September 1 “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” (Lev. 25:10) Every fiftieth year in Israel’s calendar was known as the year of jubilee. The soil was supposed to lie fallow. Land reverted to its original owner. Slaves were set free. It was a joyous time of freedom, grace...
“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” (Lev. 25:10)
Every fiftieth year in Israel’s calendar was known as the year of jubilee. The soil was supposed to lie fallow. Land reverted to its original owner. Slaves were set free. It was a joyous time of freedom, grace, redemption and rest.
When someone bought a piece of property, he had to take into account the nearness of the year of jubilee. For instance, the land would be more valuable if forty-five years remained before the next year of jubilee. But if there was only one year left, the land would hardly be worth buying. The buyer would be able to raise only one crop.
There is a sense in which the Lord’s coming will be the year of jubilee for believers today. They will enter into the eternal rest of the Father’s house. They will be set free from the shackles of mortality, and receive their glorified bodies. And all the material things that have been entrusted to them as stewards will revert to their original owner.
We should take this into account in valuing our material possessions. We may have thousands of dollars worth of real estate, investments and bank deposits. But if the Lord should come today, they would be worth nothing to us. The closer we get to His coming, the less real value they have. This means, of course, that we should put them to work today in the advancement of the cause of Christ and in the alleviation of human need.
Just as the year of jubilee was ushered in by the blowing of a trumpet, so the Lord’s return will be announced by the sound of “the last trump.” “All this teaches us a fine lesson. If our hearts are cherishing the abiding hope of the Lord’s return, we shall set light by all earthly things. It is morally impossible that we can be in the attitude of waiting for the Son from heaven, and not be detached from this present world… One who lives in the habitual expectation of Christ’s appearing must be separated from that which will be judged and broken up when He comes… May our hearts be affected and our conduct in all things influenced by this most precious and sanctifying truth” (C. H. Mackintosh).
“Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Lu. 9:57)
Sometimes I think we talk and sing too glibly about the Lordship of Christ, about total commitment, and about absolute surrender. We parrot neat little cliches like, “If He’s not Lord of all, then He’s not Lord at all.” We sing, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.” We act as if total commitment involved little more than attending church every Sunday.
It isn’t that we are insincere; it’s just that we don’t realize all that’s involved. If we acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, it means that we are willing to follow Him in poverty, rejection, suffering and even death.
“Some faint at the sight of blood. One day a young enthusiast came to Jesus with the finest of all possible purposes in his heart. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.’ Nothing could be finer than that. But Jesus did not thrill. He knew that the young man did not understand all that was involved in his promise. Therefore He told him that He Himself was more homeless than the foxes, that he might have to sleep supperless upon the mountainside. He showed him a cross with a bit of crimson on it, and at that he who was all eagerness fell into a dead faint. While he yearned for the goods, the price was greater than he was willing to pay. It is too often the case. Some of you are not in the fight, not because the call of Christ makes no appeal, but rather because you are afraid of a little bloodletting. Therefore you say whiningly: ‘But for these vile guns, I would have been a soldier’” (Chappell).
If Jesus didn’t thrill when the young man in Luke 9 volunteered to go with Him all the way, I’m sure He did thrill when Jim Elliot wrote in his diary “If I would save my life blood—forbear to pour it out as a sacrifice in opposition to the example of my Lord—then must I feel the flint of the face of God set against my purpose. Father, take my life, yea, my blood, if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it, for it is not mine to save. Have it, Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine altars.”
When we read words like those, and remember that Jim did pour out his blood as a martyr in Ecuador, some of us realize how little we know about absolute surrender.
“But not as the offense, so also is the free gift: for if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” (Rom. 5:15)
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts the two federal heads of the human race, Adam and Christ. Adam was the head of the first creation; Christ is the head of the new creation. The first was natural; the second is spiritual. Three times Paul uses the words “much more” to emphasize that the blessings flowing from Christ’s work superabound over the losses incurred by Adam’s sin. He is saying that “in Christ the sons of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost.” Believers are better off in Christ than they ever would have been in an unfallen Adam.
Let us suppose, for a moment, that Adam hadn’t sinned, that instead of eating of the forbidden fruit, he and his wife decided to obey God. What would have been the result in their lives? As far as we know they would have continued to live indefinitely in the Garden of Eden. Their reward would have been long life on earth. And this would have been true of their offspring.
As long as they too continued without sinning, they would have lived indefinitely in Eden. They would not have died.
But in that state of innocence, they would have no prospect of ever going to heaven. There would be no promise of being indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit. They would never become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They would never have the hope of being conformed to the image of God’s Son. And there would always be the terrible possibility that they might sin and forfeit the earthly blessings they enjoyed in Eden.
Think, by contrast, of the infinitely superior position which Christ has won for us by His atoning work. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. We are accepted in the Beloved, complete in Christ, redeemed, reconciled, forgiven, justified, sanctified, glorified, made members of the body of Christ. We are indwelt and sealed by the Spirit and He is the earnest of our inheritance. We are eternally secure in Christ. We are children of God and sons of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We are as near to God and as dear to God as His own beloved Son. And there is much, much more. But that is enough to show that believers are better off today in the Lord Jesus Christ than they would have ever been in an innocent Adam.
“Then I restored that which I took not away.” (Psa. 69:4)
The speaker in Psalm 69 is the Lord Jesus. In verse 4 He is saying that in His glorious work of redemption, He made restitution to God for losses that had been caused by man’s sin. No doubt He is picturing Himself as the true trespass offering.
When a Jew stole from another Jew, the law of the trespass offering required him to repay the amount that was stolen and to add one-fifth of that value.
Now God was robbed through man’s sin. He was robbed of service, worship, obedience and glory. He was robbed of service because man turned to serve self, sin and Satan. He was robbed of worship because man bowed down to carved images. He was robbed of obedience because man rejected God’s authority. He was robbed of glory because man failed to give Him the honor that was His due.
The Lord Jesus came to restore what He did not take away.
Aside He threw His most divine array,
And veiled His Godhead in a robe of clay,
And in that garb did wondrous love display,
Restoring what He never took away.
He not only restored what had been stolen through man’s sin but added more. For God has received more glory through the finished work of Christ than He lost through the sin of Adam. “He lost creatures through sin, He gained sons through grace.” We may go so far as to say that God has been more glorified through the Savior’s work than He ever could have been even in an eternity of unfallen Adams.
