“`I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them.’ John 17:9, 10. Mark the words. It is Jesus Christ that is praying to His Father, `and all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them.’ Is it truth? Are we Bible believers? Is Christ glorified in us? I want you to consider this. He is speaking of the oneness and that unity that shall exist with Christ and His disciples. In that unity, in that oneness, Christ is glorified in us. Now I would have you consider how very light a matter many of us make of seeking to preserve this unity. Why, this unity with believers in and through Christ is the great strength of the church! The oneness, the love which through their faith and unity exists with God’s people through faith in Christ, is a power.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 194.
What is the strength of the church? Inspiration says it is the unity of the believers. Since this is true, it is surely important that we study this subject and understand how we can have unity with each other. Consider this statement from Signs of the Times, February 7, 1895: “If the members of the church are one with Christ, there will be union one with another. The unity of believers will be a living testimony to the world of the power of the Gospel. When there is love one to another, the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness will be diffused to a world that lies in darkness. Why can we not see from the lessons of Christ, and especially from His prayer for the unity of believers, that Christians must be perfect in unity in order to represent the glory of their Redeemer? If those who believe the truth would bring the prayer of Christ into their practical life, they would grow up into the full stature of men and women in Christ Jesus. As believers in Christ, we are `built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.'”
Christ is glorified in His people when we have unity and if we are going to have unity we must first become one with Christ: not just in spirit, but in character. To become one with Christ in character we must, by His grace and power, learn to keep His law, for it is a transcript of God’s character.
In the first Psalm it says that the righteous man meditates on the law of God day and night. The law of God and the gospel go hand-in-hand. However, the devil’s work has been to separate them in the minds of men. And he has been successful with many people. If you asked the typical Christian today “Do you love God?” they would say, “Oh, yes, I love God.” But if you asked them, “Do you love the law of God?” they would have to say no, if they told the truth. Now that is a contradiction of terms because the Ten Commandments are a description of the character of God. You cannot love God and hate His law. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide [continue] in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and I abide in His love.” John 15:10.
Becoming one with Christ, will result in unity (not uniformity). When we are all in harmony with the law of God, we will be in harmony with one another. When I discovered this principle, it caused me to do some very serious thinking. I realized that if there is dissension or strife among us then one or more people are not keeping the commandments. We need to ask ourselves whenever there is strife or dissension “Is there some commandment that I am not keeping.”
In Selected Messages, Book 2, 159, it reads: “Unity is the strength of the church. Satan knows this, and he employs his whole force to bring in dissension. He desires to see a lack of harmony among the members of the church of God. Greater attention should be given to the subject of unity. What is the recipe for the cure of the leprosy of strife and dissension? Obedience to the commandments of God.”
In this article, we will study just one of the commandments. As I have studied this commandment, I have become convinced that if we kept this one commandment, strife would no longer exist in our homes or churches. However, there is a catch. It is impossible to keep this commandment and not keep the others, for this first commandment lays the foundation for all of the other nine.
The Meaning of Worship
From the very beginning of the great controversy it has been the devil’s purpose to overthrow God’s law. His rebellion was primarily against the first commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3. (See The Great Controversy, 582.) The devil wanted to place himself above God and receive the worship, which belongs to God alone.
In John 4:23, the Bible tells us that the Father seeks the worship of mankind. That is His prerogative as God-for only God deserves worship. In order for us to learn what it means to keep the first commandment, we must first understand the whole concept of worship. Often, when we think of worship, the outward motions come to mind. We teach our children to bow their heads, fold their hands and close their eyes when they come to the Father in prayer. However, these are just the outward motions of worship, and although they can help place us in an attitude for worship, they do not constitute true worship. God seeks those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth.” True worship, therefore, is an action of the mind and heart, not just a standard set of motions.
I have found that it is sometimes helpful, when I am trying to grasp the understanding of a word, to look at other words that have the same or similar meanings. One synonym for worship is respect. In order to worship someone, you must have profound respect or reverence for that person. If we really have profound respect for God, then there will be very practical results in our lives. For example: since we are free-moral agents, it is possible that there will be times when we will have differences of opinion with God. If we find out that we have a difference of opinion with God, who do you think needs to change? If I truly honor God, I will surrender my opinion to the Lord’s divine command. However, all too often we set ourselves up in the place of God and move forward following our own plans, contrary to inspiration. By doing this we are in actuality saying, “God, I realize we have a difference of opinion, and I have decided to follow my way, because I think it is the best for me.” But if we allow God to be God then we will respect Him so much that we will seek to have our minds brought into harmony with His mind.
