May 1 “If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) God answers prayer. He answers it exactly the same way we would if we had infinite wisdom, love and power. Sometimes He gives us what we want, sometimes He gives us something better, but always what we need. Sometimes He answers our prayers quickly; at other times He teaches us to wait patiently. God answers prayer; sometimes when hearts are weak, He gives the very gifts His children seek. But often faith must learn ...
“If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14)
God answers prayer. He answers it exactly the same way we would if we had infinite wisdom, love and power. Sometimes He gives us what we want, sometimes He gives us something better, but always what we need. Sometimes He answers our prayers quickly; at other times He teaches us to wait patiently. God answers prayer; sometimes when hearts are weak, He gives the very gifts His children seek. But often faith must learn a deeper rest, And trust God’s silence when He cannot speak; For He whose name is love will send the best. Stars may burn out, nor mountain walls endure, But God is true, His promises are sure
To those who seek. There are conditions to prayer. Often what seems like a blank check (“if ye ask anything”) has conditions attached (“in My Name”). Individual prayer promises must be considered in the light of all other Scriptures on the subject.
There are mysteries to prayer. It is easy to think up all kinds of questions about the “whys” and “wherefores.” But, for the most part, they are not edifying. It is better to pray and to see God work than to solve all the mysteries connected with prayer. I like what Archbishop Temple said: “When I pray, coincidences happen. When I do not, they don’t.”
When we pray to God in the Name of the Lord Jesus, it is just the same as if He were making those requests to the Father. This is what gives such significance and power to our prayers. And this is why we never come closer to omnipotence than when we pray. Of course, we will never be omnipotent, even in eternity. But when we pray in the Name of the Lord Jesus, we lay hold on infinite power.
The best prayer comes from a strong, inward necessity. This means that the more we are dependent on the Lord, the more effective our prayer life will be.
When we pray, we see things happen that would never happen according to the laws of chance or probability. Our lives crackle with the supernatural. They become radioactive with the Holy Spirit. And when we touch other lives, something happens for God.
We should be like the saint who said, “I measure my influence by the number who need my prayers and the number who pray for me.”
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” (Matt. 4:23)
A recurring problem among Christians is maintaining the proper balance between evangelism and social involvement. Evangelicals are often criticized for being too concerned with people’s souls and not enough with their bodies. In other words, they don’t spend enough time feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and educating the illiterate.
To say anything against any of these ministries would be like criticizing motherhood. The Lord Jesus certainly was concerned with man’s physical needs, and He taught His disciples to be concerned also. Historically, Christians have always been out in front in compassionate causes.
But as in so many other areas of life, it is a question of priorities. Which is more important, the temporal or the eternal? Judged on this basis, the Gospel is the main thing. Jesus intimated this when He said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe…” Doctrine comes before social involvement.
Some of man’s most pressing social problems are the result of false religion. For example, there are people dying of starvation who won’t kill a cow because they believe a relative may be reincarnated in the cow. When other nations send enormous shipments of grain, the rats eat more of it than the people, because no one will kill the rats. These people are shackled by false religion and Christ is the answer to their problems.
In trying to strike the proper balance between evangelism and social service, there is always the danger of becoming so occupied with “coffee and doughnuts” that the Gospel is crowded out. The history of Christian institutions is filled with such examples where the good has become the enemy of the best.
Certain forms of social involvement are questionable if not altogether “out.” The Christian should never participate in revolutionary attempts to overthrow the government. It is doubtful that he should resort to political processes to right social injustices. Neither the Lord nor the apostles did. More can be accomplished through the spread of the Gospel than through legislation.
The Christian who forsakes all to follow Christ, who sells all to give to the poor, who opens his heart and pocketbook whenever he sees a genuine case of need, need not have a guilty conscience over social unconcern.
“He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.”(Gal. 6:8)
No one can sin and get away with it. The results of sin are not only inescapable, they are extremely bitter. Sin may look like a harmless pussy but it eventually devours like a pitiless lion.
The supposed glamor of sin receives wide coverage. We seldom hear the other side. Few leave behind a description of their downfall and subsequent misery.
One of Ireland’s most brilliant authors did. This man began to dabble in unnatural vice. One thing led to another until he became embroiled in lawsuits and finally landed in prison, where he wrote the following:
“The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colour of things: There was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder…I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summoned up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.
“Along with these things, I had things that were different. I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a flaneur, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensations. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops…I ended in horrible disgrace.”
The essay in which he wrote the above confession bears the appropriate title De Profundis—out of the depths.
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 14:12)
Twice in the book of Proverbs (14:12 and 16:25) we learn that man’s judgment as to the right way is not reliable. What seems right to him ends in disaster and death.
During World War II the Navy gave a vivid illustration of this to its flight personnel. It was trying to impress on them that when they were flying at high altitudes and did not use their oxygen, they could not trust their senses. A pilot was instructed to enter a decompression chamber and sit down at a table on which was a sheet of mathematical problems. Oxygen was withdrawn from the chamber to simulate high altitudes. When the air became less dense, the pilot was told to solve the problems. He was also told that no one had done so correctly so far.
The pilot would breeze through the problems with utmost confidence that he had beaten the system. The problems seemed easy, and he had every assurance that he would receive a perfect score. There was no doubt in his mind about it.
But when oxygen was fed back into the chamber, and he emerged to have his paper corrected, he learned that his ability to solve problems had been seriously impaired by the lack of oxygen getting to his brain. The lesson was, of course, that if he flew at high altitudes without using his oxygen, he wouldn’t be able to trust his own judgment, and he would be inviting a crash.
Man’s judgment has been seriously impaired by sin. He feels absolutely sure that the way to heaven is by doing the best he can. If you tell him that no one has ever been saved by good works, he still has every confidence that he will be the first to beat the system. He is certain that God would never turn him away from the gates of heaven.
But he is wrong, and if he persists in his lack of “spiritual oxygen”, he will perish. His safety lies in trusting the Word of God rather than his own judgment. If he does so, he will repent of his sins and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Because God’s Word is truth, those who believe it can be confident that they are following the right route.
“Esau…for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” (Heb. 12:16)
It is often possible to barter life’s best values for a momentary gratification of physical appetite.
That is what Esau did. He had come in from the field tired and hungry. At that moment Jacob was cooking a pot of red bean soup. When Esau asked for a bowl of the “red stuff,” Jacob said, in effect, “Sure, I’ll give you some if you’ll sell me your birthright in return.”