Perhaps we have here an answer to the question, “Why did God allow sin to enter?” We know that God could have made men without the power of free moral choice. But He chose to make them with the ability to love and worship Him of their own volition. And that, of course, means that they also had the ability to disobey Him, to reject Him, to turn away from Him. Man chose to disobey Him, bringing in a great holocaust of sin. But God is not defeated by the sin of His creatures. In His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus triumphed over sin, hell and Satan. Through His work, God has received greater glory; and redeemed man has received richer blessings than if sin had never entered this world of ours.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:10-12)
He was in the world. It was incredible grace that the Lord of life and glory would ever come to live on this tiny planet. It would not be newsworthy to say of anyone else, “He was in the world.” That is something over which man has no control. But for Him, it was a deliberate choice, an act of wonderful compassion.
and the world was made by Him. The wonder increases! The One who was in the world is the One who made the world. He who fills the universe compressed Himself into the body of a baby, a youth, a man, and in that body dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead.
and the world knew him not. This was a case of inexcusable ignorance. The creatures should have recognized their Creator. Sinners should have been struck by His sinlessness. They should have known by His words and works that He was more than just a man.
He came unto his own. Everything in the world belonged to Him. As Creator, He had inalienable rights to it all. He did not trespass on someone else’s property.
and his own received him not. Here was the ultimate insult. The Jewish people rejected Him. He had all the credentials of the Messiah, but they didn’t want Him to rule over them.
But as many as received him. An unrestricted invitation goes out. It is for Jews and Gentiles alike. The sole condition is that they must receive Him.
to them gave he power to become the sons of God. What an undeserved honor—that rebel sinners should become children of God through a miracle of love and grace!
even to them that believe on his name. The terms could not be simpler. Authority to become children of God is granted to all those who, by a definite act of faith, receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
So there is sad news and glad news. First the sad news: “the world knew him not” and “his own received him not.” Then the glad news: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” If you have not already received him, why not believe on His Name today?
“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15)
Contrary to the attitude of some, work is not a curse; it is a blessing. Before sin ever entered into the world, God assigned Adam to tend the Garden of Eden. It was after man had sinned that God cursed the ground - but not work itself. He decreed that, in trying to make a living from the ground, man would encounter sorrow, frustration and sweat (Gen. 3:17-19).
One old worthy said, “Blest work! if thou dost bear God’s curse, what must His blessing be?” But work does not bear His curse. It is part of our essential being. It is part of our need for creativity and for self-worth. It is when we succumb to idleness that the danger of sinning is greatest. And it is often when we retire from an active life that we begin to fall apart.
We should not forget that God commanded His people to work (“Six days shalt thou labor” Ex. 20:9). Men tend to overlook that and to emphasize the other part that commands them to rest on the seventh day.
The New Testament labels the loafer as “disorderly” or “unruly” and decrees that if a man won’t work, he should be allowed to go hungry (2 Th. 3:6-10).
The Lord Jesus is our supreme Example of a hard Worker. “What days of toil were His! What nights of laboring prayer! Three years in the ministry made an old man of Him. ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old,’ they said, making a rough guess at his age. Fifty? He was only thirty! I will make no secret of it.” (Ian MacPherson).
Some people develop an allergy to work because their job has some disagreeable feature. They should realize that no job is completely ideal. Every occupation has some drawback. But the Christian can do it to the glory of God, “not somehow, but triumphantly.”
The believer labors, not only to supply his own needs but to help others who are in need (Eph. 4:28). This adds a new, unselfish motive to work.
Even in eternity we will work for “his servants shall serve him” (Rev. 22:3).
In the meantime we should follow Spurgeon’s advice: “Kill yourselves with work, and then pray yourselves alive again.”
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:17, 18)
What should a Christian do when he finds himself in a church that has become increasingly liberal and modernistic? This church was founded by men who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible and in all the other fundamental doctrines of the faith. It had a glorious history of evangelical fervor and of missionary endeavor. Many of its ministers were well-known scholars and faithful preachers of the Word. But the denominational seminaries have been taken over by a new breed, and now the ministers coming out of them preach a social gospel. They still use biblical phraseology but they mean something completely different by it. They undermine the major Bible doctrines, give natural explanations for the miracles, and scoff at biblical morality. They are out front in advocating radical politics and subversive causes. They speak contemptuously of fundamentalists.
What should a Christian do? Perhaps his family has been associated with this church for generations. He himself has contributed generously over the years. His closest friends are in the church. He wonders what would happen to the young people in his Sunday School class if he should leave. Shouldn’t he remain in the church and be a voice for God as long as possible?
His arguments seem plausible to him. And yet it vexes his righteous soul to see people coming to the church for bread week after week and getting nothing but a stone. He values his associations there and yet it grieves him to hear his Savior condemned with faint praise.
There is no doubt what he should do. He should leave the church. That is the clear command of God’s Word. If he removes himself from this unequal yoke, God will take care of all the consequences. God will assume responsibility for those Sunday School students. God will provide new friendships. In fact, God Himself promises to be a Father to him in a closeness that can only be known by those who are unquestioningly obedient. “The blessedness of true separation is nothing less than the glorious companionship of the great God Himself.”
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” (Eccl. 5:4)
We have all heard of the man who, when he finds himself in a tight spot, makes a vow to God. He promises that if God delivers him, he will trust, love and serve Him forever. But when he escapes from the crisis, he forgets all about the vow and goes on living the same old life.
What place do vows have in the life of a Christian, and what guidelines are given in the Word on this subject?
First of all, it is not necessary to make vows. They are not commanded, but are generally voluntary promises made to the Lord in gratitude for His favors. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 23:22 NIV: “But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty.”
Second, we should be careful not to make rash vows, that is, vows that we won’t be able to fulfill or that we might later regret. Solomon warns us, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2).
But if we do make a vow, we must be careful to keep it. “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2). “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.” (Deut. 23:21 NKJV).
It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. “Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:5).
There may be exceptional cases where it would be better to break a vow than to continue in it. Before his conversion, a man may have taken vows in a false religion or in a secret fraternal order. If it would be contrary to God’s Word to fulfill those vows, then he must obey the Scriptures, even at the cost of breaking the vows. If they were simply vows not to divulge certain secrets, then he could remain silent concerning them the rest of his life, even after severing his ties with the order.
