“Attend the church of your choice” is an expression so ingrained in the evangelical movement over the past century that one might think it is biblical. After all, from the spread of democracy around the globe to the dominance of free-market economics, the freedom of choice has come to be considered a basic human right. Such may be a good thing in the realm of worldly affairs but is the church a matter of choice? Evangelism has become consumerism in modern-day Christianity. The call that should be going forth to salvation seekers today is not: “Join the church of your choice,” but rather, “seek the church of Christ’s choice.” In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we note some biblical characteristics of the church established by Christ.
To the north of the city of Jericho is the Valley of Achor. It received its name in ancient times when the children of Israel were conquering the Land of Canaan. When Jericho was destroyed, the people were forbidden from taking the spoils of the city but that didn’t stop a man named Achan from stealing them. He stealthily took the treasure and buried it beneath his tent. This brought great disaster upon him, his family, and the nation. His name means “troublesome” and he lived up to his name in Joshua 7. Because of his deeds and the severe punishment God meted out, the place became known as the Valley of Trouble. Are you and your family camping in that valley today? In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we learn important lessons from this man and his sin which he brought into his home and into the camp of God.
I’m glad to be with you for a while today to study the word of God. In 2 Samuel 3 is one of the more sad and tragic stories of the Bible. It records the death of a man who did not have to die. In fact, he was only a few footsteps away from being in a place that would’ve saved his life. But it mattered not whether he was a hundred feet or a hundred miles from that place; he was outside where he needed to be. The fact that he was so close only makes it a greater tragedy.
Abner was a military commander and prominent figure in the early monarchies of Israel, particularly during the reign of Saul. But Abner got into trouble. He killed Asahel, the brother of another great man of war, Joab. In the course of time, Joab was determined to settle the score with Abner. Joab called Abner outside of the gates of the city of Hebron one day and killed him in revenge for what he had done to his brother.
2 Samuel 3:26-27 “And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not. And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.”
Joab was able to murder Abner by luring him just outside of the city. Just outside the gate, the dastardly deed was committed. Abner is a picture of many today who are in great danger spiritually but don’t realize it because they are just outside where they need to be. Could that be where you’re standing today? In this study, we’ll talk about how many people are deceived and are unknowingly and unnecessarily imperiling their souls.
Abner is a key figure in Israel during the time described in 1 & 2 Samuel. He was a cousin of King Saul and became the commander of Saul’s army. He served quite effectively under Saul and was respected by the king and was given a high place of honor in the kingdom. In one of his battles, he killed a man named Asahel and the victim’s brother, Joab, sought revenge against him. You may remember that Joab was David’s military leader.
Well, in the course of time, Saul died. Eventually, David became the king over all Israel. Abner at first worked against David but later defected and became loyal to the new king. David forgave him and perhaps all would’ve been well except that Joab was not going to let Abner off the hook so easily. He was still angry with Abner for killing his brother and he vowed revenge.
Back in that day, God designated certain cities as cities of refuge. They were sanctuary cities, where one who took another’s life under such circumstances as that of Abner could find protection from an avenger. The enemy could not harm the person if they went to one of these six cities of refuge so long as they remained inside its gates. One step that separated being inside or outside the gates could make all the difference of whether a person lived or died.
Hebron was one of these cities of refuge, and Abner was inside that city. He was safe from his enemy. But Joab tricked him into stepping outside of the city. Joab claimed that he wanted to work out a deal or truce between he and Abner and he called to Abner to step outside and discuss the matter. There, right at the gate of Hebron, the Bible says that Joab took out his knife and stabbed Abner under the fifth rib until he died. Thus, Joab avenged the blood of his brother. One step inside the gate and Abner would’ve lived. Isn’t that sad?
David was upset over Abner’s death because he had forgiven Abner. Joab was pursuing his own agenda over that of the king. David attended Abner’s funeral but his reaction to Abner’s death is quite interesting. As upset as he was at Joab for doing this, the Bible says that David remarked about the manner of Abner’s death and how unnecessary it was.
2 Samuel 3:32-33 “And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?”
Here is the king mourning his forgiven friend, but he says he died as a fool. He died as a fool because he stepped outside the place of safety. He was so very near the place that could’ve saved his life, but he listened to Joab and allowed himself to be drawn outside of the city by his enemy and he ended up losing his life.
