“In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” (Eccl. 11:6)
Our ignorance as to how and when God will use our service should prompt us to be tireless in buying up opportunities. The Lord often works when we least expect it, and He works in an infinite number of novel ways.
A Christian sailor, stationed at a naval air base, was standing near the corner of a hangar, witnessing to a buddy. A third sailor, out of sight around the corner, heard the Gospel, became convicted of his sins, and was soundly converted. The fellow to whom the message was directly addressed did not respond.
A preacher, checking the acoustics of a new auditorium, boomed out the words of John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” To all appearance there was no one listening. Again he sounded out the timeless words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The main floor was empty but a workman in the first balcony was smitten by the message and turned to the Lamb of God for forgiveness and new life.
An American Bible teacher spoke to a young American tourist in a railroad station in Paris. (Both came from the same city in the States and from the same neighborhood in that city). The young man was irritated to be confronted. He said, “Do you think you’re going to save me in a Paris railroad station?” The Bible teacher replied, “No, I can’t save you. But nothing happens by chance in life. It was no accident that we met here. I think that God is speaking to you and that you’d better listen.” In the days that followed, a Christian gave the traveler a ride to Vienna, witnessing to him on the way. Back in the States, that same believer invited him to a Christian ranch in Colorado. On the last day of his stay at the ranch, the fellow was standing alone in the swimming pool. Soon another guest joined him in the water, spoke to him quietly about the Lord, and had the great joy of leading him to the Savior. Years later the American Bible teacher was introduced to an earnest young disciple at the close of a meeting. The name sounded faintly familiar. Then he remembered. It was the tourist he had spoken to in a railroad station in Paris.
The moral, of course, is that we should be diligent for Christ in the morning and evening, in season and out of season. We never know which blow will break the granite or which word will be the life-giving one.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)
It is not uncommon for a person to become discouraged in his service for the Lord and to quit. I suppose that most of us have faced that temptation at one time or another. Therefore, in today’s reading I would like to share four passages that have been a tremendous encouragement to me and that have kept me from quitting. The first is Isaiah 49:4: “Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” There are moments, fortunately rare, when years of service for the Lord seem to evaporate into nothingness. All our work seems to have been wasted effort. It appears to be another case of “love’s labor lost.” But not so! Our verse assures us that God’s justice will insure that we are royally rewarded. Nothing that is done for Him is ever in vain.
The second passage is Isaiah 55:10, 11: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Those engaged in distributing the living Word of God are assured of success. Results are guaranteed. His Word is irresistible. Just as the armies of the world are powerless to prevent the rain and snow from falling, so all the hosts of demons and of men are unable to stop the Word from going forth and producing revolutions in human lives. We are on the winning side.
Then there is that remarkable encouragement in Matthew 10:40: “He that receiveth you receiveth me and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Have you ever been snubbed because of your Christian testimony? Or ostracized? Or mocked? Or abused? Has someone slammed the door in your face? Well, don’t take it too personally. In rejecting you, people are really rejecting the Savior. The way people treat you is the way they treat the Lord. How wonderful to be so closely linked with the Son of God!
Then, of course, there is 1 Corinthians 15:58 (quoted above). Paul has been setting forth the truth of the resurrection. If this life were all, then our labor would be in vain. However, beyond the grave lies the eternal glory. Everything done in the Lord’s Name will be rewarded then. No loving service will have been fruitless or futile.
Christian service is the most glorious of all callings. There is never a valid reason for quitting. The encouragements of God’s Word are enough to keep us from turning back.
“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Tim. 2:19)
Even in the days of the apostles, there was a great deal of confusion in the religious world. Two men, for instance, were teaching the bizarre doctrine that the resurrection of believers was past. To us such an idea is crazy. But it was serious enough to overthrow the faith of some people. The question naturally arises, “Were these two men genuine Christians?”
We often face the same question today. Here is a prominent clergyman who denies the Virgin Birth. A seminary professor teaches that the Bible contains error. A college student claims to be saved by grace through faith, yet clings to sabbath-keeping as an essential for salvation. A businessman tells of a conversion experience, yet remains in a church that venerates idols, teaching salvation through sacraments, and claims that its leader is infallible in matters of faith and morals. Are these people true Christians?
To be very frank, there are cases where we cannot know definitely whether a person’s Christianity is genuine or counterfeit. Between the true and the false, the white and the black, there is a gray area. We cannot be sure in this area. Only God knows.
What is sure in a world of uncertainty is the foundation of God. Whatever He builds is firm and solid. There is a seal on His foundation and on that seal are two inscriptions. One presents the divine side, the other the human. The first is a declarative, the second an imperative.
The divine side is that the Lord knows those who are His. He knows those who genuinely belong to Him even if their actions are not always what they should be. On the other hand He is aware of all pretense and hypocrisy, of all who have an outward show but not inward reality. We may not be able to distinguish the sheep from the goats but He can and does.
The human side is that everyone who names the Name of Christ should depart from iniquity. This is how a man can prove the reality of his profession. Anyone who continues in sin loses credibility as far as his claim to being a Christian is concerned.
This then is our resource when we find it difficult to distinguish between wheat and tares. The Lord knows those who are His. All who claim to be can demonstrate it to others by separation from sin.
“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devihwhosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother/’ (1 John 3:10)
Years ago almost every home had a large family album in the living room. It had a stuffed leather cover embossed in gold. A leather strap with clasp extended from the right edge of the back cover over to the right side of the top cover where the clasp latched securely into its socket. The pages were of stiff, glossy paper-board, ornamented with floral patterns and gilt edges. On each side of a page were cut-out sections where photographs were inserted. When visitors looked through the album, they would often remark that “Josh looks just like his grandpa” or that “Sarah surely has the family likeness.”
John’s first epistle reminds me of that old family album because it pictures those who are members of God’s family and who have the family likeness. However, here it is a matter of spiritual and moral resemblance rather than physical.
There are at least eight ways in which Christians are spiritual “look-alikes.” The first is that they all say the same tiling about Jesus. They confess that He is the Christ, that is, the Messiah or Anointed One (1 Jn. 4:2; 5:1). To them Jesus and Christ are one and the same Person.
All Christians love God (5:2). Even though that love may often be weak and vacillating, there is never a time when a believer cannot look up into the face of God and say, “You know that I love You.”
All Christians love the brethren (2:10; 3:10, 14; 4:7, 12). This is the hallmark of all who have passed from death to life. Because they love God, they love those who are born of God.
Those who love God characteristically keep His commandments (3:24). Their obedience is motivated, not by fear of punishment, but by love to Him who gave His all.
