I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. â 2 Timothy 4:1â5 (NASB)
In the first article on this website titled, âIs the Rapture Really Taking As Many As You Think?â, I used the event of the Rapture (without going into the eschatology behind it) as a vehicle to suggest that with all the false movements currently wreaking havoc within the Church, with so many followers of false teachers and false prophets, and with the general tolerance of sin within the Christian community, that not everyone who claims the label âChristianâ or even âEvangelicalâ is currently meeting the minimum biblical requirements to participate in that event.
I followed this up with the article, âWho Will Be Left Behind?â which explained from Scripture that those who will be left behind the second go-round will be the same ones âleft behindâ at Christâs First coming, people who claim an association with God but refuse to accept Christ on His terms, who further refuse to deal with willful sin and false doctrine in their life, and are ultimately proven false by their lack of spiritual fruit. But now I can fully divulge my ultimate destination in tackling this subject: who is responsible?
The vast amount of finger pointing focuses on the myriad false teachers and the powerful false movements they propel, but while this is significant, I am going to offer these may not be the most guilty party. Those who just might have to shoulder the greatest burden of responsibility for the âgreat falling awayâ of these final hours is you and I.
When it comes to deception in the Last Days, most commentators quote verses 3 and 4 above to discuss the problem of apostasy or false teachers. By leaving out the verses on both sides, it is very easy to lose sight that the true context is not a detached observation about others, but a specific call to action directing what we should do about it. This is not merely information to understand the situation but instructions detailing the expectation of how we will respond.
In Paulâs instructions to Timothy quoted above, I highlighted our responsibility when false teachers arise and how to deal with them. Most of us will not be afraid to âpreachâ, and because âexhortâ has a positive ring to it we donât feel much discomfort there, but when it comes to âreproveâ and ârebukeâ the knees go wobbly and the heart rate revs uncomfortably higher. In part I think this is because when we read the many New Testament requirements that Believers are to hold other Believers accountable, we read it in a detached sort of way that this is something “someone else” will do because we either do not feel qualified or believe it is someone else’s responsibility.
Those terms by themselves on the one hand demand that we know the Truth to begin with (every term is a form of applying Godâs Word), but on the other hand demands that we look at our own spiritual condition first before launching into an exploration of someone elseâs walk. Many faithful and authentic Believers are uncomfortable with the challenge that within their own fellowship they must go forth and âpreachâ, âreproveâ, ârebukeâ, and âexhortâ. I get it. We are loathe to throw the first stone because we are acutely aware of our own, fragile spiritual condition. The problem is that we read such things in isolation from their true context, and I submit that the true context in this case is âfamilyâ.
It does not take a genius Bible scholar to uncover the truth that church is supposed to be a family. God is our Father, we are His children, we are co-heirs with the Son, and the New Testament is riddled with family terminology. I have come to believe that so many are afraid to âpreachâ, âreproveâ, ârebukeâ, and âexhortâ because they and their fellow church attendees are not a family; they are merely co-located together.
In a true and properly functioning family, these terms do not invoke the same kind of fear. And why is that? Because a properly functioning family dynamic is dominated by love. True love overcomes the fear of not being âqualifiedâ to âreproveâ or ârebukeâ. Families who truly love and care for each other do the hard things because they are not worried about whether or not they are qualified to do the difficult things because their motivation is the sincerest expression of love.
If we do not have the kind of church fellowship which mirrors a family relationship, I absolutely agree that we are going to make little headway should we attempt to âpreachâ, âreproveâ, ârebukeâ, or âexhortâ. If we should walk over to someone who in reality we only casually know from our once-a-week joint encounter at a Sunday morning service and say, âIâve seen you cattinâ âround town with that married womanâ, the impartation of truth is probably not going to achieve any kind of change. But if we actually had a relationship with them and could approach them with, âI am so concerned over what you are doing to your wife and children whom I have come to love as dearly as my ownâ, it may not be 100% guaranteed that the situation will be set aright, but the odds are astronomically higher. This all speaks to one of the most significant signs of the End Timesâ¦
âBecause lawlessness is increased, most peopleâs love will grow cold.â â Matthew 24:12 (NASB)
I elaborated on this in an article last year titled, âThe Real Problem Is That It Is Getting Colderâ, but a loving, biblical relationship is what is required to be able to correct âlawlessnessâ through the application of the Word through preaching, reproving, rebuking, or exhorting.
I have no doubt that someone in a fellowship who has no personal relationship with an attendee who is a Christian in name only is going to have little success effecting a change. That is because we are not co-workers, we are not merely members of the same group, but we are supposed to be family. False teachers and false movements play a significant part in what is going on today, but no small part of what is going on can be attributed to anything less than a failure in personal relationships within the walls of the institution we call âchurchâ. People who truly love each other in such a family dynamic have the best advantage to âsave others, snatching them out of the fireâ. (Jude 23)
I am not saying this is a guarantee. We have all experienced or known loved ones who, in spite of our loving attempts to the contrary, still go their own way. All I am saying is that unless we pursue a right and loving relationship with those in our fellowship, there is little chance that merely stating the truth to them will accomplish anything. I am not talking about evangelism to the unsaved who have never heard the Gospel, but rescuing those who have responded to the Gospel at least in part but without fully completing that commitment.
