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Today's Readings: Judges 21 | Isaiah 43 | 2 and 3 John

Reading 1 - Jdg 21:1,2

"The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: 'Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.' The people went to Bethel, [or 'to the house of God'] where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly" (Jdg 21:1,2).

"The punitive campaign against Benjamin was no sooner concluded than the tribes immediately became very uneasy about the consequences of their zeal for righteousness. So fully and completely had they done what they had deemed to be their duty that there was now grave prospect of the complete disappearance of one of their twelve tribes. For Benjamin was reduced to a mere handful of men, and how could these continue their families since their brethren had sworn not to give their daughters in marriage to a tribe of such wickedness?

"Here is demonstrated the folly of human oaths. Only God, the Eternal, who knows the end from the beginning, can truly bind Himself by an oath never to be set aside, for with Him, only, is the wisdom to foresee the outworking of events. In this incident there is the plainest of all warnings to those who love government by constitution and minute-book and all the paraphernalia of the Medes and Persians. Such may be all very well for business executives, but in a community of the people of God reliance on a cast-iron adherence to rules and resolutions is a sign of small-mindedness. The fewer the governing principles of an ecclesia the smaller will be the risk of becoming fettered hand and foot by chains of one's own fashioning. It was a lesson Israel should have learned from this experience with Benjamin. It is a lesson the New Israel has not learned yet" (Harry Whittaker, "Judges and Ruth").

Reading 2 - Isa 43:10

" 'You are my witnesses,' declares the LORD" (Isa 43:10).

Here is a reference to Israel, the "blind" and "deaf" witnesses -- then and now.

"Israel... had repeatedly shown themselves to be spiritually deaf and blind... yet that very deafness and blindness was a witness to the truth of God... They were custodians of a prophetic witness for which they themselves provided impressive undesigned fulfillment" (Harry Whittaker, "Isaiah" 392).

Reading 3 - 3Jo

During the last generation of the first century, the "fellowship situation" can best be described as chaotic. Paul's last writings are far from optimistic, and John's letters show an elderly apostle -- the last of his generation -- contending against the practices of men who scarcely if at all deserve the name 'brother' (Alan Eyre, "Problems of Fellowship in the First Century Ecclesia", The Christadelphian 108:210).

Such a man was Diotrephes -- characteristic of a certain spirit within the ecclesias. Diotrephes was domineering, self-assertive, and arrogant. Defying the loving authority of the aged John, he could -- so it seems -- "cast out" of fellowship (ct John 6:37) with impunity those associating with the apostles, or, for that matter, anyone of whom he disapproved. Like some modern brethren of the same stamp, he also "cast out" those who failed to "cast out" the brethren he had "cast out".

Alan Eyre in his article points out that, with ease of communication in the Roman Empire, it was common for preachers to travel from ecclesia to ecclesia on lengthy missionary journeys. Such activities posed problems of fellowship then as now. Wherever the ecclesia was to which Diotrephes belonged, it included as members both those who rejected these preacher brethren, and those who welcomed them. John appears, then, to be presuming on his almost universal standing in the brotherhood, when he "interferes" in a tricky internal affair of another ecclesia. Notice, however, that his "interference" -- if it may be so termed -- is not for the disfellowshiping of any individual, but rather is for the acceptance of "the brethren" (3Jo 1:5). And John does not even counsel the disfellowship of the hateful Diotrephes!

The phrase "casting out" (3Jo 1:10) is a very harsh and cruel term: "If the Master himself was able to conduct most of his preaching within the synagogue system, however grudgingly received by those in power, he had no illusions as to the long-term fate of the church following his ascension to the Father. 'Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils (Greek "Sanhedrins", or local courts) and flog you in their synagogues' (Mat 10:17, RSV)" (AE).

Examine closely and without prejudice this first-century picture of inter-ecclesial affairs. How similar it is to our own day: an imperfectly joined network of congregations, with no universally recognized leader (even the apostles met frequent opposition); an arrangement calling for forbearance and patience and tolerance, not to mention the occasional compromise! Certainly not the place for would-be leaders to issue decrees of excommunication either against or on behalf of uninformed brethren.

Notice that even the apostle John does not declare, 'Disfellowship Diotrephes.' Notice also the presumed "conflict": Gaius will receive "the brethren"; Diotrephes will not receive them. And yet they are considered -- by no less than an inspired apostle -- to be "in fellowship" with one another. Sometimes inconsistencies and anomalies exist in our midst. Patience and love and tact are required to "sort out" these issues, without destroying or driving away those who have not quite "got it right" yet!

"Wherever there is intolerance; wherever we find conditions of communion among Christians imposed, which Christ hath not clearly enjoined; wherever creeds and modes of worship are enforced by human power, and men made to forfeit any of their civil rights, or are stigmatized on these accounts, there is the spirit which is not of God. Wherever one Christian, or a number of Christians, assumes the seat of authority and judgment in the Church of Christ, wherever they call for fire to destroy those who dissent from them, or only exclude them from their communion and affection, there is a portion of the spirit of Anti-christ, which has so long opposed itself to the benign principles of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace, has been the cause of so many evils to humanity, and the occasion of making the inconsiderate esteem the amiable yet distinct and uncompromising religion of Jesus, as a source of mischief, instead of benevolence... Alas, how much of this spirit remains amongst us all! How few have learned that, 'In Christ circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God' " (John Thomas, Herald, 1850).


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