October 1 “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14) The insistent voice of the Holy Spirit reminds mortal man frequently in the Scriptures of the brevity of his life. By the repeated use of similes, the Spirit of the Lord impresses on us that our days are limited and passing swiftly. For instance, He likens life to a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), the device that darts back and forth in the loom almost fas...
“For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)
The insistent voice of the Holy Spirit reminds mortal man frequently in the Scriptures of the brevity of his life. By the repeated use of similes, the Spirit of the Lord impresses on us that our days are limited and passing swiftly.
For instance, He likens life to a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), the device that darts back and forth in the loom almost faster than the eye can follow.
Job speaks of life as wind (Job 7:7), here one minute and gone the next, never to return. The psalmist echoes the sentiment, speaking of “a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again” (Psa. 78:39).
Bildad unnecessarily reminds Job that “our days on earth are a shadow” (Job 8:9), a picture that is repeated in Psalm 102:11, “My days are like a shadow that declineth.” A shadow is ephemeral—lasting a very short time.
Job compares his life to a leaf (Job 13:25), fragile, frail and fading; and to dry stubble, driven away by the winds. Isaiah appeals to the Lord’s pity by reminding Him that “we all do fade as a leaf” (Isa. 64:6).
David describes his days as a handbreadth (Psa. 39:5), as narrow as the width of his hand. Viewing life as a journey, it would be about four inches long.
Moses, the man of God, depicts life as a sleep (Psa. 90:5), in which time passes without our being conscious of it.
In the same place, Moses speaks of people and their lives as grass: “In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth” (Psa. 90:5,6). Centuries later David used the same figure in describing our transiency: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Psa. 103:15, 16). As Spurgeon said, the grass is “sown, grown, blown, mown, gone.” And that is life in a nutshell!
Finally James adds his testimony that life is as evanescent as vapor (Jas. 4:14). It appears for a brief moment, then vanishes away.
This accumulation of similes is designed to do two things. First, it should motivate the unconverted to consider the shortness of time and the importance of being ready to meet God. Second it should cause believers to number their days so that they might apply their hearts to wisdom (Psa. 90:12). This will result in lives or devotion and dedication to Christ, in lives that are lived for eternity.
“There shall not be found among you…any one that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” (Deut. 18:10, 11)
God warned His people Israel against any dabbling in the world of the occult. All the activities listed in today’s verses are connected with demonism and must therefore be avoided. The warning is just as applicable to believers today as it was in the Old Testament.
Divination is fortune-telling. It includes the use of the crystal ball, clairvoyance, palmreading, phrenology, reading tea cups, and every other similar effort to foretell the future.
An observer of times is an astrologer, one who uses the position of the stars and planets to project their influence on human affairs. The daily horoscope in the newspaper is connected with astrology, as is the use of the signs of the zodiac.
An enchanter is one who influences others by charms and incantations.
A witch is a woman who exercises supernatural power through contact with demons. The contacts are ultimately evil and injurious.
A charmer is one who pronounces bans or curses on others and who has demonic power to make them come to pass. (Such curses are ineffective on believers).
Consulters with familiar spirits are mediums who are able to contact the world of evil spirits. These spirits often impersonate dead relatives of those who consult the mediums.
A wizard is one who uses magical arts in the realm of spiritism. Sometimes “wizard” is the male form of the word “witch”.
A necromancer is a person who professes to conjure the spirits of the dead in order to reveal the future or influence events.
Christians should avoid all these and also such modem manifestations of spiritism as yoga, transcendental meditation, Hare Krishna, seances, black magic, white magic, hypnotism, water-divining, spiritistic healing, numerology, and praying to the dead. They should also know that the following items are stock-in-trade for spiritists: mindexpanding drugs, the ouija board, playing cards, Tarot cards, dice, pendants, medallions, amulets, dominos, sticks and bones (when used for mystical purposes).
“And he healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (Mk. 1:34 NASB)
Some Christians tend to think of demon-possession as a phenomenon that existed when our Lord was on earth but is no longer present today. That is a misconception that should be corrected. Almost every day’s newspaper contains accounts of mindless crimes that give every indication of being demon-inspired. There are certain symptoms of demon-possession that help us to identify it and to distinguish it from mental illness.
First of all, a demon eventually leads his victim into violence and destruction. The purpose of a demon is always to destroy.
A person who is demon-possessed has two or more personalities—his own and that of the demon(s). He may speak with different voices and identify himself with different names.
This person is capable of supernatural feats of strength or supernatural powers of knowledge.
Although he may speak patronizingly of the Lord Jesus at times, his normal behavior will be to blaspheme or react violently to any mention of the Lord, or of prayer, or of the blood of Christ, or of the Word of God.
His behavior is extremely strange, erratic and restless. Others can neither understand him, control him, nor rehabilitate him. He may be suicidal, and may live in bondage to fear and superstition.
Demon-possession is often closely associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs usher the person into the transcendental realm and open his being to the entrance of demons. The word translated “witchcraft” (KJV) or “sorcery” (NASB) comes from the Greek word “pharmakia” meaning drugs.
The demon-possessed person is often sadistic, exhibiting unusual mental or physical cruelty, and sometimes mutilating and dismembering the bodies of his victims.
Other demon-possessed people may be morbid, frequenting cemeteries, collecting skulls or other bones, or obsessed with gruesome stories.
The sun and the moon, especially the new moon, exercise profound influence in the world of demonism. Hence the reassuring promise of the Word to believers, “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night” (Psa. 121:6).
Demons can be exorcised by prayer and by the authority of the Name of the Lord Jesus. But lasting deliverance for the person is only found when that person is born again through faith in the Savior.
“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” (Psa. 119:37)
The first and last words of this short prayer begin with the letters TV, and the verse is especially appropriate when applied to television. Most of the programs on TV are vanity. They picture a world that doesn’t exist and a life that is far removed from reality.
Television is a robber of precious time. Watchers squander hours that can never be retrieved. Generally speaking, TV has caused a decline in Bible reading, thus tuning out the voice of God and lowering the spiritual temperature of viewers without their realizing it.
The harmful effects of TV on children are well known. Their morals are corrupted because violence is glorified, sex is glamorized and pornography is publicized. The children suffer educationally, finding neither time nor desire to read or to write. Their values are determined by what they see on the screen, and their entire thinking is molded by anti-Christian propaganda.
The humor that is served up on the tube is filthy, and most of the rest of the script is filled with vile innuendos.
The advertising is not only stupid but morally destructive as well. It seems that nothing can be sold without a bevy of Hollywood harlots exposing vast portions of their anatomy and using body language to incite lust.