Perhaps the vow that is most commonly broken today is the marriage vow. Solemn promises made in the presence of God are treated as of no great importance. But God’s verdict stands: “The Lord your God will surely require it of you and you will be guilty of sin” (Deut. 23:21 NIV).
“A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” (Prov. 13:22)
When we read this verse, we should not jump to the conclusion that a financial inheritance is intended. It is far more likely that the Spirit of God is referring to a spiritual heritage. A person could have been brought up by parents who were poor, yet godly; and that person might be everlastingly grateful for the memory of a mother and father who read the Bible daily, prayed together as a family, and raised him in the fear and admonition of the Lord—even though they didn’t leave him a cent when they died. A spiritual inheritance is the best kind.
Actually a son or daughter could be ruined spiritually by inheriting a large amount of money. Sudden wealth often proves intoxicating. Few are able to manage it wisely. Few who inherit fortunes go on well for the Lord.
Another consideration is that families are often torn apart by jealousy and strife when an estate is divided. It is true that “where there’s a will, there are a lot of relatives.” Family members who have lived peacefully for years suddenly become enemies over a few bits of jewelry or china or furniture.
Oftentimes Christian parents leave their wealth to unsaved children, to relatives in false religions or to ungrateful children, when that money could have been better used for the spread of the Gospel.
Sometimes this business of leaving money to children is a veiled form of selfishness. The parents actually want to hold onto it for themselves as long as they can. They know that death will one day tear it from their grip, so they then follow the tradition of bequeathing it to their children.
But no will has yet been devised that cannot be broken or eroded by legal fees. A parent can’t be sure that his wishes will be carried out after he is gone.
Therefore the best policy is to give generously to the work of the Lord while one is still alive. As the saying goes, “Do your giving while you’re living; then you’ll know where it’s going.”
And the best way to make out a will is to say, “Being of sound mind I put my money to work for God while I was alive. I leave my children the heritage of a Christian background, a home where Christ was honored, and where God’s Word was revered. I commend them to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
“Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
Sometimes an illustration is the best commentary on a verse.
Captain Mitsuo Fuchida was the Japanese pilot who directed the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He sent back the message, “Tora, Tora, Tora,” indicating the complete success of his mission. But World War II was not over. As the conflict raged on, the tide of battle turned until finally the United States was victorious.
During the war, the Japanese executed an elderly missionary couple in the Philippines. When their daughter in the U.S. got the news, she decided to visit Japanese prisoners of war and share with them the good news of the Gospel.
When they asked her why she was so kind to them, she would reply, “Because of the prayer my parents prayed before they were killed.” But that is all she would say.
After the war Mitsuo Fuchida was so bitter that he decided to bring the United States before an international tribunal to be tried for war atrocities. In an attempt to collect evidence, he interviewed Japanese prisoners of war. When he debriefed those who were held in the U.S., he was chagrined to hear, not of atrocities, but of the kindness shown by a Christian lady whose parents had been killed in the Philippines. The prisoners told how she supplied them with a book called the New Testament and mentioned that her parents had prayed some unknown prayer before they were executed. This was not exactly what Fuchida wanted to hear but he made a mental note of it anyway.
After hearing the story numerous times, he went out and bought a New Testament. When he read the Gospel of Matthew, his attention was arrested. He read through Mark and his interest deepened. When he came to Luke 23:34, light flooded his soul. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Instantly he knew the prayer that the elderly missionary couple had prayed before they were killed.
“He no longer thought of the American woman or the Japanese prisoners of war, but of himself, a fierce enemy of Christ, whom God was prepared to forgive in answer to the prayer of the crucified Savior. At that very moment he sought and found forgiveness and eternal life by faith in Christ.”
Plans for the international tribunal were scrapped. Mitsuo Fuchida spent the rest of his life proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ in many countries.
“Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God…when all that thou hast is multiplied.” (Deut. 8:11, 13)
As a general rule, God’s people cannot stand material prosperity. They thrive much better under adversity. In his parting song, Moses predicted that Israel’s prosperity would ruin them spiritually: “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deut. 32:15).
The prophecy was fulfilled in Jeremiah’s day, when the Lord complained, “…when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses” (Jer. 5:7).
Again we read in Hosea 13:6, “According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me” (Hos. 13:6).
After returning from exile, the Levites confessed that Israel had not responded properly to all that the Lord had done for them: “…so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations” (Neh. 9:25b, 26).
We tend to look upon material prosperity as an undeniable evidence of the Lord’s approval of what we are and do. When profits in our business soar, we say, “The Lord is really blessing me.” It would probably be more accurate to look upon those profits as a test. The Lord is waiting to see what we will do with them. Will we spend them on self-indulgence? Or will we act as faithful stewards, using them to send the good news to the uttermost parts of the earth? Will we hoard them in an effort to amass a fortune? Or will we invest them for Christ and His cause?
Said F. B. Meyer, “If it should be debated as to whether sunshine or storm, success or trial, were the severer test for character, the shrewdest observers of human nature would probably answer that nothing so clearly shows the real stuff of which we are made as prosperity, because this of all tests is the severest.”
Joseph would have agreed. He said, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52). He profited more from adversity than he did from prosperity, although he conducted himself favorably under both circumstances.
“But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey.” (Luke 2:44)
When Jesus was twelve, His parents and He went from Nazareth to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of the Passover. Doubtless they traveled with a large crowd of other pilgrims. It was inevitable that boys of the same age would pal together during the festivities. Therefore, on the return trip to Nazareth, Joseph and Mary assumed that Jesus was with the other young people somewhere in the caravan. But He wasn’t. He had stayed behind in Jerusalem. They traveled for a full day before they missed Him. Then they had to backtrack to Jerusalem where they found Him after three days.
There is a lesson in this for us all. It is possible for us to suppose Jesus is in our company when He is not. We may think that we are walking in fellowship with Him when actually sin has come between our souls and the Savior. Spiritual decline is subtle. We are not conscious of our coldness. We think that we are the same as ever.
