When it comes to physical problems, people usually know what to do. Firefighters know how to combat a blaze gone wild. Ambulance drivers know the quickest route from point A to point B, while safely maneuvering through treacherous traffic jams. Gourmet chefs know how to please a difficult clientele with tantalizing meals that gratify the taste buds.
But when it comes to spiritual problems, human beings are at a loss.
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes…All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes…There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 21:2; 16:2, 25). People cannot determine for themselves right from wrong, good from evil. They need help.
God uses His faithful ministry to feed, protect and lead His small flock—to help the brethren learn how to live life more abundantly. Since 1953, when Herbert W. Armstrong first began taking the gospel to the world, tens of thousands who desired to live the abundant life have looked to the Church for answers to a wide range of questions:
“Is all rock music bad? What about folk-rock, Motown, reggae, R&B, country, jazz or soft rock?”
“How long can a man’s hair be before it is considered too long—and exactly how short can a woman’s hair be before it is considered too short? At precisely what length is a woman’s skirt too revealing?”
“How much television is too much? Two hours per day? Three hours? Three hours and 30 minutes? Three hours and 31 minutes?”
“Can we watch television on the Sabbath? If so, what programs are permissible? How long can we watch? Can we listen to music on the Sabbath? What kind?—how long?—how loud? What about eating out at restaurants on the Sabbath?—is that allowed?—if so, how often?”
“How often should we fast?—once a month?—twice?—every two weeks?—every three weeks?”
“How long should we pray? Thirty minutes a day? Thirty-one minutes a day? Thirty-two minutes?”
“Should I buy a house? Should I sell my house? Should I buy a car?—what model?—make?—color?—size?”
“Should I have another child? How many children should I have?”
“Should I start a business? Should I sell my business? Should I accept this job, or turn it down? Should I quit my job? Should I find a better one? Should my wife work? If so, how many days a week?—how many hours a day?”
“Should I see a doctor? Should I take my child to see a doctor? How much of a doctor’s diagnosis should I follow—all of it?—some?—none?”
It is only natural, especially for newly-baptized and prospective members, to want to know precisely how to serve God in every area of life. And, with the power of the Internet so widely available, virtually anyone and everyone can simply click a button and send e-mails to headquarters with their various inquiries.
Many questions can and will be answered. For brethren who face monumental decisions such as whether or not to get married, whether to be anointed for healing, questions concerning baptism, etc., it is absolutely vital to seek wise counsel and instruction from the ministry.
However, we all must understand that the Church cannot teach “Yardstick Christianity.” The ministry cannot meticulously examine every area and corner of our lives and instruct us in exact detail as to what we should do in every situation, circumstance or decision. To do so would rob us of the wonderful opportunity to rule in God’s kingdom.
Here is why.
What the World Understands
Between the hours that you wake up in the morning and the moment you go to sleep at night, you face a multitude of decisions and problems—small, medium and large.
For instance, you must decide whether to brush your teeth, and for how long, and what kind of toothpaste to use. Good hygiene is a factor in how you are perceived.
You must choose whether to eat breakfast, and if so, what kind. Fried eggs?—pancakes with syrup?—maple syrup or processed?—oatmeal?—toast?—whole wheat toast?—with or without butter?—orange juice? What you choose to put into your body that morning will affect you later in the day.
Then you must decide how you will get to work. Walk? Drive? Carpool? Or take the bus? The choice you make will determine if you get to work on time.
On the job, you are expected to make all kinds of decisions. After all, this is why you were hired—to solve problems and get things done. If you are a carpenter, plumber or mechanic, you must choose the right tools for every situation, and determine how many hours to devote to any particular project. If you work in an office, you must decide which projects have higher priority, how and when to respond to certain e-mails and letters, which phone calls to put on hold and which ones should be immediately patched through, etc.
The more effective you are at tackling decisions, issues, questions, difficulties, obstacles and problems, no matter their size, the more successful your career and life will be.
In the world, people who know how to solve complex problems and make weighty decisions usually earn the highest incomes, while those who solve problems requiring little judgment are paid far less.
