By Larry L. Booker
The commandments of God are important to Him and He expects them to be important to us. Just how important is seen in Isaiah 58:1-3: (Note; I am purposely leaving out a portion of the text) “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways…they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted…”
This text is speaking of a religious body of people who seek God daily; that is, they pray every day. They delight to know His ways and they ask of God “the ordinances of justice.” They take delight in approaching God; that is, they enjoy praising Him. And they are a people who actually fast. At face value they sound like a good, dedicated group of believers. God, however, sees the bigger picture, and to Him something is entirely amiss: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
Let’s consider what they were not doing. Verse 2 says that they did all of these things, “as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God” (this is the part purposely omitted above). These people did everything but keep the commandments of God, which is always `bad business.’
It is important to understand what God is saying here. He does not care how much you pray, how often you fast, how fervently you worship, or what you know about justice; if you do not keep His commandments your sins and transgressions will be declared “like a trumpet.” Anyone who can disobey God’s word with impunity, regardless of religious gestures, is headed for destruction. “Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed….” (Proverbs 13:13)
Furthermore, God will treat us with the same respect that we show His word. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; where is the house that ye build unto me: and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but, to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:1-2). God pays attention to, and finds rest in, the man who keeps His ordinances, and who “trembles” (stands in awe) at His word.
On the other hand, when an individual has no compunction about ignoring God’s word, yet continues in a `form of godliness,’ he fulfills verses 3 and 4: “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man: he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that bumeth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions and bring their fears upon them….”
No one can afford to play games with God and His word, as no soul can afford delusion and torment.
In I Corinthians 11:1-2 the Apostle Paul writes: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them unto you.” While we are not sure what ordinances Paul had already delivered to the Corinthians and was making reference to, the ordinances that he proceeds to talk about are the ones concerning men not having long hair and women having long (or, uncut) hair.
There are many churches today, even in Apostolic circles, that refuse to acknowledge this, as well as other ordinances, This is a great mistake that brings tragic consequences. Prayer without obedience does not please God. As far as God is concerned, anyone who gets out of the `obedience business’ might as well quit the `praying business,’ also. “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9) Don’t pray if you’re not willing to obey. The only prayer that God is concerned with after disobedience to Him has occurred is a heartfelt prayer of repentance. Disobedient, unrepentant people, no matter how much they may pray, praise or learn, are serving only a `calf of gold.’ Serving a god of that nature may be a convenient thing for the carnal mind, but it’s of no use when you need a God of grace, glory and deliverance.
Mankind needs a God who can direct his steps, because, quite frankly, we don’t know how to do it. “0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Left to ourselves, we don’t have enough sense to `come in out of the rain’ let alone make it to heaven. Our entire existence was spent in darkness until the Lord shined His light on our path through His word. And we “…do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place….” (II Peter 1:19)
A golden calf has no power to lead, give light or anything else. It is God and His word that bring us the true light. He is the one who created us and know what makes us `tick.’ If we will walk with Him and obey His word, the Living God will see us through this dark world to everlasting life. It doesn’t have to be confusing or hard to live for God, for “…the way of the righteous is made plain” (Proverbs 15:19).
Issues Of Life And Death?
Sometimes when teaching the ordinances of God the question is asked, “Is this really necessary? Are these heaven-or-hell issues?”
Let me begin to answer that by posing another question: Is it a life-or-death issue for a parent to allow a small child to play in the street? The answer depends on what is coming down the road. If the road is never traveled, and nothing is coming down it, then it wouldn’t matter if the child played in the street. But if cars, trucks and semi’s travel that road, then, obviously, it is a life-and-death decision.
The child may play out there for years and never get hurt. He or she may pay close attention, have good hearing and be adept in getting out of the way of oncoming vehicles. But if that child is ever run over, none of that will matter. What rationale could a parent find to console them for their poor judgment?
