Monday, October 1, 2012

Winning the Battle, But Losing the War

By Wayne Polk

How often have we seen people who got so involved in fighting for a cause they lost sight of the true essence of the cause for which they were fighting? Not too long ago a political advocacy group was standing in behalf of what they perceived to be a free speech issue.  In their opinion their point of view was not being heard on the radio by enough people. Their solution was to take those with the opposing point of view off the air.  When asked how silencing the opposition would further free speech, they had no real answer—just “it’s fair.”  They had become so involved in their agenda that they had lost sight of the real issue.

Sadly, as foolish as such may sound, many a sincere Christian has made that same mistake.  In the early verses of Revelation chapter 2 we read of a church that did that very thing.  The church at Ephesus was as dedicated to the cause of keeping the doctrine of Christ pure and to actively doing the work of God.  Such is indeed laudable, but the problem was, they were so involved in the battle, they forgot the objective of the war.  In silencing false teachers, they had accomplished very important objectives, but while doing so, strayed from the primary goal.

When the Apostle Paul last met with the elders of the church at Ephesus , he warned them to be on guard against false teachers who would come in during his absence (Acts 20:28-30).  Indeed they gave heed to the inspired warning and remained vigilant.  Likewise when the Apostle left Timothy, his young assistant, in Ephesus , his instructions were to teach those who were straying not to teach any other doctrine, and Timothy was successful in completing that assignment. However, though that battle was won, the overall goal was missed, for Timothy was also instructed that “…the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).  The  tragic result was a warning from Jesus, “Repent, or I will remove you as My church.”

The church at Ephesus was not at all rebellious: in fact, they were very eager to please God, but they were not doing so. They had started off as a loving church (Eph. 1:15), but they had become so involved in defending the truth that their love had taken a back seat to what today we often refer to as “faithfulness.”  For certain, doctrinal purity is important, but in the absence of love, it will be of no avail.  The truth must be tempered with love (Eph. 4:15).

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus did not hesitate in His reply: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  Then Jesus volunteered the second most important command: “The second is like it.  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:36-40).  The Apostle John quotes our Lord as telling His disciples what would be the thing that most clearly distinguished His followers from those who were not: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35).

While no one would dispute that it is of vital importance that Christians teach no other doctrine than that which was once for all delivered to the saints, it is noteworthy to observe that Jesus did not say that we would be known as His disciples by the doctrine that we teach.  Likewise, He also did not say that the most important thing was to teach pure and undefiled religion.  Pure and undefiled religion is practiced as well as taught.  (James 1:26-27)  In the same vein, love is not a doctrine that we teach with words only, but is reflected in the way we care for one another and for those in need.  (James 2:14-26;  1 John 3:13-23) 

The message of Jesus to the Ephesian church is a lesson for us all.  The failure to love makes all else in our Christian endeavor of little or no value, for without love, Jesus Himself will remove our lampstand.  “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

- via THE SOWER, a weekly publication of the Arthur Church of Christ, Arthur, IL. Ron Bartanen, who serves as minister and editor, may be contacted through the congregation's website:

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