Read and Study the Words of Christ:
Here is a challenge for those who follow Christ. Read and study His Words. There are some, maybe many, who are afraid to look at the Words of Jesus. They will study the letters of the apostles. They will have classes based on books written on Christian subjects. But they will not have any course of Study that focuses on the Words of Jesus. They may, from time to time, refer to a verse from the words of Jesus to back up something that they were studying from another point of view, but I don’t see the focus being on the divinely revealed Words of Jesus. Perhaps I am totally wrong and I would love for someone to disprove me.
I don’t go to church often, but today I decided to sit in on the study session for a while. Apparently the last 6 weeks they had been studying a passage from a book that dealt with how to worship. While others were discussing what they had learned, I was asked to read a portion from the start of the first chapter they had studied to an elderly lady who had also missed the earlier sessions. The author began the chapter by stating that it was apparent from the bible that the first duty of a Christian was to minister unto God. Okay, I now would like to know what Biblical passages she felt would infer such an emphatic statement, but she only continued to emphasise the importance, without reference to any book, of ministering unto God. Eventually she referred to Genesis 1:1 to explain how God had conferred with Holy Spirit before creating the World. Genesis 1:1 states; “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This made the whole subject about as clear as mud to me, and the elderly lady I was reading to told me how she couldn’t understand anything that had recently been preached in the church, even going back to the previous minister’s messages. So I put down the pages I had been handed and turned to the Gospel of Matthew where I read; “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5: 3, 4) “That,” my elderly friend said, “I can understand.”
In defence of Paul
I often get accused of Paul bashing because I don’t believe that the words of Paul are equal in authority to the Words of Christ. Paul was a very wise man and the letters he wrote to the early believers was an invaluable resource that is still used today. We need not ignore what Paul said, but it needs to be put into perspective. Those who rely almost exclusively on the words of Paul for guidance will point me to the following passage from a Prayer of Christ revealed shortly before His Crucifixion. He was praying for the apostles who would be carrying on His work after He had left this earthly existence.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;” (John 17:20)
This, they feel, shows that Christ conveyed the full authority of His Word on the Apostles and therefore their words are equal in authority to His own. To me I simply see that He was inferring that the apostles would carry on His work and bring His Word to others. Thus, through the words of the apostles many would be led to believe in the Words of Christ.
Another passage I often have referred to me to is from the writings of Paul.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (Timothy 3:16)
This alarms me more than anything else in that they take this, and all of Paul’s writings, as Scripture. This is where I must stand up in Paul’s defense as I would hope someone in the future would stand up for me if ever, God Forbid, something I had written was taken as scripture. Okay; analyse this. Do you think for one moment that when Paul wrote this letter to his friend and colleague that he believed he was writing scripture? I think that if Paul even had an inkling of how his words would be used in the future he would never had written a thing. We can be glad that he did write because his advice and wisdom was and is often very valuable. Paul’s love and reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ would never allow him to assert himself over his beloved and Paul never considered his authority equal to his Lord’s.
Back To the Challenge:
Can you handle the Truth? What Jesus revealed was Truth. It was stated in the simplest terms so even the uneducated could understand it. It is clear. It is not debateable. It is Truth. To some this pure unadulterated form of Truth is too alarming to accept. Of course that’s not you or I, but we likely know someone who can’t handle the Truth.
So if this is the Truth, why is there such a reluctance to focus on it? Why do we feel the need to study the way Jane, Dick or Harry interpreted the Truth when we already have the Truth set before us? Why do we feel we need to complicate the simple Truth with the words of philosophers and wise men who mix their own ideas in with the simple Truth? This is beyond me.
I take this challenge beyond Christianity to all religions. I challenge everyone to turn to the writings and sayings of the prophet that each one believes in. There is only one God and only one religion which God has revealed to us through various prophets. The purpose of God’s Religion is to unite His people in love and harmony. Thus Jesus tells us; “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35) If we find someone claiming to be a disciple of Christ and they are filled with hate, we can remind them of this verse.
God spoke through Moses in the following way: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18) If we find someone of the Jewish persuasion that is bent on hatred and killing, we can remind him of this verse.
In the Qur'an it is revealed: “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing.” (The Qur'an (Pickthall tr), Sura 2 - The Cow vs 177) In other words Love one another. Be Kind. Be generous. Love.
Now for the Baha’is the challenge is even greater. Being in the early days of the Faith, there is much persecution in various parts of the world, and it will come here when religionist begin to perceive us as a threat. Yet we are commanded to love even our enemies.
In this wondrous age, however, praised be God, the commandments of God are not delimited, not restricted to any one group of people, rather have all the friends been commanded to show forth fellowship and love, consideration and generosity and loving-kindness to every community on earth. Now must the lovers of God arise to carry out these instructions of His: let them be kindly fathers to the children of the human race, and compassionate brothers to the youth, and self-denying offspring to those bent with years. The meaning of this is that ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies, and welcome them all with unalloyed friendship, good cheer, and loving-kindness. When ye meet with cruelty and persecution at another's hands, keep faith with him; when malevolence is directed your way, respond with a friendly heart. To the spears and arrows rained upon you, expose your breasts for a target mirror-bright; and in return for curses, taunts and wounding words, show forth abounding love. Thus will all peoples witness the power of the Most Great Name, and every nation acknowledge the might of the Ancient Beauty, and see how He hath toppled down the walls of discord, and how surely He hath guided all the peoples of the earth to oneness; how He hath lit man's world, and made this earth of dust to send forth streams of light. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 20)
Alas: If any of us have even the least trace of hatred in our hearts, we must be reminded of the command to love.
Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise without distinction. Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another. Recognize your enemies as friends, and consider those who wish you evil as the wishers of good. You must not see evil as evil and then compromise with your opinion, for to treat in a smooth, kindly way one whom you consider evil or an enemy is hypocrisy, and this is not worthy or allowable. You must consider your enemies as your friends, look upon your evil-wishers as your well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453)
So the Ancient Faith of God has been renewed once more. When you are familiar with the voice of Christ, Moses or Muhammad, you will recognize that voice once more in the following.
CX. The Great Being saith: O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity. This is the straight Path, the fixed and immovable foundation. Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure. Our hope is that the world's religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth.... It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things. Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. Consider for instance such things as liberty, civilization and the like. However much men of understanding may favorably regard them, they will, if carried to excess, exercise a pernicious influence upon men.... Please God, the peoples of the world may be led, as the result of the high endeavors exerted by their rulers and the wise and learned amongst men, to recognize their best interests. How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society?... The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 215 - 217)
God has always commanded us to love. He has always desired unity and well being for His people. Yet we have warred, hated and killed one another. Let us try peace and see if we like it. If it is not acceptable, we can always go back to the old way of war.
During the last six thousand years nations have hated one another, it is now time to stop. War must cease. Let us be united and love one another and await the result. We know the effects of war are bad. So let us try, as an experiment, peace, and if the results of peace are bad, then we can choose if it would be better to go back to the old state of war! Let us in any case make the experiment. If we see that unity brings Light we shall continue it. For six thousand years we have been walking on the left-hand path; let us walk on the right-hand path now. We have passed many centuries in darkness, let us advance towards the light. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 61, 62)