Christians do not practice sin (3:6, 9; 5:18). True, they commit acts of sin, but sin is not the dominating power in their lives. They are not sinless but they do sin less.
Members of God’s family practice righteousness (2:29; 3:7). It is not just that they do not habitually sin—that could be negative and passive. They reach out to others with deeds of righteousness—that is positive and active.
The seventh characteristic of members of God’s family is that they do not love the world (2:15). They realize that the world is a system that man has built up in opposition to God, and that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God.
Finally Christians overcome the world by faith (5:4). They see beyond the sham of passing things to those things that are eternal. They live for the things that are not seen.
“Holding faith, and a good conscience.” (1 Tim. 1:19)
The conscience is a monitoring mechanism which God has given to man to approve right conduct and to protest against what is wrong. When Adam and Eve sinned, their consciences condemned them and they knew they were naked.
Like all other parts of man’s nature, the conscience was affected by the entrance of sin so that it is not always completely reliable. The old maxim “Let your conscience be your guide” is not an invariable rule. However, even in the most depraved, the conscience still flashes its red and green signals.
At the time of conversion a person’s conscience is purged from dead works by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14). This means that he no longer depends on his own works to give him a favorable standing before God. His heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22) because he knows that the sin question has been settled once for all by the work of Christ. Conscience does not condemn him any more as far as the guilt and condemnation of sin are concerned.
Henceforth the believer desires to have a conscience void of offense toward God and man (Acts 24:16). He desires to have a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5,19; Heb. 13:18; 1 Pet. 3:16). And he desires to have a pure conscience (1 Tim. 3:9).
The believer’s conscience needs to be educated by the Spirit of God through the Word of God. In this way he develops an increasing sensitivity toward questionable areas of Christian conduct.
Believers who are excessively scrupulous over matters that are not right or wrong in themselves have a weak conscience. If they go ahead and do something that their conscience condemns, they sin (Rom. 14:23) and defile their conscience (1 Cor. 8:7).
The conscience is something like an elastic band. The more it is stretched, the more it loses its elasticity. Also the conscience can be stifled. A man can so rationalize his wrong behavior that he can make the conscience say anything he wants it to say.
Unbelievers can have a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), as if cauterized by a hot iron. By the continual rejection of the voice of conscience, they finally reach the stage where they are past feelings. It no longer hurts them to sin (Eph. 4:19).
God holds men responsible for what they do with their consciences. No divinely-given faculty can be abused with impunity.
“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” (Isa. 51:11)
In its setting, this prophecy of Isaiah looked forward to the joyous return of God’s chosen people from their seventy-year captivity in Babylon.
It may also refer to Israel’s still-future restoration when the Messiah will regather them to the land from all over the world. That too will be a time of great jubilation.
But in its widest sense, we are justified in applying the verse to the rapture of the Church. Awakened by the shout of the Lord, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, the bodies of the redeemed of all the ages will rise from the grave. Living believers, changed in a moment, will join them as they ascend to meet the Lord in the air. Then begins the grand processional to the Father’s house.
It is quite possible that the entire route will be flanked by angelic hosts. At the head of the procession will be the Redeemer Himself, flushed with His glorious victory over death and the grave. Then come the ransomed throng, some from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, they are singing with all musical perfection, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”
Every one in the multitude is a trophy of God’s wonderful grace. Each was ransomed from sin and shame, and made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Some went through deep suffering for their faith, others laid down their lives for the Savior. But now all the scars and mutilations are gone, and the saints have their deathless, glorified bodies.
Abraham and Moses are there, David and Solomon. There are the beloved Peter, James, John and Paul. Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Knox and John Calvin are there. But they are no more conspicuous now than God’s hidden ones, unknown on earth, yet well-known in heaven.
Now the saints are marching into the King’s palace. Sorrow and sighing are gone forever, and everlasting joy is on their heads. Faith has become sight and hope has received its long-awaited consummation. Loved ones greet each other with fervent embraces. Overflowing gladness prevails. Everyone is awed by the amazing grace that has brought them from the depths of sin to such heights of glory.
“Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” (Mk. 5:19)
When we are first saved, we think it is so simple, so wonderful that all our relatives will want to believe on the Savior when we tell them. Instead we find in some cases that they are resentful, suspicious and hostile. They act as if we had betrayed them. Finding ourselves in such an atmosphere, we often respond in ways that actually hinder their coming to Christ. Sometimes we lash back at them, then become distant, moody and withdrawn. Or we criticize them for their unChristian lifestyle, forgetting that they do not have the divine power necessary for meeting Christian standards. It is easy under such circumstances to give them the impression that we consider ourselves superior to them. Since they are likely to accuse us of a “holier than thou” attitude anyway, we should carefully avoid giving them just cause for doing so.
Another mistake we often make is to force the Gospel down their throats. In our love for them and our zeal for their souls, we estrange them by our offensive evangelism.
One thing leads to another. We fail to show loving submission to our parents, as if our Christian faith released us from any obligation to obey them. Then we increasingly absent ourselves from home, spending the time at church services and with Christians. This, in turn, increases their resentment against church and Christians. When Jesus healed the demoniac, Legion, He told him to go home and tell his friends what great things the Lord had done for him. That is the first thing we should do—give a simple, humble, loving testimony of our conversion.
Then this should be coupled with the witness of a changed life. We should let our light so shine before them that they will see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).
This will mean showing new honor, submission, love and respect for our parents, taking their advice unless it conflicts with Scripture. We should be more helpful at home than we have ever been before - cleaning our room, washing dishes, taking out the trash—and all this without being asked.
It will mean taking criticism patiently without retaliating. They will be pleasantly stunned by our spirit of brokenness, especially if they have never seen it before. Little kindnesses help break down opposition—letters of appreciation, greeting cards, phone calls and gifts. Instead of cutting ourselves off from our parents, we should spend time with them in an effort to strengthen relationships. Then they will be more likely to accept an invitation to attend church with us—and eventually to commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” (1 Cor. 7:20)
When a person becomes a Christian, he might think that he has to make a clean break with everything associated with his former life. To correct this thinking, the Apostle Paul lays down the general rule that a person should remain in the same calling in which he was at the time of his conversion. Let us consider this rule and suggest what it means and what it does not mean.
In its immediate context, the verse applies to a special marriage relationship. It is the case where one partner gets saved but the other does not. What should the believer do? Should he divorce his wife? No, says Paul, he should remain in that marriage relationship with the hope that his partner will be converted through his testimony.