Chief executive officers, presidents and vice-presidents of large corporations routinely face surprises, glitches and hurdles that are not addressed in college textbooks or employee manuals. Time and again, they must rely on training and experience to make hard choices—to “think outside the box” and devise innovative solutions to problems never faced before. Often, their careers, and sometimes the livelihood of others, are at stake. Those who establish track records of right decision-making will reap the rewards of six- and seven-figure salaries, plus a variety of bonuses and perks. The sky is the limit!
However, this is not the case for those at the lower end of the income bracket. An entry-level worker at a fast-food restaurant is told exactly what to do and when to do it. From his first day on the job, he is instructed in when to cook the food, how long each food item needs to be cooked, when and how often to mop the floors, which cleaning tools to use, how to address customers, how to operate cash registers, what to do in the event of a robbery, etc. This leaves him few opportunities for creative problem-solving.
If he diligently follows directions precisely to the letter, he will receive a small income, perhaps some medical benefits, and maybe an occasional raise.
Unlike experienced leaders in upper corporate management, he will not be given a company car, or extra weeks of vacation, or work-related retreats, or staggering bonus checks, or travel expenses, or any other perk. Such are reserved for those who know how to make tough choices involving problems lying in uncharted territory.
The world understands this. And so should we.
Notice what Christ said about those who only follow orders: “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:7-10).
A profitable servant does not wait to be told what to do. He thinks—considers—gets all the facts—and then, with proper guidance, goes out and makes the right choices.
This is NOT to imply that entry-level workers are unprofitable. If this were the case, there would not be such a demand for them in the workforce. But here is the point: In the world, executives and professionals reap greater monetary rewards because (1) they can solve a much wider range of problems that are (2) more complex, and (3) oftentimes without a rulebook of case studies to fall back on.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27), Christ tells us how His servants will be rewarded upon His Return.
In the former parable, three servants receive differing amounts of talents. The first servant is given ten talents, and yields ten more. The second servant has five; he too doubles his number of talents. The third servant is given one talent, but does nothing with it. Christ calls him an “unprofitable servant” (Matt. 25:30).
In the latter parable, ten servants receive the same amount, one pound each, and yet each servant yields different results. One gains ten pounds. Another expands his pound to five. But one servant sits on what he has been given. He is not wanton with it, but neither does he produce an increase.
Now notice that, in each parable, the talent/pound taken away from the unprofitable servant is handed to the servant who yielded the greatest increase, and not to those who produced less (Matt. 25:28-29; Luke 19:24-26).
Why is this? Those who grew the most have proven to God that, in their hands, one “talent” or “pound” will go much farther, ultimately benefiting more people.
The more we prove to God that we can manage our lives and get things done, the greater the responsibilities that await us in His kingdom.
Think. What if God did explicitly command us, “Thou shalt not smoke cigarettes” or “Thou shalt not do drugs”? What if He told us exactly how much alcohol we are allowed to drink in a day, when we could drink, and what kind we could drink? What if He gave precise instructions in what kinds of exercise we should do and how often, how many glasses of water we should drink per day, how much food is too much to eat, whether we should eat pizza on Tuesdays or only on Wednesdays or not at all?
What if God listed in His Word absolutely every single issue we were to face in life and what we should do about it?
This is what the Pharisees tried to do! Not only did they live strictly by the letter of the law, they even added rigorous manmade codes that addressed just about every situation. Although these men seemed righteous and just, Christ likened them to “whited sepulchers”—whitewashed tombs!—“which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).
Instead of freeing men with the Word of truth (John 17:17; 8:32), the Pharisees made God’s way seem harsh and burdensome (Matt. 23:15). Notice how Christ chastised them in verse 23: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
The carnal-minded Pharisees were precisionists in observing every “jot and tittle” of the law, while ignoring the spirit of the law (Rom. 7:6): love, first toward God, then toward neighbor. They failed to exercise the “weightier matters”—including right judgment.
We who have God’s Spirit must learn from their mistake, realizing that obeying God’s commandments is not enough. We must also “do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3:22). And that requires precise judgment. Exercising discernment and perception. Applying the spirit of the law to solve problems not specifically spelled out in the letter. This is the path to becoming profitable servants.
Called to Solve Problems
Perhaps you have never thought of it this way, but you were called to become a problem-solver.
