“If thou shalt hear say…then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain…” (Deut. 13:12, 14)
If a rumor circulated that the people of a city in Israel had forsaken God for idols, there had to be an intensive investigation before any punitive action could be taken.
We should be no less careful when we hear a rumor or gossip, but should apply the six tests: Is it hearsay? Have I inquired? Have I made search? Have I asked diligently? Is it true? Is it certain?
In fact, it would be a good idea if we used the same thoroughness and caution before passing on sensational news items that appear in religious circles from time to time. Let me give some illustrations!
Some time ago the story circulated that stones for building a temple in Jerusalem were stored in a pier in New York, ready for shipment to Israel when the proper time arrived. The stones were reported to be of Indiana limestone. Christians circulated the news enthusiastically, only to be discredited when it was learned that there was no truth to the report.
At another time, the story broke that scientists had fed extensive data concerning the calendar of human history into a computer and that the results confirmed the Scriptural narrative of Joshua’s long day. Anxious for any news that confirms the Bible, believers avidly spread the story in magazines and by the spoken word. Then the bubble burst. The story proved to be without foundation.
More recently a mathematical computation has been used to suggest that some unpopular public figure might be the Antichrist. Here is how it works! A numerical value is assigned to each letter of this personality’s name. Then by following a certain series of additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions, you come up with the number 666. Of course, it proves nothing at all. Mathematical computations could be devised to yield 666 for almost anyone’s name.
I have a tract stating that Charles Darwin, in the closing days of his life, disavowed evolution and returned to his faith in the Bible. This may be true. I would like to believe that it is true. Maybe some day I’ll find that it is true. But in the meantime I have no documentation for the story, and I dare not circulate it until I do have.
We will save ourselves a lot of embarrassment and save the Christian faith from being discredited if we apply the six tests in today’s verses: Is it hearsay? Have I inquired? Have I made search? Have I asked diligently? Is it true? Is it certain?
“…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:19 NASB)
Singing here is linked to the filling of the Spirit, as if song is one of the sure results of the filling. Perhaps this is why almost all the great revivals of history have been accompanied by singing. The Welsh revival is a notable example.
No people have as much to sing about as Christians, and no people have such a rich heritage of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Our hymns express in majestic language what we so often feel but cannot express. Some hymns express thoughts that may be beyond our own experience—hymns of total commitment such as “All to Jesus I Surrender.” In such cases, we can sing them as the aspiration of our hearts.
In spiritual singing, it is not the rhythm or the melody or the harmony that counts. The important thing is that the message comes from the heart and rises to God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary Bowley expressed this truth well in the lines:
O Lord, we know it matters not
How sweet the song may be;
No heart but of the Spirit taught
Makes melody to Thee.
The Spirit of God can use singing just as He can use the preaching of the Word. The mother of Grattan Guinness heard a farmer singing as he plowed his field, and she decided not to commit suicide by drowning in the river. Dr. Guinness said later, “All that I am for God, I owe to a humble Christian plowman singing the praises of the Lord as he did his lowly task.”
Those who engage in the ministry of Christian music have to guard against two perils. One is the danger of self creeping in. As with other forms of public ministry, it is easy to embark on a giant ego trip. There is always the temptation to try to impress people with one’s talent rather than singing to the glory of God and for the blessing of His people.
The other is the danger of entertaining rather than edifying. It is all too possible to sing words with great musical skill and yet not convey the message to the hearts of the listeners. And it is possible to excite people emotionally with songs that are frothy, frivolous and quite unworthy of the Lord we love.
Different cultures have different tastes in music, but in all cultures the songs should be doctrinally sound, uniformly reverent, and spiritually edifying.
“He…preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” (Gal. 1:23)
After Saul of Tarsus was converted, the churches of Judea heard that this arch-persecutor of the Christian faith had become an ardent preacher and defender of the faith. It was a remarkable reversal.
In more recent times, there have been spectacular incidents where men have done a similar about-face.
Lord Littleton and Gilbert West decided jointly that they would overthrow the faith of those who defended the Bible. Littleton would disprove the records of the conversion of Saul, while West would prove conclusively that the resurrection of Christ was a myth. “They both had to acknowledge that they were rusty about the Bible records, but they decided, ‘If we are to be honest, we ought at least to study the evidence. They conferred often during their work on the subjects in hand. In one of these conferences Littleton opened his heart to his friend and confessed that he was beginning to feel that there was something in it’. The other man replied that he himself had been a bit shaken by the results of his study. Finally, when the books were finished, the two authors met and found that each of them, instead of writing against, had produced books in favor of the subjects they had set out to ridicule. They agreed that after going into all the evidence as legal experts, they could honestly do nothing else but accept what the Bible records state as true regarding both subjects” (Frederick P. Wood). Lord Littleton’s book was The Conversion of St. Paul. West’s book was titled The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The infidel, Robert C. Ingersoll challenged an agnostic, Lew Wallace, to write a book showing the falsity of the record concerning Jesus Christ. Wallace spent years in researching the subject, much to the sorrow of his Methodist wife. Then he began to write. When he had finished nearly four chapters, he realized that the records concerning Christ were true. He fell on his knees in repentance and trusted Christ as Lord and Savior. Then he wrote the book Ben Hur, presenting Christ as the divine Son of God.
Frank Morison wanted to write a story concerning Christ, but since he didn’t believe in the miraculous, he decided to limit himself to the seven days leading up to the crucifixion. However, as he studied the biblical records, he extended the subject to the resurrection. Convinced now that Christ had truly risen, he received Him as his Savior and wrote the book Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter is titled The Book that Refused to be Written.
The Bible is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. It is its own best proof. Those who attack and ridicule it should face the possibility of one day believing it and becoming its devoted champions.
“I have filled him with the Spirit of God…in all manner of workmanship.” (Ex. 31:3)
Today’s text refers to Bezaleel, who was equipped by the Holy Spirit to superintend the building of the Tabernacle. He was skilled to work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones and to carve timber. The Spirit of God made him a craftsman to do these practical types of work.
The Choice Gleanings calendar quotes E. Tramp as saying, “We generally overlook this phase of the Spirit’s ministry. Whether in the field or the factory, the office or the home, the believer can claim the Spirit’s assistance in daily labor. A man I know has made an altar out of his factory bench. A Martha in our midst has made her kitchen table into a communion table. Another still has changed his office desk into a pulpit, from which to speak and write, transforming commonplace affairs into the business of the King.”
In Nazareth, Israel, there is a Christian hospital that ministers primarily to Arabs. On the grounds of the hospital is a chapel. But when a preacher gets up to speak, he does not stand behind a pulpit. Instead he stands behind a polished carpenter’s bench with a wooden vise at one end. This is a beautiful and needed reminder that our Lord worked as a carpenter in Nazareth, and that a workbench was His pulpit.