In many families TV has caused a breakdown of communications. Members are so captivated by the programs that they no longer carry on constructive conversations with one another.
In the area of music, the lyrics are often highly objectionable. They glorify lust, treat adultery and homosexuality as valid lifestyles, and make a hero of the violent man.
If it be objected that there are wholesome Christian programs on the TV, the answer is that these are only the sugar coating on a poison pill. The plain fact is that the overall effect of TV is destructive of spiritual vitality.
A Christian had ordered a television set to be delivered to his home. When he saw the truck pull up out front, he noticed the advertising on the side of the truck, “TV brings the world into your living room/’ That was all he needed. He had the set returned to the store.
No one who sits glued to the television set will ever make history for God. It is one of the principle causes of spiritual decline in our day.
“Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.” (Joshua 1:3)
God had given the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was theirs by divine promise. But they still had to make it their own. They had to occupy it. The rule of possession was, “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you.”
God has given us many great and precious promises. The Bible is full of them. But we must appropriate them by faith. Only then are they really ours.
Take, for instance, the promises concerning salvation. The Lord repeatedly promises that He will give eternal life to those who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And yet the promise does us no good until we claim it by trusting the sinners Savior.
Let us go a step further! A person may genuinely believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet not enjoy the assurance of salvation. For instance, he may think that it is presumption to say that he is saved. And so he may go on in doubt and darkness. The Word promises that those who believe on the Name of the Son of God have eternal life (1 John 5:13), but this must be appropriated by faith in order to be enjoyed.
God loves to be trusted. He is pleased when we take Him at His Word. He is honored when we claim the most improbable promises and reckon on them as being fulfilled.
One day when Napoleon was reviewing his troops, his horse bolted so violently that the Emperor was in danger of being thrown. A private rushed forward, seized the reins and quieted the horse.
Fully aware that his helper was a lowly private, Napoleon said, “Thank you very much, Captain!’”Taking him at his word, the private replied, “Of which regiment, sir?”
Later, when the former private rehearsed the incident to his friends, they mocked his confidence in thinking he was now a Captain. But it was true! The Emperor had said so, and he had claimed the promotion on the spot.
The believer’s situation is somewhat similar. He can be a Captain or remain a private. He can enjoy the riches that are his in Christ Jesus or live in virtual poverty. “We can have as much of God as we wish. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber in our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank, and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor? Whose fault is it that Christian people generally have such scanty portions of the free riches of God?” (McLaren).
“He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song of Solomon 5:16)
The devoted, loyal, steadfast love of the Shulamite maiden for her beloved pictures the kind of love which we should have for the Eternal Lover of our souls. Notice the following particulars.
First, she loved everything about him. She extols the beauties of his complexion, head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, hands, body, legs, countenance and mouth (5:10-16). We, of course, do not think of the physical features of the Lord Jesus, but we should be just as articulate in extolling His moral excellencies.
She thought of him day and night. Whether she was working in the vineyard or retiring for the night, or even when she was dreaming, he was the one who filled her vision and occupied her mind. It is good for us if our love for the Lord Jesus is so great that He fills our hearts from morning to evening.
She had eyes only for him. Others might try to woo and win her with words of glowing admiration, but she would redirect the praise and apply it to her beloved. So, when the voice of the world seeks to allure us, we should say, “O worldly pomp and glory, your charms are spread in vain./ I’ve heard a sweeter story, I’ve found a truer gain./ Where Christ a place prepareth, there is my loved abode./ There shall I gaze on Jesus. There shall I dwell with God.”
She could talk about him most readily. Her mouth spoke out of the abundance of her heart. Her lips were the pen of a ready writer. Ideally we should be able to talk about our Lord more readily and eloquently than any other subject. Unfortunately it is not always so.
She felt her own unworthiness very keenly. She apologized for her unkempt appearance, for her ordinariness, and for her unresponsiveness to him. When we think of our sinfulness, our proneness to wander, and our disobedience, we have even more cause to wonder that Christ would ever be interested in us.
Her great delight was to be with him. She ardently longed for the time when he would come to claim her as his bride. With how much greater longing should we look forward to the coming of the Heavenly Bridegroom, that we might be with Him for all eternity.
In the meantime, her heart seemed to be a helpless captive, and she confessed that she was sick with love. She did not feel she could contain any more. Let us aspire to have hearts that are captivated by Jesus, and that are filled to overflowing with love for Him!
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” (Phil. 3:13)
The Apostle Paul did not think that he had arrived, and neither should we. We are all in need of change. Liu Shao-chi said, “Men should regard themselves as being in need of and capable of being changed. They should not look upon themselves as something unchanging, perfect, holy, and beyond reform… Otherwise men cannot make progress.”
The trouble is that most of us resist change in ourselves. We are desperately anxious to see others change. Their personality quirks annoy us and we wish they would reform. But we are either oblivious to our own idiosyncrasies or satisfied to perpetuate them. We want to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye but rather admire the pole in our own. Their faults and failures are hideous whereas ours are darling.
The problem lies in our own will. We can change if we really want to. If we face up to the fact that we have some undesirable traits in our character, we have made a start toward becoming better persons.
But how can we know what changes are needed? One way is for us to let the Word of God act as a mirror. As we read and study it, we see what we should be, and how far we fall short of the standard. When the Bible condemns something of which we are guilty, we should face the fact bravely and determine to do something about it.
Another way to learn ways in which we are unChristlike is to listen carefully to our relatives and friends. Sometimes their suggestions come in a velvet glove; sometimes they come like a sledgehammer. Whether the remarks are veiled or blatant, we should get the message and accept it gratefully.
In fact, it is a very good practice to cultivate the loving criticism of friends. For instance, we could say, “I hope you will feel free to let me know of any undesirable traits in my personality or any ways I have that prove irritating to others.” A real friend will do just that.
It is sad to think of people who go through life, making pests of themselves in the church, in the home, and in society, just because no one was willing to level with them or they were not willing to change.
If we take the time and trouble to find out the areas where we rub people the wrong way, and if we then take positive steps to eliminate these areas, we will be better people to live with.
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren.” (James 4:11)
While the word “gossip” is not found in the King James Version of the Bible, the idea is certainly included in such words as backbiting, evil speaking, and whispering. And it goes without saying that the practice is uniformly condemned.
To gossip means to reveal information about another person that is designed to put him in a bad light. In other words, the information is mean or unkind. Usually there is the element of secrecy or confidentiality; the person doing the gossiping would not want to be quoted.
