ENEMIES OF GOD

 

Enemies of God and of God's people have been pervasive and prominent since the beginning of the human family. The book of Genesis does not use the word "enemy" in reference to Satan, but every serious Bible student knows he was and is God's enemy and the enemy of mankind. He led Adam and Eve into rebellion against God- by promising them they would be like gods, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5). The sin of our first parents brought death into the world. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). All people who deny the existence of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the scriptures, the Bible plan of salvation, the absolute moral values found in the scriptures and the divine pattern God has given for his church are enemies of God and of God's people. Those enemies of God and of his people may not think of themselves in that light, but they really are enemies. Our time today will be devoted to an examination of some of these enemies.

 

It would be worthwhile, if time permitted, to examine what the Old Testament teaches about God's enemies and the enemies of the Jewish nation. We know that many of the nations surrounding Israel in ancient times were determined either to destroy the Israelites or to keep them in abject slavery. The Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, the Hittites, the Amorites and many other pagan nations hated Israel and her God. Those ancient nations were similar to many of modern Arab countries that have vowed to destroy the nation of Israel from the very face of the earth. While I am concerned about God's enemies under the first covenant, my time today will be devoted to identifying and discussing God's enemies in the Christian era.

 

Tragically, the early Christians encountered many enemies, both among the Jews and among the Gentiles. It ought to be obvious to any sincere student of the word that the Jews who arrested Peter and John for performing a mighty miracle at the Beautiful gate of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem were enemies of God's people. They admitted: "For that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all  them who dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16). Why were not the Jewish leaders as honest as Nicodemus who said to Jesus, "We know you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him" (John 3:2)? The Jewish leaders had to know that Peter and John could not perform miracles without the supernatural power of God. So why did they not swallow their envy and pride and commit themselves to the gospel of Christ? They were bitter enemies of God and of his people.

 

Paul's letter to the Philippians is one of the most gracious, loving and joyful epistles in the New Testament. There was wonderful fellowship between the apostle Paul and the Christians at Philippi. Paul thanked God upon every remembrance of his fellow Christians in Philippi. He always remembered them in his prayers, making request for them with joy. He was grateful for their fellowship, including their financial support, from his first day in the city until the time of his writing his epistle to them. He longed to see them and prayed that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment (Phil. 1:3-5, 8-9). There is no doubt that the love of Paul and of the Philippians was mutual.

 

But he wanted them to know there were teachers at Philippi who did not have the Philippians' best interests at heart—teachers who could cause them to lose their salvation. He warned them: "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who walk so as you have us for an example. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phil. 3:17-19). Paul does not identify those enemies of the cross, but we know he was concerned about the damage they could do to the cause of our Lord. He knew what would be the ultimate fate of Christ's enemies—if they did not repent—but he did not want them to lead his brothers and sisters astray. So he asked the Philippians to imitate his example of Christian behavior and service and not  to follow the enemies of the cross of Christ.

 

Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and many other unbelievers are intentionally enemies of God and of his people. They claim to have reasons for not believing in God. A number of years ago a newspaper columnist interviewed Bertrand Russell who claimed to be an agnostic—not an atheist, although in Russell's case, there really was not much, if any, difference. The interviewer asked Russell what he would say to God at the judgment, if there is a God and he had to appear before God in the judgment. He said he would tell God that God did not give him enough evidence. I have news for all who entertain such absolutely irrational notions. They will be groveling in the presence of God at the judgment. The apostle Paul explains: "Wherefore God has highly exalted him (that is, Jesus Christ), and given him a name that is above every name: that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). Neither Bertrand Russell nor any other unbeliever will challenge the God of this universe by pretending that God did not give them enough evidence. How absolutely arrogant!