As a pastor, I will stand before God for the decisions I make and the things I teach concerning every soul He places under my care. For a preacher to spiritually say, “It doesn’t matter. If you want to play those games in the street, go right ahead,” is gross negligence on his part. God help the people who are under the type of pastor who would be willing to `toss the dice and take a gamble’ with the well-being of their souls. God have mercy on the people who trust the judgment of a pastor who doesn’t care.
It has been said, “Some preachers make such a big deal out of things that God gave so little space to in scripture!” I believe that Jesus addressed this line of thinking very thoroughly in Matthew 5:18-19: “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Some other translations of this text are also informative:
“Whoever therefore tries to weaken even one of these smallest commandments….” (Lam)
“…disregards the least significant of these commandments….” (Ber)
“…a single one of these commands, were it even one of the least…” (Mot)
“Therefore the man who abolishes one of these little rules ” (Rieu)
Jesus is obviously very interested in us keeping even these “least commandments.”
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was not given for any message that I preached, or deed that I did. It came from a man we had won to the Lord years ago. He came to me with tears in his eyes, holding his two beautiful little girls, and said, “Pastor, I want to thank you for making this church a safe place for me ro raise my family.” This man and his wife were thankful for a pastor who did not let them play in the street. They knew, as well as I, that their “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour….” (I Peter 5:8) In our world there is a pathological killer on the prowl. He is behind the wheel of a vehicle devised for death, stalking the highways and byways, looking for `children’ who are playing outside the boundaries of holiness.
Who Will Shut The Doors?
In the book of Malachi the Lord speaks to His people in a series of statements, questions and answers designed to provoke thoughts that might save them. He begins with the statement “I have loved you saith the Lord.” He then asks the question (as coming from Israel) “Yet you say, Wherein bast thou loved us?” He answers, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother…Yet I loved Jacob and I hated Esau….” (chap-ter 1:2-3)
In chapter 1, verses 6-8 we read: “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is my honor? And if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the Lord of Hosts unto you O priest that despise my name.”
Israel replies, “Wherein have we despised thy name?”
God answers, “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar.” Israel asks, “Wherein have we polluted thee?”
God answers, “In that ye say the table of the Lord is contemptible. And ye offer the blind for sacrifice…and ye offer the lame and the sick…is it not evil? …offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee or accept thy person?”
In verse 12 God indicts them for profaning His name in saying, “The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat is contemptible,” also “What a weariness is it!”
In chapter 3 verse 8 God asks a seemingly ridiculous question: “Will a man rob God?” When they replied, “Wherein have we robbed thee?” God answered, “You have robbed me in tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”
It is obvious that we are dealing with a `religious’ but backslidden people. This last Israelite generation to receive the writings we call the Old Testament were like so many others, in that they `”…draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me….” (Isaiah 29:13) We see how much their cold carnality vexed God in Malachi 1:10. In the midst of this discourse. God asks one of the most pointed questions of all, “Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for naught?” God actually became so frustrated with Israel’s half-hearted worship and service that He said, `I wish there was a priest among you who would shut the doors.’ Or, to apply it to a New Testament ecclesia, `I wish that church would just shut down and riot even call itself a church.’
A similar case in our own dispensation is seen in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Because of their lack of reverence concerning the Lord’s supper, he said that their coming together was “…not for the better but for the worse.” (I Corinthians 11:17) As far as God is concerned, church service that is not carried out in decency and sincerity is worse than no service at all.
That God would actually shut down a church is seen in the book of Revelation. To the once-great church of Ephesus He wrote, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove the candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5). This is not to say that the Ephesians could not continue in their love-less service any less than Israel in Malachi’s day continued in their half-hearted worship. But it did mean that as far as God’s presence and glory was concerned the candlestick was about to be removed.
Hell’s Theme Song
If there were a theme song in hell, it would go something like this: “What does it matter, what does it matter’? What difference does it make, what difference does it make?” While the world, the devil, backslidden preachers and indifferent saints all claim that holiness unto God and separation from the world no longer matters, “Jesus Christ [is still] the same yesterday, to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Scriptural mores have not and never will change. They do make a difference. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) Lines still make a difference.
