Wednesday, November 23, 2016

EUTHANASIA: WHAT DID THE ORIGINAL CHRISTIANS THINK ABOUT IT?

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The subject of Euthanasia (the act of putting one to death painlessly; also called mercy killing) is one I have struggled with, having faced this dilemma twice. It is indeed a personal, if not a moral, dilemma. Personally, I have come to think a distinction should be made between a family member deliberately killing a loved one ahead of time in anticipation of avoiding pain and suffering, versus deciding to withdraw continued life-support methods when the individual is absolutely beyond any natural hope of recovery. By removing the machines, the person’s life can then, at least, be left in God’s hands whether they survive or not. But, this is just my opinion. What do the churches say?

Today, the majority do make an allowance by saying it is appropriate to follow a patient’s wishes who has a Living Will stating not to perform any extraordinary measures (with emphasis on that word) to resuscitate or maintain their body on life support machines if they are beyond any expectation of recovery. (Of special interest is the Catholic Church’s comprehensive declaration at http://tinyurl.com/jxfelqs)


Keep in mind that the excellent article below, by David T. Blattston, covers the attitudes held among First Century Christians on the “deliberate hastening of death.” There were, of course, no life-support machines or Living Wills during those time; but, perhaps it would have made no difference. Nevertheless, with that said, scripture should be considered our guide.


Original Christians Against Euthanasia©

The Problem
Christian principles of love and genuine concern for the welfare of a patient or other disadvantaged person are put forward as the motives for euthanasia. However, there is abundant evidence in Scripture and other early Christian writings that “mercy killing” is grossly immoral, beyond the pale of behavior acceptable from Christians.

Euthanasia Described
Euthanasia is the deliberate hastening of death to spare the patient a period of suffering or incapacity. The usual cases for which euthanasia is advocated are persons with an incurable disease or permanent coma, but secondary uses include sparing the deformed, the mentally impaired, or the handicapped from languishing the rest of their lives under irreversible barriers that prevent them from living a self-sufficient or “full” life. Far from ill-will, the motives of the killers are thus laudable or at least understandable, for they are rooted in compassion toward the patient; hence the alterative terms “mercy killing” and “put them out of their misery”.

Thou Shalt Not Kill
Despite this, the Fifth Commandment clearly provides “Thou shalt not kill”, which is repeated in summaries of God’s law in Matthew 19:18f, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, and Romans 13:9. But does “kill” refer only to violent murder, such as in the course of armed robbery? In considering the word in the New Testament, the church father Tertullian believed “kill” there had a wider meaning. Referring to the Creator, Tertullian wrote: “He puts His interdict on every sort of man-killing by that one summary precept ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”(1)

Why Consult the Early Sources?
Tertullian was a clergyman and the founder of Latin Christian literature. His works cited in the present article date from AD 197 to 220. The value of consulting him and other post-biblical Christian writers before AD 249-251 is that the Bible interpretations and oral teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and other New Testament writers were still fresh in their memories and they preserved the exact sense and parameters of “kill” in which it was understood by Christians—or Christians not many generations earlier—who knew New Testament authors personally, and hence the way in which Jesus had meant it to be understood.

All Killing Forbidden, especially of the Innocent
The earliest Christians considered any type of bloodshed to be forbidden. Paul the Apostle does so in Romans 3:15. Tertullian concurred,(2) as did the Epistle of the Apostles 35, which dates from between AD 140 and 160, and twice by Origen, the most outstanding Bible scholar, teacher and preacher of the first half of the third century.(3)

The early sources particularly discountenance killing the innocent. Remember that the people for whom euthanasia is advocated have not committed any crime nor is it because of their sins that they are to be put to death. They would be killed merely because they have a disease or infirmity they did not bring upon themselves. The First Epistle of Clement, written while some apostles were still alive, points out that in the Old Testament the righteous “were slain, but only by the accursed”.(4) Sometime between AD 175 and 200, Bishop Theophilus of Antioch, in summarizing God’s law mandated “The innocent and the righteous thou shalt not slay”.(5) The Acts of Paul, a compilation around AD 160 to 170 of deeds of the apostle not found in the Bible, similarly condemns shedding the blood of the innocent unjustly.(6)