Two women in Brooklyn were talking. One said, “Tilly told me that you told her what I said about her and I told you not to tell her.” The other replied, “She’s a mean thing. I told Tilly not to tell you I told her.” The first speaker responded, “Well, I told Tilly I wouldn’t tell you she told me—so don’t tell her I did.”
There are rare souls in the world who never say anything negative about another person. I have known such, and admire them beyond my powers of description. One told me that if he couldn’t say anything good about someone else, he would say nothing. Another said he always tried to see something in other believers which reminded him of the Lord Jesus. A third started to say something negative about a third party, then he interrupted himself in the middle of the sentence and said, “No, it wouldn’t be edifying.” (I’ve been dying of curiosity ever since.)
Paul had heard that there were contentions among the Corinthians. In confronting them with the fact, he said that he had been told by the household of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11). Clearly Chloe’s family was not gossiping. They were sharing the information so that the problem might be solved.
The Apostle also wrote some strong words against Hymeneus, Alexander and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), because they were harming the cause of Christ. He also warned Timothy about Phygellus, Hermogenes and Demas (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10), men who seemingly turned back after putting their hand to the plow. But this was not gossip. It was important intelligence for believers engaged in a common warfare.
When someone came to a noted preacher with a juicy bit of gossip, he took out a black notebook and told the gossip that he would write it down, have the talebearer sign it, and pass the information on to the person involved. It is said that he opened the book hundreds of times but never made a single entry.
“.. .keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good.” (Deut. 10:13)
Notice the last three words of today’s verse—“for thy good.” All the commandments of the Lord are for our good. Many people do not realize this. They think of God as a stem Judge who imposes rules and regulations that take all the fun out of life. But it isn’t so! He is interested in our welfare and pleasure, and designs all His laws toward that end.
Let us take a few of the Ten Commandments, for example. Why does God say that we should have no other gods? Because He knows that men become like the objects of their worship, and false gods lead to depravity.
Why does He say that we should not make graven images? Because idolatry is closely linked with demonism. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20 NASB), and the purpose of demons is always to destroy.
Why does God set apart one day in seven for rest? Because He created man and knows that man’s constitution requires rest from labor. Nations that have tried to enforce seven-day work weeks found that productivity slumped, and they had to abandon the experiment.
Why does God command children to obey their parents? Because it saves the children from lives of recklessness and riot, and even from premature death.
Why does God forbid adultery? Because He knows that it destroys the home and the family as well as the happiness of those involved.
Why does God forbid murder? Because it leads to guilt and remorse, to imprisonment and sometimes to capital punishment.
Why does God condemn coveting? Because sin begins in the mind. If we indulge it there, eventually we will commit the act. Unless we can control the fountain, we won’t be able to control the stream that flows from it.
And so it is with other sins—taking God’s Name in vain, stealing, bearing false witness, etc. We can’t get away with them. They take their toll in our spirits, souls and bodies. Every sin sets painful reflex actions in motion, robbing the sinner of peace, joy and satisfaction. We reap what we sow. Our chickens come home to roost.
Years ago someone wrote a book entitled “The Kindly Laws of God.” They really are kindly because they are designed for our own good.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking he put away from you, with all malice.” (Eph. 4:31)
Life brims with provocative situations that tempt a person to lose his temper. Perhaps you can identify with some of the following scenarios. A waiter spills hot coffee on you or makes you wait interminably for your food. You arrive home with your latest purchase only to find that the merchandise is defective. When you try to get a refund, the salesman is insolent. Or perhaps you have been given wrong information that causes you to miss your plane. The first week you have your new car, some careless driver puts a dent into the side of it. Then a store promises to deliver an appliance on a certain date. You stay home but no appliance arrives! Repeated delivery promises are broken. The clerk at the supermarket overcharges you, then is rude when you speak to him about it. Your neighbor hassles you over some minor squabble between her child and yours—and her child was obviously to blame. Another neighbor drives you up the wall with loud stereo music and wild parties. A fellow employee heckles you constantly, probably because of your Christian testimony. The computer makes an error on your monthly account, then in spite of your repeated protests by phone, the error reappears month after month. In your favorite sport, the referee makes a grossly bad call. Or the problem may be a clash of wills over TV programs in the living room of your home.
There is no way of avoiding some of these irritating situations. But for the believer, the important thing is how he reacts to them. The natural way is to explode in anger, to tell off the offender in a few well-chosen words. But when a Christian loses his temper, he loses his testimony also. There he stands, livid with rage, his eyes like piercing steel, his lips quivering. There is no way he can speak a word for the Lord Jesus. He is behaving like a man of the world. He is no longer a Bible but a libel.
The tragedy is that the person who has wronged him probably needs the Gospel. Perhaps his annoying behavior is because of some crisis in his personal life. If he were just shown love and consideration, he might be won over to the Savior.
Eruptions of temper have done much to nullify the witness of believers and to bring dishonor on the name of the Lord. A mad Christian is a poor advertisement for the faith.
“If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
This is a good verse to challenge us when we are tempted to give up too quickly and too easily. If we can’t face minor difficulties, how can we expect to face major ones? If we buckle under the petty blows of life, how will we bear up under the sledgehammer blows?
We hear of Christians who sulk and pout because someone has offended them. Others turn in their resignation because someone has criticized them. Still others get their nose out of Joint because some pet idea has been voted down.
Folks with minor physical ailments often howl like a wounded bear. One wonders what they would do with a catastrophic illness. If a businessman can’t cope with day to day problems, it is unlikely he will be able to face the big ones.
We all need a certain amount of tough-mindedness. By that we do not mean that we should be harsh or insensitive. Rather we mean that we should be able to bend with the punches. We need the resiliency that bounces back and carries on.
Perhaps you are facing a crisis today. At the moment it seems monumental. You are tempted to quit. And yet a year from now it won’t seem important at all. This is the time when you should say with the psalmist, “For by Thee I can run upon a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psa. 18:29 NASB).
The unidentified writer of Hebrews makes an interesting observation to those whom he was challenging to endure. He says, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood” (Heb. 12:4). In other words, you have not paid the ultimate price—martyrdom. If Christians go to pieces over a broken dish or a lost cat or a disappointed love affair, what would they do if they were faced with martyrdom?
Most of us would have quit long ago if we gave in to our feelings. But you don’t quit in the Christian warfare. You pick yourself up from the ground, shake off the dust, and move forward into the conflict. Victory in the minor skirmishes will help us win the major battles.
“Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (Isa. 50:11)
There is a right and a wrong way of doing everything, and this is certainly true in the matter of obtaining guidance. Today’s verse describes the wrong way. It pictures a man building a bonfire, then using the fire and the sparks to provide illumination for his path.