In general, Paul’s rule means that conversion does not require the violent disruption or forcible overthrow of pre-salvation relationships and associations that are not expressly forbidden by Scripture. For instance, a Jew need not resort to surgery in order to obliterate the physical mark of his Jewishness. Neither should a believing Gentile submit to some physical change like circumcision in order to distinguish him from the heathen. Physical features or marks are not what really matter. What God wants to see is obedience to His commandments.
A man who is a slave at the time of his new birth should not rebel against his servitude and thus bring trouble and punishment upon himself. He can be a good slave and a good Christian at the same time. Social position and class distinctions do not matter with God. However, if a slave can obtain his freedom by legitimate means, he should do so.
So much for what Paul’s rule means. It should be obvious that there are important exceptions to the rule. For instance, it does not mean that a man in an ungodly occupation should continue in it. If a man is a bartender or operates a house of prostitution or a gambling casino, he will know by spiritual instinct that he has to make a change.
Another exception to the general rule has to do with religious associations. A new convert must not continue in any system where the great fundamentals of the Christian faith are denied. He must separate himself from any church where the Savior is dishonored. This would also apply to membership in social clubs where the Name of Christ is banned or even unwelcome. Loyalty to the Son of God requires that a believer resign from all such.
To summarize, then, the rule is that a new believer should remain in the calling in which he was called unless that calling is sinful and dishonoring to the Lord. He does not have to break with past associations unless they are clearly forbidden by the Word of God.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?.” (Jas. 2:14)
James does not say that the man in today’s verse has faith. The man himself says he has faith, but if he really had saving faith, he would have works also. His faith is a matter of words only, and that kind of faith cannot save anyone. Words without works are dead.
Salvation is not by works. Neither is it by faith plus works. Rather it is by the kind of faith that results in good works.
Why then does James say in verse 24 that a man is justified by works? Isn’t this a flat contradiction of Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith? Actually there is no contradiction. Both are true. The fact is that there are six different aspects of justification in the New Testament, as follows:
We are justified by God (Rom 8:33)—He is the One who reckons us righteous.
We are justified by grace (Rom. 3:24)—God gives us justification as a free, undeserved gift.
We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1)—we receive this gift by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are justified by blood (Rom. 5:9)—the precious blood of Christ is the price that was paid for our justification.
We are justified by power (Rom. 4:25)—the power that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead is the power that makes our justification possible.
We are justified by works (Jas. 2:24)—good works are the outward evidence to all that we have been truly justified.
It is not enough to testify to a conversion experience. We must demonstrate it by the good works that inevitably follow the new birth.
Faith is invisible. It is an unseen transaction that takes place between the soul and God. People cannot see our faith. But they can see the good works that are the fruit of saving faith. They have reason to doubt our faith until they see the works.
Abraham’s good work was his willingness to slay his son as an offering to God (Jas. 2:21). Rahab’s good work was betraying her country (Jas. 2:25). The reason they were “good” works is because they demonstrated faith in Jehovah. Otherwise they would have been bad works, namely, murder and treason.
The body separated from the spirit is dead. That’s what death is—the separation of the spirit from the body. So faith without works is dead also. It is lifeless, powerless and inoperative.
A living body demonstrates that an invisible spirit dwells within. So good works are the sure sign that there is saving faith, invisible as it is, dwelling within the person.
“Maintain the spiritual glow.” (Rom. 12:11 Moffatt)
One of the laws that operates in the physical realm is that things tend to lose momentum or unwind or burn out. That is not a scientific statement of the law, but it gives the general idea.
We are told, for instance, that the sun is burning at a furious rate, and that although it can continue for a long time, its time-span is declining.
Bodies age, die and return to dust. A pendulum set in motion by hand slows down and then stops. We wind a clock or watch and soon it needs to be rewound. Hot water cools off to room temperature. Metals tarnish and grow dim. Colors fade. Nothing lasts indefinitely and there is no perpetual motion. Change and decay affect everything.
The world itself grows old. Speaking of the heavens and the earth, the Scripture says, “They shall perish; but thou (God’s Son) remainest: and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed” (Heb. 1:11, 12).
Unfortunately there seems to be a similar principle in the spiritual realm. It is true of individuals, churches, movements and institutions.
Even if a person begins the Christian life brilliantly, there is always the danger of zeal abating, of power subsiding and of vision ebbing. We grow weary, complacent, cold and old.
The same is true of churches. Many have started on the crest of a great movement of the Holy Spirit. The fire continues to burn brightly for years. Then decline sets in. The church leaves its first love (Rev. 2:4). The honeymoon is over. Evangelistic fervor gives way to routine services. Doctrinal purity may be sacrificed for a worthless unity. At last an empty building is a silent witness that the glory has departed.
Movements and institutions are subject to decay. They may start off as mighty evangelistic outreaches, then become so engrossed in social work that the Gospel is largely neglected. Or they may begin with the enthusiasm and spontaneity of the Spirit, then lapse into cold ritual and formality. We need to guard against spiritual decline. We need to experience what Norman Grubb calls continuous revival. We need to “maintain the spiritual glow.”
“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Prov. 18:13)
Living Bible paraphrases this verse, “What a shame—yes, how stupid!—to decide before knowing the facts!” This pinpoints an important lesson. You cannot make an intelligent decision until you hear all the facts. Unfortunately many Christians do not wait to hear both sides of an issue. They form a judgment on the basis of one man’s story, and often that judgment is totally wrong.
In 1979 Gary Brooks (fictitious name) was a member of the Board of Deacons of an evangelical church. He was extremely popular. He had a warm, outgoing personality. Whenever he entered a room full of people, it seemed to light up. He distinguished himself by serving the members of the church whenever they needed help. He was always attentive to the older folks in the congregation. His wife and two sons were also active in church affairs. The Brooks were looked on as a model family.
It was like an exploding bomb, therefore, when word got out that the elders had disciplined Gary by relieving him of his work as a deacon and asking him to refrain from participating in the communion service. Friends rallied to his defense and called on other church members to oppose the elders in this decision. The elders were at a disadvantage, not wishing to make a public announcement of all they knew. So they had to sit back and listen to Gary’s virtues being extolled, knowing that there was another side to the story. And they had to take considerable abuse in the process.
What did the elders know? They knew that Gary’s marriage was on the rocks because he had been carrying on an affair with his secretary. They knew that he had misappropriated church funds to finance his high lifestyle. They knew that he had engaged in unethical business practices, and that his testimony in the business world was negative. They also knew that he had lied to them when they confronted him with evidence of his wrongdoing.