In Luke 16 we read of a beggar named Lazarus and a certain rich man who fared sumptuously every day. The rich man was exceedingly comfortable, but he was lost. The beggar Lazarus was poor, sick and miserable, but he was saved. Outside of these differences all that was between these two men was a gate where Lazarus had been laid. The rich man could have and after a fashion�did, sing, “What does it matter, what difference does it make?”
After Lazarus and the rich man both died we see the difference. The rich man once more sees Lazarus. Now however, he’s not on the other side of a gate, but on the other side of a great, fixed gulf, in Abraham’s comforting bosom while he himself is in hell, forever. The rich man found out far, far too late what a difference a line can make.
Abner And The Line
In II Samuel chapter 3 Abner, the captain of the host for Israel’s army, found out how important a line can be. After conferring with King David he left the city of Hebron only to be called back by Joab, David’s highest general. Having slain Joab’s younger brother in a foolish battle, Abner should have known the great peril he was in due to Joab’s lust for vengeance. But, back to Hebron he went.
The city of Hebron was one of the six cities of refuge designated by Moses in Numbers chapter 35. A city of refuge was a place where one could find asylum from the “avenger of blood.” In those days if a man slew another, whether by accident or design, he was `free game’ to be slain by a kinsman or friend. The only chance to escape such vengeance was to flee to one of the refuge cities. There a trial would be held to determine the man’s innocence or guilt. Until this could all take place the only place of protection was within the walls of the city designated for refuge.
The blood of Joab’s brother Asahel could not be avenged within the walls of Hebron, as there had been no trial. Furthennore, the case against Abner was weak, since he really didn’t mean to kill Asahel, but only to stop his pursuit after the battle. [see II Samuel 2:18-30] Therefore, Joab had to get Abner outside of the city and away from the haven of safety. Once there, Joab could kill Abner with impunity.
They strolled toward the gates of the city arm-in-arm, in what seemed an aimless and harmless excursion. But as soon as they stepped through the gate, Joab pulled a knife free and thrust it under Abner’s fifth rib and coldly watched him die. Had Joab committed this act of vengeance on the wrong side of the line, he could have died for it. But because he slyly moved Abner away from the perimeter of safety he could kill without fear of reprisal and apparently without remorse.
One can only speculate what Abner’s last thoughts were. They could well have been, `I have played the fool. If I’d only stayed on the right side of the line I could have lived.’ What a difference a boundary can make. What a difference a commandment can make. What a difference a line can make.
Samson And The Line
At the direction of the angel of the Lord, Samson’s parents placed the Nazarite vow upon him at his birth. This vow required that he never cut his hair, touch the dead body of a man or beast, or eat or drink any-thing from the fruit of the vine. (Numbers 6:1-10) As long as Samson lived within the confines of the vow placed on him, the spirit of the Lord would come upon him and he would have incredible strength. From the ripping apart of a lion to the slaying of 1,000 men with only the jawbone of an ass, Samson’s strength knew no bounds. Alas, Samson’s spirit knew no bounds either, and that became his down-fall.
On several occasions we find that Samson was a man totally governed by his passions. Nevertheless, as long as he kept at least the portion of the vow that had to do with his hair, God’s Spirit, no doubt for His own purposes, would fall upon Samson and give him great strength. [read Judges 13 through 16]
It was not until he finally crossed the line and told Delilah the source of his great strength that his locks were shorn. He then lost his strength and became like any other man. The Philistines came upon him, bound him, and destroyed his eyes. He became a source of mockery for the Philistines and a byword in Israeli history.
What difference did his consecration make? While he kept it, he could destroy lions, carry away massive city gates weighing literally tons, snap off ropes and destroy armies single-handedly. Once the locks of consecration were cut, he became like other men, with a host of enemies and no God to help him. He learned too late what a difference a line can make.
This article “The Indispensable Ordinances” written by Larry L. Booker is excerpted from his book What A Difference A Line Can Make.