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These studies examine the traditional doctrines held by the Church of Christ to see if they are actually taught in the scriptures. This is not an "anti-Church of Christ" site. I was reared in the Church of Christ and have preached in the Church of Christ since 1968. My desire is that we walk righteously before God, not according to traditions of men.  Bernie Parsons

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That Which Is Perfect

by Bernie Parsons - February 06, 2002 (Rev. 09-21-2008)

There is an attribute of God and a basic principle that under girds the Christian life. It is a concept that is often misunderstood, and often maligned. It is that which allows God to tolerate us even as we turn our backs on Him. It is that which prompted Jesus to come to die on a cross to take our sins, according to God's plan. Yet many in the church do not even recognize it in its simplest form.

I am speaking of charity.

Charity is love that is extended when the recipient does not deserve it, has done nothing to earn it, and does not merit it. Charity is the love that God showed this world of sinners when He sent His son Jesus to die for us.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

1 John 4:9-10 "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Romans 5:6-8 "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Charity is the love that Jesus was talking about when He spoke of the great commandments.

Matthew 22:35-40 "Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Jesus addressed this charity when He spoke of loving our enemies.

Matthew 5:43-45 "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

The Apostle Paul understood this concept of charity as Jesus had described it.

Romans 12:19 "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head."

Who is willing to give food and drink to his enemy? Who is willing to pray for his adversaries? Who is willing to die to save a sinner? A person who understands and embraces charity. Yet we see folks who profess to be members of the body of Christ who show utter disrespect, and sometimes, outright animosity toward their brothers and sisters in the church. These same people also usually regard non-believers with contempt. These people do not understand charity and all that it entails.

We should be looking out for each other in the church, having high regard for one another, hoping and praying that others will prosper and succeed. (Read "Distribution Of Wealth".)

1 Corinthians 10:24 "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."

1 Peter 3:8-11 "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it."

There should be no partiality or favoritism toward one person, or group of people. This holds true whether the person is poor or wealthy, of low estate or well-known.

Romans 2:11 "For there is no respect of persons with God."

Acts 10:34-35 "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."

1 Timothy 5:20-21 "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality."

James 3:17 "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."

James 2:1-9 "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

"Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors."

Leviticus 19:15 "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour."

Everything that we do as Christians must be governed by charity.

1 Corinthians 16:14 "Let all your things be done with charity."

When we have charity, we treat others with kindness, respect, and courtesy--whether or not they deserve it! That is the part that so many have a problem with--they say, "He--or she--doesn't deserve it!" They may be speaking about distribution from church funds, or some other helping hand. I shudder when I hear that remark, for it indicates a grave lack of understanding. Charity is the bond of perfectness. Charity indicates spiritual maturity.

Colossians 3:12-15 "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."

Romans 12:9-10 "Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;"

Dissumualtion indicates operating under a pretext--Christian love is genuine and pure. Charity is never part of an ulterior motive--it transcends the flesh and its motives.

1 Timothy 1:5 "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:"

1 Peter 1:22 "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:"

A lot of wrongs in the world can be righted through charity. Remember--charity is love that is unearned and undeserved. It is not contingent upon the other person meeting our strict criteria.

1 Peter 4:8-10 "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."

It was no accident that Peter listed charity at the pinnacle of our development as Christians.

2 Peter 1:5-7 "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity."

When we have charity, we seek no harm to our neighbors, and have no malice in our hearts.

Romans 13:10 "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

Charity causes us to put aside our conceits and look to God for guidance in life.

1 Corinthains 8:1-3 "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him."

The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to explain the importance of charity driving the Christian life. Apparently, the brothers at Corinth were envious over one another's gifts given by the Holy Spirit. It seems that speaking in tongues (other languages) was the most prized gift of all. Paul addresses these unhealthy desires, and gives a beautiful discourse on charity.

Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that they are organs (members) of the same body, the body of Christ--that is, the church of Christ. He points out that, just as the human body has various organs that have important, albeit different, functions, so the body of Christ has great diversity. Yet it is one body, with each member carrying out its important function to support the whole body.

