Lessons from the Past
(New Year’s Message; Mural Worthey)
Introduction: (1 Cor. 10:1-13, Heb. 4:11, Rom. 15:4.)
This great text from first Corinthians is about learning from past examples and history of God’s dealings with man. We learn much from both man’s behavior and God’s response to it. It was good that they had all been baptized unto the leadership of Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Afterwards, they ate the food that God gave from heaven and drank the water which flowed from the rock. Paul used this rock to represent Christ which sustained them. Then the people murmured, lusted and sinned against God. He destroyed in the wilderness. The writer says that these things happened for examples for us and written for our admonition upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Since we are beginning a new year, what are some important lessons from the past that we should learn. Here are some that came to my thoughts.
#1: Many Do Not Learn from the Past!
One of the tragic things about being a human being is that so many do not profit from the past. We continue to do harmful and wrong things year after year. It might be helpful for us to observe that most people do not learn from the past. Wise people do, but most are not wise.
Some of the reasons are: a) We do not like to reflect upon the past, b) Because often there are no immediate consequences, and c) We do not believe that the same consequences will befall us. But we can be assured that if God was not pleased with their behavior in past days, he will not be pleased with ours.
Our own personal experiences ought to teach us. The Lord told Saul of Tarsus, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.) Paul later wrote to the Romans, “What fruit had you then in those things which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” (Rom. 6:21.)
Think about these people who never learned from their past: King Saul who pursued David and was embarrassed time after time, David never forgot the feeling of victory from defeating Goliath and became a bloody king who was not permitted to build the temple, and Solomon should have learned from David’s failures, but he married foreign wives and built temples for their gods. His wives led him away from the one God.
Like these kings, we too have failed to learn from the past. We fail to correct course and save ourselves from this crooked generation.
#2: It is Better to Learn from the Past
Another lesson from the past is that when we do not learn from examples of the past, the more difficult lessons await us in the future. What if King Saul had repented of his madness in pursuing young David? Would it not have been better if David had not continued his warring pursuits? Many of the problems that David faced in his life with his family stemmed from his own sins in his life. The future lessons are always more difficult than the past ones. Why could not Solomon in his wisdom know that having a worldly kingdom like the other nations would be detrimental to him and Israel?
The apostle Peter made many mistakes in his life, but he seemed to have learned from his mistakes. He became an elder in the church, in addition to serving as an apostle. He accepted the admonition of Jesus to feed his lamps. (John 21.) His past mistakes did not destroy him. He learned from them.
If we do not learn from the past, we continue to fill up the cup of God’s wrath toward us. God is patient and longsuffering toward man, not willing that any should perish. He is waiting for man to repent. (2 Peter 3:9.)
#3: Order is Better Than Disorder and Chaos
It seems that if there is a prevailing philosophy today, it is this—that chaos and disorder is better than order. Why would Paul and Peter urge Christians to pray for the Caesar and his rulers? Paul said that it was so that the Christians might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness. (1 Tim. 2:4.) In the beginning of the creation, the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the earth. (Gen. 1:2.) When the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the earth, things began to take form and shape. There was order to the days and nights. The sun and moon gave that order. Each creature reproduced after its own kind.
In our context of first Corinthians, there was confusion during the worship service. Then Paul gave God’s philosophy of how things ought to operate. He wrote, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (14:40.) He also wrote to another church, “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I not with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” (Col. 2:5.)
Surely the past teaches us that in the physical created world and in the spiritual world, order is God’s will for us. We use numbers and the alphabet to help us to organize things. There is order to our language and meaning to the words we use. The sinful world opposes order. It rejoices when things get scrambled up, like alphabet soup. Terrorists love confusion, terror and panic. They profit when things are all out of order. Sinful people like to believe that there is no order to the world, or that it does not matter whether A comes before B. To them it does not matter what words you use. Isaiah described that confusion of sinfulness:
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:20.)
#4: What Did You Learn from the Past Year?
Paul wrote several epistles from prison. He had time to reflect upon what he was doing in preaching Christ to the world. He knew that there were many enemies of the cross and he understood, at least, the objection of his fellow Jews. (Phil. 3:18-20.)
Paul said that he had learned that positive things are better than negative ones. He wrote that we should think upon things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and virtuous. (Phil. 4:8.) Have we learned that positive attitudes and actions are better than negative ones? I recently read a description of the kind of articles that a brotherhood paper would accept for publication. One thing that stood out to me was that the article should be positive in nature and not negative, and even if the subject matter was negative, it should focus on solutions and not just problems. I have learned that once you get on this “negative kick” it is most difficult to ever get off it. It becomes a part of one’s attitude in life and character.
Paul continued to enumerate several things that he had learned. He wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound.” (Phil. 4:11-12.) He encouraged the readers: “Those things, which you have both learned and received, heard and seen in me, do and the God of peace shall be with you.” (4:9.)
Have you learned from the past that anger does not work? That it is self-defeating. Have you learned that self-denial is best, rather than self-promotion? Have you learned that forgiveness is always best and should be freely given? Did you learn this past year that when your children make wrong choices and decisions, just keep on loving them? God does not love us just when we do his will, he loves us even when we are enemies of his will. There is a difference between approval and love.
Have you learned that God cannot be deceived? He cannot be mocked. It is man himself who is deceived and the One who sits in the heavens shall have him in derision. (Psalm 2.)
Jesus told some Jews of his day, Go and learn what this means—I will have mercy and not sacrifice. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Matt. 9:13, Hosea 6:6.) Have you learned the difference between the spirit and letter of the law? We will continue to stumble all over God’s Word until we learn that difference. It is one of the most important truths to learn.
Have you learned the difference between the external forms of religion and the heart? The history of religion should teach us that lesson.
#5: Unbelief Is the Root Problem!
In our context of first Corinthians 10, why did the Israelites fail to enter the promised land? It says that they murmured and complained against Moses and God. They committed fornication and practiced idolatry. But the Hebrew writer in covering this same material summed it up by saying, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19.) “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (3:12.) “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” (12:1.) This sin surely is the sin of unbelief.
We should have learned that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (11:6.) “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17.) But it is also true that unbelief comes by hearing. It comes, not by hearing the Word of God, but by hearing negative things that destroy faith. What we learn from the past is that unbelief is the core problem that man faces.
The core problem is not attendance; that is a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is not that someone has not been baptized into Christ. The real problem is unbelief. Jesus said, He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; he that believes not shall be condemned. (Mark 16:16.) The real problem is not partaking of the Lord’s Supper; nor is the Lord’s will done just by physically eating the emblems. (1 Cor. 11:20.) The core problem is not just immorality; it is the unbelief that allows it to continue in our lives.
Many struggle with unbelief; many who will not express it openly. Unbelief is manifest in so many ways. James challenged us, Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works. Just as faith is seen visibly by what we do, so likewise is unbelief evident. Justification is by faith. I believe because of what I have learned from the past. The Word produces that faith. Compelling eyewitness accounts instill faith within. God is seen in every sunrise and sunset, in every leaf and snowflake, in the changing seasons of the year, and in every face of mankind. The heavens declare his glory and firmament shows his handiwork. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3.)