Some people dislike creeds and doctrines. “We have no time for these,” they say. “Life is too short for the discussion of these abstruse matters. Give us practical duties! Tell us how to live, how to make home sweet, how to get along with people, and how to act in our social relationships.” But we cannot have flowers without roots; and what roots are to roses, doctrines are to duties.
Nearly all of Paul’s Epistles are illustrations of this. There is a section given up to doctrinal discussion; and often this is rather serious reading, too. Then follows another section in which practical duties are taught, sometimes in a very minute way. Thus, eleven chapters of the Epistle to the Romans are filled with theology. Then, beginning with the twelfth, we have a simple and clear setting forth of duties. Love must be without hypocrisy. We are to honor others rather than ourselves. We are to bless those who persecute us. We are not to be wise in our own conceit. We are to be good citizens. We are to pay our debts, not owing any man anything except love. A whole system of beautiful Christian ethics is packed in the last chapters of this great Epistle. But these two sections are one – common duties grow out of strong doctrines.
Or take the Epistle to the Ephesians. We have three solid chapters of doctrinal teaching, in which we are led up to the mountain tops of spiritual truth. Then we come down into the valleys of everyday life, and we are taught the simplest lessons of practical Christian living – to put away lying and speak truth, to not let the sun go down on our wrath, to not steal any more, and to let no corrupt speech come out of our mouths. Then we also have a system of Christian home-ethics – duties of wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters. All these practical exhortations spring out of the great doctrines of grace which are elaborated in the earlier chapters. These are the roses – the roots are in the theological section.
One minister, in a striking sermon, calls attention to the way the sixteenth chapter of First Corinthians begins. The fifteenth chapter is given up to the subject of the resurrection. There is no sublimer passage in the Bible! Then comes – in the same breath, as it were, with the last sentence – this most simple item: “Now concerning the collection…” The artificial chapter division in our Bible hides the abruptness of the transition. Yet, when we look at it closely, is there anything incongruous in the sudden passing from the great truths of resurrection and the immortal life to the duty of taking a collection? “Now hath Christ been raised from the dead… Death is swallowed up in victory… Be ye steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord. Now concerning the collection!” … Great doctrines first, then common duties. Roots – then roses!
Some might say that the truth that we are immortal, and that we shall never die, has no practical value, and can make no difference on our life in this world. Why spend time in such speculations? But that is not the view that Paul took of it. He said, “In Christ shall all be made alive… The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised… Wherefore, be ye … always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The fact that life will go on forever is the very reason why we should always abound in the work of the Lord! Artists think it worthwhile to put their noble creations on canvas, in the hope that they may last a hundred years. But when a mother teaches her little child beautiful lessons, or puts gentle thoughts into his mind, she is not doing it for a century or even for ten centuries – but for immortality! Does not this make it worthwhile for her to do her work well?
This truth of immortality gives a wonderful motive to those who are doing spiritual work. Some of the people whom we seek to help are broken in their earthly lives… What does the truth of the immortal life tell us about these? Only for a little while shall they be kept in these broken bodies! When they fall asleep in Jesus, they shall be free forever!
There is a story of a little elderly woman who sells newspapers at a certain street corner in a great city – day after day, in sun and rain, in winter and summer. Here is the story of this poor lady’s life. She was bereaved of her husband; and then an orphan grandchild was put into her arms by her dying daughter, and she promised to provide for the little one. This is the secret that sends her to her hard task, day after day. But that is not all the story. Some old friends offered the woman a home with them, in return for small and easy services; but in order to do so, she would have had to be faithless to her trust. And this she could not be! Her dead daughter’s child was sacred to her. So she stands there on the street corner in all weathers, selling newspapers in order make money to provide for the little child. Ah! It is a noble soul that is in that poor aged body! No angel in heaven is dearer to God than that poor woman, serving so faithfully at her post. Think what immortality means to her!
So we begin to see that Paul spoke truly when he said that since we are immortal, and because we are immortal, we should abound in the work of the Lord – “forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord!” Those who touch children’s lives these days with Divine benedictions are putting upon them marks of beauty which shall never fade out. Do not be impatient for results. The seed you sowed yesterday may not come to ripe harvest today or tomorrow, but God’s years are long.
When we think of it closely, we see that the collection to which Paul refers was not something out of order after the great resurrection-lesson; but rather, it came most fittingly after what he had been saying. This was a collection for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. One of the first impulses of Christianity is to care for those who are poor and in need. There was something very beautiful, therefore, in this “collection.” It was to be taken by Gentile Christians, to be sent to Palestine for the relief of poor Jewish Christians. The feeling between Gentiles and Jews was not naturally friendly, but love for Christ brought the two peoples together!
The fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, therefore, belongs very logically before the sixteenth. They could not have had this collection before they had the wonderful teachings about the death and resurrection of Christ. There must be a spring with its exhaustless fountains, away back in the hills, before there can be streams of water to pour out with their refreshment! There would never have been a collection among the Gentiles in Corinth and Ephesus for poor Jews in Palestine, if Christ had not died and risen again! Nothing but the Gospel can make men of different nations and ethnicities love each other. As we read these great words – “Now hath Christ been raised… O death where is thy sting? … Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” – it is natural and fitting … for us to then read, “Now for the collection!” It is only part of the great outflow of love.
After our weekly worship service, in which we have all been lifted up in blessed love for Christ; if the minister should tell us of a family of Christians somewhere who were suffering and in sore distress, and hungry and famishing, and ask us for a collection for their relief – we would not think he had broken in upon the sacredness of the holy service; and there would be nothing inappropriate or incongruous in his saying, “Now we will take the collection for these poor fellow Christians of ours.” The collection would be almost as much of a sacrament as the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. True religion always kindles love! Every time we really look anew upon Christ as our suffering Redeemer, we love others more – and our sympathies come out in greater tenderness!
Do the roots of the doctrines that we profess to believe manifest themselves, like blooming roses, in the way that we live our lives? Does our system of belief play out consistently in words and deeds of love for our families, friends, and mankind in general? For example, how does the truth of resurrection and immortality affect the work that you do and the manner in which you act towards those around you? If we are believers in the Lord Jesus, then we ought to realize that the lives of those whom we come in contact with – particularly those in our own homes – are something worth investing in, because they will last forever! Pray to the Lord for grace and strength to touch someone else’s life today with a blessing that will never fade away.
Please don’t hesitate to share your reflections and questions on this article! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for the King’s glory,
photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on our website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.