Notice that there is no mention of consulting the Lord. There is no suggestion that the man has made it a matter of prayer. He has unbounded confidence that he knows the best way. In his arrogant independence, he leans on his own understanding. In Henley’s words, he is the master of his own fate and the captain of his own soul.
But notice the aftermath! “This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” The man who manufactures his own guidance is heading for trouble. Anyone who is that headstrong and willful will live to regret it. He will learn by experience that God’s way is the best way.
The preceding verse (v. 10) gives us the right way of obtaining guidance. It says, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” Notice three things about this man. First of all, he fears the Lord in the sense that he fears displeasing Him or walking in independence of Him. Second, he obeys the voice of God’s Servant, the Lord Jesus. Third, he is willing to admit that he walks in darkness and has no light. He acknowledges that he does not know which way to go.
What should such a person do? He should trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. In other words, he should acknowledge his own ignorance, ask the Lord to guide him, and depend completely on the divine guidance.
Our God is a God of infinite wisdom and love. He knows what is best for us and designs only what is for our good.
He knows, He loves, He cares.
Nothing this truth can dim.
He does the very best for those
Who leave the choice to Him.
“What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9)
The question calls for a negative answer. Ordinarily a father wouldn’t give his son a stone in place of bread. Certainly the Heavenly Father would never do it.
But the sad fact is that we sometimes do that very thing. People come to us in deep spiritual need. Perhaps we are insensitive to what is really troubling them. Or we put them off with some surface panacea instead of sharing the Lord Jesus with them.
E. Stanley Jones illustrates this with a story he tells on himself (it takes a great man to tell a story that discloses a personal failure). “When the (Indian) Congress members in their newly acquired powers were sometimes using these powers for themselves instead of the country’s good, it was proving too much for Jawaharlal Nehru to bear. He said he was thinking of resigning the Prime Ministership and going off to regain his inner spirit. I saw him at that time, and at the close of the interview I offered him a bottle of tablets of the cereal grasses, containing all the known vitamins. He took the bottle with thanks but added, ‘My problem is not physical/ implying that it was spiritual. Instead of offering him grace, I offered him grass. He asked for bread, and I gave him a stone… I knew I had the answer, but I didn’t know how to say it. I was afraid of offending the great man. I should have remembered the motto on the Sat Tal Ashram wall: ‘There is no place in which Jesus Christ is out of place.’ But I didn’t. I remembered my hesitations and they prevailed.
“I offered him grass tablets when he really wanted grace—the grace and power that would heal him at the heart. Then he could have said, ‘I am healed at the heart. Now let the world come on—the world of impossible problems. I’m ready.’”
I am afraid that the experience of Dr. Jones is all too familiar to many of us. We encounter people who have deep spiritual needs. They drop some word that provides a wide open door for us to minister Christ to them. But we fail to take advantage of it. We either suggest some band-aid remedy for a spiritual wound or we change the subject to something of trivial value.
Prayer: Lord, help me to seize every opportunity to witness for You, to enter every opened door. Help me to overcome my hesitations, giving bread and grace where they are needed.
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
People often quote this verse, forgetting that it is part of a conditional promise. The previous verse says, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” Then follows the promise, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In other words, the liberating power of the truth depends on our continuing in His Word.
It is not enough just to know the truth in an intellectual sense. We must obey it and practice it. As we live by the precepts of the Bible, we are freed from innumerable evils.
As soon as we obey the Gospel call, we are freed from guilt and condemnation and introduced into the liberty of the sons of God.
Then we are freed from sin as master. It no longer holds the upper hand in our lives.
We are free from the law. Not that we become lawless, but we are now enlawed to Christ. We are henceforth motivated to holiness by love to the Savior rather than by the fear of punishment.
We enjoy freedom from fear because perfect love casts out fear. God is now our loving heavenly Father, not a stern Judge.
We are free from the bondage of Satan. He no longer leads us about at will.
We are freed from sexual immorality, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
We are free from false teaching. God’s Word is truth, and the Holy Spirit leads His people into all truth, and teaches them to discern truth from error. Those who continue in His Word are freed from superstition and from the dominion of evil spirits. What an emancipation this is—to be set free from the power of demonic forces!
We are freed from the fear of death. No longer the king of terrors, death ushers the soul into the presence of the Lord. To die is gain.
We are freed from enslaving habits, from the love of money and from hopelessness and despair. Henceforth the language of our heart is:
Low at Thy feet, Lord Jesus; this is the place for me;
There I have learned sweet lessons, truth that has set me free.
Free from myself, Lord Jesus, free from the ways of men;
Chains of thought that once bound me never will hind again.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37)
It has been called the passing of religious opportunity. It means that people are favored with a marvelous visitation, a glorious opportunity, but they fail to seize it.
That is what happened to Jerusalem. The incarnate Son of God walked its dusty streets. Its ochre-tinted buildings looked down on the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The people heard His matchless words and saw Him perform miracles that no other man had ever performed. But they failed to appreciate Him. They would not receive Him.
Things would have been so much better for them if they had. Conditions would have been like those described in Psalm 81:13-16: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured forever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.”
Isaiah also describes what might have been. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me” (Isa. 48:18).
Bret Harte wrote, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’”
Think of those who have rejected the Gospel call. Jesus of Nazareth passed by but they missed Him. Now they are living empty lives and facing an eternity of doom.
Or think of those believers who heard the call of Christ to some specific sphere of service but failed to respond. They have no idea of the present blessings and eternal rewards which they have missed.
It is true that sometimes opportunity knocks only once. Though it is laden with choicest treasures, it may seem at the moment to conflict with personal plans or to involve personal sacrifice. It represents God’s very best for us, but for reasons of our own we let the opportunity pass. We refuse His best and settle for His second best. All the time He is saying, “I would but you would not.”
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18)
At selected times in human history, God has burst forth in judgment on men in order to show His extreme displeasure at certain sins they have committed. Obviously He does not strike men dead every time these sins are committed. If He did, the population of the world would be drastically reduced. But He has gone on record on isolated occasions to warn mankind that such ungodliness and unrighteousness will not go unpunished. If He does not deal with it in time, He most surely will in eternity.
When God looked down and saw that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence, He sent a cataclysmic flood, destroying the world (Gen. 6:13). Only eight people escaped with their lives.
Later the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became centers of homosexuality (Gen. 19:1-13). Sodom was also guilty of pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease (Ezek. 16:49). God revealed His wrath from heaven by raining fire and brimstone on these cities, consigning them to perpetual extinction.
“Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire” (Num. 3:4). They should have used fire from the altar (Lev. 16:12), but they decided to approach God in some other way. By smiting them with instant death, the Lord warned future generations against attempts to approach Him in any way other than the way He has appointed.
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, failed to acknowledge the Most High who rules in the affairs of men. Instead he claimed full credit for all the glory of Babylon. God punished him with madness. The king was driven away from men to live like an animal in the field. He ate grass like oxen, his body was wet with the dew of heaven, his hair grew like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws (Dan. 4:33).
Ananias and Sapphira pretended to make a total sacrifice of their property to the Lord, but they secretly held back part for themselves (Acts 5:1-11). They both died suddenly as a warning against insincerity in worship and in service.
Some time later Herod accepted worship instead of giving God the glory. He was consumed by worms and died (Acts 12:22-23).
Sinful men should not presume on the seeming silence and inaction of God. Just because He doesn’t always punish sin instantly doesn’t mean that He won’t punish it ultimately. In isolated instances down through the years, He has given His verdict and revealed the penalties that follow.
“Buy the truth, and sell it not.” (Prov. 23:23)
There is often a price to be paid in obtaining the truth of God, and we should be willing to pay the price, whatever it may be. Once having obtained the truth, we should not give it up.
The verse is not to be taken with such strict literalness that we would buy Bibles and Christian literature, but would not sell them under any circumstances. Buying the truth here means making great sacrifices to achieve the knowledge of divine principles. It may mean hostility from one’s family, loss of employment, separation from religious ties, financial loss, or even physical abuse.
To sell the truth means to compromise it or abandon it altogether. We should never be willing to do that.
In his book Church in the House, Arnot wrote: “It is a general law of human nature that what comes lightly, goes lightly. What we gain by a hard struggle, we retain with a firmer grasp, whether it be our fortune or our faith. Those men who have obtained great wealth without any trouble or toil of their own, often scatter it and die in poverty. It is seldom that the man who gains a fortune by gigantic labor wastes the wealth he has won. In like manner, give me the Christian who has fought his way to his Christianity. If it is through fire and water that he has reached the wealthy place, he will not lightly leave his rich inheritance.”
Saints of all ages have turned their back on family, fame and fortune in order to enter the strait gate and walk the narrow way. Like the Apostle Paul, they have counted all else but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord. Like Rahab they have renounced the idols of paganism and acknowledged Jehovah as the only true God, even if it seemed like betrayal of their own people. Like Daniel, they have refused to sell the truth, even if it meant being thrown into a den of bloodthirsty lions.
We live in a day when the spirit of the martyrs is largely gone. Men would rather compromise their faith than suffer for it. The voice of the prophet is missing. Faith is flabby. Convictions concerning the truth are condemned as dogmatism. In order to achieve a show of unity, men are willing to sacrifice fundamental doctrines. They sell the truth and buy it not.
But God will always have those choice souls who so value the hidden treasure of truth that they are willing to sell all that they have to buy it, and having bought it, they are unwilling to sell it at any price.
“I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients.” (Psa. 119:99, 100)
When we first read these verses, they sound like the words of an immature braggart or a full grown egotist. In fact, we might almost be surprised to find such boasts in the Bible. They seem rather sub-Christian.
However, as we study the verses more closely, we find a key that removes the difficulty. The psalmist gives a reason for his superior understanding. He says, “… for thy testimonies are my meditation.” In other words, he is saying that he has more understanding than all his teachers who do not know the Scriptures. He understands more than the ancients whose knowledge was purely secular. He is not contrasting himself with other believers, but only with the men of this world.
And of course he is right! The humblest believer can see more on his knees than the most learned unbeliever can see on his tiptoes. Let us consider a few illustrations:
Here is a governmental leader assuring the people that there will be peace in the world if a certain course of action is followed. In a remote village, a Christian farmer hears the speech on his radio. He knows that there will never be peace until the Prince of Peace sets up His Kingdom on earth. Not till then will men beat their swords into plowshares and learn war no more. The farmer has more understanding than the diplomat.
Now meet a renowned scientist who teaches that the universe as we know it came into being without divine agency. Sitting in his class is a recent convert to Christ. Through faith this student understands that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Heb. 11:3). The student has insight that the scientist does not possess.
Then again we think of the psychologist who seeks to explain human behavior but who is unwilling to accept the fact of inborn sin. The believer who knows God’s word realizes that every man inherits an evil, corrupt nature, and that failure to recognize this can only lead to worthless solutions to man’s problems.
So the psalmist was not indulging in idle boasting when he said he had more understanding than all his teachers. Those who walk by faith have better vision than those who walk by sight. Those who meditate on God’s testimonies see truths that are hidden from the wise and prudent.
“What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psa. 116:12-13)
In the matter of our soul’s salvation, there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it- We cannot put God in our debt or reimburse Him in any way, because salvation is a gift of grace.
The proper response to God’s free offer of eternal life is first to take the cup of salvation, that is, to accept it by faith. Then we should call upon the name of the Lord, that is, thank and praise Him for the unspeakable gift.
Even after we are saved there is nothing we can do to repay the Lord for all His benefits toward us. “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.” However, there is a fitting response we can make, and that is the most reasonable thing we can do. “Love so amazing so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
If the Lord Jesus gave His body for us, the least we can do is give our bodies for Him.
Pilkington of Uganda said, “If He is King, He has a right to all.” C. T. Studd said, “When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it didn’t seem hard to give up all for Him.”
Borden of Yale prayed, “Lord Jesus, I take hands off as far as my life is concerned. I put Thee on the throne in my heart.”
Betty Scott Stam prayed, “I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “In that day, when I surrendered myself to my Savior, I gave Him my body, my soul, my spirit; I gave Him all I had, and all I shall have for time and for eternity. I gave Him all my talents, my power, my faculties, my eyes, my ears, my conscience, my limbs, my emotions, my judgment, my whole manhood, and all that could come of it, whatever fresh capacity or new capability I might be endowed with.”
Finally, Isaac Watts reminded us that “drops of grief can n’er repay the debt of love I owe,” then added “Dear Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”
The passion of Jesus—His bleeding hands and feet, His wounds, His tears demand one fitting response: The sacrifice of our lives for Him.
“And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate!” (1 Ch. 11:17)
Bethlehem was David’s home town. He knew all its streets and lanes, the market place, and the community well. But now the Philistines had a garrison in Bethlehem and David was holed up in the Cave of Adullam. When three of his men heard David yearn for a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem, they broke through the enemy lines and brought the water to him. He was so moved by this courageous act of love and devotion that he could not drink the water, but rather poured it out as a libation to the Lord.
