What drives your decisions? Do you savor the things of God? Most professing Christians never even consider this question. What about you? Are you willing to bravely ask the question and look in the mirror of God’s word for the answer? How easy it is for us to deceive ourselves into thinking we are acting according to God’s will when we are doing the exact opposite. Have you ever thought you were totally right, when you were totally wrong? I have! And I doubt that I am alone among God’s people.
Two immediate examples should come to mind. The first is when Jesus rebuked Peter for what most of us, if we had been there, would have considered a profession of loyalty and courage. Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, and Peter answered correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus then went on to explain that Peter was a rock among them, but Jesus would build His Church upon a much larger rock—Himself! He then explained that He would first be put to death at the hands of carnal men. It was then that Peter boldly declared that it would figuratively be over his dead body before he would allow that to happen!
This appears to be a noble gesture on Peter’s part, but Jesus’ response was not what we would humanly expect. In fact, His strong rebuke must have shocked those who heard it! “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23)—or, as the King James Version states, “thou savorest not the things of God”!
Now consider this: Was it wrong for Peter to fight for his Messiah? On another occasion, Jesus told Pilate, “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). Many do not realize that there is a time coming when the resurrected sons of God WILL fight. “Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the written judgment—this honor have all His saints” (Psalm 149:5–9). This is also confirmed in Revelation 19:14.
So, where did Peter go wrong? Obviously, it was a matter of timing, and Peter did not take into account God’s will and God’s plan. He was “shooting from the hip,” so to speak, and was out of sync with God’s will. It is evident that Peter allowed Satan to influence his thinking. This example should sober us to consider carefully what we think on a multitude of subjects. How often do we think we are in line with God, when we are instead in tune with the Deceiver?
Calling Fire Down from Heaven
Another incident took place with two of Jesus’ other disciples. James and John were nicknamed, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). Why? You are no doubt familiar with this account as well. Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem and He sent messengers ahead to a village of the Samaritans to prepare a place to stay for the night, but the Samaritans rejected Him because He was on His way to Jerusalem. It was on this occasion that James and John asked, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus’ rebuke was swift and direct. “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (vv. 55–56). Here, again, we see that His disciples could not understand the difference in their situation with that of Elijah. They did not understand righteous judgment, nor did they savor the things of God.
In both these incidents, we could very well substitute our own names, since there was a certain human rationale behind each. Of course, it is our human nature to think we would not be so deceived, so let us look a little deeper.
Look around you. My wife and I like to watch people in airports. Are you as amazed as we are about how many people sport tattoos today? How far we have degenerated in twenty years! “Body art” or “ink” as they like to call it, was mostly the domain of sailors who had a bit too much to drink while in port, and you would almost never see a woman with a tattoo in our Western world. No longer! Why? Humans have a “sheep” instinct, and not everything about sheep is positive. If someone else does it, so must we. Even among some of God’s people, tattooing, unusual body piercing, and faddish clothing sometimes appears.
Getting a tattoo is not the worst sin one can commit, even though God clearly tells us in His word not to do it (Leviticus 19:28). Few people are aware of this verse. The question is whether those of us who know better will follow the world, or whether we will obey God. However, we see more and more disfigurement of the human body among those more recently called into the Church, and a deeply converted person will not judge or condemn someone for past mistakes for which an individual has repented. Frankly, there are far worse sins than this one that is often committed in ignorance, and some sins are easier to hide than others.
Clothing and Modesty
Dress styles are a perpetual challenge for the people of God. Scripture instructs women to dress modestly, but what is modesty? The Church of God has historically understood that there are cultural differences when it comes to dress, and that styles are in a state of constant change. Those of us who are older remember bell-bottom slacks for men. Some in the Church of God viewed them negatively, while others could not wait to buy a pair. Sadly, there were much more serious stylistic issues at that time. Thankfully, most 1970’s trends in dress were short-lived—for very good reasons.
But the real issue is not a change in style, but whether that change reflects modesty, and what is being promoted by the style. One might argue that the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn earrings on men in a direct command, but who was it in modern times that promoted this change in male behavior, and should a Christian want to take part in it? You may want to read David Kupelian’s book on The Marketing of Evil, if you do not know.
The problem is that we all have different ideas about what is modest. Why? Why, if we all have the Spirit of God, are there so many differences? The Apostle Paul gives us a clue: “Of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11–14).
We often hear people talk about the “meat of the word” in terms of speculative prophecy, but this is not what Paul said. He held that strong meat involves being “skillful in the word of righteousness” and having our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” because of “reason of use.” In other words, as we grow in understanding the mind of God, we should learn how to discern the difference between good and evil. Not everything is a clear “thus says the Lord.” Some things call for us to make decisions based on biblical principles. This requires righteous judgment.