Those cities of refuge established in Israel were types or shadows of Christ and His church. We’re told that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but Jesus is a city of refuge for the sinner who comes to Him in faith and obedience. The Hebrew writer speaks of the hope and comfort that is in Christ:
Hebrews 6:18 “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:”
The Greek verb that is translated fled for refuge is the exact word that is used in the Greek Septuagint in Numbers 35 to describe these six ancient cities of refuge. So, the Hebrew writer is saying that Christ and His church are to us what those cities were to those people back then. When we come to Christ, we are forgiven of our sins and we’re added to His church. We come into a place of safety. We come into His body which is a place of salvation through Christ.
Acts 2:47 “…And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Ephesians 5:23 “…Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”
Well, if Christ is the saviour of the body and the saved are added to the church, what should we say about those who are not part of the church? If being in Christ includes being in His body, then being outside of His body means being outside of Him. Christ is our refuge and they who make up His church are dwelling in God’s city of refuge. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy for some to step outside? To be so very close to spiritual safety and salvation, yet be outside? That’s exactly where many are today. They’re like Abner and perhaps others of that ancient time who are just outside the gate. As we learn from this tragic story, close is not enough. Standing just outside is just as dangerous as standing far away.
Let’s look at some people who are standing just outside the city of refuge today. They’re almost in, but they’re still in a dangerous and lost condition, like the scribe to whom Jesus said long ago, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34). But, you see, not far is not near enough. The only place where safety and salvation are found is inside—not near or close by, but inside.
First of all, the moral person often finds himself standing just outside the city of refuge. Moral from the standpoint that they live according to a high moral and ethical standard. The world perhaps looks at them as good and acceptable people. They live relatively clean lives. They are honest with others, they keep their word, they pay their bills. They’re good neighbors, they’re giving, charitable, kind, compassionate. They certainly seek to do no harm against others. They’re the kind of people you want living next door. The question is, where do such people stand in relation to Christ and the church? Often, unfortunately, they stand just outside. They’re in a dangerous place because they’re living under the deception that they’re close enough to reap the benefits of the city of refuge.
Perhaps you believe that you’re in a good relationship with God because you live an upright and moral life, or because your life is characterized by giving and good deeds. You may think, well, I’m not a member of the church. I’m not into all of that, but I live a good life, so I think I’m alright. But in Acts 10, we read of a man who could be described as that very type of person.
Acts 10:1-2 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”
Cornelius was an unusual man in his time. He was a Gentile and the Gentiles of Jesus’ day were not well thought of by God’s people. Gentiles were associated with idolatry and godless immorality and for good reason. Romans 1 tells us why that is. But Cornelius was different. He was a devout man who even feared God and taught his family to do the same. The Bible says that he prayed to God and gave much alms to the people, meaning he was generous in helping those in need. Cornelius is what was called a Gentile of the gate, which described a Gentile who was uncircumcised and therefore unconverted to the Jewish religion or covenant, BUT who believed in the God of the Jews and renounced the polytheism of idolatry and accepted the one, true God of the Jews, and who tried to live a godly life like the Jews supposedly lived, without actually becoming a convert to the Jewish religion.
Cornelius was like many today who claim that they live commendable and moral lives but they’re not in the church of the Lord. The difference is that Cornelius was headed in the right direction. He was looking and searching for what was right. He was seemingly unsatisfied with his efforts and was looking for light, for some revelation of God, for more knowledge of the God that he was trying to serve and please. God responded to his searching by sending the apostle Peter to his house in Caesarea. The angel of God told Cornelius, he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do (Acts 10:6). In the next chapter, Peter recalls that God told Cornelius that when Peter came, he would tell him words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved (Acts 11:14).
What does that tell us? Doesn’t it tell us that despite his morals, good intentions, his motives, generosity, and charity that Cornelius was still lost? You see, he couldn’t be saved without obeying the gospel of Christ and coming into the church. Friend, neither can you. You may live a morally upright life. You may even have good thoughts about God. You might have good motives and good intentions, but that’s not enough. It’s a shame that a person like that remains outside the kingdom and will be lost. Because morals won’t save you.
Are God’s people to be moral people? Absolutely, but morals in and of themselves won’t save you.
Cornelius would’ve been lost had he not heard, believed, and obeyed the gospel in baptism. You see, you must be inside the gate of mercy—not near it. You must be inside the city of refuge, inside of Christ and His church to be safe from the enemy. Just outside won’t do.
Wouldn’t we love to have churches filled with people like Cornelius? Of course, we would and we should. We should all be living the kind of life that Cornelius was trying to live. He excels far beyond the character and works of many professing Christians that we see today. You may be living such a life, but don’t be deceived into thinking that that’s enough. You’ve got to be in Christ, in the church of Christ.
Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…”
Are you inside, or are you like Abner and standing just outside the gate, relying on your morals and intentions and inherent goodness as you perceive it to be? You are standing just outside and in reality, that’s a long way away.
Standing outside with the moral person is many a religious person. People whose lives are filled with religious activity, but in reality though they are in some respects close, they are still outside as well. Friend, it’s not only possible to be religious and lost, but Jesus once said that the majority will be in that very condition in the Day of Judgment. Didn’t the Savior end His sermon on the mount with that startling warning?
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
Who says, Lord, Lord? Religious people. Jesus isn’t talking about atheists or unbelieving Jews; He’s talking about those who would profess to know Him.
Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”
We see here that some DO the will of God and others DON’T DO the will of God.
Matthew 7:23 “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Those will be chilling words to hear in the Day of Judgment, especially to people who thought they knew Christ. People who were religious, but they weren’t doing the will of God. They are lost. Friend, those are devout and zealous religious people whom Jesus says are going to be condemned in the Day of Judgment. Why? Because they didn’t do His will. They didn’t seek God after the due order. Perhaps they were faithful to worship, but not faithful to the teachings of God’s word. That’s going to be an awful, awful tragedy that not a few, but Jesus says in fact, many religious people are going to face. There are many—we might even say most—religious people who are worshipping God in vain, teaching and practicing the doctrines of men and things unauthorized by the scripture, who believe at the same time that they are saved. They are near but are yet so very far.
There was a man in Acts 8 who was devoutly religious yet lost. He lived in Ethiopia. He was a government official from that country, and he traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles by chariot from Africa to Judea and the city of Jerusalem to worship God. He was even reading the scriptures as he traveled. You know, there aren’t many people in the world today who would go to such lengths to worship God in some faraway place with other people. Many religious people today won’t even faithfully attend worship in their own neighborhoods. But here was a man who was devout and zealous enough to make such a journey. But that wasn’t enough. He was near, but still outside.
How do we know that? Because he had never truly heard and obeyed the gospel. He had never come to know of Christ nor been immersed into Christ. The Bible pictures it as an urgent matter. When the preacher, Philip, got down to that desert road where this Ethiopian treasurer was riding and he preached Christ to him right there in the chariot, this man came to see the error in the things that he had believed and the way he had been worshipping and serving God, and it was so urgent that he immediately confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. That very moment, he ordered the chariot to stop right there along the road where he could be baptized in a pool of water that was there. That’s how urgent and critical of a matter this was. He may have been religious, but he came to realize that he was still lost and he wanted to obey the gospel and be saved.
You see, being zealous and sincere and orthodox to some system of teaching does not replace true obedience to what the word of God says. What you need to do is translate the kind of zeal that you have for the things and doctrines of men into a zeal for the things and doctrines of Christ. You need to translate that kind of dedication to the truth and not to error because you can’t be saved in error. You may be sincerely and devoutly religious, but I would ask you today, is your church the one you read about in the Bible? Were you ever baptized for the remission of your sins? Or are you just outside?
Quickly, the procrastinator also stands outside with the moral person and the religious person. This is the person who knows what he should do. He has heard the gospel and doesn’t necessarily argue with it. He may even claim to believe it. But, for whatever reason, he has never stepped inside the kingdom, lingering outside, procrastinating. These are people who stand outside with good intentions to one day enter the city of refuge, but just like Joab did, the devil has lured them away and keeps them just outside.
I want to remind you of that strange and shocking eulogy that David spoke over Abner. He asked, “Died Abner as a fool dieth?” You see, he died because he was foolish enough to be outside the city where he knew he should be. I want to stress to you today that if a man is outside the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is lost and it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it or what you want to think about it. It doesn’t matter how near you may be. If a man is outside Christ and outside the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is in a lost condition.
Friend, if you are outside of the church today, you’re lost. It matters not how good you claim to be or how many commendable things you might claim to do or believe. You are lost. And that’s a greater tragedy than those who live far, far away from the city of God. If you die in your sins, you will die as a fool. So near, yet too far. If the truth were told at many funerals today, the preachers would have to say about the deceased, A fool has just died. He wouldn’t follow through with what he needed to do to be saved.
