The goal of this message is to look at examples of upright living in the lives of persons from Bible times, and from early church history.
The early Brethren not only aimed to be correct in doctrinal beliefs, but also to be intense about living a Christ-like, holy life. Our goal is to balance belief with upright and holy behavior.
1. Upright Living in the Lives of Bible Personalities
There were, in Old Testament times, those whose affections were brought into harmony with the mind of God. Their lives were lived on a higher plane than was evident in the lives of other persons around them.
The life of Daniel
Daniel was a teenager when he was taken from Jerusalem into captivity by the Babylonians in 605 B.C. His commitment to God was strong. He was a person of deep piety. Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:20 as being one of the godliest of men, and in Ezekiel 28:3 as being one of the wisest of men.
Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were taken captive in one of the Babylonian raids against Judah, and were placed in special training as servants in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. Their names and their diets were changed to reflect Babylonian culture. They were given a daily portion “of the king’s meat” (Daniel 1:5). The Hebrew word for “meat” carries with it the concept of “an offering”—implying that the food was first presented before the pagan gods of Babylon.
There were other teenagers in the training sessions. Chapter 1:6 says that Daniel and his friends were chosen from “among these” other youths. But the four Hebrew boys refused to eat the food which had been offered to idols, and meat from which the blood had not been properly drained.
The other young men are gone and forgotten. The corrupting influences of Babylon were too much for them, and they were useless in God’s hands. By way of contrast, Daniel and his three friends still bear a testimony—because they were faithful to the laws of God. The lives that really count in this world, and in the next world, are not those who go along with the crowd, but those who are determined to stand for the Lord regardless of what the crowd does!
Daniel 1:8 is one of the truly great verses of the Bible. The text says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat (delicacies), nor with the wine which he drank”—therefore he requested (he didn’t demand) that he might be given a special diet. Daniel didn’t take the attitude, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” He remembered the revival under Josiah in his boyhood days. He had heard Jeremiah preach on the street corners. He even had a book of Jeremiah’s prophecies with him (9:2). Daniel knew the Scriptures; he was aware of the restrictions concerning the various kinds of foods; he purposed to live by the Word of God.
Daniel knew that God was looking down, and that he would have to give an account someday—and so Daniel purposed to obey God, and in the end he received a special blessing. Years later, when Daniel became a kind of prime minister in the Persian Empire (chapter 6), he performed blamelessly. His co-workers became envious, and they tried to find some flaw in his character. When they could find nothing for which to accuse him, they decided to find some complaint regarding his religious life. When they saw that he was praying to a God other than the king, they arranged to have him thrown into the den of lions (6:16).
Daniel was a man whose life was marked by holiness, and not once is anything negative said about his life. If we want to live a life marked by holiness, it must begin with a purpose of heart. There must be “a previous determination” that we are going to seek to obey God at any cost!
The New Testament clearly states that we are to “Follow . . . holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Does this mean that we must be perfect to go to Heaven? Is it a denial of salvation by grace through faith, as taught in Ephesians 2:8-9? The answer to both questions is “no.” None of us is perfect (as we use the term) on this side of Heaven; and no, we do not deny the doctrine of salvation by the grace of God. But over and over again, the New Testament speaks of a daily walk that flows from God’s work in us.
The life of Stephen
Stephen was one of the seven deacons chosen in the early church (Acts 6:1-7), and later became the first Christian martyr. Of the seven men chosen to “serve tables,” Stephen alone is described as a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5). The term “full of faith” means that he was willing to “empty himself” for Christ’s sake. And to be “full of the Holy Spirit” means that he was controlled by the Holy Spirit. Stephen went about preaching the Gospel, and verse 8 says that he was “full of grace and power”—doing “great wonders and signs among the people.” When he was tried before the Sanhedrin, his face glowed “as it had been the face of an angel” (6:15). And even though Stephen’s speech was interrupted by the hostile crowd (during the trial), and his stoning was pursued with a vengeance—in the final moments of life, he committed his spirit to Jesus (7:59), and died, asking forgiveness for those who persecuted him (7:60).
