"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 3, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1974 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Alan L. Barrow

Reading: 1 Timothy 6:3-16

THE phrase 'Man of God' occurs quite infrequently in the New Testament. So far as I can discover it is only used on two occasions and they are both in Paul's letters to Timothy. Elsewhere in the New Testament it is not found, except that Peter describes those who were responsible for writing the Old Testament as 'holy men of God' (2 Peter 1:21). This is a reference back and surely enough, when we come to consider the Old Testament, we find that the phrase 'man of God' occurs frequently. There were well-known prophets who were described as men of God; there were virtually unknown prophets who appeared on the scene and then disappeared but who were also called men of God. David was referred to as a man of God, particularly in relation to his music, his capacity of providing a vehicle of praise for God's people. And then Moses was described as "the man of God". So we see that in the Old Testament many were so designated, and in some cases considerable emphasis was placed on the title. In the New Testament, however, the phrase is hardly used at all.

Now what does this mean? Surely not that men of God are of less importance now. There must be some reason for the particular stress which is found in these writings to Timothy. It is possibly due to the fact that Paul had a very close relationship with Timothy. He knew the family. He and Timothy had worked together and travelled together for quite a long time, and had shared much adversity. There seems every evidence that the apostle regarded Timothy as something of an investment for the future, and so gave a considerable amount of time and attention to this next generation servant of the Lord. Having observed Timothy under a variety of circumstances and been associated with him in their working for God, he naturally was very concerned for him and for his spiritual success. The close relationship between the two men is indicated by the fact that Paul wrote to Timothy as "my true child in the faith". It seems likely that the younger man found Christ as a result of Paul's visit to Lystra. The apostle addressed him as "Timothy, my son" (1:18) and added weight to his exhortations by saying: "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you ..." (6:20). We are not surprised at the personal element, for this -- unlike most of the others -- was a very personal letter. In the second epistle Paul referred to his acquaintance with Timothy's childhood, as though everything to do with him was a matter of ultimate knowledge and concern to the writer. To such a man, under such circumstances, the apostle wished to stress the importance of being 'a man of God'.

This is not a term which we would think of applying to ourselves. We never refer to ourselves as men and women of God. This may be due to a very proper modesty, but it may also be because we feel that it should be an exceptional title, reserved for someone who is quite unusual. This might have been true in Old Testament times, but it should not be true today. Could the phrase be rightly applied to us? Could Paul write to us and address us as men and women of God? I suggest that it will be a profitable occupation to look closer into the implications of the title, seeking to discover what are the implications of being 'a man of God'.

GOING back to the Old Testament we note that the man of God was primarily a prophet, which means that he was a man with a job to do. He seemed to come into some situation with a task assigned to him and, so far as I know, he always fulfilled that task. I cannot find a single instance of a man described as 'a man of God' who failed to do the job assigned to him. So naturally he was a man of determination, one who had an air of purposefulness about his movements and actions. There is no sense of drift associated with the Old Testament men of God; they did not wait around needing some sort of entertainment or amusement to keep them going; they never seemed to be bored. Whether the man of God was a public figure or whether he was quite unknown, he was moved by a clear appreciation of what he was called to and what he was meant to be doing. He did not unduly concern himself with what other people were doing: he knew what his own particular job was and he got on with it. [81/82]

It is true that Christ was not described as a 'Man of God', partly because He Himself is God but chiefly because His self chosen title "the Son of man" covered all that we are now to consider. His title was unique, and rightly so, but He is to us a true example of the kind of man God requires and so from Him we may learn something of how a man of God behaves. His was certainly a life of purpose. It is inconceivable that He should have spent a single day seeking amusement or needing entertainment. As He moved about, morning by morning and afternoon by afternoon, He always knew that there was something to be done for God; people to be met, needs to be dealt with, situations to be faced; for Him every moment was one of purpose. Of course He enjoyed refreshment, and one might even say recreation. I would suggest, though, that He never felt in need of entertainment.

If I am asked what is the difference between entertainment and recreation, I would advance the explanation that everything depends on the end in view. Entertainment seems to me to be an end in itself, entertainment for entertainment's sake. Recreation, however, is not an end in itself but is meant to equip a man better for the demands and challenge of the work which he is called to. The very same thing could be entertainment (and therefore somewhat dubious) or recreation which would be most commendable. As we know, Christ had periods of recreation, periods of refreshment. He did not drive Himself relentlessly just for the sake of keeping on. On the other hand, with Him it was never a case of looking round for something to occupy His time, as though there were nothing important to do. What would be sheer entertainment for some might well be recreation for others, the whole point being the purpose 'behind what is being done. Is it to equip those who are concerned with God's service, to freshen them up for that service? Or is it because they cannot think of anything else to do and have no purpose to govern their behaviour? Well, the man of God has a purposeful life to live, and in that sense there can be little doubt that -- modesty apart -- we should all be marked out as men and women of God.

It has occurred to me that there must be a reason for the title being 'man of God' and not 'man from God'. This may be possibly because the prophets came not just as those with whom God had entrusted a message which had no relevance to their own character. They did not just come with words from Him. Rather is it God's way to have embodied the message in the man. The man was the message. Indeed if the message is to be rightly understood it seems necessary for God's purpose that it must be enshrined in human life. This is, of course, the principle of the incarnation, for as a Man Christ embodied the message which He brought to earth. We can have our teaching, our convictions, have all the facts and all the rules, but they will be very cold and unhelpful if they are not enshrined in people in whom those principles are seen to be working. So God has His prophets and His priests, and pre-eminently He has His Christ in whom can be seen the living reality of what it is that He is saying to us. And He has us all. His 'saints', those who are set apart to be men and women of God in this sense, that we enshrine and illustrate the message which we bring. It may be right to suggest that we are bringing people a message from God. Are we not called ambassadors for Christ? Yet even so, it may be asked if we have a right to a hearing, and the answer lies in what we are as well as what we say. It is those who themselves embody their message who can truly be called men and women of God.

THE man of God should "follow after ... godliness" (verse 11). We might naturally suggest what he should aim at would be the possibility of leadership in the church of God, the ability to make his mark by preaching in power, prevailing in prayer, studying his Bible or other similar activities. In fact these would be legitimate ambitions, but the stress of the apostolic appeal touches something more fundamental. He is to aim at godliness. It is worthy of note that the thought of godliness occurs time and again in these letters to Timothy and Titus, and then only again in 2 Peter. Not that the rest of the Bible fails to indicate this important quality, but it seems that in this letter there is a special concentration on the need for godliness. By the time that he wrote these words to Timothy Paul had had much experience of spiritual matters. He had seen Christian churches founded; he had seen them flourish and he had also seen them fail or flounder. He had seen individual Christians start well, and had also seen some of them come to near disaster. At this stage of his life, therefore, and with only two more pastoral epistles to write. [82/83] he must have had a clear perspective of the needs of the churches as well as of individual Christians. It is interesting to note that it was also in his final epistle that Peter made this same emphasis on godliness.

1 Timothy 2:2

In this verse we find that godliness -- or the need for it -- provides a reason for praying about our circumstances. The argument seems to be that we should ask God for the kind of governments and rulers which will provide an environment which is helpful to a life of godliness. It surely does not mean that too much importance should be devoted to the quietness or peaceableness of our surroundings, but rather that we are to welcome and pray for everything which can be used by God to further this most important aim of godliness. It is the godliness and not peaceful conditions which is to be the real objective of our prayers. The passage goes on to speak of the women folk and how godliness can be expressed by them (verse 10). Here again the main concern is not on the outward but on the inward, not on rules and regulations concerning dress but on the godly character of those concerned. God is just as concerned to have women of God as men of God, and calls for the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which He values so highly. Both by prayer and by behaviour we are to seek to deal with anything which can obscure true godliness.

1 Timothy 3:16

According to this passage the tremendously important secret of true godliness is revealed in the person of Christ, so that right at the heart of this letter we are given this concept, that the very essence of the idea of godliness is to be found in the incarnation. Christ came to show us what God is like. "Manifested in the flesh." In the life, death and glorification of the Man Jesus, we can see the quality of character which is called godliness. The mystery of godliness had to wait a long time before it was disclosed, since only in the person of the Lord Jesus could it be fully revealed. Now we are instructed as to the real godliness of man as God meant him to be, and in the Man Christ Jesus we are shown how we ought to behave ourselves in that household of God which is the Church of the living God.

