Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
Throughout the entirety of the Bible, many scriptures emphasize the importance of faith on the part of those who are seeking to better understand God. As a spirit being, in fact, as the pre-eminent, first and foremost being - one who transcends all of mankind's understanding of time and space - it is impossible for any of mankind to perfectly have a concept of the exact nature or essence of God. However, for members of the Christian faith, the Bible is recognized as the primary mechanism by which God makes Himself known to those of His creation who are seeking to understand Him. As such, we can expect, then, for the Bible to reveal and stress those characteristics that are important to God. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures quickly reveals that one of the primary characteristics treasured by God is that of faithfulness.
The Old Testament of the Bible is filled with examples of the importance God places on faith in both His existence, but also faith in His ways as superior to any understandings or plans that we may develop or implement. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, had their faith in God tested through a trial of obdedience. Later, Noah was asked to demonstrate faith in God by constructing a huge ark, stocking it with animals, and closing himself and his family inside the ark during a period when there was no rain. Abraham was asked to demonstrate his faith to God by first moving his family and all his household to an unknown land, then again to seemingly offer his only son as a sacrifice to God. Job retained his faith in God through sickness and loss, and was eventually rewarded. The Jewish people themselves were offered great blessings if they remained faithful to God and to God alone, and conversely promised punishments for unfaithfulness.
As seen in these examples, God sets an extremely high degree of importance on faith. Those who have come to know God to the point of wanting to spend their lives pleasing Him understand that Jesus has agreed to serve as an advocate on their behalves during times when they may fail in their attempts at faith in spite of their hearts intentions:
I John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
Faith during the present Gospel Age is certainly as important as it was in ages past; and to those who have consecrated their lives to following God, perhaps even more important. During the Gospel Age, mankind has a limited opportunity to be considered for participation in “the high calling”, or membership in “the little flock”. The primary requirement for this consideration is faith; faith in God enough to put aside worldly ambitions, respect, and honor in order to follow the example of His son and serve Him first and foremost. For this limited time during the present Gospel Age, faith can result in justification, or righteousness, in view of God's justice:
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul compares the work of maintaining faith in God's service to a race:
Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
An individual who enters a race without proper preparation is not likely to be able to successfully complete the race course. Preparation is often a matter of months, even years of training. Running a race requires discipline in many of the essentials of life, such as proper sleep and proper diet. Preparation includes a proper training plan, which gradually strengthens the participant over time, allowing the participant to endure over greater distances and at more reliable, consistent speeds. During a training plan, or even during a race itself, there may be times when the participant's desire to continue training or to cross the finish line begins to waver. When an obstacle such a hill or mountain is encountered during the race, there may be a desire to cry out that the course is too difficult; that the prize is not worth the effort. At these times, many participants may find themselves abandoning the course and wandering back to their lives. However, those who have trained; those who have conquered mountains during their training; may find it easier to grit their teeth and press forward, eventually to the finish line.
With these thoughts in mind, those who seek to follow God during the present Gospel Age should expect experiences that will stress their faith, with the intent of increasing endurance in God's service. However, even with these reassurances and an understanding of faith's benefits, requirements and importance, even with all of the precious promises of the scriptures, even with the promised Holy Spirit of God strengthening our hearts and minds, maintaining faith during the Gospel Age can, at times, prove to be more challenging than we would desire. Often times maintaining faith may be more difficult and more elusive than we would like to admit even to those closest to us. These feelings of inadequacy may even manifest themselves in terms of thoughts like “my faith should be stronger.” “Why am I so upset when I know I should have faith in God?” “What's wrong with me? How can I still cry out in moments of distress after all this time and after all these lessons and all God's blessings to me?” At times, these thoughts may even be so extreme as to lead to feelings of despair; that one's faith can never be strong enough; that the way is too narrow to pass. How can those who have pledged themselves to serving God avoid such potential despair? Are there examples in the scriptures that we can look to for comfort and guidance; to help assure us that faith is a progressive work? Is there some indication that we should not expect faith to be instantly completed or always perfectly maintained (at least, in this present life)?
