[Note: This is the final blog of a series .]
At the end of the lengthy previous section of this series, we asked what someone is supposed to do in light of the knowledge of the importance of love to God, what it means in its practical application, and the seriousness of judgment that follows from the lack of love and respect in our treatment of others, whether we are believers or not. If we are at all cut to the heart by rebukes such as this one or others  that lament the lack of unity and the squabbling and infighting among us as professed believers in a God of unity and love and peace, the natural question to ask is, “What do you want us to do?” This is the question I hope to answer today as we finish this series on the acquisition of the heart knowledge that is required for salvation.
There are many answers that people try to give to this question. For example, the anonymous post quoted above and in the previous section of this series makes the following list of suggestions to leaders of the various organizations in the Church of God about what can be done for those who wish to mend their ways in light of the reality of their ungodly and embarrassing conduct with regards to fragmentation and harsh rhetoric against their brothers and sisters:
“So what can we do about the many divisions in God’s church? Our job (all members, leaders included) is to become one with our Father. As we do that, we will automatically be one with each other. Since we are clearly not one with each other, that means we are also failing spectacularly at becoming one with our Father. That is why I said before that we all bear responsibility for this. The general solution then is for all of us (leaders especially) to get serious about becoming one with our Father. We can do this by:
Fasting (leading to genuine repentance, not with a personal agenda)
Genuinely getting rid of our personal agendas
Genuinely getting rid of pride: about position, personality, name, family history, perceived accomplishments, how much smarter we think we are than everyone else, etc.
Stopping our mistreatment of others
Making amends for past mistreatment of others
Forgiving others for their past mistreatment of us
I could go on, but this would be a solid start. The key to success here is to be genuine and honest in our efforts and to make this our first priority. Yes, I know that preaching the gospel should be a very important effort we make as a church, but you know what? We have no credibility in preaching the good news of peace and harmony in God’s restored government as long as we remain unable and unwilling to get along with the rest of our family. Until we fix this division, all the gospel preaching in the world will be empty .”
Continuing with my pattern in previous sections of this series, I do not wish to give merely my personal opinions as to what should be done to someone who takes God’s ways and warnings seriously. After all, the value of my own opinions and judgments is likely to be valued for personal reasons, and given that readers of my writings know who I am and quite possibly a great deal of my own conduct, such advice is likely to be taken either with partisan fervor or with great personal offense simply because of who I am as a person. Ultimately, it is not what I say that matters, but whether I (or anyone else) can be an effective conduit in expressing the truths of God through word and deed. Therefore, I would like to answer this question not with a personal list of actions, but rather with a set of godly responses taken from scripture that express how godly people in times past responded or were instructed to respond to the godly rebuke and exhortation of others.
Before I provide these principles, though, I would like to speak personally to my audience. I believe that most of the people who come across this series, and especially who will have the patience to read through thousands of words of biblical quotations and personal commentary and impassioned exhortation will be fellow members of the Church of God. I do not write merely to the gentlemen who lead these religious organizations, but my intended audience is made up of men and women and children (at least teenagers) who are committed to God’s ways and who long to see unity in the larger body of the Church of God, as well as within our congregations and even our families. I write to those who wish as well not only for unity within our organizations and institutions, but who also wish for our love and outgoing concern to spread beyond the Church of God to those who suffer around the world from the injustices and wickedness of others, who wish for us to extend encouragement and support to survivors of rape and abuse, slavery and human trafficking, and the more ordinary and often forgotten problems like poverty, bullying, addictions, and other lamentable aspects of our lives in a fallen world. There are many who have suffered these evils within our congregations, often suffering in silence because they did not believe that others would have compassion on them if they voiced their sometimes daily struggles to simply go about life given the reality of their burdens. This should not be so–it is of the utmost importance that the people of God be able to demonstrate love and concern and graciousness and kindness to those who suffer as a result of sin both within our families and congregations and organizations and also in the larger world. For God calls the broken, the isolated, the lonely, and those who are troubled and tormented into His family to be made whole, and to be a beacon of light in the world for others to follow. Those of us who expect to be kings and priests in the world to come can expect to be deeply familiar with the brokenness that results from sin and judgment, and if we cannot show such compassion to our fellow brethren with the Spirit of God dwelling in them and working with their lives, how will we be able to show such compassion and gentleness to those we will be called upon to lead and serve as kings and priests in His Millennial kingdom?
