Across the Middle East, thousands of soldiers are taking up arms against their own nations’ governments, seeking a new government over which their sect or nationality will be in charge. This desire for independence—for self-rule—is nothing new. We remember that, as recently as the first half of the 20th century, self-rule was sought and obtained by millions of people living in colonies first established by European powers.
But what has been the record of self-rule? How have the newly independent countries fared? In many if not most cases, these former colonies have demonstrated the great difficulty of successful self-rule. Rhodesia was the “breadbasket of Africa,” yet is now a “basket-case” as Zimbabwe. British India is now three struggling nations—Pakistan, Bangladesh and India—beset by internal civil war and external strife with their neighbors. But what about the colonizers themselves? Britain and the United States are facing economic troubles that can be traced directly to their peoples’ unwillingness to live within their means.
Clearly, a nation must acquire a certain level of national discipline in order to succeed. But so, too, must we as individuals. We know that as Christians in this present age, we contend against Satan, and against the ungodly pulls of carnal society. But we also war against self. Until we develop self-rule in our own lives—the self-discipline that spurs us to do the right thing, even when we may be tempted to do otherwise—we cannot expect to succeed.
The world’s top athletes understand this principle. To compete at the highest levels, perhaps as a soccer player in the World Cup, or as a representative of one’s nation at the Olympic Games, requires many years of focus, discipline and self-control. Without total commitment and dedication to the goal, an athlete can be sure that someone else will be ready to take his or her place on the team. And, just as the character of a nation is only as strong as that of its citizens, a team is only as strong as its individual members.
As he neared the end of his life’s struggle, the Apostle Paul used an athletic example to describe his efforts in pursuit of his eternal reward. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8).
We need to understand—we cannot earn eternal life through our works. Salvation is a gift that God gives us (Acts 8:20; Romans 6:23). However, our reward is another matter! Our good works—and the effort we put into overcoming—will determine how we will serve in the Kingdom of God. We cannot “buy our way” into the family of God by our works, but we can disqualify ourselves through rebellion or neglect—if we fail to strive with all our might, in love, to do good works toward God and to those around us.
The Bible—God’s mind, or His will, revealed in print—establishes for us a standard of proper conduct, even in a matter so simple as the administrative matter of adding a widow to the Church’s-third tithe roll. “Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work” (1 Timothy 5:9–10). Younger women, and those who might otherwise have been eligible, were to be refused if their conduct did not meet a level of right behavior expected of a Christian (1 Timothy 5:11–15).
“But My Sin Isn’t Hurting Anyone Else!”
Can one individual’s lack of Christ-like character damage the prospects of an entire group of people? In the book of Joshua, we read about an inferior force defeating a detachment of Israelite soldiers. How this came about demonstrates that one person’s disobedience can cause a larger group to lose the blessings and protection of God.
Achan, the son of Carmi of the tribe of Judah, coveted and stole valuables he found during the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 7:1). God had commanded that all the city’s plunder was to be dedicated to the treasury of the Lord (Joshua 6). Achan’s disobedience caused the death of a number of his brethren, and caused the army to be driven back in ignominious defeat from the gates of a little town nearby. “So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (Joshua 7:4–5).
Even King David Grew Careless
Though he was called a man after God’s own heart, King David at one point grew careless in his relationship to God, and sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, then murdering her husband and the king’s faithful soldier Uriah (2 Samuel 11).
Even though God removed the penalty of death, the son of Jesse paid a terrible personal price, bringing on his own house grief and pain that lasted the rest of his physical life. The prophet Nathan pronounced God’s sentence and the punishment David would suffer: “‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun’” (2 Samuel 12:10–12).
What Nathan prophesied, God brought to pass. David’s child by Bathsheba died. Then, a chain of events—from Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar, to her brother Absalom’s vengeful murder of his half-brother Amnon—ultimately cost tens of thousands of Israelites their lives in the civil war that broke out when Absalom tried to depose his father David and seize the throne for himself.
Could David have prevented much of the carnage that came upon his people? What might have been avoided if David had not lusted for Bathsheba, and had forced Amnon to marry Tamar for his crime of raping her, as God’s law had required (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)? What if David had ordered Absalom’s execution for murdering his brother (Exodus 21:14)?
David made another mistake near the end of his reign. This time, however, it was also the fault of the people who were straying from the worship of the true God. “Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1). The census showed that David commanded an army of mammoth size. “Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to the king. And there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men” (v. 9). As punishment for David’s pride and the sins of the nation, many suffered a severe penalty. “So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died” (v. 15).
David’s greatest attribute as a ruler—and as a man—was his willingness to repent of his sins and accept responsibility before his Creator when he was at fault. Read 2 Samuel 24:10–25 to gain some appreciation of why God called this son of Jesse a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).
As the people God has called, are we individually or collectively responsible for holding back the blessings Christ would otherwise pour out, because we lack the character to keep His commandments, statutes and ordinances? (Genesis 26:3–5). Are we failing to do all His will by neglecting to perform good works? What would be the result if we all truly began to strive with diligence and faithfulness to obey every word that has proceeded from the mouth of our Creator? Imagine how the Church and the Work would prosper spiritually and physically, if we all set our minds fully on the things of God! “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
We look forward each year to observing the Feast of Trumpets, which pictures the day when Jesus Christ will return to this earth, with the sound of a trumpet, to gather the firstfruits who will become His bride, ruling with Him in the Kingdom of God. But He will not give us this honor, or the responsibility of ruling others, unless we have first learned to discipline our own minds, hearts and bodies. We cannot be allowed to rule over other people if we cannot rule ourselves. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Let us all be careful to rule our spirit with Christian wisdom and discipline, as we prepare to rule. Now is the time for us all to repent and to “go for the gold”—the crown of eternal life!
—LCG Editorial Staff