During Jesus's ministry on earth, many people followed him, traveled with him and learned from him. Many people surely followed him at the expense of their jobs, their homes and approval of the religious leaders of the time. The scriptures of the New Testament refer to these people as “disciples” of Jesus; and for the most part, with a few exceptions, they go unnamed and uncounted. However, Jesus saw something special in twelve of these “disciples” and set them apart from the general disciples, labeling them “apostles”. Shortly after his baptism, Jesus encounters two men fishing, and calls after them:
Mark 1:16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
Mark 1:17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
Mark 1:18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
(Note: the same account can be read in John 1:37-42)
Soon after, Jesus encounters two brothers, whom he also calls to follow him:
Mark 1:19 And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
Mark 1:20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
Soon after, Jesus chose twelve from among his disciples and named them his “apostles”:
Luke 6:13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;
Luke 6:14 Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew,
Luke 6:15 Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes,
Luke 6:16 And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
Later, the scriptures tell us that due to betrayal of Jesus, Judas Iscariot would be replaced by Paul as the twelfth apostle:
I Corinthians 1:1 Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
The term "disciple" as used in Luke 6:13 is Greek word 3101 in Strong's Concordance, and carries with it the definition of "a learner" or "a pupil". The term "apostle, used in the same verse, Strong's Greek word 652, and carries with it the thought of "an ambassador of the Gospel", "a messenger", or "one who is sent forth". With this distinction in mind, Jesus clearly expected those whom he named "apostles" to have an extra degree of responsibility, and thus require special qualities. Given Jesus's consistent messages about the need to serve God as one's primary goal, one qualification was doubtlessly faith. Although specially favored by Jesus, the apostles were human beings, and although something in their heart conditions undoubtedly set them apart from the other disciples, they still possessed imperfect human personalities and characteristics. They possessed faith enough to leave their homes and to recognize their Messiah and King. They possessed faith enough to take on a life of hard travel with Jesus and to endure the disfavor of many of their people at the time. This demonstration of faith cannot be questioned; and is indeed greater faith than many in the world today. However, the apostles, like any other human beings, were still imperfect, and at times, their imperfections came to the forefront such that Jesus needed to chide them and at times even rebuke them. Although these admonishments were no doubt difficult for the apostles to endure, they were necessary to forge the characters of an even stronger faith which would allow them to continue on after their Lord was no longer among them.
The scriptures record several times when the apostles' faith may have failed them; when they found themselves facing doubt, self-absorption, fear and even discouragement. Examining some of these trials of faith endured by the apostles may be helpful to those who are attempting to serve God today; not from the standpoint of highlighting the weaknesses of these faithful few, but to look on them in comparison with some of the trials followers of God, in the present day, who seek to follow the same Master, may be permitted to endure. While it is true that our Lord does not physically walk among us as he did with the apostles, nevertheless, we, who have committed ourselves to following God and His Son may expect admonishments, even punishments, as we seek to grow our faith and characters. By reviewing some of the circumstances in which even the apostles were admonished to increase their faith, we may be able to draw some parallels, even comforts and guidance, to our own walks in the God's service today.
One such incident is recorded in the fourth chapter of Mark. The verses describe Jesus addressing a multitude of people. Instead of offering the people direct messages, the scriptural account describes Jesus teaching the people in parables, or pictures:
Mark 4:2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
After the crowd dispersed, the apostles came to Jesus and asked him to explain to them the meanings of the parables. Jesus's reaction to this request seems to express a mild disappointment, as if he had expected his apostles to understand the meaning of the parables without the need of an explicit explanation:
Mark 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
Jesus then proceeded to explain the meanings of the parables to the apostles at length. Because those explanations were recorded, we, today, have those precious words as well. There is a trait in many that prefers not to ask questions for fear of putting forth the appearance of ignorance, or perhaps being at risk of seeming intellectually inferior than those around them. This trait, or fear, may be felt even more keenly when expectations of understanding are put upon us by those whom we greatly respect, as would have certainly been the case between the apostles and Jesus. Some may have felt pressure to be seen as already have an understanding; to not seek an explanation of the parables because “my Lord already expects me to have an understanding of these pictures. I can't ask for an explanation. He's called me to be an apostle; I can't be seen as not understanding”. Instead, even though Jesus does mildly question their lack of understanding, he nevertheless provides an explanation to the parables which blessed not only the apostles at the time, but many generations of those seeking to follow the same lord down through the present day.
