|Vol. 7, No. 4, July - Aug. 1978
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
MENTALITY OF THE SPIRITUAL WARRIOR
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh
(for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God
to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every
high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every
thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
WE wish to consider the matter of mentality in relation to our great
spiritual warfare. The marginal alternative to "casting down imaginations"
is "casting down reasonings" and William Barclay renders this "destroying
plausible fallacies". In any warfare there are perils and threats to victory
where there is a wrong mentality. On the other hand, the warrior has a tremendous
advantage when he is of a right mentality. What are the plausible fallacies
which must be destroyed if we are to share in Christ's victory?
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO THE HIGHER COMMAND
The first consideration in warfare is that of the Supreme Command. When
we consider the Church as the fighting army we realise how important it is
that there should exist no wrong mentality concerning the Lord Jesus who
is the Supreme Commander. One aspect of a wrong mentality concerning Him
is this: that He is One from whom we get everything, instead of the
One to whom we give everything. There is a great danger of always thinking
in terms of what we are to get from Headquarters, of what advantages are
to accrue to us, of drawing toward ourselves; in effect -- although we would
never admit this -- really putting ourselves, our interests, in the place
of those of the Supreme Command. That is how it works out.
It is just at this point that "popular" Christianity has done a great
deal of harm. Christianity has been put on a wrong basis, or perhaps to be
a little more charitable, upon an inadequate basis, and the preaching is
almost exclusively in terms of what we are to get. We are to get salvation;
we are to get eternal life, peace, joy and satisfaction -- all this and
Heaven too! But the emphasis is so largely upon what we are to get from
the Lord Jesus, our Supreme Commander. It is at least an inadequate mentality,
if not an altogether wrong one when it is made a principle; it is a misinterpretation
of the whole Christian life. The right mentality -- and the only one that
is going to serve the great purpose and to minister to the great objective
-- is the mentality that is governed by the principle: "Give everything to
the Lord" and not "Get everything from the Lord".
This is the governing principle of the Godhead, that to give is the way
of fulfilment. In the case of the Lord Jesus, that is made very clear in
one classic passage where we are told that He "... emptied himself ... Wherefore
also God highly exalted him ..." (Philippians 2:7-9). Fulfilment, the restoration
of His voluntarily laid aside fullness, came to Him along the line of emptying,
giving, pouring out. That is the principle of the Godhead, and it should
be the mentality of all who are engaged in the great spiritual warfare. We
shall be knocked about, brought up short and defeated if we are all the time
thinking in terms of what should come to us. The self-centred life is always
the discontented life.
But the out-going life is the life of abundant return -- it all comes
back. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over" (Luke 6:38). Those are the words of the Lord
Jesus. Do you want eternal possessions? The way to receive is to give. We
must not think only of the Lord Jesus in terms of receiving from Him, as
though He were only there for our benefit. Those who have this mentality
may feel that He is not giving as they expected, so they lose interest and
become paralysed in the battle, useless as fighters and powerless as servants.
The true mentality about the Supreme Commander is that He should receive
the honour and the glory, the dominion and the power, and everything. It is
true that He will give and go on giving eternally, our relationship must be
not on the basis of what we can get but of how much He is going to
get from us. [61/62]
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Secondly, there are the perils of wrong ideas about the Christian life.
There is a prevalent idea that this is merely a matter of being saved and
blessed. For many, salvation and personal blessing are the sum of the Christian
life, a mentality which is sometimes encouraged by preachers and leaders.
The Word of God makes it perfectly clear, however, that this life is something
far more. We need to realise that the Christian life involves being actively
engaged in the great conflict of the elemental forces of this universe.
That is the issue. Long, long ago, something tremendous was set in motion;
and ever since then, down through the centuries, the great purpose of God
has been challenged and disputed. All through these generations the people
of God have given themselves in relation to that one great battle in the
universe; and it still goes on -- the battle is not over yet. The real nature
of the Christian life is that you and I, immediately we become related to
the Lord Jesus Christ, are called into this spiritual conflict. We are involved
in what I have called the ultimate elemental forces of the universe in conflict.
This means no less than that the whole hosts of the kingdom of God and of
heaven are on one side, while on the other side is the vast and vicious kingdom
Do not have any illusions about the Christian life. The Lord Jesus did
not allow His disciples to harbour any illusions: "Whosoever doth not bear
his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27). "Whosoever
would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for
my sake, the same shall save it" (Luke 9:24). That is frank and straight-forward.
This is what we are in! It is a great privilege to be in it, but we should
have no wrong mentality about the costliness of the honour. There is
joy and there is peace. Thank God for all the blessings. We need,
though, to recognise and adjust to the fact that we are in a battle, a fierce
and unrelenting battle; a warfare from which there is no discharge in this
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO THE CHURCH
Thirdly, there can be wrong ideas about the army itself, that is the
Church. The Church is the army, but it would be a wrong mentality to imagine
that the Church is the end and object of everything. We are accustomed to
say much about the greatness of the Church and we do not exaggerate when
we do so. We speak of it in superlative terms as, "God's masterpiece" and
we are right to do so. We are encouraged by the Word of God to think of the
Church of Christ as something great and wonderful, even magnificent. It is
a wonderful conception in the mind of God from all eternity; it has a very
large place in the divine counsels; and it is to be at last presented to
the Lord Jesus as a glorious Church. All this is true.
But when it has all been said, it must still be affirmed that the Church
is not God's ultimate objective and end; it is, after all, no more than the
instrument. It is but the vessel, the agent for God's purposes. There is
something far beyond. It is perhaps the greatness of the Church that it plays
such a part in the "super-greatness" of that object which it lives to serve.
We must not think that we have to live only and utterly for the Church. We
have to remember that, just as the army does not exist for itself, nor campaign
in the field for itself, but in the interests of its sovereign and his kingdom,
so the Church exists and engages in warfare solely for the glory of the
Lord on the throne, and for His kingdom. If we have faulty ideas in this
matter, we will find that they constitute a weakness. If we put the Church
in the place of Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves in trouble with the
Holy Spirit. That is not in any way to displace or to belittle the Church,
but only to insist that the Church exists for Christ. All our Church conceptions
and procedures should be governed by the fact that everything must be for
Christ's sake. We must never regard these as being ends in themselves, but
only to minister to the satisfaction of our Supreme Commander.
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO MINISTRIES
We next come to the matter of functioning in God's army, which is the
way in which we may well describe the ministries within the Church. It is
important to correct any wrong mentality concerning the real meaning and
value of ministries. Is ministry just a question of imparting knowledge and
information? No, true ministry is something more than mere teaching. We
are an army in the field, and what is needed [62/63]
in a day of battle is not lectures but provision for the actual need in
which we are found.