Now the birthright was a valuable privilege which belonged to the oldest son in a family. It was valuable because it gave him the place of eventual headship in the family or tribe and entitled him to a double portion of the inheritance.
But at that moment, Esau considered the birthright worthless. What good is a birthright, he thought, to a man who is as famished as I? His hunger seemed so overpowering that he was willing to give almost anything to satisfy it. In order to pacify a momentary appetite, he was willing to surrender something that was of enduring value. And so he made the awful bargain!
A similar drama is being reenacted almost daily. Here is a man who has maintained a good testimony for years. He has the love of a fine family and the respect of his Christian fellowship. When he speaks, his words carry spiritual authority, and his service has the blessing of God upon it. He is a model believer.
But then comes the moment of fierce passion. It seems as if he is being consumed by the fires of sexual temptation. All of a sudden nothing seems so important as the satisfaction of this physical drive. He abandons the power of rational thought. He is willing to sacrifice everything for this illicit alliance.
And so he takes the insane plunge! For that moment of passion, he exchanges the honor of God, his own testimony, the esteem of his family, the respect of his friends and the power of a sterling Christian character. Or as Alexander Maclaren said, “He forgets his longings after righteousness; flings away the joys of divine communion; darkens his soul; ends his prosperity; brings down upon his head for all his remaining years a cataract of calamities; and makes his name and his religion a target for the barbed sarcasms of each succeeding generation of scoffers.”
In the classic words of Scripture, he sells his birthright for a mess of pottage.
“How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel.” (1 Sam. 16:1)
There comes a time in life when we must stop mourning over the past and get on with the work of the present.
God had rejected Saul from being king. The action was final, irreversible. But Samuel had difficulty in accepting it. He had been closely associated with Saul and he now wept to see his hopes disappointed. He continued to mourn a loss that would never be retrieved. God said, in effect, “Quit mourning. Go out and anoint Saul’s successor. My program has not failed. I have a better man than Saul to step onto the stage of Israel’s history.”
We would like to think that Samuel not only learned the lesson for himself but that he passed it on to David, who took Saul’s place as king. At any rate, David showed that he had learned the lesson well. As long as his baby was dying, he fasted and mourned, hoping that God would spare the child. But when the infant died, he bathed, changed his clothes, went to the Tabernacle to worship, then ate a meal. To those who questioned his realism, he said, “Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23).
This has a voice for us in our Christian life and service. Sometime it may happen that a ministry might be wrenched away from us and given to someone else. We grieve over the death of an avenue of service.
It may be that a friendship or a partnership is severed, and that, as a result, life seems empty and flat. Or that we have been cruelly disappointed by someone who was very dear to us. We mourn the death of a valued relationship.
Or it may be that some life-long dream is shattered or some ambition is frustrated. We mourn the death of a noble aspiration or vision.
There is nothing wrong about mourning, but it should not be prolonged to the extent that it cripples our effectiveness in meeting the challenges of the hour. E. Stanley Jones said he made it a point to “recover within the hour” from the griefs and blows of life. An hour may not be long enough for most of us, but we must not be forever inconsolable over circumstances that cannot be changed.
“He careth for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7)
The Bible is fairly full of tokens of God’s marvelous care for His people. During Israel’s forty-year trek through the wilderness, they ate food from heaven (Ex. 16:4), had an unfailing supply of water (1 Cor. 10:4), and were equipped with shoes that never wore out (Deut. 29:5).
It is the same in our wilderness journey. To prove this, our Lord reminds us how His care for us is so much greater than His care for birds, flowers and animals. He speaks of sparrows, for instance. He provides their food (Mt. 6:26). Not one of them is forgotten before God (Lu. 12:6). Not one falls to the ground without Him (Mt. 10:29), or, as H. A. Ironside said, “God attends the funeral of every sparrow.” The moral of the story, of course, is that we are of more value to Him than many sparrows (Mt. 10:31).
If He clothes the lilies of the field more beautifully than Solomon was ever attired, He will much more clothe us (Mt. 6:30). If He makes provision for the care of oxen, how much more will He care for our needs (1 Cor. 9:9).
As our High Priest, the Lord Jesus bears our names on His shoulders—the place of power (Ex. 28:9-12) and on His breast—the place of affection (Ex. 28:15-21). Also our names are engraved in the palms of His hands (Isa. 49:16), a fact that inevitably reminds us of the nail wounds He sustained for us at Calvary.
He knows the exact number of the hairs of our head (Mt. 10:30). He numbers our tossings at night and keeps count of our tears in His book (Psa. 56:8 RSV).
Whoever touches us, touches the apple of His eye (Zech. 2:8). No weapon formed against us can prosper (Isa. 54:17).
Whereas the heathen carry their gods on their shoulders (Isa. 46:7), our God carries His people (Isa. 46:4).
When we go through the waters, the rivers or the fire, He is with us (Isa. 43:2). In all our afflictions, He is afflicted (Isa. 63:9).
The One who guards us neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psa. 121:3, 4). Someone has called this characteristic of God “the divine insomnia”.
The Good Shepherd who gave His life for us will not withhold any good from us (John 10:11; Psa. 84:11; Rom. 8:32).
He cares for us from the beginning of the year to the end (Deut. 11:12). He bears us even to old age (Isa. 46:4). In fact He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). God really cares!
“And I will give thee the treasures of darkness.” (Isa. 45:3)
When God made this promise to Cyrus, He was speaking of material treasures from lands of darkness that Cyrus would conquer. But we are not doing violence to the verse when we take it and apply it in a spiritual sense.
There are treasures that are discovered in the dark nights of life that are never found in days of unrelieved sunshine.
For instance, God can give songs in the darkest night (Job 35:10) that would never have been sung if life were completely devoid of trials. That is why the poet wrote:
And many a rapturous minstrel among those sons of light
Will say of his sweetest music, “I learned it in the night;”
And many a rolling anthem that fills the Father’s home
Sobbed out its first rehearsal in the shade of a darkened room.
There is the darkness of what J. Stuart Holden calls “life’s inexplicable mysteries—the calamities, the catastrophes, the sudden and unexpected experiences which have come into life, and which all our forethought has not been sufficient to ward off; and life is dark because of them—sorrow, loss, disappointment, injustice, misconception of motive, slander.” These are often the things that make life dark.
