Dear Brethren and Friends,
As we reported last Fall after the Feast, virtually everyone commented that it was an unusually inspiring and helpful Feast of Tabernacles. Certainly, the Living Church of God now has a great sense of unity and enthusiasm and an increasing “family spirit” in the way we interact with each other to serve God. For this we can be very thankful.
But, just as certainly, we are facing one of the most exciting and traumatic times in human history. With a new President in office who is attacked by the media almost non-stop, Brexit and increasing talk about breaking up the European Union, and growing tension between the U.S., China, and Russia, dangerous times lie just ahead.
Many of us realize that. God’s people will be tried and tested as we never have been before. We will be persecuted as never before in the years ahead—as God’s Word clearly predicts. Satan will try to “divide and conquer,” as is his usual tactic. He will not only try to divide different nations and ethnic groups, but he will surely go after Christ’s true Church and try to confuse, undermine and divide us in any way he can. Yet in the terrible times just ahead, we will all need the love and support of one another more than ever. We will need to become “family” more than ever, and I hope that all of us can fully realize that and pray that God can help us respond and become a true family under the leadership of Jesus Christ. God is reproducing Himself and enlarging His Family to ultimately include billions of human beings made in His image.
But right now, as religious persecution and harassment are going to increase, we will “need each other” more than ever. We will need a “safe place” to give us the help and human support that is so encouraging—certainly in addition to direct guidance and help from God Himself. Some of our brethren may lose their jobs or lose their homes. Some may even go hungry in the years ahead, as national upheavals become worse and worse in the various parts of the world, and some will go hungry even among God’s people. So we are held accountable by our Father in heaven, who will expect us to respond with love and show a “family” spirit in the way we interact with one another.
God tells us through the Apostle Paul, “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:13-15). So even in the trials and tests that Paul went through, the brethren responded, and Paul speaks of the entire Church’s being named after God the Father, “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” As we all know, the true Church of God is called—in various forms—the “Church of God” in twelve different places in the New Testament. So the name of the true Church is not in doubt. And it is certainly named after God, who is described in verse 14 as “the Father.” He certainly is the Father of us all!
As Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). So we are all spiritual Jews—filled with and led by the same Spirit, which comes from God. We are not to be divided.
Again, the Apostle Paul tells us, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
So even though we certainly continue to use separate bathrooms as male and female—and there are, and should be, certain differences in purely physical matters—we are one family in God, who is our Father, and we are to let this spiritual relationship override physical differences as much as we possibly can within God’s Law and God’s teachings!
We Are One Body
Using the analogy of the human body, the Apostle Paul was inspired by God to tell us, again, how we are “one body” and unquestionably in a “family” relationship. Paul states, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5). If we are, in fact, “members” of one another just as our hands and feet are “members” of the same body, then truly we are “family”! So we are to love each other, help each other, encourage each other and support each other in every way, the best we possibly can, in the years of trials and tests just ahead!
In this same passage, Paul tells us that we are to be “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Romans 12:11-13). So we are to be “distributing to the needs of the saints” and willing to help out one another in every possible way we can—visiting those in prison, visiting and encouraging and praying for those who are sick and physically helping with food, clothing, shelter and even money when our brethren are in genuine trouble and need help.
As most of you know, a real “family” is an absolutely wonderful thing! I will always remember when my mother had a massive heart attack back in 1951. Raymond McNair and I were on a baptizing tour, and I diverted our schedule to go by and see her in the hospital. But while we were staying at home with my father and two sisters around the table at dinner, my father did a very unusual thing for him.
He grew up in Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory, near the turn of the last century. He was never converted, so he kept a loaded revolver in his home and often had it under his pillow at night, as he had grown up in dangerous circumstances as a young boy. He always taught me to be “tough” and to be “masculine.”