I write, though, to an audience that I know possesses love for God’s ways, and I know this from personal observation. During the early-to-mid 1990’s, we were faced with dishonest and abusive rhetoric at the hands of many of the leaders of the former Worldwide Church of God, who sought to paint following God’s ways, including the Sabbath and the Holy Days, among other aspects, as a burden and as trying to earn salvation. Our response was to affirm that we did not wish to earn salvation, because that is impossible, but rather that our obedience to God’s laws sprang out of love for God and out of a desire to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, who called Himself (among other titles) the Lord of the Sabbath . In the spring of 1995, when I was a young teenager, I was part of a group of people who attended the Holy Day services for the Days of Unleavened Bread as part of what we called WW2. We met at a hall originally set up as a deaf cultural center in the city of Largo, and at the end of services we sang the hymn “O How Love I Thy Law,” with words taken from Psalm 119. This choice of psalm, and the meaning it had, received a standing ovation from an audience that celebrated being free to sing this song with all of the sentiments that we felt, and that we still continue to feel. In repeating this story to others, I have heard of similar spontaneous eruptions of joy in other places at the same time to the same situation, as many people felt the same way and expressed their love and devotion to God’s ways in like fashion. Therefore, in writing these words I do so knowing that I am writing to an audience which possesses hearts full of love towards God’s ways.
It is not always easy, though, to demonstrate the same love to imperfect and flawed people as it is to perfect and unchanging principles. The love that we have for God’s ways is a result of our own personal relationship with God and our personal understanding of the knowledge conveyed in booklets and articles, in blog entries and sermons and Bible studies and television and radio programs over years and decades of affiliation and attendance with the Church of God. The love that we show for other people, others who have their own personal sensitivities, their irritating and frustrating ways, their own differences in vocabulary and emphasis, their own personal stories and perspectives that may differ from our own, their own understandings and interpretations that may be unique to them, is much more difficult because it forces us to have empathy and understanding for where other people come from and the different road all of them are traveling, even if it is to the same destination of the Kingdom of God. This love requires respect, it requires taking the time to see someone as a person, to know them and have compassion on them for their own burdens, and to recognize that their sometimes bothersome behavior is not a personal affront but is rather the result of their own personality and character and their own sincerity of purposeful living, or the fact that they (like we ourselves) are imperfect human beings with rough edges that are still being polished by our common master sculptor. Yet God is not constructing individual relationships with believers, but rather is building a family, a temple, a holy city of extremely diverse people from different backgrounds who share a common Father and a common love of God’s ways, expressed with all the variety in Creation that God and Jesus Christ appreciate and enjoy. A lot of the difficulty of life comes in showing love and respect to those who are different from us, and in learning to discern that not all differences are a matter of heresy or carnality, but that God simply appreciates praise in diverse manners, and that He appreciates such variety and complexity a lot more than we often do. Our love needs to be more than merely conceptual head knowledge, but it needs to be a love of the heart for God’s present and future family as a whole. It is only then that we will be able to be united in love and harmony as we were called to be. I know that love exists in our hearts; we just need to show it more openly and more often and more widely.
Having said that, let us return to the original question. What are we to do in the knowledge that we have fallen short of God’s standards with regards to the knowledge of the heart expressed in words and actions towards others? The first thing to do is ask. Peter, in speaking to devout Jews who had not yet committed to Christ, gave the following advice to those who were cut to the heart and desired to be made right with God in Acts 2:37-39: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”” James, in writing to believers, gave the same advice concerning those who lacked wisdom, in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” The first thing we need to do, if we lack something we deeply long for and that is necessary for salvation, is to ask God for it in faith, in the knowledge that God is generous with his gifts. Similarly, we wish for our brethren to explain themselves if we do not understand them, or if we wish to show our repentance for the offenses we have committed against others, we should ask for their explanations and their graciousness as well.