Do you see the point? Here is the background of conflict. From time to
time the Supreme Commander visits the various positions, gathers the staff
together and reviews the situation. He assembles all his men and talks to
them. But the scene is a scene of battle. It is a time of war and not of
peace. The conditions prevailing are war conditions; the scene and circumstances
are those of actual war. Why does he gather the men around? To give them
lectures on the theory of military life? Not a bit of it! He calls them together
in order to give help and instruction on how to meet the existing and immediate
situation; to direct as to how to cope with that which confronts them at
That should be the nature of all our meetings and our ministry. We ought
all the time to be a people on a war footing, ready to face emergencies,
perils and dangers. If we had that mentality, that we really are in the thick
of the battle, our meetings would serve much greater purposes, our ministry
would be of far greater value. Our meetings must at all costs be redeemed
from being just sessions of theory. We can reach saturation point as to doctrine
and be unable to absorb any more. But if we are conscious of being right
up against things and needing help, then we will find the help we seek. We
ought to be at our meetings on this footing: "I need it; I cannot do without
it; my situation demands it". If there is no demand, then the supply will
be valueless. Our meetings and our ministry must represent a provision for
And if we are in earnest, the Lord will see to it that we are in need.
He will make things very practical, very real. He will see to it that our
Christian lives are constantly brought up against new needs. Do not worry
or think that things have gone wrong, if you find yourself up against a
situation for which you have no answer. Our progress can only be on the
basis of growing need. Immediately that stops, we stop. We go no further
than our sense of need -- our very acute sense of need. Blessed be God!
He only allows this ever pressing sense of need in order that the need may
All ministry must have a practical background, both for giving and receiving.
May God save those of us who minister from ministering just theories or sermon
material. That which is ministered must be born out of experience and actuality
in life. The ministry must not consist in searching out subject matter,
putting it together and then retailing it as addresses. It must be born
out of life, right up to date. And there must be an active exercise on both
sides -- in those who minister and in those who receive the ministry. There
must be action about it. There must be, on the part of all, a very serious
quest, the seriousness of which is born of the desperateness of the situation;
the realisation that unless we have this knowledge from the Lord, unless
we have new life from Him, we will go under in the battle and cede victory
to the enemy. That is the nature of those "councils of war", those meetings
with the Supreme Commander, to which we sometimes gather. They are just
that we may be equipped for our job -- and our job is fighting. Whenever
we meet it should be to get equipment for our very life work which is now
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO OTHERS
Lastly we come to wrong ideas concerning the other personnel in the army
-- the other people in the Church. We have many wrong ideas about one another.
You know how easy it is to be selective, to look at the other man or woman
and to write them off as not counting for much. That is very dangerous. Our
kind of selectiveness, our judgment of people, may sabotage the whole movement.
And what about ourselves? Where would you be, where would I be, if the Lord
had been very particular that we should be exactly of the right stature
and have full qualifications for His work? I know where I would be if He
were so particular; I would be disqualified from any part in the ministry
We must be very careful, too, that we do not contemplate others as competitors
or rivals who are seeking to get an advantage over us. We must not be "touchy"
about our own position and our own rights, becoming explosive if someone
else is put before us, or seems to have been given favourable treatment instead
of us. It is a horrible thing to think of such an attitude among Christians,
but it happens only too easily. By taking personal offence, because of something
that has been done that seems to be placing us at a disadvantage, we can
be put out of the fight altogether and count for nothing in the battle. In
such a situation, whether we judge ourselves to be in the right or wrong,
our attitude must [63/64] be this: "Lord, I am
Yours , I am Your man, I am in this just for You. Men
can do what they like -- put me out, put others over my head, whatever they
like. That is between You and me, Lord, and between You and them." If you
allow yourself to take offence and harbour a grievance, then the enemy can
gain an advantage and you will become a casualty. You may as well be carried
off on a stretcher straight away!
We need to remind ourselves that a favourite manoeuvre of our enemy is
to get amongst us and make us look at one another and misjudge one another.
What is the use of an army like that -- with its men suspecting and mistrusting
one another? What a sad state of affairs! The word is: "Casting down imaginations"
-- and if we only knew the truth we should discover that our grievances are
not real but based on imaginations. This is the clever manoeuvre of the
enemy. The counter to it is found in the passage which speaks of casting
down such imaginations, "and bringing every thought into captivity ... to
Christ". Failure to do this may affect the whole issue of the battle. Lay
hold of those thoughts about other fellow soldiers and bring them into captivity
to Christ. Make sure that you are right, and even if you are right, be prepared
to forgive, to be charitable, and above all not to make a personal issue of
A WRONG MENTALITY AS TO OURSELVES
How prone we are to have wrong ideas about ourselves. Paul said: "I say
... to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than
he ought to think" (Romans 12:3). What ought we to think of ourselves? In
the light of God's grace, mercy and love and in the light of God's holiness,
what ought we to think of ourselves? Paul continues: "so to think as to think
soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith". That
is, if we may take another saying of Paul's out of its context, "according
to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). The measure of our
self-esteem will be in inverse proportion to the measure of Christ that we
have. How much of Christ have we received? Well, if we have a super-abundance
of Christ, if we have more of Christ than anyone else, we shall not think
highly of ourselves at all. The more we have of Christ, the less we shall
think of ourselves or want to talk about ourselves. The less we shall want
to be in the limelight.
What ravages such a wrong mentality could make in an army. Just imagine
what would happen if its men thought more highly of themselves than was right
and despised their fellows. It would play right into the hands of the enemy.
Our safety lies in "thinking soberly". In this great battle it matters very
much that we think of ourselves as we ought to do, and that is, in a related
way. An army depends upon its units. The whole can suffer through the weakness
of the individual. We can overestimate our personal importance or we can
underestimate our related significance. To think of ourselves as we ought
to think win mean not to err in either direction.
THE REAL THING
Reading: Romans 2:25-29 (RSV)
OUR immediate concern is with the principles underlying this Scripture
rather than with its sequence in the doctrinal arguments of the letter to
the Romans. It is clear that the spiritual and Scriptural principles are
concerned with the relationship between what is external and physical, and
that which is inward and spiritual. There is here a contrast between the
two realms; not that they need be in opposition to each other, but rather
that the weight must be put on what is inward and spiritual. This is what
is regarded as of supreme importance by God Himself and is calculated to
receive His praise, whereas in general it is the other which men consider
and most value.
