Rend Your Hearts, Not Your Garments

In ancient times in the near eastern lands, when individuals wished to show mourning or a deep sense of sorrow, they would tear their garments. Jacob mourned Joseph in such a way (Genesis 37:34). Job so mourned the loss of his family and possessions likewise (Job 1:20). 2 Samuel 1:11 records for us David’s response to the death of Saul and Jonathan. Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. This custom expressed in an external way what was happening inside the suffering individual.

In the day of Joel, the fickle people of Israel had a history of acting one way, but being another. For their sins, God’s prophets proclaimed that God would bring judgment upon them. Joel was one of those prophets. Nevertheless, there was still time for repentance. Referencing this custom, Joel emphasized that it had to be the people’s heart that changed, not merely their outward appearance. He wrote, Yet even now, saith Jehovah, turn ye unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto Jehovah your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repenteth him of the evil (Joel 2:12-13).

Rend your hearts and not your garments! Joel’s message still rings true today. God has always demanded that we first give to him our heart. David wrote in Psalms 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. So he desired God to Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Proverbs 4:23 states, Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.

The heart is what God desires from man. It is from the heart that either good or wicked things come. Jesus said, A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things (Matthew 12:35). If we give our hearts to God, then good things will come out within our lives. Yes, God wants our heart!

The only question we must answer is, Will we give it to him? As the people of Joel’s day were, so also are many today. God calls for them to repent, but the call goes unanswered. How about us? Will we give our hearts to God so that He may make of them what He wills? Will we, in humility and lowliness, kneel before the Father of all men and give Him what is due to Him? Rend your hearts and not your garments means that we must look inward to make changes before that which we do on the outside will be seen as a legitimate exercise to serve. Are our hearts torn?

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The Center

When we think of the word center we think middle or mean. In politics, the center is the middle point between radicals on the left and right; we call them moderates. When we think of an object such as an apple, the center is the core or middle, the part of the apple that contains the seeds. In religion, however, the center involves religious dogma or teaching. It is that teaching that most influences the whole of the religion. What ought we to put at the center of our theology? The answer to such a question would surely influence how we, as believers, behave.

Some have suggested that we put grace at the center of our theology. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man. God has demonstrated this favor in sending His Son, Jesus, to the earth for the purpose of dying on the cross for the sins of man. Through Jesus sacrifice, God made it possible for man’s sins to be forgiven. There’s no doubt that grace is a very important part of theology, but is it the center? Ephesians 2:5 says that we are saved by grace through faith which puts faith in an equal position with grace. So, grace, by itself, can’t be the center of our theology.

Some have suggested that we put the Bible at the center of our theology. The Bible is definitely important. Without it we would have no knowledge about God, salvation, Jesus, faith, and just about any other subject in the Christian religion; after all, faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). However, the Bible is a tool for learning. It, in and of itself, isn’t the object or center of our theology. The Bible (God’s word) points back toward the giver of that word, God Himself.

Some have suggested that we put Jesus at the center of our theology. Certainly this comes closer in our efforts to define what is at the center of our theology. Jesus is our Savior; He is our King; He is our Lord. He is the one to whom we give allegiance as Christians and there’s no doubt that He ought to be constantly in our thinking. However, even Jesus acknowledged that He was here to do the Father’s will. Jesus said, I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30). Jesus certainly comes closer than any particular doctrine or teaching and He points the way to what is at the center or heart of our theology (John 1:17).

So what ought to be the center of our theology? I would suggest that the word theology answers that question itself. God, with all of His attributes, is the center of our theology. Grace comes from God; faith comes from God; obedience comes from God as exemplified in the life of Jesus; the Bible comes from God as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit; love comes from God for God is love. Simply taking one aspect of God and putting it at the center of our theology really misses the point. God is at the center and His characteristics the subject of theology. The more we learn about God, the more we will be able to imitate His attributes and be like Him. Ephesians 5:1 says, Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.

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Practical Principles for Unity

Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to walk worthy of their calling, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. An endeavor is an exerted effort undertaken to reach a desired result. In the case that Paul sets forth, maintaining unity is that effort that we undertake that requires exertion! Unity doesn’t just happen; we must work at it in order to have it, and it is worth having. Our efforts unity must not compromise doctrinal truth, but be based upon it. Hence, we have the seven great ones of Ephesians 4:4-6. In such matters we cannot compromise truth for unity. However, in matters upon which one’s salvation doesn’t hinge, there are some principles for maintaining harmonious unity among the brethren. Let’s discuss a few of these things.

First, there is always the safe thing to do. Let’s suppose that we are discussing a doctrinal issue and there are two equally possible ways to understand a scripture. Take for example the qualification of elders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). It is clear that a man that has never been married would not meet this qualification. It is also clear that a woman would not meet this qualification. However, what about the man whose spouse has died and he now has a second wife? Some say that he is qualified. Some say that the qualification means one wife for life. How ought we to resolve the matter? We ought to be willing to go with what we know can’t be wrong. In this case, a person who has only had one wife his entire life no doubt meets this qualification. The path of unity, then, is clear. We choose the path that has no doubts and cannot be wrong.

Second, we do not necessarily need to insist upon our way of things even if we know we are right. There is a principle in scripture that Paul sets down in 1 Corinthians 6:7 that sometimes we ought to accept being wrong in order to maintain unity in the body. The example that Paul uses is a brother taking another brother to court. There may definitely be someone in the right and someone who is wrong in such a situation. However, Paul teaches that it would be better to be defrauded than to engage in such shameful behavior. This principle can be applied to other situations as well. Unity trumps our right to be right in such matters. Sometimes it is better to suffer wrong than to demand satisfaction.

Third, we need to exercise plenty of patience with those who are in error on matters that would not be the source of division (James 5:10). There are some sins that individuals commit that don’t threaten the unity of the church and there are some that do. In those sins that don’t threaten our unity, we need to be patient and allow people to grow. Every Christian has an obligation to grow (2 Peter 3:18) and the fact of the matter is that we don’t learn everything about being a Christian all at once. Moreover, some learn through teaching and others through personal experience. Each of these avenues requires patience in those who are spiritually mature to allow the learning Christian to absorb the material as well as apply practical experience to the information. Patience goes a long way toward unity.

These certainly aren’t the only practical principles for unity, but a generous application of each of these principles in our lives will help us to be united. Of course, in all of our Christian life we need to coat everything with a strong layer of love. Love goes a long way toward resolving differences before they get started. Love doesn’t solve everything, but we are definitely worse off without it than with it. So on top of everything else, we need to maintain an attitude of love toward one another. With love as our attitude and a willingness to practice patience, suffer wrong, and choose the safe path, along with our efforts to base unity on truth, we can maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

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