Another practical example that we can learn, from the first commandment, has to do with God’s rightful authority as the king of the universe. Because God is the rightful king of the worlds He created, He has absolute authority. However, He never abuses His authority by exercising it arbitrarily. All His commands are based on moral principles, which He has devised for the good of His children. (This is something that parents should keep in mind when they are tempted to control their children by using arbitrary authority.) How does God’s absolute authority as a king relate to us? Since the first commandment says that we should have no other gods, should we ever set up any other king? No. Because if we ever give a person or a group of people kingly authority, in a nation, or church or home, we have placed that person in the place of God, to a certain extent, and that is breaking the first commandment.
How is it in your home? Husbands how do you relate to your wives? Parents how do you relate to your children? How is it in your local church? Jesus said, “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” Matthew 23:10. The word that is here translated “masters” means a ruler or someone who controls the whole operation. Jesus said, “Do not be called masters for you are all brothers.”
The devil’s way to get unity and harmony is to create a hierarchical system where the person at the top calls the orders and everyone follows that man. With that system there can be a type of unity. For an example of this, look at the papacy. It is set up in this way as was the Jewish church in the time of Christ, and they both achieved a type of unity that appears quite effective. However, a hierarchy can never bring about the true unity God wants His followers to have. In fact, throughout the Spirit of Prophecy, the word “hierarchy” is always associated with the devil’s mode of operation.
When Self is Our God
There are some things that God can do, because He is God, which you and I cannot do. One of these things that God alone can do is judge the hearts and motives of individuals. In Matthew 7:1, 2, Jesus forbids us to do this. He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Unfortunately, how often do we try to take God’s place and judge the motives of one another? If you have been around where people are gossiping or backbiting, you will notice that a tremendous amount of judging of people’s motives and hearts and characters takes place in those gatherings. Would this be different if you and I realized that every time we judge someone’s motives we are breaking the first commandment? Whenever we do this we are placing ourselves where God alone should be, and taking over the prerogative that He alone possesses.
The very first being to break God’s law was Lucifier, and he broke the first commandment. Who did Lucifer try to set up in the place of God? Himself. Who am I in the greatest danger of setting up in the place of God? Self. We have all probably read what inspiration says about dying to self. For the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy say much on this subject, but, after when we have studied this, do we realize that if we do not die to self, we are allowing self to be set up in the place of God? When I began studying this I started wondering who of us is keeping the commandments? We have no room for self-confidence when we study this subject. How much we need the Lord’s transforming power in our lives!
When Self is Alive
Have you ever had your feelings hurt? We all have. When we get our feelings hurt, that is proof that self is not dead. And have you noticed that wherever there is a person with hurt feelings, there is sure to be all manner of trouble. When this trouble comes into the church, unity is lost. As we read, in the beginning of this article, the church can no longer be strong, for “in unity there is strength.” (By the way, you only need to have one person who really has their feelings hurt about something to tear up a home church.) I know what some will be saying, “But, Pastor John, quit being so hard on me. You don’t know how awful the people in my church are treating me.” I may not, but I do know that if we are going to survive the shaking and be found standing with the people of God in the end, we must learn to keep the first commandment and we must die to self. Self can be our god no longer.
I have often observed another way that we break the first commandment. Often people come to me, either by letter, telephone or in person, and they say something to this effect, “Well, Pastor John, what do you think about this?” And then they give me a document or tell me about a doctrinal theory they have which is not based on the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy. Sometimes I choose not to respond because I am not interested in arguing, but if I feel that a soul might be in danger, I will speak up and let the sparks fly. Here is an example of a typical conversation, which I have had several times, when people come to me with Aryan beliefs about the Godhead. After they present their case, that concludes that Christ is a created being and not really equal with the Father, I might read to them this quotation from The Desire of Ages, 530. It says: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.” Then I ask the person, “What does that mean?” To me it means just what it says. However, one time an individual sent me a book of many pages, to explain how this quotation does not really mean what it says. After I read it, I went back and read the quotation again and I thought, “It still says the same thing.”
