“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:14-17 (KJV)
How could a people or a church ever become so blind that they are actually naked and think they are clothed? It is because they have learned to depend upon their own works and their own righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ. And, though they think they are clothed, their own righteousness cannot clothe them.
It is a situation similar to the one Jesus spoke of in Luke 18:10-14. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector [or publican]. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’” Today, Pharisees are looked down upon; but back in Jesus’ day, they were respected. Publicans, on the other hand, were the worst of people in the eyes of the Jews. They did not respect God’s church, and the Jews considered them to be collaborating with the Romans. Yet Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I have often studied with sadness the history of Saul. Here was a man who was chosen and ordained of God. He knew that he had been ordained by God to lead his church. When he went out to fight God’s battles, God fought for him. But when God told him to destroy the Amalekites, he failed to do as he was told. He reasoned, “Let’s take these animals and show our appreciation and gratitude for God. Instead of just killing them and wasting them, we will sacrifice them to God.” Look, however at God’s assessment of what had taken place. “So Samuel said, ‘when you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD? And Saul said to Samuel, ‘But I obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.’ So Samuel said: ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubborness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.’” 1 Samuel 15:17-23
Saul thought he was so good, but he was blind. He thought he was clothed with righteousness, but he was absolutely naked. It says in verse 23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.” It is a solemn reality that whom God ordains for service, He can remove; and what He has ordained for service He can also remove. God ordained the children of Israel to be His people. Of them, He said, “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): if those ordinances depart from before ME, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35, 36. Even if the sun, moon, and stars should be removed, Israel would not be removed from being His people.
The children of Israel reasoned in Jesus’ day, “We are God’s people’ nothing can change that. The tide is still coming in; there are still the sun, moon, and stars.” But somehow they forgot that what God establishes, He can also remove. Though God had established Saul, he also removed Him. As with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, though God appointed them, He also removed them. Thus it was with the leadership in Jesus’ day, and thus it is today. When men begin to think that they are good because of position or works, they are absolutely blind. There is not a position or work in which we can engage that can make any one of us good. If there is any goodness in it, it is the goodness of Jesus that comes by faith in Him. But men have come to the place where they believe that they can break the Sabbath and be held guiltless. They believe that they can lie and bear false charges as the scribes and Pharisees did against Jesus in His day in order to preserve the system because it is for a good purpose, and somehow still be guiltless.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were in the holy service of God. They had come out of Egypt and gone through the Red Sea; they had eaten manna and drunk the water from the rock. More than that, some of these leaders, possibly even Korah, Dathan, and Abiram themselves, had gone up on Mt. Sinai with Moses. God chose them, through Moses, to be representatives for Him. Moses, on the other hand, was not a representative of leadership; he was a prophet. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, since they were elected and had all of the evidence of God’s leading, came to the place where they became good in their own eyes. They thought that they were “rich and had need of nothing and knew not that they were miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” They came to the place where they thought that they could do things that God had never given them permission to do.
In A.D. 364, the Council of Nicea declared that the sanctity of the Sabbath had been changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week. They did not do this by God’s authority but by church authority and church decree. They did so because they were leaders of God’s church.
It has interested me how people study the Bible and seem to twist everything to their own wishes. That was taking place in Ellen White’s day in the 1890s. The leadership was likening themselves to Moses, and anyone who did not go along with them was like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. You see, in 1888, God had chosen Jones and Waggoner and others to give the message of Christ our righteousness; but the leaders said, “Listen, this message did not go through us. What right do these people have to preach? They are not ordained by us; they have not come through our authority. We are the leaders of God’s church.” Do you know what Ellen White says about that? They were actuated by the same spirit that inspired Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” 1888 Materials, 1067. This is just one place where she says that the leaders were likened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
I have been shocked by the way committees of the church today can somehow come to believe that they have been vested with authority to disregard God’s commandments and laws. When we suppose that we can overlook all of God’s counsels on competitive sports and introduce intercollegiate sports into our schools, are we not committing the sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? Are we not coming to the place where we think that we can go against God’s counsels and make our own decisions? When we follow the practices and policies of the world instead of those laid down in the Word of God, are we not committing the sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? When Ellen White says that God will not even hear the prayer of those who go to court against a brother, and we go to court against our brethren, which the Bible strictly prohibits and condemns, are we not committing the same sin as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? When the church fights the very ministries that God has called into existence, are we not committing the sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? That is the sin of the papacy; and, dear friend, it is becoming the sin of the church today. It is the sin of anyone who decides that they are so good that they do not need to follow God exactly; they can make their own decisions in life.
In Jesus’ day, the church of God had been sending some of their promising young men to the universities of Greece, especially down to Alexandria, Egypt. Of course, they remained members of God’s true church; but they learned and brought into it the Greek philosophy, which is the basis of higher education.
