"... 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. 4, No. 4, July - Aug. 1975 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



FOR many years I have used a wide-margin Bible in which I have entered copious notes. Recently, however, I was presented with another Bible whose wide margins are still blank, so I am able to start all over again, and already I am finding this an aid in my constant quest for new discoveries of the inexhaustible riches of God's Word. For, valuable as my annotated Bible is, it tends to remind me of past thoughts in such a way that my thinking runs in grooves. This is never a good thing.

As an example, I have a note at the beginning of Numbers 32 which draws attention to the fact that although Reuben and Gad obtained an easy rest on the wrong side of Jordan, they paid the penalty of being the first to be carried off into captivity, as shown in 1 Chronicles 5:26.

Now there can be no denying that these two, with half of Manasseh, do seem to be typical of those who opt for the easiest possible kind of Christian life. Their request: "bring us not over Jordan" suggests that they wanted to settle for an immediate and selfish rest and to be excused from sharing in the strenuous thrust into the promised land which the remainder of God's people had yet to face. I notice that I have underlined v.23: "Be sure your sin will find you out", and I must confess that I have only thought of them to condemn them.

There are, however, positive lessons which I can learn from them, and I realise that the book of Joshua shows how they obeyed the command to help their brethren. They must have been tempted to ask why they should enter that path through the flooded Jordan. So far as they personally were concerned, it led nowhere, for their homes were on this side of the river. Yet they marched with the rest. And even more, they could have demurred against getting involved with Jericho's forbidding fortress. Why should they march round it day after day? Jericho was no menace to them. They had nothing to gain from a victory and everything to lose if they were defeated. The fact remains that whatever they thought, they loyally obeyed the command of Moses and took their place at the forefront of the fighting forces. They played their part like men at the Jordan, at Jericho and throughout the whole campaign. In the end they received a hearty commendation from Joshua: "Ye have not left your brethren these many days" (Joshua 22:3).

Will I receive a like commendation when my days are done? It would be so easy to luxuriate in God's kindness to me personally and to settle down comfortably with a sense that there is no particular Jordan or Jericho to threaten or menace me. From my place in the green pastures and beside the still waters do I decline to get involved with the trials and battles of my brethren? If I do I will be put to shame by the example of those two and a half tribes whom I have all my life pitied or despised. They did not opt out or give up; they waited until Joshua himself sent them back to their green pastures. Incidentally they received a royal bounty of blessing and spoils (Joshua 22:6-8). "Ye have not left your brethren these many days." I must make a note of this verse in my new Bible.

Of course there are entries in the old one which simply must be transferred to the Bible I now have. There is, for instance, the note against 1 Kings 6:7: "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building." My remark reads: 'This house represents the eternal edifice. No more quarrying then!' I have found it a great help to realise that life now is like being in the quarry. There may be a sense in which even now we are being builded together, but mainly I feel that our present life is like the quarry in which we are being cut and hammered into shape so that we shall be ready for eternity. Here we have the dust and noise and even the pain: there, these will have past and it will be all glory.

And then there are some dates in my margins which record special messages from the Word which characterised outstanding events in my life. It would be a pity to forget them, and yet I must beware of dwelling too much on the past. There should be new dates even for the old verses. One notable entry can never be repeated. Against Matthew 20:4 I have a date -- 27/1/25. I remember the occasion well. I had finished my time at the Missionary Training Colony and was due to leave for Brazil in March of that year. In [61/62] January we received news that a young and devoted missionary, Fenton Hall, had died after only a few months of service in the Amazonian jungle. In the light of this, my Missionary Society Committee felt that they must ask me again if I were ready to proceed to that same area as had already been arranged. In my simplicity I asked God to speak to me through His Word, and felt that I had the answer in this verse: "Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you". So I wrote the date against that verse and in due course sailed for Brazil. I have never regretted that guidance. Later on, I added as a comment to this verse: 'No bargaining for a wage. Leave the reward to Him!' As I look back I realise how bountifully the Lord has fulfilled that undertaking to give me "whatsoever is right". Indeed He understated it, for He has given me "exceeding abundantly above". To Him be the glory! There are a few other dates, and everyone of them is a reminder of His great faithfulness to those who trust in Him.

I have not recorded the times when I failed so to trust Him. The margins would be black with writing if I had. But then God has blotted them all out because of the blood of His dear Son. so there is no value in my brooding over them. Whatever Bible we use it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which always has the last word.


Poul Madsen

CHRISTIANS talk and sing much about love but alas, the word 'love' has suffered the same fate as many others, namely it has lost something of its rich content by being used too often and too superficially. Christians testify that they have received a new love, and some even state publicly that they now love everybody. I am sure that they mean what they say, but I am also convinced that they do not fully understand what they are saying. It must surely be helpful, therefore, to listen to what the apostle of love has to say about the subject.

1. Love's revelation

"In this the love of God was made manifest in us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him " (1 John 4:9).

The love of God, which is the only real love, is something quite beyond man's natural experience. We neither know it intuitively nor can we discover it for ourselves.

The highest form of human love is mother love. It is so beautiful and pure that poets never tire of celebrating its praises. In our Danish 'Story of a Mother' by Hans Christian Andersen, we catch a glimpse of how sublime maternal love can be. The mother's sacrifice for her child knows no limits -- except one. She can never sacrifice her child either for her friends or her enemies. It is quite unthinkable that any mother should sacrifice her own beloved child for another. The thought is foreign and repugnant to our idea of a mother's love. So even the highest form of human love has a limit.

But divine love knows no limit. God's love is not a mother's love made more sublime; it is not human love brought to perfection; it is something quite different from the highest form of love as we know it. For this reason we can only know it by having it revealed or "manifested" to us. That is why John uses this expression. This love is so much beyond the reach of human understanding that it can only come to us by divine revelation. These are weighty words. They teach us, as every true Christian must come to realise, that God's love is not a matter of emotional feelings -- His or ours. This manifestation or revelation of divine love was not concerned with our inner feelings. The revelation of true love consists in what God did, without our having any part in it at all.

God sent His Son, His only-begotten, into the world for us. This means that the Father relinquished His beloved Son into the hands of sinful men, and that for His part the Son renounced His heavenly glory in order to become the servant [62/63] of His enemies. The Father so loved that He gave His Son to take upon Himself all our guilt and lost condition. I ask again: What mother would so renounce her son for the sake of her enemies? What mother would yield up her child to the hands of wicked men in order to express her love to them? For, make no mistake, we were all enemies of God by nature. The fact that John tells us that in love God sent His Son into the world: "that we might live through him", implies that even the finest love would not give us life. If the Son had not come into the world to be our Saviour, then without exception we would all have been doomed to remain in death. So that even the finest mother, with all her love, would still have been an enemy of God and a victim of spiritual death if a different kind of love altogether had not been revealed by the gospel.

The love of God is the heart-beat of the gospel. We take this for granted, but do we realise that this love is in a higher realm than any human ideas about love? In His amazing love God did something which no father or mother could ever do. Could you see your son tortured to death in the place of your enemies? Could you, out of love for those who rejected you, refuse to let the cup of anguish pass from your son? Could you resist the urge to intervene and rescue him from his tormentors? No, you could not. You could not have done it then and you could not do it now, not even for your best friends, let alone for your enemies.

And yet we only have life because of this incomprehensible love of God which did all this. By this love, and by this alone, do any of us have true life. By this love and its atoning work of the cross, we are freed from all our guilt and condemnation and by faith have, in time and in eternity, that life which is only for the perfectly righteous.

2. Love's character

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

In all human love, however great, there is a basic element of egoism. We can only love when we get some satisfaction from loving. This is not surprising, for as we are sinners there must be some taint of sin in all our love. John assures us, though, that there is nothing faulty about God's love; it is not subject to change; it is an immovable rock. In contrast with all other loves, even the best, it will never fail either in life or in death. It has both timeless and historic aspects.

Its timeless quality is implicit in the fact that He loved us before we loved Him, and that means not only just before but long before; in fact from the foundation of the world. In Christ He loved and chose us to be His children before time began. You did not choose God out of love for Him, but out of love for you He chose you before the world was. You, therefore, have an unshakable foundation when you build upon the love of God. His love is not emotional, not subject to the ebb and flow of feelings as human love must always be. It does not fluctuate, it does not allow itself to be disappointed. As 1 Corinthians 13:8 shows us. Love -- this divine love -- never fails. By its very nature it is eternally constant.