1 Corinthians 12:27-30 "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?"

Next, Paul tells them that it is normal (in this fleshly body) to desire the best gifts. Yet, he promises to reveal a "way" that is better than the best gifts--and a great mystery is revealed! (A way denotes a route taken, or a method employed.)

1 Corinthians 12:31 "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way."

Paul begins to reveal this better way, a most excellent way--a superior way, a way that rises above all that they desire in the way of gifts. He points out that the ability to speak foreign languages is worthless without charity motivating the speech.

1 Corinthians 13:1 "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

He correctly assesses that knowledge, and the ability to reveal that knowledge, mean nothing when not motivated by charity. Even faith is meaningless without charity. After all, if the motivation is wrong, the result is a vainglorious display of conceit and selfishness--the opposite of charity.

(Recall 1 Corinthians 8:1 "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.")

1 Corinthians 13:2 "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

Paul also notes that giving all that one owns to the poor, although of benefit to them, is of no profit to the giver without the motivation of charity. Nor is there value in the sacrifice of one's life, without charity.

1 Corinthians 13:3 "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

Paul now iterates the qualities associated with charity, proving why it is the foundation for the Christian life, and the chief motivating factor behind it. In other words, a person propelled by charity is long-suffering, kind, contented, humble, is well-behaved, looks out for the well-being of others, is calm and peaceable, harbors no malice, deplores evil and loves truth, puts up with everything without complaining, never doubts the promises of God, looks forward to better things, and patiently awaits the resolution of all problems.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

Now Paul introduces a statement that many find controversial, a controversy primarily engendered by their lack of diligent and prudent study of the context. What he says is--remember their burning desires to have the "best gifts"?--that charity is the best motivator and the best ability of all. It is of such prime importance to the Christian that it will always be required. The ability to proclaim the word of God will at times be irrelevant, due to the circumstances (for instance, what if the listeners refuse to hear? They could make such an uproar that the speaker could not be heard.). The ability to speak in foreign languages may at times be moot. (What if you can speak Russian or French, but everyone in the vicinity understands only English?) The ability to spout facts may be useless unless one can apply the knowledge because of wisdom or experience. These things are all valuable in their appropriate settings, but may be useless in certain circumstances.

That which is "in part"--or incomplete, or immature--is the spiritual gifts. But charity is always in season. It serves friend and foe, in good times or bad, regardless of the language or the message. It is always needed. The other gifts introduce the listener to God, but charity establishes the believer, edifies him, bringing him to maturity.

1 Corinthians 13:8-9 "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part."

"But when that which is perfect is come..." has preachers scratching their heads and asking, "Say what!?!" I have heard much speculation on what this mysterious verse means, and have seen brothers argue over it in Bible studies. It is quite simple to understand. What is the context? The context is that charity is a "more excellent way", the most superior method or route. It is the pinnacle of development in the Christian life. It comes after other valuable qualities have been mastered.

That which is perfect is charity. When that which is perfect is come, we lose our desires for those other gifts of preaching and speaking in foreign languages. When that which is perfect is accomplished in us, we no longer engage in a childish game of "I want what you've got! Your gift is better than my gift! That's not fair!"

1 Corinthians 13:10 "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."

When I reach spiritual maturity, I understand the role and the value of the various gifts. I think as a mature spirit, so I lay aside my childish thinking and selfish desires for "the best" gifts.

1 Corinthians 13:11 "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Again the controversy erupts as Bible scholars puzzle over what they see as cryptic verses. A dark glass? Know as I am known? What can this mean? The theories flow like a swift creek in a rainstorm. Stay focused, and keep in it context! What is under discussion? Charity as a more excellent way, charity as that which is perfect, or complete. Charity removes the desire to swap a "lesser" gift for a more desirable one--like speaking in foreign languages. In other words, charity lights the mirror of our soul and lets us see what is truly important! Once charity drives our life, we truly understand what is important--to bring all believers into full spiritual maturity in Christ Jesus! We see face to face--that is, clearly--and not a concealed, vague image in a darkened mirror. We know as we are known. We recognize a clear image of who we really are, and where we need to improve, and what we need to do about it. Charity gives us new insight into our relationships.

