Last week we studied the "roars" that God sent out to the pagan nations that surrounded His people. Next, we read that God's roars were also directed towards His own people. What should we learn from that? God is an "equal opportunity" roarer? How about reaching the conclusion that God encourages us to live holy lives? If that is God's message, and I believe it is, let's explore that message in more depth and learn how do we do that by jumping into our study of Amos!
Seek the Lord and Live! (Amos)
Commentary for the May 4, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“…‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? Then they repented…’” Zechariah 1:3b-6a, NIV
For some the image of a prophet is of a slightly off-kilter individual, maybe carrying a sign “The End is Near!” for others he or she might be that person who loves to put their finger in your face pointing out every sin they imagine you are involved in. Still others might see a prophet as someone who is trying to control others through guilt manipulation for purposes of financial gain or power. To be sure, there are those who have called themselves prophets and done these things. But just as a counterfeit twenty dollar bill assures us that there is a genuine one, so these counterfeit prophets are evidence that true prophets must exist. To counterfeit something that isn’t real would be pointless as everyone would then know that each counterfeit would be a fake.
The real issue then is how to know a genuine prophet. Some would have us believe that we can tell a prophet by their clothing. Of course we have the example of Elijah’s mantle or cloak.[i] There is also the example of John the Baptist’s camel hair clothing.[ii] Those who feel this is the identifying mark of a prophet, filled with the spirit of God, might try to emulate this feature in their dress. They might choose some sartorial distinctiveness or peculiarity to set them apart from others. Perhaps this is a reason some clergy aspire to set themselves apart by affecting a clerical collar. However, clergy are not alone in affecting an appearance of holiness. Women who wear headscarves and floor-length jumper dresses may at times do so in order to produce a demonstration of holiness. Men have been sometimes known to do the same by wearing suspenders and even buttoning their collar button as outward evidence of purity. They may even add to the effect by speaking in gentle sing-song tones capable of producing a spiritual mesmerism in the unsuspecting.
These are not prophets, however, as any power they have comes not from God but from their ability to project an appearance of holiness. Paul, in his second epistle to Timothy, warned about such individuals that they would use the sins of others to control them and lead them into even greater sin.[iii] Perhaps this is a warning to us to be on our guard concerning those who seek to make themselves appear holier than everyone else. The Apostle John, not only told us that we need to test the prophets but that there would be many that would attempt to deceive us.[iv]
Another means whereby some might attempt to portray themselves as more holy than others is through diet. While proper diet is important for physical health, as is exercise, adequate sleep and several other healthful practices, citing our diet as evidence of our spirituality is perhaps a step too far in the direction of self-righteousness. The Bible has many things to say about diet, from the original diet of Eden, followed by the diet granted to Noah and his sons, through the Levitical dietary laws, then Daniel’s stand in Daniel, chapter one, and even John the Baptist’s eating of locusts. However, in no instance do the dietary accounts indicate that righteousness is bestowed through diet. Whether it is Jesus eating fish, or Daniel eating vegetables, their different diets were irrelevant to their relative holiness.[v]
While diet may not be related to holiness, health is. As long as we recognize this, careful diet can be a blessing to us. However, if we at any point relate our diet to our salvation, we cross a line into self-made righteousness. We should be very wary of anyone who comes to us with the message that our diet or any behavior will gain us heaven. We do not have that power. It is only through the grace of God that we are able to enter those heavenly gates. We should not allow anyone to sidetrack us by telling us otherwise.
If clothing, manner of speech or diet cannot help us to identify a prophet, what about if they are highly knowledgeable about inspired writings? Unfortunately, this is also not a safe guide. Even the Devil used inspired writ to attempt to gain control over Jesus in the wilderness during His temptation.[vi] If the Devil did not shrink from using the Bible in his effort to control others, why would he not also make use of any inspired writing he could turn to his purpose? We should be careful of those who come to us in such a way as to make our acceptance of their understanding of inspired writings a means for them to exercise spiritual control over us. If we look to them instead of Jesus for our spiritual growth and understanding of salvation, we may find ourselves being led to an unexpected destination.
A common thread among these false prophets is the desire to increase their importance and influence. Instead of gathering a following they should be pointing people to Jesus. Failure to do so is in direct contrast to the work of a true prophet. The ministry of John the Baptist is instructive in this regard. When his disciples pointed out that many were leaving John and following Jesus, he humbly replied that Jesus must increase, while he, John, must decrease.[vii]
The world has many who are seeking to increase themselves as opposed to increasing Jesus. Some will lift up these individuals as favorite preachers instead of lifting up Jesus. These self-styled gospel preachers sometimes create huge media empires and achieve renown in ways that the prophet Amos, or many of the other prophets would not have recognized. Often the message is if we only give them our money, the work will be finished, and we can all go home to heaven. But while the money pours in and their empire grows, we are still here. While their life of ease and luxury compared to the average church member calls into question their desire to leave earth for heaven, they do little to relieve the suffering and injustice that the prophet Amos wrote about.[viii] In chapter four, Amos addresses the same charges to the women of Israel.[ix] While this may be literal, it is interesting that some have advocated for women to symbolically represent churches in prophecy. Might this have a double application?