Rather than submit to the discipline of the elders, Gary organized his friends in open defiance, even at the risk of splitting the church. Eventually a few of his followers spoke to one of the elders and learned some of the sad facts, but then they were too ashamed to do an about face. So they continued to fight on his behalf.
Three lessons emerge from all of this for us. First, don’t try to form a judgment until you know all the facts. Second, if you can’t get all the facts, withhold your judgment. Finally, don’t let the bonds of friendship pressure you into defending unrighteousness.
“He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.” (Prov. 18:17)
The first part of this verse points out a failing that is common to most of us—we invariably present evidence in such a way as to put ourselves in the best possible light. It comes quite naturally to us. For instance, we withhold facts that would prove damaging to us and concentrate on our good points. We compare ourselves with others whose failings are more obvious. We pass the blame for our actions on to others. We assign pious motives to actions that are patently wrong. We twist and distort the facts until they have only a faint resemblance to the reality. We use emotionally colored words to paint a more favorable picture.
Adam blamed Eve, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12). Eve blamed the Devil, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13).
Saul defended his disobedience in sparing the sheep and oxen of the Amalekites by assigning a pious motive: “The people took of the spoil…to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God” (1 Sam. 15:21). He also suggested, of course, that if there was blame, it was the people’s, not his.
David lied to Ahimelech in order to get weapons, saying “The king’s business required haste” (1 Sam. 21:8). Actually David wasn’t on the king’s business; he was fleeing from King Saul.
The woman at the well withheld the truth. She said, “I have no husband” (John 4:17). Actually she had had five husbands and was now cohabiting with a man to whom she was not married.
And so it goes! Because of our fallen nature, inherited from Adam, it is difficult for us to be completely objective when presenting our own side of a matter. Our tendency is to picture ourselves in the most favorable light. We can have a kindly regard toward sins in our own life when we would vigorously condemn those same sins in someone else’s.
“He that is first in his own cause seemeth just, but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him,” that is, when his neighbor has a chance to testify, he gives a more accurate presentation of the facts. He exposes all the subtle attempts at whitewashing and self-vindication. He tells the story without distortion.
Ultimately God is our Neighbor—the One who brings to light the hidden things of darkness and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we are to walk in unclouded communion with Him, we must be honest and aboveboard in all our testimony, even if it results in our own undoing.
“Ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:2)
A verse like this raises an interesting question. If we have not because we ask not, what great things are we missing in life simply because we do not pray for them?
A similar question arises from James 5:16, ““The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” If this righteous man doesn’t pray, then does it not follow that little is accomplished through him?
The trouble with most of us is that we do not pray enough, or when we do pray, we ask for so little. We are what C.T. Studd called “nibblers of the possible instead of grabbers of the impossible.” Our prayers are timid and unimaginative when they should be bold and daring.
We should be honoring God by praying for great things. In John Newton’s words,
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much,
When we do this, we not only honor God; we enrich ourselves spiritually. He loves to open heaven’s treasures to us, but today’s verse suggest that He only does it in answer to prayer.
It seems to me that this verse answers a question that we often hear. The question is this: does prayer actually move God to do things that He would not have done otherwise, or does it merely bring us into harmony with what He would have done anyway? The answer seems clear: God does things in answer to prayer that He would not have done otherwise.
Our imaginations can run riot in two directions as we ponder this. First, we can think of the tremendous achievements that have come as a direct result of prayer. Borrowing the words of Hebrews 11:33, 34, we remember those who “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
But we can also think of what we ourselves might have accomplished for Christ if we had only asked. We can think of the many exceedingly great and precious promises in the Word which we have failed to claim. We have been weak when we might have been powerful. We have touched a few lives for God when we might have touched thousands or even millions. We have asked for acres when we might have asked for continents. We have been spiritual paupers when we might have been plutocrats. We do not have because we do not ask.
“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26, 27)
There are two kinds of greatness in the New Testament and it is helpful to distinguish them. There is a greatness associated with one’s position and another greatness linked with one’s personal character.
In speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus said that there was no greater prophet than he (Luke 7:28). Here the Savior was speaking about the greatness of John’s position. No other prophet had the privilege of being the forerunner of the Messiah. It does not mean that John had a better character than any of the Old Testament prophets, but only that his was the unique assignment of introducing the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In John 14:28, Jesus said to the disciples, “My Father is greater than I.” Did He mean that His Father was greater personally? No, because all members of the Godhead are equal. He meant that the Father was enthroned in heavenly glory whereas He Himself was being despised and rejected by men on earth. The disciples should have rejoiced to know that Jesus was going back to the Father because then He would have the same glorious position as the Father.
All believers enjoy a great position by reason of their identification with the Lord Jesus. They are sons of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
But then the New Testament also speaks of personal greatness. For instance, in Matthew 20:26, 27, Jesus said, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” The greatness here is a greatness of personal character, demonstrated by a life of service to others.
Most men of the world are interested only in greatness as far as their position is concerned. The Lord Jesus referred to this when he said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors” (Lu. 22:25). But as far as their personal character is concerned, they may be utterly devoid of greatness. They may be adulterers, embezzlers and alcoholics.
The Christian realizes that positional greatness without greatness of character is worthless. It’s what’s inside a person that counts. The fruit of the Spirit is more important than a high place on the corporate ladder. It’s better to be listed among the saints than among the stars.
“…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind.” (Phil 3:13b)
Ordinarily when we read these words, we tend to think that Paul was speaking about his past sins. He knew that these sins had been forgiven, that God had put them behind His back, and that He would never remember them again. So Paul was determined to forget them too and to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
I still think that is a valid application of the verse. But Paul is not thinking about his sins in this passage. Rather he is thinking about the things in which he might have boasted—his lineage, his former religion, his zeal and his legal righteousness. Now these things meant nothing to him. He was determined to forget them.
I am reminded of John Sung, the devoted Chinese evangelist, who had come to the United States for training. Now he was on his way back to China. Leslie Lyall writes that “one day, as the vessel neared the end of its voyage, John Sung went down to his cabin, took out of his trunk his diplomas, his medals, and his fraternity keys and threw them all overboard except his doctor’s diploma, which he retained to satisfy his father. This was later framed and hung in his old home. The Rev. W. B. Cole saw it there about 1938. Dr. Sung noticed Mr. Cole looking at it one day and said, ‘Things like that are useless. They mean nothing to me.’”
‘“There must be great renunciations if there are to be great Christian careers!’ Dr. Denney’s words might have been written with Dr. Sung in mind. It is probably the chief secret of John Sung’s career that there came a day when he made just such a renunciation of all that this world holds dear.”