On the historical side, the apostle points out that God's love made Him send His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The love of God is not only a matter of words but of deeds, and not normal deeds either but deeds which completely baffle all human understanding. The prophet tells us that: "the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). This does not only go beyond any human conception of love, it also lies outside of all our human ideas of justice. Paul's language on this subject seems hardly logical. He says, for example, that God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ. Anyone with a logical mind would say that this is an absurd statement. You can say that the world reconciled itself to God; though of course it did not and could not do so, in spite of the fact that it was under an obligation so to do. Or you can say that God reconciled Himself to the world; but He certainly did no such thing, for He was not the offender. But it sounds completely illogical to say that God reconciled the world to Himself. Yet this is the marvellous truth. This is the amazing character of the love of God. In human relations your enemy can reconcile himself to you or you can reconcile yourself to him, but it would be absurd to talk of reconciling your enemy to yourself. You can assert that you and your enemies are reconciled to each other. God's enemies, though -- and ourselves among them -- had no wish to reconcile themselves to God. but rather to run away or turn their backs on Him. But this is the amazing truth which defies logic and beggars the human language. God's love is boundless. It contains no element of egoism. Indeed it is so pure that we [63/64] who are defiled cannot properly grasp its wonders and find it hard to believe that His love was of such a nature that it led His Son to blot out our sins with His own blood before we ever gave Him a thought. Compared with this firm rock of divine love, all our attempts at love are shifting sand.

Notice that this love is not just past history but absolutely valid today. John does not write: 'Herein was love ...', but "Herein is love"; yet at the same time we only know that love by looking back to the cross, for the apostle says: "Herein is love ... that God loved ... and sent ...". So we only know His present love today in terms of that great historic sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Such a look takes our attention right away from ourselves; as we look back we also look away, away to the one who Himself is love. It is the same Calvary love which operates today, the same love which inspired our Saviour to love His own to the uttermost and to bear our sins in His own body on the tree. This is the love of the Spirit, the love which He never tires of witnessing to, and we have no other love to talk about or to preach. It is overwhelming in its greatness.

3. Love's debt

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to (Danish 'are indebted to') love one another" (1 John 4:11).

It is obvious that such love makes us debtors. There is one thing which we always owe to men and that is the debt of love: "Owe no man anything, save to love one another" (Romans 13;8). We would all agree about this but we are left with the problem of how we can fulfil our obligation and pay our debt. The Word of God does not teach that we can have an especially strong experience which will give us such a supply of divine love that our problem of loving one's neighbour as oneself is immediately solved. We may have experiences which bring great warmth to our hearts and for the time we feel as though we could love everybody but, as we have been saying, this is not just a feeling of love but something much deeper and more spiritual. If, then, God does not impart to us a supply of His love so that we can love in the way which John describes, how can we do it?

Firstly I want to say that this matter of 'how' will always overwhelm us. Unless it does, we shall begin to feel that we can cope with this job of loving, and if we do there will be something seriously wrong with us. The man who talks glibly about loving others, feeling a certain self-confidence that he is now able to do this, is in great danger of conceit and deception. Only those who are consciously poor in spirit can know the power of the kingdom of heaven. To claim to have great love and yet manifestly to be lacking in humble dependence on God, poverty of spirit, is to be mistaken almost to the point of deception. So let us take comfort from our sense of inadequacy. Let us not fall into despair because we do not know how to love as He loved.

What is more, let us take our poverty to the Lord, readily confessing our personal incapacity in the face of this great debt and coming anew to the place where all our debts are provided for, namely at the cross. The truly poor in spirit knows that of himself he cannot provide this kind of amazing love, so he comes low before the cross and, to his amazement and delight, finds there a new manifestation of divine love. So we have come full circle. We started by saying that God's love is manifested in the death of His Son and now we find in that cross a new supply of grace which we can draw upon, humbly receiving and as humbly displaying that love to friend and foe alike.

But the debtor is never discharged. He never pays off his debt of love so that he is freed from further obligation. However many payments are made, love's debt never diminishes and the debtor never feels that it is any easier to show this kind of love. In fact the very contrary is true, for the closer he comes to the cross and the Christ of the cross, the more enormous does the debt become and the more appalling his own inability to pay. Yet at the cross he discovers the infinite sufficiency of divine love and so is able to meet love's demands even though he himself is more and more discovered to be poor and powerless. He goes on paying his debt, but he never gets a receipt for the payment. Whatever others may think or say about him, he knows that he is still up to his eyes in debt. But every day he makes new discoveries of the great wealth of love which can be found at the foot of the cross and he goes on learning that supreme lesson of the spiritual life, which is faith. How better can I close, then, than with Paul's words: "Salute them that love us in faith" (Titus 3:15). When we are concerned about showing real love there is only one way -- it is the way of faith. [64/65]


[Eric Fischbacher]

DEAR D....

Thanks for your letter -- I can see from it that your honest approach to the Bible will be a great blessing to you, and perhaps to many others in the future.

Your question about Balaam's experience has occurred to me before now, and here is what I have been thinking about it.

When Balak's men came to Balaam with the request to curse what seemed like a marauding tribe threatening his borders, Balaam did the right thing -- he asked God about it. (Some of our modern prophets omit this step.) Obviously his reputation as an effective agent of spiritual power must have been based on some kind of relationship with the Almighty, and it is clear that in fact he was in the habit of consulting God before acting. God's answer on this occasion was brief and to the point -- 'You must not go. You must not curse this people for they are blessed' (Numbers 22:12). This was a simple directive with a simple explanation. What more could be required?

It was enough for Balaam, so he got up next morning and transmitted the short message to Balak. I presume that he received the usual divination fees which the messengers would bring with them, though of course he may have offered a refund for dissatisfied clients! Anyway, they came back again, with more fees and with an urgent request for a good cursing. Balaam went back to God. Why? I think the answer to that question is the answer to your question, namely, 'Why did God tell Balaam to go this time, and then why did He become so angry when Balaam went?'

May I suggest that when Balaam went back this second time, although he appeared to be asking God for further instructions, he was really saying, 'Please let me go. I need the money!' (We know from 2 Peter's reference to Balaam's love of the hire of wrong-doing and also from a similar remark in Jude that the prophet's great concern was what is known in some quarters as the 'quick buck'.) God, who knows the heart, answered the real question, not the pretence one. He always does.

I entirely agree with you that this issue is not simply a hair-splitting detail in an obscure Old Testament story -- it has important implications for all who want to walk with God and to serve Him. Balaam was certainly not a true prophet of God on the pattern of Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Nathan, but the Bible gives us bad examples as well as good ones, which is just as well, since we see ourselves more readily in the lives and experience of the former. What Balaam forgot, though he must have been aware of it, was that God knows all and even if we succeed in concealing our real intentions from everyone else, they are clear enough to Him. Occasionally we even deceive ourselves but we never confuse Him. God will always answer the REAL question we are asking. He is not at all influenced by the pious and altruistic language in which it is couched. He ignores all this and attends to what He knows to be the real desire behind the words. What is more, He will never withdraw our basic right, given to us by Himself, to freedom of choice and action.

The lesson here for us seems to be this: God is pleased to receive any reasonable request from us, at any time. He may grant it or He may refuse it. He may even accede -- as here -- to some selfish request in which we persist even after He has told us what He wants. But this does not mean that He approves of it or will back us up in it. Indeed He reserves the right to prevent our causing harm to others or interfering with His plans even when He seems to have assented to our propositions. Where His own affairs, His own people, His will are involved, it is not the time or the place for us to ask to be allowed to do this or that because it suits us. When we come to Him we must come for one thing only -- to find out what He wants us to do, and then to do it.

Next time your motorcycle breaks down, listen carefully!