Humanly speaking, none of us would choose this darkness, and yet its benefits are incalculable. Leslie Weatherhead wrote, “Like all men, I love and prefer the sunny uplands of experience, when health, happiness and success abound, but I have learned far more about God and life and myself in the darkness of fear and failure than I have ever learned in the sunshine. There are such things as the treasures of darkness. The darkness, thank God, passes. But what one learns in the darkness, one possesses for ever.”
“…the maid that is of the land of Israel.” (2 Ki. 5:4)
A person doesn’t have to be known by name in order to accomplish great exploits for God. In fact, some of the people in the Bible who won immortal fame are not identified by their names.
There were the three men who brought water to David from the well of Bethlehem (2 Sam. 23:13-17). David considered this act of devotion so remarkable that he would not drink the water but poured it out as a holy offering. But the men are unnamed.
We do not know the name of the great woman of Shunem (2 Ki. 4:8-17) but she will always be remembered for building a prophet’s chamber for Elisha.
It was an anonymous Jewish maid whose advice sent Naaman to Elisha to be healed of leprosy (2 Ki. 5:3-14). God knows her name, and that is all that matters.
Who was the woman who anointed the head of Jesus (Mt.26:6-13)? Matthew does not give her name, but her fame is announced in the words of our Lord, “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (v. 13).
The poor widow who cast her two mites into the treasury is another of “God’s unknowns” (Lu. 21:2). She illustrates the truth that it’s wonderful how much you can do for God if you don’t care who gets the credit.
Then, of course, there was the lad who gave his five loaves and two fishes to the Lord and saw them multiplied so that they fed 5000 men plus women and children (John 6:9). We don’t know his name but what he did will never be forgotten.
A final illustration! Paul sent two brothers to Corinth with Titus in connection with a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He does not give their names but he eulogizes them as messengers of the churches and the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 8:23).
As Gray looked at the tombstones of obscure people in a country churchyard, he wrote:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.
With God, however, nothing is wasted. He knows the names of all those who serve Him anonymously, and He will reward in a manner that is worthy of Himself.
“…we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor. 2:11)
It is important to know the devices of our enemy, the Devil. Otherwise he is likely to take advantage of us.
We should know that he is a liar, and has been from the beginning. In fact, he is the father of lies (John 8:44). He lied to Eve by misrepresenting God, and he has been doing it ever since.
He is a deceiver (Rev. 20:10). He mixes a little truth with error. He imitates or counterfeits everything that is of Cod. He poses as an angel of light and sends out his messengers as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14,15). He deceives by using great signs and lying wonders (2 Th. 2:9). He corrupts the minds of people (2 Cor. 11:3).
Satan is a murderous destroyer (John 8:44; 10:10). His goal and the goal of all his demons is to destroy. There is no exception to that statement. As a raging lion, he goes about seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He persecutes God’s people (Rev. 2:10) and destroys his own slaves through drugs, demon-ism, alcohol, immorality and related vices.
He is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). The word “devil” (Gr. diabolos) means accuser or slanderer, and as his name is, so is he. All those who slander the brethren are doing the devil’s work.
He sows discouragement. Paul warned the Corinthians that if they did not forgive the repentant backslider, Satan might gain an advantage by plunging the brother into extreme discouragement (2 Cor. 2:7-11).
Just as Satan, speaking through Peter, sought to dissuade Jesus from going to the Cross (Mark 8:31-33), so he encourages Christians to spare themselves from the shame and suffering of crossbearing.
A favorite ploy of the Wicked One is to divide and conquer. He seeks to sow strife and discord among the saints, knowing that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Sad to say, he has been all too successful in this strategy.
He blinds the minds of unbelievers lest the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ should shine unto them and they should be saved (2 Cor. 4:4). He blinds them by amusements, false religion, procrastination and pride. He occupies them with feelings rather than facts, and with themselves rather than Christ.
Finally, Satan attacks right after great spiritual victories or mountaintop experiences, when the danger of pride is greatest. He looks for a weak spot in our armor, and shoots straight for it.
The best defense against the Devil is to live in unclouded fellowship with the Lord, covered by the protective gear of a holy character.
“Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and liath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” (Jer. 48:11)
Jeremiah here takes an illustration from the art of wine-making to teach us that a life of ease does not produce strength of character.
Whenever wine is being fermented in casks or vats, lees or dregs settle to the bottom. If the wine is left undisturbed, it becomes unpalatable. So the vintner must pour out the wine from vessel to vessel, eliminating the dregs and impurities. When he does this, the wine developes strength, aroma, color and flavor.
Moab had lived a life of ease. He had never suffered the disruption of going into captivity. He had insulated himself from troubles, trials and privations. The result was that his life was flat and insipid. It lacked fragrance and piquancy.
What is true of wine is true of us also. We need disruption, opposition, difficulties and disturbances to rid us of impurities and to develop the graces of a Christ-filled life.
Our natural tendency is to protect ourselves from anything that would unsettle us. We strive unceasingly to nestle.
But God’s will for us is that our lives should be a perpetual crisis of dependence on Him. He is forever stirring up the nest.
In her biography of Hudson Taylor, Mrs. Howard Taylor wrote: “This life that was to be made a blessing the wide world over must pass through a very different process (i.e., different from being settled on his lees), including much of that emptying and re-emptying ‘from vessel to vessel’, so painful to the lower nature, from which we are being refined.”
When we realize what the Divine Vintner is seeking to accomplish in our lives, it saves us from rebellion and teaches us submission and dependence. We learn to say:
Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
So shalt thou wondering own His way,
How wise, how strong His hand.
Far, far above thy thought
His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought
That caused thy needless fear.
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21)
Some in the church in Corinth were trying to make the Gospel intellectually respectable. Their preoccupation with the wisdom of this world made them sensitive to those aspects of the Christian message which were offensive to the philosophers.
There was no thought of their abandoning the faith, only of redefining it so that it would be more palatable to the scholars.
Paul came down hard on this attempt to marry the world’s wisdom to God’s. He knew only too well that the achieving of intellectual status would result in a loss of spiritual power.
Let’s face it! There is that about the Christian message that is scandalous to Jews and foolish to Gentiles. And not only that—most Christians are not what the world would call wise, mighty or noble. Sooner or later we have to face up to the fact that instead of belonging to the intelligentsia, we are foolish, weak, base, despised—in fact, we are nobodies as far as the world is concerned.