Consider. The true gospel must be proclaimed to all nations. The modern nations of Israel must receive the Ezekiel Warning. Brethren who are asleep in the end-time need to wake up and anoint their eyes. God’s Church needs more trained and experienced leaders. Many brethren need to be healed.
These things will not happen by themselves. They are all problems that need solving. You can help solve them, through fervent prayer, tithes and offerings, through your willingness to learn and grow, through your commitment to God’s truth and to His government, etc. And this is only the beginning.
When Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom, mankind will have experienced the worst time of human suffering in history. People will need to know how to set aside past hatreds and learn the way of peace. They will have to be taught how to overcome their carnal nature. They will need to unlearn all the pagan traditions and human reasoning that were at the core of their thinking, and replace these with God’s way.
These problems will not be solved overnight. They will need to be managed by qualified leaders.
Are you preparing yourself now? Are you getting yourself ready to expertly handle the intricacies of human relations—to help people choose to reject their human nature and walk according to God’s Spirit—to lead men and women to reach their awesome human potential? Are you training yourself to solve problems now so that you can solve larger, monumental problems later?
In today’s climate of Laodicea, most brethren have spiritually slowed down. Most no longer think things through. We live in the age of “feelings,” in which people rely on their emotions and “feel” their way through situations instead of using God’s Spirit to think wisely and make right choices. Often, they turn to the ministry to make decisions for them.
When people cannot make their own judgments, they are really saying that they lack God’s Spirit: “For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God…But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:11-12, 14).
Minds lacking the Holy Spirit cannot discern or understand spiritual matters. But those led by God’s Spirit have been given the Spirit of discernment—the power to judge rightly.
“But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (vs. 15). No one is able to judge such a person, because he diligently uses the Holy Spirit to study and meditate on God’s Word to know what to do whenever questions, concerns, problems, troubles and trials arise. He becomes his own best judge.
The modern-day descendants of Israel are afflicted with problems never before encountered: Abortion on demand—human cloning—stem cell research—bulging prison systems—pesticide-laden foods—a perverse generation of lost innocence. These and other troubles are piling up in heaps, surrounding and towering over the British and American peoples. Ephraim and Manasseh have turned their backs on God, choosing to work out their own solutions.
On the other hand, God has called us out of the world and has given us His Spirit so that we can study and apply His Word (the Bible), and exercise godly judgment. How you handle even the smaller matters in life tells God how you would manage towns and cities in His kingdom (Luke 16:10).
Growing in Knowledge and Judgment
The more we grow in the Holy Spirit, the more we increase in God’s love (Rom. 5:5), enabling us to fulfill His Law (13:10). And with His supreme love, we are commanded to “abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (Phil. 1:9).
If all we needed was knowledge alone, then we could simply turn to the Church to tell us what to do in every circumstance. Whenever faced with a problem or trial, all we would need to do is simply contact headquarters—surely they would have the answer, right?
But knowledge is not enough. God also wants us to develop in “all judgment” (Greek: “discernment, perception”) and learn how to make right decisions.
Why? “That you may approve things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (vs. 10-11). Here, the Greek word for “approve” is dokimazo, which means “to test, approve, allow, discern, examine, try.” It is translated “prove” in Romans 12:2 and I Thessalonians 5:21.
The apostle Paul uses this same Greek word in I Corinthians 11:28, where he commands Christians to examine—test, try, discern—themselves before taking the Passover symbols. To those who fail to do this, he warns, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord…For he that eats and drinks unworthily [in a careless manner], eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (vs. 27, 29).
The Greek word for “discerning,” diakrino, means “to make a distinction; judge a dispute; put a difference.” It is also used for “judge” in verse 31: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”
Would God command us to grow in “all judgment,” and to “judge,” “discern” and “approve” if He knew that we could not? Would He instruct us to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2)—“prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21)—and “Get wisdom, get understanding…with all your getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:5, 7) if He knew that it could not be done? Would God empower us with the Spirit of sound-mindedness (II Tim. 1:7) and not expect us to use it?
Of course not!
In I Corinthians 1:26-29, Paul reveals that God calls the “foolish things of the world”—the moros (from which the word “moron” originates!)—those who lack wisdom, judgment, discernment, good sense. Yet, in 10:15, these same “foolish things” are called “wise men” and are commanded to “judge.” The word wise in this verse means “thoughtful, discreet, using keen discernment and sound judgment.” God may have called out the “foolish things of the world,” but, with His Spirit actively converting their minds, changing the way they think and live, Christians can—and should—become wise!