Among the innocent, aged parents are the people for whom mercy killing is commonly sought. Killing adult family members—especially parents—was the worst crime imaginable among the pagan Greeks and Romans of early Christian times, and is condemned in 1 Timothy 1.9 and by such post-biblical authors as Tertullian,(7) the mid-second-century Acts of John 48, the Christian philosopher Aristides of Athens around AD 125,(8) and by Bardesanes, a Christian in Syria who wrote a description of Christian practices and customs in the early AD 200s.(9)

Mercy killing is also sought for infants, particularly newborns—the most innocent of all—to save them from a lifetime of deformity, mental deficiency, dependence, handicap, or other impediment to a “full” life due to congenital or genetic causes. In a description and defense of Christianity to pagan readers, around AD 177 another Christian philosopher in Athens stated as well-known Christian principles the fact that the church forbid abortion and killing children at any stage of life.(10)

Motive for Killing Irrelevant
Even the best intentions do not justify killing anyone. Shortly after his conversion Tertullian wrote: “in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one’s own self-impulse”.(11) The Acts of Thomas 51-52 in eastern Syria in the early third century relate an incident not recorded in the Bible, about a man who killed a woman to spare her entering a life of fornication but God intervened to punish him, and the Apostle Thomas is alleged to have considered the young man’s intention as a serious sin.

Even with the consent of the victim, euthanasia is still a sin, for then it is suicide—which is also a sin according to Christian authors before AD 200.(12)

An Ancient Equivalent
The nearest approximation to euthanasia in Christian literature before the mid-third century is the ancient practice of “exposing” infants. If weak, sickly, deformed, or handicapped, a baby would be abandoned in a remote unpopulated place to be devoured by wild animals or die from neglect. The “lucky” victims were rescued by strangers who raised them as slaves. This was perfectly acceptable practice under secular law and provided the social advantages of improving the gene pool and reducing the proportion of the population that takes but does not contribute to the economy, as well as sparing the children themselves a lifetime of handicaps.

But early Christians believed we are not wiser or more compassionate than God. Justin, who was martyred for the faith around AD 165, wrote in describing Christian teachings and practices: “we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men” because some are rescued and brought up to become prostitutes,(13) and “[we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers.”(14)

Origen’s predecessor as dean of the world’s foremost Christian educational institution pointed out in the AD 190s: “But what cause is there for the closure of a child? For the man who did not desire to beget children had no right to marry at first; certainly not to have become, through licentious indulgence, the murderer of his children.”(15) In writing against people treating their pets better than human beings:

they do not receive the orphan child; but they expose children that are born at home, and they take up the young of birds, and prefer irrational to rational creatures; although they ought to undertake the maintenance of old people with a character for sobriety, who are fairer in mind than apes, and capable of uttering something better than nightingales; and to set before them that saying, … “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”(16)

The infirmities of old age or bodily defects do not render a potential euthanasia victim totally useless to church or society. After writing of wrongdoing, particularly stealing, lying, hatred, and deception, Bardesanes pointed out:

For even if a man be poor, and sick, and old, and disabled in his limbs, he is able to avoid doing all these things. And, as he is able to avoid doing these things, so is he able to love, and to bless, and to speak the truth, and to pray for what is good for everyone with whom he is acquainted.(17)

Advances in Medical Technology
But might these traditional Christians be outdated in the twenty-first century, now that we possess more painless means of causing death? Actually, mercy killing is less justifiable now than in ancient times because we also possess better and a wider variety of painkillers. The only analgesic in early times was alcohol,(18) at most mixed with myrrh.(19) Of course, this contributed to the sin of drunkenness—which is a crime under United States secular law in certain circumstances.

Moreover, modern medical science makes great strides almost every day, with cures for painful or disabling conditions suddenly becoming available. This should extend hope for intended victims of euthanasia, and 1 Corinthians 13:13 enjoins Christians to have hope. Nothing is more contrary to the virtue of hope than suicide or putting people to death because they are thought incurable.

Jesus Himself
Lastly, we have the teaching and example of Christ Himself. First, whoever inflicts euthanasia on the least of His brothers inflicts it on Jesus (Matthew 25:35-45). Secondly, when Jesus encountered people who were diseased, handicapped, or suffering, He cured them or otherwise relieved them of their afflictions for the rest of their natural lives; He never “put them out of their misery” by killing them.