Shortly afterwards, Jesus and the apostles boarded a boat set out on the sea. They were still at sea overnight, when a storm arose. Jesus was asleep during the storm, but at least some of the apostles were awake. The scriptures do not specify which apostles were awake, but they do say that as the storm increased in intensity they began to become afraid and eventually woke their Master:
Mark 4:36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
Mark 4:37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
Mark 4:38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
(Note this same account is recorded in Luke 8:22-25)
Upon awaking, Jesus causes the storm to stop, and then proceeds to chide the apostles:
Mark 4:39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
These same apostles, whose faith was strong enough for them to leave their homes to follow their Master; to leave all in the service of God; found their faith tried when faced with seeming disaster. Though their faith was great enough to recognize Jesus's call and strong enough to seize the opportunity to start the “race of faith”, still, when faced with actual physical death, they cried out. After all they had thus far sacrificed to follow him, the chiding of their Master, asking “how is it that ye have no faith?” may have been difficult to receive. However, the apostles continued on in following their Master. Although they were frightened by the power exhibited by Jesus, they did not allow their fear, or the admonishment concerning their faith, to prevent them from continuing to serve God or follow Jesus.
Later in the book of Mark, the scriptures describe how, nearing the end of his human life, Jesus began to tell his apostles of his coming death. The apostles, who had come to recognize Jesus as the long predicted Messiah, had a difficult time understanding Jesus's words. How could the Messiah rescue their people if he were dead? After all the miracles they saw Jesus perform, how could he be put to death? Overcome with emotion, one of the apostles, Peter, reacts to Jesus's words:
Mark 8:27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
Mark 8:28 And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.
Mark 8:29 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
Mark 8:30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 8:32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
Jesus very strongly reacted to Peter's words:
Mark 8:33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
Consider for a minute being in Peter's position. His faith was strong enough to follow Jesus at great cost to his personal life. Jesus had not only called Peter out from all others to be an apostle, but also specially included him to witness many miracles and teachings that even some of the other apostles were not allowed to witness. This strong rebuke from his Lord was doubtlessly difficult for Peter to hear. Consider for a moment Jesus speaking these words to you directly. Those words may cause one to be stunned, even discouraged. We may intellectually say that we understand that God is infinitely wise, and that His perfect plan is beyond our questioning, but will does our faith accept God's will and judgement even when that judgement seems to be against our understanding? Peter was confronted with what he considered an unthinkable situation. Spurred by love, surely, but also by what he considered an understanding of God's plan, that the long awaited Messiah would rescue his people and lead them to greatness, he unknowingly spoke out against God's plan. Upon reflection, this was probably the exact opposite reaction of what, in his heart, he would want to do. Compare this reaction with the words of the older, stronger Peter who delivered the stirring speech at the temple in Acts chapter two. Instead of allowing the reproof of his Lord to discourage him, Peter continued forward, eventually becoming a stronger servant of God.
In another example, the apostles were confronted with a physical manifestation of their lack of faith. At one point during his ministry, Jesus granted the apostles the ability to heal the sick, and sent them out to do so, for a time:
Luke 9:1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
Luke 9:2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
Eventually, the apostles returned to Jesus and were reunited. Jesus departed for a short time with a few of the apostles, and upon his return, he discovered that a multitude had gathered. The remaining apostles had evidently been attempting to heal some of the sick people of the multitude, and in at least one case, were unsuccessful:
Luke 9:38 And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child.
Luke 9:39 And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.
Luke 9:40 And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not.
Jesus responded with disappointment at hearing this:
Luke 9:41 And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither.
(Note: this account is also recorded in Mark 9:15-19)
These words must have been difficult for the apostles to bear. Doubtless, the ability to heal the sick, however temporary, was, at least to some extent, based on faith on the apostles' part. To be rebuked as “faithless” by their own Lord, combined with the physical evidence of an inability to heal a sick boy, despite their Lord's words that they should be able to do so, must have been difficult to endure. Yet the scriptures do not record the apostles becoming discouraged. Instead, shortly after, the scriptures record Jesus and the disciples leaving and passing through Galilee, where Jesus tells them of his upcoming betrayal and death:
Mark 9:31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.
Mark 9:32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.
During the journey, Jesus became aware of a disagreement among the apostles. However, he did not address the disagreement until they arrived at their destination; at which point he asked them about the disagreement:
Mark 9:33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
Mark 9:34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
The apostles, in not answering their Lord, were perhaps ashamed of the disagreement over prominence that they participated in. However, Jesus nonetheless understood the nature of the disagreement:
Luke 9:47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him,
Luke 9:48 And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.