But the wonderful thing is that God uses that message, which seems to be foolish, in saving those who believe. And God uses nonpersons like us to accomplish His purposes. In choosing such unlikely instruments, He confounds all the pomp and pretension of this world, eliminates any possibility of our boasting, and insures that He alone gets the credit.
This is not to say that there is no place for scholarship. Of course there is. But unless that scholarship is combined with deep spirituality, it becomes a deadening and dangerous thing. When scholarship sits in judgment on the Word of God, claiming, for instance, that some writers used more reliable sources than others, it represents departure from the truth of God. And when we court the approbation of scholars like that, we are vulnerable to all their heresies.
Paul did not come to the Corinthians with excellence of speech or of wisdom. He determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He knew that power lay in the simple, straightforward presentation of the Gospel, not in occupation with knotty problems or unprofitable theories, or in the worship of intellectualism.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt. 18:6)
It would be difficult to imagine a more effective and foolproof method of drowning than this. The millstone here was not the small one that was operated by hand, but the great one that was turned by an ass. To have a millstone like that secured around one’s neck would mean speedy and inescapable drowning.
At first we might be startled by the vehemence of the Savior’s words. He seems to thunder out with unusual condemnation against the sin of offending a little one. What is it that provokes such anger?
Let us take an illustration! Here is a minister of the Gospel who has a constant line of people coming to him for counseling. Among them is a young person who is enslaved by some sexual sin. This young person needs help—desperately. He (or she) looks to the minister as one in whom he can have confidence, as one who will help him find the way of deliverance. But instead of that, the minister finds himself inflamed with passion, he makes improper advances, and soon he has led his counselee back into immorality. The young person is shattered by this betrayal of trust and is thoroughly disillusioned by the religious world. It may be that he is crippled spiritually for the rest of his life.
Or the offender may be a college professor who labors tirelessly to rob his students of whatever faith they may have. By sowing doubts and denials, he undermines the authority of the Scriptures and attacks the Person of our Lord.
Again it may be a Christian whose behavior stumbles a young believer. Overstepping the fine line between liberty and license, he is seen engaging in some questionable activity. The young Christian interprets his behavior as acceptable Christian conduct and leaves the path of godly separation to plunge into a life of worldliness and compromise.
We should be solemnly warned by the words of the Savior that it is a tremendously serious thing to contribute to the ethical, moral or spiritual delinquency of a minor who belongs to Him. Better to drown in literal water than to drown in a sea of guilt, disgrace and remorse for causing one of His little ones to fall into sin.
“Let there be no…silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting.” (Eph. 5:4 RSV)
Excessive levity should be avoided because it inevitably results in a leakage of spiritual power.
The preacher deals with serious issues, with life and death, with time and eternity. He may deliver a masterpiece of a message, and yet if there is undue humor in it, people are apt to remember the jokes and forget the rest.
Oftentimes the power of a message can be dissipated by lighthearted conversation afterwards. A solemn Gospel appeal may result in the hush of eternity coming over a meeting. Yet when the people rise to leave, there is the buzz of social chatter. People talk about the football scores or the business of the day. Little wonder that the Holy Spirit is grieved and nothing happens for God.
Elders who are forever cracking jokes have little real spiritual impact on young people who look to them for inspiration. They might think that their wit ingratiates them with the young, but the truth is that the latter feel a keen sense of disappointment and disillusionment.
A form of levity that is especially harmful is making puns on the Bible, using passages of Scripture to get a laugh rather than to change a life. Every time we pun on the Bible, we lower its sense of authority in our own lives and in the lives of others.
This does not mean that a believer must be a gloomy Gus, without a trace of humor showing. It means rather that he should control his humor so that it will not cancel out his message.
Kierkegaard tells of the circus clown who ran into a town to cry out that the circus tent on the outskirts was on fire. The people listened to his cries and roared with laughter. He had been clowning so much that he had lost his credibility.
Charles Simeon kept a picture of Henry Martyn in his study. Wherever Simeon went in the room, it seemed that Martyn was following him with his eyes and saying, “Be earnest, be earnest; don’t trifle, don’t trifle.” And Simeon would reply, “Yes, I will be in earnest; I will, I will be in earnest; I will not trifle, for souls are perishing, and Jesus is to be glorified.”
“Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer,” (1 Cor. 10:10)
The Israelites were chronic complainers as they trekked through the desert. They complained about the water supply. They complained about the food supply. They complained about their leaders. When God gave them manna from heaven, they soon grew tired of it and longed for the leeks, onions and garlic of Egypt. Although there were no food markets or shoe stores in the wilderness, God provided an unfailing supply of groceries for forty years, and shoes that never wore out. Yet instead of being grateful for this miraculous provision, the Israelites complained without letup.
Times haven’t changed. Men today complain about the weather: it’s either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. They complain about the food, like lumpy gravy or burnt toast. They complain about their work and wages, then about unemployment when they have neither. They find fault with the government and its taxes, at the same time demanding ever-increasing benefits and services. They are unhappy with other people, with their car, with service in the restaurant. They complain about minor pains and aches, and wish they were taller, thinner, better looking. No matter how good God has been to them, they say, “What’s He done for me lately?”
It must be a trial to God to have people like us on His hands. He has been so good to us, providing not only the necessities of life, but luxuries which His own Son did not enjoy when He was here upon earth. We have good food, pure water, comfortable homes, clothes in abundance. We have sight, hearing, appetite, memory and so many other mercies that we take for granted. He has protected us, guided us and sustained us. Best of all, He has given us eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And what thanks does He receive? Too often He hears nothing but a tirade of complaints.
I had a friend in Chicago years ago who had a good answer when asked, “How are you?” He would always reply, “It would be a sin to complain.” I often think of that when tempted to murmur. It’s a sin to complain. The antidote to complaining is thanksgiving. When we remember all that the Lord has done for us, we realize that we have no reason to complain.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)
The world is presented in the New Testament as a kingdom that is opposed to God. Satan is its ruler, and all nonbelievers are subjects. This kingdom makes its appeal to man through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. It is a society in which man tries to make himself happy without God, and in which the name of Christ is unwelcome. Dr. Gleason L. Archer Jr. says that the world is “the organized system of rebellion, self-seeking and enmity toward God which characterizes the human race in opposition to God.”
The world has its own amusements, politics, art, music, religion, thought-patterns and life-style. It seeks to force everyone to conform and hates those who refuse. This explains its hatred of the Lord Jesus.