1 Timothy 4:7

Here we are told that we should train ourselves in godliness, stressing the effort involved by a comparison with bodily training. We live in a day when in any sphere concentrated training is regarded as absolutely vital. You will even meet people running round the block at all hours of night or day, seeking to prepare themselves for some contest, and the whole matter is regarded as proper and reasonable. Why should we be less devoted in seeking to be spiritually 'fit'? Surely in this matter of godliness we ought to make use of the same sort of discipline and ordered planning. The man of God does not regard godliness as a hobby but as the prior commitment of his whole life.

1 Timothy 6:3

Godliness is also a test which may rightly be applied to teaching. It is useless to put emphasis on 'sound words' merely as orthodox teaching. They must be backed by that 'orthodox' Christian living which is shown in godliness of life. The words of our Lord Jesus were substantiated and confirmed by His manner of life, and it was He who warned us to test every would-be prophet or teacher by enquiry into the way they live as well as the words they speak. Paul had no hesitation in saying that it is impossible to accept teaching which is not being made valid in the life of the teacher.

1 Timothy 6:6

"There is great gain in godliness with contentment." In going on to remark that as we brought nothing into this world we shall not be able to take anything out of it, the apostle implies that there is something which we can and will take with us into eternity, the great and lasting gain of godliness. Godliness is not just a quality of character but it is a relationship that we have with God through Christ. It is this relationship which we must develop, an ever growing maturity in the matter of trust and love. Hence the argument that this is something worth disciplining ourselves for, something worthy of all our attention and effort, since it is the only wealth which we will be able to carryover from this life into the next.

I hope that I have established my point, that as he looked at the Church situation and at his [83/84] fellow workers and fellow believers, he came to the conclusion that it was most important that they should put godliness above all else. He loved Timothy greatly and could speak frankly to him, and so he made his appeal: 'O man of God, aim for godliness'. If he felt like this about the Christian life then, I wonder what the apostle would think today of the current vogue among many Christians which seems to be more concerned about show and entertainment than about solid godly living. So much effort and so much money is spent that there is almost an industry being built up for the purpose of entertaining Christians. We are not here to be entertained: we are here to pursue godliness. In any case we are not so concerned with what Paul would think as with what Christ thinks of this claimant need for Christian entertainment. He who was incarnate godliness here on earth calls us to be men of God, women of God. A right sense of modesty will prevent us from adopting such a noble title, but we must accept that this is our calling, and seek grace from God to pursue it and to encourage one another to be men of God.


"It came to pass ... that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:26)

Harry Foster

EVEN a superficial reader of the book of the Acts would notice that a new phase of divine activity began with the introduction of the church at Antioch. The apostles seem to have recognised this fact for, when they heard the news of what was happening, none of their number went to the city, but they sent Barnabas. He did not return to report. It seems evident that he realised that God was doing something new, so that when there was a need for further formation and development by the ministry of the Word he did not call in any of the apostles but went rather to Tarsus, determined to get the help of the one man who could be adequate for such a job.

Saul's original vision was not being fulfilled. He was the man who had received the revelation of this worldwide purpose of God long before these events at Antioch, and Barnabas seems to have decided that he was the one man who fitted into the situation. How right he was! It appears that it took him a little while to discover just where Saul was, but it is unlikely that he had much difficulty in persuading this new apostle to share in this exciting development among non-Jews. They went down to Antioch together, thrilled to have a part in something which was obviously a divine intervention and which promised so much.

As the days passed the promise was fulfilled. Even the frivolous citizens of Antioch felt the impact of it all, and they reacted by coining a new name for the people of God. "It came to pass that the disciples were called Christians first" in those thrilling days of new beginnings. In other words it had become apparent to all onlookers that what was happening at Antioch was a distinctive work of Christ. It casts no slur on the apostles and the Jerusalem church to say that until this time the casual observers had not realised the unique effect of the cross, thinking doubtless that these 'Nazarenes' were but just one more of the many sects of Judaism. The main body of Jews had, of course, strongly repudiated Jesus Christ from the first, but even an unpopular new sect, if it is nothing more than a sect, will eventually become respectable, as the history of Christendom proves. If such a movement is only characterised by outward forms it may be resisted, but in the end it will be accepted as one of the many. Folk saw the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes and the Herodians and the rest, and they could be excused for thinking that the Nazarenes were going to be added to the list. At Antioch, though, it became clear that this was not to be. This movement was something so entirely new that they gave it a nickname -- Christians. The fact that Luke sees fit to record this innovation suggests that he regarded it as something of real importance.

Having regard to the power and glory of the Lord experienced in Jerusalem, it may sound [84/84] almost like sacrilege to talk of God doing a new thing only ten years after Pentecost. But God is always having to do new things, and it is not necessarily a criticism of the Lord's servants in Jerusalem to remark that this time He acted quite apart from them. None of the twelve founded this church. Not even one of the seven ordained deacons had a part in it. The church was born as a result of the witnessing of unnamed persecuted believers. We are not told how it was that they came to share their faith with non-Jews. It was one of those things that, to use Luke's words, "came to pass". It was the Holy Spirit. That is why there was such an immediate, spontaneous and glorious result.

WHEN Barnabas arrived he was not impressed by the outward shape of things, the orthodox teaching and the right procedure, but what made him so happy was to see the way in which the grace of God expressed itself in the lives of these new converts; these men were so obviously filled with the Spirit of Christ. It was not he who called them Christians; though he might have done so had he thought of it. No, it was the name which had become current in that city famed for its nicknames, but it was partly due to the fact that there was no other label which could be applied to them. It is not necessarily a good thing when a work of God can be classified or distinguished by human names. If we see what Christ is, we should be lifted right out of mere earthly groupings. It was as if their neighbours said of those Antioch disciples: 'This is not another religious sect to be added to the many; this is something new, something different'. And it was. Something had happened at Antioch which gave new impetus to God's worldwide purpose, and it happened because some people there had become captivated by Christ.

You may ask, was not it Christ whom they preached at Jerusalem? Was He not preached by the twelve, by Stephen and Philip and others? Yes, but it seems that in spite of Christ's teaching and the so-called Great Commission, it took something quite new at Antioch to demonstrate the universality of Christ's kingdom. What came spontaneously into being at Antioch and was moulded and nurtured by the ministry of Saul and Barnabas, was a fuller revelation of the vast meaning and wide implications of the person of Christ. It may have been right for the early disciples to meet in the temple and remain associated with its worship; it was probably necessary for Peter and John to bestow the Jerusalem mark of authenticity on the first church of the Samaritans; but clearly the time had now come for the Holy Spirit to release the ministry of Saul, the man who had vision and commission for a full expression of Christ among the nations. The danger was that the heavenly body of Christ should become earthbound by reason of everything being centralised in Jerusalem. God broke out afresh at Antioch to make known the fact that the Church is not a branch of anything here on earth but an expression of the living Christ among men whose only name and description could be 'Christ-ones' or Christians.

It is most important that this simple distinctiveness should be maintained. This does not mean that we should be exclusive, an error into which some of God's most earnest servants have fallen. They were distinctive at Antioch, but most emphatically they were not exclusive. The very next verse tells us of how visitors came down from Jerusalem who were not despised or suspected by the church at Antioch. On the contrary they were welcomed, given a place and asked what message they had from the Lord. One of the Jerusalem prophets told them by the Holy Spirit that the saints in Jerusalem were about to enter a period of great suffering. A famine was coming which would be disastrous enough for Jews in general, but especially severe on those who had turned from Judaism to Christ. The response of the church at Antioch was as prompt as it was generous. Everyone, according to his ability, sent what he could to provide for these needy Jewish brothers in the faith. They opened their hearts and their pockets, and what was more they sent their best men -- Barnabas and Saul -- to carry their gift to Jerusalem. So when we talk of distinctiveness we do not mean being exclusive in spirit or in behaviour. We only mean that we cannot and dare not, copy others, but must seek to allow the Holy Spirit to do His new work in His own way. There is no 'mother-church' on earth: our mother is in heaven (Galatians 4:26).