 

The scriptures nowhere make a formal argument for the existence of God. But the so-called "design argument" is implicit in many biblical passages. For example, the inspired psalmist wrote: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hidden from the heat thereof (Psa. 19:1-6). In his letter to the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul uses the same argument I have read to you from Psalms 19. Paul says, in effect, that those who cannot see the hand of God in our material universe are without excuse: "because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Rom. 1:20-21). How could Bertrand Russell or any other intelligent person reject the existence of God when there is such an abundance of evidence of his existence? Could it be that they do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:28)?

 

The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). The book of John continually emphasizes that truth. For example, the fourth gospel opens with this statement. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3). And who is the Word who was with God and was God? "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Later in the book of John, Jesus told some Jews: "My Father works until now, and I work also" (John 5:17). The Jews just knew Jesus was guilty of blasphemy because he had made himself equal with God since he called God his Father. If Jesus knew he was not equal with the Father, why did he not correct the Jews (John 5:18)? Would not honesty require him to do that? The rest of John 5 is devoted to proving that Jesus is equal with God the Father. God the Father bore witness through many miraculous events that Jesus was God and came from God the Father (John 5:36-37).

 

Liberal theologians have attacked virtually every facet of Christ's life. For example, John Shelby Spong, former bishop of the New Jersey Diocese of the Episcopal Church, vigorously opposes the Bible's teaching about the virgin birth. In his book, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), Spong asks: "Is there any possibility that the narratives of our Lord's birth are historical?" For someone who claims we cannot know, Spong takes a very strong stand against the New Testament's teaching about the virgin birth. He says very simply and dogmatically, of course they are not historical. "Even to raise the question is to betray an ignorance about birth narratives." "What this means is that the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke finally said nothing about the birth of Jesus" (p. 59).

 

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, one of England's most widely recognized and loved Methodist preachers, wrote a book with the title, The Christian Agnostic (Nashville: Abingdon, 1965). He recommended that the Christian layman "put the idea of the Virgin Birth into an imaginary mental drawer to be labeled, 'Awaiting further light.'" He expresses certainty that the doctrine is of no importance. If it were important, it would have been a part of the missionary message of the church. He asks, "How can a doctrine be essential in a religion if the founder of that religion never mentions it, or teaches his apostles to pass it on" (p. 99)? And how did Weatherhead know Jesus never mentioned the virgin birth? If the doctrine were not important, why would one of the Lord's apostles begin his gospel with the story of the virgin birth of our Lord?

 

William Barclay's commentaries are among the most popular commentaries on the New Testament. Barclay wanted to be known as a conservative scholar—and is on many topics—but is liberal on other topics. In his commentary on The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), Dr. Barclay says concerning the virgin birth: "This is a doctrine which presents many difficulties; and our Church (meaning the Church of Scotland) does not compel us to accept it in the literal and the physical sense. This is one of the doctrines on which the Church says that we have full liberty to come to our own conclusion" (p. 20). There is a very serious problem with Dr. Barclay's view: No church and no individual has the authority to ignore what the Bible explicitly teaches on any topic. The story of the virgin birth is true in the literal and in the physical sense, regardless of the view of William Barclay or of the Church of Scotland. If we cannot depend on the Bible's teaching in this instance, how can we be sure of its teaching on other topics? The sad truth is that anyone who denies the virgin birth of our Lord, his resurrection, the great miracles he performed and his second coming is God's enemy and the enemy of God's people.

 

The inspiration of the scriptures is one of the most crucial issues confronting the religious world. Most liberals, some evangelicals and a few preachers among churches of Christ deny the inerrancy of the word of God. The word "inerrancy" as applied to the Bible means that the Bible is without errors—scientific, geographical, moral and spiritual. John Shelby Spong's book, Born of a Woman, says "The Bible is full of contradictions." For example, God commanded, "You shall not kill" (Ex. 20:13) and yet he instructed the Israelites to "slay the Amalekites, every man, woman and child" (1 Sam. 15:3ff.). Does John Shelby Spong not know the difference between killing and murder? The commandment in Exodus 20:13 does not forbid killing; it forbids murder. Spong could not be ignorant of that fact, but chooses to use it against the Bible. Spong also accuses some of the New Testament writers of being anti-Semitic (p. 8). What is truly strange and ridiculous about that accusation is that every one of the New Testament writers, with the exception of Luke, was Jewish. Why would they be anti-Semitic when they were all Semitic in their ethnic backgrounds?

