Things sometimes happen so gradually that we have no inkling of what is coming. We learn several lessons on this theme in Old and New Testaments alike. The church Jesus promised to build was organized in such a way that men with certain qualifications were to serve as overseers or shepherds, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1. The purpose for this is manifold, but part of the reason is that these men must keep watch over Christ's church to the extent that faithfulness to God will continue, even when subtle, gradual changes are seen everywhere about them. These shepherds, or elders, were to "watch" for the souls of their brethren.
Solomon began his reign as Israel's king with flying colors, but gradually, as time passed, he abandoned and violated the law of God. In 1 Kings 11:1-11 we read:
- "Solomon loved many foreign women…Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them...he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines…his wives turned away his heart after other gods…And the Lord was angry with Solomon."
The decline of a nation's morals takes place like that-bit by bit. Before you know it you live in a culture in which "anything goes." Who would have guessed in 1952 that within fifty years America would be aborting more babies than the number of those who have died in all our nation's wars? Who could have imagined that our Supreme Court would allow the most gross forms of pornography to be protected by law, while reading the Bible to our school children is prohibited. Little by little-that's the way Solomon wound up with all those wives-and why he lost the respect of God and man.
These things occurred so slowly, so very gradually that many of us did not see them coming until suddenly they overwhelmed us. Alexander Pope said it this way:
- We don't go down with a quick hard fall;
we just glide along.
Little by little we lighten our load,
till we cannot tell right from wrong.
Sin is a monster of such frightful countenance;
That to be hated needs but to be seen.
But, seen too often, familiar with its face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace!
That is exactly how profanity got into TV and the movies-bit by bit; little by little. That's also how people become hardened and insensitive to immorality.
There is something far more serious than that-how Christ's church can drift away from its moorings in the scripture. What is to keep us from going down that same "little by little" path? How did God plan for that to be avoided? Qualified overseers, elders, shepherds-that's one way. See Titus 1:5-9, Hebrews 13:17.
Some demand that we be more "ecumenical." Some plead for us to go along with modern denominational views in doctrine, in appointing women preachers and elders. Others want to extend fellowship to anyone who claims to believe in God. Yes, that is happening now in some places-even in the church of Christ.
This could happen to us here in Dripping Springs if we are not vigilant and sober in our thinking. That is why there is a need for alert, sober thinking and an uncompromising loyalty to the scriptures as we seek to maintain the purity of Christ's bride. God gave that responsibility to men who will be alert to Satan's devices, and make sure God's truth is preached and taught, and that we remain true to scripture. Elders (shepherds, pastors, overseers) are not perfect men, but they must be dedicated to the task of keeping us true to God's word, and true to our task, that of taking the gospel to the lost.
To our younger men I speak: we need you to purpose in your heart to so live that you develop all those qualifications so you may take the torch in the future and prepare yourself for service in this noble office. It will take time and determination, but you will be serving the Lord in a significant way. The first thing to do is to study your Bible, develop your faith, and grow as a Christian should. We need you!