A doctor in the Midwest sought to treat men’s souls as well as their bodies. Sometimes after he had talked with a person in the clinic and given a thorough examination, he would suspect that the problem was spiritual rather than physical. That night he would go to the patient’s house and ring the bell. At first the patient would be startled to see the doctor. But then the kindly physician would say something like this: “I am not coming to see you as a doctor but to visit you as a friend. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about. Do you mind if I come in?” Of course, the person didn’t mind, so the doctor would go in and talk to him about his spiritual need. Then he would explain how the Lord Jesus was the answer to that need. Many of the patients committed their lives to the Lord and went on to serve Him well. Many will be forever thankful for the ministry of the beloved doctor who cared for their souls as well as their bodies.
The Lord has many unconventional pulpits in the world today. As Tramp said, many have learned how to transform ordinary affairs into the business of the King.
“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isa. 59:19b)
There are desperate crisis times in life when Satan launches all his heaviest artillery against the Lord’s people. The sky is dark, the earth trembles and there does not seem to be a single ray of hope. But God has promised to send reinforcements to His people in the moment of extremity. The Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against the Devil in the nick of time.
Enslaved by the Egyptian tyrant, the outlook for the people of Israel was bleak. They were cringing under the lashes of the taskmaster. But God was not indifferent to their groans. He raised up Moses to confront the Pharaoh and finally to lead His people out to freedom.
In the time of the Judges, foreign invaders held the tribes of Israel in servitude. Yet in the darkest hour the Lord raised up military deliverers to drive back the enemy and usher in a period of tranquility.
When Sennacherib led the Assyrian army against Jerusalem, the captivity of Judah seemed certain. Humanly speaking, there was no way of stopping the invading juggernaut. However, the angel of the Lord went throughout the camp of the Assyrians at night and slew 185,000 men.
When Esther was queen in Persia, the enemy came in like a flood, passing an unchangeable decree that all the Jews in the kingdom should be executed. Was God checkmated by this decree of the Medes and the Persians? No, He so arranged matters that another decree was passed, permitting the Jews to defend themselves on the fateful day. The Jews, of course, were overwhelmingly victorious.
When Savonarola saw poverty, oppression and injustice in Florence, he became a standard in the hands of the Spirit to bring reform.
When Martin Luther began to thunder out against the sale of indulgences and other sins of the church, it was as if a light went on in an age of darkness.
Queen Mary was making havoc of the true Christian faith in England and Scotland. But God raised up a man named John Knox in that time of desperate need. “Throwing himself on his face in the dust before God, Knox pled with God through the night to avenge His elect and give him Scotland or he would die. The Lord gave him Scotland and removed the Queen from her throne.”
It may be that you are facing one of the gravest crises of your life at the present time. Never fear. The Spirit of the Lord will send timely reinforcements and lead you out into a broad place. Only trust Him!
“When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.” (Hosea 13:1 NIV)
There is tremendous forcefulness and authority in the words of a righteous man. When he speaks, he has impact on the lives of others. His words carry weight. Men look up to him as one who deserves respect and obedience.
But if that same man falls into sin, he loses all that positive influence on Others. The authoritative tone with which he spoke is dissipated. People no longer look to him for counsel. If he attempts to give it, they are apt to look at him with a jaundiced eye and say, “Physician, heal thyself” or “First take the beam out of your own eye; then you’ll be able to remove the mote from mine.” His lips are sealed.
This emphasizes the importance of maintaining a consistent testimony right to the end. It is important to begin .well but that is not enough. If we let down our guards in the closing stretch, the glory of earlier days will be obscured in the mists of dishonor.
“When Ephraim spoke men trembled.” Williams comments, “When Ephraim walked with God, as in the days of Joshua, he spoke with authority and people trembled, and so he had a position of dignity and power. But he turned to idolatry and died spiritually… The Christian has moral power and dignity so long as his heart is wholly governed by Christ and free from idolatry.”
Gideon is another case in point. The Lord was with this mighty man of valor. With an army of 300 men he defeated the Midianites, 135,000 strong. When the men of Israel wanted to make him king, he wisely refused, because he realized that Jehovah was the rightful King.
But having gained illustrious victories and having successfully resisted great temptations, he caved in on what we might think was a minor matter. He asked his soldiers to give him the gold earrings they had taken as prey from the Ishmaelites. With these earrings, he made an ephod, which became an idol to the people of Israel, and a snare to Gideon and his family.
Of course, we know that when we fail, we can go to God in confession and find forgiveness. We know that He can even restore the years that the locusts have eaten, that is, He can enable us to make up for wasted time. But no one will deny that it is better to avoid a fall altogether than to recover from it, better not to smash our testimony than to try to glue the pieces back together again. Andrew Sonar’s father used to say to him, “Andrew, pray that we both may wear well to the end!” So let us pray that we might finish our course with joy!
“The greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)
Love is the conquering power in a world of hatred, strife and selfishness. It can do what no other virtue can do, and, in that sense, is the queen of the graces. Love repays abuse with kindness. It prays for mercy for its executioners. It acts unselfishly when all around are clamoring for their rights. It gives until it can give no more.
An Indian was driving his elephant along the street, goading it continually to increase its speed. Suddenly the steel goad slipped from his hand, tumbling with loud clanging on the pavement. The elephant swung around, picked up the goad with its trunk, and held it out to the master. Love is like that.
In one of Aesop’s fables, there was a contest between the sun and the wind over who could make a man remove his coat. The wind blew furiously, but the more it blew, the more he pulled the coat tightly around him. Then the sun shone down on him and he took off his coat. It changed him through warmth. Love is like that.
Sir Walter Scott once threw a stone at a stray dog with such power and accuracy that it broke the dog’s leg. As Scott stood there remorsefully, the dog limped up to him and licked the hand that had thrown the rock. Love is like that.
Stanton hurled bitter invective at Lincoln, calling him a “low cunning clown” and “the original gorilla.” He said that anyone would be foolish to go to Africa for a gorilla when there was one in Springfield. Lincoln turned the other cheek. In fact, he later appointed Stanton as War Minister, insisting he was the most qualified man for the job. When Lincoln was shot, Stanton stood by his lifeless body, wept openly and said, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Lincoln had conquered by turning the other cheek. Love is like that.
E. Stanley Jones wrote, “By turning the other cheek you disarm your enemy. He hits you on the cheek and you, by your moral audacity, hit him on the heart by turning the other cheek. His enmity is dissolved. Your enemy is gone. You get rid of your enemy by getting rid of your enmity…The world is at the feet of the Man who had power to strike back but who had power not to strike back. That is power—the ultimate power.”
Sometimes it may seem that more can be accomplished by speaking the harsh word, by repaying tit for tat and by standing up for one’s rights. These methods do have a certain amount of power. But the balance of power is on the side of love, because, instead of deepening hostility, love changes enemies into friends.
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Eccl. 8:11).
As I write this, there is a great wave of public indignation over the mounting crime rate in our country. People are calling for law and order. It seems that our laws and courts favor the criminal, while the victims of crime receive little or no redress. Court cases drag on endlessly and often a criminal lawyer can win his case through silly loopholes in the law.
Contributing to the general disorder are the pontifical utterances of liberal sociologists, psychiatrists and other “experts.” They insist that capital punishment is unreasonable and inhumane. They testify that the fear of punishment does not serve as a deterrent to criminals. They suggest that the solution lies in rehabilitating criminals, not in punishing them.