Yet, when we were having dinner after visiting mother in the hospital after her heart failure, my father had a number of envelopes by his plate and showed them to us during dinner. It was remarkable to see my father shed tears as he described the tremendous financial burden that was about to hit him. For very few people had medical insurance in those days. He certainly did not, and “things were tight.” Yet, he showed us the envelopes from “family” all across the nation. My mother had grown up in a family with seven sisters and one brother, and after her heart failure, virtually every single one of them sent a check. Some of them for several hundred dollars, some for a few thousand dollars—and, remember, the dollar was worth five or six times more back then than it is today! So my father—the normally “tough guy”—shed tears when he showed us the envelopes that had poured in from all across the nation from “family” who heard about their sister’s illness and knew that our family needed help.
In God’s Church, we also need to “be family” in similar circumstances. I will always remember how so many Church brethren in the early days of this Work helped us—young men going out from the college—and took us in as “family” in many, many different circumstances. When Owen Smith, Ken Herrmann and I went up to Oregon to work in the woods during the summer of 1950, Mr. and Mrs. David Henion truly “took us in” and treated us as family. They had only met us once or twice at the Feast of Tabernacles. But they knew we were in God’s Church and in “Mr. Armstrong’s college” and knew we were part of the Work. Mrs. Henion, formerly a country woman from Oklahoma, had to get up at 5:00 or 5:30 each morning to have the wood stove burning, make things ready and prepare breakfast for us before we were off to work. Finally, as we were able to get further out in the woods working with a particular crew, we would come back to the Henion home only on weekends to get a warm shower and much better food, and to be part of a “family” atmosphere. It was certainly inspiring to see the warmth and the love of these people who simply knew that we were “God’s young men” and part of a “family” in that sense.
Time after time, different brethren pitched in and helped us and took care of us—and each other—in similar circumstances. It was an experience I will never forget.
Describing how he, Timothy and Silvanus had helped the brethren in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul was inspired to write: “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-10).
As you read the above verses, you can see the “family spirit” coming forth as Paul tried to help and exhort these people as a “father” does his own children. He worked for them, served them and gave them love and encouragement as well as physical help in every way he could. We are to treat one another in the same manner. We may not always have the physical facilities or money to take in others. But many of us can and should do this in the future more than ever. How will you react when real trials and tests come and some of your brethren are going hungry, or are thrown in prison, or are terribly sick and need prayers and help?
How Will You Respond?
One of the most powerful exhortations on this in the entire Bible is found in Matthew 25 in the very words of the Son of God: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
Notice that Jesus Christ powerfully instructs us, as His servants, to feed the hungry, take in strangers, nurture the sick, visit those in prison and help those “in trouble” in every way we can. He tells those doubters who try to water down what He was saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (v. 40). When you take in brethren or any human being in this kind of circumstance, you are taking in and helping Jesus Christ Himself! We all need to meditate on this and try to “do better” in the way we help and serve one another. Brethren, pray fervently about this and ask God to help us to demonstrate—in every way we can—a more complete “family spirit” in the way we interact with each other and treat one another.
Dear brethren, let us all try to develop an even greater sense of love, warmth and enthusiasm, and a total outflowing and “giving” spirit in the way we interact with another. This will not be easy. Do not “kid” yourself. Our natural tendency is to be selfish and to take care of “self” first and others last.
But with the help of God’s Spirit and Christ living in us, we can and must, as a church, develop a total warm, loving, joyous approach to giving of ourselves to one another, knowing that we are in that way serving Christ Jesus Himself—and knowing that we will be “rewarded” for all eternity if we learn to give instead of “get” and develop a genuine warm, loving, joyous “family spirit” in the Church of God more than we have ever done before.
Let us “take action” now! For the times of trials and tests are coming upon us within the next few years. Again, we will “need” each other. We will “need” to have the help, the warmth, the encouragement and the physical necessities that we can share with each other in time to come. Let us not fail to serve Jesus Christ Himself, as He is present in each one of these situations. As Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).