But other people can tell. They can tell by our talk that we have drifted away from our first love and that worldly interests have taken precedence over the spiritual. They can detect that we have been feeding on the leeks, the onions and the garlic of Egypt. They notice that we have become critical whereas once we were loving and kind. They notice that we use a lot of street talk instead of the language of Zion. Whether they notice it or not, we have lost our song. We are unhappy and miserable ourselves and tend to make other people miserable too. Nothing seems to go right. Money leaks out of our pockets. If we try to witness for the Savior, we have little impact on others. They don’t see that much difference between themselves and us.
Usually it takes a crisis of some kind to reveal to us that Jesus is not in our company. It may be that we hear God’s voice speaking to us through some anointed preaching. Or a friend might put an arm around us and confront us with our low spiritual condition. Or it may be a sickness, the death of a loved one, or some tragedy that brings us to our senses.
When that happens, we have to do what Joseph and Mary did—go back to the place where we last saw Him. We have to go back to the place where some sin broke our fellowship with Him. By confessing and forsaking our sin, we find forgiveness, and begin traveling with Jesus in our company once more.
“Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with him.” (Ex. 34:29 NASB)
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, there were two remarkable features. First of all, his face shone. He had been in the presence of the Lord, who revealed Himself in a bright, shining glory cloud known as the Shekinah. The radiance on the face of Moses was a borrowed glow. After speaking with God, the lawgiver carried away some of the splendor and effulgence of the glory. It was a transfiguring experience.
The second notable feature was that Moses did not know that his face was luminous. He was totally unconscious of the unique cosmetic he carried away from communion with the Lord. F. B. Meyer comments that that was the crowning glory of that transfiguration—the fact that Moses was unaware of it.
There is a sense in which Moses’ experience can be ours. When we spend time in the presence of the Lord, it shows. It may actually show in our faces, because there is a close link between the spiritual and the physical. But I do not press the physical, because some cultists often have very benign faces. The important point is that communion with God transfigures a person morally and spiritually. That is what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “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.”
But the crowning glory of that transfiguration is that we ourselves are not conscious of it. Others can tell. They take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. But the change is hidden from our own eyes.
How is it that we are blissfully unaware that the skin of our face is shining? The reason is this: The closer we are to the Lord, the more we are aware of our sinfulness, our unworthiness, our wretchedness. In the glory of His presence, we are led to self-abhorrence and deep repentance.
If we were conscious of our own radiance, that would lead to pride and the radiance would instantly be replaced with repugnance, because pride is repugnant.
So it is a blessed circumstance that those who have been on the mount with the Lord and who carry away the borrowed glow do not realize that the skin of their face is shining.
“As the Lord lives, there shall no punishment come upon you for this thing.” (1 Sam. 28:10 NASB)
Earlier in his reign, Saul had decreed that all mediums and spiritists should be cut off from the land. But then things went from bad to worse in his personal and public life. After Samuel’s death, the Philistines massed against Saul’s army at Gilboa. When he couldn’t get any word from the Lord, he consulted a witch in Endor. She fearfully reminded him that he had ordered the removal of all witches from the land. It was then that Saul reassured her, “As the Lord lives, there shall no punishment come upon you for this thing” (1 Sam. 28:10 NASB).
The lesson is clear. People have a tendency to obey the Lord only as long as it suits them. When it no longer suits them, they can always think up excuses for doing whatever they want.
Did I say “they”? Perhaps I should have said “we”. We all tend to evade Scriptures, bend them, or explain them away when we don’t want to obey.
For example, there are some plain instructions concerning the role of women in the church. But they seem to clash with the current feminist movement.
So what do we do? We say that those commandments were based on the culture of that day and do not apply to us today. Of course, when we once admit that principle, we can get rid of almost anything in the Bible.
Sometimes we come to some hard-hitting statements of the Lord Jesus concerning the terms of discipleship. If we feel they demand too much of us, we say, “Jesus didn’t mean that we should do it, but only that we should be willing to do it.” We deceive ourselves that we are willing, when we have no intention of ever doing it.
We can be very firm in demanding that offenders be disciplined according to the stern demands of the Word. But when an offender turns out to be our relative and friend, we can insist that the demands be relaxed or overlooked altogether.
Another device we have is to classify Scripture commandments as “important” or “not important.” Those in the “not important” category can be disregarded—or at least that is what we tell ourselves.
In all of these false reasonings, we are actually wresting the Scriptures to our own destruction. God wants us to obey His Word whether it suits us or not. That is the pathway to blessing.
“Hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom. 5:5)
Sometimes words in the Christian vocabulary have a different meaning than they have in ordinary usage. “Hope” is one of those words.
As far as the world is concerned, to hope often means to look forward to something unseen but with no certainty of fulfillment. A man in deep financial trouble may say, “I hope everything will turn out all right,” but he has no assurance that it will. His hope may be nothing but wishful thinking. The Christian hope also looks forward to something unseen, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:24: “Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” All hope deals in the realm of the future.
But what makes the Christian hope different is that it is based on the promise of the Word of God and is therefore absolutely certain. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19 NIV). Hope is “faith laying hold of God’s Word and living in the present assurance of what God has promised or predicted” (Woodring). “Notice that I am using hope to mean ‘certainty.’ Hope in Scripture refers to future events that will happen come what may. Hope is not a delusion to buoy our spirits and keep us going forth blindly to an inevitable fate. It is the basis of all Christian living. It represents ultimate reality” (John White).
Because the believer’s hope is based on God’s promise, it can never lead to shame or disappointment (Rom. 5:5). “Hope without God’s promises is empty and futile, and often even presumptuous. But based on the promises of God, it rests upon His character and cannot lead to disappointment” (Woodring).
The Christian hope is spoken of as a good hope. Our Lord Jesus and God our Father have loved us and have given us “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace” (2 Th. 2:16).
It is called a blessed hope, referring particularly to the coming of Christ: “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13).
And it is called a living hope. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3 NIV).
The Christian’s hope enables him to endure seemingly endless delays, tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom. He knows that these experiences are only pinpricks compared to the coming glory.
“Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.” (Prov. 19:18 NASB)
We live in a permissive society. Especially in the area of child-training, people listen to the advice of psychologists and sociologists rather than to the teachings of God’s Word. Many adults who were brought up by parents who dared to discipline them determine to allow their children freedom and self-expression. What are the results?
Such children grow up with a deep sense of insecurity. They are misfits in society. They find it difficult to cope with problems and troubles, and seek release in drugs and liquor. A few years of discipline would have made the rest of life much easier for them.
