Church Life

By Stephen Terry


Commentary for the September 8, 2012 Sabbath School Lesson


“…hold on to what is good,” 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NIV

While walking through Riverfront Park recently in downtown Spokane, I was approached by a young man and offered a one million dollar bill. Knowing that the United States does not issue one million dollar bills, I refused. I then discovered it was part of a marketing approach to attract people’s attention to a presentation. 

Today’s image is also obviously not true currency of the United States. We have no three dollar bill in this country, and we do not have any bills with a picture of Michael Jackson on them. It would be ridiculous for a counterfeiter to make fake million dollar or three dollar bills. People would not likely be fooled into accepting such bills as real money. A counterfeiter does not counterfeit the fake, only the true. This means that even if we are surrounded with a sea of counterfeits, their very existence is proof that the genuine exists. We only need to seek it out, and when we find it, the Bible tells us to hold on to it.

Governments take many measures to make it possible to distinguish true currency from counterfeit. They want people to be able to verify what they are holding is genuine. These measures invite testing because true currency can stand up to the test. However, that which is not real is only successful if it can somehow convince people that testing is not necessary. Often this is done by appealing to simple human greed. By offering more than is reasonable to expect, counterfeiters can convince people to forgo testing in order to avoid missing the chance for gain.

For instance, in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, criminals would sometimes approach the unsuspecting and offer them large amounts of money for something they possessed that could be pawned. They would show the money to verify the offer. If the offer was accepted, they would have the person sign a paper to “authorize” the exchange and offer to wrap all the bills into one roll for them. Then after the valuable had been surrendered and the con artists were gone, the victim would open the roll to find the equivalent of a few dollars of Vietnamese currency wrapped around dozens of rolled up sheets of blank paper cut to the size of the currency. Had the victim tested the currency by examining it before handing his item over, he might have been spared the loss.

In spite of campaigns by public officials to promote the saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” people continue to lose millions of dollars to scams that promise big rewards. Those who don’t fall for these scams sometimes pat themselves on the back that they are not like their weak-minded fellows who do.  But aside from the problem of pride, some become so exceedingly afraid of falling for these scams that they reject genuine opportunities that present themselves. As an example, a local credit union offers 1/10th of one percent interest per year on their savings accounts. This is almost equivalent to making nothing or even less than nothing once inflation is accounted for. Yet, because they are fearful of loss they do not pursue other options. While this may be OK for some who are totally unable to understand their finances and have no one whom they can trust to advise them, for most, they can easily discover several reasonably secure methods to improve on this rate of return many fold. This is because even though there are so many counterfeits offered, one can assume that there are genuine vehicles for achieving one’s investment objectives. Otherwise, the counterfeits would have no value.

As it is with the financial world, so it is with the spiritual world as well. When we look around us, we see a plethora of denominations, movements, and factions. Some of these are well-known churches. Some are loose-knit organizations. Some are even factions within existing denominations. Wherever they are found, they all compete for our attention and assert that they have truth that cannot be found anywhere else. Some exist for the same reason the financial counterfeiters do, solely to create a way into their victim’s wallet or purse. Some exist to garner political power. Others exist simply as a cover for a general licentiousness. But as with the financial con artists, even if every denomination should prove false, they would still be evidence that the true exists as well. Else there would be no reason to create a counterfeit.

God could easily have told His people to avoid everything because most of it is false, but He didn’t. If we did that we could not exist here. As Paul said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, NIV instead we are told to “Put everything to the test…” 1 Thessalonians 5:21a, CEV This implies that not only is there a genuine that can be identified by testing, but also that there are ways to test for truth in the spiritual world. Naturally, we would want to know where we could find those testing standards if we do not want to fall prey to spiritual counterfeiters.

Perhaps Paul’s advice to Timothy can guide us in the right direction. He wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16, NIV The Scripture Paul is referring to here is what we call the Old Testament, today. The New Testament had not been gathered into a single place yet, and much of it had not even been written by the time Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. Apparently the early Christians saw the Old Testament as a valuable resource to guide them in their understanding. They were following the example of Jesus.

When Jesus was rejected as Messiah by the religious leaders of His day, He also pointed to this Old Testament resource for verifying what is true. He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40, NIV  By saying this he endorsed searching the Scriptures to identify truth, but for some reason it was not working for these religious leaders. Perhaps it was because in searching the Scriptures, they were not looking for truth but instead were seeking support for their own opinions. When we do that, our minds are closed to discovering anything we might not have expected to find. We limit ourselves by only allowing consideration of things we already know and accept. While this may seem safe, it is safe in the same sense as the safety the person has who keeps their money in an account at 1/10th of one percent per year. Their safety is only illusory due to the inroads of inflation. So the person who closes their mind to any truth beyond their current understanding only has an illusion of safety. When the Holy Spirit cannot enter in with anything new, it must find another vessel that is open for growth. When that happens, the person who is closed to the Spirit’s influence loses rather than gains.

Within Seventh-day Adventism, we have the example of Hazen Foss and Ellen White. According to the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, in their article on Hazen Foss, he was originally called to give a message to God’s people in 1844, when he failed to do so, the vision was then passed on to a more willing individual in the person of Ellen White. This is similar to the experience of Paul. When preaching the gospel, he would begin in the town’s synagogue, when they rejected the idea of anything new concerning their understanding regarding the Messiah, he would leave the synagogue and take the message to more receptive minds. The book of Acts contains multiple examples of this.

We should not allow our desire for safety and security to override our ability to receive what the Holy Spirit wants to pour into our lives. We should seek an openness that makes that possible. Will this encourage charlatans to take advantage of our openness? Probably. But with the Scriptures as a safeguard, we can avoid being misled. We only need to read the Scriptures daily like the Jews in Berea to have a foundation for testing what we are receiving. (See Acts 17:11)

My personal experience with Scripture is that when I read the Bible through over and over again, every time I do, God shows me many things that I did not realize from previous readings. Some say that is because the Bible is not dead but living. (See 1 Peter 1:23) In any event, it speaks to not closing one’s mind to the leading of God when we read the Bible as we seek to test the many so called “truths” in the secular and spiritual world around us. It also tells us that in spite of needing to hold fast to the truth, we should not hold so tightly to it that there is no possibility for changes in understanding. The religious leaders of Israel made that mistake two thousand years ago, and it caused them to miss the Messiah. They were holding so fast to their inadequate understanding, they were like children whose hands are so full of chocolate chip cookies they cannot accept a cupcake when offered. Perhaps we should always make sure we have the ability to grasp something new when the Holy Spirit offers it. Avoiding the misleading messages of the charlatans, does not mean avoiding every new message. The Holy Spirit will always have something new for us if we are only willing.


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Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.


Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.




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