I keep seeing the same themes repeated in each letter. That in the end days there would be scoffers, false teachers, even believers that would follow the deceits and lead others into deceit with them. That the only way to avoid being deceived, was to stay true to the word of God that had been delivered to them.
They did not have printed Bibles.
They only had word-of-mouth. They had no other method of sharing God‘s word except person to person, through conversations one on one and in groups.
Think about how easily false doctrine could be spread, when the only way to spread God‘s word was verbally! And so the writers of each of the letters to all of the churches warned them not to fall prey to false teaching and fully expected they would be able to tell the difference between truth and deceit.
How is it possible that these men of God, giants of the faith, men who had literally walked with Jesus (except Paul and perhaps Jude), expected the believers would be able to discern between truth and lies when (until the letters were delivered!) they didn't have a written record to follow?
The answer is the same for us as it was for them; having been born again and filled with the spirit of the living God, we, like they, would be led by the Spirit into all truth! (John 16:13) We are to try every spirit against what we know to be God’s truth! (1 John 4:1) We are to trust the inner voice of the Lord himself by His Holy Spirit in us to guide us and keep us on the path of truth! (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18)
Learning to know and trust the leading of the Spirit unfortunately isn’t taught very well or very often in many of the churches. We are too often by actions and sermons, led to trust and follow whoever happens to have the microphone and a title without question.
And again too often, even though the Bible tells us not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds to God‘s truth, that truth only gets lip service, and is swept away by false doctrine that we need to be “like” the world to “compete” with the world for people’s attention. (Romans 12:2) Programs and classes and special meetings take the place of God’s word leaving the idea that in and of itself God's truth and Gift of Salvation is not enough to attract and hold peoples attention. We must have the latest in creature comforts, technology, music, seating and lighting with deep concern with people's comfort, putting extreme effort into not stepping on or offending opinions while offering the latest upgrade to the ladies room and the latest technology for the youth group.
What is actually being trumpeted is in fact conformity to the world couched in language to make us feel like we’re still doing the work of the Lord. This false doctrine or false ideology goes something like this; “if we behave like the world then the world will come to us and then we will suddenly change from being like the world and have opportunity to teach them about Christ."
However, it seldom if ever works that way! We get - we ARE - quite comfortable with the worldly way of compromise and soon, it feels right and natural to us so we stay that way. Before we know it we are defending it by saying "this is the way we've done it for a hundred years!" and no one remembers or cares how it was supposed to be, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide His church. Besides, the world has changed, right? And we need to keep up, right? Except Jesus is the SAME, yesterday, today and forever. Which strikes me as saying that if HE, our Head and Lord hasn't changed, why would He want His Body to change??? WHEW!! It gets exhausting, but following Jesus wasn't ever intended to be easy.
Take up your cross to follow me, Jesus told those disciples. Take up your cross and follow ME, He is telling us today. (Luke 9:23; consider that Jesus said this PRIOR to His crucifixion!)
And it is HARD! My past is a MESS of sin and error and I have to LET THAT GO in order to follow Him and it is hard, especially with all the many souls who don't mind reminding me what a mess I was!! And the devil has a lot of fun reminding me and accusing me, too! I have to forget what was and press on just like Paul had to do in his day. (Philippians 3: 12-21) Just like you have to do if you really want to follow Jesus.
Only by carefully following the precepts Jesus taught his disciples and his disciples taught their disciples and so on and so on, can there be no straying from the path. They were not to follow what some man said, which Paul brought out so clearly when he told them they were not of Apollos, they were not of Paul- they were to be imitators of God as the men of God imitated God himself. (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4; 4:6)
Replicating not human behavior or beliefs but replicating spiritual truths taught one on one on one on one.... and the way that they kept each other from going down paths of deception was not by just gathering for a sermon and a few songs occasionally; but by "full sharing" - FELLOWSHIPPING with each other regularly - literally by living in community with one another.
All that brings me to a fine point here. As I've prayed and contemplated and meditated on the letters the Holy Spirit inspired the early church elders to write to the groups of believers, I am convinced we as the Body of Christ aren't thinking according to the Word of God. It isn't that we shouldn't be attending church services, NO! Quite the opposite! I am convinced that we are to be more fully, more completely in community with one another on a regular, daily, lifestyle way of life.
Particularly with the signs of the end times we are seeing occur right before our eyes, I find myself in need of daily encouragement in fellowship with likeminded believers. I find I need to be surrounded more often by those who pray and worship the same God as I do!
I'm even wondering when the "mark" finally happens, how will we eat or meet our needs? I'm wondering if the time is NOW to make provision as a community? We know that wolves like to separate a sheep from the herd for easy pickings for their dinner. I wonder if that concept should be taken further. I"m wondering if we should be spending more of our lives together, not less!
Maybe the fellowship of believers should be plowing up church lands and planting food against the day we can't purchase it anymore? Maybe we should be raising chickens, cultivating a community storage system and learning to operate more fully as a family of God instead of individuals who spend an hour on Sunday and another on Wednesday evenings together?
I suppose you might say I'm being extreme, but the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, without warning, and the Word of God does say that we are to WATCH and PRAY and be prepared in fellowship with one another. Even if the DAY doesn't come in our lifetime, what perfect preparation for the generations coming after us! Drawing deeper into a lifestyle of fellowship with God and each other instead of being separate except on "occasion".
That is a HARD concept for the American mind in particular to grasp, with our fierce independent spirit and rugged individualism. Yet, for myself, the more I study the "early church" the more I see this kind of lifestyle. The more I consider what is happening in the world around us, the more I think community for a believer should mean so much more than Sunday and Wednesday.
I used to see the words of the scripture concerning the "end times" as something far off into the future. Now? I'm not so sure! Now I wonder if that future is NOW!
1Peter 4:7-11 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. 8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.