But they are wrong. The more a man is confident that he can “get away with it,” the more readily he will resort to crime. Or if he feels that the sentence will be light, he will be emboldened to take the risk of being caught. Or if he thinks that the trial will have countless continuations, he will be encouraged. And in spite of what they say, the death sentence does act as a deterrent.
In analyzing the increasing crime rate, a popular news magazine said mat “one of the reasons is the lack of a strong deterrent from America’s clanking criminal justice system. All authorities agree that if the threat of punishment is to be credible, it must be sure and quick. Because of the overload, the U.S. system is neither.”
“An expert on criminology recently declared that for every man who is virtuous because of the love of virtue, 10,000 are good because they are afraid of punishment. And Isaac Ehrlich of the University of Chicago said statistics show that the news about the execution of one murderer prevents 17 other murders.” Reform and rehabilitation are not the answer. They have consistently failed to change men. We know that only the new birth by the Spirit of God will transform a sinner into a saint. But unfortunately few of the authorities, relatively speaking, will agree to that, either for themselves or for their prisoners.
That being the case, the best thing they can do is take today’s verse seriously. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Not until punishment is meted out swiftly and fairly will we see a decline in the crime statistics. The solution is right there in the Bible—if men would only accept it.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57)
No created mind can ever comprehend the dimensions of the victory which the Lord Jesus won at the Cross of Calvary. He overcame the world (John 16:33). He doomed Satan, the prince of this world (John 16:11). He triumphed over principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). He so conquered death that it is now swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54, 55, 57).
And His victory is ours. Just as David’s victory over Goliath brought deliverance to all of Israel, so Christ’s glorious triumph is passed on to all who belong to Him. Therefore, we can sing with Horatius Bonar:
The victory is ours!
For us in might came forth the mighty One;
For us He fought the fight, the triumph won:
The victory is ours.
We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us because “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).
Guy King told of a young lad who was at the station when a train pulled in, bringing the local soccer team home after an important game. The boy ran up to the first person who stepped off the train and asked breathlessly, “Who won?” Then he ran along the station platform, shouting ecstatically, “We won! We won!” As Mr. King watched, he thought to himself, “Now really, how much had he done to gain the victory? What did he have to do with the struggle on the football field?” The answer, of course, is “Nothing at all.” But because he belonged to the same city, he identified himself with the city’s team, and claimed their victory as his own.
I heard once of a Frenchman who passed from a position of defeat to one of victory by changing his citizenship. It was when Wellington, the so-called Iron Duke of England, won his illustrious victory over Napolean at Waterloo. At first the Frenchman was associated with the defeat, but the day he became a British citizen, he could claim Wellington’s victory as his own.
By birth we are all subjects of Satan’s kingdom, and therefore we are on the losing side. But the moment we choose Christ as Lord and Savior, we pass from defeat to victory.
“…they…expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.’ (Acts 18:26b)
In explaining the way of salvation to others, it is tremendously important to “make the message clear and plain,” avoiding anything that might confuse them. They are usually confused enough already because Satan has “blinded the minds of them which believe not.” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Let me give an example of how we can say things that are real earstoppers to the unconverted. We begin witnessing to a young man whom we have just met for the first time. Before we get very far, he interrupts us, saying, “I don’t believe in religion. I tried religion and it didn’t do anything for me.” To which we are apt to reply, “I don’t believe in religion either, and I don’t preach religion.”
Just stop there! Can you imagine how confusing this is to our prospect? Here we are, talking to him about matters that are obviously religious, and yet we are telling him that we don’t believe in religion. It’s enough to blow his mind!
Of course I know what we mean. We mean that we are not asking him to join a church or denomination but to enter into a relationship with the Lord Jesus. We are not pushing a creed but a Person. We are not advocating reformation but regeneration, not a new suit on the man but a new man in the suit.
But when he thinks about religion, he thinks of anything that deals with the worship and service of God. The word “religion” to most people signifies a system of beliefs and a distinctive lifestyle that are connected with man’s relationship to Deity. So when we tell him that we don’t believe in religion, the thought immediately races through his mind that we must be pagans or atheists. Before we have a chance to explain what we mean, he has already tagged us as irreligious.
Actually it isn’t true to say that we don’t believe in religion. We do believe in the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. We do believe that those who profess faith in Christ should show it by their lives. We believe that pure and undefiled religion is found in caring for orphans and widows and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world (Jas. 1:27).
What we don’t believe is that religion is the savior. Only the living Christ can save. We don’t believe in the watered-down versions of Christianity that are abroad today. We don’t believe in any system that encourages people to think that they can get to heaven by their own works or merit. But we ought to be able to explain this to people without stunning them with such bombshells as “I don’t believe in religion either.” Let us not play games with words when souls are at stake.
“Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets before your eyes.” (Deut. 11:18)
Today’s verse is incomplete without the three verses that follow, and so we quote them here: “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.”
Here we have a no-nonsense account of the important place that the Word of God should have in the lives of His people. When these conditions are met, believers will experience days of heaven upon earth.
First we should memorize the Word, or as the text says, lay it up in our hearts and souls. The man who learns vast portions of the Scriptures by heart enriches his own life and increases his potential for blessing others.
Next the Word should be bound to our hands and to our foreheads. This does not mean using phylacteries, as some think, but rather that our actions (hands) and desires (eyes) should be under the Lordship of Christ.
God’s Word should be the central topic of conversation in the home. In addition, every home should have the family altar, when the Scriptures are read daily and the household prays together. No one can gauge the sanctifying influence of the Bible on such a home.
This same Word should occupy us when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we get up. In other words, the Scriptures should become so much a part of our lives that they mold our conversation wherever we are and whatever we are doing. We should talk in the language of the Bible.
Should we write verses on our doorposts and gates? A very good idea! Many Christian homes have Joshua 24:15 on the front door: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And many more homes have Scripture texts hanging on the walls inside.
When we give the Holy Scriptures their proper place in our lives, we not only save ourselves from wasted hours of small talk, but we occupy ourselves with the subjects that really matter, the subjects that are of eternal consequence, and we maintain a Christian atmosphere in our homes.
“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (Matt. 4:7)
What does it mean to tempt the Lord? Is it something of which we can be guilty?
The children of Israel tempted the Lord when they complained about the lack of water in the wilderness (Ex. 17: 7). In saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” they doubted not only His divine presence but His providential care for them as well.
Satan tempted the Lord when he challenged Him to jump down from the peak of the Temple (Lu. 4:9-12). Jesus would have tempted God the Father if He had done so, because He would have been performing a stunt, something that was outside the Father’s will.
The Pharisees tempted the Lord when they asked Him if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar (Matt. 22:15-18). They thought that no matter how He answered, He would alienate either the Romans or those Jews who were violently anti-Roman.
Sapphira tempted the Spirit of the Lord by pretending to give the total proceeds from a sale of property to the Lord, when actually she held back some for herself (Acts 5:9).
Peter told the council at Jerusalem that it would be tempting God to put Gentile believers under the law, a yoke that the Jewish people themselves had not been able to bear (Acts 15:10).