The word 'spiritual' is often misunderstood, even by Christians. It
really signifies that this is [64/65] the real thing,
whereas the physical is in fact temporary and passing. To us the concept
of 'spiritual' is usually mystical, something which no doubt exists somewhere,
but is rather vague and intangible. We need always to remind ourselves that
it is only the spiritual which is the substantial reality; all else is ephemeral
and less important. An illustration of the difference is to be found in the
story of what happened when Samuel went to look among Jesse's sons for the
one who was to be anointed king. The very first of these, Eliab, made such
an impression on the man of God that he immediately jumped to the conclusion
that this must surely be the Lord's anointed. Eliab was so impressive, he
looked every inch a king, that Samuel would have made his decision had not
God said to him: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature,
because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks
on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
It is always true that the Lord looks on the heart. Our tendency is to
look on the surface; we can only judge by what we can see, and guess what
is going on inside from what we ourselves observe. God, however, does not
need to depend on the outside view. His looks penetrate. He knows precisely
what is going on underneath and it is that which He is interested in.
THERE are many illustrations of this fact in Old Testament history. Adam
is an example. To us his misdemeanour consisted in stealing what was not
his when he took the fruit, but to God his action disclosed a spirit of disobedience
and disloyalty in his inner heart. Then there is the story of the difference
between Cain and Abel which is repugnant to our unspiritual judgment. In
our first considerations, we question the difference which God made in His
treatment of the two brothers. That is because we judge by appearances. Doubtless
God saw an important difference even in their offerings, but what was more
important was that He knew what was going on in their hearts. He saw right
into Cain's heart as he brought his offering, as we may conclude from the
words spoken to the unaccepted offerer. Then there was the great moment in
Abraham's history when he went up the mountain to offer his only son as a
sacrifice to God. We are assured that it was never God's intention that this
sacrifice should be made. God had no wish to see Isaac killed. What He was
interested in was Abraham's heart, and it was with real pleasure that He could
assure His servant: "Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld
your son, your only son, from me" (Genesis 22:12).
The same applies to what happened when Moses struck the rock the second
time. This was no pleasure to God but only pain. Previously Moses had done
this with God's full approval. Now the situation was almost identical, the
need was the same, the result was the same; and outwardly the action appeared
very much the same. The first time, Moses' smiting of the rock was absolutely
right; the second, however, was so completely wrong that it prevented him
from having the honour of leading God's people into the land. Although the
water flowed out just as before, the spirit in Moses was quite different
as he stood proudly up on his platform position and angrily asked: "Shall
we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). That second
time there was something in his heart which had not been there at the first.
He assumed the role almost of a magician putting on an act. "Are you really
thirsty? Now are you all watching? See, then, what I am going to do to provide
you with water." Normally Moses was an exceptionally meek and modest man,
but on this occasion his spirit was not right and he failed to believe in
God and to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people. It would seem that the
miracle was the same, but in fact there was a complete contrast, not in the
outward happening but in the secret of the heart of Moses. Perhaps he had
the praise of men, but he certainly had no praise from the One who really
matters. There are few greater tragedies than that a Christian should be
boasting of his spiritual gifts. Whether many such claims to charismatic gifts
are valid or not, there can be no pleasure to God and no true glory for Him
if such claims involve personal gratification in displaying them.
As God explained later about this whole pilgrim experience of His people,
it had been an occasion when He led them for forty years in the wilderness,
"... testing you to know what was in your heart" (Deuteronomy 8:2). God is
always contemplating us from the inside. It is not that He has no interest
in what is external, but rather that His chief concern will
[65/66] always be with the spiritual, with the inner man of the
WITH all this in mind we now turn to the passage at the end of Romans
2. To the Jews, who regarded circumcision as the very basis of their national
life, it must have come as a tremendous shock to have this test of inwardness
applied to their cherished rite. "If you break the law," Paul told them,
"your circumcision becomes uncircumcision." What a repulsive idea this must
have seemed, even to think of their becoming uncircumcised. But there was
worse to come! Those uncircumcised outsiders, whom the Jews despised, could
so keep the law as to have a place among the truly circumcised. This was terrible!
But even worse: "Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the
law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision, but break
the law". This is a devastating comment on the futility of the outward when
it lacks the inward substance. But it is God's comment, and not man's, and
must therefore be honestly faced.
The same is true with regard to sacrifices and offerings. Now in the
Old Testament times these were important and even essential, for they were
ordained by God, but the Word of God makes it plain that they were only
valid when they were accompanied by heart obedience. When Saul was sent
to annihilate the Amalekites and disobeyed, he was asked by the prophet:
"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying
the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice ..." (1 Samuel
15:22). Again the external was worse than valueless without a right heart
The Lord Jesus took up the same matter in relation to tithing when He
said to the Pharisees: "You tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected
the weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23). He did not disregard the
literal and physical action of tithing, but denounced as hypocrites those
who practised it while ignoring what He called the weightier matters of
the law. But what are these weightier matters? Jesus described them as "justice
and mercy and faith". These were not virtues apart from the law, not something
else, but the real content of that same law. The internal and spiritual
represents the substance, the true reality and content of what their law
taught them. Without this inward substance, their outward observances were
worse than useless.
SO much for Bible times. How does the principle apply to us now? We are
no longer concerned with the subject of circumcision, but I suggest that
it is legitimate and Scriptural to apply the same principle to other matters
which are of importance to us today. Suppose, for example, that we make a
substitution for circumcision and apply this Scripture to baptism, as I
believe that we have every right to do. Now there can be no question but
that baptism is a matter of tremendous importance. It was ordained of God,
taught us by the Son of God Himself, and clearly stressed in the New Testament
Church. Nevertheless in itself it is an external and physical action, and
can only have value when it is confirmed by what is spiritual and inward,
the law of baptism.
What is the law of baptism? This is too complex a matter to be dealt
with here in detail, but it would surely be right to affirm that the principle
of baptism is found in the words: "I have been crucified with Christ; it
is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). The
illustration of "newness of life" (Romans 6:4) into which the believer emerges
from the baptismal waters, is the heart of the law of baptism. "No longer
I ... but Christ who lives in me", this is the vital principle which governs
the whole matter. So, if we apply our Scripture in this connection we find
that it asserts that "baptism is indeed of value to those who keep the law
of baptism, but if they break that law then their baptism becomes 'un-baptism'."
Does this sound illogical? Is it possible for a Christian to be 'un-baptised'?
Well, was it possible for a Jew to become 'un-circumcised'? He would say,
"No", but Paul lays down the axiom that this is what is regarded as happening
when a man puts value on the outward and literal while contradicting the
spiritual reality which it represents.
So what we are saying about baptism is simply what the apostle says about
circumcision. It amounts to this: If a man who is not baptised keeps the
law of baptism, will not his non-baptism be regarded as baptism? Then those
who are physically unbaptised but keep the law of baptism will condemn you
who have the written code of teaching about baptism and have actually been
baptised, but break its law. For [66/67] he is not
a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is true baptism something external and
physical ... real baptism is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.