Although these words were not a specific rebuking or admonishment, nevertheless, the apostles were still receiving a lesson from their Master. Some time later, a similar event indicated that the faith of the apostles had not entirely grown beyond this subject. Luke chapter 22 chronicles the period of time shortly before Jesus's betrayal, arrest and execution. He knew that his time on earth was growing short, and that he would soon face the trying circumstances of torture, humiliation and death. During this time, the night of the Passover observance for the Jewish people, Jesus surrounded himself with his twelve apostles; those whom he considered closest to him and whom he had specially called out and labored over. In Luke 22:15-20, Jesus institutes a memorial remembrance for his followers to observe after he was gone. Think for a moment about the friends you may have. Think for a moment of a time when your understanding or your compassion for your friend allowed you to perceive that they were in some distress, either physical or mental. Here were the apostles, observing the Passover with their Lord; participating in a newly found memorial ceremony instituted by their Lord, but instead of perceiving the mood of their Lord and providing comfort, the scriptures record a different behavior on the part of the apostles:
Luke 22:24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
Here, again then, was the same source of disagreement. Concern over a place of honor or respect was the focus of the discussion. Think again of a time when a friend whom you genuinely loved was experiencing some type of hardship or distress. Then consider a time when you, for whatever reason, did not perceive that hardship or distress until it was too late for you to offer any comfort or assistance. Perhaps the apostles did not perceive their Lord's potential feelings at the time, but certainly, looking back in the months following his death, they would have. They would surely have been faced with two choices: despair over their missed opportunity to provide comfort to their Lord for the experience he was soon to be called upon to endure, or finding some way to move forward. Perhaps, in those moments of reflection, they remembered the words of their Lord, sometime earlier, which provided them a manner in which to still serve their Lord despite the missed opportunity of the past:
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
We, today, do not have the privilege of having been with Jesus during his time of trial. However, we do have the same words delivered by Jesus. In the same way as the apostles after Jesus's death, we have the opportunity to provide comfort and service to those faithful followers of God, whom Jesus would consider “his brethren”. The later books of the New Testament are filled with accounts of the apostles serving their brethren and enduring many hardships and travels in order to do so. Even when we miss opportunities to serve our brethren, due to ignorance, or a lack of understanding, or an improper heart condition, or any number of other reasons driven by our human imperfections, remembering the lessons of the apostles and their dedication to God and their brethren in Christ still serve as wonderful examples and reassurances to those of us living today.
During this same evening, Jesus delivers a very powerful message to Peter, one of his most faithful apostles:
Luke 22:34 And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
This same encounter is also recorded in the book of Mark:
Mark 14:29 But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.
Mark 14:30 And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.
How difficult it must have been for Peter to hear these words from his Lord! Peter no doubt felt full of faith when he proclaimed to Jesus that he would stand by him when all others would be “offended”. For Jesus to respond that in the coming hours, Peter would deny his Master not once but three times, must have been unbearable for him to hear. Indeed, sometimes even those of us seeking to follow God today hear messages that we find difficult to accept at the time. Just as Peter may have felt such a prediction to be impossible upon hearing it, so might we question God's will in our lives, when we are faced with a similar fundamental incomprehension.
After Jesus's arrest and his taking to “the palace of the high priest”, only two of the apostles attempted to follow their master; Peter, and “one other” who was doubtlessly John:
John 18:15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.
John 18:16 But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.
Once inside, a woman recognized Peter as a follower of Jesus, and attempted to make his presence and association with the arrested Jesus known. No doubt spurred by fear, Peter fulfilled Jesus's prophecy, and denied his Master not once, but three times:
John 18:17 Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man's disciples? He saith, I am not.
John 18:18 And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.
John 18:19 The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
John 18:20 Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
John 18:21 Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
John 18:22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
John 18:23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
John 18:24 Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.
John 18:25 And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.
John 18:26 One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?
John 18:27 Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.
Luke's account of this same occurrence records Peter's heartbreaking reaction to realizing that despite his earlier proclamations of strength and faith, his Master's prediction had still come to pass:
Luke 14:72 And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.
Consider Peter's faith and love for Jesus. When the other apostles and disciples fled, only Peter and John sought to follow their Master. Though he knew he was at risk of being recognized, Peter went into the very “palace of the high priest”, among the very people who had just arrested his Master. Although the scriptures do not specifically record why Peter infiltrated the high priest's palace, his motivations were no doubt fueled by love for his Master. Perhaps he even expected his faith in God to protect him against detection, or to somehow aid him in assisting Jesus, or at least in making his way to his incarcerated Master. Thus it may have been a shock when he was discovered and called out. When faced with discovery and certain capture, Peter instead abandoned his plan and denied the Lord that he ventured so far to reach. The description of his tears upon thinking back on Jesus's prediction and how it came to pass, despite his proclamations, is difficult for even us, centuries later, to read. The feeling must have been even more poignant for Peter himself. Faith that can trust God's plan even in the most trying circumstances is indeed a difficult foundation to forge.