THE real significance of the name Christian is that it applies to those who are Christ-centred. It was just a frivolous nickname at the beginning, and only appears in the New Testament with a certain sense of opprobrium. Nevertheless there is many a true word spoken in jest and many a caricature which draws attention to [85/86] features which really exist; so the people of Antioch had good reason for the tag which they coined and placed on the disciples. As they met them, saw their lives and heard what they had to say, the one thing which impressed them was that this was a community which made everything of Christ.

Barnabas encouraged them to do just this. When he had come and seen the gracious work which God was doing in their lives, he exhorted them "that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord". His ministry was in the power of the Spirit and resulted in encouraging this Christ-centredness. We notice that they did not start to call themselves Christians. They were not self-conscious, they were not trying to be anything special, they were just cleaving to Christ. They were not trying to be different from or better than the churches in Judea; they were not thinking of themselves or of their church, but determined to give heart devotion to Christ.

It is very striking that no mention of any miraculous expression of power, no story of signs and wonders, is made in connection with these Christians. Did they speak in tongues? It is not mentioned, so we do not know. Did wonderful healings take place there? They may have done, but if so it did not occur to Luke or to the Holy Spirit to mention them. What is told us is that for a whole year Saul (as he was then called) and Barnabas devoted their teaching ministries to lead them on in their knowledge of Christ. These ministries had most blessed results. They were not spectacular, they were not sensational; they consisted in steady, regular, Spirit-anointed teaching and grounding in divine truth. In so many movements which are called revivals this has been a conspicuous and serious lack. There is plenty of noise and excitement, but neither time nor patience for attention to the systematic exposition of the Word of God. But at Antioch the essential function of a Spirit-given ministry was to establish the believers in Christ, to enlighten them more and more about the meaning of Christ.

ON the return of Saul and Barnabas from Jerusalem this work of ministry continued and was also shared with others. Its tendency was all Christward, all calculated to establish a fuller and deeper vision of the Lord among them, until at last the day came when this ministry of Christ could be released into all the world. According to Acts 13:1-2 the guidance came while the servants of the Lord were gathered together in priestly ministry to Him. They were not planning a missionary movement, formulating schemes by which the gospel could be advanced among men, but were waiting upon God in a priestly way. This seems one more indication of how Christ-centred this new church was, since its leaders gave priority to ministering to Him. Impatient onlookers might have complained: 'What on earth are those men doing, shut up to God in that way? These are men of gift, men with a call. Why don't they get busy and move out to the task? The thing to do is not to question but to read on to the end of the story and find what wonderful and widespread results through Barnabas and Saul came from those sessions of united prayer. The first business of any church is not to plan for what can go out to men but to concentrate on what goes up to God. On that basis the Holy Spirit will attend to the sending out, and do it so much more effectively -- and even rapidly -- than the most consecrated men could ever do. These 'Christians', who made so much of Christ, proved to be very fruitful in the end. Indeed 'ministering to the Lord' will often prove to be the key to real fruitfulness. It is impossible to be in close contact with Christ without having a heart burden for a needy world.

This very name suggests the worldwide nature of their view and outlook. The idea of Christ, the Messiah, is purely Jewish. The actual word, Christos, is the Greek way of describing Him. The particular noun for 'Christian' seems to be a Latinised form. So here we have Romans, Greeks and Jews all condensed into a name, and a nickname at that. But what a nickname! Without knowing it, the people who coined it were hinting at the universal range of this new work of the Holy Spirit at Antioch. And with the world in view the time had come for the Holy Spirit to speak. "Separate me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" was what He said, as J. N. Darby's translation shows. The time had come -- God's time. I have no doubt that for Saul it had been a long time coming -- as it often is. For this was not his call. He had long known the work assigned to him by his Lord, to go out into the nations "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light ..." (Acts 26:18), but it appears that the Spirit needed such a church as that of Antioch before He could proceed with the sending of His servant. Barnabas [86/87] may well have shared this sense of divine call, but even the two men would not act until the Spirit's moment came. They had to wait. While they prayed they waited. While they taught they waited. While they witnessed in Antioch among an ever-growing church they still waited. When they undertook the commission of carrying help to Jerusalem they were still waiting. And then while they shared with other brothers the holy task of 'ministering to the Lord' the Holy Spirit spoke the word of release. "Separate me now ...".

When the church sent these two men out, they recommended them to the grace of God (Acts 14:26). Somehow one always met the grace of God when dealing with these Christians. Later on Barnabas broke with Paul, and the apostle took Silas with him as they set out again and on this occasion, too, they were commended to the grace of God (Acts 15:40). The New Testament tells us surprisingly little of this vital and fruitful church. No epistle to this church has ever survived, if one was ever written; and no hints are given as to their formation or procedure. Two things are stressed. They were Christ-centred. And among them was an abundant flow of the grace of God. Do we need to know more? Is not this a sufficient disclosure of how it all began?

AS a matter of fact two more things are reported about Antioch, and both of them tell of serious difficulties. This is not surprising for, while Satan may tolerate and even patronise what is only nominally Christian, he bitterly hates the real thing. So there were two outstanding incidents of a very sad character which took place at Antioch. But what strikes me about the two quarrels among the apostles is that even these were not petty and mean, but were of large dimension. That difficulty with Peter over the distinction between Jews and Gentiles which is described in Galatians 2, and that quarrel between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) -- at least they were on a big scale, unlike the small and despicable wrangling at Corinth where every little person was having a little quarrel with some other little person. That was because so many of the Corinthians were self-centred. The church at Antioch, however, was facing spiritual issues in the light of a vast world situation, and that no doubt explains why they met the full antagonism of the devil.

Peter seemed all right at Jerusalem and elsewhere, but somehow when he got to Antioch he was betrayed into a subtle work of Satan which for the moment was too much for him. He had to be openly rebuked. That must have been a sad day for all concerned. In a sense it challenged Peter and the others as to the validity of this name of 'Christian'. Thank God that His grace triumphed in them, as it did in Paul, but nothing less than grace could have triumphed over such a subtle dividing work of Satan. The other matter was more personal, or so it seems. According to your temperament you may take the side of Barnabas or side with Paul, but at least it is good that they were arguing about getting on with the Lord's work and did not allow the disagreement to prevent them from doing that. One must believe, too, that the sovereignty of God so overruled that in the end the result was greater gain for Christ. Was Barnabas right about Mark? Well, Mark made good in the end. Was Paul right? If he was, then perhaps it was the shock of his rebuke which stung Mark into a new spiritual position. In any case the Lord was glorified all round -- and that is the one concern of a Christian.

Surely the helpful lesson of those two conflicts at Antioch is that it was the outward-looking vision which saved the church from disaster. Although the clash with Peter was most disturbing, it was the appeal to the love and cross of Christ which saved them from having any division or partition in the church. And although a sharp contention between the two men whom the Holy Spirit had so signally called at the beginning must have been a very painful episode in the church's history, the fact remains that Barnabas went on with his service, and Paul was sent on his, and there was no partition in the church. How different it was at Corinth, where whole groups were mutually antagonistic, claiming to be Paul's party, or that of Apollos or Peter! Their trouble was that they were prone to look inwards and tending to concentrate on making their church something special. Those at Antioch, however, were saved by having concern only for the name and glory of Christ. First of all, and in spite of temptations to move off this ground, they were Christians! That was how it all began, and that is what the Spirit is wanting to do in our day. A master-stroke of Satan has been to debase the name of Christian. This is done by those who have never had a personal experience of new birth, but have some [87/88] association with a religion. More subtly, however, it is done by making this simple name and relationship to appear insufficient, so that other names of people, places, doctrines or experiences are used to distinguish a group of God's people. We need another Barnabas to visit our churches as the "Son of Consolation" visited Antioch, and we need him to challenge us with the same Spirit-given exhortation that with purpose of heart we should cleave to the Lord!


