Amos 4:11, "I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD."
This morning, professing Christians ignore two important Scriptural tenets: salvation by grace alone and the importance of organized, public, and truth-centered worship. Of course, without being grounded in the first, we cannot hope to worship God in a truth-centered way, thereby failing the second. However, before attempting to look at both of these concepts from our study verse above, consider another often over-looked or ignored principle from Scripture: a man is known by the company he keeps. (I Corinthians 5:11) Too many times, people today are blinded by the prideful mindset, "It doesn't matter who I hang around. I'll be a good influence on them, not vice versa." Like the old analogy of a rotten apple spoiling the barrel, so our associations and close fellowships can ruin us if we associate with "rotten apples." Therefore, let us examine the concepts of salvation by grace and truth-centered worship from the viewpoint of our company and fellowship.
The book of Amos is quite a sorrowful book, as the Lord takes a simple herdsman – Amos – to prophecy Israel's impending captivity. Some of the prophecies are quite severe, such as a famine of God's word without the interaction of fellowship with Him. (Amos 8:11-14) However, even in books that freely speak of God's judgment against His people (such as Amos or Jeremiah), we still see – as light peeking through the dark canvas – thoughts that show God's overarching love for His people regardless of their circumstance. (Jeremiah 31:3) In our verse, Amos employs a term "firebrand plucked out of the burning" to describe God's mercy for His people even in the midst of previous chastisements. (Verses 7-10)
This term "firebrand plucked out of the burning" could be adequately stated "poker pulled from the embers and coals." God describes Israel's deplorable condition as a poker engulfed in flame with no hope of being rescued from the fire, save by the arm of God to pull them from that state. What is the condition of an object engulfed in flame? The heat, temperature, and other immediate circumstances are the same for the object as everything else in the flame. In other words, the brand in the fire shares the same identical circumstances as all other things in the fire. We, by nature, share the same identical condition and circumstance as a child of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3) Thankfully, we, like the analogy of Israel of old, were plucked from that state by God. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Notice that the condition of the brand in the fire fits the analogy of a man being known by his company. By nature, we shared the company of all wretched, dire sinners, for we share that company and relation in Adam with everyone else. By simply being the offspring of Adam, we are known by that company and relationship to be sinners – both by inherent nature and eventually by observed practice. However, what happens when a firebrand is plucked out of the burning? It no longer shares the same heat, temperature, and other circumstances as the rest of the fire. Parts of the brand that were red-hot moments before begin to cool and take on the immediate properties of its new surroundings. So, when God plucked us out of the burning, we ceased to have the condition and circumstance of damnable depravity, but rather, we took on the properties of the new surroundings of God's rich grace. By taking away the burning of death and depravity, God wrote upon our hearts the burning of His laws and precepts. (Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8)
Notice from our last sentence that we employed the word "burning" to show our new state by God's grace. Scripturally, I believe it fitting to employ the thought that what God has done for us by His grace equates to a state known by circumstances though vastly different circumstances than our previous state. Paul employed the terms "captivity" and "captive" when describing God rescuing us. (Ephesians 4:8) We were once held in the captivity and burning of sin. God led us from that captivity, and holds us captive in the burning of His love. Whereas captive, overwhelmed, and engulfed, the fire of sin and death, now we are captive, overwhelmed, and engulfed in the fire of God's love. How long will something in the fire keep the heat of the fire? The amount of time that the heat and other fire-driven properties remains on the object is dependent on the amount of time it remains in the fire.
By nature, we should have remained in the fire of sin forever, thereby experiencing its properties and consequences for as long as that fire burned. By grace, we do experience the fire of God's love forever, thereby eventually rejoicing in its fulness world without end. One might now inquire, "So what does any of this have to do with organized, public worship of God in spirit and in truth?" The last phrase of the study verse shows, by the mouth of Amos, that despite God's marvelous mercy to pull them from the fire, they had not shown or returned the same "in kind." While their lack of respect for God did not change their position that He had placed them in, their condition was eventually going to greatly suffer (captivity) for not returning unto God. Notice that Amos says "returned" showing that even though God has plucked us by His grace we have labour to put forth serving Him.
By putting forth the labour, we have the rich treasure here in this life to enjoy the "grace fire" with temporal blessings and enjoyments with other "firebrands" that have been plucked from the fire of depravity. Going back to Ephesians 4:8, God did not just lead us captive by His love and grace away from the fire of sin and hell. Rather, He also laid rich gifts and treasures in men to expound upon this grace as a comfort to the church here in this life. God gave these gifts specifically to build up and edify the church while we sojourn and traverse through this world. In this sense, we enjoy the "earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13-14), thereby experiencing some of the enjoyment of overwhelming and engulfing fire from the power of God.
Again, being known by the company that we keep, we might associate with the firebrands of sin in this world, thereby experiencing the evils of the fire of sin. No, we will not throw ourselves back into the eternal misery that we have been plucked from, but we might experience quite a lot of heartache, death, and pain from that multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20) Or we might be known from the company of other firebrands that attempt to enter into the embers of "grace fire" as it descends from heaven during meeting times within the pavilions of God's church. By worshipping Him according to His precepts and dictates (John 4:24), we experience that fire of assurance and peace that we are His and someday will see Him face to face.
As with the previous analogies, the effects and properties of the fire will only last dependent on the time in the fire. Our first state in the fire of sin in Adam would have been forever for us, but not for the grace of God. Our current state in the fire of grace is forever by the eternal work of God of salvation to us. However, the properties of life's daily "sin fires" and "grace fires" are dependent on the time we spend in them. While removing ourselves from the "sin fires" of daily life will begin the process of cooling from them, we may experience a period of heat from our time in that lifestyle and company. So, likewise, we may enjoy and remember some of the heat from God's spiritual service in His church after we have ceased attending, but that will eventually cool without some re-entering the blaze with the other firebrands.
How much stock do we put in ourselves to "influence others?" No matter how cool the firebrand is before going into the fire, it will heat up. Knowing that we are influenced by others (probably more than we would like to admit), may our walk seek to enter the fires of spirit and truth with those that seek the Lord in that manner. May our steps flee from those fires of idolatry, adultery, heresy, envying, strife, and all other works of the flesh. Certainly, God has plucked us from our captivity of sin and death to rest in the captivity of His love. Still, like Israel of old, we can fail to return to Him, thereby experiencing the captivities of Assyria or Babylon. May we return to Him and continually enjoy the blessed warmth of the fires of Canaan's Land that are lit from the eternal fire of grace from heaven's pure world.