The Feast of Tabernacles is a type of the Millennium, during which God’s government will rule over the entire Earth for 1,000 years. It’s a time when we can experience a foretaste of the soon-coming Kingdom of God!
So what does God expect of us at the Feast? Where should our focus be? Let’s look at four ways that we can step forward at the Feast and experience the best Feast ever! The acronym s.t.e.p. will help us remember these four points.
S Stands for “Serve”
The mother of James and John asked Jesus to let her two sons sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His Kingdom. In response, Jesus told His disciples that “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve …” (Matthew 20:26-28, New King James Version). In essence, Christ told His disciples that we are being saved now in order to serve the rest of mankind! Since the Feast pictures the Kingdom of God during the Millennium, and Christ set us the example (1 Peter 2:21), we need to ask ourselves, do we go to the Feast to be served, or to serve? If we are physically able, are we willing to give of our time and effort to serve others?
God is training us to become kings and priests in His Kingdom (Revelation 5:10). These kings and priests will serve God on behalf of the people. The Feast is an excellent time to learn that lesson! If we can’t serve a few of God’s people, how can we serve the world?
Notice this comment in lesson 42 of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course: “Kingship in God’s Kingdom will be given to those who prove here and now by their own selfless service in obedience to God’s laws that they will continue to serve others in the future.
“Those who are faithful in serving in their small physical responsibilities as human beings will be given the opportunity to serve in greater spiritual responsibilities as members of the God family.”
At the Feast, there are many physical duties to take care of. Are we willing to help? God’s way of life is the give way—that of serving, sharing and helping. Being helpful is a fruit of God’s Spirit. In Galatians 5:22, the fruit of “gentleness” (better translated as kindness) comes from the Greek word chrestos, which means useful or helpful. The correspondence course, lesson 22, states, “The Spirit of God in one causes him to be humble. … He is willing to give up his own comforts, even his own life, in order to serve and help others! He is willing to abase the self and sacrifice for others!”
So how can we help at the Feast?
Parking attendants are always a welcome sight, especially for brethren who are not sure about the location of the meeting facility. Ushers are needed to control traffic in the building, take attendance and help find seats for people. Much work goes into setting up and maintaining the meeting hall. Others provide floral arrangements for the stage, act as door greeters or as attendants for the mothers’ and fathers’ rooms. Activities for seniors, singles, teens and families take planning and coordination. Many serve by singing in the choir, providing special music or leading songs. Others provide assistance for the handicapped or transport those needing rides to and from services. Some are hotel monitors or assistants. Some help with the offering count. Volunteers are generally needed for security, used clothing, the information table and the sound system. At some sites, translations may be provided. Of course, the ministry serves through speaking, anointing and counseling. It takes a lot of help to make a Feast run smoothly!
Some duties are assigned by headquarters, but many are not. Let’s be alert to these needs and be willing to pitch in where necessary so others are not overworked.
Remember that “God’s law is a way of life. … That way always is the way of love—the way of unselfish, outgoing concern. … [S]in is the transgression of that way! Sin travels in the direction of vanity, greed—in flowing selfish gratification. … It wants to be served, not to serve. To be helped, not to help” (Missing Dimension in Sex).
The Feast is an ideal opportunity to fight this tendency of human nature and focus on others rather than ourselves—to follow God’s instructions: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
T Means “Take Time”
One of the main reasons for keeping the Feast is revealed in Deuteronomy 14:23: “… that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.” Keeping the Feast helps us to learn to fear—that is, stand in awe of—God.
If we truly fear God, we will also deeply respect and love His family—our brethren. We will take time for them and fellowship with them. “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him …” (Malachi 3:16). In Malachi’s Message, Gerald Flurry shows that the book of remembrance is not the book of life but a special book concerning a unique group of people who fear God, and fellowship a lot.
So the Feast teaches us to fear God, and that goes hand in hand with taking time for His family—our brethren—in fellowship!
To take time for the brethren at the Feast can sometimes be a sacrifice. But Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This, of course, referred to His sacrifice for all mankind, but not only to that. Basically, our life is our time! Are we willing to sacrifice our life by taking time for the brethren? (see 1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 8:36). The Feast is an excellent opportunity to do just that. Or, do we hasten to go to as many events and activities as possible immediately after services, every day, and ignore fellowship? Getting around to as many attractions as possible and ignoring the brethren is not learning to fear God and is not the purpose for keeping the Feast.
Taking time for the brethren also develops spiritual character. “[M]uch of this spiritual character development comes through Christian fellowship with other spiritually begotten people in God’s Church” (Incredible Human Potential). Let’s make sure we grow in love by giving a portion of our time to the brethren at the Feast before and/or after services, and honor God by honoring His family.
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that the Feast “is a time for us to get away from the dreary routine of daily life in Satan’s world and enjoy eight wonderful days with brethren in Christ and their families! It is the only time in the year when God provides a time when we may get away and rest from our regular duties—to be with brethren in Christ to worship Him …” (member letter, April 6, 1981).
As Malachi 3:16-17 shows, we take advantage of the Feast to learn to fear God and fellowship a lot, and continue to take time for the brethren throughout the year, God will make us His special treasure and protect us from the coming Tribulation.