We may think of David here as a picture of the Lord Jesus. Just as Bethlehem was David’s place, so the entire “earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” David should have been on the throne but instead he was in the Cave. Similarly our Lord should be enthroned by the world but instead He is rejected and disowned. We can liken David’s longing for water to the Savior’s thirst for the souls of men all over the world. He longs to be refreshed by seeing His creatures saved from sin, self and the world. David’s three courageous men picture those intrepid soldiers of Christ who throw aside considerations of personal comfort, convenience and safety in order to fulfill the desire of their Commander-in-chief. They carry the good news to all the world, then offer their converts to the Lord as a sacrifice of love and devotion. David’s emotional reaction suggests the Savior’s response when He sees His sheep crowding to Him from every tribe and nation. He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied (Isa. 53:11).
In David’s case, he didn’t have to command, coax or cajole his men. The slightest hint was all they needed; they welcomed it as an order from their commander.
What then shall we do when we know the longing of the heart of Christ for those whom He purchased with His precious blood? Must we have high pressure missionary appeals and altar calls? Is it not enough to hear Him ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Shall it be said of us that we are unwilling to do for our Commander what David’s men were willing to do for him? Or shall we say to Him, “Your slightest longing is my command”?
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14)
When you look out at the religious world today, you see numerous religions, denominations and cults. And yet basically there are only two religions, as suggested in today’s text. On the one hand there is the wide gate and the broad, well-traveled way that leads to destruction. On the other is the strait gate and sparsely traveled, narrow way that leads to life. All religions can be classified under one or the other. The feature that distinguishes the two is this: one religion tells what man must do to earn or deserve salvation; the other tells what God has done to provide salvation for man.
The true Christian faith is unique in that it calls on men to receive eternal life as a gift by faith. All other religions tell men that they must earn their salvation by works or by character. The Gospel tells how Christ finished the work necessary for our redemption. All other systems tell men what they must do to redeem themselves. It is the difference between DOING and DONE.
The popular idea is that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. But the Bible teaches that there are no good people, and that the only ones who go to heaven are sinners saved by God’s grace. The Christian Gospel eliminates boasting; it tells man that there are no meritorious deeds he can do to win God’s favor because he is dead in trespasses and sins. All other religions cater to man’s pride by implying that there is something he can do to save himself or to assist in his salvation.
All false religions are “the way that seems right unto a man” but are also the way which ends in death (Prov. 14:12). Salvation by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ seems “too easy” to men but this is the way that leads to life. In false religions Christ is nothing or only something. In the true Christian faith Christ is everything.
In other religions there can be no real assurance of salvation because a person never knows whether he has done enough good works or the right kind. The believer in Christ can know he is saved because it isn’t a question of his works but rather of Christ’s work for him.
Only two religions—one of law, the other of grace. One of works, the other of faith. One of doing, the other of believing. One of trying, the other of trusting. The first leads to condemnation and death, the second to justification and life.
“And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Deut. 34:9)
One important insight we gather from this verse is that Moses appointed Joshua as his successor, knowing that his own ministry would be coming to an end. In doing so, he set a good example for others who are in places of spiritual leadership. Some may think that this is too elementary to emphasize but the fact is that there is often gross failure to train successors and to turn work over to them. There seems to be an innate resistance to the idea that we are replaceable.
Sometimes this is a problem that faces an elder in a local fellowship. Perhaps he has served faithfully for many years, but the day is approaching when he will no longer be able to shepherd the flock. Yet it is hard for him to train a younger man to take his place. He may see young men as threats to his position. Or he may contrast their inexperience with his own maturity and conclude that they are quite unsuitable. It is easy for him to forget how inexperienced he was at one time, and how he came to his present maturity by being trained to do the work of an overseer.
This can also be a problem on the mission field. The missionary knows that he should train nationals to assume places of leadership. But he rationalizes that they cannot do it as well as he. And they make so many mistakes…and attendance at the meetings will drop if he does not do all the preaching. And anyway, they don’t know how to lead. The answer to all these arguments is that he should look upon himself as being expendable. He should train the nationals and delegate authority to them until he works himself out of a job in that particular area. There are always unfilled fields elsewhere. He never needs to be unemployed.
When Moses was replaced by Joshua there was a smooth transition. There was no vacuum of leadership. The cause of God did not suffer trauma. That’s the way it should be.
All God’s servants should rejoice to see younger men raised up to places of leadership. They should count it a great privilege to share their knowledge and experience with these disciples, then turn the work over to them before they are forced to do so by the hand of death. They should have the selfless attitude that Moses displayed on another occasion when he said, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”
“He (the Holy Spirit) shall not speak of himself; hut whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:13b, 14)
When the Lord Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would not speak of Himself, He did not mean that the Spirit would never make any reference to Himself. Rather, the thought is that the Spirit would not speak on His own authority or independently of God the Father. This is borne out by the words that follow: “…whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” The New American Standard Bible reads, “He will not speak on His own initiative.”
But having said that, we should add that the Holy Spirit does not ordinarily talk about Himself. One of His characteristic ministries is to glorify Christ. Jesus said, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
This means that when we hear ministry that exalts the Lord Jesus Christ, we can be sure that it is Spirit-inspired. On the other hand, when we hear messages that glorify the speaker rather than the Lord, we can be sure that the Spirit is grieved. He cannot witness to the greatness of Jesus and the greatness of the speaker at the same time.
“The most spiritual teaching will ever be characterized by a full and constant presentation of Christ. He will ever form the burden of such teaching. The Spirit cannot dwell on aught but Jesus. Of Him He delights to speak. He delights in setting forth His attractions and excellencies. Hence, when a man is ministering by the power of the Spirit of God, there will always be more of Christ than anything else in his ministry. There will be little room in such ministry for human logic and reasoning… The Spirit’s sole object…will ever be to set forth Christ” (C. H. Mackintosh).
In that connection, the evangelical world should reconsider the practice of introducing speakers by extravagant recitals of academic achievements and theological honors. It is unrealistic to praise a man to the skies and then expect him to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit.
One great test of written ministry is whether it glorifies the Lord Jesus. I remember reading a book on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. At first I thought it strange that the author seemed to spend more time on the moral excellencies of Christ than on the Holy Spirit. Then I realized that this presented a true view of the Person and work of the Spirit.
Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, “If men were filled with the Spirit, they would not write books on that subject, but on the Person whom the Spirit has come to reveal. Occupation with Christ is God’s object, not fulness of the Spirit.”
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15)
The subject of hell generates enormous resistance in the human heart. This resistance is most often expressed in the question, “How could a God of love sustain an everlasting hell?”