Similarly, if we are troubled in heart about the state of our world and of our relationships, should we not fast about it in the way described in Isaiah 58:6-12? As it is written, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.” Is this not what we want for ourselves and our brethren and our world? Do we not want the burdens to be lifted, for the breaches between us to be repaired, for the ruins we inhabit to be rebuilt, for the poor and the the naked to be fed and clothed? Then let us fast and pray, and to show love and compassion to others as we are able.
A large part of this task requires us to build relationships with others so that no one has to bear the burdens of life alone. As it is written in Galatians 6:1-5: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” Let us be humble and gentle, encouraging others to deal with their own responsibilities even as we help others with burdens that no one can bear alone, the burdens that come from living in a world of disease and death, of sin and wickedness, of the abuse of others and ourselves. These burdens lie heavily on us all, and in order to bear them we must join together in gentleness and compassion, so that we can all rejoice in the satisfaction of walking God’s ways with godly brothers and sisters in the faith.
If we are sensitive to look for it, God has told us openly what he expects of us, as it is written in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” To be sure, none of these is easy, but we have a loving Father in heaven who wishes for us to succeed and who is ready and able to help us where we are unable to help ourselves. If we want to live lives of peace and love and unity with others, these are aspects of God’s perfect character we must acquire through practice. We must live justly, to be fair and equitable in our dealings, to be people of honor and integrity in our conduct, people who are willing to give the benefit of the doubt and who do not enter into a conversation with their minds made up before having gathered all of the facts necessary for a just judgment. We must love mercy, to be kind and gracious even to our enemies, to those who consistently and tragically misunderstand us and speak evil against us, to be people of whom it is easy to ask for mercy because they come with confidence that we will give it to them, even as they know we will hold ourselves and everyone else to a high standard of behavior. Likewise, we must walk humbly, knowing we are imperfect and that we do not understand others perfectly. A large proportion of our difficulties with others would be resolved if we acted in justice, truth, mercy, love, and humility, and if others acted towards us in kind. It is that task we must set ourselves to do.
In addition to all of this, let us repent to God for what we have done. As David repented openly and publicly for his adultery with Bathsheba when he was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, so too let the following words be our own when seeking restoration with God and with others after we have confessed our sins and trespasses, as it is written in Psalm 51:10-13: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” For those who are teachers and leaders in institutions who have need to repent of their ways, we must follow a particular order. First we repent of what we have done, and accept whatever judgment God gives us here and now in leiu of the death that we deserve for our sins. Then we ask God’s favor, for Him to create in us a clean heart, free of our past sins, and renew the Holy Spirit and not take it away from us, casting us out of His family. Then, once we have been restored on the inside, we are fit to teach transgressors of their ways and to encourage their own repentance and conversion to God’s ways. We must be made right with God and each other before we can encourage and exhort and rebuke others to be made right with God. Let us first tend to our own house, that we may be fit to work further abroad.
Let us end where we began. We began this series in Hosea 6:4, with the following warning: “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.” Having seen that this knowledge was not intellectual knowledge, but was the knowledge and experience of behaving in love and compassion and concern for others, which is an essential aspect of our becoming competent to serve as priests and kings in His kingdom and to be a part of His family, what does Hosea have to say about what we should do in the reality of God’s warnings and judgment. The judgment of God is not the last word. As Hosea himself writes in Hosea 6:1-3: “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” Like a dry and dessicated land seeking the gentle and restoring rains from heaven, let us too return to God and seek after His knowledge, so that from our hearts may pour love and concern and compassion and mercy for our brethren, and indeed for the whole world as well. For if we return to God, if we seek to make His character our own, His ways our own, and seek His heart and mind within us, then we too shall be restored with the waters of His grace, to blossom and flower into a land that will abundantly show God’s ways to others, to encourage them also to repent from their wicked ways and seek God for themselves. Is that not what we were put on this earth to do in the first place?
 See the previous blogs in this series:
 A longer personal discussion on the specific issue of the Sabbath can be found in these places: