of God’s Son
Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, is a retired physician who devotes his full time to a Bible teaching ministry. Like the editor, he is a visiting instructor at Kawartha Lakes Bible School in Peterborough, Ontario, and for many years has served on the board of “Food for the Flock.”
The conjunction “if” usually implies an element of doubt in the phrase or sentence that follows. Sometimes, however, it is used with the assurance that the following statement is true: for example: “If that is the case” may really mean “That being so,” and the “if” could be changed to “Since.” In the New Testament, when “ei” — “if” — is “followed by the indicative mood, the hypothesis is assumed as an actual fact … no doubt being thrown upon the supposition.” (Companion Bible, Ap. 118:2a) This is the case in such well-known verses as Romans 8:31 (“If God be for us”) and Colossians 3:1 (“If ye then be risen with Christ”). In Philippians 2:1 there are four such “ifs,” introducing four statements which are actual facts, without any doubt or question: each could well be translated “since.” The first of these is: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ.” As was previously noted, the word translated “consolation” is the Greek word, “paraklesis,” which might better (and is, in the NIV translation) be translated “encouragement.” When we are discouraged, we can certainly find encouragement in Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour. Let us consider four (there are many more) reasons for this encouragement.
A. His Supreme Example:
Philippians 2:5-11. The context of this phrase is the glorious example of the Lord, presented as a corrective to the discord, disharmony and disunity which had evidently reared its head in the church at Philippi. His example should be an encouragement to us, too. But, we might reason, His example really discourages us: it is so far beyond the possibility of attainment. However, the Spirit of God not only presents the pattern of Christ: He adds, in verses 12 and 13, the power by which we can follow that example and so “work out our salvation” — deliverance from the strife and vainglory that results in disharmony. That power results from God working in us “to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
Moreover, the example of Christ is in itself a great encouragement for those who are “down.” “He humbled Himself … Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him” (vv. 8, 9). He was low: God has made Him very high. He was down: God has lifted Him up. He “made Himself of no reputation” (7): God has “given Him a name which is above every name” (9). He “took upon Him the form of a servant”: one day, “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (7, 11). No place too low was found for Him on earth: no place too high is found for Him in heaven. By His exaltation, God has more than reversed the actions of men in His humiliation. Is this not encouragement for us who are associated with Him in His rejection? “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
“If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11, 12). “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13).
B. His Changeless Character
Hebrews 1:12: “Thou art the same”; Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” We live in a constantly changing environment and world. “Change and decay in all around I see.” We ourselves are always changing: our appearance, our moods, our ways. Even the “everlasting hills” are not really everlasting; they were created at a definite point in time, and they will not last forever. Continual change characterizes all of us — and all we see and touch. Thank God for the unchangeable, the immutable God: “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6); the abiding Word of God: “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18); and the changeless Christ of God. The Epistle to the Hebrews, of which He is the Subject, begins and ends with statements of His immutability. In 1:12, He is changeless in His deity — in contrast to creation. In 13:8, He is unchanging in His humanity and remains forever — in contrast to His creatures — the “guides” (v. 7) whom the readers were to “remember.” In Hebrews 1:10-12 — the sixth Old Testament quote in the chapter — from Psalm 102:25-27, the universe is likened to a garment, wearing out, growing old and ready to be discarded. But the wearing out of a garment is no indication of the slackening strength or waning energy of the wearer. When the earth and the heavens — “the work of His hands” — perish and grow old, as they will, He will fold them up and they will be changed; but He will remain the same: changeless, eternal. He is from eternity —”in the beginning” (v. 10) — to eternity: “Thy years shall not fail” (v. 12). What an encouragement to us, surrounded by changing places, people and problems, to anchor to the solid rock of His immutability!
Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same…” Yesterday we trusted Him. Did He prove worthy of our trust? He still is today! So will He be tomorrow — and all our tomorrows — forever. We can extend “yesterday” back to the days of His pilgrimage on earth. Think of the matchless records of His glorious ministry among men — His love, wisdom, compassion, grace, power, purity. He has not changed; He is the same; so trust Him!
