By Tom M. Roberts
In most areas of our life, opposites occupy an important role in defining and explaining the facts of our existence: near and far, in and out, up and down, sweet and sour, hot and cold, male and female, God and Satan, young and old, etc. Without getting too technical, it should be observed that opposites are not always antithetical or antagonistic. Sometimes, opposites are simply different or stand in a complementary position to one another, such as male and female, young and old, right and left. However, a proper definition of opposite things is not the purpose of our study. There is something that most of us have observed that is so opposite, so different, indeed, so irregular, that we can well profit from a consideration of it.
I speak of the fact that there are Christians who, as they get older, become stronger in the Lord and visibly more at peace, ready to face death. At the same time, other Christians, as they get older, become spiritually feeble and lose their faith. Such a striking contrast, such a completely opposite attitude, presents a character study that provides an in sight into the nature of faith. Why does one Christian become stronger while another gets weaker? Why is it that, to one, faith becomes “Sweeter As The Years Go By” (the title of a song we sing), while another loses all faith? Why does one continue to learn and grow (regardless of age) while another complains of dull sermons, boring Bible classes and dreary worship? Why does one maintain a keen interest in heaven while the other seeks and is attracted to earthly pursuits?
I speak not in theoretical abstracts of such character differences. Rather, personal observance has led me to wonder at this obvious dichotomy among people whom I have met. It has been my pleasure to be acquainted with some of the finest Christians ever to walk on this earth. Men and women alike have impressed me with the fact that, as they get older, spiritual things hold a greater and greater attraction to them. As their bodies fade, their faith becomes surer and more steadfast. Heaven draws, them like a magnet. But strange as it may seem, within the same congregation, exposed to the same spiritual stimuli, participants in the same worship, listening to the same sermons, are people who are so different one wonders that they claim to be Christians at all.
Surely, this character difference, this abundance of faith in one and its absence in’ the other, cannot be a fault of truth itself. Truth is available to all in equal portions. In fact, these people of such different attitudes may even use the same version of the Scriptures, have the same father and mother and share the same environment. Thus, we conclude that there is an internal, rather than an external, reason for what we have observed. Our goal is to be able to isolate this reason (or reasons) and to use our knowledge as a means of helping those who would be in danger of losing their faith. In fact, we need to be aware that it is an ever present danger to all of us and that we need to beware lest our own faith fail. It has happened to elders and preachers as to all other Christians. What can we learn that. will make our faith disweeter as the years go by”?
I know of no greater source of enriching faith than that of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12: 1) who, like some of our study, became stronger as the years went by. This great body of righteous people loom on our horizon as ones who have passed before us, treading the same pathway, enduring the same (if not greater) tribulations, but having finished their journey. Now, having reached the finish line, they have stopped and lend encouragement to those of us still ‘ in the race. Standing there, they are saying, “Come on! If we did it, you can, too. ” Seeing them, we can realize that they were people of flesh and blood and passions like us and, if they made it, we can also. Perhaps, if we can analyze what it was that helped them to reach the goal with faith intact, it will help us today. What was it that, in spite of all Satan could do, enabled them to reach their reward?
Anna and Simeon
Luke records that Simeon (2:22-35) and Anna (2:35-38) were older people who still had great faith. Of Simeon it is recorded that he was devout and “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” When he saw Jesus, he took him into his arms and blessed God for being able to be alive to see Him and announced that he was now ready to “depart in peace.” Of Anna it is recorded that she was about 84 years of age, yet constantly in the temple, serving God night and day. Like Simeon, she waited for the “redemption” of her people. What gave these two their great faith? Why were they so eager for spiritual things? What can I do to be like them?
Perhaps the one thing that stands out in the lives of both Anna and Simeon is their sense of expectancy toward God. Life was not the same old grind day after day to these people. They were looking for something to happen. They had a goal. Life was exciting and they lived it with anticipation. “Oh,” you say, “I could have that same attitude if I could have been alive to witness the birth of Jesus.” But don’t you see, Jesus is coming again. Perhaps we can be alive to see Jesus return. Regardless, we are going to meet Him. If this sense of anticipation, this excitement, this goal kept the faith and Anna and Simeon alive and viable then, it can do the same for us today. Jesus is coming again. Have faith! Be faithful!
For many people, heaven is not real. It is a word. It has a definition, but it is meaningless. Perhaps this is why some Christians become unfaithful. Heaven is just a word with no meaning. But we can be thankful that among that cloud of witnesses stands a man called Abraham. His faith never dimmed and he reached the finish line. What helped Abraham reach his goal?
Abraham looked forward to going home. “For he looked for a city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10). “. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (11: 16).