Clothes considered stylish by this world are often lacking in modesty. They are often overly revealing of the female body: very short shorts, skirts that are overly tight and short, low-cut dresses that emphasize cleavage, and so on. Double entendre slogans on sweatshirts and T-shirts, also, are suggestive and inappropriate. When a woman is constantly trying to stretch her skirt to cover more of her thighs when sitting down, maybe this should tell her something.
Part of the problem with dress is the ever-changing culture. Some things considered immodest in past generations are considered very old-fashioned today. There is also the issue of occasion. A tennis skirt may be modest on the court, but not for an algebra class. Swimsuits would not be appropriate for Sabbath services.
Then there is the question that comes up from time to time regarding whether women can wear pants for Sabbath services. Dr. Roderick C. Meredith made it clear a number of years ago that a nice pantsuit may be appropriate. This may especially be true for individuals who have leg problems or who live in very cold climates. But, here is the problem: All that some heard when he explained this was that “pants are okay,” but that is not what he said. He spoke of nice pantsuits and gave the example of Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State under President George Bush) who often wore pantsuits in the conduct of government business. He was not talking about sweat pants, jeans, or casual pants.
Desiring the Approaches and Customs of the World
The “(fill in the blank) is okay” attitude is not an example of discerning between good and evil. This was the approach of the religious elite of Christ’s day. This is why they had a long list of do’s and don’ts, and one will never come to an end of such a list. God expects us to learn to make righteous judgments based on the word of God and Christ dwelling in our minds by the Holy Spirit. We must come to the place where, instead of looking for permission to do what we always wanted to do, we learn to savor the things of God, not the approaches and customs of this world.
One subject that never seems to go away is that of birthdays. Some in the Church want nothing to do with them, while others engage in festive parties. It is evident from the scriptures that people knew how many years they lived. We know how long Methuselah lived, as well as Abraham, Jacob, and the kings of Israel and Judah. Obviously they were keeping track. However, not once do we read of a birthday party for any of God’s servants. The only places where birthdays appear in the Bible are in relation to heathen rulers. Pharaoh’s birthday celebration resulted in the death of his chief baker (Genesis 40:20–22). Herod’s birthday celebration resulted in the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:6–12; Mark 6:21–28). Although birthday parties today seldom end in death or dismemberment (we would hope!), these unflattering examples are the only indisputable birthday celebrations recorded in the Bible.
The Encyclopedia Britannica records the following: “As late as 245 Origen … repudiates as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ ‘as if he were a king Pharaoh’” (11th ed., article “Christmas”). While Origen was certainly not a true Christian, his comment reveals the attitude of the early Church toward celebrating Christ’s birthday and gives us a clue as to how original Christianity felt about birthdays in general.
Yet, some members begin celebrating the birthdays of their children from their first year onward. No child at that age has any idea what is going on, but by the time she is 16 she understands that it is “her day” and she expects a party and presents. Is this a lesson we want to teach? Are we able to understand the difference between marking or recognizing the day of one’s birth and celebrating it in a party atmosphere? Are we able to make wise judgments, based on the word of God? Do we follow the customs of this world, as sheep going to the slaughter? Or can we savor the things of God?
Learning to Savor the Things of God
To savor the things of God requires studying God’s word from a humble and deeply respectful heart (Isaiah 66:2). Our nature, even after baptism, must continue to convert to a new way of thinking (1 Corinthians 2:9–11). When the prophet Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” he is speaking to all of us (Jeremiah 17:9). When God tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death,” we need to take notice (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). As we saw earlier, even though were being directly taught by Jesus Christ for three-and-a-half years, the Apostles could still be deceived. So where does that leave us? We must learn to savor the things of God, not the things of man.
We are confronted every day with an array of decisions. Whether to watch television and if so, what programs to allow into our minds (Psalm 101:3), and also, what is an appropriate amount of entertainment when balanced against Bible Study, prayer, physical exercise, genuine interaction with family, and more. How much time should we spend on social media, and what is appropriate communication and interaction with others? Frankly, some of the things that come to our attention do not reflect the mind of God.
There has always been a desire on the part of members and ministers alike to have every question spelled out as “right” or “wrong,” “okay” or “not okay.” Consider this however: God is not creating robots. He is creating children who think as He thinks. He gives us basic principles. Some are spelled out, as in the Ten Commandments. Statutes and judgments also help us to understand His mind on an array of issues, but He also wants us to learn to think as He thinks in an ever-changing array of circumstances. This requires not a never-ending list, but a mind that discerns—that savors—the way He would choose.
Laodiceans seem to have a problem with compromising. In other words, they are not very discerning when it comes to the nuances requiring righteous judgment. They do not savor the things of God. This is a challenge to all of us. Can we look past a list of do’s and don’ts to discern the mind of God in matters that are not always clear and spelled out? Can we willingly apply His standards, without always having to be told what to do? Our lives may depend on it!