Don’t die like Abner. Don’t leave the world just a step away from the city of refuge. Maybe you just need to complete your obedience in baptism today. Maybe you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Maybe you really do want to please God. You want to live for the Lord and do what you know to be right. But you’ve never responded in scriptural baptism for the remission of sins. Do that today. Resolve to begin serving God alongside others in His church. Enter the city of refuge today. Or maybe you’re a member of the church who has left. You’ve fallen into the sinister snare of Joab and stepped away. You are outside and you will be lost. The past won’t redeem you. You need to step inside the gate where there is safety and salvation in Jesus and His church. And you need to do it today.
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Imagine the person preaching your funeral saying “we have come to remember one who died like a fool” because the death could have been prevented. King David thus lamented the slain military leader Abner in the Old Testament. Abner died at the hands of Joab because he killed Joab’s brother. God designated Hebron as a “city of refuge” for people with circumstances like Abner. Joab was able to lure him outside the wall of the city just long enough to take Abner’s life. In today’s broadcast of Let the Bible Speak; why many are standing, like Abner, just outside God’s city of refuge today.
Worship is a serious affair; much more serious than many treat it today. It is a privilege to be allowed to stand before God and offer Him worship. It is not something to be taken lightly or treated carelessly. A brief review of the Old Testament shows us how God looks at those who do not respect His law and who merely saunter into the presence of the Lord and worship Him however they please. In fact, in Leviticus 10, we read a tragic story of two of the most notable people in Israel at that time; priests of God, and sons of the great high priest, Aaron. They were the nephews of Moses, and next in line to succeed Aaron as high priest. But, they made a serious and fatal mistake that is forever embalmed in the Holy Scriptures to remind people of all ages that God is to be reverenced, respected and obeyed.
Leviticus 10:1-3 “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
What was the offense of these two men? What was so serious that it caused the wrath of God to come down on them and consume them? Well, the Bible identifies their sin, saying that they offered “strange fire” to the Lord. What does that mean? And is it possible to commit the sin of Nadab and Abihu today? It is, and this passage sounds a warning to all of us today: Don’t play with fire.
There is nothing more serious and more important than worship. People will never gather together and do anything of more consequence than when they come together to worship the Lord. Worship is serious business, and the crimson cord that runs throughout history shows us how holy worship is meant to be. Remember Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.
John 4:23-24 “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Romans 15:4 “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
“Things (that) were written aforetime” is a reference to all of the stories and arrangements that we read about in the Old Testament. So, the Holy Spirit had Moses tell this story of Nadab and Abihu, and write it down in Leviticus 10, for all of us down through the ages to learn and lesson. That lesson is this: Don’t play with fire.
God had given a very careful plan as to how He was to be worshipped. In fact, that’s the basic theme of the book of Leviticus: God is Holy, and there is a prescribed way to approach Him. Ultimately, it is a picture of the access that we gain to God only through the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. That’s the overarching point of the whole priesthood system and sacrificial system. It was typical, it was a shadow of the Christ and redemption and salvation through Him that was to come. Christ was not only the ultimate offering for sin Himself, that propitiated or satisfied the demand of God, but He is our high priest, like Aaron, who went inside the veil and, ultimately made that offering that opened the way to God in heaven for us today (Hebrews 8-10).
Way back then, Moses appointed Aaron, his brother, to be the high priest, a symbol of the Christ, who would one day come, and Moses very carefully prescribed the way that the worship of God was to be carried out. In fact, if you back up to Leviticus 8, you will find a recurring phrase:
Leviticus 8:13 “And Moses brought Aaron’s sons, and put coats upon them, and girded them with girdles, and put bonnets upon them; as the LORD commanded Moses.”
Leviticus 8:17 “But the bullock, and his hide, his flesh, and his dung, he burnt with fire without the camp; as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Leviticus 8:21 “And he washed the inwards and the legs in water; and Moses burnt the whole ram upon the altar: it was a burnt sacrifice for a sweet savour, and an offering made by fire unto the Lord; as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Leviticus 8:29 “And Moses took the breast, and waved it for a wave offering before the Lord: for of the ram of consecration it was Moses’ part; as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Leviticus 8:34-36 “As he hath done this day, so the Lord hath commanded to do, to make an atonement for you. Therefore shall ye abide at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation day and night seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not: for so I am commanded. So Aaron and his sons did all things which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.”
Now, I go through all of that to point this out: do you suppose that God was particular? Can we read that and conclude that “worship is worship, and it really doesn’t make any difference how we worship because God is only concerned about our hearts and our sincerity?” God told them back there to do it a certain way or they would die.
