by Brian G Bettes
The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful time in which we get just a glimpse, a small foretaste as viewed through a dark glass or in a foggy mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), of the wonderful and amazing 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ. So many good messages, so much uplifting and inspiring music, delicious food, and shared friendship always seem to be the highlight of every Feast.
The Feast is also a time we spend fellowshipping with spiritual brothers and sisters that we have either not seen in a long time, or new people we have never met before. Fellowship is an important part of the Feast, and our weekly Sabbath observance. So important is this critical activity in fact, that I personally rank “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17), or true fellowship, right up there with “the big four”: Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting.
I have come to believe that we need true fellowship, first and foremost with our Father and Jesus, but also with one another, as much as the other four. All five of these activities are acts of worship that praise and glorify our Father in heaven, help us grow in our walk of salvation with Jesus Christ, help spiritually bind us together as brethren, and protect us from Satan the Devil. I am convinced that none of us will survive the gathering storm of hate and onslaught of attack that Satan is mounting against God’s people (Daniel 7:21; 11:33, 35; Revelation 13:7) without diligent effort in all five of these areas.
As important as fellowship is, what happens when we don’t engage in fellowship properly? I am talking as much about how we fellowship, the attitude with which we do it, as I am talking about what we say while fellowshipping (a topic for a different blog). I have come to see through the years of what I call “the church wars” that fellowship opportunities, as valuable and precious as they are, can quickly turn into a satanic tool to promote someone’s agenda of personal beliefs.
Sadly, for some the opportunity for fellowship is viewed as a means to force their “pet doctrines” onto others. They cannot help but talk about a very narrow array of topics (often only one topic), and continually hammer away at their “take” on the subject(s) that they believe they are right about, because they “have studied it deeply.” What could be used as a platform for inspiring, uplifting encouragement with others, rapidly becomes an unhealthy environment of one-sided, self-centered non-conversation. They will usually forcibly take over a conversation, quoting a barrage of scriptural (and other) “evidence” that supports their personal view. There is a certain air of self-righteousness about those who do this that projects disdain for anyone who does not agree with their “understanding” of Scripture. Fellowshipping for these people turns into fellow-whipping. At this point, their need to be right becomes dead wrong!
I want to be clear here. Discussing different views in understanding of Scripture is not my issue. If any two people sit and discuss scriptural understanding for any length of time, they will very quickly find that there is no such thing as perfect agreement in “doctrinal” matters. I have had many such discussions with others regarding these kinds of issues over the years, and I have yet to find anyone who understands the Bible as perfectly as I do, from my perspective. YES, I AM BEING SARCASTIC WITH THAT STATEMENT!
My point is, at best we all have imperfect and incomplete understanding of Scripture. Also, we are all at different places in our spiritual growth process. God is working with each of us where we need to be from His standpoint so that we can be in His Family. Maybe God doesn’t think it important for someone else to understand something He may have shown us because it wouldn’t help their growth process.
If God has allowed us to see something from Scripture that we view as important, there is certainly nothing wrong with presenting that and discussing it to other members of the Body of Christ. You never know, you may help someone else’s growth. That happened to me at the Feast this year in fellowship with a dear, long-time friend. It was indeed iron sharpening iron where he sharpened me. I believe what he presented to me in true fellowship, combined with deeper fellowship with our Father and Jesus through study, prayer, meditation, and fasting on the topic will take my spiritual growth to a whole new level. I appreciate that very much and I am excited about it. That is what true fellowship is designed by God to do!
What I don’t appreciate is another unfortunate encounter I had at the Feast with a fellow minister who has recently gained “a new understanding” on a long-standing teaching of the Church of God. When I raised a few questions about his newfound teaching, he attacked me with his barrage of “scriptural support” for his beliefs. Mind you, when their pet idea is questioned, these people don’t seem to care where the physical location is, with whom else you may be fellowshipping when they, unannounced and uninvited, butt into your conversation, or that others are out in the parking lot waiting on them so they can go home. Suddenly, the whole world starts revolving around them, and only thing that becomes important is to attack the person that does not see their perspective. They instantly erupt into a red hot volcanic fountain, spewing forth a mountain of “iron-clad evidence” to prove their rightness; or should I say self-rightness. Nothing else, and no one else, seems to matter at that point. The only thing that counts at that point is their rightness. REALLY!?!
It is my personal opinion that this need to be right at all cost is in large part what is wrong within much of the leadership, ministry, and among many of the brethren in the Church of God today. When the need to be right becomes overbearing, offensive, and therefore divisive, it is wrong! Christ said the identifying sign of His followers would be that they love one another, not that they have the right (or same) doctrinal perspective on everything (John 13:34-35). When we decide that others need to see and understand what we see, the way we see it, our need to be right becomes a weapon that Satan can, and often does, use to divide God’s people. That is when being right becomes wrong!
If we present something to others that we see in Scripture, and any one of them does not see what we see, they raise objections, or maybe seem to be “stuck” in a long-held perspective of that subject (from our point of view), it is imperative that we love our brother and not try to force our understanding on them. Not forcing our view on someone else is a great example of laying down our own lives (thoughts, opinions, understandings, etc.) for others (John 15:13).
In fact, it is a great time to, in humility, consider their objections as a check of our understanding to make sure we are looking at all of the scriptures on the subject and make sure we are seeing the full picture. Read carefully these verses regarding how we are to treat one another (Colossians 3:12-17). If, after we have considered their comments, suggestions, and/or objections fully, we still hold to what we have come to understand, that is fine.
What if they are not at a place in their life that what has been given to us is helpful for them? What if they never are in this lifetime, and God doesn’t consider it important that they understand what He has given us? Trying to force it down their throat will not be helpful for them. It will only cause feelings of offense and separation, not draw them closer to you. At that point, all future opportunity to help with understanding, if God should so choose that for them, has been lost. We have just become of tool of Satan for division, instead of a possible instrument of unity for God. We need to make sure we are not playing into Satan’s hand by using opportunities to fellowship as a tool for his divisive purposes. True fellowship should edify others (Ephesians 4:29), and will unite the Body rather than divide it.
Scriptural understanding is the job of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14). Interestingly, Jesus hasn’t seen the need to give all of us perfect, in-sync understanding of all things at this time. If He loves us with imperfect and incomplete scriptural understanding, why can’t we have the same love for one another that He has for us (John 14:12, 13, 17)? Maybe He is wanting to see if we will love one another even when we don’t all see things exactly the same. If we become overbearing, trying to use our understanding of Scripture as a weapon, attempting to beat others into submission with our point of view, we become offensive and divisive to the Body. It is then that our need to be right becomes wrong.