As ever, your brother, E. F. [65/66]


Alan G. Nute

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

THIS is an important subject which is very meaningful to us all. In our considerations we must be careful to take the Scriptures as our sole guide. Fortunately they are explicit on the matter, and extensive teaching is supplied by the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

The Nature of Spiritual Gifts

First of all we find that in this chapter the nature of spiritual gifts is defined. This is done by means of two words, the first of which is 'gift' (vv.4, 9, 30, 31). This is a precise translation of the Greek word here used. A gift is not something purchased or otherwise acquired; it is not something achieved or obtained as of right. It is bestowed quite gratuitously, a fact which we can plainly recognise when we notice its use in connection with the subject of eternal life. Death is a wage paid by sin, whereas eternal life is the free gift of God (Romans 6:23). The actual text says "the gift of God", but people often insert the word 'free', and this is a legitimate amplification and rightly stresses the point. It would apply equally to the subject we are now considering and may help us to realise from the first that spiritual gifts are a free gift of God.

The second word gives further definition, for it is the word 'spiritual'. The actual phrase in verse 1 is "spiritual gifts" but in certain versions the word 'gifts' is in italics. This denotes that it is absent in the original text and has only been inserted to complete the sense to English readers. For us the word is an adjective, but here it is allowed to stand on its own and thus to do service as a noun. By this means emphasis is laid on the fact that such gifts are essentially spiritual. And no wonder; for they originate with the Spirit, are operated in the power of the Spirit, and have as their object the spiritual benefit of the Church. That their essential nature is spiritual is further indicated by the fact that their exercise is described as 'the manifestation of the Spirit' (v.7). It may be concluded therefore that gifts are divinely and gratuitously bestowed and are essentially spiritual in character.

The question is frequently raised as to the relation of a spiritual gift to a natural ability. The two may not be equated; frequently, however, they are closely related. In bestowing His gifts God does not do despite to the individuality of the recipient, imposing on His children that which will rob them of that which is vital to their character. In any case, it needs to be borne in mind that all our natural endowments are divinely bestowed and to a Christian they are all gifts of God's grace. For as long as natural ability is used in the power of the flesh and for personal ends it remains just that; but when it is surrendered to God, set apart for His purpose and used truly in the power of the Spirit, it may well be constituted a spiritual gift. Both Jeremiah and Paul speak of having been under the eye and hand of God from their very birth, and Ephesians 2:10 possibly gives us a hint that this is how God deals with us all. But of course there will always be certain spiritual gifts which are additional to and independent of any natural talents or qualifications which might be possessed.

Not only are spiritual gifts defined in this chapter, they are listed . Several such lists are to be found in the New Testament (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4). It is doubtful whether these were ever intended as formal lists and they are certainly not exhaustive ones. The differences in the catalogues found in the passages referred to would indicate that it is a mistake to regard them as an inventory of gifts always to be found in each local assembly of Christians. Perhaps it would be better to take them as samples of the gifts which were in evidence at that time, having been given by God to meet needs then current. We may well believe that certain gifts will be given to answer situations which may arise in different places and at different times.

Honesty demands that we should also acknowledge our inability to provide an accurate description of the precise nature of some of the gifts listed. Considerable divergence of opinion exists on this question and humility should keep us from dogmatism. One of the two catalogues in 1 Corinthians 12 (vv.8-10) describes 'abilities', [66/67] whereas the other (v.28) describes 'persons'. This suggests that God by His Spirit may either grant to a member of the church a special endowment or may give to the church a person already so gifted. It also conveys the important truth that God works through people, and that it is wrong to think of gifts and persons separately.

The nature of spiritual gifts is illustrated as well as being defined and listed. A gift is to the church what a member is to the body. This analogy is used to pin-point two facts, unity and diversity. Unity, since four times we are informed that there is one body, and also that we are incorporated into this body by the 'one Spirit'. But unity is not to be confused with uniformity. That is no part of the Spirit's work. Instead there is diversity. Just as a body is composed of a variety of members, so the Church is blessed with a variety of gifts. These, as the members of the body, are interrelated and interdependent. Each is different from every other, representing distinct abilities, having separate contributions to make, and yet all operating together so that the whole body functions fully and properly.

The Bestowal of Spiritual Gifts

The chapter under consideration plainly teaches that gifts are bestowed according to the sovereign action of God. They originate with Him. The emphasis in this action of Scripture is on the role of the Holy Spirit in the granting of those gifts, but Paul is at pains to stress that their source is the triune God (vv.4-6). This is further developed by the fact that in verses 18, 24 and 28, God, that is God the Father, is said to take the initiative and to exercise control in this matter, whereas in Ephesians 4 the gifts are seen as the largesse of that ascended Christ who distributes them as the fruit of His great victory. The leaders of this same church at Ephesus are described in Acts 20:28 as having been bestowed upon that church by the Holy Spirit. So there is a beautiful harmony of the Godhead dispensing all these spiritual gifts; Father, Son and Spirit unitedly operating to further the divine will through anointed servants here on earth. The sovereignty of the divine action is affirmed in verses 11 and 18 where the gifts are seen to be the implementation of God's will and the expression of His pleasure.

Why then, we might ask, do local churches so often appear to lack an adequate supply of spiritual gifts? The answer is surely this, that the truth of divine sovereignty must never be played off against that of human responsibility. This may be the reason why the apostle indicates that gifts are given in response to the fulfilling of certain conditions. There are two main areas where there should be exercise, the first being desire on the part of the individual (12:31; 14:1, 39). We have no right to remain passive in this matter. It is our responsibility to cultivate an earnest desire to serve God and His people in the way He appoints. Clearly this ambition must be purged of all self-interest and born of a pure longing and zeal to make a worthwhile contribution to the work of God. But we must know that it is not really spiritual to be passive and withdrawing. The servant in the parable who was 'slothful' was condemned by the Lord as being 'wicked' and 'worthless' and found that in the end his talent was taken from him because he was too timid to make use of it. If God tells us "earnestly desire ... spiritual gifts" then He means what He says and can be trusted to respond to genuine desires which have His glory at heart. Such desires will not only find expression in prayer but in humble consultation with others as well as in observing needs and opportunities which are to hand.

There must also be a concern on the part of the church. The gift of Barnabas and Saul as missionaries arose from a deep spiritual concern on the part of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). They must have been aware of the Saviour's commission to His disciples to take the gospel into all the world, and perhaps they were concerned with some sense of failure to discharge this commission. Certainly they had sufficient soul-exercise to set aside time for concerted prayer and fasting. It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke. He had been waiting to do so. He had already gifted men and called them to this task. So as they listened to His voice He indicated to the leaders who these two men were. Without hesitation the church identified itself with them by the laying on of hands and 'sent them off'.

There was a somewhat similar position in the case of Timothy. His ministry did not arise from his own initiative. Prophecies led the way, as God made known His will to and through others. It seems that this young man's call to service was disclosed to Paul and his company as well as to the brethren at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2). So it was that Timothy was separated to the ministry to which God had called him, and at [67/68] that very time God imparted to him the spiritual gift requisite for the work.

In this way see the harmony between God's sovereign work by His Spirit and the spiritual exercise both of the individual and of the church.

The Exercise of Spiritual Gifts

In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul enunciates three great principles which should govern the exercise of spiritual gifts:

(1) Spirit of Power

Timothy was plagued by timidity. Such a spirit of fear will always prevent the proper discharge of responsibility in connection with the exercise of a spiritual gift. It does not come from God. There is a world of difference between a proper modesty and a crippling timidity. So Timothy was urged to respect, to develop and to use the gift which he possessed. Its flame must not be allowed to die down. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee" (1 Timothy 4:14). In a similar way God had sent a special message to Archippus, saying: "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it" (Colossians 4:17). A spiritual gift cannot be cultivated and employed apart from the Holy Spirit: it is designed to operate on spiritual power and on none other. If such a gift is used on the basis of a man's natural strength it becomes not only worthless but positively dangerous. Thank God that an adequate supply of the power essential for true functioning in Christ is freely available in the Holy Spirit. But we must be ready as well as careful always to obey Him.

(2) Spirit of Love

In this chapter the apostle writes of the danger that exists of exercising one's gift in a spirit which is other than the spirit of love. He warns of jealousy, and does so by means of an imaginary conversation between the foot and the hand, and the ear and the eye. Peevishly, with a blend of self-pity and mock-modesty, both foot and ear wish to opt out of the body! They represent that churlish attitude which exclaims: 'If I can't be what I want to be, I won't be anything at all'. Paul replies that this is both illogical and irreverent. It is illogical in that someone has to supply the hearing -- we cannot all be 'eyes'. And if all were hearing, he asks, what would happen to the faculty of smell? Jealousy is stupid. It is also irreverent, for it is virtually a censure on the Creator who arranged the organs in the body. Why be resentful against God? What a tragedy it is when God's people give way to this kind of jealousy which shows itself in fleshly ambition and worldly rivalry. The spirit of love is quenched, and the exercise of true spiritual gift is prevented.

