“…the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:4)
We should never forget that the gospel is the good news of the glory of Christ. True, it concerns the One who was crucified and who was buried. But He is no longer on the Cross, no longer in the Tomb. He has risen, has ascended to heaven, and is the glorified Man at God’s right hand.
We do not present Him as the humble Carpenter of Nazareth, the suffering Servant or the Stranger of Galilee. Neither do we present Him as the effeminate do-gooder of modern religious art.
We preach the Lord of life and glory. He is the One whom God has highly exalted and given a Name which is above every name. At His Name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Him Lord to the glory of God the Father. He is crowned with glory and honor, a Prince and a Savior.
Too often we dishonor Him by the message we preach. We exalt man with his talents and create the impression that God would be lucky to have such a man to serve Him. We make it sound as if man were doing a colossal favor to the Lord by trusting Him. That isn’t the Gospel which the Apostles preached. They said, in effect, “You are the guilty murderers of the Lord Jesus Christ. You took Him and with wicked hands nailed Him to the tree. But God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him at His own right hand in heaven. He is there today, in a glorified body of flesh and bones. His nail-scarred hand holds the sceptre of universal dominion. He is coming back again to judge the world in righteousness. And you’d better REPENT and turn to Him in FAITH. There is no other way of salvation. There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
O, for a fresh vision of the Man in the glory! And for a tongue to tell forth the myriad glories that crown His brow! Surely then, as at Pentecost, sinners would tremble before Him and cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
“…the God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine…has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6, Darby’s translation)
“God has shone in…for the shining forth.” Here we learn that we are not meant to be the terminals of God’s blessings but only the channels. The expression “God has shone in” refers to our conversion. Whereas in the original creation He commanded light to shine, in the new creation He Himself has shone in our hearts.
But He did not do it in order that we might selfishly hoard the floodtide of His blessings. Rather He did it so that the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ might be made known through us to others.
In similar vein, Paul spoke of how God had “revealed his Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen” (Gal. 1:16). God reveals His Son in us that we might reveal Him to others. When the truth of this came home to me years ago, I wrote on the flyleaf of my Bible:
If of Jesus Christ their only view
May be what they see of Him in you,
MacDonald, what do they see?
No wonder that Ian MacPherson said, “Preaching is something august, sublime, awe-begetting—a supernatural act, the transmission of a Person through a person to a company of persons, the Person so conveyed being the everlasting Jesus.” He illustrated it by an incident that happened when King George V was speaking on the radio and his words were being relayed to America. A vital cable broke in the New York station, plunging the staff into panic. “Then Harold Vivien, a junior mechanic saw in a moment what to do. Seizing the ends of the broken wire, he held them, grimly and gallantly, as the current conveying the royal message was transmitted. Electrical charges of some two hundred and fifty volts shook his body, convulsing him from head to foot and causing him considerable pain. But he did not relax his grasp. Resolutely, desperately, he clung to the cable till the people heard the king.”
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous pow’r
Flowing thro’ us Thou canst use us
Ev’ry day and ev’ry hour.
“And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” Rev. 8:3.
We believe that the angel in this passage is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself. And His ministry here is full of comfort and encouragement for us.
What is He doing? He takes the prayers of all saints, adds His precious incense to them and presents them to God the Father.
We know only too well that our prayers and praises are very imperfect. We don’t know how to pray as we should. Everything we do is stained with sin, with false motives, with selfishness.
“The holiest hours we spend in prayer upon our knees,
The times when most we deem our songs of praise will please,
Thou Searcher of all hearts, forgiveness pour on these.”
But before our worship and intercession ever get to God the Father, they pass through the Lord Jesus. He removes every trace of imperfection so that when they finally reach the Father they are flawless. And something else that is very wonderful happens. He offers the incense with the prayers of the saints. The incense speaks of the fragrant perfection of His person and work. It is this that gives efficacy to our prayers.
What an encouragement this should be to us. We are all too aware of how we bungle in prayer. We slaughter the rules of grammar, express ourselves inelegantly and say things that are doctrinal absurdities. But this need not discourage us from praying. We have a Great High Priest who edits and purifies all our communications with the Father.
Mary Bowley captured the truth in poetic form when she wrote:
Much incense is ascending
Before th’ eternal throne;
God graciously is bending
To hear each feeble groan;
To all our prayers and praises
Christ adds His sweet perfume,
And love the censer raises
These odours to consume.
“If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.” (Psa. 73:15)
The psalmist had been going through a rough patch. He saw the wicked prospering in the world, whereas his own life was a nightmare of trouble and suffering. He began to have doubts about the justice of God, the love of God, and the wisdom of God. It seemed as if the Lord rewarded wickedness and punished uprightness.
But Asaph made a noble resolve. He determined not to parade his doubts lest he should stumble any of God’s children.
Probably most of us have doubts and questions at times. Especially when we are almost at the end of endurance, when everything seems ready to cave in on top of us, it is easy to question the providence of God. What should we do?
We are certainly permitted to share our doubts with someone who is spiritually qualified to counsel us. Sometimes we are too distracted to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas it is quite clear to others and they can lead us to it.
As a general rule, we should “never doubt in the darkness what has been revealed to us in the light.” We should not interpret God’s Word by circumstances, no matter how bleak. Rather we should interpret our circumstances by the Scriptures and realize that nothing can ever thwart God’s purposes or nullify His promises.