Christ died to deliver us from the world. Now the world is crucified to us and we to it. It is positive treason for believers to love the world in any of its forms. In fact, the Apostle John says that those who love the world are the enemies of God.
Believers are not of the world, but they are sent into it to testify against it, to denounce its works as evil, and to preach salvation from it through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians are called to walk in separation from the world. In the past, this may have been too narrowly limited to dancing, theaters, smoking, drinking, card playing and gambling. But it includes much more. Much of what comes over the TV is worldly, appealing to the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh. Pride is worldly, whether it be pride of titles, degrees, salary, heritage or a big name. Luxurious living is worldly, whether palatial homes, gourmet foods, attention-getting clothing and jewelry or prestige cars. So is a life of ease and pleasure, spent largely on travel cruises, shopping sprees, sports and recreation. Our ambitions for ourselves and for our children may be worldly, even while we appear to be spiritual and pious. Finally, sex outside of marriage is a form of worldliness.
The more devoted we are to the Savior and the more sold-out we are to Him, the less time we will have for worldly pleasures and amusements. C. Stacey Woods said, “The measure of our devotion to Christ is the measure of our separation from the world.”
We are but strangers here, we do not crave
A home on earth, which gave Thee but a grave;
Thy cross has severed ties which bound us here,
Thyself our treasure in a brighter sphere.
J. G. Deck
“…whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea and will rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18)
It is a common failing among men to acknowledge no good beyond their own private circle. It is as if they have a monopoly on excellence and refuse to admit that anyone else can be or do anything comparable. They remind us of the humorous bumper-sticker, “I’m O.K. You’re so so.” Even this would be a grudging admission for some of them to make.
Their church is the only right one. Their service for the Lord is what really counts. Their views on all subjects are the only authoritative ones. They are the people and wisdom will die with them.
Paul did not belong to that school. He recognized that others were also preaching the Gospel. True, some were doing it out of jealousy, hoping to annoy him. But he could still give them credit for proclaiming the Gospel, and could still rejoice that Christ was being preached.
In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, Donald Guthrie wrote, “It takes great grace for independent thinkers to acknowledge that truth can flow in channels other than their own.”
It is a distinctive feature of the cults that their leaders profess to speak the last word on all matters of faith and morals. They demand unquestioning obedience to their pronouncements, and seek to isolate their followers from contact with any dissenting views.
In the seldom-read introduction to the King James Version of the Bible, the translators wrote of “self-conceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil.” The lesson for us is to be large-souled, to be willing to acknowledge good wherever we find it, and to realize that no believer or Christian fellowship can afford to claim that they are the only right ones or that they have a corner on the truth.
“…he spake unadvisedly with his lips.” (Psa. 106:33)
When the people of Israel grumbled about the lack of water at Kadesh, God told Moses that water would flow if he would speak to the rock. But Moses was fed up with the people by now, so he lashed out at them, saying, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of the rock?” Then he smote the rock twice with his rod. By his angry words and disobedient action, he misrepresented God to the people. The result was that he forfeited the privilege of leading the children of Israel into the promised land (Num. 20:1-13).
It is easy for a man of burning zeal to be intemperate with other believers. He is so self-disciplined whereas they need to be forever babied along. He is so knowledgeable and they so ignorant.
But what he must learn is that they are still God’s beloved people, and that the Lord will not tolerate any verbal abuse of them. It is one thing to preach the Word of God in such power that people are convicted and torn up. But it is quite another thing to scold them severely as an expression of personal irritation. This will cut a man off from God’s best rewards.
When David’s illustrious men are listed in 2 Samuel 23, there is one name that is conspicuous by its absence. It is the name of Joab, David’s commander-in-chief. But why is his name missing? It has been suggested that the reason is that Joab used the sword on some of David’s friends. If so, the incident is full of warning for us when we are tempted to use our tongues as a sword on God’s people.
When James and John, the sons of thunder, wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, Jesus said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55). How apropos the rebuke is to us when we speak unadvisedly with our lips to those who are His not only by creation (as the Samaritans were), but by redemption as well.
“…the judgment of God is according to truth.” (Rom. 2:2)
God is the only One in the universe who is perfectly qualified to judge. We can be everlastingly thankful that He has not entrusted the final judgment to us. Think of some of the disabilities under which an earthly judge works. It is impossible for him to be completely objective. He may be influenced by the prominence of the defendant or by his appearance. He may be influenced by bribes or by other more subtle considerations. He cannot always know if a witness is lying. Or if not lying, the witness may be withholding the truth. Or again, he may be shading the truth. Or finally, he may be sincere but inaccurate.
The judge cannot always know the motives of those with whom he deals—and it is important to establish motives in many legal cases.
Even the polygraph or lie detector can be fooled. Hardened criminals can sometimes control their physiological reactions to guilt.
But God is the perfect Judge. He has absolute knowledge of all acts, thoughts and motives. He can judge the secrets of men’s hearts. He knows all the truth; nothing can be withheld from Him. He is not a respecter of persons but treats each one impartially. He knows the mental ability with which each one is endowed; an imbecile may not be as responsible as others for his actions. He knows the differing moral strengths of His subjects; some may resist temptation more easily than others. He knows the differing privileges and opportunities each one has, and the extent to which a person sins against light. He detects sins of omission as easily as sins of commission, secret sins as easily as public scandal.
Therefore we need not fear that the heathen who has never heard the Gospel will be treated unjustly. Or that those who have suffered wrongfully through life will be unavenged. Or that wicked tyrants who have escaped in this life will go unpunished.
The Judge on the bench is a perfect Judge, and His justice will be according to truth and therefore absolutely perfect.
“…no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Lu. 5:37, 38)
The bottles referred to here were actually containers made from the hides of animals. When these wineskins were new, they were pliable and somewhat elastic. But when they became old, they were stiff and inflexible. If new wine was placed in old skins, the fermenting action of the wine would build up too much pressure for the old wineskins to accommodate, and they would burst.
Here in Luke 5, Jesus uses this to illustrate the clash between Judaism and Christianity. He is saying that “the outmoded forms, ordinances, traditions and rituals of Judaism were too rigid to hold the joy, the exuberance and the energy of the new dispensation.”