Paul also warns of pride. The imaginary conversation this time reflects a spirit of arrogance. The eye conceitedly disparages the hand, and the head adopts a similar attitude to the foot. But what ground is there for such pride? None! There never is. The very word 'gift' underlines how wholly unjustified it is. If each, however seemingly insignificant, is indispensable, how can one elevate itself against another?

All this is negative. Positively, the spirit of love will manifest itself in a 'care for one another' (v.25). It will foster that mutuality, that interdependence, which is the hall-mark of the body of Christ. Love is never selfish. It is outgoing. It is characterised by a solicitude and a concern which promotes the well-being of the whole. Spiritual gifts are not to be exercised for private enjoyment, but for the common good.

(3) Spirit of self-control

Holy Spirit control and self-control may appear at first sight to be mutually exclusive. This, of course, is not the case. It may well be that the Corinthians imagined that being under the control of the Holy Spirit would mean an abdication of self-control. Paul reminds them that prior to their becoming Christians, as idolators, they were often swept away, however they happened to be moved (v.2). They had submitted to the powers of darkness and these had 'taken over' in such a way that they were borne unresistingly along. It seems likely that they had carried the same notion over into their Christian life, wrongly supposing that what was required of them was an attitude of passivity to the controlling Holy Spirit. It was needful, therefore, that they should be informed that the Holy Spirit operates in conjunction with a spirit of self-control. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life does not make a man an automaton: it demands the human contribution of personal discipline.

In this matter of self-control four criteria are applied:

(a) The intelligence. 'In thinking be mature.' Paul has just expressed his intention to pray and to sing not alone with the spirit but with the mind (14:15). As John Stott wisely says: 'in all true [68/69] worship the mind must be fully and fruitfully engaged' (Your Mind Matters , p.27).

(b) The effect. This must be profitable. The stress throughout the chapter is conveyed by the repetition of such words as edification, up-building, etc. Does the gift exercised promote the spiritual well-being of God's people? This is the crucial question.

(c) The judgment of others. 'Let the others weigh what is said' (14:29). Self-control will always be manifest by a willingness to submit to the spiritual judgment of other brethren, and in particular to those who are leaders in the church. It is their responsibility to assess the profitability or otherwise of the contribution made, and it is a mark of maturity where members defer with grace to such an assessment.

(d) The Word of God. This is our sole and final authority, and must judge and determine all things (14:37). Only so can we be a living proof of the fact that our God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

We close these considerations with a reminder that the exercise of gifts in the church is described as "a manifestation of the Spirit" (12:7 and 14:12). This is a challenging thought. We may well ask ourselves whether this is true in our case. What Spirit is manifest? If it is a spirit of timidity, self, jealousy, pride or indiscipline, then it cannot be the Holy Spirit. A true "manifestation of the Spirit" can only be seen where there is a spirit of power, of love and of self-control. This is the divinely appointed means of achieving 'the common good'.


T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: 1 Chronicles 15:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:1-3

THE Levites are a very interesting people and their history is full of valuable things for the Lord's people at all times, but the thing which we are concerned with now is that they were the men who took responsibility for the Lord's testimony. David's decision about their task was the sequel to a tragic experience. One of the very many snares set by Satan against God's testimony in the life of David had succeeded when the king thoughtlessly ordered a new cart to be made for the transportation of the ark. It was a violation of divine law; it produced the death of at least one man; and it brought the whole testimony to a halt for a long time. After the chastening experience, David corrected his mistake by reference to God's Word and a new spiritual movement was made possible. So in accordance with the Scripture which David now remembered, the ark was brought out and committed to the Levites, as David affirmed: "None ought to bear the ark of God but the Levites, for them hath God chosen ...". Theirs was a peculiar responsibility among the Lord's people, and they had to take up their responsibility and not leave it to other means. It belonged to them, and if they did not shoulder this burden then everything went wrong and was held up.

Maturity and Responsibility

These men are a reminder to us in our day that God calls us to take up our responsibilities and to play our part in His testimony. The Levites could not enter upon their ministry until they were thirty years of age, and then they had to give it up when they were fifty. While the age for going to war was twenty, the entering upon this Levitical ministry in fullness was not allowed until they were thirty. This represents real maturity. The Levites then had to retire at fifty before their strength began to wane. It is a spiritual thing which is represented, and what it seems to say to us is that for this carrying of the Lord's testimony, full strength is required. Levitical ministry was the expression of the best years of a man's life. It does not apply to us in the matter of age, either for beginning or for laying down our work for God, but it does remind us that spiritual strength is required for the bearing of this responsibility. That is why God calls us to be strong.

This brings us to the reference in the message to Timothy: "Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" and then: "Take your part ...". What was [69/70] Timothy's spiritual strength needed for? It was that he might take his part in suffering hardship for Christ. So far as others were concerned he was to commit to faithful men those treasures which had been committed to him. The whole background is levitical. Timothy and the other faithful men were having responsibility committed to them by the Lord, and so they needed fresh grace to be strong in the Lord. In our day there is a tremendous need for people to take their share in the Lord's testimony and not always to think of others being responsible instead of them. The Lord calls for His people to grow up spiritually, not always to remain babes, demanding that they be carried and nursed, nor being immature youngsters who childishly complain or avoid responsibility. Such can never be entrusted with the work of Christ, they will never take their share in its hardship, never be good soldiers of Jesus, and the testimony will not be safe in their keeping. Perhaps one of the greatest spiritual tragedies of our time is the fact that so few seem to be sufficiently strong spiritually to shoulder the interests of Christ in a mature fashion, preferring rather to follow and let others take the lead.

I feel quite sure that it was because Israel had not recognised spiritually the meaning of the Levites in their midst that they failed so constantly in the wilderness. The Levites had been chosen to take the place of the priestly firstborn in every family. The firstborn was the natural priest who was to take responsibility in household affairs, but the Levites had been chosen to substitute for the firstborn and had become the tribe of the firstborn ones. If all Israel had recognised this, and abode by the spiritual truth, there would not have been that detachment which meant so much weakness and which found the general company constantly drawing back, wavering in uncertainty. They let the Levites carry the ark as though it was something separate from themselves, never realising their own responsibility, and so they were often murmuring and complaining, not giving any sort of loyal support to their representatives.

It seems that today we have something very similar. A large number of those who belong to the Lord are just in the camp, content to be lost in the throng of God's people and leaving the main responsibility to others. They like to see things going on, but for themselves they do not want to carry any responsibility. To all such the Lord says: 'Take your share, take your part in the sufferings as a good soldier. Do not be always babes, carried about by every changing wind or impulse. Do not be those of whom the letter to the Hebrews complains that when they should have been teachers they were still needing to be put right over the simple elementary principles of the spiritual life.'

Responsibility Means Strength

There is a sense in which those who take responsibility have to feel that all will fail if they fail. The important thing is to realise, in a right and humble spirit, that the Lord's testimony does depend on us individually. Each one is fully justified in taking the attitude that this is his business, that he is not just one of a crowd, but a responsible member. The real difference between the Levites and the rest of the people was that this tribe had been called to bear the Lord's burdens, to accept responsibility in His name, and in this sense we are all Levites. When these men accepted their responsibility and took up the ark, we are told that they received special help from the Lord (1 Chronicles 15:26). Timothy was assured that God's grace would supply him with new strength as he took his share.

I do believe that if we recognised the responsibility resting upon us and took it up, however conscious we are of our weakness and inadequacy, we would have a new incoming of divine strength. If, for the Lord's sake and for the sake of His testimony, we reached out to Him, He would give us more strength. The way to get strengthened is to take on more than you can of yourself carry. Perhaps you are working the other way round. You may be thinking that when you are stronger you will be able to accept more responsibility, that when you feel more of His power in you, then you will be more serviceable to Him. I ask you if it has ever worked out like this with you yet? What is your experience so far? Has the Lord ever come to you, given you a new sense of His power within, and then appointed a new task? Or has He not called you to something which is quite beyond you, and then given you the strength and enablement as you have moved forward in faith. Your experience differs very much from mine if it has not been in this second way. I have always found that the Lord makes demands upon me, calling for an exercise of new faith in Him, and then has met the demand as I have been willing to take my share. [70/71]

So we must not wait until we have become such wonderful people that we feel competent to carry the load, but must shoulder our responsibility and prove the strength and enabling which the Lord will give us. It is as though the Lord said: 'Take your responsibility and then take your strength'. Strength comes not merely along the line of consciously feeling the need of it, but of appropriating it because of a specific need. It is the object in view which brings the strength. We tell the Lord that we are willing to take our share, to accept responsibility for His interests and yet feel quite unequal to the task, and so we can have a new experience of His strengthening grace.

The Nature of Responsibility

The fact that none but the Levites should bear the ark does not mean that in our day there is a special class of worker, but it reminds us that all of us are called to a priestly ministry and should have our lives altogether bound up with the Lord's interests. The tabernacle was the place where the Lord was known as King. This means, then, that all that relates to His majesty, to His honour and glory was put into the hands of the Levites. They were a sort of bodyguard here on earth of the King invisible. They had to keep things for Him, to watch His interests and to maintain His testimony in strength. This is our calling. The Lord is in the midst of us, and things must be maintained in accordance with His presence. This is not just a latent and passive truth, but a challenge to our spiritual energy to care for His interests. He is holy; then the responsibility of holiness is committed to us, His Levites. He is a Being of power and majesty; then that power and majesty are our responsibility. We have to be faithful, and that is why the charge to Timothy was concerned not with clever but with faithful men, men who by life even more than by words were able to teach others and bring them into taking their share in the testimony.

The Levites were divided into three sections. They had three departments of responsibility. One section had the vessels of the sanctuary, all the holy vessels; another section had all the curtains and the coverings; while the third had the boards and the bars. We may have our different aspects of work, some in preaching and more obviously spiritual work and others in different spheres, but it is all the same testimony. The Levites were divided into sections of different kinds of work. Some had the rougher work, the heavy bars and boards, which was more strenuous physically than the carrying of the pots and pans; but it was all Levitical work, they were all one people, one tribe. Responsibility rested upon an equally, for the totality of their labours made one ministry. The great thing was -- and still is -- that each should take his own responsibility seriously and give himself to his ministry.

I am sure that the Lord's heart must long for that. I am sure that at times in looking at me, He has had to say: 'Oh, I wish that I could trust him more; I wish he were more reliable, more responsible'. And I know that, as I have looked at many of God's people I have sometimes said that I wish that they did not need so much looking after. If only they would begin to stand on their own feet and take responsibility, so that we need not worry about them any more because we know that they can be trusted! They need urging and encouraging and all the time to be followed up, put right, and pacified when they get touchy and take offence. We all need fresh grace from the Lord to take our share in the labours and the sufferings as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. His grace will give us the necessary strength if we put our shoulders to the burden and take our share in the testimony.



John H. Paterson

THE Christian's understanding of God and His world is full of paradoxes and apparent contradictions. So often he has to hold in balance two equal and opposite points of view, refusing to allow either to exclude the other. Often, too, in the history of the Church Christians have made the mistake of adopting such points of view as flags around which to rally opposing forces. By [71/72] doing so they polarise differences, create divisions and make reconciliation impossible. One of the clearest historical examples of this process is to be found in the centuries-long continuation of the debate between Calvin and Arminius about the nature of God's grace towards man and the possibility of falling away from it. We have Calvinists and Arminians to this day.

The problem is that such divisions as these stem from our very limited appreciation of the "manifold wisdom of God". Because His mind and character are indeed many-sided, they transcend our simple formulations; yet God Himself is entirely consistent and perfectly balanced. He is not a Calvinist -- or an Arminian either.

In particular situations, nevertheless, it may be necessary to stress one or other aspect of the character of God which, at that moment and by particular individuals, is being dangerously neglected. It has already been suggested in these articles on the Minor Prophets that that is what these men of God were called on to do. But as users of the Word of God, who now have at our disposal all twelve of the prophets' messages, we must make sure that we, in turn, do not stress one prophecy or one message at the expense of another.

Next in line for our consideration in this series is Amos. But a Bible student writing studies which appear at intervals of two months may perhaps be allowed to feel that it is wise to link the message of Amos with that of Obadiah, which follows it in our Bibles, lest for the two-month period between publications he appears to be encouraging a one-sided view of the character of God. For in a rather curious way we find in these two prophecies the Calvinist-Arminian debate of later centuries foreshadowed. We do well, therefore, to consider them together.

The Message of Amos

Of all the prophets speaking to Israel and Judah Amos was, probably, the sternest and most forthright. He was unsparing in his denunciations, and refused to modify his tone for king or priest (7:12-17). He charged them all alike with moral failure. The 'missing dimension' in their understanding of God was, quite simply, a failure to understand the moral basis of God's dealings with men. The mistake they made was to confuse religion with morality; to assume that the special relationship with God which they had been granted all those centuries before was sufficient cover for them, and that after that what they did was irrelevant.

Not so, says the prophet; no change of status or special favours alter or cancel the moral imperatives that stem from the character of God. On the contrary, the only consequence of being 'special' people in any way is to, increase moral responsibility: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (3:2).

The basic message of Amos is conveyed by him in two particular ways: firstly, by a list of denunciations in Chapters 1 and 2 and, secondly, by a series of visions in Chapters 7 and 8. In the first of these sections Amos denounces in turn Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab -- all Israel's heathen neighbours -- and then passes straight on to denounce Judah and Israel too. There is no break, no distinction, between friend and foe, heathen and Hebrew. Only the nature of the sin denounced is different; Judah has "despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept his commandments" (2:4), a sin which is only possible to those who have a knowledge of that law in the first place.

To a people like the Jews, who were accustomed to think of themselves as an altogether distinct and special nation under God, it must have come as a blow to find themselves listed with all their heathen neighbours in a common stream of denunciation. But worse was to come, in the four visions recorded in Chapters 7 and 8 -- locusts, fire, plumbline and summer fruit. For the point of the first three of these is surely to be found in their indifference to the name or nationality of their victims. After centuries of attempts by man at controlling or, at least, predicting the movements of Middle East locusts, there is still no telling where they will strike, or whose crops they will devastate; they eat the corn of friend and foe indifferently. The fire does not sweep through a town sparing certain houses because their owners are, or are not, Jewish; it burns everything in its path. And the point of the plumbline is surely the same: it is an entirely objective test of the quality of the building. It does not matter whether the wall is made of mud or stone, whether it has been built by black men or white men, soldiers or priests. The plumbline simply asks: 'Is it straight?' [72/73]

And so to the basket of summer fruit. It is a fact that during the soft-fruit season, many green-grocers who are selling baskets of strawberries or raspberries invite their customers to select their own from the display in the shop. This is because the average customer has a deeply ingrained fear of being swindled; summer fruit goes bad so quickly that an unscrupulous seller can arrange a basket of fine-looking fruit on top and squashed and mouldy fruit underneath. Reputable green-grocers therefore invite their customers to 'choose your own', to show that there is no deception.

Israel had gone bad. On the top of the basket there was the thinnest possible layer of what still appeared to be good fruit -- a few burnt offerings and feast days (5:21-22) giving an impression of devotion to Jehovah. But underneath injustice, disregard for God's law and the worship of other gods had rotted away the life of the nation. Therefore "prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (4:12).

Amos reminds us that God is a God of justice. He does not have two moral standards, a high one for the heathen and a low one for those people to whom, for quite separate reasons, He has shown His favour. That would be grotesquely unjust. To paraphrase the principle in New Testament terms, faith is not an evangelical substitute for good works. It is a point which James made clear, centuries later, in his epistle. And it is the same point which Stephen argued (Acts 7:42), when facing his accusers; he quoted the words of Amos while he charged his audience with being blinded by national pride in the face of moral bankruptcy and the murder of the Son of God.

The Message of Obadiah

If a knowledge of God brings extra responsibility and, consequently, extra guilt, are we not better off without it? As a Jewish character in a modern play asks, turning his eyes to heaven, 'Lord, I know we're your chosen people, but couldn't you choose someone else, just for a change?' This thought brings us to Obadiah, briefest of all the prophets: making, indeed, one simple point and making it in a single sentence (v.17): "the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions".