So even with all these failures, how did the apostles keep moving forward in the race that was before them? How did they bear the weight of the failures in faith that they experienced and not allow those failures to drag them into a mire of discouragement so thick that they could not progress that next step in their following of God?
They experienced setbacks. Their faith occasionally failed them. They occasionally allowed their pride and their doubt and their fears to overcome them. Nevertheless, in their hearts, they kept that character trait that Jesus first recognized when he called them forth from all of the other people. Peter summarizes the result of this character trait very simply:
Luke 18:28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
Similarly, after a misunderstanding that caused many of Jesus's disciples to leave him, Jesus calls the apostles to him and asks them why they did not also leave him. Peter again responds to the question:
John 6:66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
John 6:67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
John 6:69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
In these simple, eloquent words, Peter condenses the essence of that character trait. Faith in Jesus as God's son carries with it faith in God as well, and faith in God's plan. It is, perhaps, possible for Christians today, who have been blessed with being brought up with the full Bible and the knowledge of Jesus, to take Peter's words too lightly. Consider how, at the time Peter spoke these words, the religious leadership of the Jewish people, who for generations had guided their people, denied Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and Son of God. The faith of the apostles was tested. At times they failed those tests. Yet in the end, the apostles continued on. As Peter said, where else would they go? A complete surrender to God's will was developing in their hearts. This resulted in a fundamental character trait that put God first to such a degree that, if that trait were taken away, there would be nothing left. This is the belief and faith that is echoed in Peter's words.
Consider later, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, in Acts chapter two, how the apostles eventually received the Holy Spirit:
Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Acts 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
Acts 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
While it is doubtlessly true that the receipt of the Holy Spirit assisted the apostles in their work, the effectiveness of that receipt was just as doubtlessly built upon the years of experiences, trials, and testings that they had previously endured. The apostles as depicted in Acts and throughout the remaining books of the New Testament are older as well as enlightened by the Holy Spirit. They also, however, demonstrate characters built on a foundation of hard forged faith. The apostles surely never forgot their previous shortcomings and lapses in faith. The very fact that these shortcomings are recorded in scriptures penned by some of these same apostles speaks to that fact. Neglecting to include shortcomings and lapses in faith, or any situation that depicted the apostles in a less than favorable light, would have been simple on the writers' part. Many times, throughout history, the negatives of historical figures are “covered up” or at least, not stressed, in favor of the more positive or impressive aspects that the writer of the account may wish to portray. Instead, the student of the scriptures is presented with an inspiring picture of an individual's ability to increase faith; to not surrender to despair after a time of hardship or a lapse in faith; to trust in God and to work, instead, to take that one more step forward, that will inevitably lead to the next step, and the next step after that, in the race set before them.
Pastor Charles Russell offers a very inspiring thought concerning the apostles and progression of faith that very eloquently summarizes the thought that this study has attempted to convey:
IT is impossible for us to come near to the Lord except as we shall exercise faith and trust in Him, in His goodness, in His power, in His wisdom, in His love.... Faith is a matter of cultivation, of development. The same apostles who cried out in terror when the storm was upon the Sea of Galilee gradually grew stronger and stronger in faith until, as the records show, they could and did trust the Lord in His absence and where they could not trace Him. Similarly it should be a part of our daily lesson to cultivate trust in the Lord, and to think of the experiences in the past in our lives and all of these lessons in His Word, that thus our faith in Him may become rooted and grounded. - R3338:5; Daily Heavenly Manna text for November 12
We cannot know what experiences we will encounter, minute to minute, day to day or year to year. Some may be joyful, certainly, but others will no doubt prove to be difficult to endure. Even during the most difficult experiences, we may well remember our commitment to God. We may remember that we have devoted and dedicated our all to His service, and thus, intellectually also remember that because of that commitment, nothing can or will happen to us that the Supreme Power in the Universe does not permit or cannot have overruled. At times, this remembrance may in fact provide comfort, but perhaps not enough, at times, to prevent us from crying out in anguish and in fear. Despite years of study of the scriptures and years spent in service to God, we may find ourselves feeling, at times, as if we are alone on the dark boat of our life in the unfathomable blackness of our circumstance and buffeted by the winds of our pain. We may feel the razor sharp whip-like winds of the inner cyclone of our fear-filled thoughts buffeting at the very foundations of our beings. We may feel, despite any intellectual understandings, that our Lord, although close, must be sleeping and unaware of us. Our emotions may even reach such a crashing crescendo that we cry out “Lord, careth not that I perish?” When the winds of our emotions subside, and the blackness of our circumstance lightens and we again feel calming presence of our Lord, we may well look back on our feelings of fear, anguish, and yes, even doubt and be tempted to fall into a cycle of despair at our lack of faith. What did I have to fear? Is my faith so shallow that I truly doubted the ability and willingness of God to fulfill His promise to never leave us or forsake us? We may remember the words of our Lord that God, who knows when even a sparrow falls, was always with us. We may be tempted to think, what is wrong with me? Why was that experience so hard for me? We may even begin to feel shame for our doubt, and begin to feel unworthy of the precious promises given to us, and the commitment we have made to serve God, and begin, perhaps, to fall into despair.