In fact, do you realize that you are already making judgments that will affect the course of history? Every time you give an offering, you are making a judgment. God commands us to bring to His storehouse both tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8-10). We know that a tithe is ten percent of one’s gross income. But God leaves the amount of your offerings up to you. You must decide—examine—judge!—how much to give. And the amount you offer will influence how many towns, cities, nations—people—will receive Christ’s gospel message!
In I Corinthians 6:1, Paul had to address a serious problem in the Church: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?”
What irony! Brethren were turning to man’s court system to settle matters between Church members—people God called to replace the governments of men by qualifying to become righteous judges. Notice: “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know you not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church” (vs. 2-4).
Then, in chapter ten, Paul instructs all Christians to study the examples of ancient Israel and to consider—think!—to use these to help us make the right decisions so that, no matter how big or small the obstacles that block our path, we will know what to do and when to do it.
Here are some practical guidelines you can use in solving many problems that may arise:
- Wisdom is a gift from God (I Cor. 12:8). Ask for it (Jms. 1:5), diligently “seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures” (see Prov. 2:1-9). And then exercise it (Heb. 5:12-14). The more one exercises or practices anything, the better he becomes at it. Remember the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Perfection is our goal (Matt. 5:48).
- Good judgment is always founded on God’s Law, truth and Word—and never on human reasoning (Prov. 3:5-7; 14:12; Jer. 17:9; 10:23).
- “Latitude reveals attitude.” God wants to see how we will react to areas that are not explicitly addressed in His Law. He wants to see our attitude, how we will treat the liberty—latitude—He gives us.
- If in doubt, don’t do it. Whatever is against your conscience (con means “with,” and science means “knowledge”—“with knowledge”) is sin. For example, concerning eating foods dedicated to idols, Paul writes, “And he that doubts is damned if he eat, because he eats not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
- Likewise, remember that, even though a particular thing or action does not break God’s Law, it still may offend those of weaker faith: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak” (vs. 21).
For decades in the Worldwide Church of God, there were always some lay members and ministers who could not function without having every “jot and tittle” spelled out for them. But Mr. Armstrong never intended this! He did not want the brethren to be bogged down with countless Pharisaic codes regulating what could and could not be done.
On the other hand, Mr. Armstrong also never allowed doctrines and traditions to be liberalized or watered down. Likewise, this article does not mean to imply that we should follow the disastrous example of ancient Israel, in which “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 21:25). Most brethren in this end-time age have gone to the extreme of relying almost solely on themselves instead of relying on God’s ministry for instruction.
The Restored Church of God is dedicated to restoring the full body of truth that was thrown aside during the WCG apostasy. We provide many sermons, books, booklets, articles and other material teaching what Mr. Armstrong once taught us, restoring guidelines and principles regarding many subjects: make-up, hair length, appropriate Sabbath attire, what things are permissible during God’s Sabbath, and so forth.
Remember this major key to exercising proper judgment: Avoid extremes. We should seek help and counsel—but not to the point that we rely on others to make virtually all of our decisions for us. Nor should brethren steer clear of the guidance and instruction that is available. Both extremes are wrong.
Qualifying for Rulership
We were called to learn how to solve problems. God’s ministry is trained to help us reach this goal. If you are troubled with a major issue, concern, etc., seek counseling.
But please keep this in mind: God has given every human being a wonderful gift—free moral agency, the freedom to choose. As Christians, we know that the choices we make should always reflect God’s will. Sometimes, depending upon the decisions being faced, this requires seeking a multitude of wise counsel. However, if we always rely on the Church to make life’s choices for us, then we would merely be following orders.
If we constantly fall back on the Church to define exactly what to do in every situation, it would be doing us a great disservice. We would lose out on the opportunity to grow in godly wisdom and judgment. “Yardstick Christianity”—relying on Pharisaic codes and regulations determining precisely how long, how short and how much—will keep us from reaping the wonderful rewards that await us as future rulers—qualified, Spirit-born problem-solvers—in the kingdom of God.