And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the river, of the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah (Josh. 24: 15).
These words of admonition were given to the Israelites by Joshua at the close of his life of service. Moses stated almost the same thoughts at the close of his leadership of God’s chosen people (Deut. 30:15-20).
God has always placed a choice before mankind. From the very dawn of this creation, Jehovah placed man on the earth with the right to make his own decisions. When Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden, the Father told them what to do and what not to do, but the choice was left to them. They could choose to serve God without exception and receive the blessings promised, or they could choose to disobey and receive the curses of Jehovah. God has set certain things before us from which to choose. We must choose between good and evil, truth and error, salvation and condemnation, life and death, heaven and hell. Either we choose to please God or we choose to please self and displease the Father.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, and as a result sin entered into the world. Because of sin, God sent forth His own Son, born of woman, who lived a life of spotless perfection and died upon the cross of suffering to bring unto us the way of salvation. The Hebrew writer tells us that Christ tasted death for all men (Heb. 2:9). The Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Yet God forces no one to choose His ways nor to accept His pardoning love and mercy. Man must make the choice. Christ desires that we obey Him and receive eternal salvation (Heb. 5:8-9). We ask a question here—In what does man have the right to choose? Does man have the right to choose how he is to obey and serve God? May we choose to do anything that pleases us and still be acceptable in Jehovah’s sight? Man may choose to serve God or not to serve God, but if we choose to serve Him, we must serve the way that He instructs us to do service. A few examples will help to illustrate.
Noah was commanded to build an ark (Gen. 6). He was told to make it out of gopher wood according to the directions given him. Noah had a choice to make. He could either build the ark or he could refuse to build. But if he chose to build the ark, he had no right to choose how it was to be built. It had to be erected according to the pattern given to him; according to God’s instructions. The Israelites were commanded to build the tabernacle. The Lord gave the instructions as to how the tabernacle was to be constructed (Exod. 25, 26, 27). The Israelites had a choice to make—they could build the tabernacle or they could refuse to build it, but here their choice ended, for if they chose to build, they had no choice as to how it was to be built. It had to be built according to the pattern or plan of God (Heb. 8:5).
The church is built upon Christ as the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). Some have chosen to build upon other foundations, but the church of our Lord has not been the result. If we desire to have the church that Christ purchased with His own blood, it must be constructed according to God’s instructions. In Matthew 26:26-28, Jesus instructs us concerning the supper of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:22-29). Man has the choice about the Lord’s supper. He can either partake of it, or he can refuse to partake of it. But if he decides to partake of the supper, man has no right to choose which day the supper is to be observed. It must be on the first day of the week in obedience to divine authority (by divine approved example, Acts 20:7). If we choose to partake of the supper, we have no right to choose what is to be a part of the supper. We are not at liberty to use anything other than the bread and the fruit of the vine. To partake is man’s only choice; not as to the day, nor as to what is thereon.
It is not enough to do something, unless we are willing to do it according to the divine plan set before us. There are far too many in the religious world today who have not learned this simple lesson. The result is that the religious world is divided into hundreds of different groups. These groups (denominations) are content to act without asking if the things being done are in harmony with what God wants done. They have not stopped to consider the fact that man’s right to choose does not give man the right to do just anything that might suit his fancy or satisfy his carnal mind. The sad plight of this is that there are many in the church of our Lord today who have allowed themselves to fall into the same channel of thinking. Many today are content to act, without even so much as asking whether or not the action would be pleasing unto Jehovah. We who are members of the family of God need to realize that our only choice is whether or not we desire to serve God. If we choose to serve Jehovah, then we have no choice as to how that service is to be done, it must be done in accordance to God’s prescribed ways.
We have heard this principle taught for years from the pulpit concerning the scheme of redemption; how that man must choose to believe in Christ as the Son of God, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Man is not forced to believe, but if he desires to be saved in eternity, he must. This faith will then lead man to repent of his past sins and be baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins. (Acts 2:38; 22:16.) Note: Man may choose to be baptized or he may choose not to be baptized, but if he chooses to be baptized, he has no right to choose how he is to be baptized. He cannot choose to be sprinkled, or to have water poured over him, but in accordance to the Divine pattern he must be buried with his Lord (Rom. 6:3-4). Man’s choice is to obey or not to obey, but if he desires to obey he has no choice as to how; he must be immersed, planted, buried for the remission of his sins. It does make a difference how things are done. It is not enough simply to do something, unless it is done in accordance to Divine Law.
There is rapidly growing within the church a feeling that just as long as we do something, it makes no difference how it is done. There are those among us who have never questioned the many present day plans within the church, devised by man to carry out God’s desires. The church is to preach the gospel, and each congregation has the right to choose whether or not it will do its part in this proclamation. The Lord desires each congregation to do as much as possible, but He does not force the congregation to fulfill its duty. It is their choice. But if the congregation chooses to obey God and do what it is able to do in teaching the world, it does not have the right to choose just any way to accomplish this. We do not have the right to choose some man-made plan or way to do this work. We do not have the right to choose some way that does not have divine approval. If we choose to preach the gospel, we cannot choose to do it through a Missionary Society, or any other arrangement that is without divine authority, including the sponsoring church arrangement.
We realize there are expedients in carrying out the commands of God, but may we always remember that an expedient must be within the scope of that which is lawful. A method can never be expedient if there is no authority for it. God does not give us the right to choose just any plan and then call it an expedient to justify its existence. That which is done must have divine authority or else we have no right to choose it. This is as true in preaching the gospel as it is obeying the command to be baptized.
Yes, man is a creature of choice, but his choice is very much limited with reference to his obedience to God. Man’s only choice is to obey or not to obey. If he chooses to obey, man must obey in accordance to divine instructions. Many seem willing to give up this fundamental precept of the gospel of Christ (1 Pet. 4:11). But if we desire to be pleasing unto the Father, we must choose to “speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.” Then and only then will we be able to realize the Father’s blessings. “Our Father, give us the courage to choose Thy ways and Thy Desires.”