If Paul were answering the question he would probably say at the outset, “Who art thou that repliest against God?” or “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Translation: the creature really has no right to question the Creator. If God sustains an everlasting hell, He has valid reasons for doing so. We have no right to question His love or His justice. Yet we are given sufficient information in the Bible to vindicate God in this matter.
First of all, we know that God did not make hell for man, but for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41).
We also know that it is not God’s desire that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). If any man goes to hell, it is a great sorrow to the heart of the Lord.
It is man’s sin that causes the problem. The holiness, righteousness and justice of God demand that sin be punished. The divine decree is, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). This is not arbitrary on God’s part. It is the only attitude that a Holy Being can take toward sin.
God could have let the matter rest there. Man sinned, therefore he must die.
But God’s love intervened. In order that man might not perish eternally, He went to the ultimate extreme to provide a way of salvation. He sent His unique Son to die as a Substitute for sinful men, paying the penalty for them. It was wonderful grace on the Savior’s part to bear man’s sins in His body on the cross.
Now God offers eternal life as a free gift to all who repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not save men against their will. They must choose the way of life.
Frankly there is nothing else that God could have done. He has already done more than could be expected. If men refuse His free offer of mercy, there is no alternative. Hell is the deliberate choice of those who refuse heaven.
To charge God with blame for sustaining an everlasting hell is completely unjust. It overlooks the fact that He emptied heaven of its Best so that earth’s worst might never know the agonies of the lake of fire.
“There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24b)
The friendship of Jesus is a theme that evokes a warm response in the hearts of His people everywhere. When He was on earth, He was derided as “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Mt. 11:19), but Christians have taken the taunt and converted it to a title of honor.
Before going to the cross, our Lord called His disciples “friends.” “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you” (John 15:14, 15).
Some of our best-loved hymns take up this theme; for example, “What a friend we have in Jesus”; “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus”; and “I’ve found a friend, oh, such a friend.”
Why does the friendship of Jesus strike such a responsive chord? I think the primary reason is that many people are lonely. They may be surrounded by other people, yet not surrounded by friends. Or they may be largely cut off from intercourse with others. This is often the case with older people who have outlived their contemporaries.
Loneliness is cruel. It is bad for a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. It gnaws away at his morale, sets his nerves on edge, and makes him weary of life. Often it drives people to desperation so that they are willing to compromise with sin or take other insane plunges. To such people the friendship of Jesus comes with the healing properties of the balm of Gilead.
Another reason why His friendship is so appreciated is that it never fails. Human mends often let us down or drift out of our lives, but this Friend proves true and steadfast.
Earthly friends may fail and leave us,
One day soothe, the next day grieve us;
But this Friend will ne’er deceive us. Oh, how He loves!
Jesus is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the Friend who loves at all times (Prov. 17:17).
The fact that the Lord Jesus is not bodily present with us does not set a limit on the reality of His friendship. Through the Word He speaks to us, and in prayer we speak to Him. It is in this way that He makes Himself real to us as the Friend we need. It is in this way that He answers the prayer,
Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me a living, bright reality;
More present to faith’s vision keen than any earthly object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh than e’en the closest earthly tie.
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11)
Peter reminds his readers that they are strangers and pilgrims, a reminder that was never more needed than today. Pilgrims are people who are travelling from one country to another. The country they are passing through is not their own; they are aliens in it. It is the country to which they are going that is their homeland.
The hallmark of a pilgrim is a tent. Thus, when we read that Abraham dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, we are to understand that he considered Canaan an alien land (even though it had been promised to him). He lived in a temporary dwelling because he “looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10 RV). So the pilgrim is not a settler. He is a man on the move.
Because he is going on a long journey, he travels light. He does not allow himself to be weighed down with a lot of material possessions. He cannot afford to be burdened with unnecessary baggage. He must jettison anything that hinders his mobility.
Another feature of the pilgrim is that he is different from the people around him who are at home. He does not conform to their lifestyle, their habits, or even their form of worship. In the case of the Christian pilgrim, this means that he heeds Peter’s admonition to abstain from “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” He does not allow his character to be molded by his environment. He is in the world but not of it. He passes through an alien country without adopting its mores and value-judgments.
If the pilgrim is passing through hostile territory, he is careful not to fraternize with the enemy. That would constitute disloyalty to his leader. He would be a traitor to the cause.
The Christian pilgrim is passing through enemy territory. This world gave our Leader nothing but a cross and a grave. To befriend such a world is to betray the Lord Jesus. The cross of Christ has severed any ties which ever bound us to the world. We do not covet the world’s praise or fear its condemnation.
The pilgrim is sustained on his journey by the knowledge that every day’s march brings him that much closer to home. He knows that once he reaches his destination, he will quickly forget all the hardships and dangers of the way.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
In reading a verse like this, it is tremendously important to know what it means and what it does not mean. Otherwise we might find ourselves adopting grotesque positions that do violence to the rest of Scripture and to the facts of life.
The key to the verse is found in the words “in Christ Jesus.” Those words describe our position, that is, what we are in the sight of God. They do not refer to our everyday practice, that is, what we are in ourselves or in the society in which we live.
What the verse is saying, then, is that there is neither Jew nor Greek as far as standing before God is concerned. Both the believing Jew and the believing Gentile are in Christ Jesus and therefore both stand before God in a position of absolute favor. Neither has any advantage over the other. It does not mean that physical differences or temperamental distinctions are abolished.
In Christ Jesus, there is neither bond nor free. The slave finds the same acceptance through the Person and work of Christ that the free man does. And yet, in everyday life, the social distinctions persist.
There is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus. A believing woman is complete in Christ, accepted in the Beloved, justified freely - just the same as a believing man. She has the same freedom of access into the presence of God.
But the verse must not be pressed to refer to everyday life. The sexual distinction remains—male and female. The resultant roles remain—father and mother. The divinely appointed positions of authority and subjection to that authority remain—the man is given the place of headship and the woman that of subjection to the authority of the man. The New Testament even specifies difference in the ministries of the man and the woman in the church (1 Tim. 2:8, 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34, 35). Those who argue that there should be neither male nor female in the church are forced to twist these Scriptures, assign unworthy motives to the Apostle Paul, or even question the inspiration of his words in these passages.
What they must understand is that whereas racial, social and sexual differences are abolished as far as standing before God is concerned, they are not abolished in everyday life. They should also realize that these differences have nothing to do with inferiority. The Gentile, the slave, the woman are not inferior to the Jew, the free man or the male. In many ways they may be superior. Instead of trying to rewrite God’s order in creation and in providence, they should accept it and rejoice in it.