To understand Obadiah, we must notice to whom he was speaking: to Edom, the nation who were Israel's cousins through descent from Esau. Evidently, Israel had been attacked by enemies and the nation was in dire straits. At that point Edom, judging Israel's resistance to be at an end and the moment favourable, declared war on her in order to be able to share in the spoils of her defeat. It was the more reprehensible because Edomites had always enjoyed something of a special status in Israel (Deuteronomy 23:7). But now, on the basis of expediency and short-term advantage, Edom was prepared to forget old family ties and join Israel's enemies.

It was Obadiah's task to warn Edom that it had backed the wrong side. Whatever the present appearance, Israel's future was secure, and secure for the very good reason that God is not an Edomite. God is God of faithfulness ; a God of principle, not expediency; a God loyal to His purpose and so to His people who form part of that purpose. Contrary to the present appearances, there was a future for Israel, but not for Edom (vv.15, 18: cf. Malachi 1:4), and whatever spoils Edom might have obtained by taking sides against Israel would soon be returned to their original owner: the house of Jacob was, in the long run, safe in its possessions.

The actions of the Edomites need not surprise us; with their tendency to be ruled by expediency, they were running true to ancestral form. Esau had sacrificed principle for short-term advantage; he had despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34) and traded it for food. Neither he nor his descendants -- who, in a spiritual sense, are with us to this day -- could make head or tail of the way God deals with His own people: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked by him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" (Hebrews 12:5-6). The appearance of God's dealings with His people is apt to be misleading; it may be the moment of chastening or testing. But the underlying principle is never in doubt -- faithfulness to His purpose and promises.

So the two books complement each other. We need them both, and we need them together. They present equal and opposite truths about God. Yet neither prophet was entirely one-sided. With Amos, the gloomiest of prophets, the way back is still open: "I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel ... and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land" (9:14-15). And with Obadiah, there is hope even for the Edomite (a character who lurks somewhere in all of us) though not as an Edomite. For it was specifically [73/74] provided that an Edomite might become an Israelite (Deuteronomy 23:7-8); in time, in the third generation, he might come to share in the trials, the responsibilities, but also the privileges of a people whose God is always faithful to His own.


Alan L. Barrow

"I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach
until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ
" (1 Timothy 6:14)

WE are reaching the end of Paul's great message to the man of God, and we come to something of a climax in his charge to keep the commandment without spot and free from reproach. Timothy had had it made clear to him how the man of God should order his life. With considerable apostolic authority Paul had commanded him to have certain attitudes and a concentration of certain qualities, telling him what he should be avoiding and what he should be following. Having offered these commands, he then urged Timothy to keep the commandment. We can see something of the apostle's concern for his spiritual son as he himself was approaching the end of his earthly span, and looked to the younger man as one who was continuing to lay the foundations of the early Church and accept responsibility for maintaining the gospel witness. He spoke with great stress, not just commanding but solemnly charging Timothy to keep the commandment, and in doing so he used all the strength and authority he possessed to insist that due attention should be paid to his words.

He further continued his earnest exhortation by telling Timothy that he must keep the commandment "unstained, and without reproach". This may seem quite strange. You normally keep commandments or you fail to do so; the term 'stain' is not usually applied at all in this connection. They were strange words to use, and they indicate the downright approach to the matter which was typical of Paul. Even when commandments are kept, there is always the possibility that something of their purity may be spoiled by a stain or a spot. That which we neither expected nor intended may come from without and rob our obedience of its full value. Perhaps it comes as a surprise to us that Paul felt that the man of God might intend obedience and yet in some way incur reproach by allowing some blemishes to mar his devotion. I recently saw a quite expensive item greatly reduced in price because it had become shop-soiled. It had not been kept unstained and free from reproach. It had been standing around in the shop and someone had carelessly stood a cup of coffee on it, so marring its proper condition, The article was quite sound, but it had lost much of its value by exposure to the world around. This is all too possible with us. Some inadvertence, some lack of watchfulness can put a stain or spot on our obedience, since we have to live our lives amid much defilement and we can easily be affected by it. The people with whom we have to mix may be good enough in themselves and yet have ways of thinking and talking which represent the world's standards rather than God's. We who are called to be men of God must beware of carelessness in this matter for while we reckon to be keeping the commandment, we can imbibe a spirit which is not that of godliness, faith and love. There is in us all that which much too easily responds to what is going on around us.

May I give an illustration from a school concert? The rest of the orchestra had vacated the platform while one boy played a tuba solo. The instruments had been left on the stage and every now and again the solo was accompanied by the rattling of a side drum which lay there apparently unattended. It almost seemed that some hidden hand was playing the drum, and we suspected a practical joker. Afterwards, however, the music staff verified that there was no concealed mischief-maker, but that the rattling had been caused by the fact that the drummer, instead of removing the 'snare' used for producing a rattling effect with his side-drum, had left it hanging from the drum. Whenever the tuba played deeper notes it set in motion a strong vibration which made the drumming accompaniment. It was all a question [74/75] of wavelength. The snare was tuned to that particular oscillation or whatever the scientist would call it. The boy responsible was not deliberately accompanying the tuba but he had failed to safeguard his instrument from being affected by it. It seemed to me that this was an illustration of what can so easily happen to us. We can unintentionally respond to vibrations which are -- as it were -- in the air around us, and so interfere with the glory of God without intending to do so. The man of God is charged not only to keep the commandment, but to keep it unspotted. There is only one way in which faulty man can do this, and that is by constant cleansing and adjustment. Nothing less than the continual delivering power of the cross can save us from the reproach which in ourselves we can so easily incur, even when we plan to be obedient.

THE next point of emphasis is that the man of God is to keep the commandment in this way: "... until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ". This is surely something more than a time limit. Paul was not saying that Timothy must keep on until the Lord came and then need not worry any more. No, it is much more than this. It is in fact the third motive for keeping the charge. We have previously seen that the first such motive was that we are living in the sight and presence of the life-giving God. The second was that we make our profession in the presence of Christ who witnessed such a good confession when He was here on the earth. Now we have the third motive, which is that we do all in the light of the imminent return in glory of the Lord Jesus.

The New Testament is full of this motive for holiness which is found in the fact that Jesus is coming again. We have parables about talents, about pounds, about workers in the vineyard and about marriage feasts, all of which find their climax in the return of Christ. We have the Lord's own insistence that we must never for one moment relax our watchful looking for that arrival of His. We have the story of the importunate widow, which focuses on the coming vindication of God's oppressed people with the question as to whether in fact He will find that kind of faith operative when, as Son of man, He comes in judgment. There is so much in Christ's teaching which stresses that the goal and objective of faithful service is the fact that He will come again, and come soon. That return is depicted either as an occasion of rejoicing or of embarrassment. It can be undiluted happiness or it can carry something of reproach. So it is in the light of that coming that God's man is told to keep the commandment unstained and without reproach. Our loins are to be girded, our lamps are to be burning, and hearts are to be eager in expectation -- this is the thrust of so many of the parables and lessons of the Gospels.

As he moved towards the end of his life on earth the apostle tended to concentrate more and more on this Coming and especially on the word translated 'the appearing' which is 'epiphany' -- the out-shining. It seems that he was thinking of the way in which the sun breaks over the horizon, bringing the dawn of a new day. It is possible that this particular aspect of Christ's return made special appeal to him at the end of his life because it reminded him of how his Christian life had begun. Into the darkness of his soul there had come the blinding light of Christ's presence. Those around him seem to have had some sense of light and sound, but they did not see the Lord as Saul of Tarsus did. Saul saw the 'out-shining' and it blinded him to everything and everybody else. From then on Christ was all in all to him. He must often have wished and prayed that the same glorious light might break in upon his fellow men. And increasingly he must have longed for the day when the whole world would be flooded with the light of His appearing.