This chapter contains dramatic illustrations. In verses 18-21, we see four men tearing up the roof of a house in order to bring a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. Their innovative, unconventional method is an illustration of the new wine. In verse 21, the scribes and Pharisees begin to find fault with Jesus; they are the old wineskins. Again, in verses 27-29 we have Levi’s enthusiastic response to Christ’s call, and the banquet he held to introduce his friends to Jesus. That is the new wine. In verse 30, the scribes and Pharisees grumble again. They are the old wineskins.
We see this in all of life. People get set in traditional ways of doing things and find it hard to adjust to change. The housewife has her own way of doing the dishes and finds it irritating to see someone else fumbling around in her sink. The husband has his own ideas as to how a car should be driven, and nearly loses his senses when wife or children drive.
But the great lesson for all of us is in the spiritual realm. We should be flexible enough to allow for the joy, the effervescence, the enthusiasm of the Christian faith, even if it comes in unconventional ways. We neither want nor need the stodginess and cold formalism of the Pharisees, who sat on the sidelines criticizing when God was working.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)
One day some Greeks came to Philip with the noble request, “Sir, we would see Jesus!” But why did they want to see Him? Perhaps they wanted to take Him back to Athens as a popular new philosopher. Or perhaps they wanted to save Him from crucifixion and death, which now seemed inevitable.
Jesus answered with one of the great laws of harvest: a kernel of grain must fall into the ground and die if it is to become productive. If He were to save Himself from death, He would abide alone. He would enjoy the glories of heaven by Himself; there would be no saved sinners there to share His glory. But if He died, He would provide a way of salvation by which many would enjoy eternal life. It was imperative for Him that He die a sacrificial death rather than live a comfortable life.
T. G. Ragland once said, “Of all plans of ensuring success, the most certain is Christ’s own, becoming a grain of wheat, falling into the ground and dying. If we refuse to become grains of wheat…if we will neither sacrifice prospects, nor risk character, and property and health; nor, when we are called, relinquish home, and break family ties, for Christ’s sake; then we shall abide alone. But if we wish to be fruitful, we must follow our Blessed Lord Himself, by becoming a corn of wheat, and dying, then we shall bring forth much fruit.
Years ago I read of a group of missionaries in Africa who had labored tirelessly for years without seeing any lasting fruit for God. In desperation, they finally announced a conference where they would get before God in prayer and fasting. In the discussion that followed, one of the missionaries said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see blessing until a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies.” Shortly afterward, that same missionary took sick and died. Then the harvest began - the blessing which he had predicted.
Samuel Zwemer wrote:
There is no gain but by a loss,
You cannot save but by a cross;
The corn of wheat to multiply
Must fall into the ground and die.
Wherever you ripe fields behold,
Waving to God their sheaves of gold,
Be sure some corn of wheat has died,
Some soul there has been crucified—
Someone has wrestled, wept and prayed,
And fought hell’s legions undismayed.
“Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isa. 2:22)
When we give a man or woman the place in our life that only God should have, we are in for a bitter disappointment. We will soon learn that the best of men are men at best. Although they might have some very fine qualities, yet they still have feet of iron and clay. This may sound like cynicism, but it is not. It is realism.
When the invaders were threatening Jerusalem, the people of Judah looked to Egypt for deliverance. Isaiah denounced them for this misplaced trust, saying, “Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh King of Egypt to all that trust in him”(Isa. 36:6). And Jeremiah said later, under similar circumstances, “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5).
The psalmist showed genuine insight on this subject when he wrote, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Psa. 118:8,9). And again, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psa. 146:3, 4).
Of course, we must realize that there is a certain sense in which we have to trust one another. What would a marriage be, for instance, without a certain measure of trust and respect? In business life, the use of checks as money is based on a system of mutual trust. We trust doctors to diagnose and prescribe properly. We trust the labels on cans and packages in the food market. It would be almost impossible to live in any society without some confidence in our fellows.
The danger comes when we trust man to do what only God can do, when we take the Lord off the throne and put man on it. Anyone who displaces God in our affections, who takes His place as our confidence, who usurps any of His prerogatives in our lives—that one is certain to disappoint us bitterly. We will realize too late that man is not worthy of our trust.
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)
Twice in His great high priestly prayer, our Lord prayed that His people might be one (verses 21 and 22, 23). This prayer for unity has been seized as Scriptural support for the ecumenical movement—a great organizational union of all professing Christian churches. Unfortunately this ecumenical unity is achieved through abandoning or reinterpreting fundamental Christian doctrines. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “By one of our time’s larger ironies, ecumenicalism is triumphant just when there is nothing to be ecumenical about; the various religious bodies are likely to find it easy to join together only because, believing little, they correspondingly differ about little.”
Is this the kind of unity that the Lord Jesus was praying for in John 17? We think not. He said that the unity He had in mind would result in the world’s believing that God had sent Him. It is extremely doubtful that any external federation would have this effect.
The Lord defined the unity He had in mind when He said, “…as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” He also said, “… even as we are one, I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” What unity does the Father and Son share which we can also have a part in? Not the fact of their common deity; we can never share in that. I would suggest that the Lord Jesus was referring to a unity based on common moral likeness. He was praying that believers might be one in exhibiting the character of God and of Christ to the world. This would mean lives of righteousness, holiness, grace, love, purity, longsuffering, self-control, meekness, joy and generosity. Ronald Sider suggests in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger that the unity for which Christ prayed was manifested when the early Christians shared freely with one another whenever there was need. They had a true spirit of koinonia or community. “Jesus’ prayer that the loving unity of His followers would be so striking that it would convince the world that He had come from the Father has been answered—at least once! It happened in the Jerusalem church. The unusual quality of their life together gave power to the apostolic preaching” (see Acts 2:45-47; 4:32-35).
Such unity today would have a profound impression on the world. As Christians presented a united testimony in radiating the life of the Lord Jesus, unbelievers would be convicted of their own sinfulness and would thirst for the living water. Today’s tragedy is that many Christians are scarcely distinguishable from their worldly neighbors. Under such circumstances, there is little inducement for unbelievers to be converted.
“Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished.” (Prov. 13:11)
“You may have already won $100,000!” With this and similar come-ons, we are constantly barraged by the temptation to participate in some form of gambling. The housewife shopping in the supermarket is enticed by the latest sweepstakes. The average citizen is encouraged to send his name (together with a subscription for a magazine) to participate in an upcoming lottery involving millions. Or it may be a bingo contest in which you are almost assured of being a winner.