But above all, we should not go around needlessly parading our doubts. There is the terrible danger of stumbling Christ’s little ones, concerning whom He said, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
Our certitudes are numberless; our doubts, if any, are few. Let us share our certitudes. As Goethe said, “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any, but keep your doubts to yourself, for I have enough of my own.”
“I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.” Job 42:2 NASB)
No purpose of God can be thwarted. Man may have his wickedness, but God has His way. Man may have a lot to say, but God will have the last word. Solomon reminds us that “there is no wisdom or counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). And Jeremiah adds his testimony that “every purpose of the Lord shall be performed” (Jer. 51:29).
Joseph’s brothers decided to get rid of him by selling him to a band of Midianites. But all they succeeded in doing was accomplishing the will of God. The Midianites provided free transportation for Joseph to Egypt where he rose to be Prime Minister and the savior of his people.
When the man who was born blind received his sight and trusted the Savior, the Jews excommunicated him from the synagogue. Was it a great victory for them? No, Jesus would have led him out anyway because the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out” (John 10:3 NASB). So they merely saved Jesus the effort of doing it.
Men’s wickedness reached its Everest when they took the Lord Jesus and, nailing Him to a cross, put Him to death. But Peter reminded them that He was delivered up by “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). God overruled man’s gargantuan crime by raising Christ up to be Lord and Savior.
Donald Gray Barnhouse told the story of a wealthy landowner who had beautiful trees on his estate. “But he had a bitter enemy who said, ‘I will cut down one of his trees; that will hurt him.’ In the dark of the night the enemy slipped over the fence and went to the most beautiful of the trees, and with saws and axes he began to work. In the first light of morning he saw in the distance two men coming over the hill on horseback, and recognized one of them as the owner of the estate. Hurriedly he pushed the wedges out and let the tree fall; but one of the branches caught him and pinned him to the ground, injuring him so badly that he died. Before he died, he screeched out, ‘Well, I have cut down your beautiful tree,’ and the estate owner looked at him with pity and said, “This is the architect I have brought with me. We had planned to build a house, and it was necessary to cut down one tree to make room for the house; and it is the one you have been working at all night.’”
“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22)
There is a subtle deception that attending meetings, conferences and seminars is doing the work of God. We listen to messages and talk about what we know we should be doing, and the delusion creeps over us that we are accomplishing His will. What we are actually doing is increasing our responsibility and deceiving ourselves. We deceive ourselves that we are spiritual when actually we might be quite carnal. We deceive ourselves that we are growing when the truth is that we are stagnant. We deceive ourselves that we are wise when we are pathetically foolish.
Jesus said that the wise man is the one who hears His words and does them. The foolish man also hears His words but does nothing about them.
It is not enough to listen to a sermon and walk away saying “What a marvelous message.” The true test is when we go away saying, “I will do something about what I heard.” Someone has said that a good sermon not only stretches the mind, warms the heart, and tans the hide but it also provokes the will to action.
In the middle of his message, a preacher once asked his audience the name of the first hymn they had sung. No one knew. He asked the text of Scripture that had been read. No one knew. He asked what announcements had been made. No one could remember. The people were playing church.
Before every meeting, we might well ask ourselves the following questions. Why did I come? Am I willing to have God speak to me personally? Will I obey Him if He does?
The Dead Sea justly earned its name by constant input without corresponding outflow. In our lives, information without application leads to stagnation. The Savior’s persistent question comes home to us, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say?”
“I have been crucified with Christ.” (Gal. 2:20 NASB)
When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He died not only as my Substitute; He died also as my Representative. He died not only for me but as me. When He died, there is a real sense in which I died. All that I was as a child of Adam, all my old, evil, unregenerate self was nailed to the Cross. In God’s reckoning, my history as a man in the flesh came to an end.
That is not all! When the Savior was buried, I too was buried. I am identified with Christ in His burial. This pictures the removal of the old “I” from God’s sight forever.
And when the Lord Jesus arose from the dead, I arose too. But the picture changes here. It is not the one who was buried who arose, not the old self. No, it is the new man - Christ living in me. I arose with Christ to walk in newness of life.
God sees all this as having taken place positionally. Now He wants it to be true practically in my life. He wants me to reckon myself to have gone through this cycle of death, burial and resurrection. But how do I do this?
When temptation comes to me, I should reply to it exactly as a corpse reacts to any solicitation to evil. No response! I should say, in effect, “I have died to sin. You are no longer my master. I am dead as far as you are concerned.”
Day by day I should reckon my old, corrupt self to have been buried in the grave of Jesus. This means I will not be introspectively occupied with it. I will not look for anything worthwhile in it or be disappointed at its utter corruption.
Finally, I will live each moment as one who has risen with Christ to newness of life—new ambitions, new desires, new motives, new freedom and new power.
George Muller told how this truth of identification with Christ first came home to him:
There was a day when I died. Died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure, to the approval or blame even of my brothers or friends, and since then, I have studied only to show myself “approved unto God.”
“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matt. 12:30)
The Lord Jesus spoke these words concerning the Pharisees. They had just committed the unpardonable sin, attributing His miracles to Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, when actually they were done in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was now evident that they would not accept Him as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Because they did not take a decided stand for Christ, they were necessarily against Him. Because they didn’t serve on His side they worked against Him.
When it comes to the Person and work of Christ, there can be no neutrality. There is no way of straddling this fence. A man is either for Christ or he is against Him. Anyone who says he cannot decide has already decided.