THE practical implication here and in other passages in the pastoral epistles, is that if we really expect that sudden breakthrough of Christ in glory, then we should take care always to be living lives which are consistent with such a hope. Titus, another man of God, was reminded that "... we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ ..." (2:12-13). Here again the word 'epiphany' is the one used, and in this reference we get an insight into the fact that this event represents the Lord's goal as well as ours, for He: "... gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works." Our Lord is working towards this great day, and our lives should be lived in the light of it. Timothy and Titus, and every other man or woman of God, must be sure that their readiness to keep the commandment should never be tarnished or shop-soiled in the [75/76] interim period while our glorious Sun of righteousness is still, as it were, below the horizon. The dawn will come suddenly and soon, and it will bring the day of all days when we must be free from reproach.

The man of God is jealous for the Lord's fair name, and is truly concerned so to walk in obedience that there may be no stain or spot which brings reproach to that name. This is motive enough for watchfulness and humble exercise. He is also a sensitive man, careful to maintain a good conscience in all things and not able to bear the thought that his own heart shall be oppressed with self-reproach. But most of all he is a man waiting for His Lord, absorbed with the certainty that the brightness of His appearing may break through at any time. So it is that he makes it his first priority to live in such a way that there may be no cause for reproach when he meets his Lord. This is the greatest motive of all for living as a man of God.


(Studies in 1 Samuel)

4. PATIENCE (Chapters 7 and 8)

Harry Foster

WE now consider the fourth of the elements which go to make preparation for God's kingdom, and come to one which may seem less important than the first three, but which is really just as essential. It is patience. This is a divine quality -- God is the God of patience (Romans 15:5). In his list of experiences which qualified himself as an apostle, Paul spoke of this as being an overall characteristic: "Approving ourselves as ministers of God in all patience" (2 Corinthians 6:4). The catalogue which follows these words describes all the sufferings in which he needed this divine patience. So it is not insignificant, this question of patience; it is supremely important in the matter of the kingdom, as the chapters 7 and 8 will show us.

First we have chapter 7, with its inspiring story of the lead which Samuel gave to God's people, the governing word being Eben-ezer -- "hitherto hath the Lord helped us". The immediate context of the word 'hitherto' was the more than twenty years which had elapsed since it was said about Samuel: "The Lord did let none of his words fall to the ground". They had been bad years for Israel, and they had seemed very long. During that prolonged period, no mention is made at all of Samuel, so one imagines that in a very acute sense the time had been long for him too. God had called and commissioned him, but there seemed no opportunity for his ministry. In this sense he was a true forerunner of David who, in his time, was to be sorely tried in having to wait patiently for the Lord. And he was also a type of the Lord Jesus who although at twelve years of age was able to affirm that He was about His Father's business, yet had to wait for another eighteen years before the time was ripe for Him to move out into public service. What a test of patience those 'hidden years' must have involved! The same principle obtained in the experience of Saul of Tarsus who was commissioned through Ananias in Damascus but had to wait for some years before the Holy Spirit was able to say at Antioch: "Separate me now Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them". So Samuel was a worthy member of that called and anointed band which has patience as a fundamental basis of its ministry. He kept a sensitive ear open to divine calls, and never flagged in his concern for the Lord's interests among the people. And at last the delay came to an end; the people were low enough and desperate enough to be ready to listen now to God's servant and to respond when he called them together to Mizpah to be prayed for.

It was not only Samuel who felt that the time had been long. They all felt it and were oppressed by the defeat and confusion which was heavy upon them. Samuel's message was clear and unequivocal. He did not start with smooth comforts, but with the challenge to face the incredible mixture of their loyalty to false gods [76/77] as well as to the Lord. They are called 'strange gods'. It is indeed a strange thing when the Lord's people put self and selfish interests before Him. The world has plenty of gods, prosperity, ambition, pleasure, etc. and these are false gods, but when these same values are worshipped by those who claim to be the Lord's people, they are not only false but they are strange gods. To Samuel this was intolerable. His challenge was: "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord and serve Him only". "Him only!" This is the kind of message which the Church needs today. On every hand the false gods of this world's interests and values have found a place in the lives of God's people. There is so much mixture, within as well as in outward things. Another Samuel needs to speak for God and to demand a cleaning up of things, so that the Lord alone should be the object and ambition of all. We notice that to Samuel this was a matter of the heart. He did not bring new teaching or suggest new procedures, but called for a new heart. This is the essential if we are to serve the Lord only.

THE call brought Israel to make their confession. They said: "We have sinned against the Lord". There was no excusing of themselves; they did not indulge in a morbid recapitulation of the less savoury areas of their past; they did not make a virtue of self-revelation as some Christians do in such a way as to make you wonder whether they are regretting their past or boasting about it. They did nothing like this, but just stood up together in an honest, straightforward way and admitted that they had been wrong. And when they said 'We', they meant it. Again you sometimes hear so-called confessions in prayer which are really aimed at other people, with an implication that we are all suffering because some of the others have failed. No, they admitted that their poor condition was their own fault, and they did it all as "before the Lord".

The next happening is most significant; their enemies heard all about it. Well, this may not be surprising since it was a public event, but there is a spiritual significance about it too, for we can be sure that whenever there is a new move to give absolute supremacy to the Lord, to serve Him only, then Satan soon hears about it. It may be the experience of an individual or it may be some new phase among a group of Christians, but there is always a swift and strong reaction from the kingdom of darkness when people get right with God. The Israelites had been permitted to live in relative quiet so long as they were following their way of mixture. But now they were ready to be all for God, with a united heart to serve Him, so immediately Satan sought to destroy them. As long as the flesh rules, Satan is unperturbed, but as soon as there is any kind of recovery in a unity of consecration to the Lord, then trouble arises. Those involved may be tempted to wonder what is wrong. There is nothing wrong. In fact the attack from the enemy is an indication that now at last things are right. It is just because they are right that there is a challenge to the kingdom of darkness. It is when God's people covenant together to put Him first and serve Him only that these new threats appear.

God's people were frightened -- and not without reason -- but now they had someone to turn to. It was not like the old days of Eli when they had to manage as best they could, for now they had a man of God to whom they could appeal. 'Pray for us,' was their cry. 'Don't stop praying for us. You know God. You have been praying for us through the time when we were so indifferent. Please keep up your prayer intercession, even though we don't deserve it.' What a comfort it is in some extremity of trial to be able to turn to someone who has a life with God and can intercede for us, Perhaps, like Israel, we felt sufficient and were not ready to listen to wise counsel. But now calamity threatens, and we turn to the very man whom we ignored or despised, suddenly fearful that he may have given us up as hopeless and left off praying.

SAMUEL had no intention of giving up his prayer ministry. For him it would be sin to cease praying. But before he made his public appeal to God he made it clear that he personally had no more standing with God than they had. They might have thought that since he was a man of God there would be virtue in his prayers. Not a bit of it! He made it very plain that his intercessions were based on a sacrificial lamb. Yes, he would cry to God, but first he must offer a sucking lamb as a burnt offering. Note that it was not a sin offering. He was not going to keep harping on sin when it had by grace been forgiven. To do this is not spirituality, though it sounds pious: it is really unbelief. Nevertheless even the forgiven sinner has no standing before God apart from the merits and offering of a substitute, so his burnt offering reminds us that our acceptance and all [77/78] our hopes must be based on the perfect offering of Christ and not on our own consecration. For us Christ is the Lamb who is to God all that we ourselves could never be. We are only accepted in Him.

On this basis of the offering and the prayer Israel were given a great deliverance; they had a victory without needing to fight. It was a marvellous experience, to enjoy divine intervention because sin had been confessed and put away and prayer made on the basis of the lamb. It might have been repeated again and again, since it did not depend on Samuel but on God. Alas that so soon they were to forget this and demand a king who could lead them to victory! Meanwhile, however, Samuel did his best to press home the spiritual lesson. People could forget so quickly. Or they could explain away that miracle thunder as though it were a natural phenomenon, allowing the Devil to obscure the fact that the happening was not by chance but by God's mercy. So to make this clear Samuel set up the stone of Eben-ezer, reminding them that up to that very moment God's help had been given to them in grace. I do not think that the word 'hitherto' so much referred back to Israel's whole history -- though that was true -- but rather that it was somehow associated with their cry to Samuel: "Cease not to pray for us", as though he was focusing their attention on the present deliverance. It was as though in that act he said: 'Get this clear. If only you are right with God and He alone rules you, then whatever powers of evil come against you, the answer is prayer on the basis of the lamb. You have found this 'hitherto' and it is always valid. Right up-to-date that has been your experience of God's wonderful help. Never forget it!'