I am thankful that we don’t live under the Levitical system and the burdensome, cumbersome Old Testament law. Worship is much simpler on this side of the cross, yet still very profound. What has NOT changed is the fact that God is holy and He still demands that He be reverenced, and worshipped in spirit and in truth. When Jesus talked with the woman at the well, as we read earlier, the “true worshippers” He noted were not a reference to the people back there under the Old law; He was telling her “the hour is coming” when the true worshippers would worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Back yonder, Moses told Aaron exactly how to prepare and offer a sacrifice. He was very specific. It was to be placed on the altar exactly as God desired, and if he did it according to God’s word, Moses said that the glory of the Lord would appear to Aaron, and fire would fall from heaven and consume the sacrifice, showing that God had accepted it. Well, all of the congregation gathered around, and they watched as Aaron very carefully carried out God’s instructions to the very letter.
Leviticus 9:24 “And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.”
What an awesome thing to behold! To see the fire of God come down in approval and consume that sacrifice! You see, Aaron didn’t approach the altar willy-nilly and just place whatever he wanted to on it in some casual or arrogant way. He didn’t dare.
Leviticus 9:5 “And they brought that which Moses commanded…”
Aaron feared the Lord, and he only brought to God what God asked for. But his sons were a different story. These two newly appointed priests under their father, Aaron, stepped up to burn incense before the Lord.
Leviticus 10:1 “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.”
What a difference here, between what we read in the two previous chapters, how their father did as the Lord commanded to the letter, and how Nadab and Abihu did that which the Lord did not command.
There is a lot of speculation about what exactly the sin of Nadab and Abihu was. Some say they shouldn’t have been burning incense at all, or that their offering was performed at the wrong time. That’s not what the Bible says here. The record says that they offered “strange fire before the Lord.”
Throughout the year, incense was to be burned upon the golden altar twice every day, once in the morning and once in the evening, then yearly on the Day of Atonement, the high priest, which was Aaron, was to take incense into the holy of holies and burn it before the mercy seat.
Leviticus 16:12 “And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil:”
Now, why was that important? Why would God be concerned about such a procedure? Because the fire upon the altar, you see, came from God. God kindled that fire; it was divine in origin. The Bible doesn’t give us every detail about what Nadab and Abihu did, and what may or may not have been wrong with it, but it does tell us this much: the fire they used was “strange fire.” That means it was alien or foreign. In other words, it was unholy and unsanctified. It didn’t come from the Lord. It was from their own thinking. We don’t know where they got it, but it was not the fire that God had prescribed.
Some say, well they were new priests and they may have gotten excited when they saw the fire of God come down and fall upon the altar and heard the people shout, so they got caught up in the moment and grabbed the censers and started burning incense…Regardless of why they did it, what they did was wrong. It was presumptuous and sinful. It was an act of will worship: they were doing what pleased them instead of what pleased God.
Notice what the Bible does NOT say: It does not say that they did that which the Lord forbade. It does not say that they did what God had told them not to do. That is very significant. Some people think that anything that God doesn’t explicitly forbid is fine in worship, but that’s not what the Bible says.
Leviticus 10:1 “…offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.”
In other words, God didn’t say, “Thou shalt not…” Rather, His worship had already been outlined and they were presumptuously adding to it and substituting for what God had said to do. Did you know that “Nadab” in the Hebrew means “liberal.” Bible names were significant in their meanings, and I find that interesting. When we think of the word liberal today, in theological terms, what do we think of? A liberal is someone who takes a loose and permissive view of the word of God. The liberal often says things like, as long as the Bible doesn’t say NOT to do it, then it must be alright. That’s apparently what Nadab and his brother thought. Wherever they had obtained the fire from, God didn’t say NOT to get it from there. But, you see, God really did tell them NOT to when He told them where TO get it. What God said positively excluded everything else.
Can you imagine the kind of law book that they would’ve had to carry around, the weight of the scrolls they would’ve had to tote about and how burdensome it would’ve been? Imagine how impossible it’d been for those scribes and experts of the law to pour over the law and commit it to their hearts had God anticipated every single possible deviation or departure or device that man’s imagination would come up with over the stream of time, and had to spell every one of them out and write them down? Don’t do this, and don’t do that. Someone might think to do it this way, but don’t do that either…That’s not how the Bible teaches. Rather, God told them what TO do. He outlined His pattern and His plan of worship. Anything that was contrary to that was forbidden by God. Anything that was in addition to that was forbidden by God. Anything that substituted what God said was sinful in the eyes of God.