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the Cross of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Man’s honors are transient, empty things. They are cherished for a moment, then gather dust for decades. The Cross is all our glory. We make it our ambition to be well-pleasing to Him who died for us and rose again. All that matters is to hear His “Well done!” and to be approved unto God. We are willing to renounce everything else to win that prize.
“…they that are unlearned and unstable wrest…the Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16b)
Dr. P. J. Van Gorder used to tell about a sign over a woodworker’s shop which said, “All kinds of twisting and turning done here.” It is not only woodworkers that are good at that; many professing Christians twist and turn the Scriptures when it suits them. Some, as our verse says, even wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.
We are all fairly expert at rationalizing, i.e., at excusing our sinful disobedience by giving creditable explanations or assigning worthy motives to our actions. We often try to bend the Scriptures to suit our behavior. We give plausible but untrue reasons for our conduct or attitudes. Here are some examples.
A Christian businessman knows that it is wrong for him to go to law against another believer (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Yet when he is challenged about it, he says, “Yes, but he was definitely wrong, and the Lord doesn’t want him to get away with it.”
Jane is planning to marry John, even when she knows he is not a believer. When a Christian friend reminds her that this is forbidden by 2 Corinthians 6:14, she says, “Yes, but the Lord told me to marry him so I can lead him to Christ.”
Glen and Ruth profess to be Christians, yet they are living together without being married. When a friend of Glen pointed out that this was fornication and that no fornicator will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9, 10), Glen replied, “That’s what you say. We are deeply in love with one another, and in God’s sight we are married.” Here is a Christian family living in luxury and splendor, in spite of Paul’s admonition that we should live simply, being content with food and covering (1 Tim. 6:8). They justify their lifestyle with the pat answer, “There’s nothing too good for the people of God.”
Or here is a covetous businessman, greedily amassing all the wealth he can. His philosophy is, “There’s nothing the matter with money. It’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil.” It never occurs to him that he might be guilty of loving money.
Men try to put a better interpretation on their sins than the Scriptures allow. And when they are determined to disobey the Word, one excuse is as good (or bad) as another.
“And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 1:8)
There was no question as to what God required in sacrificial animals. They had to be without spot or blemish. He expected His people to offer the choicest animals from their herds or flocks. God wants the best.
But what were the Israelites doing? They were offering blind, lame and sick animals. The choice animals would bring a high price in the market, or would be desirable for breeding. So the people offered the culls, saying in effect, “Anything is good enough for the Lord.”
Before we look down on the Israelites with shock and scorn, we should ponder whether we twentieth century Christians might also be dishonoring God by failing to give Him the best.
We spend our lives building a fortune, trying to make a name for ourselves, living in a status home in suburbia, enjoying the finer things, then give God the fag end of a burned-out life. Our finest talents go to business and the professions, and the Lord gets our spare evenings or weekends.
We raise our children for the world, encouraging them to make a lot of money, marry well, and own a prestigious home with all the modern conveniences. We never hold the work of the Lord before them as a desirable way in which they should spend their lives. The mission field is all right for other people’s children, but not for ours.
We spend our money on expensive cars, recreational vehicles, sailing boats, and high class sports equipment, then give a paltry dollar or two to the work of the Lord. We wear expensive clothes, then get a feeling of euphoria when we donate our cast-offs to the Salvation Army.
What we are saying, in effect, is that anything is good enough for the Lord, but that we want the best for ourselves. And the Lord is saying to us, “Go, and offer it to the President. See if he would be pleased with it.” The President would be insulted. Well, so is the Lord. Why should we treat Him in a way we would not think of treating the President?
God wants the best. He deserves the best. Let us determine with all sincerity that He will have our best.
“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)
One important element of practical wisdom is tactfulness. The Christian should learn how to be tactful. This means that he should develop a delicate sensitivity as to what to do or say so as to avoid offense and cement good relations. The tactful person puts himself in the other fellow’s shoes and asks himself, “How would I like to have that said or done to me?” He seeks to be diplomatic, considerate, gracious and discerning.
Unfortunately the Christian faith has had its share of tactless adherents. One classic example was a Christian barber in a small midwestern town. When a luckless customer entered the shop one day and asked for a shave, the barber seated him, tied the usual white cloth around his neck and tilted back the chair. On the ceiling the customer saw the words “Where will you spend eternity?” The barber lathered his face liberally; then as he began to sharpen the razor on the strop, he began his evangelistic witness with the question, “Are you prepared to meet God?” The customer bolted out of the chair—towel, lather and all—and hasn’t been heard from since.
Then there was the zealous student who went out one night to do some personal evangelism. Walking down a dark street, he saw a young lady walking ahead of him in the shadows. As he tried to catch up with her she began to run. Anxious, he ran after her. When she doubled her pace, he did the same. Finally she ran up onto the porch of a house in near shock and started fumbling in her handbag for her keys. As he ran up onto the porch, she was too paralyzed with fear to scream. Then smilingly he handed her a tract and left, happy to have reached another sinner with the Gospel.
Great tact is needed in visiting the sick. It doesn’t help to say, “You really do look sick” or “I knew a person with the same trouble—and he died.” Who needs that kind of comfort?
And we should be tactful when we visit the bereaved. We shouldn’t be like the Texan who said to the widow of a slain politician, “And just to think that it had to happen in Texas!”
God bless those choice saints who always seem to know how to speak the gracious, appropriate word. And God teach the rest of us how to be tactful diplomats instead of tactless bumblers.
“I know thy…tribulation, and poverty.” (Rev. 2:9)
Seven times in His letters to the churches of Asia, the Lord Jesus says “I know” and usually those words are used in a favorable sense. “I know thy works…thy labour…thy patience…thy tribulation…thy poverty…and charity…and faith.” In those words “I know” there is tremendous comfort and sympathy and encouragement for God’s people.
Lehman Strauss points out that when Jesus said “I know,” “He did not use the word ginoske, which frequently means to know in the sense of realizing through progress in knowledge. He used the word oida, which suggests fullness of knowledge, to know perfectly, not merely from observation, but from experience. Though suffering saints are unknown to the world and hated by the world, they are known to the Lord and loved by Him. Christ knows the persecution and poverty of His own; He knows how the world looks upon them. Many a tired, tried, and troubled saint has been strengthened and encouraged by those two monosyllables, I know. Those two words uttered by our Saviour touch our troubles with the smile of God, and make this world’s suffering ‘not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’ Romans 8:18.”
They are words of sympathy. Our Great High Priest knows what we are going through because He has been through it Himself. He is the Man of sorrows and is acquainted with grief. He has suffered, being tempted.