I do not know what you think about making that kind of substitution in
the Word of God, but so far as I can understand it, the principle here laid
down must apply to all matters. Those things which God has ordained are
not to be disregarded nor diminished in importance, and nobody wishes to
do this with regard to baptism. Nevertheless baptism is essentially a physical
action performed by human hands in literal water and can only have any true
value if it is backed by the spiritual substance of its meaning. So we may
say that baptism is indeed of great value if its law is kept, but this means
that those values must operate internally. The real Christian must have baptism
as a matter of the heart; it must be spiritual as well as literal. Only so
can it receive God's praise and approval.
What about Communion in the Breaking of Bread? Again, this is clearly
ordained by God; taught and even commanded by the Lord Jesus. It is of great
spiritual value, though of course it is external and physical. Bread is used.
We actually take the bread and the cup in our hands. If, however, we enquire
what is the law of the Table, all will agree that the true significance is
to feed on the living reality of Christ, symbolised by the bread, and to
be in the good of the cleansing power of the blood, typified by the wine.
The Communion is described as our common participation together in the life
But God does not look only -- and I think not so much -- on the external
actions as on the inside realities. We may say that Communion is indeed of
value provided you keep the law of communion. If, however, you break that
law, your performance becomes 'un-communion'. There is a solemn reminder
of the fact that this can happen in the breakdown at Corinth where clearly
some of the believers were suffering because their celebration of the Breaking
of Bread had clearly become 'un-communion' in their experiences (1 Corinthians
11:30). Would it not be a justifiable comment to say that those who were
not physically taking part in the Breaking of Bread but were walking in the
spirit of loving communion would condemn those who knew all about it and practised
it assiduously but failed in daily life to observe its law, its spiritual
GOD sees into our hearts and knows what is going on there. In these two
matters and in many others He does not abrogate the literal but insists that
it has no value to us and brings no pleasure to Him if it is not accompanied
by inward reality. We may mention other features of assembly life which could
equally be associated with Paul's comments on circumcision. The Corinthian
letter speaks of women's headcovering, but if we ask what is the relevant
law the answer will surely be, The acceptance of God's arrangements in the
matter of subjection. There is a beautiful description of God's ideal adornment
for a Christian woman in the words: "let it be the hidden person of the heart
with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God's
sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4). Here we have a repetition of emphasis
on heart condition and on what evokes the praise of God. May we not say,
then, that if a woman lacks head covering but keeps its law as described
here by Peter, she will condemn those who are so careful to wear hats but
fail in a spirit of subjection to their husbands? In this connection she
is not a real Christian who is one outwardly, and real covering is a matter
of the heart -- spiritual and not literal. Her praise is not from men but
The same applies to our hymn-singing. Long ago the prophet complained:
"This people honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from
me" (Isaiah 29:13). I myself find that it is all too possible to be using
the sacred words quite unthinkingly, either because I happen to like the
tune or because the hymn is so familiar that I can let my mind wander in
other directions while still uttering the words. What does God find in such
hymn-singing? Well, if He looks into the heart of the singer He may well
find nothing at all. And what does He think of the prayers which are merely
outward forms with no inner reality? Or of Bible reading which is just a
daily habit with no corresponding inward searching for the will of God for
the daily life? To Him there is no value at all in such externalities. They
may get some praise from men but they will receive none from Him. He must
have the real thing. [67/68]
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
12. SERVANTS OF OBEDIENCE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS (Chapter 6:15-23)
LAW and grace are two absolutes which are mutually exclusive. Either
you are under the law, and then you are not under grace, or you are under
grace and so cannot be under law. As already stated, this is hard for the
serious religious person to accept, for he regards the law as the guarantee
against superficiality, laxity and irresponsibility. To him, sin being the
worst enemy and most dreadful possibility in his life, it seems dreadful
that sin should be lightly spoken of, which is what he thinks that Paul does.
In his opinion the strong Pauline stress on the grace of God cannot avoid
depreciation of the seriousness of sinning; it either leads directly to abusing
grace in order to condone sinning or to regarding sin as something which
does not gravely affect the Christian who considers himself as excused because
of grace, irrespective of how he lives. He fears that such teaching will
make men slack and lax in their daily lives.
Paul realises that his presentation of the truth has not yet cleared
up every doubt of those who have such misgivings, and so he takes the matter
up again. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law but under
grace?" That is the question. The answer is categorical: "God forbid!", and
by it the apostle suggests that the question is wrong in principle. The
dominion of grace excludes the dominion of sin. The subsequent verses contain
pitfalls for the legal-minded person. Does not Paul here speak about having
to choose between whom we will serve, either sin or righteousness? And does
he not emphasise that everything depends on which lord we choose to serve?
Does it not then depend ultimately upon us ourselves? If these things were
so then the legal-minded would be right in principle, for it would not be
grace which saved men from the guilt and power of sin, but their own choice.
In that case, of course, the serious and upright people would choose righteousness,
while those with weak characters would choose Sin.
LET us note, though, that Paul is not appealing to us to choose rightly.
There is no mention whatever in this paragraph about making any choice. On
the contrary it says: "Thanks be to God, that whereas ye were servants of
sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto
ye were delivered" (v.17). In other words, there is no question of praising
man for his choice, but rather thanks to God who touched his heart and made
him obedient. It may well be that the "form of teaching whereunto ye were
delivered" refers to baptism. It is the work of God which is being spoken
about, His work in Christ, by which they were set free from slavery to sin
and made obedient from the heart to the divine form of teaching. This last
word contains an inference that the teaching (that is, the gospel) sets its
mark on a man and forms him not according to the pattern of the world (12:2),
but according to Christ. It is clear, then, that far from leading to laxity,
the gospel leads to conformity to Christ.
"And being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness" (v.18).
When Christ set them free from the dominion of sins, He brought them under
the dominion of another -- righteousness. Paul does not recognise any "freedom"
of position for a person standing between sin and righteousness and able
to choose between them. True freedom consists in being the slave of Christ.
And that is precisely what they have become by the grace of God. When they
were the servants of sin, they were free in regard to righteousness; right
had no deciding power over them (v.20). But now they have become servants
of righteousness and so have been set free from sin. Sin now has no deciding
power over them.
It is difficult for them to understand this. Their weak carnal nature
cannot comprehend it. The apostle, therefore, writing "after the manner of
men" (v.19), uses expressions and illustrations from human life. Let us write
what he says in columns to make it clear:
Men are servants
(These are the words found in verses 16, 18, 19 and 22.)
In the right-hand column we observe that obedience is not first and foremost
a characteristic [68/69] or quality in a man but that
which has power over him (v.16). This is true to the gospel. When Christ
leads a person out of the power of sin, He brings him under a new power, namely
the dominion of obedience. Man is never free in an absolute sense, but is
always subject to a master.
The Christians in Rome, because of Christ's redemptive work, were on
the right-hand side of our diagram, as servants under the dominion of obedience,
righteousness and God. This is the decisive fact upon which Paul bases his
argument. He does not leave the Romans as standing between these two columns
with the dilemma of making a choice of one or the other. They are
servants of God; they have become obedient from the hearts; they have been
set free from the despotism of sin, uncleanness and iniquity that they may
serve God. Paul thanks God for this, since it is He alone who has brought
IT almost seems an idiotic question, then, to ask if we shall sin because
we are under grace, for it is grace which has brought us under the dominion
of obedience, righteousness and God. Hence the swift answer to such a question:
"God forbid!" ("No, far from it" Danish). "Know ye not (you, who are
on the right-hand side of the diagram), that to whom ye present yourselves
as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey: whether of
sin unto death (as when you were on the left-hand side) or (as now) of obedience
unto righteousness? But thanks be to God that, whereas ye were servants of
sin, ye became obedient from the heart (because on the right-hand side of
the diagram you are under the dominion of obedience) to that form of teaching
whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin (set free from
the left-hand side of the diagram), ye became servants of righteousness (led
over to the right-hand side). I speak after the manner of men because of
the infirmity of your flesh; for as ye presented your members (when you were
on the left-hand side) as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity,
even so now (that you are on the right-hand side of the diagram) present
your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification ... Now being
made free from sin (and no longer being on the left-hand side) and become
servants to God, ye have (it is a fact!) your fruit unto sanctification, and
the end eternal life. For the wages of sin (slavery on the left-hand side)
is death; but the free gift of God (charisma) is eternal life in Christ Jesus
our Lord (under whom we serve in true liberty on the right-hand side),"
THE section does not contain an exhortation to be a "free" person who
is standing between sin and righteousness, urging him to be sure to choose
rightly, but it is a gospel declaration to all who by faith in Christ stand
justified before God under the dominion of grace. It is a glad message to
all who so stand under the government of righteousness and obedience, assuring
them that sin shall not have dominion over them and that from the heart they
have become obedient to the divine word and can therefore serve God as His
love-slaves. It is therefore an absurd thought that they should be in bondage
to sin. On the contrary, they can present their members as servants to the
Lord. Whatever else should they do?
(To be continued)
THE FEAR OF THE LORD
Alan G. Nute
"YOU shall love the LORD your God with all you heart, and with all your
soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). Above this text, at the
top of the page in my Bible, is the caption: "The Great Commandment". A parallel
command, however, occurs in verse 13 of the same chapter, and this time
it reads: "You shall fear the LORD your God". In the light of this, perhaps
the caption should have been worded in the plural. The two great commandments
are that we should love the Lord and that we should also fear the Lord.
Scripture recognises that love and fear are the twin motives that govern
and control us. Usually they are opposed the one to the other, but this
is only because of the distortion which has resulted from the Fall. As a
result of that [69/70] tragic act of disobedience
love has become largely self-centred. Indeed, the modern use of the word
signifies little other than the gratifying of human passion. As for fear,
that which was intended to be a healthy emotion has degenerated into feelings
of apprehension or dread. To such an extent is this the case that we tend
to regard fear as almost entirely injurious.
One of God's prime objectives in His dealings with His children is the
straightening out of that which Satan has twisted. This involves the production
within our hearts of a true love and a true fear. In relation to fear, this
necessitates first of all the eradication of all false fear. It is this
which lies behind the frequent exhortation -- "Fear not". The Spirit which
we have received is not "the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear";
for as Paul reminds Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity".
The fear which manifests itself in timidity is one which inhibits, and as
a result cripples our witness and robs us of our joy in the Lord. Such fear
must be uprooted, and in its place there must be cultivated a true fear,
a fear which is noble and beneficial.
Every quality is seen in perfection in Christ. In Him love and fear are
present ideally and without conflict. In all His ways we may detect these
two currents flowing in the same direction and with equal intensity. With
regard to fear, Isaiah prophesies: "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest
upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and
might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight
shall be in the fear of the Lord." The writer to the Hebrews provides us with
an example of this. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and
supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him
from death, and he was heard for his godly fear." This is the fear to which
we are exhorted. It is constantly commanded (e.g. Ecclesiastes 12:13 and
1 Peter 2:17); and is not only commanded, it is commended. Job, the Psalms
and Proverbs all agree that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".
It is the highest element of wisdom.
Clearly this is a truth which merits serious attention. And yet for ten
thousand sermons on love, we will be fortunate to hear one on fear. Is "the
fear of the Lord" a lost concept? Does the quality -- "God-fearing" -- evoke
the admiration it once did? Whatever the contemporary situation, of this
we may be emphatic, the fear of the Lord is a dominant theme of Holy Scripture.
1. The Essence of Godly Fear
The essence of this fear is reverence. The word is used in the
Scripture of the right attitude to parents and implies honour and respect.
Everywhere today this is in eclipse. The whole notion of respect is undermined
because no longer is there abroad a respect for God, His Word and His laws.
The reason for this is to be found in the fact that men have replaced the
God of the Bible with a God made in the likeness of man. A God, as some have
impiously suggested, "in whom I can believe". Thus is constructed a God
whom no one fears, nor needs to. The God revealed to us in the New Testament
as in the Old is One who merits our reverence.
This reverence will manifest itself in worship. In Revelation
15 John describes the great company of those who having conquered, "sing
the song of Moses and the Lamb". They exclaim: "Who shall not fear and glorify
thy name, O Lord?" Fearing the Lord, they exalt, extol and magnify His name.
We shall only truly worship as our hearts are suffused with a deep sense
The other indication of a reverential fear of the Lord is obedience
. The first reference in Scripture to fearing God is in Genesis 22:12.
It is heaven's verdict on Abraham's act of obedience: "Now I know that you
fear God". Little wonder that fear and obedience are bracketed in such repeated
exhortations as "fear the Lord your God and do all the words of his law".
We may say, then, that the essential character of this fear is a reverence
which issues in worship and obedience.
2. The Ground of Godly Fear
The song in Revelation 15 also points to the ground of such true fear.
God is to be feared because of Who He is. Ultimately, everything
depends on our conception of God. "Who shall not fear and glorify thy name,
O Lord?" The expression 'thy name' stands for all that may be known of God,
and something of this is conveyed in the titles employed in the song. "Lord
God". Theirs is a recognition of the transcendent majesty which is His.
"The Almighty". They are conscious of His infinite power. Thus it was that
when men beheld the [70/71] omnipotence of the Saviour
they were "filled with awe" (Mark 4:41). "King of the ages". The singers
celebrate the fact that God is eternal. Indeed, the title contains the thought
of the divine control which ensures the outworking of God's timeless purpose.
The only conceivable reaction to such a contemplation of the glory of God
is that of awesome fear. But perhaps the supreme Divine characteristic is
found in the statement: "For thou alone art holy". Proverbs 9:10 equates the
fear of the Lord with "the knowledge of the holy One". Above all the attributes
of God, this should banish that presumption which is the antithesis of godly
fear and, positively, should inculcate that lowliness and that contrition
which are its essential constituents.
But the ground of the fear of the Lord is to be found also in what He
has done. "Great and wonderful are thy deeds ... who shall not fear ... thy
name?" Of all his deeds surely the greatest, the most wonderful, is His
work of redemption. As we take our places alongside those who stood by the
cross of Jesus our reaction is one with theirs -- "they were filled with awe".
O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!
3. The Consequence of Godly Fear
If we consider the consequence of this fear we say that it will:
i. preserve us from sin. The height of impiety is described by
Paul in words borrowed from the psalmist: "There is no fear of God before
their eyes". It is not surprising therefore that the Scripture declares the
fear of God to be the great prophylactic against evil (Proverbs 3:7; 8:13;
16:6). Indeed it is the motivating power for moral and spiritual purity.
"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every
defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God".
ii. regulate all our relationships. The section of Ephesians which
deals with sundry personal, domestic and business relationships is introduced
with the exhortation: "Be subject to one another in the fear of God" (cf.
Colossians 3:22 and 1 Peter 3:13-16). Where the "fear of the Lord" becomes
a dominating influence, all relationships fall into their proper place.
"Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear."
A fascinating example of the power of this emotion is seen in the case
of the Hebrew midwives whose story is told in Exodus 1. What emboldened
the Maternity Department of Israel's Health Service to snap their fingers
at Pharaoh when he commanded a programme of genocide? "The midwives feared
iii. secure the blessing of God. To trace in a concordance the
blessings which result from a fear of the Lord is to produce a list containing
the most desirable spiritual boons imaginable. "The friendship of the Lord"
is theirs (Psalm 25:14); "abundant goodness" is laid up for them (Psalm 31:19).
But space does not permit even a fraction of these benefits to be mentioned.
One can but hope that enough has been said to cause us each to echo the
words of the redeemed in the presence of God, both as an expression of worship
and sacred intention -- saying "Who shall not fear and glorify Thy name,
A PILGRIM'S PRAYER
(Some thoughts on Psalm 119)
"Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage
" (verse 54)
PSALM 119 is a pilgrim psalm. The author is on the move all the time.
He readily confesses that he is "a sojourner in the earth", a pilgrim (19),
who is walking and sometimes even wanting to run on the way (32). He is having
to watch his feet (101), needing light on the pathway (105), choosing which
path to take (30), avoiding wrong turnings (104), and making
[71/72] sure that he has good companions (63). He is acutely aware
of his tendency to stray and get lost, not only in the early stages of his
pilgrimage (10), but right through to the very end (176).
Although the prayer is arranged in contrived poetry, it is written by
a traveller and for travellers. This means that it is for all of us, since
every Christian should know himself to be only a "sojourner" here. Each place
where we are located, temporary or permanent, should be like a Rest House
on the travellers' way. Our churches, our homes, our studies or our prayer
chambers should never be regarded as permanent retreats from the business
of living. Rather should we accept their temporary shelter as divinely provided
hospices where we can look back on the past day's journey and look forward
to what lies before, always doing so in a spirit of praise and prayer. Every
consultation of the Bible should have in mind that it is a "Traveller's Guide"
-- not just a route map but also a complete compendium of all that the pilgrim
needs to know for a safe arrival at journey's end. It is in fact more than
that. It is a means of communication with the living Guide, who knows every
inch of the way and is near enough to be consulted or appealed to at all times.
As our verse indicates, we are to be singing pilgrims. What becomes even
more obvious as we read on is that we should be praying pilgrims. The whole
psalm is a prayer -- a pilgrim's prayer. It must surely be the longest prayer
in the Bible. Apart from the first three verses and verse 115 it is all spoken
directly to the Lord, either in appreciation or in supplication. "My pilgrimage"
is personal, but it is never solitary. The Lord is both my destination and
my constant Companion. When I am not singing, I am speaking -- talking freely
to Him about the blessings on the way or about its problems. Technically
it is true that I am journeying to heaven, but spiritually it is a fact that
heaven is very near me as I travel on. Every fear, every longing, every
exclamation of love and every cry for help is uttered in the confidence
that the One whose servant I claim to be is near at hand both by day and
It would seem that I am listening as well as talking, for the whole psalm
is full of references to God's speaking. Much is said about His Word, with
the implicit idea that it is a spoken word. In addition to this, there is
constant reference to seven synonyms for God's Word, roughly employed with
equal frequency. All seven are mentioned in the first seven verses of the
psalm: law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments and judgments.
This being so, the psalm may at first glance appear to be just a tribute
to or a treatise on the Word of God. It is more than that -- much more. It
is the disclosure of the thoughts and aspirations of a pilgrim on the King's
All this adds up to a reminder that we are meant to keep on the move
in our spiritual life, that we should always be praying as we go, and that
our prayers should be very closely associated with the will of God as revealed
in the Scriptures. We observe that there is nothing half-hearted or merely
formal about this pilgrim. His whole being is devoted to the task in hand.
He speaks of his eyes (6), his lips (13), his mouth (43), his hands (48),
his feet (59), his voice (149) and his tongue (172) being completely involved
with the Word of God. Moreover he begins with a reminder that the blessing
of pilgrimage consists in seeking the Lord with the whole heart (2) and constantly
refers to the fact that this is precisely what he himself does (10, 34,
69 & 145).
The entire psalm is in the form of an acrostic, each verse of the groups
of eight beginning with the same letter, in accordance with the headings
given in our versions. The stanzas lead us right through the twenty-two letters
of the Hebrew alphabet -- as we would say, "from A to Z"! This makes the
prayer elaborate and ingenious, but does not detract from its passion and
purpose. It is not meant for dilettante students of a Book, but for determined
walkers in a Way. Indeed there are constant references to the way -- His ways,
my ways, Thy ways -- as though to remind us that the man praying this prayer
can never be a recluse or a mere theorist, but one who takes seriously his
continual pilgrimage with God.
In accordance with this idea of dealing with practical daily experience,
he makes no attempt at a logical argument about the Bible, nor does he provide
a systematised book of prayers for varying occasions. The psalm is more like
a private diary. The writer moves backwards and forwards in his many moods.
He rejoices; but he also weeps. He may be in the heights; he may also drop
into the depths. He may be surrounded by friends, yet at times he feels
himself surrounded by foes. At times he is resolute and determined about
his stand for the truth, while [72/73] at others he
admits that only grace can rescue him from abject failure. Life is like that.
Such experiences can well occur to any of us. The one stable factor in our
unpredictable life is the sure Word of God: "For ever, O LORD, thy word
is settled in heaven" (89), and the only satisfying resting-place in a disappointing
world is God's exceeding broad commandment whose perfection will never end
The psalm of this pilgrimage is not, then, a doctrinal treatise nor a
manual of piety but the autobiographical exposure of the inner emotions of
a flesh and blood man who is seeking to walk in the right ways of the Lord.
It is an incomplete story. Perhaps the acrostic form is meant to suggest
continual progress, but we come to the last letter of the alphabet and find
that he has not yet reached his destination. The pilgrim has not arrived
yet, but he prays his way ever onward in spite of his own conscious weakness
and in the face of all the sneers and traps of his adversaries. He is convinced
that the way he takes is the way of blessing. Before ever he began to set
down his experience and prayers as he walked along life's road, he headed
the psalm with a general statement which obviously he had found true and which
we are meant to take to heart: "Blessed are they that are perfect in the
way, who walk in the law of the Lord" (verse 1).
The whole book of the psalms begins with this same promise of blessing
(Psalm 1:1), the Lord Jesus opened His Sermon on the Mount with it too:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3) and the final book of the
Bible opens with a similar beatitude: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they
that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things which are written
therein" (Revelation 1:3). This is what matters most. It is good to be orthodox.
It is great to be a Bible student. More important than all, though, is to
walk in the way of blessing.
This pilgrim had found that way and the study of his psalm may well lead
us into new experiences of it if it encourages us to press on more earnestly
in our holy pilgrimage, "Come wind, come weather!" As we journey in thought
with him, I propose to consider him in five different aspects, keeping close
all the time to those foundational statements which he makes about God's
Word and to his petitions which are based on that Word. We will try to catch
some glimpses of:
1. A Pilgrim whose heart is aflame
2. A Pilgrim whose mind is enlightened
3. A Pilgrim whose will is fixed
4. A Pilgrim whose lips are opened
5. A Pilgrim whose feet are sure
"Then fancies fly away,
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim."
(To be continued)
SOME MEANINGS OF COMMITMENT
John H. Paterson
ONE day recently, I was invited by a Christian group to give a talk on
'Commitment'. It was one of those embarrassing occasions when the speaker
is fairly certain what the organisers of the meeting expect him to say and
he is left wondering why, in that case, they do not give the talk themselves.
In the present instance, my task was complicated by the fact that I knew
in advance that the majority of those present would be from a Roman Catholic
background. Some of them were truly born-again believers, but they would
be bringing with them from their past the presuppositions of their church.
So I had to think very carefully about what I should say.
The exercise proved a useful one. We speak too glibly about 'commitment
to Christ', as if it was at once obvious what that means. But such a commitment
needs to be spelled out, just as in the marriage service the commitment of
one partner to the other is spelled out in terms of [73/74]
practical situations: 'for richer, for poorer; in sickness or in health
...' This is the content of commitment, as distinct from the act.
What, then, does a Christian commitment involve? There was so much that
I wanted to say to my young audience, and I needed a framework within which
to set it. After a lot of thought, I turned to the Apostle Paul for the necessary
framework. In a number of his epistles, he was writing to Christians whose
whole-hearted commitment was in question. In each case, however, the point
at issue was different. On this occasion, I chose four consecutive letters,
to illustrate the answer to the question, 'If I become a Christian, what
am I committed to?' Galatians emphasises that I am committed to a
life of faith; Ephesians that I am committed to a life of purpose; Philippians
that I am committed to a life of change or development, and Colossians that
I am committed to a life of dependence upon a person.
The Epistle to the Galatians
The Christians in Galatia had made a commitment to Christ, but were so
far from understanding the practical implications of what they had done
that Paul had to write very sharply to them: "O foolish Galatians
...". At that, he was perhaps being a little hard on them for, by his own
account, if they had misunderstood the meaning of commitment to Christ,
no less a person than the Apostle Peter had done so, too (Galatians 2:11-14).
The issue could be stated very simply: justification is either by faith, or
it is by faith and something else. As C. S. Lewis pointed out long
ago, once you admit that word 'and', then it does not matter what the 'something
else' is -- the principle has been lost. For the Galatians, it was 'and circumcision'.
For the Roman Catholic young people in my audience the other day, it may
have been 'and attendance at confession and mass'; or, since we were in Ireland,
it may well have been a case of 'and walking barefoot up a rocky mountain
path to the summit once a year'. Whatever is covered by the 'and', its significance
is clear: faith by itself is not enough.
When we challenge a person to make a commitment to Christ, therefore,
we are probably telling him that he must discard a whole system of ways and
means on which he has formerly relied, and trust his eternal future to one
single safety-line: faith. And the greater the religious apparatus in which
he formerly trusted, the greater demand now made upon him to dismantle it.
Could it really be true that all Paul's upbringing, training, self-discipline
and zeal counted for absolutely nothing? Did Luther's early efforts to please
God really make not the slightest difference to his standing with
God? Surely there would at least be no harm in keeping the old apparatus
working alongside the new? Surely, on the old analogy of the man who wears
both belt and braces, there is no harm in using one as an insurance policy
for the other? Even Peter seemed to think so!
But commitment to Christ means consciously and deliberately discarding
all other grounds of confidence, and staking everything on the proposition
that faith in Christ is enough. For a person without prior religious commitments,
this may actually be an improvement on his original position, like providing
a fire escape for a building which previously had none. But for Paul, by
contrast, it meant deliberately replacing half a dozen fire escapes (the nature
of which he describes in Philippians 3:4-6) by a single, flimsy-looking rope,
and believing that he was then better off than he had been before.
We have, I suspect, become so familiar with the great Reformation emphasis
on justification by faith in Christ alone that we have lost something of
its impact on those accustomed to think in terms of religious systems or observances.
Certainly, as I faced my young audience and called for commitment to this
principle I was conscious as never before of what a tremendous, traumatic
change of thought it called for. For me, it had become routine; for them,
it would mean the end of a whole world -- a religious world -- and
dependence on a single, intangible source of safety and confidence: nothing
to do; nothing to show for it; no way of checking whether the fire escape
was in position. Just faith in Christ.
Not that it is necessarily easier for the evangelical believer who does
not climb barefoot up mountains. We can develop a perverse pride in what
we do not do, as well as in our achievements. Therefore Paul made it quite
clear to the [74/75] Galatians: "neither circumcision
nor uncircumcision ..."