About the author
David W. T. Brattston is a retired lawyer residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He holds degrees from three Canadian universities.  His mission is to make early Christian literature known and used by all Christians, especially as Christian moral teaching from before A.D. 250 relates to today.  In the last quarter-century, over three hundred of his articles on early and contemporary Christianity have been published by a wide variety of denominations in every major English-speaking country.

Notes
All direct quotations from the church fathers are as translated in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Reprint of the Edinburgh ed. by A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, N.Y.: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885-96; continuously reprinted Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson), cited as “ANF”.

1 Tertullian De Spectaculis 2 ANF 3.80.
2 Tertullian On Idolatry 2 ANF 3.62.
3 Origen Homilies on Genesis 3.6; Origen Commentary on Romans 6.4.2.
4 1 Clement 45.4 ANF 1.17.
5 Theophilus To Autolycus 3.9 ANF 2.114.
6 Martyrdom of Paul 6.
7 Tertullian On Modesty 14.
8 Aristides Apology 9.
9 Bardesanes On Fate.
10 Athenagoras Presbeia 35.
11 Tertullian Apologeticum 9 ANF 3.25.
12 Justin Martyr 2 Apology 4; Acts of John 49; Sentences of Sextus 321; Three Books to Abercius Marcellus in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.l6.13.
13 Justin Martyr 1 Apology 27 ANF 1.172.
14 Justin Martyr 1 Apology 29 ANF 1.172.
15 Clement of Alexandria Stromata 2.18 ANF 2.368.
16 Clement of Alexandria Paedagogus 3.4 ANF 2.279.
17 Bardesanes On Fate ANF 8.725.
18 Proverbs 31:6.
19 Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23.

Copyright © Canada 2009 by David W. T. Brattston

Sunday, October 9, 2016

ABORTION: A SURPRISING PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 1ST CENTURY

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There is a misunderstanding when it comes to the subject of abortion. Many think when Christians proclaim their pro-life stance, especially during election, they are pushing their “religion” on others. Not the case. Albeit they are Christians, what they are pushing is “morality," something today’s society has thumbed its nose at as black and white has faded into varying shades of gray, and women’s “coming of age” and attempting to assert their “rights” has somehow extended from a legitimate need for equal pay in the work place to a distorted escalation of having a right to kill their unborn children.

Therefore, I found the below article by guest blogger, retired attorney David W. T. Brattston, to be quite informative. Since the Bible, other than Ex. 21:22-25 in the Old Testament, does not mention the subject, he offers a fresh perspective on attitudes outside of the Bible by first century Christians. Some would call this surprising, thinking abortion is only a phenomenon of this century and the previous one. These men wrote because this ancient practice was still being performed in their day, and the prohibition of it was a commonly understood acceptance of God’s code of morality, not subject to change by societal whims.

But first, make yourself acquainted with these facts: From 1973 to 2015 there have been over 58 MILLION abortions in the U.S. and still counting. Baby parts are now being sold for $50-$60 per specimen, and there is now a new plan to yield fetal heads in late-term unborn babies for brain harvesting. 

Read on!

EARLY CHRISTIANS AND ABORTION

by
David W. T. Brattston


This article presents the Christian attitude toward abortion before the first ecumenical council, that is, until A.D. 325. Because the New Testament does not comment on the morality of abortion, this article considers the writings of the first generations of Christians after the apostles in order to find teachings that were handed on outside the Bible.

With the exception of one author who wrote at length on the subject, early Christian writings do not discuss abortion in depth but merely state in a few words or phrases that it was forbidden to Christians. Most of the authors of the period do not touch on the subject but those who did considered it among the worst of sins.

The earliest source
[This document] is an anonymous church manual of the late first century called The Didache. It commands "thou shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten." (at 2.2)

The Didache means: "The Teachings of the 12 Apostles”. Intended as a handbook for Christian congregation and leaders. Contains ethical teachings of Jesus, reaching back to the very earliest stages of the Church's order and practices.
The Epistle of Barnabas 
[This document] contains a similar guide to Christian morality. It was composed sometime between A.D. 70 and 132 and was included in some early versions of the New Testament. In the midst of several chapters of instructions on ethics, it states: "Thou shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born." (19.5) The latter phrase refers to the ancient Greek and Roman practice of abandoning newborns to die in unpopulated areas if the baby was the "wrong" sex or suspected of health problems. To the author of Barnabas, this practice and abortion were equal in sinfulness.