To tempt God is “to see how much one can get away with before He judges; it means to presume on Him, to see if He will perform His Word, or to stretch Him to the limits of judgment (cf. Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:7)” (Toussaint). We tempt God when we murmur or complain, because we are, in effect, doubting His presence, power or goodness. We are saying that He doesn’t know our circumstances, He doesn’t care, or He isn’t able to deliver us.
We tempt God when we needlessly expose ourselves to danger and expect Him to rescue us. Every so often we read of misguided believers who handle poisonous snakes and die as a result. Their reasoning was that God had promised safety in Mark 16:18; “They shall take up serpents.” But this was intended to justify our performing miracles only when they are necessary in carrying out His will in and through us.
We tempt God when we lie to Him, and we do this when we profess greater dedication, sacrifice and commitment than we actually intend to deliver. Just as the Pharisees tempted Christ by their hypocrisy, so we tempt Him by ours.
Finally, we tempt the Lord whenever we remove ourselves from the sphere of His will for us and act in self-will.
It is an astounding thing that a creature should ever desire or dare to tempt his Creator, or that a sinner should thus insult his Savior!
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” (Mal. 3:16)
It is possible to be so busy that our souls become barren. Too much activity causes us to be occupied too much with our work and too little with our God. Preachers who do not spend much time alone in meditation and communion with the Lord soon give out second-hand messages that have little or no spiritual power. We should all pray, “Lord, deliver me from the barrenness of a busy life.” Many believers are afraid to be alone. They must be with others, talking, working or traveling. No time is spent in quiet contemplation. The pressures of modern life encourage us to be hyperactive, to be overachievers. We build up a momentum of activity and it is difficult to slow down. Life seems to be a continual push, push, push, go, go, go. The result is that we do not develop deep spiritual roots. We still spout the same pious truisms that we shared with people twenty years ago. No progress in twenty years!
And yet there are those who discipline themselves to break away from the rat race, who refuse invitations, who put aside secondary activities so that they can spend time alone with the Lord. They resolutely make time for prayerful meditation. They have a hideaway where they can tune out the noise of the world in order to be alone with the Lord Jesus.
These people have an inside track with the Lord. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” (Psa. 25:14). God reveals secrets to them that we, in our frenzied lives, know nothing about. There is a communication of divine intelligence concerning guidance, concerning events transpiring in the spiritual realm, concerning the future. Those who dwell in the sanctuary often have visions of God that those who live in the suburbs know nothing about. It was the one who leaned on the Savior’s bosom who was given the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
I often think of these words of Cecil: “I say everywhere and to all, you must hold intercourse with God or your soul will die. You must walk with God or Satan will walk with you. You must grow in grace or you will lose it; and you cannot do this but by appropriating to this object a due portion of your time, and diligently employing suitable means. I know not how it is that some Christians can make so little of recollection and retirement. I find the spirit of the age a strong assimilating principle. I find it hurrying my mind away in its vortex, and sinking me among the dregs and filth of a carnal nature…! am obliged to withdraw myself regularly and to say to my heart, ‘What are you doing? Where are you now?’“
“I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” (Isa. 43:7)
One of the great tragedies of our existence is to see men and women living wasted lives. Man, after all, was made in the image and likeness of God. He was destined for a throne, not for a bar stool. He was created to be a representative of God, not a slave of sin. In answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man?,” the Shorter Catechism reminds us that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” If we miss that, we miss everything.
J. H. Jowett weeps as he realizes that the course of many people through the years is “not so much the transit of a man as the passage of an amoeba.” He grieves to see men who have drivelled down to be nothing more than “minor officials in transient enterprises.” He notes with pathos the epitaph of one who was “born a man and died a grocer.”
F. W. H. Myers gazes out over humanity and writes:
Only like souls I see the folk there under,
Bound who should conquer, slaves who should be kings,
Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder,
Sadly contented in a show of things.
When Watchman Nee was a young man, he was moved to see “human creative gift squandered for an avaricious employer… In one of the shops of the old city’s lacquer street an anonymous craftsman had already spent six years on three hardwood leaves of a four-leaf screen, carving reliefs of flowers in the natural wood, white against the black lacquered surface. For this he was paid eighty cents a day, ‘rain, shine, holidays, or revolution,’ as the shop owner put it, plus his rice and vegetables and a plank to sleep on. Having once acquired skill for this work, he might make only two such screens before eyes and nerves failed and he was flung out with the beggars.”
The tragedy of life today is that men fail to appreciate their high calling. They go through life hugging the subordinate. They creep instead of fly. As someone has said, they rake around in a muck heap, not noticing the angel above them who is offering them a crown. Their time is spent making a living instead of making a life.
Many today are concerned over the spoiling of natural resources but they never think of the greater loss of human resources. Many campaign to save endangered species of birds, animals and fishes, but they can look on people wasting their lives and not be moved. One human life is worth more than the whole world. To fritter away that life is the unutterable tragedy. One woman said, “I am seventy, and I have done nothing with my life.” What could be more tragic?
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa. 126:5, 6)
In Psalm 126 the children of Israel are reminiscing about their return to the land after their captivity in Babylon. It had been as if they were in a dream world, filled with laughter and singing. Even their pagan neighbors had commented on the great things the Lord had done for His people.
Now that they were back in their own land, they had to start planting crops. But this posed a problem. They had brought back only a limited amount of grain with them. They could use it as food now; after all, there were no crops in the field for them to harvest. Or they could use it as seed, sowing it in the ground with the hope of an abundant harvest in days to come. If they decided to use most of it as seed, that meant that they would have to live frugally and sacrificially until harvest time. They decided on the latter course.
As the farmer went out into his fields, dipped his hand into the seed, and scattered it broadcast on the plowed land, he would shed tears at the thought of the privations he and his family would have to endure until the time of harvest.
But later when the fields teemed with golden grain, his tears would be turned to joy as he brought the ripened sheaves back to the barn. All the sacrifices his household had made would be richly rewarded.
We can think of this in connection with our own stewardship of material things. The Lord entrusts each of us with a limited amount of money. We can spend it in self-indulgence, buying up whatever our hearts desire. Or by living sacrificially we can invest it in the work of the Lord—in foreign missions, in Christian literature, in Gospel radio broadcasts, in the local church and in many other forms of evangelistic activity. In that case it will mean choosing a modest standard of living so that everything above essentials will go into the work of the Lord. It will mean living on a restricted budget so that souls will not perish for want of the Gospel.
But any such sacrifices will not be worth mentioning when the time of harvest comes, when we will see men and women in heaven as a result of our sacrificial living. One person saved from hell to become a worshiper of the Lamb of God for all eternity is worth any sacrifice we can make now.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:…who healeth all thy diseases.” (Psa. 103:2, 3b)
One of the compound names of God is Jehovah-Rapha, meaning “I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26b). It is God who heals us. He heals us of all kinds of diseases, and will ultimately deliver us permanently from every form of sickness.
Sometimes He heals us through the tremendous recuperative powers which He has placed in our bodies. This is why doctors often say, “Most things are better by morning.” Sometimes He heals through medicines and surgery. Dubois, the famous French physician, said, “The surgeon dresses the wound; God heals it.” Sometimes He heals miraculously. We know this from the Gospels and from personal experience.