(Some thoughts on John, chapters 13 to 17)


Roger T. Forster

IN the thirteenth chapter we saw the two significant acts of washing feet and offering bread across the table as a sign of friendship even to His enemy, by which the Lord Jesus demonstrated something of the great love of God to all who will open their eyes to see it. We notice too that on the Thursday night before his crucifixion, when the Lord Jesus was using the last hours of His earthly life to prepare His disciples for the future, that there was a kind of fulfilment of what John had written in an earlier part of his Gospel about the Lord Jesus 'tabernacling' amongst men. There is a sense in which in chapter thirteen we find ourselves in the first court of the old Jewish tabernacle and see the laver of water being applied to the feet of the disciples. In that symbolic act the Lord Jesus indicated the way in which He would wash away sins by the work of the cross. In that outer court the sacrifices were taken and eaten by the servants of God, and so it was that the Lord offered bread to His disciples in the upper room.

This next chapter takes us on from the outer court where spiritual things could be seen by all into the second court, into the 'tent'. In the days of the Jewish economy when men used to worship God in the tabernacle or in the temple, this was called 'the house of God', so we find that chapter fourteen opens with the statement by the Lord that He was going to prepare a place for His own in His 'Father's house'. From this point right through to chapter sixteen it is as though the Lord Jesus was introducing His disciples into the second court of God's place of dwelling, which is of course Himself. So He spoke of preparing an 'abiding place' in Himself, a place where men can come and live in the inner tent, in the very house, in the very heart of God. And in order for this terrific experience to become possible, He reiterated again and again that it was essential for Him to go away from them. It was just as though someone would pass from the outer court and hide for a moment inside the tent, and then come out once more in order to introduce others into the place which He had prepared for them inside. "I will come again" He said, meaning that He would return to take them in with Him to those heavenly abiding places of the Father's house where they were henceforth to live.

In the course of this chapter there is no section of more than five verses which does not contain this promise that He would go away and then come back to them again. It was as though in that upper room the Lord Jesus was conveying to His disciples that the purpose of His going away in death and return in resurrection was to make it possible for them to go right into the house of God and dwell in that house for ever and ever. The psalmist spoke of this in the 23rd psalm and he also expressed his desire to live in the house of the Lord where he could behold the beauty of the Lord and enquire in His temple, delighting in the presence of the Lord for ever and ever. This chapter shows how the Lord Jesus was preparing His disciples for this new 'life-style' which was to be theirs, this new realm of existence which was to be brought in by the Christian dispensation. It was to consist of living in His house, being a part of His tent, dwelling in the very body of the Lord Jesus Himself. And in order to enable the disciples to grasp how this was to come about, He began to introduce them to the Holy Spirit, since after He had gone away and come back it was not the resurrection itself [88/89] which would bring them into the new sphere of existence but His Spirit, the other Comforter, who would come and dwell with them. The three chapters which give us the great narrative of the upper room sermon in which the Lord Jesus was seeking to introduce His disciples into the inner life of the house of God, make mention four times of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who was going to take His place.

ON the first occasion He said to them: "If you love me, keep my commandments; and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it does not see him, it does not know him; but you know him, for he dwells alongside you and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you" (14:15-18). Then again He introduced this 'called alongside one', this Comforter: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you ..." (14:26). On the third occasion He dealt with the matter of entering into the house of God and abiding in Him, and for this they would need the Comforter. "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father, he shall witness of men and you also shall bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning" (15:26-27). And then on the fourth and last occasion in this upper room narrative, the Lord Jesus brought them face to face with the Holy Spirit. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient that I go away, for if I go not away the Comforter will not come to you, but if I depart I will send him unto you. When he is come he will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment; of sin because they believe not on me, of righteousness because I go to my Father and you see me no more, of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come he will guide you into all truth, for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak, and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me for he shall receive of mine and will show it unto you" (16:13-14). Four times then the Lord Jesus introduced this Other Self, this Spirit who was to come from the Father, this 'other presence' who was coming to take the place of Jesus. It was most important and the Lord Jesus took very meticulous care to see that His disciples grasped the significance of the Holy Spirit. He has the same care for us.

Just before He introduced the Holy Spirit for the fourth time the Lord Jesus, upbraiding His disciples a little, said to them: "But now I go my way to him that sent me, but none of you asks, Where do you go?" (16:5). You might argue that Peter had asked that question a little earlier, in the 13th chapter. Had he? Yes and no. Peter had truly asked: 'Lord, why can't I follow You now? Why can't I go the way You are going?' But he was not really asking where the Lord was going, but only voicing his concern that the Lord Jesus was about to be lost to them. Peter was one of those who had -- almost literally -- burned his boats. He had put everything behind his back, sold himself out for Christ and declared that he was going to follow Him to the ends of the earth, to die for Him if needs be. Having given up everything for his Lord he was aghast to hear Jesus say that He would go away and leave them. This is rather parallel to Thomas's question: "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way" (14:5). In His reply: "I am the way ..." the Lord sought to reassure Thomas that he was not going to lose his Master, but to continue in the way with Him. So in a sense Thomas and Peter did not really ask the Lord where He was going. What they were most concerned about was how they were going to manage without Him. The Lord upbraided them to try to help us to ask this question as to the true significance of His leaving the earth. The fact is that by going away through death and the ascension which followed the resurrection, the Lord Jesus was able to give the Holy Spirit who would not only fill the gap that Thomas and Peter feared, but give them quite a new experience of His presence. The Holy Spirit was more than a substitute for the presence of Jesus here on earth: He was the completing and perfecting of the significance of that presence in a new sphere of spiritual experience. To be a Christian in the twentieth century is to be at home with God in a way which the disciples could never have known while Christ was still here on earth. It is far more satisfactory and fulfilling now, for the Holy Spirit makes God's presence an inward reality all the time. Do we believe this? Has the [89/90] past week proved it? Have we enjoyed the thrilling experience of being at home with God moment by moment, have we proved the nearness of His presence, the support of His wisdom and strength? Have we found that when we witness of Him that He witnesses too? In a very pragmatic way the Lord is at work now, as He convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment by means of His Spirit who lives in us, His people. The Lord Jesus now completes His presence with us in a way which He could never have done if He had not first died, risen again, ascended to prepare a place for us in the Father's house and then introduced us into that house by the Holy Spirit.

NOW this word 'Comforter' is perhaps not the best word to use. A comforter can sometimes be a thing, but the Holy Spirit is no 'thing'; He is as personal as Jesus Himself. We get the word from Wycliffe's translation of the Bible, and its meaning was more robust in those days. There is another version which uses the term 'Consoler', but this might suggest that, like the disciples before Pentecost, we are miserable because we do not have the Lord Jesus with us and so have to be consoled by a substitute. The Spirit of God, however, is much more than that. Far from merely consoling us because we lack the literal presence of Jesus He is with us as able to give us much more than just consolation for what is absent, namely a fuller experience of God with us. Others have suggested the word 'Advocate' because the Greek word can mean this, somebody in the law courts, like a solicitor or a barrister; someone who will plead with our hearts and advocate the Lord Jesus to us. This has some truth but it still falls short of the real meaning if we are thinking of a court scene in our own hearts and of the Spirit convincing us and pleading with us.

There are different ways in which this word 'paracletos' can be rendered, and for myself I think that it is best summed up in a little phrase: 'A friend at court'. To the Greeks it meant this, for although in our case a solicitor may act for us without being our personal friend, this was not true for them. For them a friend at court was one who would stand by them in the witness box, whispering encouragement in their ear, bringing back to remembrance any important point that they were in danger of forgetting, and even offering to share their testimony because of personal involvement in the case in hand. The Greek took more than a mere solicitor with him; he took a friend whom he had called alongside to stand with him in his hour of trial, difficulty and need. This is exactly the function of the Holy Spirit, for He has come alongside to be 'a friend at court' for disciples in every age.

