By Irvin Himmel
God’s Word Has Valuable Use:
- It is a lamp and a light.
- It produces faith.
- It is for doctrine (teaching), reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
- It is the Spirit’s sword to combat sin and error.
Anything that has legitimate and beneficial use may be subjected to abuse. By abuse is meant improper treatment, harmful employment, mishandling, or inappropriate application.
The Israelites became discouraged when they had to detour around the land of Edom. They spoke against God and against Moses. The Lord punished them by sending fiery serpents among them. Many people were bitten and died. Moses prayed and the Lord told him to make a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole. Anyone bitten by a fiery serpent could look on the serpent of brass and live (Num. 21:4-9). The brazen serpent had appropriate use. God appointed it to test the faith of the people. It is referred to in John 3:14,15. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wildemess, so must the Son of man be lifted up. By looking to Jesus in trusting faith we are promised eternal life.
Hundreds of years after the time of Moses the good king Hezekiah initiated needed reforms in the Kingdom of Judah. He removed the high places, destroyed images, and attempted to clean out idolatry. The brazen serpent had been kept as a relic but was subjected to abuse. The people were burning incense to it, treating it as an idol. Hezekiah correctly broke it in pieces (2 Kings 18:1-3). That which had been divinely authorized for a particular use long before had been employed improperly.
The temple in Jerusalem had valuable use. It was the center of Jewish worship and God put his name there (1 Kings 9:3). In the days of Christ’s earthly ministry the temple was treated with abuse. Our Master cast out all who were buying and selling, overthrew the tables of the money changers and the seats of them that sold doves, reminding them, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:12, 13).
Let us now consider the subject of use and abuse as it applies to other things.
Use of the Bible: God’s word has valuable use in a number of ways.
1. It is a lamp and a light. Dark- ness is a fitting emblem of ignorance, wickedness, and the whole realm of evil. We need light to guide us in a world that lies in darkness. With the psalmist we can say, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” “The entrance of thy words giveth light . . .” (Ps. 119:105, 130). The Bible should be used to enlighten our understanding and to guide our footsteps.
2. It produces faith. Signs per- formed by Jesus were written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30, 31). Faith comes by hear- ing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Faith is not dependent on a direct out- pouring of the Spirit or some mystical operation. God designed that we use the Bible to produce faith.
3. It is for doctrine (teaching), re- proof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). When the God-breathed Scriptures are put to use, the man of God is thoroughly equipped for all good works. There is no need for human creeds, catechisms, confessions of faith, church manuals, etc.
4. It is the Spirit’s sword to combat sin and error. Every Christian needs to use the sword of the Spirit “which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Study Hebrews 4:12 and be reminded that God’s word is living and active. The fight against evil must be relentless.
Abuse of the Bible: It is regrettable that some people abuse the Bible.
1. Some speak evil of the way of truth. Peter forewarned that false teachers would bring in damnable heresies, “and many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet. 2:1, 2). When Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch of Pisidia, unbelieving Jews contradicted and blasphemed (Acts 13:45). To- day, some abuse the Bible by openly contradicting it, by belittling it, by ridiculing those who attempt to teach it and live by it, and by scoffing at it as a book outdated and filled with legends and myths.
2. Some wrest the Scriptures. Peter acknowledged that in Paul’s epistles are some things hard to be understood, “which they that are unlearned and un- stable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). To “wrest” means to twist, torture, or distort. Some modern preachers are skilled at Scripture twisting. Instead of such abuse of the word of God, there should be a careful rightly dividing or handling aright of the word (2 Tim. 2:15).
3. Some alter the word of God. Moses warned, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye dimish aught from it . . .” (Deut. 4:2).
The same principle is taught in Revelation 22:18, 19. It is an abuse of the Bible to add the doctrines and commandments of men, to subtract what one may dislike, or to substitute human philosophy, theological speculations, and man-made traditions.
The Name Christian
Use of the name Christian: The name has legitimate and meaningful use when properly applied.
1. It identifies one as an adherent of Christ. At Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas assembled themselves with the church and taught much people: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Later when Paul preached to King Agrippa, he asked, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” Agrippa answered, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:27, 28). Although Agrippa may have spoken in derision, Paul was in earnest about converting the king. He wanted Agrippa to be a Christian. The name signifies that one is a follower of Christ, an adherent of Christ.
2. It is a badge of honor and glory. Peter told the suffering saints, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye . . .” There is neither honor nor glory in suffering because one is a murderer, a thief, an evil- doer, or a busybody. “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 4:14-16). James alluded to those who “blaspheme that holy name by the which ye are called” (Jas. 2:7).
Abuse of the name Christian: No name is subjected to more abuse than the name Christian.
1. “One born of Christian parents.” This is one of the definitions of the name Christian given in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. The fact that one’s parents were Christians when he was born does not make him a Christian. Being a Christian in the Bible sense is an individual matter.
2. Some apply the name to any neighborly, decent, respectable per- son. If one is morally upright and acts in a civilized manner toward others, some would pronounce him a fine Christian. If that is the case, Cornelius, the centurion, was a Christian before he ever heard the gospel! It takes more to be a Christian than being neighborly and respectable.
3. Some abuse the name Christian by applying it to nations, cultures, denominations, camps, schools, charities, music, bookstores, journals, radio and TV stations, publishing companies, burial services (“He is entitled to a Christian burial,” whatever that is), performing groups, associations, conventions, counseling services, day-care centers, hospitals, and numerous other human organizations and arrangements. This wide spread abuse has made the name Christian rather vague and meaning- less, whereas it had definite meaning in the apostolic age.