Sometimes we speak of promoting the gospel, but perhaps we should understand that there is a difference between promotion and teaching. One comes from Madison Avenue, but the latter comes from the experience of the heart. When we eat an apple and find it is the best apple we ever tasted, we don’t need to have a media blitz to tell everyone they need to eat this apple. We only need to say, “Taste and see.”[x] If the apple truly is good, others will do the same and soon many will be eating it. This is what happened in the apostolic era. The result was a message that spread like wildfire across the face of the globe. Surely, there were some then who also tried to control the work and draw followers to themselves. Paul referred to some of these as compelling others to “live like Jews.”[xi] But in spite of the influence of these false prophets, the message went forward with power because there were those who refused to let such individuals control their relationship with God.
Those who are in relationship with God will find His leading sufficient. During the apostolic period these were known as the “pneumatikoi.” These were individuals filled with the Holy Spirit and led by that Spirit. The bible tells us that these are the true children of God.[xii] Peter at Pentecost assured us that all who repent and are baptized receive this Spirit.[xiii] He did not say, “Maybe they might receive it.” While this is the promise, it can be threatening to those who want to control the empowerment of others. Support for the ecclesiastical status quo is often a required of those to be empowered by church authority. Charismatic empowerment coming directly from God via the Holy Spirit upsets that apple cart. If everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or culture were empowered to share the gospel equally with others, there would no longer be a need to funnel money and power to a few leaders controlling religious mega-corporations. Instead the good news would spread one to one as it did in apostolic times.
Whether those who hold the reigns of ecclesiastical power today realize it or not, even if they fight against it, the very bible they are promoting tells us that the Spirit will burst those bonds of restraint and the pneumatikoi will be revealed to those who have the spiritual discernment to see and understand.[xiv] In the words of the prophet, Joel, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”[xv] Maybe the time is now.
[i] 2 Kings 2:8
[ii] Matthew 3:4
[iii] 2 Timothy 3:5-6
[iv] 1 John 4:1
[v] Mark 7:15
[vi] Matthew 4:5-6
[vii] John 3:30
[viii] Amos 2:6-8
[ix] Ibid., 4:1-2
[x] Psalm 34:8
[xi] Galatians 2:14
[xii] Romans 8:14
[xiii] Acts 2:38
[xiv] 1 Corinthians 2:14
[xv] Joel 2:28-29, NIV
"Seek the Lord and Live" May 4, 2013
Amos 5:1-15; Hebrews 5:14; Isaiah 5:20; Amos 7:10-17; 9:11-15; Acts 15:13-18
In Savar, Bangladesh last week an eight-story factory collapsed killing around 380 workers. Rescue personnel eventually pulled about 90 survivors from the rubble. The garment factory employed over 3,000 workers, but not all were in the building when it caved in.
Just the previous day police ordered an evacuation of the building because of cracks found in the Rana Plaza, but owners ignored the order and sent people back to work. Several construction regulations had been violated, including the addition of three stories. The owner's permit only allowed for a five-story building.
Last Sunday the building owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested while trying to escape Bangladesh. He was returned by helicopter to Dhaka where he will face charges of negligence. When his capture was announced at the disaster site, relatives and friends applauded and cheered while rescue workers continued to search for victims.
People at the site fought with police as they tried to enter the building and assist in rescue efforts. Wailing relatives cried to find lost loved ones. Workers handed trapped people bottles of water and juice as temperatures soared into the upper 90s. The stifling heat and humidity raised the risk factors for all involved in the work of saving lives.
Rescues efforts at finding people alive eventually subsided after several days when larger equipment was brought in to remove rubble and search for bodies. On Sunday a woman was found. She was trapped and calling for help. Rescue personnel had to use cutting torches to remove materials, but unfortunately started a fire which probably killed the woman.
The collapse is one of the deadliest to hit the Bangladesh garment industry which is the third largest in the world. Workers have fought against deplorable worker conditions. Disasters are not uncommon. In this case, work now focuses on removing the bodies of those who perished.
In our Sabbath school lesson this week on the book of Amos, we continue studying the prophet's warning of impending disaster. To those who are taking advantage of the poor for the sake of gain, he tells of a coming judgment. He cries to all, "Seek the Lord and live" (Amos 5:4). In one sense we are all in a collapsed world and needing to call to the Lord for help.
No matter what our predicament, God will hear and reach down and save us in the final day of the Lord.
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