They are words of sharing. As the Head of the body, He shares the trials and persecutions of the members. “In every pang that rends the heart, the Man of sorrows has a part.” He not only knows intellectually what we are going through; He knows it as a matter of present experience. He feels it.
They are words of promised help. As our Paraclete, He comes alongside to bear our burdens and wipe away our falling tears. He is there to bind up our wounds and to drive back our foes.
Finally, they are words of assured rewards. He knows everything we do and suffer because of our identification with Him. He keeps a careful record of every act of love, obedience and patience. One day soon He will richly repay.
If you are passing through a valley of sorrow or suffering just now, hear the Savior saying to you, “I know.” You are not alone. He is with you in the valley, will bring you safely through, and will lead you safely to your desired destination.
“Be careful that nobody spoils your faith through intellectualism or high-sounding nonsense. Such stuff is at best founded on men’s ideas of the nature of the world and disregards Christ!” (Col. 2:8, Phillips)
The word which Phillips translates “intellectualism” here is the one from which we get the word “philosophy.” Basically it means the love of wisdom, but then it has acquired a further meaning, namely, the search for reality and the purpose of life.
Most human philosophies are expressed in complicated, highsounding language. They are above the head of the common man. They appeal to those who like to use their intellectual powers in clothing human speculations with words that are difficult to understand.
Frankly, human philosophies are inadequate. Phillips speaks of them as “intellectualism and high-sounding nonsense.” They are based on man’s ideas of the nature of things and disregard Christ. As famous a philosopher as Bertrand Russell is quoted as saying toward the close of his life, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.”
The wise Christian is not taken in by the high-sounding nonsense of modern intellectualism. He refuses to bow at the shrine of man’s wisdom. Instead he realizes that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ. He tests all human philosophies by the Word of God and rejects all that is contrary to the Scriptures.
He is not moved when philosophers hit the headlines with some new attack on the Christian faith. He has the maturity of judgment to realize that he cannot expect anything better from them.
He does not feel inferior that he cannot converse with the philosophers in words of many syllables or follow them in their involved reasonings. He is suspicious of their inability to state their message simply, and rejoices that the Gospel is such that wayfaring men, though fools, can grasp it.
He detects in modern philosophies the lure of the serpent, “…ye shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:5). Man is tempted to exalt his mind above the mind of God. But the wise Christian rejects the devil’s lie. He casts down human reasonings and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).
“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10, 11)
What a scene that will be! Every knee in the universe bowing to the sacred name of Jesus! Every tongue confessing that He is Lord! God has decreed it and it will surely come to pass.
This is not universal salvation. Paul is not suggesting here that all created beings will eventually embrace Christ as their living, loving Lord. Rather he is saying that those who refuse to make the great confession in this life will be compelled to make it in the next. All created beings will eventually acknowledge the truth about Jesus Christ. There will be universal submission.
In one of his messages, Jesus is Lord, John Stott said, “During the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen in Westminster Abbey, one of the most moving moments was when the crown was about to be placed upon her head and when the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chief citizen in the country, called four times towards each point of the compass in the Abbey, north, south, east and west, ‘Sirs, I present unto you the undoubted Queen of this realm. Are you willing to do her homage?’ And not until a great affirmative shout had thundered down the nave of Westminster Abbey four times was the crown placed upon her head.”
Then John Stott added, “And I say unto you tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘I present unto you Jesus Christ as your undoubted King and Lord. Are you willing to do Him homage?’”
That insistent question rings down the centuries. From many, a great affirmative shout goes up, “Jesus Christ is our Lord.” From others the defiant reply is, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” The clenched fist will one day be forced open and the hitherto unbending knee will bow to Him whose Name is above every Name. The tragedy is that it will be too late then. The day of God’s grace will have ended. The opportunity to trust the sinner’s Savior will have passed. The One whose Lordship had been spurned will then become the Judge, seated upon a great white throne.
If He is not your Lord today, confess Him as such. Be willing to do Him homage!
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love)…” (1 Cor. 13:1)
After a young soprano had made her debut on the opera stage, a critic wrote that her brilliant performance would have been even better if she had ever loved. He detected the absence of love. Apparently her singing was technically correct but it lacked warmth.
We too can go through life, doing everything according to the rules. We can be honest, dependable, righteous, generous, energetic and humble. Yet all these virtues cannot compensate for a lack of love.
Many of us have a hard time knowing how to give love and to receive it. I read recently of a celebrity “who could do everything except express what he felt for the people he loved.”
In his book, People in Prayer, John White wrote, “For many years I was frightened of being loved. I did not mind giving love (or what I thought was love), but I grew ill at ease if anyone, man, woman or child, showed too much affection for me. In our family we had never learned how to handle love. We were not very expert at demonstrating it or receiving it. I don’t mean that we did not love one another or that we did not find ways of showing it. But we were very British. When I was nineteen and leaving home to go to war, my father did something quite unprecedented. He put his hands on my shoulder and kissed me. I was stunned. I knew neither what to say nor what to do. For me it was very embarrassing while for my father it must have been very sad.”
One day White had a vision of Christ standing before him, with nail-scarred hands outstretched toward him. At first he felt helpless to receive Christ’s love. Then he prayed, “O Lord, I want to grasp your hands. But I can’t.”
“In the quietness that followed, there came to me an assurance that the defensive wall I had built around me would gradually be dismantled and that I would learn what it was to let Christ’s love wrap around me and fill me.”
If we have built defensive walls around ourselves, hindering the flow of love to and from us, we must let the Lord dismantle those walls, and deliver us from the fears that make us cold Christians.
“…the way of transgressors is hard.” (Prov. 13:15b)
If proof were needed that the way of transgressors is hard, we would only need to pick out a daily newspaper at random and we would find plenty of illustrations. I did that just as an experiment and here are the results:
A Nazi war criminal who had escaped detection and capture in South America for 35 years committed suicide. The fear of trial and probable execution made further living unendurable.
A 74 year old man was kidnapped at gunpoint by three men who demanded $90,000 ransom from his son. The son is a reputed drug dealer, currently fleeing from police and federal drug agents.
A member of the U. S. House of Representatives was expelled from the House for accepting a bribe in return for a promise to grant a political favor. It appears that his ouster from Congress will be permanent.
Afghan rebels continue to battle invading Russian troops. The newspaper article does not mention the fact that the government of Afghanistan had previously bulldozed the only Christian church building in the country. Could the Russian invasion be divine retribution?
