|Volume 24 Number 6 June 2022
Do You Remember?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were stuck in prison? Do you know that as a Christian, you are actually commanded in God’s Word to contemplate that very thing? Further, do you know why you are commanded to do that? Jesus told why, which is so that you can go to heaven when you die. Obeying the second greatest command, to love your neighbor as yourself, is required to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-28). Yes, it’s that important, but how do we do it?
There’s a written standard on how we are to love others. We can’t just love them any way we want to. The standard is us. We have to first look at how we would like to be loved and apply that standard to the way we behave toward and treat others (Matthew 7:12). Putting this all together, here’s the key passage for this lesson. “Let brotherly love continue. …Remember the prisoners as if chained with them…” (Hebrews 13:1, 3 NKJV).
Remembering prisoners is a command of God, a love command contained within the second greatest command, but very often ignored by many if not most Christians. Have you ever in your life even heard a sermon on Hebrews 13:3 or read an article on that verse? And just like the second greatest command, it has a standard. We have to picture ourselves stuck in prison and contemplate how we would want others to remember us there. There is no option here if you want to inherit eternal life. You must show love to your brothers and sisters behind bars as commanded. If you have never been in prison (or imprisoned), and thus may be a little foggy on how to remember such people, not to worry, there are plenty of experts (i.e., prisoners) who can tell you how. Most will tell you that probably the best way you can remember them is simply to on occasion visit them. Hmm, where have we heard that before?
“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” (Matthew 25:34-36). Besides that, we have examples of ancient Christians doing exactly what Jesus talked about, visiting probably the most famous prisoner in the New Testament (Acts 28:16-17, 30; 2 Timothy 1:16-17).
Now, did you know this? America has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. There is no country that has more prisoners in it than the USA. You won’t find anyone dying of thirst in America or even going hungry. Free food is all around, and thus, no one, not even the poorest, is starving. However, there are plenty of prisons and prisoners all around us here in the land of the free – over 2 million prisoners. They’re everywhere. There’s even a prison less than 15 miles from where I live. Do you ignore prisoners near where you live?
In Luke 16:19-31, the rich man ignored the plight of hungry Lazarus who was there near him, and even now he is paying a heavy price because of what he did not do. Maybe the rich man just didn’t consider Lazarus his “neighbor.” Jesus clearly defined who our neighbors are: people around us whom we may not know or maybe even don’t like, people we may have to risk our own lives to help, people we may have to sacrifice time and personal belongings for, including our own transportation and even our own money (Luke 10:29-37). In the first century, Rome was about 12 square miles in size, and most people got around the city on foot. Still, that didn’t stop Onesiphorus from searching “very zealously” (2 Timothy 1:17 NKJV; “very diligently” KJV; “earnestly” ESV; “hard” NIV) for imprisoned Paul in Rome until he finally found him so that he could visit him and even ‘refresh’ him. There’s no telling how much time, walking and searching it took for Onesiphorus to achieve his goal, possibly days. If it’s not painfully hard, extremely difficult and a real chore for you to love your neighbors, maybe they are not the “neighbors” Jesus talked about.
However, some say that Jesus probably didn’t literally mean what he said in Matthew 25:31-46, and they are willing to chance that our Lord was being figurative, despite the horrific consequences if they guess wrong. Maybe the rich man thought Isaiah 58:7 was just a figurative statement and was willing to take that chance. Others say that visiting prisoners is just not their talent. Isn’t it interesting that the two parables just before Matthew 25:31 were about people who were willing to take their chances with the groom by potentially being delayed and a servant who wasn’t willing to increase his talent base to please his master?
Through World Bible School and similar correspondence courses, and even from just reading the Bible for themselves, many in prison have obeyed the Gospel. They are your fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Therefore, for example, the Ramsey Unit church of Christ in Rosharon, Texas usually has over 100 prisoners in attendance for Sunday services (some are truth seeking visitors; many eventually will be baptized), but relatively very few Christians outside the barbed wire visit them, or to be brutally honest, ever even think about (remember) them. The vast majority of prisons in America have no outside presence from the church of Christ.