Outside, of course, there were the authorities looking for the Lord Jesus. It was dark. Judas had gone out to betray Him. Soon there would be armed guards, searching around the streets to find where Jesus might be hiding. Soon they found Him in Gethsemane and, with a clash of violence, carried him away. It was a hostile world which lay outside of that upper room where Jesus was teaching His disciples. It was a hostile world that was going to put Jesus on trial, and He was to be taken violently away from them. The time would come when in their turn the disciples would also be put on trial. How could they ever face such an ordeal without their Leader to stand by them? The answer is that another Comforter would come, another and yet the same Friend to stand with them in the court of this world. He would be with them, whispering in their ears and close to their hearts, holding their hands, as it were, in their moments of great need. He would convince their accusers with arguments which they themselves could never have been able to invent.

It may seem remote from the idea of disciples being at home with God to talk of their being on trial before a hostile world, but in fact it is all part of the same thing. It was by the house of God that the Jews were able to be a witness to all the nations. The Gentiles would come up to Jerusalem, look at the temple, recognise that it was the house of God and from it get some impression of what God is like. So it is that to be a part of God's house now means that we stand as witness to the world around, and for such a purpose we need the Holy Spirit. The Lord said that this was why He would come. This means that to be involved with the Spirit is to be sent as a witness, so one moment we are sitting down enjoying God in His home and at the same time you are being sent. And when you are being sent, you are at home with God. Some people are not at home with God because they are not being sent, and some are not being sent because they are not at home with God. If we do not spend time at home with God we shall never be sent. If we are not willing to be sent, then we fail to enjoy the blessings of being home with God. [90/91] It is not a matter of choosing between one or the other, for both must be true.

WE are told that the Spirit of God was to come so that we should not feel orphans in this hostile world where we are seeking to express the house of God. From His place in us, the Spirit would minister the fatherliness of God to those who otherwise would be exposed like orphans. In the days of the Lord Jesus orphans -- like widows -- were the prey of all sorts of evil men and suffered much injustice. The Lord assures us that He will not leave us exposed in this way, but will comfort us by not allowing us to stand alone before the judges and juries of this hostile world. Had the Lord remained on earth, then tried believers in South America or China would have had to wait for Him to come to them in their place of need, but this other Comforter dwells in them, so that they are not orphans, they are never alone. The Spirit of God has come to be fatherly towards those who would otherwise have been as orphans. This is His first operation.

But secondly He is also a Reminder, a Remembrancer. Even if I had memorised the whole Bible -- a useful enough thing to do -- I would still need the Lord to remind me of how each part applied at any given time. I need the Comforter, the Friend at court, so that when I speak before the world my words may have the impact which His would have done. If the Comforter does not help me in any given situation, I may say something which Jesus taught, but it may not be just those words of His which are calculated to convince. They may not understand how what I quote applies, it may seem to belong to some other age and not fit in with this present moment. Only this Friend at court can take the things of Jesus and so bring them livingly to my mind that there is an up-to-date application of truth to my own life.

Thirdly the Holy Spirit is given for the purpose of witnessing. The Holy Spirit was there when Jesus died, and He was there when Jesus rose again, so that when I testify of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus I have the Holy Spirit to corroborate this testimony. They are not only my words. 'Witness' means 'to know together with', so that it is not only I who speak about the Lord Jesus but the Holy Spirit who gives the testimony. If I am left to myself I am afraid. Who is going to believe my testimony? Who is going to be convinced by my lame words? Nobody, unless the Holy Spirit presses home the truth with His own personal testimony to Christ. But the wonderful truth is that He witnesses when we witness, and so there is power and effectiveness in what is said.

Fourthly it was promised that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. If I wish to convince the judges and juries of this world, I need something more than my own ability. I do my best; I explain what I have learned from the Word of God; but that in itself is not sufficient: only the convincing power of the Holy Spirit is capable of making men know that they are sinning by not believing on the Lord Jesus. To convince men of righteousness because Christ has been accepted by the Father, to convince men in a world like this that their world has already been judged, who but the Spirit of the living God can do such a thing? We cannot do it, but He has been given to us so that when we preach the gospel we can do so with the power of the Spirit sent down from heaven. When we go out to testify of the Lord we can count on the presence of the Holy Spirit to confirm the words with signs following. Who is going to believe that a peasant from an obscure part of the Roman Empire who only lived until he was thirty-three and only preached for just over three years, whose death is hardly recorded by secular historians except in one or two police records -- who is going to believe that He is the Son of God? Who is going to believe that His death is God's answer for the salvation of men? Only those who have the truth pressed home to their hearts and consciences by the mighty Spirit of God. Who, save those who are so convinced by the Spirit, will believe that in Christ God has made provision for a new earth and a new heaven? We need the Spirit utterly and completely if we are to make any sort of case to the world of unbelief.

In conclusion we marvel at the wonderful experience which the indwelling Spirit offers to all Christians. He is the one who provides God's friendship, His fatherliness, His understanding love. He is the one who, in an age which is always declaring that it does not and cannot understand, comes to teach us the truth and to bring to remembrance Him who Himself is the truth. He is also the one who comes to reinforce and make [91/92] effective our own assertion that by God's grace we know the reality of the one of whom we witness. And lastly, He comes to convict men who would not otherwise know of their own sinfulness because they have not believed in Jesus, of the free gift of perfect righteousness in Christ Jesus and that the world's ruler is doomed through the cross. As I look around at the chaos everywhere I feel that it is impossible to bring home the truth to men's hearts, and then I realise that God has made full provision in sending forth His Spirit. The Comforter has come. We have a Friend at court in this world. So we can go forth in the same confidence which was displayed by those first disciples who so gratefully received His promised presence.


T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Exodus 35

THIS and the following chapters give us a comprehensive representation of Christ as tabernacling among His people; they are a typical setting forth of the body of Christ, the Church; and they are a most valuable disclosure of the spiritual principles of the life and service of the people of God.

But before we deal with the contents of this chapter we must remind ourselves of the background and setting of what we have in view, and this can be stated as one of those breakings into this world by the God of glory which mark the history of His dealings with men. Reading back we find God descending from heaven, breaking through to the mount, and meeting His servant at a place midway between heaven and earth to disclose His purpose concerning this world. The glory of the God of Israel so fell upon Moses that he brought it down out of the divine presence and had it reflected in his face as he acted as a mediator between God and man. Then the purpose of the breaking through of God's glory was seen to be the setting up of His testimony on the earth. He revealed that He proposed to have an instrument here for His own self-manifesting. This was His purpose, to have a vehicle for displaying His glory here on earth. The tabernacle was, of course, only a type. The reality is in Christ. For the moment, however, we seek to get help from the type, and so consider this mediator of the divine glory, radiant of countenance, as he makes his first utterances to the people.

The Assembly Constituted upon the Sabbath

"And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them, These are the words which Jehovah hath commanded that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord: whoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day." We remember that what is in view is God's testimony here on earth, to be constructed and constituted in a tent of meeting, and the first words in connection with this is that the only ground on which it can be constructed is the sabbath. That was because the sabbath represented the end of the works of God and the entering in by man into His finished work. Only a man of rest can build the house of God. Later on we find that Solomon was able to build the temple because he was such a man of peace whereas his father, David, had been forbidden to do this work because he had been a man of war. The vessel of the testimony can only be constituted on the ground and principle that those who have a part in it have come definitely and finally to rest in the perfected works of God. We know that every testimony for the Lord here on earth has to face a fierce conflict. The only hope of triumph for all such is that before they even go into the battle they have perfect rest as to the full and final victory of Christ, with perfect assurance that God's end has already been secured.

One of the enemy's most successful activities against the testimony and those who bear it is to bring about unrest and a lack of assurance concerning the Lord. He has many ways of producing such a condition of uncertainty: introspection, self-occupation, false accusations, feelings of the soul or doubts in the mind. All manner of means [92/93] are used to upset the restful, confident assurance of faith in relation to the Lord. A principal one is fear, but there is nothing which will so quickly and utterly paralyse the servant of God as fear. In this connection we are told: "And in nothing affrighted by the adversaries". The great adversary works hard to get us unsettled and affrighted, which means that we are not spiritually enjoying God's sabbath. In principle the sabbath is a state rather than a period of time; it is a spiritual condition of heart rest in the fact that God has reached the end of an His works and has nothing more to do, having secured everything finally in His Son. We need to apprehend the completeness of Calvary's work, for without such an assurance we cannot build for God. If we are fretful and worried about our spiritual life, our acceptance, our standing or our fellowship with God, then we are debarred from practical participation in building for God.