Preserved complete in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus (Christian Bible in Greek) where it appears at the end of the New Testament. The early-second-century epistle of Barnabus is one of the earliest expressions of gentile Christianity and describes Jesus as quasi-divine.

The Revelation of Peter

Ethiopian text. Sometimes called “The Apocalypse of Peter.”

Dating from just before A.D. 150, the Revelation of Peter was still read in church services in fifth-century Palestine. It describes in detail the various punishments in hell according to different types of sin. The punishment for women who induced miscarriage was to sit up to their necks in blood and dirt while the aborted children shot sparks of fire into their eyes (Chapter 25).

Clement of Alexandria, the principal of Christendom's foremost Christian educational institution at the end of the second century, accepted these statements as an accurate exposition of the Faith (Extracts from the Prophets 41; 48; 49).

In Paedagogus 2.10.96, Clement spoke negatively of women who "apply lethal drugs which directly lead to death, destroying all humane feeling simultaneously with the fetus".

Clement and other early Christian writers often quoted from the Sibylline Oracles as the work of a pagan prophet who had predicted the coming Christ like the Jewish ones. Later, the Sibyllines were rewritten to increase the proportion of Christian ethical teaching. Oracle 2 describes abortion as contrary to God's law, while Oracle 3 commands people to raise their children instead of angering God by killing them.

A Plea for the Christians
[W]ritten around A.D. 177 by "Athenagoras the Athenian, Philosopher and Christian", partly to convince the Roman Emperor that there was no truth in the rumor that Christians ritually murdered and ate babies. 

A Plea for the Christians by Athenagoras
In declaring that such a practice was contrary to Christian ethics, Athenagoras emphasized the sacredness of unborn life:
And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very foetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God's care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder. (Chapter 35) 
To Athenagoras, abortion was the same as abandoning a newborn and other murder.

The Octavius of Minucius Felix was composed sometime between A.D. 166 and 210, in part to prove that Christians had a higher morality than pagans.

Possibly the earliest piece of extant Christian Latin literature. Written in the form of a dialogue between the pagan Caecilius Natalis and the Christian Octavius Januarius, a provincial lawyer, the friend and fellow-student of the author.
In condemning pagan practices, Chapter 30 deplores the fact that "There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels, and thus commit [murder] before they bring forth."

Tertullian
Our next author is Tertullian, a lawyer who became a Christian and a theological writer. He wrote a large number of books on Christianity, three of which mention abortion: Apologeticum (A.D. 197), An Exhortation to Chastity (around A.D. 204) and On the Soul (between A.D. 210 and 213).

The Apologeticum was an introduction to Christianity for inquirers who wished to learn about it. Chapter 9 acquaints readers with the Christian position on abortion:
...murder being once for all forbidden, we [Christians] may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.
On the Soul was the longest work related to abortion in the first three centuries of Christianity. According to Chapter 37, "The embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed. The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of a human being."

In An Exhortation to Chastity 12, Tertullian mentioned that there were many difficulties in raising children but he asked: "Are you to dissolve the conception by aid of drugs?" and answers his own question with "I think to us [Christians] it is no more lawful to hurt a child in the process of birth, than one already born." He recommended that life-long celibacy makes life freer because it relieves a Christian from the burdens of raising children; there is no alternative because, after a child is conceived, it is forbidden to kill it.

Refutation of All Heresies by Hippolytus 
In the early decades of the third century, Hippolytus was a bishop in central Italy. Later, his followers purported to elect him bishop of Rome in opposition to another candidate, thus becoming the first "antipope". For a few years Hippolytus and his rival operated competing church organizations. In his Refutation of All Heresies he made many accusations of lax morality against the opposing side in an attempt to maintain that it had departed from the standard of behavior commanded by the gospel.

Refutation of All Heresies; aka the Philosophumena. Formerly attributed to Origen, but now to Hippolytus
Among other practices, he charged that in the opposite camp, “…women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth.” (9.7)

Whatever the truth in these allegations against Hippolytus' opponents, this passage indicates common disapproval of abortion, sexual promiscuity and placing material considerations above the life of unborn children.

Cyprian
A generation after Tertullian, Cyprian, the bishop of his city, listed abortion among the sins of a Christian who was causing a deep rift in the universal Church (Letter 52.2). By including the reference, he indicated that it was impermissible among Christians.

