It was the Winter of 1991, and I was making a return trip from Jordan Station, Ontario, my hometown, to Timmins, Ontario, where I was preaching at the time. It was a trip of approximately 500 miles almost due North. For the first 250 miles I drove through a torrential rain storm, but for the last half of the trip I traveled through the worst snow storm I have ever had the displeasure to drive through. I literally could not see more than a few feet in front of my car. I was in wilderness, and to pull over, I am certain, would have risked my life. There was nothing to do but follow the tire tracks I could see in front of me. I prayed that whoever this was that I was following, hopefully, would know where they were going.
I have observed that a lot people in the world, and even some of my brethren, seem to live their lives in a similar fashion. they have placed their eyes firmly upon another person, and wherever that person goes they follow. We watched in horror a few months ago as "Do" and his followers were taken in body bags from their rented home in San Diego. "Do" had determined it was time for he, and his followers, to end their earthly lives, and by so doing connect with a space craft he believed to be in the tail of the Hale-Bop comet. Several years ago we saw the terrible end of David Koresh, and his followers, the "Branch Davidian". Many of us can remember the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, where Jim Jones, the leader of several hundred followers ordered them to commit suicide. In my own family, I have a cousin who follows the supposed reincarnate Christ, the "Reverend" Sun Myung Moon. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of other gullible men and women follow this blasphemous, false teacher.
Why? Why do people so often follow other people? I don't know! I do not claim to be learned in the ways of psychology, nor do I particularly want to be. I do believe that there is something fundamentally missing from these peoples lives, and that they there- fore feel a need to follow another. I also believe that Satan, who ever looks into the hearts of this world's population for weaknesses, takes advantage of these lost souls. In truth Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seekingwhom he may devour."
As sad as it is to see people in the world caught up in the error of men following men, to me it is sadder by far to see men and women in the church of our Lord doing the very same thing. What is even sadder perhaps is that oftentimes it is done unawares. The scriptures teach us that the Berean brethren were a more noble people that those who lived in Thessalonica. Unlike the Thessalonicans, these brethren eagerly received the word that Paul taught them, but rather than just accept it as God's word, they did something else first, they "searched thescriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11b). I can't imagine a brother or sister in Christ who is not impressed with this attitude of heart. The Bereans wanted to make sure that what they believed, and therefore what they would practice and teach to others, was in truth the will of God.
This is indeed a most noble quality. But how often do we find ourselves, when faced with uncertainty about any given subject, searching our library to find out the opinion of a respected brother? How often is the phone picked up to call a brother for the very same purpose. Is it wrong to do this? I believe that depends on the heart of the individual searching the library, or making the phone call.
It is easy to fall into the trap of letting others do the thinking for us. Study can be hard work, and often is very time consuming, and it is very tempting to let someone else do the thinking for us. After all, as I have had pointed out to me in times past,"You're the preacher, and that's what you're paid to do." But brethren, study, and the convictions that come from that study, needs to be individual in nature. The Bereans understood that truth. Though Paul was an apostle of the Lord, even his word would not be taken without investigation.
As Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem in Acts 20, he stopped in Miletus, and sent for the elders from Ephesus. When they arrived he shared these words with them, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:28-30). Paul warned these elders that they needed to be careful of false teachers from without, and even from among themselves. The danger was that there would be those who would follow these deceptive teachers.
There is an obvious risk when men follow men instead of God. That is, of course, that men are not perfect, and are capable, even honestly, of believing and teaching that which is false. Far too often the cry goes out today, "Thus says brother so and so," rather than "Thus says the Lord!" Paul wrote and instructed Timothy to: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy. 2:15). It is only logical that Paul would instruct Timothy to do this, especially in light of these words which were also penned by his hand, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" ( 2 Corinthians. 5:10).
One day each of us will stand before the greatest of all judges. A judge who is not limited in knowledge or wisdom, but rather one who has all wisdom, and who will be aware of every movement we have ever made. Knowing this then, it is only logical that we should make sure that what we are doing is in harmony with the will of this great judge. The Bereans were not content to face Him based upon the words of an infallible man (albeit an apostle of the Lord), so why should we be content to face Him based on the words of infallible men today? Certainly there is no harm in seeking the wisdom and guidance of men and women in whom we have the deepest respect, but there is a problem when their counsel is taken as "Gospel."
I have often sought the guidance of others in whom I felt confidence, but I have always been especially impressed with those who have made it a point to impress on my mind that what they were sharing with me was their opinion, and that I needed to come to my own conclusions on the topic at hand.
Countless men and women have gone to their graves having lived their lives based upon the convictions of others. How foolish! Jeremiah wrote, "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah.10:23). If we want to get through life, and do so successfully, we need to follow God, and listen to man only when he speaks, "as the oracles of God" (1 Peter. 4:11).
I was lucky; I made it through the aforementioned blizzard without any mishaps. What normally took about four hours took more than seven, but I made it! I followed another man who fortunately knew his way. How many are not so fortunate?
There are, sadly, many who will continue to follow men, and I suppose will do so until the great day when our Lord will return. We need to make it a point in our lives not to be caught up in this foolishness.
The next time we are faced with uncertainty about God's will, let's turn to His word, and search for the truth ourselves. It will most certainly help us to grow stronger in our faith. It will help increase our own personal convictions as we search and find the answer we have been looking for. And, certainly, it is as God would have it, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen" (2 Peter. 3:18).
by John F. Maddocks
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