IT'S A DIFFERENT WORLD
Are you easy to teach? Most of us probably would say, "Sure!" Allow me to
expand the question. Are you easy to teach spiritual realities? Most of us probably still
would say, "Sure!" If you believe you are easily taught spiritual realities, what do you
mean? Consider some observations: (1) we easily are taught realities that we already
accept. If the teacher is not changing my basic understandings, if the teacher is not
challenging what I accept to be fact, I am easy to teach. (We love for teachers to
reinforce or expand what we already believe.) (2) if we are told spiritual realities that
fundamentally conflict with what we long accepted, most of us are very difficult to teach.
It is not a matter of how true the reality is. It is a matter that we have to change basic
understanding. Most of us are not easily taught realities that change long accepted,
In this life, on this earth, one of the most difficult, challenging, complex tasks is
teaching people realities they never considered.
- Allow me to illustrate that difficulty.
- In the early 1970s my family and I lived through a cholera epidemic in
another country on another continent.
While we were there, there were several outbreaks of what they called
- The first fact: cholera is a deadly disease, but a easy-to-prevent disease.
- If people wash their hands well before eating,
- If people cook their food well,
- If people drink purified water,
- If people clean their cooking utensils well,
- They can prevent a cholera epidemic.
- All that is required is good sanitation--it is not a matter of vaccinations or
- The second fact: people were sick and dying by the hundreds all around us.
- The third fact: the government immediately launched a poster campaign in an
attempt to educate the public about the cause of cholera.
- The fourth fact: many people totally rejected these "new ideas" about what
- It was common knowledge that sickness was caused by spirits.
- The cholera epidemic was occurring because some spirits were upset.
- It was ridiculous to think the epidemic could be stopped by clean hands,
pure water, and well cooked food.
- You and I call this disease "pink eye."
- Why did they call it "Apollo disease"?
- An out break of pink eye occurred when the Americans walked on the
- That was unnatural; people were not suppose to do that.
- This disease was a direct result of people walking on the moon.
- Therefore they named the disease the Apollo disease.
One of our long held conclusions about the Church of Christ is that we are
highly similar to the church of the first century.
However, we do not spend much time thinking about those differences.
We never deny those differences.
- We understand that the church in the first century had some obvious
differences with today's Church of Christ.
- In fact, we speak of the differences very "matter of faculty" in our Bible study.
- We would be appalled if a Christian rejected the miracles or the functions of
the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
- But, we are equally appalled when a Christian claims to be able to do
miracles or function in the Holy Spirit as did the Christians of the first
This evening, I want to focus your attention on just one consideration: how
would you teach people in the first century world and first century church?
- Suppose you were committed to teaching people in the first century world
and the first century context. How would you go about the process of
The first century world was very different.
- We are so familiar and comfortable with life in American society that it is
easy to think the world always has been basically like it is here right now.
- Most people always have been able to read and write.
- Most people always have had access to printed Bibles, concordances,
Bible dictionaries, and other forms of Bible study aides.
- Most people always have had access to Bible study materials that they
used in Bible study classes.
So how would you teach?
- People who became Christians came from radically different religious
- The Jews came from a highly structured religious background that
incorporated a lot of religious ritual in every day life and in worship.
- They had the synagogue in which they heard the law discussed every
- They had a temple, priests, and sacrifices.
- They made no separation between their religious life and their every
day practices--life, government, and religion were intertwined in each
- The peoples who were not Jews worshipped gods that were in great
contrast to the Jewish god.
- Their every day conduct was different from Jews.
- Their moral codes and ethical principles differed from Jews.
- They, too, had temples, priests, and sacrifices.
- But their rituals were very different.
- Their religions were very much involved in their economics and their
- I do not know what the literacy rate was, but many people could not read or
- There was no printing; the printing press had not been invented.
- Only wealthy people could own a scroll of just one section of what we call
the Old Testament.
- What we call the New Testament was being written and existed as a
collection of 27 writings after 300 A.D.
To us, the word "tradition" is a despicable, evil word.
- Consider some scriptures.
- 1 Corinthians 11:1,2 imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I
praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the
traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions
which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life
(undisciplined life) and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
- They could not run to a duplicator machine and make everyone a copy of
- Many of the people learned by listening to the letter and listening to
admonitions from readers.
- Some learned by listening to those who prophesied or those who
interpreted a tongue speaker.
- The common way of learning was to understand "how this is to be done."
- Obviously, Jesus and the Pharisees had some major differences as Jesus
declared God's priorities in God's teachings and the Pharisees interpreted
God's teachings by the traditions of the elders (see Mark 7:1-23 as an
- Obviously, Paul also used the word in a very good sense--he commended
Christians for keeping the traditions he taught them.
- Tradition is bad when:
- It is based on human priorities.
- It contradicts God's emphasis.
- Tradition is good when:
- It is based on God's priorities.
- It stresses and encourages Christians to devote themselves to God's
In my study, I conclude there is an enormous contrast between our spiritual
emphasis and their spiritual emphasis.
- Our spiritual emphasis is on the worship procedures and forms.
Their spiritual emphasis was on the way a person lived his or her life under
the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
- To determine the faithfulness of a Christian or a congregation, we examine
- To determine dedication to God's word, we examine worship practices.
- To examine core faith issues, we examine worship practices.
- Faithfulness is not determined by what a person does in his or her every day
- Faithfulness is determine by church membership and worship attendance.
In my understanding, three key realities were constantly stressed in the
first century community (congregation).
- There is very little said in the New Testament about Christian worship
- In fact, if a delegation from a first century congregation worshipped with us
today, I sincerely doubt that they would recognize anything we did.
- The contrast between first century worship and our worship is enormous.
- They commonly worshipped in homes; we commonly worship in church
- The Holy Spirit was obviously present in many if not all of their worship
- Miracles could occur as a part of their worship; they never occur as a part
- Christians commonly spoke in tongues in worship as a part of teaching
and encouragement; that never occurs in our worship.
- Christian prophets could receive revelations in their worship assemblies;
we do not think in terms of Christian prophets existing today.
- Anyone of us, including me, would feel very out of place and
uncomfortable in a first century worship assembly.
Let's allow Paul's letter to the Colossians to illustrate all three.
- The first: God's rule in the Christian's life through the Lordship of Jesus
- The second: the Christian's changed way of living his or her every day life.
- The third: the Christian's changed way of treating other people.
- God's rule through the Lordship of Jesus Christ:
Colossians 1:13-20 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the
kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the
image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both
in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in
Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the
firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was
the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all
things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether
things on earth or things in heaven.
- The Christian's changed way of living:
Colossians 3:1-11 if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the
things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above,
not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion,
evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath
of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you
were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and
abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with
its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge
according to the image of the One who created him--a renewal in which there is no distinction
between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman,
but Christ is all, and in all.
- The Christian's changed way of treating other people:
Colossians 3:12-17 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a
heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and
forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so
also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be
thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and
admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in
your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
We will not prove to God that we are Christians as were those people of the first century
by what happens in our worship assemblies. What happens as we worship God is important, but
it is not nearly enough.
We are Christians as were those first Christians when (1) we let God rule our lives through
the Lordship of Jesus Christ; (2) we let God change the way we live our lives; and (3) we learn
from God how to treat other people.
Are you easy to teach?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 21 April 2002
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