It is noteworthy that only one aspect of the sabbath is here mentioned. Elsewhere many other things are said about the prohibitions of the sabbath, but here the only one specified is: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the sabbath day". The Holy Spirit knows exactly what He means by singling out this one matter. What is His intention? Well, so far as I can see, the kindling of fire in the habitations represents looking after one's own comfort. It is as though God was saying that those who were going to constitute His testimony must set aside all personal interests and self-consideration. "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thine own pleasure on my holy day: and call the sabbath a delight, and the holy of the Lord honourable; and shalt honour it, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure ... I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth" (Isaiah 58:13-14). To know what spiritual ascendancy is, to be on the uplands with God, means first of all to have entered into God's rest in His completed work and then to cease from personal and selfish interests.

The Assembly is for God's Pleasure

As we move on into the chapter we see what a good state of affairs prevailed among the people. The whole assembly moved in response to God's pleasure. It is tremendously impressive to note the recurrence of the word 'willing'. A willing heart, a willing spirit, everyone whose heart made him willing, everyone whose spirit stirred him up -- all this represented a glad response to the opportunity to please the Lord. He did not command, but made His desire known, and that was enough. In another place the Lord commanded to bring offerings, for sacrifices were needed when it was a question of fellowship with God, but here God simply expressed His intention of establishing a testimony among them and appealed to their desire to bring pleasure to Him: "Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring ...". It was a beautiful thing that there was such a spontaneous movement of the people's hearts to meet this desire of His.

I think that we need to recover this feature in relation to our testimony for Christ. It is sad that we sometimes tend to regard the matter as somewhat onerous, a requirement which is so hard to meet that we almost groan about it instead of counting it a joyful privilege. In the New Testament we recognise Paul as a prominent worker in this matter and as one who paid a very high price in his work of church-building, yet we get no hint that it was burdensome to him, but just the reverse. When he was imprisoned in Rome and superficial observers might have been inclined to pity him, he was able to exhort the Philippians to keep on rejoicing all the time. His experience was that if he was sorrowful yet he was always rejoicing -- "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instantly in prayer".

Above all we think of our Lord Jesus, who was Himself the embodiment of God's testimony here on earth. The doing of the will of God was for Him a matter of intense anguish, and yet He affirmed: "I delight to do thy will, O my God". So there were two experiences taking place at the same time, a consciousness of the costliness of pleasing God and yet a glad and willing delight in ministering to the Father's satisfaction. It seems that although the sufferings were terribly real the sting was taken out of them by the assurance that a great and wonderful purpose of God was being achieved by means of them, so that the sacrifice brought deep pleasure to the heart of the Father.

We see this principle in the case of the Israelites. They brought all sorts of precious things, sacrificing their treasures, because their hearts were moved with love of God. I can imagine that when all the requirements had been outlined by Moses, the gold, the silver, the brass, the precious stones and the costly materials, the people might well have doubted whether they [93/94] could spare their treasures if they had not felt a heart-response to God's call. They would perhaps not have known what they had got or, if they had it, they might have forgotten where it was and decided that it was inconvenient to search it out. It is surprising what excuses we can find if our hearts are not in a matter. Happily they were moved by willing hearts, so that all the material came from their affectionate gratitude. It is wonderful what we can discover that we have in the Lord Jesus when our hearts are aglow for Him and for the Father's satisfaction. People whose hearts are cold will always feel that they have nothing to give to the Lord. To the Corinthians the apostle said: "In everything ye were enriched in him", but it takes love to discover what those riches are and to make them available in the assembly of God's people. In times of worship you will not have to scour through your Bible in an attempt to discover some passage of Scripture which will be a suitable contribution. If your heart is aglow to the Lord you will always have something spontaneous to offer in the hour of worship, and with that glowing heart you will discover that you are richer in spiritual possessions than you had thought, and so you will always have something precious to give.

Features of Christ in the Assembly

If we consider the numerous and various materials we find that everyone of them is typical of Christ. There can be nothing satisfying to the heart of God apart from the Lord Jesus. The gold, silver, brass and fine linen, all these things represented some aspects of the person and work of Christ. Find the person who is full of love to the Lord, one whose heart is burning and throbbing with love for Him, and you will meet someone who always has something to convey to you of the preciousness of the Saviour. Such a one is always seeing the glory of the Lord from a different angle and so able to present a different facet of His beauty. This delighting in the Lord made the testimony grow. Before there was any outward expression there had to be an inner response of willing hearts. All outward ministry must be the result of an inward state of heart towards the Lord.

In this case there was such a generous response that they brought more than was required and had to be called to stop giving. How wonderful if that symbolic response of old could have a spiritual realisation in our day! The fact is, of course, that every child of God has in Christ an abundance of resources for ministering to the heart of God. "In everything ... enriched in him" is to be true of us. We need more love and willingness of heart to make us discover our riches and then release them for the building of His Church. The assembly is set up as a testimony on earth by the bringing together of individual heart exercise and appreciation of the Lord Jesus. The assembly really is not just a congregation, not just the coming together of people for services, meetings, conventions, etc., but the bringing together of individual heart exercise in the appreciation of the Lord Jesus in such a way that the Father can see His Son's features expressed in human lives. That is the true nature of assembly life. One can bring the gold and another the silver, and yet another the brass. Some bring fine linen, some blue, others scarlet and others purple, so that as each brings his own apprehension and appreciation of the Lord Jesus and all are united together in the assembly, the Father can look down and see the various features of His Son. That is the testimony of Jesus on earth: that is Christ tabernacling among us. As each one follows on to know the Lord in private, personal life history , so new discoveries are made of the virtues and values of God's Son, and these are brought together in assembly life. When we have made such new discoveries of the grace of Christ we can come together with other children of God and speak and sing together of what we have proved experimentally in a living way and so we become a collective and corporate representation of the house of God.

I imagine that the Israelites went back to their tents to search out the materials which were required, eager to see if they had some of the treasures which their willing hearts prompted them to offer to the Lord, and that they then gathered together to cooperate in shaping and preparing them. This means that they were willing to work with the materials which others had brought. Not only did people vary in what they could contribute but they also had different work to do with the materials after they had been gathered. They needed one another and they worked together. Even a Bezaleel, specially called and anointed for his task, could not have carried it through without the materials donated by others. And if the women had not done the spinning and weaving, Bezaleel's work would have been without purpose. In the assembly, the Holy Spirit depends upon a spirit of willing and loving cooperation among God's people. [94/95]

There seems to be a special lesson in the work of the women, for their weaving involved the bringing of things together and binding them into a whole. It is so easy to tear things apart, to pull things asunder and to shred apart instead of embroidering together. We can do this by gossip, by criticism, by letting our tongues run away with us. I am afraid that we are all guilty of such behaviour at times, and it brings weakness into the assembly. There is so much constructive work to be done, spinning and weaving even what other people have contributed, so we should give ourselves to this kind of activity and beware of Satan's temptations to put strains on our relationships and so weaken our testimony. The Holy Spirit can only do His work and perfect the testimony as each one takes personal and individual responsibility, working together toward the common end of God which is the manifestation and glorifying of the Lord Jesus.


Harry Foster

"Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do; and the God of peace shall be with you." Philippians 4:8-9.

YOU can never be sure that it is the God of power who is with a man. There are powers which are just natural and a man's apparent success may be due to them. In fact God's power is often hidden, so that a spiritually powerful man may seem quite weak. You can always know, however, when the God of peace is with a man. That is something which cannot be hidden or mistaken. And God's peace is an essential basis for true service. The old sabbath was the seventh day. When you had done your job you rested. The Christian sabbath is the first day: you can only go out and face the week and the work before you as you know the real presence and support of the God of peace. Clear instructions are given as to how we may know this miraculous peace in an age of strain and tension. To have the God of peace with you is not accidental. It is the result of obedience to two divine injunctions which are to be found in this chapter.