Not surprisingly they live undisciplined lives. Their personal appearance, their living quarters, their personal habits all betray their careless and disorderly mindset.
They are satisfied with mediocrity or less. They lack the drive to excel in sports, music, art, business and other areas in life.
Such children become alienated from the parents. These parents thought they would win the undying love of their children by withholding punishment. Instead they won the hatred of their offspring.
Their rebellion against parental authority extends to other areas of life—to school, employment and government. If their parents had only broken their wills early in life, they would have made it easier for their children to submit in the normal areas of life.
Rebellion spreads to moral standards set forth in the Scriptures. Young rebels flout the divine commands concerning purity and abandon themselves to loose and reckless living. They manifest a deep loathing for whatever is good, and a love for whatever is unnatural, obscene and hideous.
Finally, parents who fail to break the will of a child through discipline make it harder for that child to be saved. Conversion involves the breaking of the will in its rebellion against the rule of God. That is why Susannah Wesley said, “The parent who studies to subdue selfwill in his child works together with God in the renewing and saving of a soul. The parent who indulges it does the Devil’s work, makes religion impractical, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body, forever.”
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, ofrin their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” (Rev. 13:16, 17)
The mark of the beast! During the Tribulation period a powerful and evil ruler will arise, ordering all people to receive a mark in their forehead or in their right hand. Those who refuse will suffer the wrath of the beast. Those who submit will suffer the wrath of God. Those who refuse will reign with Christ in His millennial glory. Those who submit will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
As we read this, we can feel quite detached from it all, knowing that it belongs to the future, and believing that the Church will be raptured home to heaven in the meantime. And yet there is a sense in which the mark of the beast is with us now. There are times in life when we are forced to choose between loyalty to God and bowing to a system that is opposed to God.
There are times when, in order to gain employment, for instance, we are asked to accept conditions that are clearly contrary to divine principles. It is easy to rationalize at such times. Unless we can work, we can’t buy groceries. And unless we can get food, we can’t survive. And we have to live, don’t we? Under this false excuse, we agree to the demands and, in effect, take the mark of the beast.
Whatever threatens our food supply or our continued existence throws us into panic, and we are tempted to sacrifice almost anything to avert that threat. The same arguments that men will use to justify worshiping the image in the Tribulation period are the arguments that present themselves to us today when we must choose between God’s truth and our own lives.
The idea that we must live is false. What we must do is obey God and love not our lives unto death.
F. W. Grant wrote, “On the coin for which we sell the truth, there is at all times, faint as it may be, the image of Antichrist.” So the question is not, “Would I refuse to take the mark of the beast if I were living in the Tribulation?” but rather “Do I refuse to sell the truth now?”
“Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (Lu. 17:17)
The Lord Jesus healed ten lepers but only one returned to thank Him, and that one was a despised Samaritan.
One of the valuable experiences for us in life is to encounter ingratitude, for then we can share in a small degree the heartbreak of God. When we give generously and do not receive so much as an acknowledgment, we have a greater appreciation of Him who gave His beloved Son for a thankless world. When we pour out ourselves in tireless service for others, we join the fellowship of the One who took the place of a slave for a race of ingrates.
Unthankfulness is one of the unlovely traits of fallen man. Paul reminds us that when the pagan world knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful (Rom. 1:21). A missionary to Brazil discovered two tribes who had no words for “Thank you.” If a kindness was shown to them, they would say “That is what I wanted” or “That will be useful to me.” Another missionary, working in North Africa, found that those to whom he ministered never expressed gratitude because they were giving him the opportunity of earning merit with God. It was the missionary who should be grateful, they felt, because he was acquiring favor through the kindness he showed them.
Ingratitude permeates all of society. A radio program called “Job Center of the Air” succeeded in finding jobs for 2500 people. The emcee later reported that only ten ever took time to thank him.
A dedicated school teacher had poured her life into fifty classes of students. When she was eighty, she received a letter from one of her former students, telling how much he appreciated her help. She had taught for fifty years and this was the only letter of appreciation she had ever received.
We said that it is good for us to experience ingratitude because it gives us a pale reflection of what the Lord experiences all the time. Another reason why it is a valuable experience is that it impresses on us the importance of being thankful ourselves. Too often our requests to God outweigh our thanksgiving. We take His blessings too much for granted. And too often we fail to express our appreciation to one another for hospitality, for instruction, for transportation, for provision, for numberless deeds of kindness. We actually come to expect these favors almost as if we deserved them.
The study of the ten lepers should be a constant reminder to us that while many have great cause for thanksgiving, few have the heart to acknowledge it. Shall we be among the few?
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:6)
Christ did not come to call the righteous nor did He die for good people. It was not for decent, respectable, refined people that He went to the Cross. He died for the ungodly.
Of course, from God’s standpoint, all mankind is ungodly. We were all born in sin and shaped in iniquity. Like lost sheep, we have gone astray and turned to our own way. In God’s pure eyes, we are depraved, unclean and rebellious. Our best efforts to do what is right are nothing but filthy rags.
The trouble is that most people are not willing to admit that they are ungodly. By comparing themselves with the criminal elements in society, they imagine that they are quite fit for heaven. They are like the distinguished upper-class matron who prided herself on her social involvement and donations to charity. When a Christian neighbor witnessed to her, she said she felt no need of being saved; her own good works were sufficient. She reminded him that she was a church member and that she came from a long line of “Christians.” The Christian took a slip of paper, wrote UNGODLY on it in capital letters, then turned to her and asked, “Would you mind if I pinned this to your blouse?” When she saw the word UNGODLY, she bristled. “Of course, I would mind,” she said. “No one is going to tell me I’m ungodly.” He then explained to her that by refusing to admit her sinful, lost, hopeless condition, she cut herself off from any benefit in the saving work of Christ. If she wouldn’t confess she was ungodly, then Christ didn’t die for her. If she wasn’t lost, then she couldn’t be saved. If she was well, then she didn’t need the Great Physician.
A special party was once held in a large civic auditorium. It was for children who were blind, crippled or otherwise impaired. The youngsters came in wheelchairs, on crutches, and led by the hand. While the party was underway, a patrolman found a little boy crying on the front steps of the building.
“Why’re you crying,” he asked sympathetically?
“Because they won’t let me in.”
“Why won’t they let you in?”
