Church brethren have long described a Feast just past as “the best Feast ever.” Of course, not every Feast is going to be the “best ever,” as we sometimes spend part of it in bed with sickness or injury, and many other circumstances can put a damper on one’s personal Feast.
With that qualification, I must say that from all the reports coming to me, 2019 was an outstanding Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day for the majority of our members and at the majority of our sites—and no doubt “the best Feast ever” for many. Our membership seems to be at peace and happy, and this was reflected in record Holy Day offerings. Attendance topped 11,000 for the first time in our 27-year history since the apostasy of the mid-90s, when Dr. Roderick C. Meredith stepped out to preserve the biblical truths God used Mr. Herbert Armstrong to point out to us and to carry on the Work of preaching the Gospel to the world. We heard many positive comments about the outstanding and substantive messages, and I personally learned from both sermonettes and sermons.
One of the sermons I gave regarded the temporary nature of life, and this is a subject I would like to discuss further. Dwelling in temporary housing for a few days reminds us that we are sojourners passing through a very short course in the span of time. God is eternal. We are temporary. The reality of this sinks in more deeply with each passing year. I confess that I often talk about the fleeting nature of life because I am fascinated by the subject. A child or young person thinks it will “take forever” to reach the next milestone of turning 13, 16, 18, or 21. But reality begins to set in for many somewhere between the ages of 30 and 40, and the fact of how short our time really is becomes more apparent with each passing decade.
Eternal life is not something we are entitled to from birth. It is a gift from God (Romans 6:23). The brother of Jesus wrote, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Yes, eternal life is a crown and it is not automatic. It comes to those who love Him, but what does this mean? We may think we know, but do we?
A Vital Warning from the “Apostle of Love”
The Apostle John tells us that loving this world is incompatible with loving God: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16). John was likely thinking of the Garden of Eden when he expressed these thoughts, for we are told that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [the lust of the flesh], that it was pleasant to the eyes [the lust of the eyes], and a tree desirable to make one wise [the pride of life], she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). When preaching on these chapters of Genesis, Mr. Herbert Armstrong thundered to the Church that the majority of members didn’t get it. Time proved him correct! Do we get it?
These three motivations of human nature are closely related and often feed each other. Consider how even some in the Church are enslaved by the lust of the flesh. Teens and adults alike may take up vaping, cigarettes, or marijuana and other drugs to feed fleshly appetites and to appear more sophisticated to their peers. Some overindulge in alcohol. How many “just have to have” something that they cannot afford? It is not wrong to buy a new dress or a new boat, or to move into a larger home if one can afford it, but many only fool themselves into thinking that they can afford it. We live in a consumer society, and it is naïve to think we are unaffected. Everything is an infomercial! Society relentlessly tempts us to believe that happiness is found in acquisitions. The expensive sneakers of our teen years become the shiny new car of our working years. Neither are sins in themselves, but it is an illusion to think happiness is found in such things. The acquisition of goods and amusements, as an end in itself, has never produced lasting happiness—no lust of the flesh ever has.
The Internet certainly fuels the lust of the eyes. Pornography is a huge problem, affecting both men and women of every age. David wrote a psalm in which he declared, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3). As my Bible says in its marginal notes, the word wicked in this verse may also mean worthless.
Worthlessness is not the only problem. There are sad consequences in our lives when we follow such lusts. Jesus famously instructed, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). No wonder David prayed to God to “turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Psalm 119:37)—but as we know, in a weak moment in his life, David failed to do his part to resist temptation, and it became the biggest mistake of his life (1 Kings 15:5). His son Solomon wisely advised, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you” (Proverbs 4:25).
Focusing on Self or on Others?
The desire to exalt the self is ever-present in our nature and must be quashed. Education is a good thing when used rightly, but as Paul explained to the Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). God wants us to be successful and to do our best, but never at someone else’s expense. Jesus focused on serving others rather than exalting Himself (Philippians 2:5–11). Seeking personal status rather than focusing on outward service brought down Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12–15).
The book of Ecclesiastes is often read during the Feast of Tabernacles, and it holds many lessons for each of us regarding the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are of the world, and John tells us “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Life may seem long at times, but it is actually incredibly short. Lust and pride caused our first parents to stumble. They had to choose between two trees, two different ways—and the same choice is given to us. The two ways lead to two different outcomes: a crown of eternal life, or the blackness of darkness forever.
Do we get it?
Jesus does not sugarcoat the challenge He gives us, but instructs us: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
John’s warning to us about loving the world must be more than memorized words—we must deeply understand what these words mean. We must wage a valiant war against the pulls of the flesh, mind, and heart. Only then may we obtain the crown of life that eludes so many.