God expects every accountable human being to come to a knowledge of Him and obey Him. Failure in this would be a failure of immense magnitude, as the day is coming “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). And any human being who has failed to know and obey God will be left without excuse.
“I was taught differently” is not an excuse. Not everyone has been blessed with growing up in a true Christian home. Actually, the percentage of people who have is quite small. We live in a world where people teach and are taught a wide spectrum of religious and irreligious doctrines. Some are taught that the God of the Bible is the true God; others are taught that Allah is God; and others are taught that there is no God. Some are taught that Christ died for His church; others are taught that one should choose from a number of manmade denominations; and others are taught that religion should be entirely personal and private. Some are taught that one must worship in spirit and in truth; others are taught that one can worship any way not explicitly forbidden in Scripture; and others are taught that any and all efforts at worship are pleasing to God, regardless of what Scripture teaches. One could go on with the role of baptism, the necessity of works to salvation, whether one can lose his salvation, and countless other matters that are diversely taught and learned. As a result, many are led to believe throughout their entire lives things that simply are not true.
However, regardless of what one has been taught, he can continue to learn. Saul of Tarsus had a faulty understanding: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). Saul was living out what Jesus had warned that people would do to His followers: “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2). Operating under this faulty understanding, Saul participated in the deaths of Christians with an entirely clear conscience (Acts 7:58; 26:10; 23:1). Saul had been trained in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers” (22:3; cf. 5:34). He had been thoroughly indoctrinated, and was “more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” than were his similarly rabid Jewish contemporaries (Galatians 1:14).
Despite Saul’s longstanding family tradition, and despite his years of learning untruths lightly sprinkled with truth, he came to realize that salvation for any man, regardless of ethnicity, could only be found in Christ and His church (Ephesians 2:13-18). The Syro-Phoenician woman overcame her pagan background to acknowledge the authority and power of Jesus, and to be among the first to express that the Gospel was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16; cf. Mark 7:24-30). Cornelius overcame his rough Roman military background and complete obliviousness to the Gospel of Christ to become the first Gentile convert to Christ (Acts 10:1-48).
Some claim, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But not only can one continue to learn, one must continue to learn: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10, emphasis LM).
“I have limited abilities” is not an excuse. This excuse is only occasionally given for refusing initial obedience to the Gospel, but it is very commonly given for refusing opportunities to serve the Lord. A couple will be asked to make an in-home visit, and they will respond, “We’re not very good at talking with people.” A man will be asked to extend the invitation on a Wednesday night, but begs off, explaining, “I’m not able to speak in front of people.” An entire congregation refuses to practice any level of personal evangelism, claiming they are not as good at it as their preacher is. These excuses may all contain a good degree of truth, but that does not mean that they excuse. One trying to excuse himself from opportunities to serve the Lord forgets that the Christian life is a life of service (Luke 17:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; Philemon 11).
Moses tried to excuse himself from the opportunity of a lifetime because of what he portrayed as “limited abilities.” When God called him to address the king of the mightiest nation on earth and to deliver that nation’s slaves from bondage, Moses was reluctant. Perhaps his reluctance is understandable, considering that his previous efforts on a much smaller scale had failed (Exodus 1:11-15; compare with Acts 7:24-25), and that he had spent the forty years since that failure playing shepherd boy in the wilderness of Midian. So when God calls him to go, Moses releases a barrage of excuses: “Who am I?” (Exo. 3:11); “What shall I say unto [the Israelites]?” (3:13); “[The Israelites] will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee” (4:1); and his last humdinger, “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (4:10). After the Lord has consecutively and patiently refused each of Moses’ excuses, Moses in a final request makes clear that all those excuses were just attempts to get out of serving God: “And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (4:13). In other words, “Just send someone else.”
Moses’ self-assessment of his abilities was far from accurate. Having been reared by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was afforded opportunities for learning and leadership far removed from other Israelites. “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). Scripture says that Moses was “mighty in words,” yet he tried to portray himself as wholly incapable with them. There is a place for modesty (Proverbs 27:2); however, misrepresenting and diminishing one’s own abilities to avoid serving the Lord is dishonest and slothful.
In his excuse-making, Moses was squelching his own ability. Had the Lord not been so insistent, Moses would have remained in the desert of Midian, Israel for the time being would have remained slaves in Egypt, and no one would remember Moses’ name today. Moses, by the providence of God, had become singularly qualified for the task that lay ahead of him. Even Moses’ years as a shepherd in the wilderness would prove an asset, as he would have to shepherd human “sheep” another forty years in the wilderness. Moses had certainly lost much of what he had previously—the favor of Pharaoh, wealth, and influence—but things that seemed so insignificant to Moses were of great value in the service of the Lord. “And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod” (Exodus 4:2). This was a simple walking stick, a shepherd’s staff—yet it became “the rod of God” (verse 20). God would miraculously transform his and his brother Aaron’s rods into serpents to serve as a sign to Israel and to Egypt (4:3-5; 7:9-12). Aaron’s rod would change the waters of the Nile into blood (7:20-21). Their rods would bring fearsome plagues of frogs, lice, hail mingled with fire, and an east wind bearing locusts (8:5-6, 16-17; 9:22-26; 10:12-15). Moses’ rod would part the Red Sea (14:16). Holding up Moses’ rod would provide victory over attacking Amalekites (7:9-13). God was able to do great things with what Moses brought to the table, even with the modest skills and accoutrements of shepherding. That Peter and John were “unlearned and ignorant men” was painfully obvious to many (Acts 4:13); but that did not stop them from spreading the Gospel throughout their city and far beyond. No matter what your background is, you have attributes that can be assets in the service of the Lord. You may have tasks that lie ahead in your Christian walk for which you are singularly qualified. Even the “one-talent servant” was expected to utilize his limited “several ability” in his lord’s service, and was condemned when he failed to do so (Matthew 25:14-30). The church simply cannot accomplish anything with a universal “let someone else do it” mindset.
When Moses appealed to his limited abilities as an excuse, he expressed distrust in God. Moses pled ineloquence, to which God responded, “Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exodus 4:11-12). Citing limited abilities as an excuse indicts the One who made man. Should we not rather with the psalmist extol God, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well”?(Psalm 139:14). When we feel inadequate for the Lord’s service, we should each remind ourselves, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
The entire world stands “without excuse” for failing to know and obey God. Not only do our “excuses” and “justifications” fail to excuse or justify our wrongdoing and inaction, they discourage us from making the positive change we need to make. They discourage us from accomplishing all we are capable of accomplishing. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “One who is good for excuses is usually good for nothing else.” The Lord has revealed His will in the Gospel; He has provided salvation in His Son Jesus Christ; and He has provided the capacity to do His will in every human being. It is high time to cease our excuses, because we have none.
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- Attitudes (46)
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