A People of Principle

by Tim Nichols

Christians, above all others, are to be a people governed by principles. The world may not yield to an obvious code of conduct, but God's children recognize that the distinct teachings of God's Word give us higher and better rules than our own to guide us through life. Just as Luke wrote of "those things which are most surely believed among us" (Luke 1:1), we can speak of our common commitment to settled principles that have been revealed from Heaven. Those precepts are the standards held high by the pillar and ground of the Truth (I Timothy 3:15). They are honorable, virtuous, and noble (Philippians 4:8-9). Only to the degree that our scruples are shaped by untainted Truth can we live uprightly.

Divine precepts are to be kept diligently (Psalms 119:4). We are to long for, love, and meditate upon them (Psalms 119:15, 40, 159). We can understand them and talk of them (Psalms 119:27). They give us comfort and hope when men hold us in derision (Psalms 119:49-56).

Divine principles come as a package (Psalms 119:128, 168). We either trust God and obey Him concerning all of our ways, or we do not trust Him at all. He Who inspired the living, powerful Scriptures that are able to discern the thoughts and intents of our hearts knows everything about us and everything about every situation that we will encounter (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Divine principles are the hand of God helping us (Psalms 119:173). They require us to acknowledge our own lack of personal wisdom and our need to rely upon Him. Those who count themselves wise enough to value their own wisdom above God's slaps His hand away.

Principles connect with one another (Isaiah 28:10-13) and builds upon another and enlarges it. Some make perfect sense only when understood in light of some others. All are consistent with all others. True precepts from the mind of God never contradict each other.

When human principles enter the stream they corrupt it. Sometimes men become guilty of attempting to teach others of their duty toward God by using mere human principles.

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men (Isaiah 29:13).

This practice seems to especially prevail when difficult matters arise and consequential choices must be made concerning people. Even well respected and well-meaning brethren have been known to invent principles with which they attempt to control others under special circumstances. These often contradict and nullify principles God gave for our guidance.

For example, God teaches us to meekly seek to restore those overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1; II Timothy 2:25) and shows us that doing so has the effect of saving a soul from death (James 5:19-20; Jude 23). We are to mark those who "cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine... and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). God's principle is that we must have no company with brethren who will not obey God, but to admonish them as brethren rather than as enemies (I Corinthians 5:9-11; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15). We are not to bid God speed to those who will not respond to such admonitions (II John 9-11; I Timothy 6:3-5; II Timothy 3:5; Titus 3:10).

God provides a very detailed prescription for applying this principle to personal offenses (Matthew 18:15-17). These precepts are not difficult to understand or to apply until precepts of men interfere. Perhaps because these principles require action with reference to people we know and love and those who are unpleasant and bothersome men find it easy to develop their own principles that modify those of God. Even otherwise sound brethren can be guilty of this practice as are those who are apparently going out from among us. Since these Divine principles touch upon so many matters that affect the kingdom from fellowship with denominations to our personal duty to assist some specific brother to go to Heaven - it is worth our time to notice some of those human principles that would abrogate Divine ones.

"We Can Never Be Sure of the Facts"

This agnostic human precept flies in the face of Matthew 18:15-17 and ignores the force that God tells us to give to credible testimony (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; John 8:17; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28-29). On the face of it, whenever God teaches us that we are to do certain things under certain conditions, then those conditions can be known to exist at least some of the time.

"The Truth Is Always Midway Between the Extremes"

This is not merely a harmless, human, unbiblical observation. It has grievous consequences when applied. It judges all testimony to be unworthy of belief. If we applied it consistently, we would have to find the midpoint between the testimony of Diotrephes and that of John (III John 9) and between every other set of extremes between the Bible and the world. The Truth often has an extreme contrasting lie. Our duty is either to find the Truth or to recognize that we have not found it.

"It Is Wrong to Deal with Personal Attacks; We Can Only Challenge the Doctrinal Sins of Others"

We are not able to find such precepts in the Divine principles. These human precepts would condemn Paul for dealing with the Corinthian brother who had his father's wife and John for responding to the personal attacks of Diotrephes. In our day these principles would provide safe haven for every slanderer and fornicator, whether in pulpit or pew.

Divine Principles do not yield. Unqualified Divine principles apply to all persons at all times and in all circumstances. Their nature is such that we cannot use them today for one purpose and then discard them tomorrow for different purposes. We cannot apply them to foes and then ignore them when friends are involved. They guard us from being partial in our judgment (I Timothy 5:21). While they sometimes force us to act when we would much rather remain still, they also restrain us when we might otherwise act rashly.

Divine principles unite. When we keep them pure, they bring us together. When we contaminate them they divide: "I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts" (Psalms 119:63).

Divine principles liberate. They free us from the obligation to act when many around us apply pressure to do so. "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed" (Psalms 119:45-46; see also Psalms 119:69, 78, 87, 94, 110, 134). They free us from the responsibility of deciding what ought to be done or said (I Corinthians 4:1-4).

Principles impose obligations. Principles become premises, premises lead to conclusions, and conclusions have consequences. We bind ourselves with a duty to act in ways that agree with our principles once we have expressed what they are (Romans 2:1, 3). The man who asserts that "the truth regarding another's conduct cannot be known," for example, must remain passive and silent at all times. Otherwise he is clearly out of duty, and his own conscience should testify to his hypocrisy if he speaks even once concerning another's conduct. No rebuke or kindly admonition should be needed to show it to him. He will be judged by even the arbitrary principles that he seeks to bind upon others (Matthew 7:1-5). We must take care not to adopt unbiblical principles as standards of judgment for others.

May we rather fill our hearts and mouths with Divine principles and apply the winnowing fork to those that are human.

"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:6-10).