However, it is not always God’s will to heal. If it were, some would never grow old and die. But everyone dies sooner or later -until the Lord comes. God did not remove Paul’s physical affliction but gave Him grace to bear it (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
In a general sense, all sickness is a result of sin. In other words, if there never had been any sin, there wouldn’t be any sickness. Sometimes illness is a direct result of sin in a person’s life. For example, alcoholism sometimes causes liver disease, smoking sometimes causes cancer, sexual immorality sometimes causes venereal disease, and worry sometimes causes ulcers. But not all sickness is a direct result of a person’s own sin. Satan caused Job’s serious illness (Job 2:7), and yet Job was the most righteous man on earth (Job 1:8; 2:3). He caused an unknown woman to be afflicted with curvature of the spine (Lu. 13:11-17). And he caused Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). In John 9:2, 3, it could not have been the man’s own sin that caused him to be born blind. Epaphroditus was critically ill, not because of sin, but because of his untiring service for the Lord (Phil. 2:30). Gaius was spiritually healthy but physically unwell (3 John 2).
Finally, failure to be healed does not necessarily indicate a lack of faith. Only when God has given a specific promise that He will heal can faith claim healing. Otherwise we commit ourselves to our living, loving Lord and pray that His will be done.
“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out…” (Prov. 26:20)
Two men are quarreling. One delivers an angry blast and the other answers with a sharp retort. One charges heatedly and the other countercharges with equal vehemence. Neither is willing to stop lest his silence be counted as weakness or defeat. And so the fire increases in intensity and billows of hate roll back and forth.
But change the picture. One man levels a verbal barrage at his opponent, but receives no fire in return. He tries to aggravate, to irritate, to slander and to shame. But the other man refuses to join the fray. Finally the antagonist realizes he is wasting his time so he slinks off, mumbling and cursing. The fire went out because the defendant refused to add fuel to it.
Dr. H. A. Ironside often encountered people at the end of a meeting who wanted to argue with him over something he had said. Usually they were picking nits, not discussing some fundamental doctrine. Dr. Ironside would listen patiently, then when the contentious one came up for air, he would say, “Well, brother, when we get to heaven, one of us will be wrong, and perhaps it will be me.” That answer invariably freed the good Doctor to speak to somebody else.
How do we take criticism? Do we defend ourselves, return tit for tat, release all the critical thoughts we have ever entertained about the other person? Or do we say calmly, “Brother, I’m glad you don’t know me better, because if you did, you’d have a lot more to criticize.” A reply like this has put out many a fire.
I suppose that most of us have received a letter at some time fairly blasting us off the face of the earth. The natural reaction for us at such a time is to dip our pen in acid and deliver a stinging reply. This fuels the fire and pretty soon poison-pen letters are racing back and forth. How much better to write back one simple reply, “Dear brother, if you want to fight someone, please fight the devil.”
Life is too short to be spent in self-defense, in quarreling, or in heated words- These things divert us from what is of first importance, they lower our spiritual tone, and they impair our testimony. Others may carry the torch with which to deliberately start a fire, but we control the fuel. When we refuse to add fuel to the fire, the fire goes out.
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” (Isa. 5:20)
God pronounces a woe on those who reverse moral standards, making sin respectable and suggesting that purity is something less than desirable. Herbert Vander Lugt cited three contemporary illustrations of how men tamper with moral distinctions. “First, I read an article which treated lightly the bad results of pornography, but deplored the ‘puritanical attitude of religionists.’ Second, I came across a newspaper account that told about a group of concerned parents who were trying to get an unmarried pregnant teacher removed from her job. The writer portrayed her as a beautiful person, while the moms and dads were made out to be villains. And third, I watched as a guest on a television program defended the hard rock, the drunkenness, and the use of drugs connected with a concert in which several young people were killed. He blamed our social problems on individuals who don’t like these kinds of gatherings.”
I would suggest two reasons why we are witnessing an increasing wave of moral reversals. First of all, people have abandoned the standards of absolutes that are found in the Bible. Now morality is a matter of one’s own interpretation. Secondly, the more that people indulge in sin, the more they feel that they must rationalize the sin as justifiable behavior and thus vindicate themselves.
Some who find it hard to justify sin resort instead to ad hominem arguments, that is, they attack the opponent’s character rather than answer his contentions. Thus, in the illustrations cited above, the libertarians attacked the “puritanical attitude of religionists,” they made out moms and dads as villains, and they blamed social problems on people who speak out against drunkenness, drugs and a rock concert in which several young people were killed.
In addition to those who reverse moral distinctions, there are those who satisfy themselves with blurring them. Unfortunately a large number of these are religious leaders. Instead of coming out squarely on the side of the Bible and calling sins by their right names, they pussyfoot around, implying that they’re really not that bad after all. Drunkenness is a sickness. Perversion is an alternate life style. Sex outside of marriage is allowable if it is culturally acceptable. Abortions, public nudity and prostitution are personal rights that should not be abridged.
Such confused thinking betrays a serious lack of moral intelligence. These perverse arguments are lies of the devil that eventually drown men in perdition.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.” (Lu. 21:33)
The Word of God is not only eternal; it is absolutely sure of fulfillment. In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said that not one jot or tittle will pass from the law until all be fulfilled. A jot is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet that resembles a comma or an apostrophe. A tittle is a stroke of a Hebrew letter; we might compare it to the bottom stroke of a capital E that distinguishes the E from the F. In other words, Jesus was saying that God’s word will be fulfilled down to the minutest details.
Julian the Apostate, a Roman emperor who lived A.D. 331-36, decided that he would disprove the Bible and discredit Christianity. The particular passage he chose to disprove was Luke 21:24: “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” He began by encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple. According to Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, they went to work eagerly, using even silver shovels in their extravagance, and carrying the dirt in purple veils. But while they were working, they were interrupted by an earthquake and by balls of fire coming from the ground. They had to abandon the project.
Almost 600 years before Christ, Ezekiel predicted that the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem would be shut and that it would remain shut until “the prince” would come (Ezek. 44:3). Many Bible students understand “the prince” to be the Messiah. The gate, subsequently called the Golden Gate, was closed up by Sultan Seuleman in A.D. 1543. In Kaiser Wilhelm’s plan to capture Jerusalem, he hoped to enter by this gate, but his hope was dashed. The gate remains closed.
Voltaire boasted that the Bible would be a dead book in 100 years. When the hundred years had passed, Voltaire was dead and his house had become headquarters for the Geneva Bible Society. Ingersoll made a similar boast. He said that he would have the Bible in the morgue in 15 years. It was he, not the Bible, who went to the morgue. The Bible outlives all its critics.
You would think that men would wake up to the fact that the Bible is God’s eternal Word and that it will never pass away. But then, as Jonathan Swift said, “There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.”
“I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Phil. 4:11)
We are often told that it isn’t the circumstances of life that are important; it’s how we react to those circumstances that really matters. This is true. Rather than always trying to change our circumstances, we should think more about changing ourselves.
There are several ways in which people respond to adverse happenings. The first is stoically. This means that they are completely impassive, gritting their teeth, and showing no emotion. Their policy is to “cooperate with the inevitable.”