Then, of course, there are the more obvious forms of gambling—roulette, horse-racing, dog-racing, the numbers game, etc.
What does the Bible have to say about all this? Nothing good.
It says, “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labor shall increase” (Prov. 13:11).
It says, “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him” (Prov. 28:22).
It says, “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool” (Jer. 17:11 NIV).
While the Ten Commandments do not explicitly say, “Thou shalt not gamble,” they do say, “Thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20:17), and what is gambling but a form of covetousness?
Gambling will always have an evil connotation for believers when they remember that Roman soldiers gambled for the Savior’s seamless robe at the scene of His crucifixion.
Consider also the poverty and grief that chronic gamblers have brought to their families, the crimes that have been committed to recoup losses, and the evil associations frequently linked with gambling, and it will be seen that it should have no place in a Christian’s life.
After reminding Timothy that the believer should be content with food and raiment, Paul warned that “they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).
“…go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” (Mt. 18:15b)
Someone has done or said something which has offended you or bothered you in some way. The Bible says to go and tell him his fault, but you don’t want to do it; it’s too difficult.
So you start brooding about it. You begin rehearsing what he has done, how he was utterly in the wrong. When you should be working, your mind is going over all the details, and your gastric juices become sulphurous. When you should be sleeping, you resurrect the unpleasant incident, and the pressure builds up in the boiler. The Bible says to go and tell him his fault, but you just can’t face up to it.
You try to think of some way in which you can get the message across to him anonymously. Or you hope that something will happen to shame him for what he has done. It doesn’t happen. You know what you ought to do, but you dread the trauma of a face to face confrontation.
By this time, the ordeal is harming you a lot more than it is harming him. People can tell by your glum appearance that something is bothering you. When they talk to you, your mind is off in another hemisphere. Your work suffers because you are preoccupied. In general, you are too distracted to be effective. And the Bible still says, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” By a tremendous display of willpower, you have refrained from talking to anyone else about it, but finally the pressure becomes unbearable. You break down and tell one person-just for his prayer fellowship, of course. Instead of giving you the expected sympathy, he says, “Why don’t you go and talk to the one who has offended you?”
That does it! You decide to bite the bullet. After rehearsing your speech, you obey the Word by telling him his fault. He takes it surprisingly well, is sorry that it has happened, and asks your forgiveness. The interview is terminated by prayer.
As you walk away a great load is lifted from your shoulders. Your stomach quits churning and your metabolism returns to normal. You kind of hate yourself for not having had the sense to obey the Scriptures more promptly.
“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)
God’s instructions to King Saul were clear enough. Slay the Amalekites and destroy all their possessions. All of them. Don’t take any spoil. But Saul spared King Agag and the choicest of the sheep, oxen, fatlings and lambs.
When Samuel met Saul in the morning at Gilgal, Saul confidently announced that he had done exactly what the Lord commanded. But at that very moment, a barnyard choir began its oratorio-sheep bleating and oxen lowing. Very embarrassing!
Samuel wanted to know, of course, how the sheep were bleating if Saul had killed them all. The King then tried to cover his disobedience by blaming the people and by excusing them on religious grounds. He said, “The people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord.”
It was then he heard God’s prophet thunder out the convicting words, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”
Obedience is more important than rituals, sacrifices and offerings. I heard once of a family who treated their mother with cool contempt and disobedience during her lifetime. But when she died, they dressed her corpse in a Dior original. A despicable and futile attempt to atone for years of rebellion and discourtesy!
We often hear people defending an unscriptural position or unscriptural associations on the ground that they can have a wider influence in this way. But God is not deceived by such specious rationalizations. He wants our obedience—He will take care of our sphere of influence. The truth is that when we are disobedient, our influence is negative. Only when we are walking in fellowship with the Lord can we exert a godly influence on others.
William Gurnall said, “Sacrifice without obedience is sacrilege.” And it becomes even worse when we cloke our disobedience with some pious, religious excuse. God is not hoodwinked.
“…whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?” (Mt. 23:17)
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day taught that if a man swore by the Temple, he wasn’t necessarily obligated to do what he promised. But if he swore by the gold of the Temple, then that was a different story. He was bound by that oath. They made the same false distinction between swearing by the altar and swearing by the sacrifice on it. The former oath could be broken; the latter was binding.
The Lord told them that their sense of values was completely twisted. It is the Temple that gives the gold special value, and it is the altar that sets apart the sacrifice in a special way.
The Temple was the dwelling place of God on earth. The highest honor that any gold could have was to be used in that dwelling. Its connection with the House of God set it apart in a unique way. So it was with the altar and the sacrifice on it. The altar was an integral part of the divine service. No animal could be more highly honored than to be sacrificed on the altar. If animals could have ambitions, they would have all aimed for that destiny.
A tourist bought an inexpensive amber necklace in a secondhand shop in Paris. He became curious when he had to pay heavy customs in New York. He went to a jeweler to have it appraised and was offered $25,000. A second jeweler offered $35,000. When he asked why it was so valuable, the jeweler put it under a magnifying glass. The tourist read, “From Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine.” It was the name of Napoleon that made the necklace so valuable.
The application should be clear. In ourselves we are nothing and can do nothing. It is our association with the Lord and with His service that sets us apart in a special way. As Spurgeon said, “Your connection with Calvary is the most wonderful thing about you.”
You may have an unusually brilliant mind. That is something to be thankful for. But remember this. It is only as that mind is used for the Lord Jesus Christ that it ever reaches its highest destiny. It is Christ that sanctifies your intellect.
You may have talents for which the world is willing to pay a high price. You may even think that the Church is too insignificant for them. But it is the Church that sanctifies your talents, and not your talents that sanctify the Church.
You may have bundles of money. You can hoard it, spend it on self-indulgence, or use it for the Kingdom. The greatest use to which it can be put is to spend it in furthering the cause of Christ. It is the Kingdom that sanctifies your wealth, not vice versa.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18)
The Bible teaches that we become like what we worship. That important insight is found in today’s text. Let’s break it down this way:
But we all—that is, all true believers;
with open or unveiled face—sin causes a veil between our faces and the Lord. When we confess and forsake the sin, we have an open or unveiled face;
beholding as in a glass—the glass or mirror is the Word of God, in which we behold
the glory of the Lord—meaning His moral excellence. In the Bible we gaze upon the perfection of His character, the beauty of all His works and ways;
are changed into the same image—we become like Him. We are changed by beholding. The more we are occupied with Him, the more like Him we become.