The final day in the life of Stephen—how he lived, what he said, how he died—revealed him to be a man whose heart beat with sincere faith in God, and with a great level of holiness in his life. Any man who dies forgiving those who were stoning him to death is displaying a mark of holiness.
The life of Onesiphorus
Onesiphorus was an upright Christian man from Ephesus who befriended the Apostle Paul. His name is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:16-18. Onesiphorus ministered to Paul while he was working in Ephesus—and also during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. The passage in 2 Timothy 1 says: “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.”
Some of Paul’s helpers were fair-weather friends, but it was not so with Onesiphorus. This man was a true Christian whose cheerful spirit “refreshed” Paul, and whose love for the truth was so intense, that he was not ashamed to be identified with Paul, even though the Apostle was in jail.
In fact, verse 17 says that Onesiphorus was so determined to find and help Paul, that he traveled all the way from Ephesus to Rome—and went all over the city diligently searching for Paul. I try and picture this dedicated, concerned brother: He traveled to Rome and threaded his way over unfamiliar streets in the big city. He knocked on doors and tried to learn where Paul was located. He followed up on every clue until finally he discovered Paul (chained to a soldier) in some unknown prison-house in Rome.
No wonder Paul felt such a profound sense of gratitude for this brother in the Lord! Just exactly what Onesiphorus did to cheer Paul, we are not told. Maybe he brought news about individuals and churches that had been established by the Apostle. Maybe he read Scripture passages to the aging brother Paul. Maybe he brought food and drink to help supply Paul’s needs. Paul invoked a special blessing upon this dear friend (and upon his family)—because of the kindnesses he had shown to Paul.
Paul was facing martyrdom, and so he could never repay Onesiphorus, but he asked the Lord to repay him on that future Judgment Day when the rewards are handed out.
2. Upright Living in the Lives of First Century Church Leaders
If you want to read a book that will touch your emotions, and melt your heart, and make you see how little you are really doing for God—read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
The life of Linneaus
The book is filled with illustrations of people who suffered and died for the cause of Christ. On one occasion, during the early history of the church—the Romans arrested an entire congregation of more than 50 people (along with Linneaus, one of their preachers). They were locked up in one of those terrible Roman jails (along with all the rats, dampness, and filth)—and were kept there for four long bitter months.
Some time later (during the celebration of the Emperor’s birthday)—these 50-odd people were brought out into the Coliseum—to be devoured of lions before a great crowd of spectators. They came out with their clothes torn and their bodies diseased. They had not had any food for several days. They got down on their knees (in the center of the Coliseum)—and Linneaus the preacher stood up in their midst, raised his hands toward Heaven, and lifted his voice to God in prayer.
The crowd listened quietly. They wanted to know what he was saying.
- he prayed not that God might take revenge on their persecutors
- not even that God would deliver them, and set them free
- he prayed simply that God might give them grace to die in such a way, that even their death might lead to the salvation of some of the souls in that great crowd of spectators.
Compare that kind of Christianity with the kind we’ve got today—the kind that has to be begged to come out to its own revival meetings, and has to be entertained to come to many of the services of the church. The average brand of Christianity today is only a half-hearted thing. Many of us can agree with the Bible teacher, J. I. Packer, when he says, “Christianity in America is very shallow; it is 3,000 miles wide (extending from New York to California), but in many cases, it is only one-half inch deep!”
3. Upright Living in the Lives of Anabaptist Church Leaders
The Anabaptists stressed holiness in life, along with the certainty of salvation by grace through faith. The stories of early Anabaptist heroes are found in the book, Martyrs Mirror.
The life of Hans Bret
Hans Bret was a 21-year-old Christian (living in Holland), who very diligently studied the Word of the Lord. He used key passages of Scripture to exhort his co-workers to a virtuous life, and to cultivate godly conduct.
He was brought before the criminal judges, where he confessed that he had been baptized upon declaring his faith in Jesus Christ, and he was sentenced to death. The law permitted membership only in the prescribed state churches. Hans Bret, as a result, was to be publicly burnt alive at the stake.
