The Church and God’s Law (39)

Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them (Ex.23:20-23).

Getting Israel out of Egypt would achieve nothing, unless God could get the nation into Canaan. A successful conquest would be crucial, but even that was contingent upon the nation’s obedience, as they found out at Jericho. Achan’s disobedience after the victory (Joshua 7) had the capacity to derail the whole conquest, and he had to be dealt with firmly.

This is why the Church has to realise this fact: the promises of God to the Church are conditional on the Church’s obedience. Anyone who is perplexed at the state of the world, and our ineffectiveness in the world today has to face this fact, which itself provides an explanation.

if you truly obey his voice [God’s angel] and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you…

We all like to hear about the promises of God because they are certainly encouraging for us, but the parameters of His promises are just as important. The notion of God’s conditional promises began in Genesis, with Adam and Eve. Has anything changed?

He spoke through Isaiah, “If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land” (Isa.1:19). It has been the superficial, antinomian nature of the modern church, matched with our individual foolishness that has meant we have ignored the part about “consent and obey.”

The Biblical principle is that disobedience brings dispossession. This is what Adam and Eve discovered in the Garden, and what every disobedient person has quickly found in history. God is not interested in propping up people, churches, cultures and whole nations that disobey Him. He reserves His blessing for the obedient.

If the Church really wants to inherit anything other than pain, ignominy, disaster and loss, we will have to change our focus, and that change of focus will have to be established over generations, in order to see the complete fulfilment of the promises of God to us, the Church. We have to move away from its all about me, to its all about Him.

True national reconstruction in every sense must be predicated by the patient reconstruction of the Church, because “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God…” (I Pet.4:17). The Church has to be believing and obeying the Gospel, and all of God’s Word, if we are to hope that the world will. There are no short-cuts. This is slow, sometimes tedious work, and rewards may not come immediately.

But Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Mat.5:13). If we want to see a grand edifice, we will have to begin with lots of work: the digging up and the removal of the unwanted rubble of past generations, so that we can re-build from the beginning, piece by piece, on a proper foundation.

How do we do this?                                                                                                   

1. We have to take the Bible seriously again. The Bible speaks authoritatively about all aspects of human activity. The Ten Commandments are not merely a quaint set of statements that Moses once found on a mountaintop. They are the commands of the King of the universe, Jesus Christ the Lord. When we obey God’s Word, God ultimately sends His blessing and confirmation, whether it be in our family, our work, our church or the nation. Obedience is what He expects of us, and there is no substitute.

2. We must tithe to our local church. God once said to Israel that they were cursed, because they were robbing Him of what was lawfully His- the tithe (Mal.3:8-10). When Christians will tithe a tenth of their income to their local church, it means there can be ministers employed by the church to do their work of teaching, strengthening, and encouraging people. How can there a growing, vibrant Church, without paid ministers?

Every local church is like you and me. It has its problems, it makes mistakes. But along with the godly family, it is the institution God wants to use in the world more than any other, and that’s why we must believe in it.

3. We have to discipline ourselves in not getting discouraged or disillusioned. We know the reality of sin in the human heart; the Bible tells us about it. But we also know what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ, and that “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We in the Church have gotten ourselves into this mess now, over centuries; now we must get out of it.

This means that we have to be prepared to persevere against the odds, when others cannot understand our work or plans. The Bible says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James1:12).

4.We must discipline ourselves to think long-term. Foolish, childish people like Esau, think short-term, and can’t wait for anything of value to come. Christians are to be different to him. The cathedral builders of Europe and England from 800-1000 years ago, were long-term planners. Their works are still with us today. The Bible’s perspective is, “first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mk.4:28). And if we never get to reap what we have sown but others do, isn’t that enough?

It is this future orientation that marks the free man’s perspective. He makes decisions in terms of the future, has confidence in the future, and can happily sacrifice present income for increased income in the future. As a responsible agent in God’s kingdom, the redeemed man is motivated more by future successes than by present enjoyments. [1]

5. We have to pray. This may be our most important task. God said to Israel in Isaiah’s day, “on you walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in all the earth” (Isa.62:6-7). This in the New Testament era applies directly to the Church, the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb.12:22). We have to pray prayers like the one recorded in Psalm 80:7: “O Lord of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

Conclusion:                                                                                                                                     

The obedience of believers to God’s Word is critical, if we want to see the reconstruction of the church, and blessing come ultimately to the world. That requires that we be tenacious; not giving up at the first trial (and there will be many).

We may not see the fruit of our labour in our day, but we are required to be faithful with the time and talents we are given, looking to the Lord to guide us in the reconstruction of His Church. Thus the gospel and blessing can come to the world.

Will you participate in this challenging, long-term but critical task? Your children and grandchildren will probably be grateful for the kind of example you leave them.


[1] Gary North, “Moses and Pharoah,” 1986, p.260.