When it comes to the truth concerning Christ, there can be no compromise. In biblical Christianity there are some areas where there can be a reasonable difference of opinion but this is not one of them. As A. W. Tozer has reminded us, “Some things are not negotiable.” We must adhere steadfastly to the absolute deity of the Lord Jesus, His virgin birth, His true humanity, His sinless nature, His substitutionary death for sinners, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to God’s right hand and His coming again. When men start to hedge on these cardinal doctrines they are left with a demi-Savior, who is no Savior at all.
The poet laid it on the line when he wrote:
“‘What think ye of Christ?” is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest
Unless you think rightly of Him:
As Jesus appears to your view,
As He is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy or wrath is your lot.
“He that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:49, 50)
At first this seems to flatly contradict our previous verse, but there is no contradiction. There the Savior was speaking to the unbelieving Pharisees and saying, “If you aren’t for Me, you’re against Me.” But here it is a different matter. The disciples had just restrained a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ Name. They had no better reason than that he didn’t associate with them. Jesus said, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
When it comes to salvation, those who are not for Christ are against Him. But when it comes to service, those who are not against Him are for Him.
We are not called to oppose others who are serving the Lord. It is a big, wide world, and there is plenty of room for all of us to get on with our work without stepping on one another’s toes. We should take to heart the Saviors words, “Forbid him not.”
At the same time we should notice that Jesus did not tell John and the others to go and join this man. Some use methods that are unacceptable to others. Some have different emphases in the message they preach. Some have greater light than others. And some have liberty to do things about which others have a bad conscience. We cannot expect to pour every believer into the exact same mold as ourselves. But we can rejoice in every triumph of the Gospel, as Paul did. He said, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15-18).
Sam Shoemaker asked the preceptive question, “When shall we learn that in the great warfare of light against darkness in our time, we are going to need the support of allies who may not be to our personal taste, and learn that it is going to take all Christians working and pulling together to make headway against the storm of anti-Christ?”
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit…” (Gal. 5:16)
Exactly what is involved in walking in the Spirit? Actually it is not as complicated and impractical as some tend to think. Here is what a day’s walk in the Spirit would be like!
First, you start the day in prayer. You confess all known sin in your life; this makes you a clean vessel and therefore usable by God. You spend time in praise and worship; this gets your soul in tune. You turn over control of your life to Him; this makes you available for the Lord to live His life through you. In this act of rededication, you “cease from needless scheming and leave the ruling of your life to Him.”
Next, you spend time feeding on the Word of God. Here you get a general outline of God’s will for your life. And you may also receive some specific indication of His will for you in your present circumstances.
After your quiet time, you do the things that your hands find to do. Ordinarily they will be the prosaic, routine, mundane duties of life. This is where a lot of people have wrong ideas. They think that walking in the Spirit is foreign to the world of aprons and overalls. Actually it is mostly composed of faithfulness and diligence in one’s daily work.
Throughout the day you confess and forsake sin as soon as you are aware of it. You praise the Lord as His blessings come to mind. You obey every impulse to do good, and refuse every temptation to evil.
Then you take what comes to you during the day as being His will for you. Interruptions become opportunities to minister. Disappointments become His appointments. Phone calls, letters, visitors are seen as part of His plan.
Harold Wildish quoted the following summary in one of his books:
“As you leave the whole burden of your sin, and rest upon the finished work of Christ, so leave the whole burden of your life and service, and rest upon the present inworking of the Holy Spirit.”
“Give yourself up, morning by morning, to be led by the Holy Spirit and go forth praising and at rest, leaving Him to manage you and your day. Cultivate the habit all through the day, of joyfully depending upon and obeying Him, expecting Him to guide, to enlighten, to reprove, to teach, to use, and to do in and with you what He wills. Count upon His working as a fact, altogether apart from sight or feeling. Only let us believe in and obey the Holy Spirit as the Ruler of our lives, and cease from the burden of trying to manage ourselves; then shall the fruit of the Spirit appear in us, as He wills, to the glory of God.”
“…the division of soul and spirit.” (Heb. 4:12 NASB)
When the Bible speaks of man in his tripartite being, the order is always spirit, soul and body. When men use these terms together, the order almost invariably is body, soul and spirit. Sin has turned God’s order upside down. Now man puts the body first, then the soul, and the spirit last of all.
The two non-material parts of man’s being are his spirit and his soul. The spirit enables him to have fellowship with God. The soul has to do with his emotions and passions. Although it is not possible for us to distinguish the spirit and soul in minute detail, we can and should learn to distinguish between what is spiritual and soulish.
What then is spiritual? Preaching that exalts Christ is. Prayer to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit is. Service that is motivated by love to the Lord and empowered by the Spirit is. Worship that is in spirit and truth is.
And what is soulish? Preaching that draws attention to man, to his oratory, commanding presence or wit. Mechanical prayers with no real heart involvement but designed to make an impression on others. Service that is self-appointed, carried on for monetary reward, or employing carnal methods. Worship that revolves around visible, material aids rather than the unseen spiritual realities.
What does the Church of God have to do with consecrated buildings, stained glass windows, ecclesiastical vestments, honorific titles, candles, incense and all such trappings? Or, coming closer to home, what does the Church have to do with Madison Avenue promotional efforts, with fund raising for hire, with evangelistic gimmickry, with personality cults, with musical extravaganzas?
The advertising in the average Christian magazine is enough to show how soulish we have become.