 

While I am deeply troubled by John Shelby Spong's criticisms of the Bible, what troubles me most is when professors in our own schools attack the Bible as being wrong on certain subjects. Kenneth L. Cukrowski, Mark W. Hamilton arid James W. Thompson have written a very disturbing book with the title, God's Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture (Abilene: ACU Press, 2002). These three professors attack the idea of biblical inerrancy. They claim "the ancient writers worked with standards that are not our own." For example, John "writes as an evangelist to elicit faith, not as an investigative journalist" (p. 41). Does that mean John could tell a little lie—not a big lie now—just a little lie to turn men to Jesus          Christ who is the truth (John 14:6)? Did the Bible writers have a license to twist the facts of the life of Christ so as to lead men to the one who said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32)? And if John lied, maybe Paul also did when he wrote: "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).

  

The three professors claim: "The Bible is not a book of history or science" (p. 44). Does that mean the Bible is unreliable both on historical and scientific subjects? I wonder if these three left-leaning professors have ever studied the literary productions of Robert Dick Wilson, one of the world's greatest Bible scholars. Dr. Wilson taught biblical languages at Princeton Theological Seminary for many years and produced some of the best books on the Bible ever written. In his little booklet, Is Higher Criticism Scholarly (Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Company, 1922), Dr. Wilson affirmed: "No man knows enough to assail the truthfulness of the Old Testament" (p. 10). Please listen to a brief excerpt from the book, God's Holy Fire. "But what is crucial for the church today is not the raw data of the history of the exodus and subsequent events, but the meaning of the story of exodus that Jews and Christians repeated over and again to their children" (p. 100). In other words, it was permissible for parents to inspire their children to believe and tell the truth by inventing stories that might or might not be true. What would have been the children's reactions when they learned that the exodus and other Old Testament stories were on the same level as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Do these men not understand how their approach to scripture undermines men's faith in the Bible as the word of God?

 

Many modern theologians, including the three professors I have mentioned, deny that God has given a pattern for the church. Does that mean we are not obligated to obey the precepts that appear in the word of God? When a penitent believer asked the Lord what he had to do to be saved, the Lord instructed him to go into Damascus and there he would be told what to do. God sent a preacher to tell Saul of Tarsus: "Arise, and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Is it illogical and unscriptural to conclude that faith, repentance and baptism constituted a pattern? If penitent believers obey the Lord in baptism today, will their sins be washed away? If that does not constitute a pattern, why did all the conversions in the book of Acts follow the same general pattern? Did they not all have to believe in Christ, repent of their alien sins and be baptized for the remission of their sins? What could possibly be wrong with referring to those steps as a pattern?

 

And how do we know what pleases God in worship unless the Bible reveals a pattern for our worship? Can we just guess what pleases him or do what pleases us? The Bible specifically instructs us to sing praises to God (Eph. 5:19), to partake of the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 11:23ff.), to pray to our heavenly Father (Acts 2:42), to teach or preach his word (Acts 2:42) and to give of our means to support the Lord's work (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Do these acts of worship constitute a pattern? If they do not, why do almost all groups that identify themselves as Christian engage in all of these acts of worship?

 

Time does not permit an in-depth study of the moral values many within our nation ignore or deliberately flaunt. Sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, prostitution, pornography, dishonesty in business and in the professions are destroying our way of life. Paul exhorted the Ephesians: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things that are done of them in secret" (Eph. 5:11-12).

 

I close today with a plea. If you are an enemy of God and of his people, I urge you to make a radical change today. The Ephesians had been God's enemies, but they obeyed the gospel and became God's friends. The Bible refers to the process as reconciliation. In reconciliation, we exchange enmity for friendship (Eph. 2:11-17).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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