The Apostolic Church Order or Ecclesiastical Canons of the Apostles 
[These] were composed around A.D. 300 as a short law-book for Christians, ostensibly by eleven apostles. Its wide popularity is evidenced by the fact that it was translated into several languages. Included in Chapter 6 is a prohibition that Christians shall not kill a child, at birth or afterward.

Divine Institutes by Lactantius
The Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in A.D. 314. This was the year Lactantius completed his decade of labor on the Divine Institutes. In it, he stated that when God forbids homicide, He prohibits not only illegal violence but even causing death in a manner allowed by secular laws. It is a very grave sin to kill newborns "for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death." It is a crime to "deprive souls as yet innocent and simple of the light" which God has given (6.2). Lactantius' Epitome 64 similarly states that exposing or killing an infant is included in the Lord's prohibition of murder.

After Christianity was legalized, congregations in various regions held conferences to regulate the affairs of the Church. One objective was to standardize the practices of excommunication and penances.

The Council of Elvira in Spain
About the time of Constantine's conversion, or perhaps a few years before, the Council of Elvira in Spain decreed that anyone who committed abortion was to be given the Eucharist only when in danger of death (Canon 63). This was the same penalty as for repeated adultery and child-molesting (Canons 47 and 71). The more lenient Council of Ancyra in Turkey (A.D. 314) enacted a ten-year suspension for women who caused abortion and for makers of drugs that induced miscarriage (Canon 21). The first ecumenical council, held at Nicaea in A.D. 325, did not itself condemn abortion but the third ecumenical council (Chalcedon, A.D. 451) adopted the decrees of Ancyra, including those against abortion. 

The Bible
The scriptures contain only one passage on abortion: Exodus 21.22-25. The only early Christian commentary on it was by a preacher and Bible scholar named Origen. He had succeeded Clement as president of the famous seminary at Alexandria and later established his own in Palestine. Around A.D. 240 he preached a series of sermons on Exodus, including Exodus 21. As was his custom, he did not comment on the obvious meaning of the passage but treated its contents as a series of symbols about higher spiritual truths and about other aspects of the Christian life (Homilies on Exodus 10.2).

Conclusion
In short, in the first three centuries after Jesus all Christian authors who mentioned abortion considered it a grave sin. Although Origen mentioned it without discussing its sinfulness, no Christian author in the three hundred years after Christ condoned it. This opposition was not merely local: Christian sources in Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Syria recognized abortion as forbidden by God and in the same category as any other murder. The condemnation was universal and unanimous.

About the author
David W. T. Brattston is a retired lawyer residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He holds degrees from three Canadian universities.  His mission is to make early Christian literature known and used by all Christians, especially as Christian moral teaching from before A.D. 250 relates to today.  In the last quarter-century, over three hundred of his articles on early and contemporary Christianity have been published by a wide variety of denominations in every major English-speaking country.

Copyright © 2001 David W. T. Brattston. All rights reserved. To reproduce in whole or in part, please contact David. W. T. Brattson at dwtbrattston@hotmail.com.
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Thursday, June 30, 2016

HOW DO YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY? (OR, THE PARABLE OF THE DUMB DONKEY)

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How do you get Christians to grow spiritually? It's a captivating question. But, more importantly is the concern: "How can you make them want to?"  It's a tough question, but this article contains a principle that should solve the situation

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HOW DO YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY?

(Or, the parable of the dumb donkey)


How to spiritually grow into a mature Christian is a fascinating subject, but also a puzzling one. For pastors, perhaps a better word is, frustration. 



"How can I get my congregation to read the Bible?"
"How can I motivate them to want to grow spiritually?"

Some say, “It’s simple. Just tell them to read the Bible so they can learn more about Jesus.” Well, if spiritual growth is as simple as telling them that, why don’t the many lethargic Christians who attend church every Sunday do it? Why are so many content to relax in their pews satisfied with their status quo, tell the pastor afterwards how good his sermon was, and for the rest of the week that’s the end of any spiritual endeavors? Why are they not taking steps on their own to progress spiritually?

There may be more than one reason; nevertheless, here’s what it boils down to. . . 
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink!

I continued to ponder the problem as I pulled a package of carrots from the fridge and plopped them on the counter next to my Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. Now, understand, I “hate” to juice because I have to take the machine apart afterwards and wash all the parts. Nevertheless, despite that I push ahead. Why? Because I have an incentive to do so ―the reward of the nutritional benefits, especially Vitamin A for my computer-weary eyes. The labor of washing up afterwards is worth it.

