentially lead people away from the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Those things have the same jarring ramification: to lead people into embracing false doctrine, thus distorting their understanding of God’s revealed truth. Hence, believing in horoscopes and the like, and even in lucky charms, is hardly an innocent and harmless activity.
They are, in fact, very dangerous, that is why they should be avoided at all costs. We should not go there. Not even for curiosity. Nothing at all about them is “lucky.”

 

No luck needed

There is a reason the word “luck” does not appear in the Bible (an exception is the paraphrased The Message, which uses it as slang or to mean “blessing”). Luck and belief in divination certainly would not help anybody escape from condemnation of God. Prophet Isaiah even spoke with derision to those who believe in such:

“Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored at since childhood. Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror. All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by.” (Isa. 47:12-14 NIV)

What we need is to trust in God, not in those things. Those who trust in God and in what He can do are not “disturbed by unusual sights in the sky” (Jer. 10:2 GNB). We should seek guidance not from heavenly bodies, but from our heavenly Father who has made everything:

“I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated. My salvation and honor depend on God; he is my strong protector; he is my shelter. Trust in God at all times, my people. Tell him all your troubles, for he is our refuge.” (Ps. 62:5-8 GNB).

The Almighty God leads us, not toward destruction and condemnation, but toward our salvation:

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:3-4 New King James Version)

What we need then is not luck, but the truth. The truth is the words of God (John 17:17). The truth that will lead us to salvation is spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ:

“So Jesus spoke again: ‘In very truth I tell you, I am the door of the sheepfold.

“I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through me will be safe’.” (John 10:7, 9 Revised English Bible)

The sheepfold or flock where people should come into or enter is none other than the “Church Of Christ” (Acts 20:28 Lamsa Translation). Our aspiration to be safe, secured, and protected should lead us not to divination methods but to the true Church Of Christ, which is guaranteed with redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ. The correct path is not in or among the stars; rather, the right path is Christ, and to walk in Him is to obey His commands, one of which is to enter His Church.

 

 

 

What the stars say

The Bible has much to say about the stars. Most basic to our understanding of the stars is that God created them. They show His power and majesty. The heavens are God’s “handiwork” (Ps. 8:3; 19:1 NKJV). He has all the stars numbered and named (Ps. 14:7:4). However, it should be clear to us that God forbids His people to give credit or fear the constellations and conjunctions of stars and planets which have no power of themselves but are governed by Him. He derides their vain confidence, who put their trust in anything but in Him, condemning also such, which serve no use, but to delude the people and to take them away from depending only on Him.

The stars should awaken our wonder at God’s power, wisdom, and infinitude. We could use the stars to keep track of time and place and, more importantly, to remind us that God is faithful and almighty. All the while, we acknowledge the Creator of the heavens our wisdom comes from God, not the stars (James 1:5). The Word of God, the Bible, is our guide through life (Ps. 119:105) Our savior is His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 5:31). We do not need psychics, horoscopes, lucky charms, Ouija boards, feng shui, magical statues, guaranteed novenas, or any other divination because, as Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 12:9, God’s grace is enough.

On calling Him ‘Jehovah’

 

Marcel Craig, of Brooklyn, New York, asked this question:   

“THOUGH I CONSIDER myself as having a religion, I must admit that I have little knowledge about God and the Bible. … One of my friends once told me that whoever shall worship Jehovah, call on the name of Jehovah, and be called by the name Jehovah, as in Jehovah’s Witnesses, will be saved. This makes me uncomfortable for I’m not used to calling God by that name in my prayers. So, I want to ask your stand on addressing God by the name Jehovah. And how does the Church of Christ address our Lord God?”

 

Richard J. Rodas, Editor-in-Chief of God’s Message Magazine replies:

“Thank you for asking us on matters concerning God and how to address Him.

      The Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a religious group, is indeed known for strictly using the name “Jehovah” in addressing Go. Some of its zealous members, in trying to promote their faith, even go as far as claiming that one will not be saved unless he calls God by that name. Such serious assertion indeed calls for profound critical investigation as regards the use of “Jehovah” in reference to God.