But of course they did. We shall find them to be the very embodiment of impatience. For the moment, however, they were delivered, and the rest of chapter 7 gives a panoramic view of the remainder of Samuel's life. He who had patiently waited for Israel to return to God now patiently judged and served them. We must note how he did this. It was not in a spirit of self-importance which would demand that people must come to him if they needed help, but in a Christlike willingness to seek them out and meet them where they were. Like a true shepherd he went from place to place where the flock were, going round in circuit to help God's people. But he always returned to Ramah and made that his home. Ramah means 'a lofty place'. It was there, and not in the traditional sanctuary of Shiloh, that he maintained his life of communion with God. He built an altar there, journeying out from that place of holy fellowship to carry light and blessing to people in their various localities, but always returning there to resume his close contact with God and his ministry of worship and prayer. The Bible idea of patience is not placidity or resignation; it is this kind of persistent, self-sacrificing 'stickability', a quality all too rare even among God's servants. It means determined activity in the holy place and equally determined activity in caring for God's people. Like Samuel, God's king must be outstanding and shepherd-like in his patience. Such patience was entirely lacking among the people as a whole, as we shall see now that we pass on to chapter 8.

"AND it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel ... and his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre ... and perverted judgment." As a result there arose a demand for a king and I must say that the more I think about it, the more reasonable does this request appear. My own personal view is that God always meant His people to have a king. Not everybody agrees with this, but this is how I read the Scriptures as a whole. After the tragic period of the Judges when there was no king in Israel, we have the book of Ruth which terminates with a reference to David who thus seems already to have been marked out for his kingly role. If this was the case, then it follows that God's ultimate intention for His people was that they should have a king. It seems that He did not plan to have a constant perpetuation of the kind of regime which obtained as Samuel maintained his circuit among the people. There was no sign of a successor to Samuel: there was every reason to believe that God was going to provide Himself -- Himself, note, not the people -- with a king.

What we are confronted with, then, was a complete breakdown of patient waiting for God's man and for God's time. Was Samuel wrong in making his sons judges? Quite possibly so. After all, no man had appointed him; it was God alone who had raised him up to be the last of the judges. Were the elders wrong in clamouring for a king just at that moment? It certainly seems that they were. Their demands were logical but they were not only premature but coloured by very mixed [78/79] motives. The condition with regard to Samuel's sons was tragic in the extreme. He who had seen the shocking example of Eli's failure to discipline his sons was now found in the same condemnation, with the added blame that their appointment was his doing, whereas Hophni and Phinehas were priests by Scriptural succession. Happily we do not have to explain away Samuel's fault, but simply recognise the fact that perfection can never be found outside of the Lord Jesus. Noah, Samson, Samuel and even David, were men of God but they were all marked by faults and failures. Only Christ was perfect. This does not excuse me, but it should make me reluctant to fasten impatiently on the faults of spiritual leaders. Since man cannot force his children to believe, we may rather sympathise with than condemn a father in Samuel's position.

BUT what we find it hard to understand was his advancement of his sons. This boded ill for Israel's future and it seems almost logical that the elders felt that they must take action and insist on an instant substitute for their ageing judge and his regime. We are, however, given an insight into their real motive by their desire to be like all the other nations. They saw that all the others had kings, and therefore argued that this must be the right kind of set-up. But God's purpose had always been that His people should be different from all others; they were not expected to be governed by human skill or energy but to be a testimony to God's superior power. Such an apparently precarious basis of procedure made no appeal to their carnal reasoning. They had forgotten Eben-ezer. Even when Samuel gave them a detailed warning of the perils of the course they proposed to follow, they still insisted: 'No, but we are determined to have a king over us' (v.20). So although their plan seemed to have been made urgent by Samuel's age and his sons' corruption, it was in fact an expression of that natural reasoning which so often leads God's people into rash decisions.

It is possible that they felt that Samuel's lamb and his prayer was part of an old procedure which had worked all right at that time but ought now to give place to something more modern and generally accepted. This respected leader of theirs exposed them to insecurity, as he might not last much longer. 'You are old,' they said. We do not know just how old Samuel was, but we do know that he lasted through most of Saul's reign and lived to anoint the true king, David. So they had no cause for worry. It reminds me of the time when Isaac got into a similar kind of panic, thought that he was going to die, and determined to make sure that Esau received the blessing. His action precipitated Jacob's deceit over the venison and a host of other evils. The point, though, is that Isaac did not die for many years after that, but his sense of age was an excuse for that restless impetuosity which is a feature of carnal impatience. So whether it is age or any other weakness, this must never be an excuse for taking things into our own hands. Such an action is the very opposite of patience, and it will never serve the real interest of God's kingdom.

"THE thing displeased Samuel." He was doubtless hurt personally. Well, that comes to us all, and we must learn to bear it. There was more than that to it, though, for the margin tells us that it was evil in the sight of Samuel, and in this he was right. Wisely he took his displeasure to the Lord. How much better than complaining to men! He took his hurt to the Lord and poured out the whole story to heaven's sympathetic ear. Samuel, you see, lived in a lofty place. When you do that you still feel the hurts of life but instead of brooding on them or complaining to others you take them straight to God in prayer. Samuel found that God both comforted and guided him. He comforted him by assuring him that He, too, was hurt and that the prophet was only sharing God's own suffering, for it was He whom they had in fact insulted. Sharing His sufferings! Such a revelation takes all the sting out of our bitterness. But God also called Samuel into a new share of His divine patience by telling him not to resist this demand in any way. Perhaps to his surprise, Samuel was told to accede to the people's demand; they were to have their king.

I feel convinced that the elders' real mistake was impatience. Difficult circumstances and their own impetuosity combined to tempt them to force God's hand. The truth was that He had planned for a king, but not yet. They were not wrong in thinking that God would provide them with a king, but they were premature, unable to wait God's time. For the Bible shows us that it was David who was God's choice. It makes much of the fact that Christ was David's seed. At that time, though, David was a very young boy, if indeed he had yet been born. God's time is as important as God's man. And impatience will undermine [79/80] the strength of His kingdom. So we have Saul in an impossible situation from the start, not because he had forced himself forward but because he had become the victim of a counsel of impatience by others. Now do not let us become involved in a God-dishonouring attempt to rationalise this matter of divine choice. It might be possible to say that Saul was not elected by God. Yet it was God who called him, blessed him, empowered him by the Spirit, gave him the victory and -- according to His own declaration -- would have established his kingdom for ever (1 Samuel 13:13) if only Saul had been obedient. It is most striking, however, that this same fault of impatience was the cause of Saul's ultimate rejection and downfall. As we shall later see, he was the man who could not wait for God. There are many such in the Bible, and since Bible times, many more of us who can be so described. This inability to wait is a sad hindrance to God's purposes. How different was the true king when he came! David was the outstanding example of how we should rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

But so far as Israel was concerned this demand for immediate action was an outstanding example of the verse: "He gave them their request: but sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15). You can persuade God into accepting your ideas and then live bitterly to regret it. Samuel warned Israel that this is what would happen to them, but they were insistent. They could not wait, they must have their king and they must have him now. So the chapter ends with God's command to Samuel: "Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king". Even so the whole outworking of the choice and appointment was done in prayerful dependence on God, as we shall see. This might have reassured Samuel for the time, and doubtless seemed to justify the people, but the fact remains that nothing built on man's impatience can have lasting stability. In contrast to Israel's rash ferment and living in the midst of its unhappy outworking we see Samuel as an amazing embodiment of patient constancy. He prays and suffers with God's people and with their temporary and unsatisfactory king, and he puts his life at risk in obedience to God's command to anoint young David concerning whom God said: "I have provided me a king ...". And at the last we shall find Samuel still at Ramah, the lofty place, and still praying and praising. He was never king, but he was a key to the kingdom. There never was a time when God's people needed more to learn and practise the spiritual virtue of patience. It is foundational to the kingdom.

(To be continued)


Mr. H. Foster will (D.V.) be ministering in California during August.
Applications for the above Camp (August 11-16) to: Whittier Fellowship,
P.O. Box 5271, Hacienda Heights, CALIFORNIA 91745 [60/ibc]

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