Many today tell us that the silence of God permits us to do as we please. Perhaps Nadab, caught up in the moment, allowed himself to think that way—Nadab, which means liberal. People today say, as long as the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that it’s wrong, then it must be okay…Well, Nadab and Abihu learned a lesson the hard way: Don’t play with fire. It DOES matter what we do. It DOES matter that we only do what God said in the way that God said to do it.
There is a lot of strange fire being offered in religion today. There is a great deal of worship that is being offered to the Lord today that you don’t read anything about in the scriptures. It’s being offered up to God because it’s exciting, or it draws a crowd. It makes people feel relevant to the modern generation. It makes people feel good, and they simply don’t see the harm in it. But, you see, it’s the same thing that Nadab and Abihu offered: “strange fire which the Lord commanded them not.”
Let me give you an example. Friend, did you know that there is not one word in the New Testament that authorized instrumental music in the worship of the church? Not one single word.
Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
If you can tell me how a song played on the piano teaches anybody anything, I’d be interested to hear it. If you can tell me how a melody pumped out on an organ can somehow teach, edify, instruct or admonish a person, I’d be interested to know how that can be done. The Bible says that in our singing and our music, we are to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and we’re to do that by “singing with grace in (our) hearts to the Lord.”
Someone says, it doesn’t really matter that Paul didn’t mention instrumental music; that’s just incidental because we’re all still singing. But, you see, with instrumental music, we’re no longer just doing what God commanded, and that is singing. We’re now also playing; something that God did NOT tell us to do. He said that we are to make melody in our heart, not on the strings of an instrument. We are to praise Him with the fruit of our lips, not on the strings of a guitar or the keys of a piano or the pipes of an organ or with a set of drums.
I am very aware that people in the Old Testament used such instruments to praise God. But they also offered incense in censers containing fire that came from beneath an altar holding an animal sacrifice. Nobody that I know of is proposing that we do that today. You see, the New Testament says nothing of doing those things. Neither does it say anything about playing an instrument in the worship of the church. If we’re going to leave animal sacrifices and incense and all of those other things back under the old law, then we have to leave instrumental music back there where it belongs as well.
Is it merely coincidence that the only commandments given to the early church in the New Testament that pertained to music were to sing? Church history shows us that the early church did not use instrumental music and it did not appear in so-called “Christian worship” for nearly 600 years after the church was established in the first century.
You see, worship is serious business, and it requires three things to be accepted of the Lord: the right motive, the right mandate and the right method. That is, it has to be offered in the right spirit, or from the heart. It has to be what God has mandated, or commanded. And it has to be done that way that God revealed it in His word.
John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
If worship isn’t performed in spirit and in truth, then it is strange fire, or that which the Lord did not command. I hope you’ll stop and think about that today as you gather with others for worship, and consider the kind of music you’re offering to the Lord. I hope you’ll stop and remember the story of Nadab and Abihu when you walk into the assembly today and see how the Lord’s table is spread. Read Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11. When you see who steps up into the pulpit, read 1 Corinthians 14. Then look not only at what the word of God says, but look at how you’re about to worship, and ask yourself: Am I offering strange fire to the Lord?
What happened to Nadab and Abihu?
Leviticus 10:1-2 “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”
Now that seems harsh. That seems excessive to us today as we read that from the standpoint of human wisdom. Why would God be so punitive? Well, the Lord doesn’t strike people dead who offer unscriptural worship today, but you see, God was making an example back there out of Aaron’s sons. He was telling those people then as well as us today, that it matters how we worship. In Leviticus 9, Aaron followed God’s pattern and what happened? Fire fell down from heaven in approval of the sacrifice. But then, in the next chapter, his sons disregarded the pattern and fire fell down in judgment upon them. That’s a warning to us, even today.
Aaron must have been very sad as he watched his sons die like that. Perhaps if we had been Aaron, we would’ve remonstrated, argued and protested with God. But, if Aaron was so disposed, Moses stopped him.
Leviticus 10:3 “…This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
Aaron couldn’t argue with that. The sin of those young men was not a sin of ignorance. It was a sin of pride and self-will. They worshipped their own way. What could Aaron say? He was the high priest; he knew what God had said, and he now saw that God meant what He said. The deaths of those two notable and respected men of Israel preached a sermon to the people that day, and it preaches a sermon to us yet today: God will be sanctified in those who come before Him. In other words, Don’t play with fire.
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