I grabbed up the first few carrots, dropped them into the chute, and listened as the machine whirled out all the pulp. The cup below filled with the orange elixir. Too bad spiritual maturity can’t be produced as easily, I thought.  Plop a Christian into the church chute like a carrot, and out comes a spiritually mature person. But getting the Christian to jump into the chute in the first place is the problem. I stared into space, thinking. Then . . .behold . . . I had a vision! Well, maybe not an honest-to-goodness vision. But for some crazy reason the following picture flashed across my mind:


Dumb donkey. I shook my head. He would never move forward or do anything if there were no carrot dangling in front of him. No reward, no incentive.

Hmmm. I wrinkled my brow and dropped more carrots in. Maybe I’m like that stupid donkey. I’d have no incentive to juice if I couldn’t visualize the benefits dangling in front of me on the end of the proverbial stick. Then, a question popped into my head―one I never thought of before.
  
Is all behavior―I mean all!― activated only when we can visualize a reward?

I fought against the idea, then suddenly stopped what I was doing. I raced to my computer and googled the question.


Sure enough. Psychologists confirmed it. All behavior―everything we do is motivated by an incentive toward a reward. So, I guess I had to admit I probably wouldn’t exercise if I weren’t assured of being rewarded with physical energy…lower blood pressure...and more mental alertness at the computer. Nor would I vacuum the dust in my house. Who knows how long I might not vacuum unless I visualized that donkey-stick dangling the reward of circumventing allergic sneezing. What a crazy world this would be if there were no incentives. Everyone would sit around unmotivated and do absolutely nothing.

Yep, I was now convinced. Humans, like that dumb donkey, will always need a carrot on the stick to motivate them to action. There must be an obvious reward to act as incentive.

I returned to the kitchen and finished juicing the rest of the carrots and guzzled down my luscious juice, picturing Vitamin A and antioxidants coursing through my blood stream. Then, with a sigh, I began taking the juicer apart. But, facing my chore, I felt elated. I had the answer to the dilemma of how to motivate spiritual growth.

How do carrots and donkeys apply to growing spiritually?
Plenty. If no one is going to do anything (physically, mentally, or spiritually), unless they have a reward dangling in front of them on that stick, they're not going to move. The solution to a pastor’s dilemma of how to motivate lethargic Christians is this: Use the donkey principal―provide an incentive. 
However . . . the incentive must be in the form of an immediate reward―not a pie-in-the-sky-after-life heavenly reward. That’s simply too far away to act as a motivator. It has to apply to the here and now, or else, like the donkey, the Christian simply won’t move forward. 

What are some specific incentives?
I compiled a list of 8 incentives one can dangle on a stick before a congregation that should motivate them to “want” to take steps toward spiritual growth. However, before I present them, I decided there was a necessary first step― something that should first be explained to members to open their eyes to the fact that there is actually more spiritual knowledge to be gained besides what they presently understand. A depth never dreamed possible. Some don't really realize this. When I discovered this back in Bible College, it shook me to the core. I became aware of it through a shocking confession of Paul’s.
Paul’s confession
In his writings, I discovered that approximately 27 years after his conversion, he made a shocking admission about his relationship with Christ. In the following, notice his use of the word “moreand the concept of moving forward, which I have capitalized:
 “I count everything as loss compared to the possession of growing progressively and more deeply & thoroughly acquainted with him―that I may know him even more (experientiallynot intellectually), and understand the remarkable wonders of his person more completely and of perceiving and recognizing and understanding him more fully and clearly. (Philippians 3:8-12)
Paul shockingly admits that after all those years of serving Christ and receiving revelation he has not spiritually plumbed the full depths of Christ yet. What? Yeah. He has come to realize he still needs to know and understand Christ betterwants to become more intimately acquainted with him…and acquire and gain a closer relationship and deeper knowledge of Him!

I gasped. You mean Paul hadn’t by that time? This is a man who saw the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road…was taught directly by him…preached a fervent gospel…and for Christ’s sake, suffered beatings, stonings, shipwreck, imprisonment and death. A man who probably received more inspiration than I would ever receive in my whole lifetime―and he was still seeking to know Christ more!

