I have a copy of Willmingtons’s Guide to the Bible in my library. This 1,000-page volume, published in May 1983, is a treasury of Bible knowledge written in layman’s language. Authored by Dr H L Willmington, it is publicised as “Eight books in one” – Bible handbook, Commentary, Topical fact-finder, Theological manual, History text, Illustrated encyclopaedia, Cross-reference guide and Archaeological update. Many preachers and pastors including myself have found this voluminous work a useful reference tool in our ministry. Simply arranged, it provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the Bible.
On page 878 of the Guide, the author has listed some 100 Biblical commands to believers. I am highlighting some of these divine directives for our instruction:
1. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thess 5: 22)
How easily we as believers, do fall into sin! The Lord knows the weaknesses of our flesh: “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Ps 103: 14). Therefore, the apostle Paul warned us in this verse to shun “all appearance of evil”. The word “abstain” has the idea of “holding ourselves aloof”. Thus, we are to avoid anything that appears evil or that will lead us to sin. This also applies to anything that will cause others to stumble and sin.
Many things in this world have “the appearance of evil”, but let us just look at one – drinking. We may go along with colleagues for a drink in a bar or a lounge. After all, what is wrong with going for a drink after a hard day’s work? What can a drink or two do to us?
God knows our vulnerability, and warns us about the tragic effects of alcohol addiction: “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again” (Prov 23: 32-35). Many Christians have started out in this seemingly harmless way, but have ended up losing their propriety and their testimony. Moreover, we must also be mindful of the places we go to and the company we keep. Let us stay away from anything that will tempt or entice us to sin.
“He who is not shy of the appearances of sin, who shuns not the occasions of sin, and who avoids not the temptations and approaches to sin, will not long abstain from the actual commission of sin” (Matthew Henry).
2. “Abstain from fleshly lusts” (I Pet 2: 11)
To understand this command in context, let us look at the whole verse: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” Here the apostle Peter reminds the persecuted believers of his time that they were merely sojourners in this world. As strangers and pilgrims, they must not treasure their earthly possessions nor strive for worldly gains.
They should crucify their fleshly affections (Gal 2: 20) and not allow anything to impede their journey to their heavenly home. As citizens of heaven, they must not continue to serve their “fleshly lusts” which is their old corrupt nature. In other words, they must not allow their depraved nature to dominate their lives. This truth is reiterated by the apostle Paul in Romans 6: 12-13: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
As believers in Christ, we have been delivered from the bondage of sin and set at liberty to obey God and to do His will. No more are we to serve our fleshly passions like anger, pride, self-will and self-love that used to characterise our lives before conversion. Our lives are no longer our own to live as we will and to cater to our sinful inclinations.
Peter warns us that these “fleshly lusts … war against the soul”. This means “that indulgence in these things makes war against the nobler faculties of the soul; against the conscience, the understanding, the memory, the judgment, the exercise of a pure imagination” (Albert Barnes). It injures our soul and weakens our spiritual life. May the Lord grant us victory over our fleshly lusts. (to be continued …)