Others respond hysterically. They go to pieces emotionally with loud crying, tears and spectacular physical displays. Some react defeatedly. They give up in abject despondency. In extreme cases, this can end in suicide.
The normal Christian way is to respond submissively. The believer reasons, “This did not happen by accident. God controls everything that comes into my life. He has not made a mistake. He has allowed this in order to bring glory to Himself, blessing to others, and good to me. I can’t see the full outworking of His program, but I will trust Him nevertheless. So I bow to His will, and pray that He will glorify Himself and teach me whatever He wants me to learn.”
There is another way that some choice saints react, that is, super-triumphantly. I dare not count myself among the number, even though I aspire to their company. These are the ones who use adversity as a stepping stone to victory. They transmute the bitter into the sweet and ashes into beauty. They do not let circumstances rule them, rather they make the circumstances serve them. In this sense, they are “more than conquerors.” Let me give a few illustrations.
There was a Christian woman whose life seemed to be filled with disappointment and frustration. Yet her biographer wrote, “She made magnificent bouquets out of the refusals of God.”
Believers in an oriental country had been attacked with stones by an angry mob. When these same believers returned, they built a chapel with the stones that had been hurled at them.
After buying a home, a man found a huge boulder in the middle of the garden. He decided to make a rock garden.
E. Stanley Jones said, “Use your denials and turn them into doors.” Or, as someone else said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
I especially like the story of the man who was told by his doctor that he would lose an eye and would have to have a glass eye. His immediate response was, “Be sure to put in one with a twinkle.” That’s what I call living above the circumstances.
“Christ… loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25)
The church occupies a place of tremendous importance in the mind of Christ, and it should be extremely important in our estimation as well.
We sense its importance by the prominent space it occupies in the New Testament. Also it claimed a significant place in the ministry of the apostles. Paul, for instance, spoke of his twofold ministry—to preach the Gospel and to declare the truth of the church (Eph. 3:8, 9). The apostles spoke of the church with an enthusiasm that is strangely missing today. Everywhere they went they planted churches, whereas the tendency today is to start Christian organizations.
The truth of the church formed the capstone of scriptural revelation (Col. 1:25, 26). It was the last major doctrine to be revealed.
The church is an object lesson to angelic beings (Eph. 3:10). They learn lessons from it about the multifaceted wisdom of God.
The church is the unit on earth through which God has chosen to propagate and defend the faith (1 Tim. 3:15). He speaks of it as the pillar and ground of the truth. We are thankful for para-church organizations that are devoted to the spread of the Gospel and the instruction of believers, but it is a mistake when they take the place of the local church in their members’ lives. God promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the church (Mt. 16:18), but He never gave that promise to Christian organizations.
Paul speaks of the church as the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:20-23). In marvelous grace, the Head does not consider Himself complete without His members.
The church is not only the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, 13); it is His bride as well (Eph. 5:25-27, 31, 32). As the body it is the vehicle through which He chooses to express Himself to the world in this era. As the bride, it is the special object of His affection which He is preparing to share His reign and His glory.
From all the above, we are forced to conclude that the weakest assembly of believers means more to Christ than the greatest empire in the world. He speaks of the church in terms of tender endearment and unique dignity. We also conclude that an elder in a local assembly means more to God than a president or a king. Few instructions are found in the New Testament on how to be a good ruler, but considerable space is devoted to the work of an elder.
If we once see the church as the Lord sees it, it will revolutionize our life and ministry.
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Heb. 10:26, 27)
This is one of several verses in the New Testament which proves extremely unsettling to many earnest, conscientious Christians. They reason this way: I am faced with a temptation to sin. I know it is wrong. I know I shouldn’t do it, and yet I go ahead and do it anyway. I deliberately disobey. It seems to me that I am sinning willfully. Therefore, it sounds from this verse as though I have lost my salvation.
The problem arises because they take the verse out of its context and make it say something it was never intended to say. The context has to do with the sin of apostasy—the sin of one who professes to be a believer for a while, but who subsequently repudiates the Christian faith and usually identifies himself with some system that opposes Christ. The apostate is described in verse 29: he has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace. He shows by his bitter turning against Christ that he was never born again.
Suppose that a man hears the Gospel and develops warm feelings toward the Christian faith. He leaves his ancestral religion and adopts the Christian label without being genuinely converted. But then persecution begins, and he has second thoughts about being known as a Christian. Finally he decides to go back to his old religion. But it isn’t that easy. Suppose “that before the leaders are willing to take the turncoat back, they have a little ceremony that he must go through. They take the blood of a pig and sprinkle it on the floor. Then they say, “That blood represents the blood of Christ. If you want to return to your parents’ religion, you must walk over it.” And so he does. In effect, he is trampling under foot the Son of God and counting His blood as an unholy thing. That man is an apostate. He has committed the willful sin.
A true believer cannot commit this willful sin. He may commit other acts of sin when he knows it is wrong. He may deliberately violate his conscience. This is serious in God’s eyes, and we must not say anything that would excuse it. But still he can find forgiveness by confessing and forsaking his sin. Not so with the apostate. For him the verdict is that there remains no more sacrifice for sins (verse 26b), and it is impossible to renew him again to repentance (Heb. 6:6).
“Whosoever abideih in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” (1 John 3:6)
Yesterday we considered a passage that often proves distressing to sincere Christians. Today we will look at three verses in John’s first epistle that also disturb believers who are all too aware of their sinfulness. There is the verse already quoted at the top of the page. Then there is 1 John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” And 1 John 5:18: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Taken as is, these verses might very well make any one of us question whether he is a true believer.
And yet other verses in this same letter recognize that the believer does sin, for example 1:8-10; 2:1b.
The problem is largely one of translation. In the original language of the New Testament, there is a difference between committing occasional acts of sin and practicing sin as a way of life. The Christian does commit acts of sin, but sin is not what characterizes his life. He has been freed from sin as his master.
The New International Version shows that the verbs in these verses are in what we might call the present continuous tense, as follows: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”(3:6). “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (3:9). “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one does not touch him” (5:18).
Any Christian who says he does not sin has imperfect views of what sin is. He apparently doesn’t realize that anything that falls short of God’s perfect standard is sin. The fact is that we do commit acts of sin every day in thought, word and deed.
But John makes a distinction between what is exceptional and what is habitual. With the true saint, sin is alien and righteousness is characteristic.
When we see this, there is no need to torture ourselves with these verses that make us doubt our salvation. The simple facts are these: God’s will is that we should not sin. Unfortunately we do sin. But sin is no longer the dominating power in our lives. We no longer practice sin as we did before we were saved. If we do sin, we find forgiveness through confessing and forsaking our sin.
“The rich, man thinks of his wealth as an impregnable defense, a high wall of safety. What a dreamer!” (Prov. 18:11 Living Bible)
The rich fool in Luke’s gospel had so much wealth he didn’t know what to do with it. So he decided to tear down his barns and silos and build bigger ones. Then he thought he would feel satisfied, not knowing that he would die as soon as his building project was completed. His wealth wouldn’t save him from death and the grave.