Paul draws a distinction between service that is gold, silver, precious stones and that which is wood, hay and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12). Everything that is spiritual will resist the fire of God’s discerning judgment. All that is soulish will go up in flames.
“…neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem.” (John 4:21)
For the Samaritans, the center of worship was on Mt. Gerizim. For the Jews, Jerusalem was the place on earth where God had placed His Name. But Jesus announced a new order to the woman of Samaria, “…the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”
There is no longer a single place on earth which is designated for worship. In our dispensation, a Holy Person has taken the place of a holy site. The Lord Jesus Christ is now the gathering center of His people. Jacob’s words have found their fulfillment, “…unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).
We gather to Him. We are not drawn together by a consecrated building with stained glass windows and organ music. We do not gather to a man, no matter how gifted or eloquent. The Lord Jesus is the divine magnet.
The place on earth is not important; we may meet in a chapel, a home, a field or a cave. In true worship, we enter by faith into the heavenly sanctuary. God the Father is there. The Lord Jesus is there. The angels are there in festal array. The saints of the Old Testament period are there. And the saints of the Church age who have died are there. And in such august company we are privileged to pour out our hearts in worship to God through the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. So while our bodies are still on earth, in spirit we pass “far, far above the restless world that wars below.”
Does this contradict the Savior’s words, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20)? No, this is also true. He is present in a special way when His people meet together in His Name. He takes our prayers and praises and presents them to the Father. What a privilege to have the Lord Jesus in our midst.
“Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” (Rom. 13:8)
We need not take this verse as a prohibition against any and every kind of debt. In our society we cannot escape telephone bills, gas and light bills, and water bills. Also under certain circumstances, it may be better discipleship to buy a house on a mortgage, thus building up equity, than to pay out the same monthly amount in rent. And it is impossible to run a business today without contracting some debts.
But the verse certainly does forbid other practices. It forbids going into debt when there is slim chance to repay. It forbids borrowing to purchase a product that depreciates in value. It forbids getting into arrears. It forbids going into debt for nonessentials. It forbids plunging into debt over our heads, the temptation to overspend on impulse because we have credit cards. It forbids wasting the Lord’s money by paying exorbitant interest charges on the unpaid balance.
The verse is designed to save us from dunning creditors, from marital problems caused by overspending, and from bankruptcy court, all of which are devastating to the Christian testimony.
In general, we should practice financial responsibility by living modestly and within our means, always remembering that the borrower is slave to the lender (see Prov. 22:7).
The one debt that is always in order for the Christian is the obligation to love one another. We are obligated to love the unconverted and to share the Gospel with them (Rom. 1:14). We are obligated to love the brethren and to lay down our lives for them (1 John 3:16). This kind of indebtedness will never get us in trouble with the law. Rather, as Paul says, it is the fulfilling of the law.
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” (Acts 4:29)
When the early Christians were undergoing persecution, they did not wait for their circumstances to change. Instead they glorified God in the circumstances.
Too often we fail to follow their example. We postpone action until conditions are more favorable. We see roadblocks as hindrances rather than as stepping-stones. We excuse our copping-out on the ground that our circumstances are not ideal.
The student remains uninvolved in Christian service until he graduates. Then he is preoccupied with romance and marriage. After that the pressures of employment and family life keep him from throwing himself into the work. He decides to wait for retirement; then he will be free to give the rest of his life to the Lord. By the time he retires his energy and vision are gone and he succumbs to a life of leisure.
Or it may be that we find ourselves having to work with people who rub us the wrong way. Perhaps these people have positions of leadership in the local church. Though they are faithful and hardworking, we find them objectionable. So what do we do? We sulk on the sidelines, waiting for a few first-class funerals. But it doesn’t work. People like that always have surprising longevity. Waiting for funerals is unproductive.
Joseph didn’t wait to get out of prison to make his life count; he had a ministry for God in prison. Daniel became a power for God during the Babylonian captivity. If he had waited till the exile was over it would have been too late. It was during Paul’s imprisonment that he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. He didn’t wait for his circumstances to improve.
The simple fact is that circumstances are never ideal in this life. And for the Christian, there is no promise that they are going to improve. So in service, as in salvation, now is the accepted time.
Luther said, “He who desires to wait until the occasion seems completely favorable for his work will never find it.” And Solomon warned that “he who watches the wind will not sow, and he who looks at the clouds will not reap” (Eccl. 11:4 NASB).
“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Eccl. 11:1)
Bread here is probably used, figuratively, for the grain from which it is made. In Egypt, seed was sown on flooded areas. As the waters receded, the crop came forth. But it did not happen immediately. The harvest came “after many days.”
Today we live in an “instant” society, and we want instant results. We have instant mashed potatoes, instant tea, coffee and cocoa, instant soup and instant oatmeal. Also, we have instant credit at the bank and instant replays on TV.
But it is not like that in Christian life and service. Our kindnesses are not rewarded immediately. Our prayers are not always answered right away. And our service does not usually produce immediate results.
The Bible repeatedly uses the agricultural cycle to illustrate spiritual service. “A sower went forth to sow…” “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” It is a gradual process, over an extended period of time. The squash grows more quickly than an oak tree, but it still takes time.
Therefore, to expect instant results from our uncalculating deeds of kindness is unrealistic. To expect immediate answers to prayer is immature. To press for a decision the first time a person hears the Gospel is unwise. Certainly the normal experience is to give, pray and serve untiringly over a protracted period of time. You do so with the confidence that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. After a while, you see results, not enough to inflate you with pride, but enough to encourage you to press on. The full results will not be known till we reach heaven—which is—after all, the best and safest place to see the fruit of our labors.
“Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful.” (Prov. 14:13)
Nothing is perfect in this life. All laughter is mingled with sorrow. Every diamond has a flaw. Each person has some character defect. In all of life, there’s a worm in the apple.
It is good to be idealistic; God has set within us a longing for perfection. But it is also good to be realistic; we never will find absolute perfection under the sun.
It is easy for young people to think that their family is the only one that has quarrels. Or that their parents are the only ones who don’t have scintillating TV personalities.
It is easy to be disappointed with our local church fellowship, all the time supposing that everything is rosy in the church across the street.
Or it is easy to go through life forever looking for friends who are absolutely ideal. We expect perfection in others even though we can’t produce it ourselves.
We should face the fact squarely that everyone has personality flaws, some more glaring than others. Often the more outstanding a person is, the more obvious his faults are. Instead of being disappointed with the flaws, we would do well to emphasize the good qualities in other believers. Everyone has some of these too. But only one Person has all of them combined, that is, the Lord Jesus.
I often think that the Lord has purposely left us with an unsatisfied desire for Perfection down here so that we will look off to Him in whom there is neither spot nor blemish. He represents the sum of all moral beauties. There is no disappointment in Him.
“In pressure thou hast enlarged me.” (Psa. 4:1 Darby)
It is true that “calm seas never made a sailor.” It is through tribulation that we develop patience. It is through pressure that we are enlarged.
Even men of the world have realized that difficulties have educative and broadening values. Charles Kettering once said, “Problems are the price of progress. Don’t bring me anything but problems. Good news weakens me.”
But especially from the Christian world come testimonies to the profit derived from trials.
We read, for instance, “To suffer passes, but to have suffered endures for eternity.”
The poet adds this confirmation:
And many a rapturous minstrel among those sons of light
Will say of his sweetest music, “I learnt it in the night;”
And many a rolling anthem that fills the Father’s home
Sobbed out its first rehearsal in the shade of a darkened room.
Spurgeon wrote, in his inimitable way:
“I am afraid that all the grace I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny. But the good I have received from my sorrows and pains and griefs is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the file? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house.”
And yet why should we be surprised? Does not the unnamed writer to the Hebrews tell us, “Now obviously no ‘chastening’ seems pleasant at the time: it is in fact most unpleasant. Yet when it is all over we can see that it has quietly produced the fruit of real goodness in the character of those who have accepted it” (Heb. 12:11, Phillips).
“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)
When there are mysteries in life too deep for us to fathom, we can relax in the confidence that the Judge of all the earth is the God of absolute and infinite righteousness.
There is the question of the status of children who die before reaching the age of accountability. For many of us, it is enough to know that “of such is the kingdom of God.” We believe that they are safe through the blood of Jesus. But for others who are still not satisfied, the words of our verse should be sufficient. God can be counted on to do what is right.
There is the perennial problem of election and predestination. Does God choose some to salvation without at the same time choosing some to be damned? After the Calvinists and Arminians have all had their say, we can have full confidence that there is no unrighteousness with God.
Again there is the seeming injustice that the wicked often prosper while the righteous are passing through deep tribulation. There is the recurring question as to the fate of the heathen who have never heard the Gospel. Men puzzle over why God ever allowed sin to enter. We often stand dumb in the face of tragedies, of poverty and hunger, of horrible physical and mental impairments. Doubt continually murmurs, “If God is in control, why does He permit it all?”
Faith replies, “Wait till the last chapter is written. God hasn’t made His first mistake. When we are able to see things from a clearer perspective, we will realize that the Judge of all the earth has done right.”
God writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,—
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this—His way was right.
“When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.” (Prov. 19:3, RSV)
There is no book on psychology like the Bible. It gives insights on human behavior that you cannot find in any other place. Here, for instance, it describes a man whose own waywardness wrecks his life, yet rather than shoulder the blame himself, he turns around and vents his spleen on the Lord.
How true to life! We have known people who made a profession of being Christians but who then became involved in vile forms of sexual immorality. This brought them to shame, disgrace and financial ruin. But would they repent? No, they turned against Christ, renounced the faith, and became militant atheists.
More often than we probably realize, apostasy has its roots in moral failure. A. J. Pollock told of meeting a young man who began to spew out all kinds of doubts and denials concerning the Scriptures. When Pollock asked him, “What sin have you been indulging in?” the young man broke down and poured out a lurid story of sin and indecency.
The gross injustice lies in man’s perverse way of raging against the Lord for the consequences of his own sins. W. F. Adeney said, “It is monstrous to charge the providence of God with the consequences of actions which He has forbidden.”
How true it is that “everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved,”(John 3:20)! The Apostle Peter reminds us that scoffers “walking after their own lusts” are “willingly ignorant”. Pollock comments, “This brings out a most important truth that the inability and reluctance to receive the truth of God is very largely because of what is moral. Often a man wants to go on with his sin, or the flesh has a natural dislike to God. Maybe the searching character of the light, and the restraining influence of the Bible are resented. It is not the head that is so much at fault as the heart.”
“I will not eat until I have told my errand.” (Gen. 24:33)
Just as Abraham’s servant had a sense of urgency in connection with his mission, so should we. This does not mean we must race around in all directions at once. It does not mean that we must do everything in nervous haste. But it does mean that we should give ourselves to the task before us as a matter of top priority.