      What do Bible scholars and historians of religion say about the use of the name “Jehovah”? As to age, the Rotherham Emphasized Bible reports, “The pronunciation Jehovah was unknown until 1520, when it was introduced by Galatinus; but was contested by Le Mercier, J. Drusius, and L. Capellus, as against grammatical and historical propriety … which is merely a combination of the sacred Tetragrammaton and the vowels in the Hebrew word for Lord” (Ibid., pp. 24-25). The Harper’s Bible Dictionary corroborates by stating, “The hybrid word ‘Jehovah’ is a combination of the vowels of ‘Adonai’ with the consonants of the Tetragrammaton; its appearance in the JKV was the result of the translators’ ignorance of the Hebrew language and customs” (p. 1036, emphasis ours.) Hence, as The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge aptly concludes, “JEHOVAH” is “an erroneous form of the divine name of the covenant God of Israel which appears first about 1520 A.D.” (Vol. VI, p. 16, emphasis ours). Explanation on the occurrence of the erroneous form of God’s name in the Bible is stated in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:

      “The form Jehovah arose out of a misunderstanding which in turn arose out of the reluctance of pious Jews to pronounce the divine name (c. 300 b.c.). Instead they uttered the word ,adōnāy my Lord. In the MT [Masoretic Text] the divine name was written with the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of

,adōnāy, as a reminder to say the latter whenever the word was read. The divine name appears as yehōwâh in the MT. The LXX [Septuagint] reflects the Jewish reluctance to pronounce the divine name and puts the word kyrios à Lord, in its place. The RSV and other Eng. versions also reflect the practice by giving the word LORD in capital letters whenever the name YHWH stands in the text. The Lat. Likewise gives the word Dominus, Lord, for YHWH. The form Jehovah is thus a malformation giving what is virtually a transliteration of a word which is found in the text of the Heb. OT, but which was never actually used as a word.” (Vol. II, pp. 69-70, emphasis ours)

      Finally, the late Distinguished Service Professor of Talmud and Rector of  the Rabbinical School in Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Saul Lieberman, Ph.D., identified openly how the rendition ‘Jehovah’ came to be. Writing for Microsoft Encarta, he expounded:

      “Jehovah, name of the God of the Hebrew people as erroneously transliterated from the Masoretic Hebrew text. The word consists of the consonants JHVH or JHWH, with the vowels of a separate word, Adonai (Lord). What its original vowels were is a matter of speculation, for because of an interpretation of such texts as Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 24:11, the name came to be regarded as too sacred for expression; the scribes, in reading aloud, substituted “Lord” and therefore wrote the vowel markings for “Lord” into the consonantal framework JHVH as a reminder to future readers aloud. The translators of the Hebrew, not realizing what the scribes had done, read the word as it was written down, taking the scribal vowel markings as intrinsic to the name of their God rather than as a mere reminder not to speak it. From this came the rendition Jehovah …” (“Jehovah.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [CD])

      These, among others, clearly prove that the supposed name of God which ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ allege as His only true name, is an erroneous form of the divine name of the Creator. To insist on using this term in reference to God, to say the least, is to propagate an error.

      Church of Christ members reverently address the Almighty God as ‘Father’ and ‘Lord’. For doing this, we simply abide by the example set by the early Christians and Jesus Christ Himself:

      “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matt. 6:9, New King James Version)

      “So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them’.” (Acts 4:24, Ibid.)


Source: God’s Message Magazine, January 2012

The life everyone ought to choose

God not only created man but also gave him life and everything he needs to sustain it for a well-defined purpose.

 

IMMEASURABLE HIS GREAT love for mankind, God not only created man but also gave him life and everything to sustain it for a well-defined purpose (Eccles. 12:13-14; Eph. 2:10). To guide everyone toward this purpose for which he is accountable, the Almighty Father commanded that His words be written in a book universally known as the Bible. Apostle Paul, one of those sent to preach in his time, declared: “and you remember that ever since you were a child you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the man who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good work” (II Tim. 3;15-17, Today’s English Version, emphasis ours). And for man to be able to live righteously, Paul gave the first-century Christians this instruction which applies well more today: “In the Lord’s name, then, I say this and warn you: do not live any longer like the heathen, whose thoughts are worthless, and whose minds are in the dark. … They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to vice, and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint” (Eph. 4:17-19, TEV).