Charity teaches us that our goal is not personal fame and glory, but service to our fellow man. This fits with the entire context of Paul's address on charity. It is not about whether I can outshine you, but whether we can accomplish God's work in growing the body of Christ (the church) to a mature stature that befits the head of that body!

1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

A "glass" is not referring to a windowpane, as many suppose--and as I once did--but rather, a mirror. When we look into a darkened mirror, we see only a vague outline of our features. However, when looking into a well-lighted mirror, we see the details and areas that need to be cleaned up. Which is to say, we see "face to face". Once we look into the unobstructed mirror in the light of charity, we recognize our obligations to serve one another, as well as others. The darkened mirror reflects an image of immaturity, or incompleteness. The "face to face" clarity in the mirror means that we can see clearly what God expects of us, and that is charity.

There are three enduring underpinnings to the Christian life: faith, hope, and charity. If we don't trust God, through Christ, to keep His promises, we won't be Christians. If we don't have the hope of better things ahead, there is no reason to be a Christian. And if we don't have charity, we will be lost anyway, because we will never understand what our relationship with God is really about.

1 Corinthians 13:13 "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Once we mature in Christ, our lives are ordered by charity--unearned, undeserved love. This makes us useful to God in that we can build up the church, as well as to bring non-believers to the Lord. Charity leads us to serve each other, meeting the other person's needs, looking out for the other person's well-being. The ones who need the Lord the most are the ones who least deserve it.

Luke 7:47 “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”

A devastating spiritual illness afflicts the church--the desire by so many to be "church leaders", without their understanding what true leadership is. Some declare themselves to be elders--even if they don't qualify--while others declare themselves the "preacher" or "minister". Still others never adopt a title, they merely assume authority over the church because they are aggressive and intimidating.

This is not a new sin, and is common to man. Jesus dealt with this difficulty in His day. It is a sin that falls into the category as "the pride of life".

1 John 2:16 "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."

Jesus warned His followers not to fall into this lustful trap. When some among them desired to have places of prominence in His kingdom, he quickly set the record straight. A true benefactor is not one who lords over others, but rather one who serves others.

Luke 22:24-27 "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth."

Matthew 20:20-28 "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

"But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

"And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

The word minister does not denote lord, rather it designates one who ministers, or serves. I have seen men who call themselves ministers, yet lord over the church of Christ, ruling the congregations with an iron fist, and demanding complete loyalty. These men in charge deal swiftly with those who do not toe the line--such rulers have no charity.

Peter said that the elders--who are to be the true local church leaders--are not to conduct themselves in this ungodly manner. They are not to lord over the congregation, but are to provide leadership through example. The best leaders are those who serve best, because charity motivates them.

I Peter 5:1-5 "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."

Jesus further dealt with this among His disciples when He washed His apostles feet. He told them that it was a lesson in service. He, as their Lord--and ours--made Himself a humble servant to them all. He then instructed them to follow His example. (By the way, this is not a commandment to have a "foot-washing service" as some of our denominational friends mistakenly observe. Instead, it is an example of humility, of leading others by serving them.)

John 13:3-17 "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

"Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

We know what is expected of us--to serve one another. This shows the charity that God wants to see in us. As spiritual beings, we are freed from the sins and the lusts of the flesh. What are we to do with that freedom? We are to serve one another! The Lord's freeman becomes the Lord's servant!

Galatians 5:13-16 "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."

1 Corinthians 7:22 "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant."

We are set free from sin in order to serve God in righteousness. Our body is devoted to the Lord, and we become a living sacrifice to Him.

Romans 6:16-23 "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

"For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Romans12:1 "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

We are here to serve God.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."

Jesus said that we serve Him whenever we serve one another.

Matthew 25:31-46 "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

"Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

Christ, through His charity, provided leadership through service, and asked His followers to do the same. If we truly have charity, we will follow His wonderful example and serve all those around us--whether they deserve it, or not! This service to others will lead to a strong body of Jesus Christ, the church of Christ.

Love, in Christ,


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