Use of prayer: According to the word of God, prayer is useful.
1. It is to express praise and thanksgiving. Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). The name of God is to be revered and exalted. Paul cautioned against anxiety, urging that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). It is fitting that prayer be used for giving praise, adoration, and thanks to God.
2. It is to make known our requests unto God. Prayer is our open line to the throne of grace. Our Father wants us to bring our petitions to that throne.
3. It is for intercessions. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). When Peter was in prison “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto
God for him” (Acts 12:5). It is right to use prayer to make intercession on behalf of kings, rulers, brethren in the Lord, and others for whom we should pray.
4. It is to ask forgiveness. Simon believed and was baptized after Philip preached Christ in Samaria. He later sinned by attempting to buy the special power that the apostles had. Peter rebuked him and entreated him, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). Jesus taught that we should pray for forgiveness of our sins (Luke 11:4). When a child of God sins, prayer is to be used as the means of confessing to God and asking for pardon.
Abuse of prayer: It is certainly possible that one might abuse prayer.
1. Praying to be seen of men is an abuse. Christ warned that we should not be as the hypocrites. They loved to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets. They prayed to be seen of men. Their full reward was whatever satisfaction they may have derived from the attention and applause of men. The correct aim in prayer is to be heard of God, not to be seen of men (Matt. 6:5, 6).
2. Some use vain repetitions. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:7, 8). Prayer is abused when vain repetitions lengthen the prayer as though much speaking is essential.
3. Some consider prayer for emergency only. A door in a public building may be marked “EXIT — FOR EMER- GENCY ONLY.” That means do not use that door unless there is a fire or some crisis out of the ordinary. It is an abuse of prayer to use it only in an emergency. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Use of the eldership: The New Testament reveals that there should be elders in every church (Acts 14:23) when men are qualified.
1. Elders are to tend and oversee the flock. Paul taught the Ephesian elders “to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter, writing as a fellow-elder, exhorted the elders to “feed (tend or shepherd) the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof . . .” (1 Pet. 5:1, 2). Each flock needs shepherds.
2. Elders watch for souls. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yoursleves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account . . .” (Heb. 13:17). Spiritual watchmen guard the flock. This is a highly important use or purpose of an eldership.
3. Elders are to teach. Qualified elders are “apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). To what extent should they be equipped to teach? They are to “be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9). They also teach by example. Such men are useful and engaged in a good work.
Abuse of the eldership: There are brethren who have a bad taste when they reflect on elders because they have seen the eldership abused.
1. Some are coerced and pressured to serve. Arm-twist- ing should never be employed when selecting elders. The words of Peter (“not by constraint, but willingly”) are to be taken seriously. The eldership is abused when men serve only because they were pressured. Their hearts are not in the work that they are supposed to be performing.
2. Some are domineering and bossy. Peter warns elders, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being en- samples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). It is sad that some elders have the attitude exemplified by Diotrephes; they love to have preeminence (3 John 9). Having served as an elder for more than a decade, I am aware that some will falsely accuse elders of “lording it over the flock” if they happen to disagree with the judgment of the overseers.
3. Some act as lawmakers and dictators. When elders appear as though they are “little gods,” the eldership is grossly abused. Elders are not authorized by the Scriptures to make laws and rules to bind on the flock. We need to remember that “there is one lawgiver” (Jas. 4:12).
Use of preaching: In the divine scheme of things preaching is useful.
1. It is to save them that believe. “For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). It is not the preaching of foolishness, but the foolishness of preaching, that is, some men regard preaching as foolishness, but God designed it to save lost souls. Jesus sent the apostles into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15, 16).
2. It is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Paul charged the young preacher Timothy to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:1, 2.)
3. It is to discuss and explain Scripture. Peter on Pentecost quoted from Joel and from David, explaining the fulfillment of their prophecies (Acts 2). Philip found the eunuch from Ethiopia reading Scripture. He began at the same Scripture, “and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Much good results when preachers open the Bible and read and explain what the text is saying.
Abuse of preaching: Most of us have witnessed abuses of preaching.
1. Some use the pulpit as a whipping post. They lash out against people constantly, sometimes in a personal vendetta. They employ preaching to cut others down to size.
2. Some preach to tranquilize the consciences of the hearers. They never condemn sin or error. They try to make everyone feel good about himself. Unlike Peter’s preaching, their sermons fail to “cut to the heart.” It is an abuse to preach simply to pat folks on the back.
3. Some preach to amuse and entertain. They would make excellent standup comedians. They crack jokes and tell funny stories. They keep the audience in laughter. Study the preaching done by Jesus and the apostles and you will find that they made no attempts to tickle funny bones. It is an abuse of preaching to use it for amusement.
4. It is abusive to preach opinions, speculations, and popular theories. Some televangelists preach almost exclusively on their speculations about prophecy and the end times. The abuse of thing does not justify our discarding it. Alexander Campbell once remarked that “if anything was bestowed on man which he could not abuse, it would be of no moral use to him — for he cannot use that which he cannot abuse. Where there can be no vice, there can be no virtue” (Millennial Harbinger, February 1833).
Shall we throw out the eldership because some have abused it? Shall we quit praying because the hypocrites abused prayer? Shall we quit preaching because some abuse preaching? Why be deprived of the profitable use of a thing merely because there can be abuse? We can guard against abuse without going to the extreme of eliminating appropriate use.