The little fellow sobbed, “Because there’s nothing the matter with me.”
That’s the way it is with the Gospel feast. If there’s nothing the matter with you, you can’t get in. In order to gain admittance, you have to prove that you are a sinner. You have to acknowledge that you are ungodly. It was for the ungodly that Christ died. As Robert Munger said, “The Church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement for membership is the unworthiness of the candidate.”
“Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” (Rom. 12:16)
The natural tendency is to want to hobnob with the upper crust. In every human heart there is the lust to associate with those who are prominent, wealthy and aristocratic. So Paul’s advice in Romans 12:16 really cuts across the grain of nature. He says, “Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position” (NIV). There are no castes in the Church. Christians should live above class distinctions.
A story that illustrates this is told of Fred Elliot. One morning he was having family devotions at the breakfast table when he heard a noisy clatter in the yard. He realized that the garbage collector had arrived. So he put down his open Bible on the table, went to the window, opened it, called out a cheery greeting to the scavenger, then returned to the table to resume the devotions. To him it was just as sacred to greet the garbage collector as it was to read the Bible.
There was another servant of the Lord who took our text quite literally. Jack Wyrtzen conducted a Bible camp each summer at Schroon Lake, N.Y. At one of the adult conferences, a guest showed up with a serious physical impairment. Because he could not control the muscles of his mouth, he was not able to swallow all his food. Much of it came back out and fell down on the newspapers with which he covered his chest and lap. The scene was not conducive to pleasant eating and as a result, this man usually sat at a table by himself.
Because of the pressures of his work Jack Wyrtzen was often late arriving at the dining hall. Whenever he appeared at the door, people would wave to him excitedly, beckoning him to come and sit at their table. But Jack never did. He always went to the table where this guest was eating alone. He condescended to a man of low estate.
“A Christian general was once seen talking to a poor old woman. Friends remonstrated with him, saying, ‘You ought to consider your rank.’ The general answered, ‘What if my Lord had considered His rank?’”(Choice Gleanings).
In his poem “For A’ That and A’ That,” Robert Burns reminds us that in spite of a lowly position in life, a man’s a man for all that. He says that the man of independent mind can laugh at the tinsel show of fools in silk.
When we think of how our Savior condescended to us in our low estate, it is absurd that we should fail to do so with others.
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)
“…them also that love his appearing.” For many years I thought that this expression referred to those believers who had kindly, sentimental feelings about the coming of the Lord. They would be rewarded with a crown of righteousness because their hearts glowed warm when they thought about the Rapture.
But surely it means more than this. To love His appearance means to live in the light of His coming, to behave as if He were coming today.
Thus, to love His appearing means to live in moral purity. For, as John reminds us, “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
It means to stay disentangled from the things of this life. We should set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:2).
It means to serve God’s people, giving them “meat in due season” (Matt. 24:45). The Lord pronounces a special blessing on those who are doing that when He comes.
In short, it means that we won’t do anything that we would not want to be found doing when He appears. We would not go anywhere that would cause shame at His coming. We would not say anything that would be offensive in His presence.
If you knew Christ were coming in a week, how would you spend the intervening days? Does it mean you would give up your job, go to a mountaintop and spend all day reading the Bible and praying? Does it mean you would go into “full-time Christian work,” preaching and teaching day and night?
If we are really walking with the Lord today and living in the center of His will, it would mean carrying on as usual. If, however, we are living for self, then it would require some revolutionary changes.
It is not enough to have kind thoughts about the Savior’s return. The crown of righteousness is reserved for those who love it enough to let the truth mold their lives. It is not enough to hold the truth about His coming; the truth must hold us.
“…say Amen.” (1 Cor. 14:16)
Amen is an extremely useful word with which to express hearty approval of what is being said. Many congregations could afford to use it more often in their services.
The word is found 68 times in the Bible. From 1 Corinthians 14:15, 16 it is clear that it was used in the meetings of the early church. So we can be assured that the use of the Amen is eminently scriptural.
Not only so, it is imperative. The sublime nature of the truths we deal with require the intelligent expression of enthusiastic appreciation. It seems like ingratitude to hear such truths and never make a vocal response.
It is always an encouragement to the speaker when his audience says “Amen” at those places in his message where he has made an effective point. It tells him that the people are following him and that they share his spiritual and emotional exuberance.
And it is good for the person who says the Amen. It keeps him involved as an attentive listener. It keeps him from becoming apathetic when he should be amazed.
I would suggest that it is good for outsiders who may be present. They sense that the Christians are enthusiastic, that they enjoy their faith, that they believe what they believe. The use of the Amen expresses life and fervor. Its absence speaks of dullness and deadness.
Amen is one of three Bible words that are practically universal. In most languages these words are the same. So you can go almost anywhere and say, “Maranatha! Hallelujah! Amen!” and people will understand you as saying “The Lord is coming! Praise the Lord! So be it.”
Of course, the word “Amen” should be used discerningly. It would be inappropriate to use it to express enthusiasm over misfortune, tragedy or sorrow.
It is a shame that some bodies of Christians have stopped using the Amen because it has been abused in meetings given over to extreme emotionalism. Like all good things, it can be used or overdone. But we should not be robbed of this scriptural practice just because some have used it undiscerningly. Amen?
“O my soul, come not thou into their secret.” (Gen. 49:6)
These words are found in Jacob’s blessing of his sons. When he thought of the cruelty which Simeon and Levi showed to the men of Shechem, he said, “O my soul, come not thou into their secret.”
I would like to borrow the words and use them in a broader sense. There are secrets connected with sin which it is better never to know.
Temptation puts on its best face and suggests that we can never be happy until we have been initiated into its mysteries. It offers thrills, physical gratification, emotional highs, and the lure of the unknown.
Many people, especially those who have lived sheltered lives, are stirred by these appeals. They feel that they have missed out on true pleasures. They consider themselves disadvantaged. They think they can never be satisfied until they get a taste of the world.
The trouble is that sin does not come alone. There are built-in hazards and enduring consequences. When we come to experience any sin for the first time, we unloose a flood of pain and remorse.
Yielding to temptation lowers our resistance to sin. Once we have committed a sin, it is always easier to do it the next time. Soon we become expert in the sin. We even become slaves to it, bound by the chains of habit.