What is the problem here? When the word of God says it pointblank, what is the problem? The problem is, friend, we are breaking the first commandment. We have set up our own reason in the place of the real God. That is why we have so much theological controversy and fanaticism in our midst. We have set up our minds in the place of God. If we continue to do this will we go to heaven? Certainly not, for no one who continues to break God’s commandments is going to be there. Do you see the seriousness of fanaticism? The false ideas are not the root of the problem. The problem is that self is not dead.
I am sorry if that sounds hard, but it is reality. The first commandment is reality. It is right at the basis, the foundation, of all of the Ten Commandments. The most basic question is who is your god? I have told many audiences, during evangelistic meetings, “Whether you go to church on Sabbath or Sunday is not the issue. The issue is who is going to be god in your life? Who has the authority to tell you when to go to church? Will you let self or the traditions of men be your god, or will you submit to the God of all the universe and obey His commands?” Here again we see how the entire law rests upon the first commandment.
In The Great Controversy, 595, Ellen White says: “But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men . . . the voice of the majority-not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain `Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.”
Dear friends, this is a lesson we must learn. When we begin to keep the first commandment and put God and His word first in our lives, dying to self and its demands, the strife and contention among us will cease. As I have studied this, I have felt my own great need and I am praying that the Lord will work a miracle in my life so that self will be dead all the time. I do not want any other gods. How about you? We need to ask ourselves what could happen in our home churches, where the devil is coming in and causing so much dissension and strife, if in our hearts we made a commitment to have no other gods beside the Lord. What could happen if we were dead to self so that we did not have hurt feelings and so that we did not speak evil of each other?
Sheep and Stress
Decades ago, some researchers studied the whole subject of stress, using sheep as their research subjects. To study how stress affects sheep, they placed young sheep in a pen which had a floor built on a grid that allowed an electrical shock to be sent to any area of the pen. Now that is certainly stress, for an animal to suddenly be shocked. In their experiments, they would start by sending a shock to the sheep when it was in just one corner of the pen. When the animal learned to avoid that part of the pen, they would start sending the electrical charge to another area of the pen where the animal was. Then he had two spots to avoid. A little while later they would give him another shock in another spot. Now he had three places to avoid. How many places can an animal remember to avoid? This got very stressful for these laboratory animals. In fact, it was so stressful that they eventually had a nervous breakdown. They would just stand in one spot and shake all the time.
That is what the devil wants to do to you and I. He works it out so that someone treats you badly and you have your feelings hurt. Then later it happens again, but this time with another person, and so soon you decide that half the people in your home church just do not like you because they have done all these terrible things. So what are you going to do? Maybe you could split up and start another home church across the street and then when you get that one full, do you know what will happen? You will go through the same process all over again. Churches will just keep splitting, splitting, splitting, because we cannot get along, we hurt each other’s feelings.
What is the solution? These researchers found that when they took the laboratory animals and put them on the same grid, but this time they put the mother sheep in with the younger animal, the young sheep learned to run to its mother, when it was shocked. After a while the young sheep was so confident that his mother was there and that he was not in danger that he did not worry about the shock. He just jumped a little bit and went on thinking nothing about it. That is the point we need to come to in Adventism. We need to come to the place that we trust our heavenly Father so much, that when someone does something that causes us pain, we immediately go to the Lord and say, “Lord, I am surrendering my feelings to You. Help me to die to self and to do Your will. Lift me up into a holy atmosphere and cause Your love to flow through me. Help me to love my enemies and to bless those that curse me and do good to those who hate me and to pray for those who despitefully use me and persecute me.”
Can this be done? It can and it must. Each of us want to go to heaven and if we want to get along together there, we must first learn to get along here. There is no rehabilitation program in heaven where we can learn to get along with our “enemies.” We must learn here in our homes and churches, or we will not go to that better place. And how are we going to learn to get along? We must learn from the first commandment that God is Number One. Self must die, and God must reign supreme in our lives.
Friend, are you going to keep the first commandment? Do you want to ask the Lord to help you and say, “Lord, I do not want any other gods in my life. I am tired of making myself a god and having so much pride in my own opinion and being so sensitive when someone has a different opinion than mine.” Do you want to keep the first commandment? It will change your home, your church, and most of all, it will help you get ready for heaven. If this is your desire, ask the Lord to work this miracle in your life and surrender to Him so that He can change your life completely.