We should adopt the attitude expressed in Robert Frost’s lines:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
Amy Carmichael captured the spirit when she wrote: “The vows of God are on me. I may not stay to play with shadows or pluck earthly flowers till I my work have done and rendered up an account.”
In another place, she wrote:
Only twelve short hours—O never
Let the sense of urgency
Die in us, Good Shepherd, ever
Let us search the hills with Thee.
It is said that Charles Simeon kept a picture of Henry Martyn in his study, and that everywhere he went in the room, it seemed that Martyn was looking at him and saying, “Be earnest, be earnest; don’t trifle, don’t trifle.” And Simeon would reply, “Yes, I will be in earnest; I will, I will be in earnest; I will not trifle, for souls are perishing, and Jesus is to be glorified.”
Hear the urgency in the words of the intrepid Apostle Paul: “This one thing I do… I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).
And did not our blessed Savior live with a sense of urgency. He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50).
There is no excuse for Christians to rest on their oars.
“I dwell among mine own people.” (2 Kings 4:13)
A prominent woman in Shunam showed hospitality to Elisha whenever he passed that way. Eventually she suggested to her husband that they build an extra bedroom so that the prophet would have his own room. Desiring to reward this gracious hostess, Elisha asked what he could do for her—perhaps an introduction to the king or to the commander-in-chief. Her simple reply was “I dwell among my own people.” In other words, “I am happy with my lot in life. I love the common people among whom I live. I don’t particularly desire to move among the upper crust. Hobnobbing with famous people holds no special attraction for me.”
She was a wise woman! Those who are never content unless they’re socializing with the famous, the wealthy, the aristocratic often have to learn that most of earth’s choicest people never make the front page—or the society page, for that matter.
I have had some contact with big names in the evangelical world, but I have to confess that, for the most part, the experience has been disappointing. And the more I have seen of what is ballyhooed in the Christian press, the more disillusioned I have become. If I have to make a choice, give me those humble, godly, solid citizens who are unknown in this world but well-known in heaven.
A. W. Tozer mirrored my sentiments well when he wrote, “I believe in saints. I’ve met the comics; I’ve met the promoters; I’ve met the founder who puts his name on the front of the building so people will know he founded it. I’ve met converted cowboys not too well converted. I have met all kinds of weird Christians throughout the United States and Canada, but my heart is looking for saints. I want to meet the people who are like the Lord Jesus Christ…Actually, what we want and ought to have is the beauty of the Lord our God in human breasts. A winsome, magnetic saint is worth 500 promoters and gadgeteers and religious engineers.”
Charles Simeon voiced similar sentiments. “From the first day I set off to the present hour…my intercourse has been with the excellent of the earth, and every one of them striving to the utmost of his power to show me kindness for the Lord’s sake.”
So—orchids to the woman of Shunem for the spiritual insight in her words, “I dwell among mine own people.”
“For the equipping of the saints for the work of service,” (Eph. 4:12, NASB)
A revolutionary insight! The gifts in Ephesians 4 are given to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry. As soon as the saints can carry on, the gift can move on.
This means that success in Christian work is working one’s self out of a job in the shortest possible time, then looking for new worlds to conquer.
This is what Paul did. He went to Thessalonica, for instance, preached to the Jews for three Sabbaths, and left behind a functioning assembly. No doubt that was an exception as far as speed in the establishing of a work was concerned. The longest Paul ever stayed in one place at a time was two years. That was at Ephesus.
God never intended that His saints should be perpetually dependent on any of the gifts mentioned. The gifts are expendable. If the saints remain professional sermon-tasters, never becoming involved in the work of service, they never develop spiritually the way they should and the world will never be evangelized the way God intended.
William Dillon said that a successful foreign missionary never has a foreign successor. That should be equally true of workers in the homeland—when the worker’s task is completed, the saints themselves should take over, not start looking for another pulpiteer.
Too often we preachers look at our position as a lifetime appointment. We reason that others couldn’t do the work as well. We excuse our permanence by the fact that the attendance would drop if we left. We complain that others can’t do things right and that they’re not dependable. But the fact is that they have to learn. And in order to learn they have to be given opportunities. There must be training, delegation of responsibilities, and evaluation of progress.
When the saints reach the point where they feel they can carry on without a particular preacher or teacher, that’s no reason for him to sulk or nurse wounded feelings. It’s cause for celebration. The worker is released to go where he’s more needed.
It’s a bad scene when the work of God is permanently built around a man, no matter how gifted he is. His great aim should be to multiply his effectiveness by building up the saints to the point where they are no longer dependent on him. In a world like ours, he never needs to be without work in other places.
“A wise man will hear.” (Prov. 1:5)
The essential difference between the wise man and the fool in the book of Proverbs is that the wise man will hear and the fool won’t.
It isn’t a question of the fool’s mental capacity. Actually he may have unusual intellectual ability. But he just cannot be told anything. He labors under the fatal delusion that his knowledge is infinite and his judgments are infallible. If his friends try to counsel him, they receive scorn for their efforts. They watch him trying to escape the inevitable results of sinful and stupid actions, but they are helpless to avert the crash. And so he goes on from one crisis to another. Now his finances are a disaster. Now his personal life is in shambles. Now his business totters on the edge of chaos. But he rationalizes that life is giving him a bad deal. It never occurs to him that he is his own worst enemy. He is generous in dispensing advice to others, oblivious of his inability to run his own life. A compulsive talker, he holds forth with the aplomb of an oracle.