Through God’s wisdom, man will be able to live in accordance with the well-defined purpose—serve God, live righteously, and do good works. Likewise, he should not live the way the pagan does—having worthless and dark thoughts, vicious, and grossly indecent. Neither he lives being governed by his human nature. Apostle Paul describes one who live so and the evil of doing such: “What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies, they fight, become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not receive the Kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19, Ibid.).

With the passage of time, this divine purpose has not been respected an God’s instruction on right living has been violated by those who choose to live the pagan or ungodly way. This way of life is globally observable today when moral decadence is among the crises disturbing the world. Many have been culturally conditioned that God’s wisdom which is written in the Holy Scriptures is now obsolete, no longer relevant and responsive to the needs of the time. Veering away from God’s commandments, they have turned to philosophical thoughts prioritizing their worldly or secular concerns such as satisfying first their changing physical, emotional, and social needs as well as other cravings They also have turned from religion to science, technology, medical science, media, academe, and so on for answers to life’s fundamental questions concerning sexuality, marriage, morality, and the like.

 

What influences man’s life today pervasively

Specifically, modern society through secularization, the prevailing social change, has pervasively influenced the world. According to James M. Henslin (1993), a sociologist, secularization occurs when religious influence over life is lessened, both on a society’s institutions and on individuals. It works massively using cultural mechanisms such as media and schools among many others to engineer the promotion of the agenda of social change. Its impact on mankind is reflected by he spread of the culture of materialism, of promiscuity or sexual perversion, of liberalism which makes people even proud of doing what they must be ashamed of, of philosophic arrogance and utter disregard of the sacredness of the Bible, and of relative morality which does not give the distinction between what is morally right what is morally wrong among others.

Working strategically, modern society has succeeded in secularizing even religion. There are churches that have compromised their supposed gatekeeping function to uphold firmly the fundamental biblical teachings on morality and family to social pressures. Like judicial institutions, they have departed from being strictly conservative to being tolerant of marriage and sexual practices that are against the teachings of the Bible to favor liberalism and misleading ideological advocacies. There are countries where divorce and same-sex marriage have been legalized even if God’s laws are being trivialized or outrightly opposed by such. Indeed, man’s attitude toward his Creator, toward his fellowmen, toward his environment, and toward himself has changed radically. He chooses his secular or cultural values to rule over the Christian values taught by the Holy Scriptures in conducting his life.

 

What the Bible foretold long before

To see how people are conducting their lives today, choosing to be ungodly instead of being God-fearing, Apostle Paul warned all: “You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad. They will be hardheaded and never give in to others, and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends, they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God. They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that.” (II Tim. 3:1-5, Living Bible). Paul’s graphic statement gives a vivid description of how a person lives the unchristian way.

ON the other hand, those who choose to remain conservative, that is, being biblically oriented in their moral values, uncompromisingly abide by what Christ teaches in conducting their lives. They will neve let waves of changes make them deviate from God’s commandments. No matter how compelling circumstances are, their conviction to follow His will on how to live properly can not be moved.

 

Which way of life to choose

Since everyone is accountable to God to live in accordance with the purpose for which He created man, Apostle John who was among those whom Christ sent to preach the gospel taught explicitly: “Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did” (I John 2:6, LB). The first two things everyone should do to fulfill God’s purpose for creating man—to know his Creator, the Almighty God, to serve and worship Him, and to obey His commandments (Ps. 100:2-3, I John 2:3, Ps. 95:6-7)—are to be a Christian first, which can only be done by entering the Church Of Christ which He built and, second, to live as Christ did.