The first is that we must pray about everything and do so with thanksgiving (verse 6). The second recommendation is equally important for those who would enjoy God's peace. If I may put it into a contemporary phrase it is just this -- think positively! If you do this, says the apostle, the God of peace will be with you. It is tremendously important that our mental attitude should always be a positive one. It was by practising such behaviour that the apostle found that the God of peace was with him. It must have been evidently the case for he could not very well have written as he did if his readers had been able to point out that he was only theorising and that when he was really up against it, put to the test, he betrayed unrest or tension. Nobody could charge him in this way, for the God of peace was obviously with him. Then he went on to urge the Philippians to follow his example, since it would work out in the same way for them too if they took care to think positively.

CONSIDER how he could have been preoccupied with more ugly thoughts. After all, he was in prison at the time. He must have been cold, for he asked for his coat. He must have suffered deprivation for he begged that his parchments should be brought to him. He was where he did not want to be, and repeatedly spoke of his bonds. This indicates a most uncomfortable experience, it means that a man is tied up and prevented from free movement. He could have brooded on these circumstances. Being a sensitive man, he might even have spent his time blaming [95/96] himself for precipitating them by going up to Jerusalem against the advice of his best friends. Or he could have blamed others, as we are so prone to do. It was James who requested him to go into the temple to help the men who had made a vow, and that was what sparked off the trouble which ended in the Roman prison. Well, if he had let his thoughts fasten on such matters he might have been dealing with facts, but he certainly would have lost his peace. We all find that when we start blaming others, or even ourselves, we get bogged down with the gloom of condemnation, and of course the God of peace has no intention of sharing that with us.

It seems that when Paul wrote this letter, grievances were in the air. He wrote of people, even Christian workers, who were filled with envy and strife. We gather that things were being said of him which were unkind and even untrue. He might have centred his thoughts on his grievances and the bad way in which he was being treated. His thoughts might have been true but they would have been far from honourable or lovely. He could have allowed his mind to dwell on the selfishness and carnality which marred so much Christian witness. "All seek their own." This, unhappily, was a true statement, but notice how Paul passed over it in a few words while enlarging appreciatively on both Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:21-30). In this way he gave minimal attention to what was ugly, though true, and maximum space for recording lovely acts and noble lives.

"If there is any virtue ...". Well, as Paul looked round his prison, he could not see any virtue there. Even as he looked at many of his fellow Christians, virtue seemed to be conspicuously absent. How then could he get his thoughts occupied with the good, the beautiful and the inspiring? Only by looking away from all else to the Lord Jesus. He is full of virtue, and worthy of all praise. "All seek their own" -- that is ugly, so I will think rather of Him who never failed in that way but who left heaven and came to earth in a lovely spirit of self-forgetfulness. Think on Him. Or think about this same spirit as found in His disciples. Think about Timothy -- so devoted and self-forgetful. No doubt even with Timothy, Paul could have considered features of his life which were open to criticism, but he chose rather to remember the things of good report. Think about Epaphroditus, and see that others also appreciate Christlike features in this good brother. And if we draw attention to those two difficult sisters Euodias and Syntiche, we find that while Paul is well aware of their dissonance and concerned about it, he is also careful to record the good things about them. We tend to say some good things about people and then with a damning 'BUT ...' to finish off with something sour. No wonder the peace of God is so lacking. Paul was not unaware of the clash of personalities; his 'But..." however, was one of loving appreciation. And the God of peace was with him.

HOW positive the Lord Jesus was in all His thinking. He met the woman who was bowed down, and His immediate thought was not 'Oh, what an ugly, misshapen person' but 'She is a daughter of Abraham'. They came to the man born blind and the disciples tried to get Him to give His opinion on the dark cause of this affliction, but He reproved them and said that this was an opportunity for the works of God to be seen. What a transformation resulted. It was a miracle. And every time we bring comfort and love, instead of condemnation, it is a miracle; though perhaps not so sensational as His. And when we do it, we get the presence of the God of peace as a kind of bonus. People seem so hopeless! Then I had better read again how the Lord Jesus met a hopeless case, Zacchaeus, and instead of joining in the general condemnation of his ugly life, claimed him as a son of Abraham and asked to spend the day in his home. Do you think that there would have been such a remarkable change in the life of the tax-gatherer if Jesus had stood under the tree and preached a fifty-minute denunciation of selfishness and malpractice? No, the man would have withdrawn into himself and hardened his heart. The God of peace entered that Jericho home and the God of peace moved on with Christ, the One who always thought positively.

When the Lord first saw Simon, He did not tell him that he was an unreliable type who was going to give a lot of trouble, but He said: "Thou art Peter', a rock. Of course Peter was not a rock -- far from it. The Lord, however, was going to make him a rock and so was thinking already of what would be, in the will of God. If only we could think of one another in such positive terms. At the end of His earthly ministry the Lord looked round on the disciples concerning whom He could honestly have said: 'You are the men who have constantly misunderstood me and [96/97] caused me many heartaches'. Instead of that, what He actually did say was: "You are they who have continued with me in my temptations", as if He were thanking them for their support. We shall get to love people better if we thank them for what we find of Christ in them instead of gossiping about their faults and failings. That is a point worth thinking about.

ARE not our gatherings together on the first day of the week specially designed to get us rightly focussed on positive thinking, with our eyes on the Lord? Is it not meant to be the chief function of church gatherings to help us to think on the pure and lovely? Yet it is a sad fact that not seldom do the people of God find their worst experiences of trouble and tension in the sphere of their church life. This is due to the schemings of Satan. There is plenty of scope for negative thinking among believers, plenty of opportunity to fasten and focus on personal features which displease us. The Lord sees them better than we do. He sometimes has to speak frankly about them. But He does not brood on them -- He looks at His people with the eyes of grace. And so He is the God of peace. And if we can learn to look at them through His eyes we too will have the peace which comes from Him.

What was true of the Lord Jesus became true of His apostles, as we see so clearly in the book of the Acts. We pass from Stephen to Peter and then to Paul, and we have to admit that the God of peace was with these men. This was no accident. It was a miracle, but it was a miracle which resulted from their concentration on the virtues and praise of Christ. They not only thought of Him in His sacrificial love, they thought of Him in His ascended glory and as they concentrated their thoughts on Him, even in prison, under violence and in the face of death, the God of peace was with them.

Let us think of the coming again of the Lord Jesus. That is a matter of good report; that is something lovely; and it is both true and honourable. The news media will do their best to get you thinking about the bad reports, the unloveliness and the distortions of truth which abound in our day. We cannot ignore what is going on. We must not be indifferent to earthquake victims or to wicked oppression. If, however, we focus on these things, if we allow them to take possession of our thought life, we shall find that the God of peace seems very far away, and our souls will be in a constant ferment. The Lord Jesus has given us instructions as to how we are to cope with the bad news which reaches us. He told us that when we hear of these things coming to pass we are to lift up our heads, for they all portend the return of our Lord in glory. This is not escapism. The coming of Christ is not just for our relief but for the righting of wrongs and the bringing in of the kingdom of everlasting righteousness. This is the hope of the world. This is God's answer to men's need. Think on this.

The words "discerning the things that differ" (1:10) in the Authorised Version is more correctly rendered: " Approving the things that are excellent". Wherever there is a true Christian there must be something of Christ. Discern it as different from earthly values and approve it as being excellent in God's sight. Look for what is of Christ in your assembly, in your fellowship; fasten on it; keep it always in mind; offer the Lord your praises for it. If you do this you will have found the secret of the constant presence of the God of peace.



"And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood
before the Lord: and he looked toward Sodom ... and lo, the smoke
of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.
" Genesis 19:27-28.

ABRAHAM'S dawn visit to the hallowed spot overlooking the plains of Jordan must have brought a deep sense of disappointment to his heart. On the previous day he had met the Lord face to face on that very spot. He had been taken into the divine confidence and, with a fine mixture of bold faith and deep humility, he had pleaded for Sodom to be spared. He had been obliged to return to his tent at Mamre without any conclusive promise from the Lord, and may well have wondered if there had been any use in praying about such a matter. He was, however, a [97/98] man of great faith, so he made an early morning visit to the place of prayer to discover what answer had been given to his earnest pleadings.

