By Dan King Sr.
How different our perspective can be in viewing people today and those of the past. We have a tendency as human beings to glorify the former days and to set the men and women of those times upon pedestals and see them as almost superhuman. Things now are never precisely as they were back then. People now are never as they were in “the days of yore.” Or, so we tend to think.
In reality things are pretty much as they have always been. I do not mean to say that we have not made considerable progress technologically, for obviously we have. Civilization looks very different on the surface from the way it looked even one hundred years ago, let alone a thousand years ago. But when you look below the surface, things are very similar to the way things were thousands of years hence. Public officials tend to be corrupt; government does not have the confidence of the people; taxes are too high; prices have gone up and wages have gone down; hostilities and hatreds abound; tyrants and despots threaten world peace; the world looks like a very dangerous place. What else is new?
Those of us who respect the Bible and take it as our rule of faith, read of the heroes of those times and wonder sometimes at their courage in the face of all odds. It is only when we read, Elijah for example, “was a man of like passions with us” (Jas. 5:17), that we recognize that they must have felt the same fears and frustrations that we do. As the writer James points to the prophets “for an example of suffering and of patience,” he says that “we call them blessed that endured” (5:10, 11). We respect them, admire them, and hold them up as examples for all generations.
So did the Jews of Jesus’ day. They admired and respected such saints as Abraham, Moses, and Elijah. They thought of them as heroes of faith. And, they thought of themselves as sons of the prophets. But the Lord said of them, “You build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets…” (Matt. 23:29-31). In the end, they murdered the Son of God. Indeed, they were not “sons of the prophets” but the “sons of them that slew the prophets.” It would have been hard for these religious zealots ever to have seen themselves in this role. But that is what the Lord called them and that is what they were.
Our day is not peopled with inspired prophets. All we can do at the present time is quote Scripture and cite Holy Writ as the authority for our preaching and teaching. The Bible is the God-breathed, and authoritative will of heaven (2 Tim. 3:15-17). When men truly speak from the Bible today, they speak with all the authority of Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, and his apostles and prophets. “If any man speak, let him speak as the Oracles of God” (I Pet. 4:11). So long as they contend earnestly for “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), their words are those of God. If they add to the message or delete anything from it, then the condemnation of heaven rests upon them and they ought not be respected or even given a hearing among the sons of men (Rev. 22:18-19; Deut. 4:2).
We must be on guard against this human tendency to “call them blessed that endured” and yet, by our actions in the present time, prove ourselves the “sons of them that slew the prophets.” Paul warned Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3). By its very nature and essence, the Word of the Lord condemns the sins of every generation, ours included. Our own attitude toward God’s reproving Word and its messengers establishes which camp we are in.
Here are three pieces of scriptural advice which should help us to keep on the proper path:
1. Be sure we are really listening to what is being said. Too often we jump to conclusions before the speaker has finished his thought. The Pharisees pre-judged Jesus this way, and here is what the Lord said about it: “Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them” (Matt. 13:13-15).
2. Know that how we hear others distinguishes us as children of truth or of error. It branded the enemies of Jesus as enemies of God: “He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47). Likewise, rejecting the words of the apostles separated them from those who hearkened to them, and distinguished the latter as the faithful: “They are of the world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (I John 4:5-6).
3. Know that God’s word must be the final court for judgment of the words of all men. Every false teacher and every counterfeit prophet tries in some way to take the eyes of his followers off the Bible. Either he attempts to subvert its proper understanding, or he wants to discredit it, so that he may be looked upon as the authority among those who are his disciples. God’s true nobility are rather like the people described in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” God’s Word should decide for us what is true of the words of men.
Giving lip-service to the cause of the ancient prophets was insufficient for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and it will not suffice for us. Rather, having the courage to decry the sins of our own time, in our families, in our congregations, yea, in our own lives this is what makes us worthy to “call them blessed that endured”! Let us pray that we may do so with sincerity and prove it by our actions!
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 9 p. 3-4
May 4, 1995