A good example of who abided by this purpose is Apostle Paul. Named Saul, an accomplished person who lived a privileged life before his conversion into the first-century Church Of Christ to be among the first-century Christians, he chose to give up all his gains and even his own righteousness for the righteousness that comes from God (Phil. 3:7,9).To live as Christ did, Apostle Paul strived to have the attitude that Christ had—was humble and walked the path of obedience to His death on the cross (Phil. 2:5,8)—to let God’s will rule his life that it was no longer h who lived, but it was Christ who lived in him, and to live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20).

To live righteously, the Scriptures further teach all that they should not be involved in sin, should live the rest of their earthly lives controlled by God’s will, not by human desires (I Pet. 4:1-3, TEV) but be purified from everything that makes body or soul unclean and be completely holy, by living in the fear of God (II Cor. 7:1< Ibid.)

 

Warning against a corrupt culture and deceptive philosophy

Witnessing the prevailing Greco-Roman culture—strongly influenced by paganism and the philosophies highly recognized by his society—that was wo ungodly and blasphemous, Apostle Paul warned the Christians: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix our attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Rom. 12:2, The Message). More often than not, man is at the mercy of his society and culture. Good or bad, they work hand in hand. When they drag people to disobey God’s will, such society and culture are corrupt. Deceptively they work, usually subliminally or subtly, that the ignorant or the undiscerning fall victims of their assault.

Apostle Paul pinpointed what is at work behind the deception: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8, New International Version). Today such philosophy can also be in the form of “intellectualism” or “high sounding nonsense founded on men’s ideas of the nature of the world” (The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips), or “man’s wisdom and deceit, going after the beliefs of men and the theories of the world” (Bible in Basic English). An example of a philosophy that opposes Christian values is relativism which people in the academe such as educators and scholars promoted by using Kuhn’s paradigm shift—a high-sounding idea immensely popular in various domains including theology (Irving Hexham, Concise Dictionary of Religion, 1993).

 

It is definitely a conscious choice

As people across cultures continuously choose to disregard the Bible by merely considering it as a work of literature and it can be interpreted subjectively, to be individualistic, materialistic and hedonistic, to ignore God’s wisdom and prefer to be philosophically arrogant, and to be liberals of almost without restraint, Christians or true servants of God always choose to be God-fearing and to conduct their lives fulfilling the well-defined purpose for which man is created.

Above all of man’s concerns in life, choosing to live in accordance with God’s commandments is the most important decision he ought to make. If he chooses otherwise is the worst. That man is inevitably accountable for whichever decision he makes, the Bible clearly states: “… Have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that man was created for. God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret” (Eccles. 12:13-14, TEV).


By CELERINO G. BACLAAN
Photo by Brian Pangilinan

The Truth Concerning Christ’s Birth

SINCE THE BEGINNING of recorded history, there have been certain individuals who have played major roles in influencing the masses, and thus steering the course of mankind. But no man’s birth, life, and even death has created a phenomenon as that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Approaching 2000 years since His ascension to heaven, His legacy continues to affect the lives of millions of people around the globe. This is apparent when the so-called Christian world celebrates Christmas.
Christmas, to many, is that time of the year when there is a great outpouring of goodwill to one’s fellow man through the giving of gifts, well-wishing, and all-around merriment. However, despite the general “good” feeling that permeates man’s world and the obvious commercial aspect, not many truly understand the history of this annual celebration.

History and meaning of Christmas
What does the word “Christmas” mean? The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary mentions the following:
“Etymology: Middle English Christemasses, from Old English Cristes mæsse, literally, Christ’s mass
“Date: before 12th century
“1: a Christian feast on December 25 or among some Eastern Orthodox Christians on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday” (school.eb.com)
Thus, Christmas is purported to celebrate the birth of Christ. But was this custom observed by the early Christians?