In the course of instructing the Ephesians concerning spiritual gifts (Eph. 4) and their purpose to âattain to the unity of the faithâ so that we might combat âevery wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful schemingâ (Eph. 4:13-14) â another instance of dealing with false teachers, Paul provides the contextâ¦
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. â Ephesians 4:15â16 (NASB)
I am not trying to hurt your feelings, and I am not absolving any false teacher or false movement of its responsibility, but we have to face some hard facts here. If we possessed a biblical, family-based relationship with the people with whom we fellowship, we would be in the best position to address the need to meet Christ on His own terms. We would be in the best position to address the presence of willful sin. We would be in the best position to address the issue of a lack of spiritual fruit. And we would be in the best position to snatch them out of the fire.
There seem to be a significant number of Christians who do not feel the need to âinterfereâ in another church memberâs life because they stick by the notion that Jesus will take care of it. After all, once someone raises their hand for Jesus, it does not matter how they act, does it? Their ticket to heaven is guaranteed and therefore it does not matter if such do not live like a Christian, make no effort to change their life, nor even bear the spiritual fruit Scripture so often speaks of. I find this variation of an unconditional âonce saved, always savedâ attitude disconcerting. Without arguing this point theologically, I believe the greater issue is that it is a smoke screen, an excuse people use to justify themselves for not developing the kind of interpersonal relationships Scripture demands from the New Testament family.
For those of us who were born-again during what was certainly the last, authentic large-scale revival in America which roughly ran from 1967-1977, there was something very telling which took place. During that time it was very unusual to attend a Bible-believing fellowship of any shape, size, or denomination who allowed a week to go by without singing one of two songs. It did not matter if it was a small group of hippies with a guitar or a more traditional church in suits and ties with an organ and choir; arguably two of the defining songs of that time were âThe Family of Godâ and âThey Will Know We Are Christians By Our Loveâ. Like many of the revivals throughout history, hymns and songs sprung up to express one of the indicators of a true New Testament revival â a church acting and loving like a family.
One of the other things I have come to believe is that just as secular music reflects the state of the worldly culture we live in, Christian music reflects the state of the spiritual culture within the church. The majority of new songs I encounter are geared to expressing how God makes me feel or how I feel about God rather than extolling and praising the greater qualities of His godhood. And it has certainly been a very long time since I have heard someone singing about the familial love of the Body of Christ for each other. For me it is yet another sign of the End Times and another confirmation that the love of many has already grown cold.
Paul concludes his instructions to Timothyâ¦
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. â 2 Timothy 4:5 (NASB)
In the context of working within our local fellowships, love is not easily attainable. (Perhaps that will be the subject of a future article.) But again I would argue that each of these things extracted individually are quite difficult if they are isolated from the need to pursue biblical, loving relationships. And when it comes to church organization, lest we forget, what is known as âThe Love Chapterâ of 1 Corinthians 13 comes in the midst of instructions on the proper application of spiritual gifts. As Paul progresses into 1 Corinthians 14 to finish his teaching on the gifts, he summarizes, âLet all things be done for edificationâ. (1 Co. 14:26) No matter what gift a person has or what office or position they claim to occupy, the authority and working of that individual gift is never enough to overcome an equal application of the pursuit of love which is most born out in our personal relationships. The gifts are meant to build a family, not establish an individual career path.
Why are some going to be left behind? Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the purveyors of deception and false doctrine, some attributed to the willful retention of sin, and some even further to a lifestyle of providing the external appearance of a Christian but in reality being nothing more than a fruitless fruit tree because, âevery tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fireâ. (Lk. 3:9) But what about the responsibility of the spiritually aware to make a good faith effort to reach them? What is our obligation to provide the opportunity for them to make things right by preaching, reproving, rebuking, and/or exhorting?
âBut if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchmanâs handââ¦But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. â Ezekiel 33:9 (NASB)
I am not asking you to explain the eschatology of the Rapture or to educate them on how to understand prophetic Scripture. I am asking that since you already know such things, why are you not consumed with seeing so many in your own sphere of influence “to turn from his way” so that their Christian walk is in line with your eschatology and understanding? Even Scripture does not guarantee they will all respond as they should, but can you see we have to make the effort? And I do not think we would be either so fearful or reluctant if we were pursuing this not as a theologian from the mind but a family member from the heart. Not everything that is taking place in this growing age of apostasy is directly attributable to false teachers and false doctrines; there is also a very big problem with false love.
While there are still true and faithful Believers who are willing to proceed from the difficult task of establishing a personal relationship with such people, there is still a chance to save them. They might not listen to a prophet or a pastor or a watchman, but they just might listen to a brother or sister or mother or father. The challenge for us is whether in a time of growing darkness and when it is most difficult to love, whether we will seek to be more like the church at Philadelphia or completely succumb to the likes of Laodicea.