If you would like to obey God’s command in Hebrews 13:3 to “remember the prisoners,” I can help you. Write to me c/o the Memorial church of Christ, 900 Echo Lane, Houston, TX 77024 (include your email address and phone number).
[Editor’s Note: In our western, materialistic world, in which the majority of people satiate themselves with pleasant amenities, there is no segment of our society that is more receptive to giving an audience to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ than prisoners. Their circumstances more than those of any other group in the USA approximate the humble environment of persons in developing countries who are receptive to the Gospel message. Many prisoners realize that they have reached a tipping point in their lives where they need to make better decisions, beginning with their spiritual relationship with God. The greater number of baptisms, for instance, in these times appear to be occurring behind bars. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]
and/or Instrumental Music?
The God of Israel had this to say regarding the spiritual status of His people, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6 NKJV). Is it possible for spiritual Israel (the church of the Lord) to be rejected because of the lack of the knowledge of the Word of God? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” There is always the probability that the church of Jesus Christ can lose its identity because of ignorance of the Holy Scriptures. Where there is a void in the understanding of the Bible, there is the potential of being led astray from the teaching of the Lord. When this happens, an apostasy usually occurs over a period of time.
We must never assume that all Christians have a proper understanding of biblical matters. Therefore, it is of necessity that elders require of their preachers and teachers to present lessons and sermons over a broad spectrum of subjects pertaining to the authority of the scriptures, how to rightly divide the Word of God, the identity of the church of our Lord, acceptable worship as well as the grace and love of God. There is always a great need for a balance in the preaching of the Word of God.
The apostle Paul instructed Timothy in this manner, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The next generation untaught will be unlearned in the ways of the Lord, and there will be the ever-present danger of drifting away from New Testament Christianity. You only have to read the writings of university professors, preachers, youth ministers and others involved in the leadership of the church to know that there is a woeful lack of Bible-based convictions regarding the identity of the church, what constitutes scriptural worship, the essentiality of baptism and other needed subjects.
One of the areas in which attitudes have changed over the years is regarding acceptable music in our worship to God. Several years ago, I read that a large congregation was wanting a “Student Minister” to work with young adults. The advertisement stated that the candidate should be “comfortable with both acapella and instrumental form of worship.” I thought that was a bold statement to make; however, brethren now know this is more common than we ever imagined.
An area congregation began in recent times to have what they call an “Alternative Instrumental Worship” on Sunday. Thus, the elders of that congregation are now trying to satisfy the different segments of the membership. The elders of this congregation previously were allowing members to use the instrument during the weeknights but not on Sundays. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah, the prophet of God, sent for the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to meet with him on Mount Carmel so he could prove whose God should be served. Ahab also sent for all Israel to be present at Mount Carmel for this occasion. “And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people answered him not a word” (verse 21 ASV). The thought I want to glean from this passage is, there comes a time when the children of God must make very important decisions regarding what is authorized in our corporate worship to God. If instrumental music is acceptable in worship, why not use it in all the assemblies? On the other hand, if acapella music is the only authorized and acceptable music to be used in our assemblies, then, we are only to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is confusing and misleading for elders to offer an alternative worship where the instrument is used while in another assembly only acapella singing will be used! Why go ‘limping between the two’? Both assemblies cannot be acceptable to God if what is being done in one is not scriptural.
It is absolutely necessary for each child of God to study the Holy Scriptures and to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We must “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4:14 NKJV). We must understand that what is not authorized by the Word of God must be rejected. The apostle Paul wrote to the church of God with this admonition, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written…” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
[Editorial Note: This article is highly commendable, as well as much needed throughout the worldwide brotherhood – always crucial everywhere. No amount of restudying the plain and easily understood biblical information upon the pages of inspiration relative to the exclusive identity of the Lord’s church, including its worship, will produce different results – if fairly inspected by honest and open hearts. Hence, it is no wonder that dishonest hearts seek a different doctrinal mechanism that flies in the face of logical and rational normal communication – both common and ordinary daily exchanges as well as pertaining to God’s Word. Only singing, neither accompaniment by instruments (including clapping and stamping) nor augmented with extraneous vocal sounds (e.g., oohs, aahs, humming, whistling and other non-words), is biblically authorized for Christian worship by the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Period! End of story! ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]