By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
Good brethren can be a source of joy, encouragement, and wholesome pride. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 1:3-4): “We are bound to thank God always for you, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure. (all emphasis mine, EOB).
Brethren can also disappoint us. We must not let this discourage and/or embitter us to the detriment of our service to the Master. When conscientious Christians are engaged in an intense struggle to guard and sometimes to restore the moral and doctrinal purity of the church, it is awfully discouraging to have influential brethren say and do things that adversely affect this work – especial ly brethren whom we personally know, love and appreciate.
Maybe we learn that a preacher, an elder, or other teacher, known and respected for years by us for his strong stand on moral issues has in fact been secretly practicing immorality for years. Or, a brother whose biblical scholarship has benefitted us greatly proves to have a “blind spot” on some vital truth. Or, we see brethren, who ought to know better, openly compromising with digressive brethren – at the very time we are righting tooth and toenail to curb the influence of the digression on those not yet grounded in the faith. Or we may work for weeks to convince people from the community to attend a gospel meeting to study with us. They accept our invitation but half of us have left town that week. Any or all of this is almost enough to make one want to throw in the towel.
As we find ourselves in this position maybe Paul’s message to the young preacher Timothy would do us good (read 2 Tim. 2:14-21). A summary of the message would be: “Don’t let brethren’s misbehavior throw you.”
Paul knew how discouraging brethren could be at times. Some had criticized (judged) him when he least deserved it (1 Cor. 4:3-5). Some had caused him a great amount of anxiety (2 Cor. 7:5-8; 11:28). Some had loved him less when he loved them more (2 Cor. 12:14-15). Some had shocked him by so quickly turning away from the truth to error (Gal. 1:6). Some had forsaken him when he could have used their moral support the most (2 Tim. 4:10,16).
Young Timothy was now learning how disappointing brethren can be. Two brethren, prominent enough for Paul to mention by name, were spreading a cancerous message among the brethren (vv. 17, 18). Some were being taken in by their influence (y. 18). Still others were in danger of being overthrown, so Paul urges Timothy “remind them of these things” to counter this error (v. 14).
Paul then reminds Timothy, beginning with verse 19, that, in spite of the disheartening demeanor of some of his brethren, basic facts were still true. As we struggle to do right and are discouraged by brethren’s unrighteousness, let us also remember that “nevertheless. . . “:
1. The foundation of God still stands solid (y. 19). The faith of some may have been overthrown, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands.” Brethren may have feet of clay, but the foundation of God is still a solid rock. The revelation of God, through the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-3:7), is still true. The gospel plan of salvation is still valid. The pattern for the worship, work and organization of the church remains unchanged. The purpose and mission of the church have not been overthrown. The verses that teach the pure and godly standard of living are still in the Book. The promises of God are still sure. It matters not how brethren may distort these things by their practice and pervert them by their teaching, they are still in the Book.
2. The seal of God is still unbroken (vv. 19,20). The Lord still knows those who are his (cf. John 10:27,28). He still stands by those who “depart from iniquity.”
3. The house of God is still great (v. 20). It is great in spite of the dishonorable vessels in it (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-14). One can find all the evils of society among our own brethren. All the rotten attitudes of society are among those claiming to be Christians. All the low down meanness of our society characterizes some members of the church. There are brethren who will lie, cheat, steal, curse, fornicate, etc. on the par with any worldling. “Outsiders” do not have a monopoly on spiritual ignorance and religious prejudice.
Nevertheless, God’s house is still great because of the honorable vessels in it – the “Sold and silver.” These, like healthy organs, receive little of our attention because they demand none. They go about daily doing what they are supposed to do, often taken for granted, but seldom complaining. They just do their work and do it well. Like humming, they are seldom noticed unless one just stops and thinks about what is really keeping the vehicle moving ahead. Unless the motor develops a knock, we tend to take it for granted. Like precious metal, tried and proven by fire, these will be there when we need them. As we read the reams written and hear the multitude of words spoken about problems from within, let us not forget that for each one demanding attention by his misconduct there are hundreds, who may or may not be well known, who practice and teach the truth and uphold the hands of the faithful. Because of them, with their faith in God and his word, the house of God will remain great.
4. The salvation of God is still personal (v. 21). “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor.” “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God” (V. 15, emphasis, in these verses, mine – EOB). Let me be concerned with my purity, even when my other brethren are impure. Let me be concerned with my duty, even when the rest of the church is negligent. Let me be more concerned with my doing than with what we are doing or not doing.
Let me be concerned with my part of a work, realizing that I am not responsible for all parts. In the work of evangelism and edification, let me be busy planting and watering, leaving the increase to God (1 Cor. 3:3). Let me sow the seed faithfully, even if some do not fall on good and honest hearts. Let this joint supply its part (Eph. 4:16), even if the other parts become disjointed. Let me realize that in the final analysis God judges me as a person, not us as a people. I can be saved even if my work (the recipients of my “planting and watering”) is burned (I Cor. 3:14,15). There were a few even in Sardis (a dead church)”Who had not defiled their garments (Rev. 3:3,4).
Granted, there are a lot of things among brethren that are not right. There is much corrective work to be done. There is much to discourage us if we let it. But, we can be faithful – remembering that the Lord is faithful. When all forsook Paul, he said, “But the Lord stood with me” (2 Tim. 4:17), His foundation is stiff solid, his seal still unbroken, his house still great and his salvation is still available to each of us – even if all others rejecting and are lost.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 22, pp. 673, 695
November 17, 1988