All those who have suffered the pain of having no apparent answer to their prayers will realise with what disappointment and dismay he must have looked out across the plain only to be confronted with a dreadful spectacle of fiery destruction. We are not told how he felt -- some griefs are too tragic for words -- nor are we told how long he gazed in despair at the fury of that vast furnace. Did he go back to his tent feeling baffled and rejected? Did the tempter whisper words of unbelief, as he often does to us? Was this perhaps the beginning of that age-old question: 'Why go on praying'? We do not know.

One thing we do know, though, and later on this same information must have reached Abraham and silenced all his doubts. It was that Lot was safe. He had not been involved in that fatal holocaust. He himself had not contributed anything to his deliverance. In fact he had done his utmost to impede the heavenly rescuers. Nevertheless he had been delivered and spared. And the inspired chronicler assures us that this was simply and solely the result of Abraham's apparently unanswered prayers. "God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow ..." (verse 29). The miracle of mercy was all attributable to Abraham's influence with God.

Why go on praying? Because the Bible abounds with promises and examples of the fact that God is the rewarder of them that seek Him diligently. Let us never give up, even though there may be no evidence of any response from heaven and even if -- like Abraham -- we look out on to a prospect of seemingly unrelieved gloom. It may have taken time before the patriarch had any idea that his prayer had been answered. In our case we may never know here on earth. But one of the joys of our bliss in the glory will be to discover how after all 'God remembered'. He always does. - Selected



Harry Foster

THE simple name Jesus, without any addition or title, appears almost six hundred times in the Gospels. When the writers thought of their Lord it was always the name Jesus which instinctively came into their minds. The theme of their story was this vivid personality, Jesus. Not that the apostles ever addressed Him in this way. No, for in spite of His great humility He had a dignity which precluded any such unseemly familiarity. Neither then nor after His resurrection did any disciples talk to Him in this way. When, however, they thought of or talked about Him, they revelled in the rich simplicity of the name Jesus. It had been used in its Hebrew form in Old Testament days (Hebrews 4:8), and it was common enough in Palestine in New Testament times (Acts 13:6), but for them there was only one Jesus. This is still more true of us today. Only in certain Roman Catholic areas would anyone ever think of naming their son Jesus.

The name was chosen in heaven. Since it was decided before Mary's child was conceived (Luke 2:21), we presume that the eternal Son Himself selected this from among all others as the personal name by which He wished to be identified. In due course instructions about it were given to Joseph, who was responsible for the actual naming of the Infant (Matthew 1:25). There had been other babies whom God had named before their birth, notably Isaac (Genesis 17:19), Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:9) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:13). These were all outstanding figures and their names had spiritual meanings, as indeed had the names of many other Bible characters. This name, however, was in a class of its own. It marked out its owner as the divinely appointed Saviour from sins (Matthew 1:21). Others might have borne the name: He alone could fulfill its meaning.

But even 'Saviour' can be a formal title, [98/99] whereas the force of the personal name Jesus is to link us directly with the Man. The warm personality, the understanding sympathy and the distinctive individuality of Jesus meant everything to His first disciples. As the angels assured them at the moment of the ascension, it would be "this same Jesus" who would come back to earth again in due course (Acts 1:11). Meanwhile by faith they could 'see Jesus' in His heavenly perfection (Hebrews 2:9). And we all agree the rightness of the divine decision that it is Jesus whom the whole universe shall worship (Philippians 2:10).

There was a special way by which He was distinguished from others bearing the same name while He lived here on earth: He was called "Jesus of Nazareth". It was partly true, for He had been brought up in that town; it was partly misleading, for He had not been born there and might better have been known as 'Jesus of Bethlehem'; and it was partly malicious, for Galilee was held in contempt by most Jews and the Jerusalem leaders were glad to use Nazareth as a smear. It is typical of the Lord that He made no attempt to disclaim this denigrating description. Indeed He did the opposite: He so ennobled the title that His followers enthusiastically gloried in it (Acts 4:10). The Son of God had taken up this common name, with its sneering allusion, and had made Jesus of Nazareth to be the name above all others.

The risen Christ was ready enough to use this description personally. "I am Jesus of Nazareth" was His reply to the astonished enquiry of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:8). In a world where men lust after great swelling names and boastful titles, the great Son of God was content to be known simply as Jesus of Nazareth.

And at the conclusion of John's overwhelming discovery of the glory and triumphs of his wonderful Lord, the apostle must have been strangely steadied and comforted by the reminder: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things ..." (Revelation 22:16). For John and for us there is so much that we do not understand. But we feel contented and relaxed when we realise that not only our destiny but that of the whole universe is in the hands of that dearly-loved person, Jesus.



Harry Foster

'UNCLE JOE' asked Fred one day, 'can you explain the Trinity to me? I know that there can only be one God and yet we also know that He is three persons. How can that be?'

'Shall I tell you what happened to me once in Amazonia?' was the only reply he received to this question. To Fred this seemed as though for once his uncle had no answer to his question and was trying to change the subject, but he was too polite to say so, and in any case he liked to hear missionary stories from Uncle Joe, so he just said: 'Yes, please', and waited for the story.

His uncle explained that in his early days among a Red Indian tribe he had many difficulties in learning their language because there were no books and no teachers to help him. The only thing to do was to have a notebook ready and to write down the words as he was able to learn them. But this was not as easy as it may sound.

There was a time, for instance, when he pointed to one of the men of the village and asked a boy who was standing by what the man was called. 'He Ru', answered the Indian lad, so Uncle Joe wrote that down. But he wanted to make sure that he was right, so he asked an older man if the other man's name was really He Ru. The old chap shook his head to deny this, and then went on to tell Uncle that the man was called He Ra-ira.

Had Uncle Joe been able to speak their language fluently he would have asked for an explanation, but he could not do this, so the only check he could make was to appeal to yet another man -- a young one this time -- and ask him what the man in question was called. To his surprise and dismay he received yet another different reply. 'That is He Muripari' the third man explained.

'Now Fred', said Uncle Joe, 'What do you think I felt like with three different names for the same [99/100] man?' Fred was sharp enough to know that this story was somehow connected with his own question about the Trinity, but he could not see how, nor could he understand the three different names for one and the same man. 'Did you ever find out?' he asked his uncle, and was told that later the facts became plain and Uncle Joe realised what had been happening.

'He Ru', he explained to Fred, 'simply meant "my father", while He Ra-ira meant "my son". In the first case I had asked the man's son and in the second I had spoken to his father. So quite truthfully one said that the man was his father and the other than he was his son.' 'And what about that third word?' asked Fred. 'Muripari?' enquired his uncle, 'well that just means "friend". The other man was his friend. As a matter of fact one of our first hymns used this word, when we made an Indian version of "There's not a friend like (the lowly) Jesus".'

How could one man be three? Well, that man was father, son and friend. 'It is a poor illustration of a wonderful truth, Fred' said his uncle, 'but at least it does suggest how one and the same person can, in a sense, be three people. And certainly we can know God as Father, we can know the Son as our Saviour, and we can know the Holy Spirit as our Companion and Friend.'

The next thing to do was to find a verse in the Bible which speaks of God in this threefold way, so Fred's uncle showed him the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 -- "baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Then it was Uncle Joe's turn to ask a question.

'Although Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned' he enquired, 'what do you notice about their name?' 'Why' said Fred, who had never noticed this before, 'it does not say "names" but just name'. That is, of course, true. You can verify it in your own New Testament. So we have the marvel and the mystery of what men call the Trinity -- the one name of Saviour and Friend. We cannot expect to understand this with our minds, but if we are true Christians we know the Father, and the Son of God and the friendship and presence of the Holy Spirit.

RECORDED MESSAGES by the late T. Austin-Sparks

Our friend Mr. Alec Brackett has prepared cassettes with messages which Mr. Austin-Sparks gave at Honor Oak and elsewhere. He will be glad to make these cassettes available to any who wish to get the help and inspiration which they bring. Particulars of these and other tape recordings may be had on application. The address is: "THINGS THAT MATTER" 30 Western Road, URMSTON, MANCHESTER M31 3LF. [100/ibc]

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