Ask soldiers on duty in a foreign country what “home” means to them. It isn’t necessary to consult a dictionary! Just a word? Just a definition? No, indeed. It thrills the soul to think of “going home. ” Such thoughts have moved poets and song-writers alike. “Home” has kept the prisoner’s sanity intact and soothed the wanderer’s miles. Now, apply that to heaven. Abraham was going home. The miles grew short and the feet grew light as the journey drew to a close. No detours or side-trips for him, thank you. No return to the false security of Chaldea for him. He had his eye on the finish line. Now, Abraham is home and he is telling us that we have a place there too. Is your faith or zeal ebbing. Think of going home. What a lift it gives the heart! I’m going home.
America has enjoyed great prosperity and is still a young nation. Numbering back to 1776 gives only slightly over 200 years of national existence. When Israel left Egypt, it was after 400 years and most of that was spent in slavery. Again, slavery is only a word to most of us but to them it meant back-breaking, unending toil. Slavery meant bondage, being held as a piece of chattel property. Deliverance from Egypt was freedom, indeed. Freedom, like home, is often appreciated only after we have been away from it. Those Americans who were captives of Iran demonstrated the happiness that comes from being set free after imprisonment. But we as Christians have a freedom that costs more and means more: freedom from sin. While a lack of faith among the Israelites often made them forget the blessing of deliverance from Egypt, there were those who understood the blessing and their feet were light as they left the place of bondage. (Here we are reminded of another song we sing, “Camping Towards Canaan’s Land.”) Can we not appreciate also what it means to be free from the bondage of sin? Can this freedom ever become boring, dreary or dull?
How is it possible to forget the wonderful thing it is to be a Christian when I look around at those still in bondage and see their suffering in sin? It is a constant thrill to be able to tell others about the freedom in Christ. It may be that those in the church today who are bored and who are losing their faith have forgotten how they were cleansed from sin, delivered from darkness. It may be that they have not been telling others about this freedom and it is not kept fresh in our minds. Worship, Bible study or any aspect of service to the Lord can never be burdensome in view of the burdens of sin I have laid down.
Temptations And Trials
A young boy once said that he “enjoyed a whipping.” When asked why, he replied, “Because it feels so good when it is over.” Something like that might describe the life of those in Hebrews I I who finally reached their reward after the long and bloody trail of persecution. It is said that light gets brighter as the darkness deepens. So also hope gets stronger as persecutions increase. Faith in Christ in the first century found its greatest reception in the hearts of the persecuted classes. Hard times have caused some Christians today to fall away. But so has prosperity. We need to learn that adversity and prosperity are but two sides of the same coin: trials of our faith. In the midst of fife with all its varied trials, we need to keep our hope strong. That beloved writer of the Hebrew letter (whoever he may be) put it this way: “. . . we have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil . . .” (6:18-20). Jesus is the basis and foundation of our hope and he is in heaven. That is where our hope is anchored. Hope . . . anchor . . .heaven . . . home . . . Jesus! Life can never overcome us when we have this kind of hope. If worship and service is boring you, you have lost your hope and need to have it rekindled. Don’t give up your hope.
Old Age And Death
We mentioned Anna and Simeon earlier who were of great age yet still loved the Lord and were faithful. Is it not possible that age becomes a great friend to those of us who want to go to heaven? Do you remember your life as a teenager? Physical things were so important! Material possessions were never enough when compared to what others had. Sex was such a driving force, took up so much of your thoughts and often obscured the right path. Now that a kind of plateau of age has been reached, we can truly look back on some of those things and regulate them to a lower level. The world is not going to come to an end if I don’t get a new cart All material things loose their luster with time. In perspective, the things that meant so much to us while younger don’t have the same priority. We look at life differently. Folks, don’t feel badly about this! Wouldn’t it be terrible to be a teenager all your life? Wouldn’t it be awful to have the same wants and desires now as you did then? There is something to be said for growing older. And as we get older and realize that we are nearer to heaven than when we first believed, it can bring a sense of relief and peace that has not been experienced before. Believe me, I wouldn’t trade places with a teenager for all the sports cars in Detroit. How sad to see a Christian loose faith and fall away as he gets older. How terrible to miss this plateau of spiritual strength that becomes a springboard for death itself. From this vantage point, death is but a small step into a better place (Phil. 1:21). The death of a teenager seems such a waste; the death of an aged Christian seems so natural. Is this not one explanation of why faith should become sweeter as the years go by? Doesn’t this explain a lot about the character of this group we have been analyzing: those whose faith increases day by day and year by year?
How Is It With You?
In and out, near and far, up and down, faithful and unfaithful – opposites all that explain the facts of our existence. Which is it with you today? Is your faith increasing or decreasing? Are you getting stronger or weaker. Do you enjoy your worship and service to God or has it all become terribly dull? In the lives of those who have walked this way before us are some lessons to be learned that encourage, help and give us direction. It is my prayer for you and for me that, along with Anna and Simeon and a host of others, our faith will be sweeter as the years go by.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 5, pp. 129, 146-147, 151
March 1, 1984