This change is
from glory to glory—from one degree of glory to another. The change does not take place all at once. It is a process that continues as long as we behold Him. The transformation of our character is effected
even as by the Spirit of the Lord—the Holy Spirit produces likeness to Christ in all those who gaze by faith upon the Savior as He is revealed in the Bible.
In The Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne, it wasn’t Mr. Gathergold or General Blood and Thunder or Old Stony Phiz or the poet, but Ernest—who, gazing in quiet meditation on the Great Stone Face, eventually came to resemble it.
I heard once of a man who went daily to a Buddhist temple and sat with legs akimbo and arms folded, gazing upon the green statue. It was said that after years of this meditation, he actually came to resemble the Buddha. Whether that is true, I don’t know, but I do know that reverent occupation with the Son of God produces moral resemblance to Him.
The way to holiness is through gazing upon the Lord Jesus. It is not ordinarily possible to think of Christ and of sin at the same time. During those moments when we are taken up with Him, we are most free from sin. Our goal then should be to increase the percentage of our time when we are beholding Him.
“Not that I speak in respect of want…” (Phil. 4:11)
It is noteworthy that Paul never made his own financial needs known. His was a life of faith. He believed that God had called him into His service, and was utterly convinced that God pays for what He orders.
Should Christians today publicize their needs or beg for money? Here are a few considerations: There is no Scriptural justification for this practice. The apostles made known the needs of others, but never asked for money for themselves.
It seems more consistent with the life of faith to look to God alone. He will provide the needed funds for anything he wants us to do. When we see Him providing in just the right amount at just the right time, our faith is greatly strengthened. And He is greatly glorified when the provision is undeniably miraculous. On the other hand, He does not get the credit when we manipulate our own finances through clever fund-raising techniques.
By using appeals and solicitation, we can carry on works “for God” that might not be His will at all. Or we can perpetuate a work long after the Spirit has departed from it. But when we are dependent on His supernatural provision, we can continue only as long as He supplies.
High-pressure solicitation introduces a new way of measuring success in Christian work. The one who is most clever in public relations is the one who gets the most money. It may be that worthy works suffer because the fund campaigns siphon off the money. This often gives rise to jealousy and disunity.
C. H. Mackintosh took a dim view of publicizing one’s own personal needs. “To make known my wants, directly or indirectly, to a human being is departure from the life of faith, and a positive dishonor to God. It is actually betraying Him. It is tantamount to saying that God has failed me, and I must look to my fellow for help. It is forsaking the living fountain and turning to a broken cistern. It is placing the creature between my soul and God, thus robbing my soul of rich blessing, and God of the glory due to Him.”
In similar vein, Corrie Ten Boom wrote in Tramp for the Lord, “I would much rather be a trusting child of a rich Father, than a beggar at the door of worldly men.”
“…no man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” (Mt. 11:27)
There is deep mystery connected with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Part of the mystery is the combination of absolute deity and full humanity in one Person. There is the question, for instance, how One who has the attributes of God can at the same time have the limitations of finite Man. No mere man can comprehend the Person of Christ. Only God the Father understands.
Many of the most serious heresies that have racked the Church have centered on this subject. Heedless of their own frailty, men have occupied themselves with that which is too deep for them. Some have overemphasized the deity of our Lord at the expense of His humanity. Others have so stressed His humanity as to detract from His Godhood.
William Kelly once wrote, “The point where error comes in is as to the Son of God becoming a man; for it is the complex person of the Lord Jesus that exposes persons to break down fatally. There are those, no doubt, who dare to deny His divine glory. But there is a far more subtle way in which the Lord Jesus is lowered; where, although He is owned to be divine, the manhood of the Lord is allowed to swamp His glory, and neutralize the confession of His person. Thus, one is soon perplexed, and one lets that which puts Him in association with us here below work so as to falsify that which He has in common with God Himself. There is but one simple safeguard that keeps the soul right as to this, which is, that we do not venture to pry and never dare to discuss it, fearing to rush in human folly on holy ground, and feeling that on such ground as this we should be only worshipers. Wherever this is forgotten by the soul, it will invariably be found that God is not with it—that He allows the self-confident one, who of himself ventures to speak of the Lord Jesus to prove his own folly. It is only by the Holy Ghost that he can know what is revealed about the Only-begotten.”
A venerable servant of the Lord once advised his students to stick to the language of Scripture itself when discussing the dual nature of our Lord. It is when we inject our own ideas and speculations that errors creep in.
No man knows the Son. Only the Father knows Him.
The high myst’ries of His fame
The creature’s grasp transcend.
The Father only—glorious claim—
The Son can comprehend.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14)
The natural man is the one who has never been born again. He does not have the Spirit of God. He is disinclined to receive spiritual truths because they sound like nonsense to him. But that is not all! He cannot understand spiritual truths because they can only be understood by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
This must be emphasized. It is not just that the unsaved man doesn’t want to understand the things of God. He cannot understand them. He has a native incapacity for doing so.
This helps me in properly evaluating the scientists, philosophers and other professional people of the world. As long as they speak about mundane matters, I respect them as experts. But as soon as they start intruding into the spiritual realm, I write them off as unqualified to speak with any authority.
I am not unduly surprised if some college professor or even some liberal clergyman grabs the headlines with doubts or denials concerning the Bible. I have come to expect that and disregard it. I realize that the unregenerate have gone beyond their depth when they talk about the things of the Spirit of God.
F. W. Boreham likened the great men of science and philosophy to second-class passengers on an ocean liner, barred from the first-class promenade. “Scientists and philosophers—as such—are, so to speak, ‘second-class passengers,’ and they must be kept on their own side of the barrier. They are not authorities on the Christian faith…The fact is that we have a faith which cannot be shocked by the contempt of second-class passengers, and which derives no real support from their corroboration and patronage.”
Of course, there is the occasional scientist or philosopher who is a saint. In such a case, Boreham said, “I always discover a ‘first-class ticket’ peeping out of his pocket; and as I stroll the promenade in his delightful company, I no more think of him as a scientist than I think of Bunyan as a tinker. We are fellow passengers—first-class.”
Said Robert G. Lee, “Men may be critical and scholarly and scientific, knowing all about rocks and molecules and gases, and yet be utterly incompetent to sit in judgment upon Christianity and the Bible.”