A police captain falsely reported that his car had been stolen. He hoped to collect insurance on it. He had been considered an outstanding officer and was likely to be tapped for police chief one day. Now he has been dropped from the force and awaits a criminal investigation.
Sometimes we, like the Psalmist, are tempted to envy the wicked. It seems that the world is their oyster and everything works out well for them. But we forget that they reap an inevitable harvest of guilt, shame and fear of exposure. Often they become victims of blackmail and extortion. They fear for their own lives and the lives of their family members. They have to maintain elaborate and expensive protection systems. They face the prospect of arrest, costly litigation and fines or imprisonment. Life becomes a nightmare instead of the dream for which they had hoped.
One man who had learned the lesson well said to Sam Jones, the preacher, with deep conviction, “I know one verse of Scripture and I know that one is true: ‘The way of transgressors is hard.’” He had proved that sin’s built-in consequences are inescapable and extremely unpleasant.
“Then began he to curse and to swear.” (Matt. 26:74)
A bishop was walking alone in his garden one day, meditating on the activities of the past week. When the memory of a very embarrassing incident flashed across his mind, he let out a string of expletives that were rather salty, to say the least. One of his parishioners, walking on the other side of the high garden wall, heard the unministerial language and gasped in disbelief.
It was a case of private profanity—a heartbreaking trial in the life of many an earnest child of God. Hundreds groan under the oppression of this hideous habit, realizing how dishonoring it is to the Lord and how defiling it is in one’s own life. Yet all their efforts to break the habit prove fruitless.
The unwelcome words usually pour forth when a person is alone (or thinks he is) and when he is under nervous tension. Sometimes they are the audible expression of pent-up anger. Sometimes they give vent to our feelings of frustration. In the bishop’s case, they were his natural reaction to the shame of being embarrassed.
Even worse than the agony of private profanity is the fear that some day the words will slip out in public. Or when we are asleep. Or when we are under an anesthetic in the hospital.
This old habit returned to Peter on the night of the Savior’s trial. When he was pointed out as a companion of Jesus of Galilee, he denied it with curses and swearing (Matt. 26:74). He never would have done it in a relaxed state, but now he was in peril and in extreme duress, and the words came forth with all the facility of his unconverted days.
In spite of our best intentions and most earnest resolutions, the words slip out before we have a chance to think. They catch us completely off guard.
Must we despair of ever conquering this Goliath in our lives? No, there is the promise of victory over this as over all other temptations (1 Cor. 10:13). First, we must confess and forsake the sin every time we fall. Then we must cry to God to put a watch before our lips. We must ask for power to respond to the unfavorable circumstances of life with poise and quietness. Sometimes the act of confessing the fault to some other believer helps to break the powerful habit. Finally, we must always remember that while others may not hear it on earth, our Father hears it in heaven. The remembrance of how offensive it is to Him should serve as a powerful deterrent for us.
“…and be ye thankful.” (Col. 3:15)
A thankful heart adds sparkle to all of life. At the close of a dinner, one of the children said, “That was a good meal, Mother.” That remark created a new sense of warmth in an already happy house.
Too often we fail to express our thanks. The Lord Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give thanks, and that one was a Samaritan (Lu. 17:17). Two lessons emerge. Gratitude is rare in a world of fallen men. And when it does appear, it often comes from the least-expected sources.
It is easy for us to feel grieved when we show kindness to others and they do not even have the courtesy to say “Thank you.” By the same token, we should realize how others feel when we fail to express gratitude for favors received.
Even a cursory examination of the Bible reveals that it is punctuated with exhortations and examples of thanksgiving to God. We have so many things for which to be grateful to Him; we could not possibly tabulate them all. Our whole lives should be psalms of thanks to Him.
Ten thousand, thousand precious gifts My daily thanks employ; Nor is the least a cheerful heart To taste those gifts with joy.
And we should cultivate the habit of expressing thanks to one another as well. A warm handshake, a phone call or a letter—what uplift they bring! An aged doctor received a note of thanks along with the payment from one of his patients. He kept that note among his prized possessions; it was the first one he had ever received.
We should be quick to express gratitude for gifts, for hospitality, for free transportation, for the loan of tools or other equipment, for help with our work projects, for every form of kindness and service that is shown to us.
The trouble is that too often we take these things for granted. Or we are too undisciplined to sit down and write a letter. In that case, we must work at the habit of thanksgiving, developing an awareness of all that we have for which to be grateful, then training ourselves to acknowledge these things promptly. The promptness of the acknowledgment doubles the thanks.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 29:18)
The first part of today’s verse is “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This is usually taken to mean that people must have goals toward which they are working. They must have a definite program in mind with a clear picture of the results desired and the steps leading to them.
But the word vision here means “a revelation from God.” And the word “perish” means “cast off restraint.” So the thought is that where the Word of God is not known and respected, the people run wild.
The contrast is found in the second half of the verse: “He that keepeth the law, happy is he.” In other words, the path of blessedness is found in obeying the will of God as it is found in the Word.
Let us think about the first part of the verse. Where people abandon the knowledge of God, they become unrestrained in their conduct. Suppose, for instance, that a nation turns away from God and explains everything on the basis of the evolutionary process. That means that man is the result of purely natural processes and not the creation of a supernatural Being. If that is so, then there is no basis for ethical standards. All our behavior is the inevitable result of natural causes. As Lunn and Lean point out in The New Morality, “If the first living cell evolved by a purely natural process on the surface of a lifeless planet, if the mind of man be as much the product of natural and material forces as a volcano, it is as irrational to condemn South African politicians for apartheid as to condemn a volcano for erupting lava.”
If God’s Word is rejected, then there are no absolute standards of right and wrong. Ethical truths depend on the individuals or groups holding them. People become the judge of their own conduct. Their philosophy is “If it feels good, do it.” The fact that “everyone’s doing it” is all the justification that is needed.
Thus the people cast off restraint. They abandon themselves to fornication, adultery and homosexuality. Crime and violence increase to alarming proportions. Corruption spreads throughout business and government. Lying and deceit become accepted forms of behavior. The fabric of society disintegrates.
“…but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Even when the rest of the world runs riot, the individual believer can find the good life in believing and obeying God’s Word. This is the only way to go.
“Surely I come quickly.” (Rev. 22:20)
As we approach the end of the age, it is predictable that many will abandon the hope of Christ’s any-moment return. But the truth is still there whether men hold it or not.