The wise man is made of better stuff. He realizes that everyone’s mental wires have been somewhat crossed by the Fall. He knows that others can sometimes see aspects of a problem that he has overlooked. He is willing to acknowledge that his memory may be faulty at times. He is teachable, welcoming any input that will help him make the right decisions. Actually he solicits the advice of others because he knows that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). Like everyone else, he sometimes makes mistakes. But he has this saving virtue that he learns from his mistakes and makes every failure a springboard to success. He is grateful for a deserved rebuke and is willing to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry.” Wise children submit to parental discipline; fools rebel. Wise young people obey the scriptural precepts concerning moral purity; fools do their own thing. Wise adults judge everything by whether it is well-pleasing to the Lord; fools act according to what pleases themselves.
And so it is that the wise grow wiser, and the fools are stuck fast in the rut of their own folly.
“Adam…begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.” (Gen. 5:3)
It is a basic fact of physical life that we beget children in our own likeness, after our image. Adam begat a son in his own likeness, and called his name Seth. When people saw Seth they probably said what people have been saying ever since: “Like father, like son.”
It is also a sobering fact of spiritual life that we beget children in our own image. When we are used to introduce others to the Lord Jesus, they insensibly take on characteristics similar to our own. Here it is not a matter of heredity but of imitation. They look up to us as the ideal of what Christians should be and unconsciously pattern their behavior after ours. Soon they manifest the family likeness.
This means that the place I give to the Bible in my life will set the standard for my children in the faith. It means that my emphasis on prayer will become theirs also. If I am a worshiper, this characteristic will probably rub off on them too.
If I adhere to the stern demands of discipleship, they will figure that this is the norm for all believers. On the other hand, if I water down the Savior’s words and live for wealth, fame and pleasure, I can expect them to follow my lead.
Zealous soul winners tend to beget on-fire personal workers. Those who find pleasure and profit in Scripture memory pass on the vision to their spiritual children.
If you are irregular about attendance at the meetings of the assembly, you can hardly expect your proteges to be any different. If you are usually late, they will probably be late too. If you sit in the back row, don’t be surprised if that influences them to do likewise.
On the other hand, if you are disciplined, dependable, punctual and vitally involved, your Timothys will follow your faith.
So the question for each of us is, “Am I content to beget children in my own image?” The Apostle Paul could say, “Be followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). Can we say that?
“According to your faith be it unto you.” (Mt. 9:29)
When Jesus asked two blind men if they believed that He was able to give them sight, they replied that they did. As He touched their eyes, He said, “According to your faith be it unto you,” and their eyes were opened.
It would be easy to conclude from this that if we just have enough faith, we can get anything we want, whether wealth, healing, or whatever. But that is not the case. Faith must be based upon some word of the Lord, some promise of God, some command of Scripture. Otherwise it is nothing more than wishful credulity.
What we learn from our text is that the extent to which we appropriate the promises of God depends on the measure of our faith. After promising King Joash that he would have victory over the Syrians, Elisha told him to smite the ground with his arrows. Joash smote three times, then stopped. Elisha angrily announced that the king would have only three victories over Syria whereas he could have had five or six (2 Kgs. 13:14-19). The measure of his victory depended on his faith.
It is that way in the life of discipleship. We are called to walk by faith, to forsake all. We are forbidden to lay up treasures on earth. How far do we dare to go in obeying these commands? Should we do away with life insurance, health insurance, savings accounts, stocks and bonds? The answer is, “According to your faith be it unto you.” If you have faith to say, “I will work hard for my current needs and the needs of my family, put everything above that in the work of the Lord, and trust God for the future,” then you can be absolutely certain that the Lord will take care of your future. He has said that He would and His word cannot fail. If, on the other hand, we feel we should exercise “human prudence” by providing for a rainy day, God will still love us and will still use us according to the measure of our faith.
The life of faith is like the waters that flow from the Temple in Ezekiel 47. You can go in to your ankles, to your knees, to your loins—or, better still, you can swim in them.
God’s choicest blessings, of course, are for those who trust Him most fully. Once we have proved His faithfulness and sufficiency, we want to put away the crutches, props and pillows of “common sense.” Or, as someone has said, “Once you walk on the water, you never want to ride in a boat again.”
“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44)
By these words our Lord indicates that we cannot at the same time seek man’s approbation and the approval of God. He also affirms that once we embark on a quest for human accreditation, we have dealt a body-blow to the life of faith.
In similar vein the Apostle Paul expresses the moral inconsistency between coveting man’s praise and God’s: “…for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10b).
Let me illustrate. Here is a young believer who wants an advanced degree in some area of theology. But he wants the degree from an accredited university. It must be from an accredited institution. Unfortunately the only accredited universities offering that degree are ones that deny the great fundamental truths of the faith. To list that degree after his name means so much to him that he is willing to take it from men who, though known as scholars, are enemies of the Cross of Christ. Almost inevitably he becomes defiled in the process. He never again speaks with the same conviction.
The desire to be known in the world as a scholar or a scientist has built-in hazards. There is the subtle danger to compromise, to sacrifice Biblical principles for a more liberal stance, to become more critical of fundamentalists than of modernists.
Christian schools face an agonizing choice—whether or not to seek accreditation from a recognized agency in the educational world. The lust to be “accredited” often results in a watering down of their Bible emphasis and the adoption of carnal principles laid down by men who do not have the Spirit.