The moment we give in to temptation, our eyes are opened to a sense of guilt that we never had before. The exhilaration of breaking the code of sin is followed by a terrible sense of moral nakedness. It is true that the sin can be confessed and forgiven, but all through life there is the embarrassment of meeting former partners in transgression. There is the stabbing of memory when we unavoidably revisit the places of our folly. There are unwanted occasions when the whole sordid episode flashes back during our most holy moments—when our bodies actually pulsate and our lips muffle a groan.
While it is wonderful to experience the forgiveness of God for these sins, it is still better not to enter into their secrets in the first place. What poses as an attractive secret proves to be a nightmare. Pleasure soon turns to horror, and a moment of passion results in a lifetime of regret.
In the hour of trial, our response should be, “O my soul, come not thou into their secret.”
“I have learned by experience.” (Gen. 30:27)
Laban had learned by experience that the Lord had blessed him for Jacob’s sake. It was a good lesson to learn. Experience is a great teacher.
I am impressed by the way that experience often helps us to understand verses in the Bible. We may be acquainted with the verses intellectually, but when we pass through some new experience, the verses come alive. They seem to stand out in neon lights. We have a new appreciation of them.
Martin Luther’s wife said that she would never have known what certain verses in the Psalms meant if God had not brought her under certain afflictions.
When Daniel Smith and his wife were missionaries in China, a robber band cut a wide hole through the side of their house one night. While the Smith’s slept, the robbers cleaned out the drawers and cupboards. If the missionaries had not slept soundly, they might have been killed. Later, in describing the incident, Mr. Smith said, “I never understood Habakkuk 3:17, 18 until that morning. ‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.’” What it means, of course, is that you can’t fully enter into Habakkuk’s joy in calamity until you have experienced the kind of loss that he described.
When Corrie Ten Boom was in a concentration camp, she had to appear before the judge. “The judge…still had his job to do, and there came a day when he showed me papers that could mean not only my death sentence but also the death sentence of family and friends.
“‘Can you explain these papers?’ he asked. ‘No, I can’t,’ I admitted. Suddenly he took all the papers and threw them in the stove! When I saw the flames destroy those condemning papers I knew I had been guarded by divine power, and understood as never before Colossians 2:14: ‘Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.’”
The new insights we gain in the sacred Scriptures through the experiences of life make those experiences tremendously worthwhile.
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16)
Paul’s experience with the Christians in Galatia reminds us that we often make enemies of our friends when we tell them the truth. The apostle had introduced these people to the Lord and nurtured them in the faith. But later when false teachers infiltrated their Christian assemblies, Paul had to warn believers that they were forsaking Christ for the law. That caused them to become hostile toward their father in the faith.
It was also true in Old Testament times. Elijah was always honest and forthright in his messages to Ahab. Yet one day when Ahab met him, he said, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” (1 Ki. 18:17). “Troubleth Israel”? Why, Elijah was one of the best friends Israel ever had! But his thanks for being faithful was to be denounced as a troublemaker.
Micaiah was another fearless prophet. When Jehoshaphat asked if there was a prophet of the Lord whom they could consult, the king of Israel said, “There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” The king didn’t want the truth, and hated the one who spoke it to him.
In the New Testament we find John the Baptist telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mk. 6:18 NIV). It was true, but such courageous handling of the truth soon led to John’s execution.
Our Lord stirred up the hatred of the unbelieving Jews. What caused this hatred? It was because He had told them the truth. He said, “But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth” (John 8:40).
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If you meant to escape malice, you should have confined yourself within the sleepy line of regular duty. There are two sides to every question, and if you take one with decision and act on it with effect, those who take the other will, of course, be hostile in proportion as they feel that effect.”
The truth often hurts. Instead of bowing to it, men often curse the one who speaks it. The true servant of the Lord has already counted this cost. He must speak the truth or die. He knows that the wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Prov. 27:6).
“I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” (Rom. 11:4)
God never leaves Himself without a witness. In the darkest days, a voice sounds out for Him in clear, articulate tones. Often in the most unusual circumstances, He raises up some unexpected confessor to speak His Name boldly.
In the days before the flood, the earth was gripped by violence and immorality. But Noah was there to take a valiant stand for the Lord.
It seemed to Elijah that all Israel had sunk in idolatry, but God had 7000 men that had not bowed to Baal.
In the midst of spiritual deadness and moral decline John Hus, Martin Luther and John Knox stepped forth on the stage of history to defend the cause of the Most High.
More recently, God was acknowledged when the telegraph was discovered. The first message to be transmitted was “What hath God wrought!”
When Apollo 8 was returning to the earth after the first manned flight to the moon, on Christmas Eve, 1968, three astronauts took turns reading from Genesis 1:1-10, then concluded, “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with…God bless you, all of you on the good earth.”
In spite of the enraged protests of infidels, the United States Postal Service issued an Apollo 8 stamp with words from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…”
The currency of the United States bears the motto “In God we trust.”
The calendar abbreviation A.D. reminds us that this is the year of our Lord (Anno Domini).
Is it a coincidence that the stellar heavens feature a virgin, a man-child, a serpent and a cross—all important participants in the drama of redemption? Is it the Gospel in the stars?
Even atheists sometimes slip by acknowledging the Lord. An atheistic ruler said at a summit meeting in Austria in 1979, “God will not forgive us if we fail.”
There is a certain moral imperative in the universe that our God be publicly acknowledged. When the disciples praised the Lord Jesus as the King that had come in the Name of the Lord, the Pharisees demanded that Christ rebuke them. But He said to them, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Lu. 19:40).
We need not fear that God’s name will ever be unsung or His honor neglected. At the very time when men pronounce Him dead, He will raise up some witness to confound His enemies and comfort His friends.
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Rev. 21:8)
It probably comes as a shock to anyone reading this verse that the fearful and unbelieving are listed together with what we would think of as outrageous, vile sinners, and that they will share the same punishment for all eternity.
It probably comes as an added surprise to note that the fearful are listed first. This should be tremendously sobering to any who excuse their timidity as a trifling matter. Perhaps they are afraid to accept the Lord Jesus because of what their friends might say, or because they are of a naturally retiring disposition. God does not excuse it as a trifle; He views it as culpable cowardice.
