Tim Johnson, editor
April 24, 2011
Things were Written Aforetime
In My Absence
Children that are left home alone can get into all sorts of mischief. My own parents suffered the breakage of many household items as a consequence of leaving me at home with my sisters when we were young. Of course, we children also suffered some consequences when mom and dad got home.
Any parent appreciates a trustworthy child - a child who is responsible and obedient whether or not the parent is there watching over them. The same is true in the spiritual realm.
The apostles often viewed those whom they taught as their children, and it was wonderful when their children behaved on their own. The apostle John writes, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." (3 John 4).
The apostle Paul wanted his children at Corinth to imitate him while he was away: "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me." (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). Like a soldier going away to war or a businessman leaving his family for a long trip oversees, Paul encourages these children to carry on as he would. But he also lets them know that he is coming back, and that he will deal with any troublemakers when he returns. He writes, "Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power." (1 Corinthians 4:18-19). It sounds as if those who misbehaved in Paul's absence could expect a spiritual spanking!
One of the great disappointments in my life as a preacher came many years ago when I was working with a small congregation in another region. We had a visiting speaker scheduled one Sunday evening, and I decided that it would be a good time to visit another congregation in the area. When I returned home that evening, the phone was ringing off the wall with brethren calling; they were upset over an incident that had occurred in the assembly that night. In retrospect, the incident could have been averted with better communication and foresight on my part. But at that moment, I felt that I had failed the saints in that group, and that they also had let me down.
Elders and leaders in churches ought to be able to trust members to be responsible and do right whether or not they are there. Certainly, spiritual leaders need to be with and among the flock as much as possible in order to fulfill their duties. Even so, there will be times when some members of the flock, or the flock as a whole, will be on their own. The Scripture says, "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17).
While leaders must "give account" for the way they have watched over the souls in their charge, ultimately every person is responsible for his or her own obedience. In Philippians 2:12, the apostle Paul told the Philippians, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Whether Paul was present or absent, each person was responsible for their own salvation.
It may be that "when the cat's away the mice will play," but it should also be that "when the elder or preacher is away, the members will obey."
. -- Steve Klein
"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Romans 75:4).
There is no doubt that when Paul mentions the things "written aforetime" he is making reference to the Old Testament. Some have attempted to justify the authority of the Old Testament scriptures by using this verse. However, if Paul had intended that the authority of the Old Testament is still in force today (in the Dispensation of Christ), then this verse would stand in direct contradiction to other passages of Scripture. For example, Paul, writing to the Colossians, spoke of Christ and the Old Testament, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross" (Colossians 2:14). Paul, writing to the Galatians, referred to the Old Testament (the old law) as a "schoolmaster." Paul stated the purpose of the old law was "to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). In verse 25 of Galatians 3, we read "But after faith is come, we are no longer under a school-master." It is clear that Paul was speaking of the old law being brought to an end which is in keeping with what Christ said about the old law as he lived on this earth (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44). Obviously, Paul never intended for this statement, in Romans 15:4, to be used to justify the practices of some based on the authority of the Old Testament.
The question now is: What exactly did Paul say about the use of the Old Testament? He said it was for our learning so that those who suffer for righteousness will have hope. Paul speaking to Felix, said, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and prophets: And have hope toward God which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:1445). Notice that Paul said he believed all that was written in the law and prophets and he had hope as those before him had. As Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. looked by faith to the coming promise of God, so did Paul, and, in Romans 15:4, Paul is saying so should we. Think of Job and Daniel suffering because of their having a trusting faith in God. This should admonish (comfort) us to live lives that will be acceptable to God, our Father. As we think of the promises given to Abraham and the faithfulness of God in fulfilling them, this should help us to recognize that God is not "slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness but is longsuffering" (2 Peter 3:9). Men may say the world has not ended yet and that they desire to enjoy the pleasures of sin. But Paul is reminding us that the lessons of the Old Testament are invaluable to us as we live our lives by faith, trusting in the promises of God as those have so done in the days long ago.
There are many lessons we can gain from the Old Testament that can give us comfort and hope. But Romans 15:4 should never be used to try to give authority to the Old Testament Scriptures for today.
-- David Cox
In Gospel Power, Vol. II, No. 13, August 20, 1995