The Greeks had come the place where they believed that the way to be truly educated was to reject everything until it has been proved. When you incorporate that philosophy with the Word of God, it is disastrous because the word of God must be studied by faith and not by doubt. I talked with an educator at one of our colleges, an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister, teaching according to the principles of Greek philosophy. He was asking people how they could know that God had really created the world in seven days. I asked him, “How can you instill this doubt into students’ minds?” He said, “I believe that the way we are educated is to doubt everything. That is the way we learn. This is true faith.” He said, “Faith is when you doubt so much that you come to doubt your doubts and that is faith.”
When this system of doubt is applied to the Word of God, it destroys faith. You cannot study God’s Word except by faith.
In Jesus’ day, the Jew who was not educated was looked down upon as being a heathen because everyone was supposed to have a Christian education; that was a duty of a Jewish parent. The educational system, however, had been taken over by a group of liberals called the Sadducees. They rejected much that was in the Old Testament although they claimed to be true followers of God. What could not be proved, they reasoned away.
You know, it is interesting that there is not a record of a single Sadducee being converted or accepting Jesus as his Saviour. It is a deadly disease, this liberal philosophy that causes people to doubt the Word of God and put human reason and human logic above the Word. But in reaction to the Sadducees came a group of conservative people who said, “We do not believe in this liberal philosophy that puts logic above the Word. We believe the Word simply because God says it.” They were called the Pharisees; but sadly, they became so conservative that they began to look at themselves as good people because they were doing everything the Bible said. As time went on, they began to confuse conservatism with structuralism and to place more and more faith in a structure and in a system rather than in God. They began to worship the church instead of God. In fact, the church was so sacred and so important that if anyone suggested that the church would be destroyed or said that the temple would be destroyed, as Jesus said it would be, that person was worthy of death and they sought to kill him because he was blaspheming God. Any criticism of the structure became criticism of God in their minds, so they killed the person who said that the church would be destroyed.
Do you know what is interesting? The Pharisees were the ones who became the most bitter enemies of Jesus, much more so than the Sadducees. In their minds, anything that did not go through the structure was wrong and was not of God.
The Elijah message was the message that John the Baptist had to bring to the people in his day. (See Matthew 3:7-10). It is interesting that this same message that was to prepare a people before Jesus’ first coming is the same message that is to be brought back to the church today before Jesus’ second coming. Ellen White says, “In this fearful time, just before Christ is to come the second time, God’s faithful preachers will have to bear a still more pointed testimony than was borne by John the Baptist. A responsible, important work is before them; and those who speak smooth things, God will not acknowledge as His shepherds. A fearful woe is upon them.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 321
As Saul so sadly learned, what God ordains, He can also remove. John the Baptist told the people of his day that God could raise up children to make a church out of the stones, and God did it. He took the stony hearts of the Gentiles and fashioned them into the true church of Israel in the New Testament. Paul says in Galatians 3, Ephesians 2, and Romans 2, that the Gentiles had now become the true church of Israel. The church survived, but it was made up of different people. John the Baptist said “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father [we are the church]’….Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree [not just the trees in John the Baptist’s day but every tree from Saul’s day until Jesus’ second coming] which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The truth will go through; the movement will go through; God’s true Seventh-day Adventist people, the movement that He has ordained for these last days, is going through. God promised it would go through. This is the last church, but the church is more than a structure. The structure is only an aspect of the church. God can raise up children to this church from the stones.
God says that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down. In Jesus’ day, the church had become so structuralized that God could not reach it through the system. God had to send John the Baptist as an independent minister, independent of the system. When Jesus came down, He also came as an independent minister. He was never sanctioned or ordained by the church. The church never laid their hands upon Him, and they did not recognize Him.
It is interesting to note that even among those who were in independent ministry, pride and self-sufficiency often came in. We find it in Peter and John. They, thankfully, eventually overcame. But this became the spirit of Judas; and Jesus Himself was betrayed by someone from the independent ministry, from the self-supporting work, even from His own group.
Jesus said that the prevailing problem with the church in the last days would be the problem that has been with the church in all ages—self-righteousness. That is what has brought in all of the errors of the Christian church. It is that righteousness that makes a person so righteous that they no longer need to obey God and they can decide for themselves what is right or wrong. That was the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. “God knows that in the day you eat this fruit, that you will be so wise and so good that you will know yourself what you should do and what you should not do.” Self-righteousness, the fig leaves of self-righteousness.
God has a message to the church today. It is called the Elijah message—the Laodicean message. It is a message of love. God says, “I love you too much to let you go. If you will accept Me as your Lord and Saviour, if you will simply come and follow Me, I will give you righteousness; you will not have to earn it. I will give it to you as a free gift, and then you can obey Me because you love Me. I will give you the power to obey every precept from a heart of love.” You will no longer try to find out how little you can do to get to heaven. No! You will have salvation because God has given it to you, and you will be doing everything you can do because you love Him. None of if will earn you a place in heaven; that was earned on the cross of Calvary two thousand years ago. Praise the Lord! But it is a gift to the obedient.