In these times, it may help our troubled hearts and minds to remember Jesus's apostles. Here were men whose faith in God and in His Son was strong enough that they left all that they had – their homes, their jobs, their families – to travel the land with the man who they recognized as their long awaited Messiah and King. Their faith was so strong that they did so despite the fact that the religious leadership of their own people were very clear that such a course was wrong, even heretical to the very God of their people. Even so, the books of the New Testament depict not only these testaments of the apostles' faith, but also circumstances when that faith was tried to the point that they cried out in fear; when they found themselves caught up in worldly cares such as respect and position; when they did not understand the words that their Lord spoke to them and to the multitudes that followed them; when they found themselves so overwhelmed by the fear of what men might do to them that they denied even knowing the very Lord they had given their all to follow.
Instead of hiding these moments of doubt and fear, we find them recorded in the books of the New Testament; exposed for all to see throughout the centuries, even down to us in the present day. We are able to see the progression in faith that led some of the very men who cried out in terror on that small boat or who denied knowing their Lord in a moment of fear, to become men of such faith that they inspired others to leave all to follow God. Many of these very men eventually went quietly and faithfully to their deaths in support of the Lord who always lovingly forgave them for their moments of doubt and fear, and of the Father who never, not for one moment, not for even the slightest fraction of a second, left them or forgot them. In the book of Acts, these individuals were granted a great measure of the Holy Spirit, the very power of God Himself, to strengthen them in their work. Equally important, though, are the foundation building blocks of faith, carved and shaped by the sometimes severe trials of faith and doubt that the scriptures allow us to also see. These experiences also contributed to the forging of the humble, zealous followers of God who were able to walk forward in His service after the death and resurrection of the Lord they followed.
Let us not despair because of our fears and doubts. Let us not hide from them or allow them to so consume us that we walk away from the commitments we have made. Instead, let us use them as hard wrought nails hammered into the infrastructure of our faith at great effort and at great cost. Let us remember the lesson of the apostles. Let us take into our hearts how they did not allow their failures to prevent them taking that one more step forward in the race that was before them, and that in so doing, abundantly blessed those around them, including us, down through the ages, who strive to serve the same God they served and follow the same Lord that they followed. Let us use our failures as helps to others who are also seeking to follow God. Let us be quick to discern any admonishments that our Lord may be permitting us to endure, and even quicker to put the matter to rights, and be strong in the faith of our God.
Let us constantly and forever keep the vision of our mutual Lord's kind and compassionate face looking on us after our moments of doubt, fear and despair and quietly yet clearly delivering that message of chiding, surely, but also in a voice infinite understanding and infinite love - “Oh, ye of little faith.... wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
Daniel 3:17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
Daniel 3:18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Further Readings and References
- Daily Heavenly Manna, an excerpt from which was used in this study, provides a different devotional thought for each day of the year. Each entry contains a scripture for consideration as well as some accompanying thoughts on the scripture.
- The Bible Christian Resources website provides not only resources like the Daily Heavenly Manna posted for each day of the year, but also provides many other resources such as online Bible translations and commentaries. For those interested, there is also a corresponding app available for both Apple and Android devices.
- The Divine Plan of the Ages provides a scholarly examination of God's plan for mankind as laid out in the scriptures, from the Old Testament through the New Testament. Many of the studies cover the events of the Gospel Age of God's plan, as well as events and markers of other ages.
- (Please note that although some of the links above will take you to the Chicago Bible Students online bookstore, where physical copies of these books and resources may be purchased, each of the books may also be downloaded from the store, free of charge, with no obligation to provide any personal information. Simply click under the description of each item to find the download link.)