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.” (Prov. 11:24)
The Holy Spirit here lets us in on a delightful secret. It is contrary to all that we would expect and yet invariably true. The secret is this: the more you give, the more you have. The more you hoard, the less you have. Generosity multiplies itself. Stinginess breeds poverty. “What I gave, I have; what I spent, I had; what I kept, I lost.”
It doesn’t mean that you will reap the same coinage that you sow, that the faithful steward will become financially rich. He may sow dollars and reap souls. He may sow kindness and reap friends. He may sow compassion and reap love.
It means that a generous person reaps rewards that others cannot know. He opens his mail and learns that the gift of money he sent met a critical need at just the right time and in exactly the right amount. He learns that a book he bought for a young believer was used by God to change the whole direction of a life. He hears that a kindness he showed in the Name of Jesus was a link in the chain of that person’s salvation. He is deliriously happy. His joy knows no bounds. He would never trade places with others who seem to have more than he.
The other side of the truth is that hoarding leads to poverty. We really don’t get pleasure out of money that is lying in the bank. It may delude us with a false sense of security, but it cannot provide true and lasting enjoyment. Any meager interest that the money may earn is peanuts compared with the thrill of seeing money used for the glory of Christ and the blessing of our fellow-men. The man who withholds more than is meet may have a large bank balance but he has a small joy balance in this life and a small credit balance in the bank of heaven.
Today’s verse is intended not only to set forth a divine principle but also to issue a divine challenge. The Lord is saying to us, “Prove it for yourself. Make your loaves and fishes available to Me. I know you intended to have them for your own lunch. But if you turn them over to Me, there will be plenty for your own lunch and for thousands of others. You would feel awkward to eat your lunch while those around you were just sitting, watching you eat. But think of the satisfaction of knowing that I used your lunch to feed the multitude.”
We lose what on ourselves we spend
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend,
Who givest all.
“But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in htm?” (1 John 3:17 RV)
In medical circles, it would be unthinkable to have a cure for cancer and not share it with cancer patients throughout the world. To withhold the cure would betray a callous and inhumane lack of compassion.
The Apostle John paints a parallel picture in the spiritual realm. Here is a man, a professing believer, who has accumulated a fair amount of wealth. He lives in luxury, comfort and ease. All around him is a world of enormous spiritual and physical need. Millions throughout the world have never heard the Gospel. They live in darkness, superstition and hopelessness. Many of them are suffering the ravages of famine, war and natural disaster. The man of wealth is oblivious to all this need. He is able to block out the moans of a sobbing, suffering humanity. He could help if he wanted to, but he prefers to hold on to his money.
It is at this point that John drops his bomb. He asks, “How does the love of God abide in him?” The question implies of course, that the love of God does not dwell in him. And if the love of God does not dwell in him, there is valid reason for doubting that he is a true believer.
This is very serious. The church today exalts the man of wealth, appoints him to the board of elders, and points him out to visitors. The sentiment prevails, “It’s nice to see rich Christians.” But John asks, “If he is a real Christian, how can he hold on to all that surplus wealth when so many are starving for bread?”
It seems to me that this verse forces us to one of two courses of action. On the one hand we can reject the plain meaning of John’s words, stifle the voice of conscience and condemn the man who dares preach the message. Or we can receive the word with meekness, use our wealth to meet our brother’s need, and have a conscience void of offense toward God and man. The believer who is satisfied with a modest standard of living so that everything above that can go into the work of the Lord can live at peace with God and with his needy brother.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 4)
The Apostle John was certainly not unaware of the joy of personal soul-winning. It brings tremendous spiritual exhilaration to lead a sinner to the Lord Jesus. But for John, a greater joy—in fact, the greatest joy—was to see his children in the faith going on steadfastly for the Lord.
Dr. M. R. DeHaan wrote, “There was a time in my ministry that I often said, ‘The greatest joy of a Christian is to lead a soul to Christ.’ As the years passed, I changed my mind…So many, over whom we rejoiced when they made their professions, soon fell by the wayside, and our joy came to ultimate grief and sorrow. But to come back to a place years afterward and find ‘converts’ growing in grace, walking in the truth—this is the greatest joy.”
When asked for the thing that brings more joy than anything else in life, LeRoy Eims said, “When the person you have led to Christ grows and develops into a dedicated, fruitful, mature disciple who then goes on to lead others to Christ and help them in turn as well.”
It is not surprising that this should provide the greatest joy. The spiritual has its parallel in the natural. There is great joy when a baby is born, but there is always the nagging question. “How will he turn out?” How pleased the parents are when he matures and proves to be a man of excellent character and accomplishments! So we read in Proverbs 23:15, 16: “My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine. Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.”
One practical lesson that emerges from all this is that we should not be satisfied with superficial methods of evangelism and of discipleship. If we want spiritual children who will walk in the truth, we must be prepared to pour our lives into theirs, a costly process involving prayer, instruction, encouragement, counseling and correction.
“A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.” (Prov. 10:1)
What determines whether a son turns out to be wise or foolish? What are the factors that determine whether he becomes a John or a Judas?
Parental training is certainly one important consideration. This includes a thorough grounding in the sacred Scriptures. The sanctifying influence of the Word cannot be overemphasized.
It includes a home that is fortified by prayer. The mother of an outstanding evangelical preacher attributed his preservation from moral and doctrinal evil to the fact that she “wore out her knees in prayer for him.”
It means the use of firm discipline so that the .child learns to obey and to submit to authority. We hear loud outcries today against strict discipline, but more lives have been wrecked by indulgence than by the use of the rod (Prov. 13:24; 23:13, 14).
It means providing the child with the security of knowing he is loved. Discipline must be administered as an act of love and not of temper.
It means that the parents must provide a living example of what they profess. Hypocrisy in religion has proved a stumbling block to many children of Christian parents.
But then the child’s will is also involved. When he leaves home, he is free to make his own decisions. Often children brought up in the same home under the same conditions turn out differently.
Two facts of life have to be faced. One is that most people have to get a taste of the world for themselves. The other is that most people prefer to learn through shame and disgrace rather than through wise counsel.
Wise parents do not pressure their children into making a profession of faith. If children want to come to the Lord, they should be encouraged. But if they are talked into a false profession, then abandon that profession in later years, they are harder to win for Christ.
If Christian parents have done their best to raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, only to have the child later make shipwreck, what then? For one thing they should remember that the last chapter hasn’t been written. No case is too difficult for the Lord. By continuing earnestly in prayer and by keeping channels of communication open many have lived to see their prodigal return. In other cases, the prayers of parents have been answered after they themselves have gone home to be with the Lord.