Praise the Saviour, ye know Him;
Who can tell how much we owe Him?
Gladly let us render to Him
All we are and have.
Trust in Him, ye saints forever;
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.
C. His Continuing Ministry:
The work of our salvation was completed at Calvary; it was finalized and ratified by the resurrection and ascension of the Saviour —the evidence of divine approval and satisfaction and of our justification.
But His work did not cease when He ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high. His past, present and future work on our behalf combine to assure us of eternal security. His present work for us is a source of very real encouragement. Let us consider three aspects of His continuing ministry.
1. Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14): The priesthood of Christ is the central subject of Hebrews, occupying the middle six chapters from 4:14 to 10. Who is He? “Jesus, the Son of God” (4:14) ; Jesus, the name of His humanity and expressing His experience of our circumstances and conditions; He knows the trials of life on earth. He has had experience of hunger and thirst, weariness and sleep, sorrow and suffering, hatred and hostility, pain and even death itself. He knows all about our struggles. He “was tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart” (Heb. 4:15). The Son of God, the name of His deity and assuring us of His ability to meet our every need.
What can He do for us? He is able to Sympathize (Heb. 4:15); the double negative: “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched …” results in a strong affirmative. “Be touched” — sympatheo — feel with, sympathize. Because of His very real experience of our trials, He is able to give us sympathetic understanding and help.
He is able to Succour (Heb. 2:18). Because of His personal experience of testing and trial which caused Him suffering He can provide help for all who are tempted and tried. Since He was and is God, Christ could not be “tempted with evil” (James 1:13). Satan tried to tempt Him to see if He would sin. God allowed Him to be tested to prove that He could not sin. In the course of that testing, He suffered in a way and to a degree that we shall never understand; His holy soul shrunk from all association with sin.
He is able to Save (Heb. 7:23-25): not here because of His divine power or human experience, but because of His endless life. Old Testament priests were constantly changing because of death. Our High Priest has an unchangeable — untransferable — priesthood because He never dies; He lives in the power of an indissoluble life. Since He ever lives to make intercession for us, He is able to deliver from every trial and problem of life — and that, completely — to the uttermost.
2. Advocate (1 John 2:1). The word “Advocate” is the same as that translated “Comforter” of the Holy Spirit — “Paraklete” — and is related to the verb “parakaleo” and the noun “paraklesis,” which, as we have noted, can be translated “encouragement.” One of the greatest causes of discouragement is in the life of the believer. But “if any man sin, we have an Advocate” — One Who encourages us — our legal counsel, who pleads our cause. He does not plead “Not guilty” — because He is “Jesus Christ, the righteous.” But, “He is the propitiation for our sins,” that is, He pleads the merit of His atoning sacrifice which has satisfied God’s claims and provided the means whereby He can justly be merciful to the sinner.
3. Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25; Ps. 23; John 10:1-18). All that a good shepherd does for his sheep, Christ, “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) and the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20) does for us His sheep; He provides and protects, guides and guards, leads and feeds, watches and warns. Soon, He will return as the “Chief Shepherd” to reward the undershepherds, the overseers (1 Pet. 5:4).
D. His Coming Glory:
The believers at Thessalonica were exhorted by Paul to “comfort (parakaleo — encourage) one another with these words.” What words? The “blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13), the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The prospect of meeting, in the air, our blessed Lord, the Man of Calvary, the Lord of Glory; of being with Him and like Him forever; and of seeing Him reigning, worshipped, glorified and adored, is surely one of the supreme causes of encouragement, as we “journey through this desert drear and wild”!
“I am waiting for the dawning of the bright and blessed day,
When the darksome night of sorrow shall have vanished far away;
When forever with the Saviour, far beyond this vale of tears,
I shall swell the song of worship through the everlasting years.
I am waiting for the coming of the Lord Who died for me;
O His words have thrilled my spirit,
‘I will come again for thee.’
I can almost hear His footfall on the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing to be with Him evermore.”