When the executioners came, they commanded Hans to stick out his tongue. And when he put out his tongue, the executioner fastened it with a U-shaped piece of iron, and screwed it very tight with a hand-held vise. And then he touched the end of the tongue with a hot iron, so that the swelling of the tongue would prevent the metal screw from slipping off. This happened on the 4th of January in the year 1577. The metal screw was fastened on his tongue to prevent him from giving verbal testimony while he was burning to death. (A picture of the type of screw that was used to fasten his tongue is found in the book, Martyrs Mirror.)
The life of Dirk Willems
At one point early in Anabaptist history, 350 believers known for holy living and purity of conduct were executed for their faith. Some were beheaded; others were drowned. They were taken from their houses and led as sheep to the place of execution—and joyfully they met death. Some were not put to death, but were tortured with great cruelty. The most common modes of torture included cutting off fingers, and burning crosses into the skin of their foreheads.
In the year 1569, Dirk Willems (who was a pious and faithful brother among the early Anabaptists), was apprehended and severely persecuted by the state church leaders. Willems was determined to remain steadfast until the end.
One day he was pursued by an enemy, and rather than fight, Dirk tried to run away. As he was running over an ice-covered pond, the man who was pursuing him broke through, and when Willems sensed that the man was in danger of losing his life—he quickly returned and helped the man get out. But in spite of this deed of kindness, Dirk Willems was soon put to death by being tied to a stake and set on fire.
The life of Elder James Quinter
Brother James Quinter was born in 1816. He was known as a powerful preacher, an excellent debater, a godly man, and the editor of the Gospel Messenger. One of the unique things about James Quinter is related to the manner of his death.
Elder Quinter came to the grounds of the Church Conference (the yearly meeting of the Schwarzenau Brethren) in 1888 (held in North Manchester, Indiana). He greeted a number of those he loved so well, and was shown much love and respect by those who had gathered for the Conference. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the day of his arrival he went to hear the sermon. It was to be the last sermon he would hear in this world. The preacher (Daniel Vaniman) closed the sermon by reading in a touching way one of the hymns of the church and then Brother Quinter was to bring the meeting to a conclusion.
Brother Quinter spoke a few fitting words about the sermon, and then called the great audience to a kneeling prayer. He thanked God that once more he was permitted to “meet with those of like-precious faith.” However, those near him noticed that his voice trembled, but his words were clear and coherent. And then, as he continued, he said, “We are glad to meet again”—and his voice ceased, never to be heard again in this world.
Those who were kneeling by his side noticed that he grew pale; they caught his slumping body so that he was kept from falling to the floor. He was tenderly and gently raised from his knees, and he was laid on the table. He gasped a few times—and then surrounded by a weeping congregation, his spirit took its flight into the eternal world.
Elder D. L. Miller, in describing this incident, says, “And so passed away one of our great and good men—not great as the world counts greatness, but great in all those noble qualities of true Christian manhood.”
“We are glad to meet again” were James Quinter’s last words. As he uttered those words, his voice was hushed in death. “Were those words spoken of us (D. L. Miller says), or were they spoken to those on the other shore, who were watching and waiting for the coming of our dear brother? God only knows.”
Elder James Quinter was later buried near his home in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania—but on a tree-shaded sidewalk, near the Peabody Retirement Center, in North Manchester, Indiana—is a bronze plaque marking the exact spot where Brother Quinter was kneeling when he died.
The early Brethren aimed not only to be correct in doctrinal beliefs, but also to be intense about living a Christ-like holy life. One of their mottoes was, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Some day the holiness of God will sweep the universe clean, and will create a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness (holiness) will dwell forever (2 Peter 3:13).
The old hymn, “Faith of our Fathers”—exalts the Lord God Jehovah:
“Faith of our fathers! living still,
in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy,
whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers! Holy faith!
We will be true to Thee till death!”
“Faith of our fathers! We will love
both friend and foe, in all our strife—
and preach Thee, too, as love knows how,
by kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to Thee till death.”
Holiness in daily life is one of the marks of God’s people.