It should also be sobering to those who are listed second—the unbelieving. We hear people say, “I can’t believe” or “I wish I could believe.” But those are insincere statements. There is nothing about the Savior that makes it impossible for men to believe in Him. The trouble does not lie in man’s intellect but in his will. Unbelievers don’t want to believe on Him. The Lord Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews of His day, “…you refuse to come to me to have life” John 5:40 NIV).
No doubt many of the fearful and unbelieving think of themselves as decent, cultured and moral people. In this life they would want nothing to do with murderers, with the immoral, or with those who practice magic arts. But the irony is that they will spend eternity together because they never came to Christ for salvation.
Their doom is “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” This is, of course, the supreme tragedy. People may argue about the existence of hell and the fact of eternal punishment, but the Bible is very explicit. Hell does exist at the end of a Christless life.
What makes it especially sad is that neither the fearful or the unbelieving or any of the others listed in our verse have to go to the lake of fire. It is completely unnecessary. If they would just repent of their fears and doubts and other sins, and turn to the Lord Jesus in simple, trusting faith, they would be forgiven, cleansed and made fit for heaven.
“Be not overcome of evil, hut overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)
If this verse had been written by uninspired men, it would have said, “Don’t let people walk all over you. Give them back a dose of their own medicine.” The world thinks in terms of retaliation and of revenge.
But we learn a different lesson in the school of Christ. We should not allow ourselves to be overpowered by evil. Rather we should use good to defeat evil.
A story attributed to Francis of Assisi illustrates the point. As a little boy was playing in the neighborhood of his home, he discovered that there was an echo when he shouted. It was his first experience with echoes, so he began to experiment. He shouted “I hate you” and the message came back “I hate you.” Raising his volume, he hollered “I hate you” and the words came back with greater intensity “I hate you.” The third time he cried out with all his strength “I hate you” and the words bounced back with great vehemence “I hate you.” This was all he could take. He ran back to his house, sobbing convulsively. His mother had heard the loud yelling out in the yard, but still she asked, “What’s the matter, dear?” He answered, “There’s a little boy out there who hates me.” She thought for a moment, then said, “I’ll tell you what to do. You go outside and tell that little boy that you love him.”
So the youngster ran out and called out “I love you.” Sure enough, the words came back, clear and gentle, “I love you.” He called again with greater emphasis, “I love you” and once again he heard the answering “I love you.” A third time he cried out with deep sincerity, “I love you” and the words came back to him tenderly, “I love you.”
As I write this, people all over the world are shouting “I hate you” at one another and wondering why tensions keep mounting. Nations are expressing hatred of other nations. Religious groups are locked in combat. Races are striving against one another. Neighbors are quarreling over the back fence. And homes are torn by quarrels and bitterness. These people are allowing themselves to become conquered by evil, because hate breeds hate. If they would just change their strategy by repaying hatred with love, they would conquer evil with good. They would discover that love breeds love.
We can never be too careful
What the seeds our hands shall sow;
Love from love is sure to ripen,
Hate from hate is sure to grow.
“Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9)
We are all familiar with the zealous “soul winner” who dashes around, buttonholing unsuspecting prospects, leading them through a salvation formula, and badgering them until they finally make a profession in order to get rid of him. He chalks up another convert and then looks around for more heads to count. Is this evangelism?
We would have to admit that it is not. It is a form of religious harassment. Like any service performed in the energy of the flesh, it does more harm than good.
John Stott was right when he wrote: “Christ has the keys. He opens the doors. Then let us not barge our way unceremoniously through doors which are still closed. We must wait for Him to make openings for us. Damage is continually being done to the cause of Christ by rude or blatant testimony. It is indeed right to seek to win for Christ our friends and relatives at home and at work. But we are sometimes in a greater hurry than God. Be patient! Pray hard and love much, and wait expectantly for the opportunity of witness.”
We may not agree with much of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s doctrine, but we might well take to heart the following words of his: “The word of salvation has its limits. He has neither power nor right to force it on other men… Every attempt to impose the Gospel by force, to run after people and proselytize them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous… We shall only meet with the blind rage of hardened and darkened hearts, and that will be useless and harmful. Our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want.”
Real conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is “not of the will of man” in the sense that a man cannot produce it by his own efforts, however well intended. People who are pressured into a profession of Christ without the full consent of their will become disillusioned, disaffected and often become enemies of the Cross of Christ.
It is one of the great experiences of life when the Holy Spirit uses us in the salvation of another person. But it is bizarre and grotesque when we try to do it in our own strength.
“He (Andrew) first findeth his own brother Simon…and he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41,42)
The normal method of personal evangelism is for Christians to witness for Christ within the context of their daily lives. This does not mean that God never uses the “cold turkey” approach, that is, walking up to total strangers and presenting the Gospel to them. He does! But it is far more convincing when a believer witnesses to people who know him and who can see that Christ makes a difference in his life. This is what Simon did.
Walter Henrichsen tells of a young man who was extremely apprehensive about witnessing on his college campus. Henrichsen asked him, “Joe, how many students on campus do you know personally? By that I mean when they see you they know you by name.” After being there for a couple of months, he knew only two or three men.
“I said, ‘Joe, in the next four weeks, I want you to get to know as many students on campus as you can. Let’s set our goal at fifty students. You don’t have to witness to them. You don’t even have to tell them you are a Christian. All you have to do is get to know them. Stop by their rooms and chat with them. Play ping-pong with them. Go to athletic events with them. Go to meals together. Do anything you want, but get to know fifty men so that one month from today, when I return, you can introduce me to each one of them by name.’“
When Henrichsen met the young man a month later, this fellow had led six men to Christ. “We didn’t talk about whether he had gotten to know fifty people. We didn’t have to. He had discovered for himself that as he became friends with ‘the publicans and sinners,’ the Lord naturally provided opportunities for him to share his faith.”
With regard to this method of evangelizing within the context of our daily lives, two observations should be made. First, the life of the personal worker is important. It makes a difference whether he is walking close to the Lord. He may be ever so glib in presenting a prepackaged message, but if his life isn’t holy, it cancels out his message.
The second observation is that this method doesn’t put the emphasis on instant results, and that is in its favor. Jesus likened the salvation process to the growth of grain; you don’t harvest the crop the same day you plant the seed. It is true that some people are saved the first time they hear the gospel, but they represent a small fraction of the total. Generally speaking, conversion is preceded by a period of hearing the message, of being convicted of sin, and of resisting the voice of the Holy Spirit.