The fact is that the Lord Jesus may come at any time. We do not know the day or hour of the Bridegroom’s return for His bride; this means that He could come today. There is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before we hear His shout, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. True, the church expects to experience tribulation throughout its time on earth, but the horrors of the Tribulation period are not part of its destiny. If the church has to go through, the Tribulation, that would mean that the Lord couldn’t come for at least seven years, because we certainly are not in the Tribulation now, and when it does come, it will last for seven years.
There is a large body of Scripture texts that teach us to be ready at all times for the Savior to appear. Notice the following: “…nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11).
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:12).
“The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5).
“For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37).
“…the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:8).
“…the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9).
“But the end of all things is at hand’”(1 Pet. 4:7). These verses seem designed to create the impression on the mind that the Lord’s coming is imminent. It is an event for which we should be watching and waiting. We should be busy in His service, faithfully carrying out our stewardship.
R. A. Torrey once said, “The imminent return of our Lord is the great Bible argument for a pure, unselfish, devoted, unworldly, active life of service. In much of our preaching we urge people to live holy and work diligently because death is swiftly coming, but this is never the Bible argument. The Bible argument always is, Christ is coming; be ready when He comes.”
Our responsibility is clear. Our loins should be girded, our lights should be burning, and we should be like those who wait for their Lord (see Luke 12: 35, 36). Let us not succumb to those who teach that we have no right to expect Him at any moment. Rather let us believe in His imminent return, teach it enthusiastically, and let the truth shine out in our lives.
“By the grace of God I am what 1 am.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
One of the self-inflicted agonies of life is trying to be someone you were never intended to be. Everyone is a unique creation of God. As someone has said, “When He made us, He threw away the pattern.” He never intended us to try to change it.
Maxwell Maltz wrote, “‘You’ as a personality are not in competition with any other personality simply because there is not another person on the face of the earth like you, or in your particular class. You are an individual. You are unique. You are not ‘like’ any other person and can never become ‘like’ any other person. You are not ‘supposed’ to be like any other person and no other person is ‘supposed’ to be like you.”
“God did not create a standard person and in some way label that person by saying ‘this is it.’ He made every human being individual and unique just as He made every snowflake individual and unique.”
Everyone of us is the product of the wisdom and love of God. In making us as we are, He knew exactly what He was doing. Our appearance, our intelligence and our talents represent His best for us. Anyone with infinite knowledge and infinite love would have done the same.
Now then, to wish we were someone else is an insult to God. It suggests that He has made a mistake or has withheld from us something that would have been for our good.
Lusting to be like someone else is futile. There is a finality about what God has made us and what He has given us. Of course we can imitate the virtues of other people, but what we are thinking about here is what we are as God’s creation.
If we go through life dissatisfied with God’s design for our lives, we will be paralyzed with feelings of inferiority. But it is not a question of inferiority. We are not inferior—just individual and unique.
The attempt to be someone else is doomed to end in failure. It is as unthinkable as a little finger trying to do the work of the heart. That was not God’s design and it simply won’t work.
The proper attitude is to say with Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). We should rejoice in what we are as a distinct design of God and determine to use what we are and have to the maximum for His glory. There are many things we won’t be able to do, but there are other things we can do that others cannot.
“I can of mine own self do nothing.” (John 5:30)
Twice in John 5 the Lord Jesus says that He can do nothing of Himself. In verse 19, He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself…” Then again in verse 30 He says, “I can of mine own self do nothing…”
When we first read these verses, we are apt to feel disappointed. They seem to say that Jesus was limited in His power, just like ourselves. But if He is God, as He claimed to be, He must be omnipotent. How then could He say that He could do nothing of Himself? Indeed, the enemies of the Gospel have used these verses to show that Jesus was just a man with all the limitations of humanity.
But look more closely! Our Lord was not speaking of His physical power. What He was insisting was that He was so devoted to the will of His Father that He could not do anything on His own initiative. He was so morally perfect that He could not act in self will. He wanted nothing apart from the will of God.
You and I cannot say that we can do nothing of ourselves. Too often we act independently of the Lord. We make decisions without consulting Him. We yield to temptation with full knowledge that we are sinning. We choose our own will above His. The Lord Jesus could do none of these things.
Therefore, instead of suggesting that Jesus Christ was weak and finite, the verses prove the very opposite—that He was divinely perfect. This is made clear by reading the verses in their entirety rather than stopping at midpoint. What Jesus said in verse 19 was, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” In other words, the Son cannot act independently of the Father, but He can do whatever the Father does. It is a claim to equality with God.
Then again in verse 30, Jesus said, “I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” This means that He made decisions only on the basis of instructions that He received from His Father, and that His complete submission to God’s will insured that these decisions were correct.
J. S. Baxter points out that this passage contains seven distinct claims by Christ to be equal with God. Equal in working (v. 19); equal in knowing (v. 20); equal in resurrecting (w. 21,28, 29); equal in judging (vv. 22, 27); equal in honor (v. 23); equal in regenerating (vv. 24, 25); equal in self-existence (v. 26). Our Savior is not a weak, frail creature with limited power but omnipotent God manifest in the flesh.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Gal. 6:2, 5)
A casual reading of these two verses might easily convince a person that they present a glaring contradiction. The first says we should bear one another’s burdens, the second that we must bear our own burden.
The word translated “burdens” in verse 2 means anything that weighs a person down spiritually, physically and emotionally. In its immediate context it refers to the heavy weight of guilt and despondency that has come into the life of a man who has been overtaken in a fault (v. 1). We help such a brother when we throw a loving arm around him and win him back to a life of fellowship with God and with God s people. But burdens also include the sorrows, troubles, trials and frustrations of life which come to us all. We bear one another’s burdens when we comfort, encourage, share our material things, and give constructive advice. It means to involve ourselves in the problems of others, even at a great personal cost. When we do this, we fulfill the law of Christ; which is to love one another. We demonstrate our love in a practical way by spending and being spent for others.
A different word is used for “burden” in verse 5. Here it means anything that has to be carried, without any hint as to whether the load is heavy or light. What Paul is saying here is that everyone will have to bear his own load of responsibility at the judgment seat of Christ. It will not be a question then as to how we compare with others. We will be judged on the basis of our own record, and the rewards will be passed out accordingly.
The connection between the two verses seems to be this. A person who restores one who is overtaken in a fault might fall into the trap of feeling himself superior. In bearing the burdens of the fallen brother, he might somehow think of himself as being on a higher level of spirituality. He sees himself as comparing favorably with the sinning saint. Paul reminds him that when he stands before the Lord, he will have to give account for himself, for his own work and for his own character, and not for the other person. He will have to bear his own load of accountability.
So the two verses do not fight against one another. Rather they live in the closest harmony.