The thing to be greatly desired is to be “approved unto God.” The alternative is too costly, for “on the coin for which we sell the truth, there is at all times, faint as it may be, the image of Anti-christ” (F. W. Grant).
“But God hath chosen…the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Cor. 1:27)
If a carpenter can take waste, scrap lumber and make a splendid piece of furniture out of it, it brings more credit to him than if he uses only the finest of materials. So when God uses things that are foolish, worthless and weak to accomplish glorious results, it magnifies His skill and power. People cannot attribute the success to the raw materials; they are forced to confess that it can only be the Lord who deserves the credit.
The book of Judges provides repeated illustrations of God using the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. Ehud, for example, was a lefthanded Benjamite. The left hand in Scripture speaks of weakness. Yet Ehud brought down Eglon, king of Moab and won rest for Israel for eighty years (Judg. 3:12-30).
Shamgar went into battle wielding an oxgoad, and yet with this unlikely weapon he slew 600 Philistines and delivered Israel (3:31). Deborah was a member of the “weaker sex,” yet by the power of God she won a smashing victory over the Canaanites (4:1; 5:31). Barak’s 10,000 foot soldiers were a poor match, humanly speaking, against Sisera’s 900 chariots of iron, yet Barak swept the field (4:10, 13). Jael, another member of the “weaker sex,” killed Sisera with such a non-weapon as a tent pin (4:21). According to the Septuagint, she held the pin with her left hand. Gideon marched against the Midianites with an army that the Lord had reduced from 32,000 to 300 (7:1-7). His army is pictured under the figure of a cake of barley bread. Since barley bread was the food of the poor, the picture is one of poverty and feebleness (7:13). The unconventional weapons of Gideon’s army were earthenware pitchers, torches and trumpets (7:10). And as if that were not enough to insure defeat, the pitchers had to be broken (7:19). Abimelech was felled by a woman’s hand hurling a piece of millstone (9:53). The name Tola means a worm, an inauspicious title for a military deliverer (10:1). When we first meet Samson’s mother, she is a nameless, barren woman (13:2). Finally, Samson killed 1000 Philistines with nothing more lethal than the jawbone of an ass (15:15).
“He will destroy them…so that you may drive them out and destroy them.” (Deut. 9:3 NASB)
In all of God’s dealings with mankind, there is a curious merging of the divine and the human.
Take the Bible, for example. There is the divine Author, and there are human authors, who wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
As far as salvation is concerned, it is of the Lord from start to finish. There is nothing a man can do to earn or deserve it. And yet he must receive it by faith. God clearly elects individuals to salvation, but they must enter in at the strait gate. And so Paul writes to Titus of “the faith of God’s elect (Tit. 1:1).
From the divine standpoint, we are “kept by the power of God.” Yet there is also the human side—“through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5). “Kept by the power of God through faith.”
Only God can make me holy. Yet He will not make me holy without my cooperation. I must add to my faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7). I must put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:13-18). I must put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). I must walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
You find the merging of the divine and the human in the whole area of Christian ministry. Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).
When we come to leadership in the local church, we learn that only God can make a man an elder. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that it was the Holy Spirit who had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). Yet a man’s own will is involved. He must desire to exercise oversight (1 Tim. 3:1 JND).
Finally, in the text with which we began, we see that it is God who destroys our enemies, but we must drive them out and destroy them (Deut. 9:3 NASB).
In order to be balanced Christians, we must recognize this merging of the divine and human. We must pray as if everything depended on God but work as if everything depended on us. Or to borrow the wartime exhortation, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” As someone suggested, we must pray for a good harvest but keep on hoeing.
“Jesus Christ…is Lord of all “(Acts 10:36)
One of the great themes of the New Testament is the lordship of Jesus Christ. Over and over we are reminded that He is Lord and that we should give Him that place in our lives.
To crown Jesus as Lord means to surrender our lives to Him. It means to have no will of our own, but to want His will supremely. It means the willingness to go anywhere, do anything, and say whatever He desires. When Joshua asked the captain of the Lord’s army, “Are you for us or against us?” the captain replied, in effect, “I didn’t come either to assist or hinder you. I came to take over” (see Josh. 5:14). So the Lord doesn’t come as sort of a glorified assistant; He comes to take supreme command of our lives.
The importance of lordship can be seen in the fact that whereas the word “Savior” occurs only 24 times in the New Testament, the word “Lord” occurs 522 times. It is also significant that whereas men invariably say “Savior and Lord,” in that order, the Scriptures always say “Lord and Savior.”
To make Jesus our Lord is the most reasonable, logical thing we can do. He died for us; the least we can do is live for Him. He bought us; we are no longer our own. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all.”
If we can trust Him for our eternal salvation, can we not trust Him for the management of our lives? “There is a lack of sincerity about committing the eternal soul to God and holding back the mortal life—professing to give Him the greater and withholding the lesser” (R. A. Laidlaw).
How then, do we crown Jesus as Lord? There must be a crisis experience when for the first time we turn over the controls to Him, when every area of our life is placed under His sovereign sway. It is a total commitment with “no reserve, no retreat, no regrets.”
From then on it becomes a matter of moment by moment yielding to His guidance, presenting our bodies to Him so that He can live His life through us. The crisis becomes a process.
It makes good sense! With His wisdom, love and power, He can do a far better job of running our lives than we can.