Now, up to that point at Bible College, the passion of my life and constant prayer was to know Christ and have an intimate relationship with him. I’d had wonderful experiences as result of prayer, so felt I already had a close relationship―actually thought it couldn’t get any better. But after reading Paul’s statement, I thought, Wow! With the passion Paul had and, after 27 years of already knowing Christ he still hadn’t attained all there was to know about Jesusnor did he feel he had the closest intimacy with him possible―the shocking realization for me was this. . .  “Well, if he hadn’t, neither had I!  

That was devastating; but it was also exciting because it opened up the possibility of a deeper spirituality, a depth in Christ I could progress further into.

Paul’s attempt to describe that depth
Paul remained convinced there was indeed more to ascertain and grow in―a depth he hadn’t fully plumbed yet. He called them "Christ's riches and treasures". But, how do you describe them when you haven’t fully experienced them yet? He did, with these 6 interesting adjectives:

Unsearchable     Incalculable

Boundless             Exhaustless
Endless                 Unfathomable (I'll focus on this one)

One might ask, “Why is he using such inexplicit words?” Perhaps we can discover why, by figuring out what unfathomable means? It is defined as “something deeper than what we think, and its great depth can never be comprehended.” I decided to focus on "unfathomable," and further discern what that word meant in his usage. I came up with some interpretive ideas.

"Blue Lake" (Wendover, Utah
Years ago I lived on the salt flats of Wendover, Utah. Out on the flats was a small lake we swam in. We assumed the part of the lake that was over our head might be about 10-15 feet deep. That is, until two men decided to take a boat out to the middle and measure its depth with a plumb line. They were shocked―their plumb line wasn’t long enough! They went out a second time with a longer line, and this time they measured 60 feet! No one, myself included, had any idea there was that kind of depth. There was more to our experience of the lake we were swimming in than we imagined. (Read this last sentence twice and see the Christian connection.)

Similarly, one can also picture the shock it must have been for sailors when the depth of the Mariana Trench was measured by oceanographers and discovered to be over 36,000 feet! Sailors up on the water’s surface never imagined that kind of depth was beneath them!

Mariana Trench
Similarly, Paul’s 6 descriptive words suggest there is more to our spiritual growth if we will lower our plumb line and dive into the unfathomable riches of Christ. He makes it plain that in spiritual growth we can discover more than we imagined!

Paul’s passion, for which he was willing to give his all, was to go spiritually deeper―deeper than my small Blue Lake’s 60 feet, or the Mariana Trench’s 33 thousand. We need to do the same―lower our spiritual plumb line into the “unfathomable” depths of Christ through a deeper study of the Word and consistent prayer. By so doing, one can move closer and closer to Christ and his “treasures.” Once a Christian understands there is a greater depth to be gained, they should be eager to dive in and discover everything they can.

But what, specifically, are those "treasures?" Well, they are “gifts” to us―but gifts that definitely invite further inquiry. 

Below is a list of 8 (although far more could be listed). By acknowledging these gifts, the believer can more easily move on to the later list that follows--the 8 rewards . . .the carrot(s) on the stick―the prize, as Paul said in Philip. 3:14: “I press toward the mark for the prize (or the carrot) of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Of course, he was looking forward to his heavenly reward―and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The below list of Christ's "treasures" (although there are plenty more that could be listed) should definitely make one want to reach out and move forward to grab the prize. Certainly, every lethargic Christian should sit up and take notice.
Christ’s treasures
  1. Every one of you were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and given salvation grace through Christ Jesus. You don’t have to earn salvation (although one shows their faith by their works. Eph. 2:8-9).
  2. You were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and given an additional “grace” through Christ Jesusunconditional love and acceptance. (Eph 1-2; 2 Tim. 1:9) Think how we respond to and love our pets because they give us unconditional love. Now we have God giving us far more of the same and we should love him as much as our pets, if not more.
  3. You are loved by God with an inseparable love, to the point that Rom. 8:38-39 says:
    "Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
  4. In accepting Christ, you now have “Christ’s Holy Spirit in you―actually, inside you!
  5. You are guaranteed resurrection as a “free gift,” and will be “transformed” with new bodies. (Phil 3:21)
  6. You are redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. (Eph 1:7; Rom. 6:23) Do you really comprehend that? Or, do you still stress over past mistakes? Lower your plumb line into that!
  7. All the promises of God are “yes” for you. (2 Cor. 1:20) Do you actually know what those promises are that you can rely on? have you gone through the Bible and made a list of them? Or, do you still think you are unworthy of claiming them? Lower your plumb line deeper.!
  8. In Christ Jesus all your needs will be supplied! (Phil 4:19). Do you really have faith in that? If not – dive in deeper.