“There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during apostolic or early postapostolic times.” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 3, pg. 47)
So when did the celebration of Christmas begin? From the book, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, we can read the following:

“Soon after the end of the last great persecution, about the year 330, the Church in Rome definitely assigned December 25 for the celebration of the birth of Christ. For a while, many Eastern Churches continued to keep other dates, but toward the end of the fourth century the Roman custom became universal.” (pg. 60)

The celebration of Christ’s birth then was not practiced until the fourth century, hundreds of years after the death of the apostles. Many people do know that Christ was not born on December 25 was influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Sol Invictus: the Unconquered Sun) on that day. December 25 was called the ‘Birthday of the Sun’, and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that the Christians celebrate the birth of Him Who was the ‘Light of the World’ and the true ‘Sun of Justice’ on this very day?” (Ibid., pg. 61)

December 25th was chosen primarily because that date celebrated the feast of the pagan sun god Sol Invictus. So what many people are observing nowadays has its roots from paganism.
Regarding feasts and celebrations which are of pagan origin, Apostle Paul has this to say, thus:
“Here then is my word to you, and I urge it on you in the Lord’s name: give up living as pagans do with their futile notions.” (Eph. 4:17, Revised English Bible)

 

Significance of Christ’s birth
But is Christ’s birth significant? Very much so, as we can read in 1 John 4:9:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (New King James Version)

Why did the birth of Christ manifest the love of God to mankind? Because Christ, being the Savior, brought peace to man:

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger’. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:11-14, Ibid.)

The peace that Christ has brought is absolutely vital, since man in general has been separated from God because of sin (Isa. 59:2), the wages of sin being death in the lake of fire (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:14). And since all men, except Christ, have committed sin (Rom. 3:23), then all should die on the day of Judgment (II Pet. 3:7, 10)

But because of God’s love and mercy, He sent Christ as the propitiation for sin that man may not die but live. However, have all benefited from this blessing? Who have benefited from the birth, life, and death of Christ? Where can those who have peace with God be found? In the “one body,” according to apostle Paul:

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Col. 3:15, NKJV)

The body is none other than the Church of which Christ is the head (Col. 1:18). Apostle Paul also makes known that the official name of the Church established by Christ is the Church of Christ:
“The common object of their labor was to bring the Christians maturity, to prepare them for Christian service and the building up of the Church of Christ …” (Eph. 4:12, Norlie’s Simplified New Testament)

So it is very necessary and important for one to join and remain in the Church of Christ or Iglesia ni Cristo in order to have peace with God and be saved by Christ. If there are those who can truly rejoice because of the birth of the Savior, it is none other than the members of the true Church of Christ.

Remembering the Savior
Celebrating one’s birth is not against biblical precepts. However, to celebrate one’s birthday, the date of birth of the celebrator must first be determined. As for Christ’s birthday, such information is unavailable. What we have is a date which was supposedly set for the birthday of a pagan god.

The importance of Christ’s birth can never be over-emphasized—it meant that a savior was born. However, Christ did not command that His birthday be commemorated. Instead, before Christ died on the cross, He instituted something that He instructed his disciples to observe in remembrance of Him:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me’.” (I Cor. 11:23-25, NKJV)

The true servants of the Lord remember the Savior through the Holy Supper. Through this, they also remember all of His sufferings and sacrifices for His Church (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation), of which they are members and by which they have peace with God and will be saved from he Father’s wrath on the day of Judgment.

Indeed, members of the Church of Christ have been richly blessed. But they know it is not enough that their recognition and acknowledgment of Christ is scripturally based but that they also have the responsibility to remain as obedient servants until the end:

“That you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.” (I Tim. Tim. 6:14, NKJV)

Why should the members of the Church of Christ remain obeying God’s commandments until the end? What awaits the obedient servants of the Lord? II Peter 3:12-14 states:

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (Ibid.)

Having the true knowledge of Christ and doing the right way of remembering Him will culminate in the salvation of the members of the Church of Christ, who will be taken to the new heavens and earth, or more specifically the Holy City (Rev 21:1-2)

This is the very reason why we, members of the Church of Christ or Iglesia ni Cristo, continuously rejoice in the sending of the Lord Jesus Christ by our God and Father in heaven though not in the manner the rest of the people in the world do. For we are assured that on Christ’s return, He will fulfill His promise unto us:

“Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:1-4, New Living Translation)


 

By Donald Pinnock
Source: God’s Message Magazine
December 2009 Issue