E is for “Encourage”
Paul tells us that God is “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Greek word for comfort is paraklesis. It also means encouragement. So God is the God of all encouragement. He uses His Holy Spirit (called the “Comforter” in John 14:26) to encourage us by helping us to have positive and uplifting thoughts. He “comforteth [or encourages] us in all our tribulation …” (2 Corinthians 1:4). God wants to lift us up!
But God’s encouragement is not for our benefit only. Notice the reason for encouragement given in the last part of verse 4: “… that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” After God encourages us, He expects us to be encouraging to our brethren who experience similar trials and tests.
At the Feast, some may be unemployed or attending under threat of losing their jobs; some may be attending as a widower or widow for the first time, some are there apart from their mates and/or children, others may be having serious health problems or financial hardships, even at the Feast. God sometimes sends an encouraging message through another person.
Notice how the Corinthians encouraged Titus, who in turn encouraged Paul (2 Corinthians 7:6-7).
Can God use us to encourage our brethren at the Feast? Sometimes it just takes a few words expressing compassion and empathy. “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Proverbs 12:25). A “good word” doesn’t have to be a sermonette. Just a few words of encouragement may help someone be able to rejoice at the Feast in spite of his or her situation.
There are many other practical ways we can encourage each other at the Feast. When we come to services, there are usually greeters at the door who extend their hand and offer a friendly smile. That makes us feel welcome. We can do the same as we mix throughout the congregation. We should greet as many as we can with an enthusiastic handshake, by name whenever possible (1 Thessalonians 5:26; 3 John 14). We can keep an eye out for single mothers who may need a hand carrying the bags and blankets for their children. How about offering to babysit the children one evening for someone? Or, we could take some brethren out to eat who may not have a lot of second tithe. If we have space, how about inviting them to our room in the evening for finger foods and fellowship?
One year at the Feast, a complete stranger walked up to my wife and me and asked if she could give a little toy to our baby girl. Our daughter was thrilled, and that really encouraged her!
We could take pictures at the family day activity and pass them out as mementos to the recipients. Also, we should not forget those who were not able to attend the Feast. We can send them flowers, a postcard or two, or call them on the phone, to let them know they have not been forgotten. These are just a few of the ways we can encourage one another at the Feast.
Mr. Flurry has said that one way God encourages us is by sending more and more revelation to the Philadelphia Church of God. How important it is then that we be found “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Referring to this verse, the King James Study Bible states that “The assembling of God’s people provides opportunity for reciprocal encouragement, strengthening, and the stirring up that can be gained from one another.” Let’s do all we can to submit to God so He can use us to encourage one another at the Feast. That will strengthen our hope and vision of the World Tomorrow that we all yearn for!
P Stands for “Pray”
If we serve diligently at the Feast, take time for the brethren and find ways to encourage them, but leave out prayer, then we are just being self-righteous. We need God’s Holy Spirit—which must be renewed daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)—in order to be motivated by the love of God (Romans 5:5) and not our own righteousness. If we are not motivated by God’s love, then our service and sacrifice is like filthy rags to Him (Isaiah 64:6). We need to make sure we prioritize prayer at the Feast, or all our other efforts will be fruitless.
For example, taking time for the brethren is not really fellowship if we don’t first commune with God (1 John 1:3, 6-7). Mr. Armstrong describes it this way in Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?: “Jesus Christ said, in John 15, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches …’ (verse 5). We are told to abide in Him (verse 4), or, spiritually, we can do nothing. … We can have true Christian fellowship only when each individual Christian is joined to Christ, and to the Father—as a branch of a grapevine joined to the vine.” The point is that “When God’s own obedient children, each joined to Christ—each walking with Christ in harmony, obedience— assemble … they actually have fellowship with Christ. He is there, in their midst, in Spirit! And then Christ joins them together in fellowship with Him and the Father!” (ibid; emphasis added). That should serve to illustrate the importance of prayer!
At the Feast, our daily routine is somewhat disrupted, and it might be tempting to neglect prayer. So we need to implement some strategies to ensure we pray every day. For example, one strategy might be that we don’t eat before we pray! It’s far better to get to services spiritually renewed on an empty stomach than spiritually deprived on a full one. Ideally, we’d want to have time to both pray and eat. That’s why a strategy to get to bed by a certain time is effective. But if we can’t, then we need to prioritize prayer and attendance at services. That’s an example of how to put Christ’s command in Matthew 6:33 into action!
The focus of the Feast is to learn to fear God and to serve, encourage and fellowship with His family, our brethren. Jude refers to “spots” (or “hidden rocks”) at the feasts that are engaged in “serving only themselves” (Jude 12, New King James Version). We certainly don’t want to be in that category!
So let’s truly make this Feast of Tabernacles a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God and use the acronym s.t.e.p. to remember to serve wherever we are needed, to take time for the brethren in spiritual fellowship, to encourage the family of God to rejoice, and to pray daily to God, who makes it all possible. s.t.e.p. forward at the Feast and you will have the best Feast ever!