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The above should make Christians aware there’s more than what they have previously grasped, and be spurred on to explore more of the unfathomable depths of Christ and take the steps to grow spiritually. 

However, there may be some who take these gifts for granted, or who may still think that just knowing about the treasures is enough. But Paul tells us that we are to all come into theknowledge of the son of God…and the stature of the fullness of Christ”(Eph. 4:13). The word “knowledge means – to have full discernmenta knowledge which perfectly unites the subject with the object. 

Ask yourself: Has the knowledge and discernment of Christ you presently haveperfectly united you with him?


There still needs to be a carrot on the end of the stick―an incentive, a reward―something a Christian will benefit from in the here and now. Therefore . . . we mustn't forget the donkey principle

Below are the 8 benefits Christians will receive from plumbing the depths of Christ and moving forward to grow spiritually. They are the carrots on the end of the stick:
  1. A closer relationship and bonding with Christ. Remember those iron-on patches? When there was a tear in our sheets we bonded the patch onto the sheet with a hot iron. It was bonded SO tightly to the sheet, there was no way to pull it apart. Well, you can have that same kind of bonding and closeness with Christ.
    Through a closer relationship, you will experience more of the unfathomable riches and depths of Christ, and acquire more understanding of what it actually means to have Christ in you. It means, as you “worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness” (Ps. 96: 9-11), your relationship with Christ will be enhanced and enriched with a more immediate “connectedness with him.
  2. You will receive profound insights and deeper thinking as you study and reflect on biblical passages. You’ll find yourself with a deep thought, saying, “Wow” I never could have thought of that on my own―that had to be the Holy Spirit!”
  3. On occasion, you’ll receive special confirmations of Jesus’ love that will literally flood through your spirit. Often, you can feel it physically.
  4. As you lengthen your plumb line into the depths of Christ and grow spiritually, it also means he can communicate with you and use you more effectively in the work of the church and in blessing others.
  5. In your new-found relationship, you may or may not receive special visions, and you may or may not receive the ministration of angels. But in that respect, it’s important to remember that one should not seek Christ with the aim of receiving visions or angels. If you should receive them, they are just by-products of the relationship, and given according to God’s good pleasure.
  6. You will start hearing the still small voice of the Holy Spirit more noticeably.
  7. You'll find yourself guided by promptings of the Holy Spirit in your daily activities. Sometimes it may save your life . . .literally.
  8. You will become more like Christ in your thoughts, your Christian walk, your behavior, your attitudes, and you will respond more quickly to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
With the above rewards accruing in spiritual growth (and I could have listed more), all in all you will progressively experience the deep and unfathomable relationship with Christ that Paul so passionately sought, yet realized he still had a long way to go.

One pastor said:
“When I come to a subject as vast as the unfathomable riches of Christ, I am almost paralyzedIt makes me realize how little of these immeasurable riches of Christ that I experience personally, and it overwhelms me.”

Summary
  • Many pastors are at a loss how to motivate their congregation to grow spiritually.
  • All behavior can only be motivated by providing an incentive toward a reward
  • Like the donkey that won’t move unless he sees a carrot in front of him, lethargic Christians also need an incentive―a reward for doing so; but the reward(s) must be realized in the here and now, not when they get to heaven.
  • There is more spiritual knowledge to be gained besides what one presently knows.
  • Paul admitted this and confessed he had not yet plumbed the full depths of Christ’s treasures, and described the latter as unsearchable, boundless, endless, incalculable, exhaustless and unfathomable.
  • 8 treasure, or gifts, of Christ were listed
  • rewards were presented that should act as an incentive toward spiritual growth.
Do we consider everything as loss, as Paul said in Philippians 3:8-12, to experience the unfathomable depth of Christ and his treasures? Or is our plumb line too short because we don’t think there’s more depth to Christ than what we presently understand? When I was swimming around in that lake I had no idea there was that much depth to it. Same, for Christ’s gospel.

Whats an additional secret to spiritual growth

You must want it above all else!  

Since you now know about Christ's riches and treasures and the rewards dangling at the end of the stick, they should provide enough incentive to promote action toward the goal of spiritual growth. The blessings will be immeasurable!


Until next time,
Janis


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