Sider says, “The rich fool is the epitome of the covetous person. He has a greedy compulsion to acquire more and more possessions, even though he does not need them. And his phenomenal success at piling up more and more property leads to the blasphemous conclusion that material possessions can satisfy all his needs. From the divine perspective, however, this attitude is sheer madness. He is a raving fool.”
There is a legend about a man who wanted to become rich in the stock market. When someone told him he could have anything he wanted, he said he would like to see the newspaper one year from that day. His idea, of course, was that he could make a fortune by buying the stocks that would rise the most during the ensuing year. When he got the paper, he gloated about how rich he would become. But then he looked at the death notices and his name was there.
The psalmist pours scorn on the rich people whose “inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names” (Psa. 49:11 NASB). But they die and leave their wealth to others. “Man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12 NASB).
It is a true saying that money is the universal passport for everywhere except heaven, and the universal provider for everything but happiness.
No rich person ever has a dollar sign inscribed on his tombstone, even though money has been the obsession of his life. If he used the symbol of what has been paramount to him, it would be the $. But in death he chooses a religious symbol, such as a cross. It is a final gesture of hypocrisy. The righteous look on and say, “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Psa. 52:7). And God writes his epitaph, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lu. 12:21).
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” (1 Tim. 3:16)
The mystery is great, not because it is very mysterious but because it is so astounding. The mystery is the amazing truth that God was manifest in the flesh.
It means, for instance, that the Eternal One was born into a world of time. He, the Timeless One, lived in a sphere of calendars and timepieces.
The One who is omnipresent, existing in all places at one and the same time, confined Himself to a single place—like Bethlehem, or Nazareth, Capernaum or Jerusalem.
It is wonderful to think that the Great God, who fills heaven and earth, should compress Himself into a human body. As men looked at Him, they could say accurately, “In Him dwells all the fulness of the godhead bodily.”
The mystery reminds us that the Creator visited this insignificant planet called Earth. It is only a speck of cosmic dust, relative to the rest of the universe, yet He bypassed all the rest to come here. From the palace of heaven to a cattle shed, a stable, a manger!
The omnipotent One became a helpless Baby. It is no exaggeration to say that He whom Mary held in her arms held Mary, for He is the Sustainer as well as the Maker.
The omniscient One is the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge, and yet we read of Him that, as a Child, He increased in wisdom and knowledge. It is almost incredible to think of the Owner of all arriving unwelcome on His own premises. There was no room for Him in the inn. The world knew Him not. His own received Him not.
The Master came into the world as a Servant. The Lord of glory veiled that glory in a body of flesh. The Lord of life came into the world to die. The Holy One came to a jungle of sin. The One who is infinitely high became intimately nigh. The Object of the Father’s delight and of angelic worship hungered and thirsted, was weary at Jacob’s well, slept in a boat on Galilee, wandered “as a homeless stranger in the world His hands had made.” He came from luxury to poverty, with no place to lay His head. He worked as a carpenter. Never slept on a mattress. Never had hot and cold running water, or the other conveniences that we take for granted.
And it was all for you and for me!
O, come, let us adore Him!
“And the King of Sodom said unto Abram, give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.” (Gen. 14:21)
Invading armies had come to Sodom and had captured Lot, his family and great quantities of spoil. As soon as Abram heard about it, he armed his servants and pursued the invaders, finally catching up with them near Damascus and rescuing the captives and their belongings. The King of Sodom went out to meet Abram as he returned and said, “Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.” Abram answered that he wouldn’t take even a shoe lace from the king lest the latter would say he had made Abram rich.
There is a sense in which the King of Sodom represents Satan, trying to get believers to be occupied with material things and to neglect the people around them. Abram resisted the temptation, but many since that time have not been so successful. They have given priority to the accumulation of possessions and have paid little attention to neighbors and friends who are facing eternity without God, without Christ and without hope.
People are important; things are not. A young Christian walked into the living room where his mother was sewing and said, “Mother, I’m glad that God has given me a greater love for people than for things.” That particular mother was glad too.
It seems incongruous to weep when someone breaks your English bone china teacup, yet never to shed a tear over perishing millions. It says something when we have a phenomenal memory for baseball scores, yet whine that we have an awful time remembering people’s names. I betray my distorted sense of values when I am more upset over the damage done to my car than the injured person in the other car. It is easy to resent interruptions when we are working on some pet project, and yet the interruption may be far more important than the project.
We are often more interested in gold and silver than in men and women. A. T. Pierson said, “There is buried in gold and silver and useless ornaments in Christian homes enough to build a fleet of 50,000 vessels, ballast them with Bibles and crowd them with missionaries: build a church in every destitute hamlet and supply every living soul with the Gospel within a score of years.” Another prophet of God, J. A. Stewart, wrote, “We have used our wealth to indulge in luxuries that we do not need. We have ‘caviar tastes,’ while millions in other parts of our world are dying in the starvation of sin. We have sold our spiritual birthright-heritage for a mess of pottage.”
My heart often wonders when we Christians will abandon the mad scramble for material possessions and concentrate on the spiritual welfare of people. One human soul is worth more than all the wealth in the world. Things don’t matter. People do.
“My body, which is broken for you.” (1 Cor. 11:24)
Amy Carmichael lists four broken things in the Bible and the results achieved by them.
Broken pitchers (Judges 7:1849)—and the light shone out.
Broken flask (Mark 14:3)—and the ointment was poured forth.
Broken bread (Matt. 14:19)—and the hungry were fed.
A broken Body (1 Cor. 11:24)—and the world was redeemed.
Now it is our privilege to add a fifth to the list - a broken will, and the result will be a life flooded with peace and fulfillment.
Many who have been to the Cross for salvation have never been there for the breaking of their will. They may have a gentle, mild disposition; they may never speak above a whisper; they may have an outward appearance of spirituality; yet they may have a will of iron that keeps them from God’s best in life.
It sometimes happens with young people who are in love and are contemplating marriage. Parents and friends with mature, wise judgment can see that it will never work. Yet the headstrong couple rejects any counsel that they do not want to hear. The same intractable wills that led them to the marriage altar soon lead them to the divorce court.
We’ve seen it with Christians who are determined to go into a certain business when they clearly have no experience or the necessary know-how. Against the advice of knowledgeable associates, they sink their own money and often money borrowed from loving friends. The inevitable happens. The business fails, and the creditors move in to pick up the pieces.
It is not uncommon to see the shattering effects of an unbroken will in Christian service. It takes a man and his family to the mission field, only to be repatriated within a year at great cost to the sending church. It drains funds from gullible Christians to finance a project that was man’s idea, not God’s—a project that proves to be counterproductive. It creates strife and unhappiness because one person refuses to work cooperatively with others; he must have his own way.
We all need to be broken, to take all our obstinacy, all our stubbornness, all our self-will and leave them at the foot of the Cross. That will of iron must be laid upon the altar of sacrifice. We must all say with Amy Carmichael:
Thou wast broken, O my Lord, for me,
Let me be broken, Lord, for love of Thee.
“Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.” (Prov. 26:17 NASB)
We should realize first of all that the dog mentioned in this verse is not the friendly, gentle, Irish setter that probably wouldn’t mind at all if you held him by his ears. This is the wild, snarling, alley dog with a mean disposition and bared fangs. It would be improbable that you can get close enough to him to grab him by the ears in the first place. But if you could, you’d face a desperate dilemma; you’d be afraid to Hold on and afraid to let go.
Well, it’s a graphic illustration of the person who gets involved in a fight that doesn’t concern him. Soon he has incurred the anger of both the adversaries.
Each one feels that the meddler is interfering with any chance of victory, so they forget their own differences and unite in fighting him.
We smile at the Irishman who went up to two men engaged in a fist fight and asked, “Is this a private fight or can anyone get in?” Yet there is a meddlesome streak in every one of us that tempts us to interfere in squabbles that are none of our business.
Police officers have to be extra careful when they are called to a scene where a husband and wife are quarreling. If that is so, how much more cautious should the average citizen be in intruding in the domestic strife of others!
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of today’s proverb is trouble in the church. It usually starts between two persons. Then others take sides. What started as a spark soon becomes a conflagration. People who have no connection with the problem insist on adding their own wise pronouncements, as if they were the oracle of Delphi. Tempers flare, friendships are shattered, and hearts are broken. As the battle increases in intensity the congregation hears announcements of coronaries, strokes, ulcers and other physical problems. What started as a root of bitterness has spread until many are defiled.
The warning not to meddle in strife belonging to others might seem to conflict with the Savior’s words, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). But there is no contradiction. There is a place for a peacemaker when contending parties are willing to have their dispute arbitrated. Otherwise the one who interferes succeeds only in getting himself into a situation from which there is no easy, painless escape.
“Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse: peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee.” (1 Ch. 12:18)
This noble expression of loyalty to David should be borrowed by all believers as an expression of their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no room for halfhearted loyalty or divided allegiance to the King of kings. He must have all our hearts.
I have always been impressed with the story of a French soldier who was seriously wounded in one of the Napoleonic wars. The doctors decided that surgery was necessary to save his life. It was in the days before anaesthesia. As the surgeon was probing in the soldier’s chest, the patient said, “Probe a little deeper, Doctor, and you will find the Emperor.” There was a sense in which the Emperor was enthroned in his heart.
When Elizabeth was crowned as Queen while she was still quite young, her grandmother, Queen Mary, wrote her a letter of loyalty and signed it, “Your loving grandmother and devoted subject.” She thus expressed her allegiance to the Crown and to the one who wore it.
But what about us? How does all this apply in our case? Matthew Henry reminds us that “From these expressions of Amasai, we may take instruction how to testify our affection and allegiance to the Lord Jesus: his we may be without reservation or power of revocation; on his side we must be forward to appear and act; to his interest we must be hearty well-wishers; Hosanna, prosperity to his gospel and kingdom; for his God helpeth him, and will, till he have put down all rule, principality, and power.”
In the words of Spurgeon our lives should say, “Thine are we, Jesus. Neither count we anything that we possess to be our own; but all is dedicated to Thy royal use. And on Thy side, thou Son of God. For, if we belong to Christ, of course we are on Christ’s side, whatever that side may be, in religion, morals and politics. Peace be unto thee. Our heart salutes Him and invokes peace upon Him. And peace be to thy helpers. We desire all good for all good men. We pray for the peace of the peaceful. For thy God helpeth thee. All the powers of the God of nature are working to aid the Lord of grace. Risen Christ, we look upward as the heavens receive Thee, and we adore. Ascended Christ, we fall at Thy dear feet, and say, ‘Thine are we, O Son of David, anointed to be a Prince and a Savior.’ Coming Christ, we wait and watch for Thine appearing. Come quickly to Thine own! Amen and amen.”
“And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1)
Mephibosheth was a grandson of King Saul, who had repeatedly tried to take David’s life. He therefore came from a rebel family that might have expected to be wiped out when David came to the throne. In addition to that, Mephibosheth was a helpless cripple, having been dropped by his nurse when he was young. The fact that he lived in someone else’s home in Lo-debar, meaning “no pasture,” suggests that he was impoverished. Lo-debar was on the east side of the Jordan and therefore “afar off” from Jerusalem, God’s dwelling. There was no merit in Mephibosheth as far as David’s favor was concerned.
In spite of all that, David inquired concerning him, sent messengers after him, brought him to the royal palace, assured him that there was nothing to fear, enriched him with all Saul’s land, provided him with a retinue of servants to wait on him and honored him with a permanent place at the king’s table as one of the king’s sons.
Why did David show such mercy, grace and compassion to one who was so unworthy? The answer is “for Jonathan’s sake.” David had made a covenant with Jonathan, the father of Mephibosheth, that he would never cease to show kindness to Jonathan’s family. It was an unconditional covenant of grace (1 Sam. 20:14-17).
Mephibosheth realized this, for when he was first ushered into the king’s presence, he prostrated himself and said that “a dead dog” like he did not deserve such kindness.
It should not be difficult for us to find ourselves in this picture. We were born of a rebel, sinful race under the condemnation of death. We were morally deformed and paralyzed by sin. We too dwelt in a land of “no pasture,” spiritually starved. Not only were we doomed, helpless and impoverished, we were “afar off” from God, without Christ and without hope. There was nothing in us to draw forth God’s love and kindness.
Yet God sought us, found us, delivered us from the fear of death, blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, brought us to His banqueting table, and raised the banner of His love over us.
Why did He do it? It was for Jesus’ sake. And it was because of His covenant of grace under which He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
The fitting response for us is to prostrate ourselves in His presence and say, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?”
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20)
Here we are at the close of another year, and still the patient Savior stands at man’s door, seeking admission. He has been kept outside a long time. Anyone else would have given up long ago and gone home. But not the Savior. He is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish. He waits with the hope that one day the door will be flung open and He will be welcomed inside.
It is amazing that anyone would fail to answer the knock of the Lord Jesus. If it were a neighbor, the door would be opened promptly. If it were a salesman, someone would at least give him the courtesy of opening the door and saying, “We don’t need any!” Certainly if it were the President or the Governor, the family would compete for the privilege of welcoming him. Strange then that when the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer stands at the door, He is given the cold, silent treatment.
Man’s refusal is all the more irrational when we realize that the Lord Jesus does not come to rob but rather to give. He comes to give life more abundant.
A Christian radio preacher once got a late night call from a listener who wanted to stop by for a brief visit. The preacher tried every excuse to dissuade him from coming, but finally relented. As it turned out, the visitor came with a large gift of money to help with the radio expenses. After he left, the preacher said, “I’m so glad I let him in.”
Joe Blinco used to describe a scene where an animated conversation was going on in the living room of a home. Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. One of the family said, “There’s someone at the door.”
Another jumped up, went to the door and opened it. Then someone in the living room asked, “Who is it?” Back from the door came the answer. Finally the head of the house shouted, “Tell him to come in.”
That is the Gospel in brief. Listen! There’s Someone at the door. Who is it? It’s none other than the Lord of life and glory, the One who died as a Substitute for us and rose again the third day—the One who is now enthroned in glory and coming soon to take His people home to be with Himself. Tell Him to come in!