There is a general human tendency, when a decision in fundamental questions is to be taken, to give primary consideration to secondary factors. The result is that the secondary consideration takes the place of the most essential, and often, eternal loss is the final result. Men are not moved to inquire: What is my duty? What does God ask me to do? but, What will my friends or my neighbors think of me?
The preacher of experience is acquainted with the traps laid by the enemy and is prepared to face most situations. But the young, inexperienced preacher may be distressed at times when he discovers the human weakness of putting man first and God last. Only a personal, profound conviction of divine realities can sustain him. Only by looking to him who is invisible can he remain firm and be able to say the right words at the right time. Jesus assured His disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds the right things to say in time of need. In order to encourage our younger fellow workers in particular, I will recall here a personal experience, showing how God is near to the inexperienced to help them in their time of difficulty.
Years ago, on entering the ministry, I was sent to Torino, in Italy. It was a city of 600,000 inhabitants at that time. There was no Adventist church and only two church members. In my effort to establish contacts I did some door-to-door work. I had very few addresses but nevertheless I tried to find people who might be interested in Bible studies. Having no church and no rented hall, the committee had rented an apartment, where I was asked to live in one room. Another room with only fourteen chairs was used as a meeting place for the few interested people who came once a week. When the conference president visited me for the first time, he said: "You are lucky." Then opening his Bible he read 2 Kings 4:10: "Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, . . . and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither." Curiously enough, in that room where I lived there was just a bed, a table, a stool, and one electric lamp! This experience, when the hardness of the task obliged me to rely solely on the only One who could understand and help me, is among the brightest memories I have of the past. I am relating it in order to help any young worker who may find himself in such a situation.
Among the few families I visited there was one that had started to have Bible studies, though still attending another Protestant church of about two hundred members meeting in a large temple. As the study of the Bible progressed, the lady, well-to-do and of aristocratic Russian origin, after a careful discussion in which the Bible had been given as the only source of truth, said: "Sir, I am impressed by the method you Adventists follow. After every question you open the Bible and then the answer comes: 'Thus saith the Lord.' And if I had to state right now which church bases its message on the Bible, I would without hesitation say, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I am almost tempted to say that I would like to join your church. But_______ " Evidently embarrassed, she stopped.
Only 20 Chairs!
After a long pause, there I was with this little word "but" hanging in the air like a bridge in our conversation that could not be crossed. Then, in answer to my silent prayer, I was impressed to ask: "Please tell us frankly the difficulty facing you in joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church." I waited for the answer as nervously as any young preacher would have done. And the answer came. She said: "You know, Mr. Cupertino, a friend of mine is acquainted with you, and I was told that as a meeting place in this town you have a simple room with only twenty chairs." She seemed so sad while saying these words and stopped right there, letting me draw the natural conclusion. How can you have confidence in a movement that is represented by only twenty chairs?
Then the thing happened! Like a flash across my mind came the answer, not the fruit of wisdom, but a revelation from above. It was the help given to a young worker in distress by an angel. Calmly I answered: "Yes, you are almost right. In this town we have just a room for our meeting place, but I think your information about our chairs is not exactly right. If I have counted correctly, we have only a total of fourteen chairs! But, you see madame, the important point is not the number of chairs, but the truth that you seem to be trying to find! The important question you have to settle before all others is this: What are you looking for? Chairs or truth? If you are only looking for a larger number of chairs, then you will have to go elsewhere than to the Protestant church you habitually attend. They have only two hundred chairs! And you should also bypass the largest Protestant church in this town. It has only a thousand seats! And even the Catholic cathedral itself would not satisfy your quest for chairs. Possibly they have only five thousand seats. Maybe the principal theater in town with its ten thousand seats could satisfy your craving, but I believe the great sports stadium would impress you more. However, may I appeal to you and ask you again: What are you really looking for—chairs or eternal life?"
Stones by the Ton
That woman's concern is common to so many people today. The number of supporters of an idea is far more important than the idea itself. Alas! for too many the packaging seems to have more importance than the merchandise. The external appearance rather than the internal value of things is of primary importance. As preachers of truth, we must untiringly remind our fellow travelers of the truth of this simple observation: Really precious things are rare in this world. Ordinary stones can be found by the ton, everywhere, but real jewels are difficult to gather. You can also have iron by the ton, but pure gold is measured by the ounce. Men without principle can be found at any street corner, but men of integrity who act upon conviction and with a pure conscience are seldom found! So it is our duty and privilege to underscore the really important things of life and discard the secondary. Jesus came, disregarding many things that were esteemed of high value in His time, and gave His approbation to the matters of real moment.
Superficial Appearance or Reality?
We may learn something from observing the lives of men. Never do we see a man pitying himself for being the only one to possess some certain privilege. The richest man in town is not disturbed by being the only one with such possessions. A man who is at the head, who is humanly powerful, is not distressed to find himself alone with his privileges. A beautiful person is not distressed by this nor does a runner regret being the winner and arriving alone at the end of the race. So, according to human values, men and women prefer to be among the privileged few at the top. But, strange to say, when some revelation of eternal value is made only a few rejoice in the truth, as when the Ethiopian was baptized by Philip or Lydia was baptized by Paul and Silas. The majority discard the thing of value and give their attention to what the world will say about them. When the man found the hidden treasure he was not at all disturbed at finding himself alone in his discovery. He knew what that treasure would mean to him in eternal life and so rejoiced in the blessing that had come to him. Jesus said "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8). And when we see how much the children of this world rejoice in the possession of their ephemeral treasures and, alas, how gloomy the Christian sometimes appears, then we ask ourselves, Why is this so? The answer is not difficult. The majority of men outside the church, and even some in it, do not look sufficiently at the invisible. Unbelievers outside and the lukewarm inside are both blinded by the vanity of things. Brethren, what are we looking for? Superficial appearance or reality? Chairs or truth?