The Epistle to the Ephesians
In his next letter, Paul challenges his readers to commit themselves
to fulfilment of a purpose -- God's purpose. I spent a part of last summer
with a group of delightful young Christians in America. One of the questions
with which they were preoccupied, and which came out in prayer and discussion
many times was, 'How can I find out God's purpose for my life?' When it came
to my turn to speak to them, I suggested that they were asking the wrong question
-- or, at the very least, they were asking a second question, without first
having the answer to a prior on. The prior question is 'What is God's
purpose, full stop?' God's purpose for my life is what in mathematics is
called a subset of God's purpose for His whole creation. When I know the greater,
I can fit in the lesser.
But once I understand this, then comes the challenge of commitment. Paul
explained that God does indeed have a purpose, and that it is eternal
(Ephesians 3:11). It will continue through my lifetime and far beyond;
therefore commitment to His purpose will be a lifelong engagement without
intermission or, probably, even the satisfaction of visible results. Commitment
for the individual believer means being involved in a task of which he sees
neither the beginning nor the end; yet he must accept (and this is just
what Paul was trying to get the Ephesians to realise) that his role is vital
to fulfilment of the purpose, and that every detail of his daily life, even
the most trivial, counts towards it. This commitment is not only life-long;
it is also full-time. We knew a student once, who served as an officer in
the Christian group in her university. As her term of office came to an end,
she said to us brightly, 'And now I'm going to have a year off!' But so far
as anybody can tell, that year off has lasted ever since; she went 'off'
and never came back. The idea of 'time off' in the Christian life is a contradiction
of the original idea of commitment to fulfilment of an eternal purpose.
Every Christian work has two kinds of supporters -- the ones who can
be counted on at any time, for any service, and those who are delighted
to help, provided that this does not clash with their personal projects,
or their holidays, or their hobbies. And every Christian leader quickly learns
to distinguish between the two. It is a question of the degree of commitment
-- of willingness to be involved in a purpose outside ourselves, greater than
ourselves, and to go on and on until He is satisfied.
The Epistle to the Philippians
The third letter makes the point that commitment to Christ involves a
process of change. Now there are two things which are very generally true
about people and they are, firstly, that we normally resent being told that
we could be improved upon and, secondly, that the older we get the less welcome
change becomes. We like ourselves the way we are and, since all change involves
the risk of the unknown, we seldom want it and sometimes fear it. That is
natural; in fact, about the only person who welcomes change is the one who
says, 'Things are so bad now that anything is bound to be an improvement
I do not suppose that anything could have been further from the mind
of Saul of Tarsus, on the day he set out for Damascus, than the idea that
he could be improved upon. "Circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock
of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews ...". What
more could anybody ask? And change, when it came to him, came violently,
so violently that he was blinded and dazed for days on end. Yet that was
only the beginning of change; it was, if you like, merely the realisation
that change was necessary. The actual changes themselves then began -- and
went on and on, so that, writing years later to the Philippians, he was quite
emphatic that only a part of the necessary work of change had taken
place: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect
Whatever may be the particular purpose of God in your life or mine, His
general purpose is clear. It is the moral purpose of making us like
His Son. Any believer who thinks that this can be done quickly or easily
has no business to be subscribing to a periodical called Toward The Mark
! So commitment to Christ implies commitment to a lifelong process of
learning [75/76] and maturing; of never being able
to say, 'I have arrived' until we see Him in His glory. Among the students
I teach, it is a very common reaction for them to say, after their final
examinations, 'Thank goodness, that's the last exam I shall ever have to
take.' All through school and college and driving tests they have been facing
one hurdle after another, and now they can relax at last. To the Philippian
Christians Paul is making the point that, in the life of the believer, this
is not the case. There is no such thing as a last examination:
on the contrary, how often it appears that the later tests in the Christian
life are the hardest of all! How often it seems that the last stage in the
progress of a believer, one who has given a lifetime to the Lord's service
-- and who, we might feel, has deserved a peaceful old age -- is the most
difficult stage of all to get through: growing weakness, isolation, the apparent
failure of the things for which they worked - -decline, decay, abandonment!
It was Moses, a man in a good position to comment, who remarked that "the
days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength
they be fourscore years, yet is their strength, labour and sorrow" (Psalm
90:10). Moses, we may be sure, would gladly have missed that last lap.
Why is this? Can it be for any other reason than that, as the end approaches,
the Master Craftsman is still continuing His work -- perhaps even increasing
the pace to make up for time lost along the way? Commitment to Christ implies
this, too: a perpetually unfinished work, from which He will never relax,
even though we ourselves may lose interest or enthusiasm along the way. Paul
was very clear that, even after a life as full of experiences as his had
been, the work was far from complete. But he was also clear (Philippians 3:21)
that it could be done: "He is able to subdue all things unto himself."
The Epistle to the Colossians
The last of these four letters brings us at length to the fact that Christian
commitment is to a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, but even now we must try
to be sure what we mean by that statement. That Christianity centres upon
the person of Christ is self-evident. The particular issue for the Colossians
was His sufficiency; whether or not He was great enough to be all
that they needed, or whether He required to be helped or supplemented in some
It was part of their system of thought that there were many beings who
had more than human powers -- angels or astral forces -- and that it was
the task of the philosopher to understand and interpret these; in fact, to
rank them in order of importance. Among these figures, Christ would be included,
as one among many; as having a contribution to make to a larger whole. (The
attitude is thoroughly modern.) But it was an idea which Paul set out specifically
to contradict. In Colossians 2:20 he wrote, "If ye be dead with Christ from
the rudiments of the world", and one of the meanings of the word so
translated is 'to arrange in ranks; to order'. We have a picture of the Colossian
philosophers acting like some jury at a festival, arranging the contestants
in order of merit, and arguing whether Christ should be placed fourth, or
fifth, or tenth. For Paul, there was only one answer to all such thinking:
"that in all things he might have the preeminence". That was the only place
in the rank order for Him!
This may well serve as a reminder to us that commitment to Christ means
recognition that all our hope, assurance and future depend upon Him, not
only in the sense that He said He was the way to God but because His quality
was and is such that He actually fulfilled every condition, met every
requirement, and was great enough to be everything that God demanded. If
one thing is more depressing than another about contemporary theology, it
is the way in which scholars who seem to have missed the logic of their own
actions have chiselled away at the greatness of Christ, reducing His status,
redefining His powers, restricting His role to something purely subsidiary,
as if it was upon their process of thought, rather than upon His quality,
that contact with God depended.
Commitment to Christ implies recognition that our acceptance with God
is based solely, but safely, on the qualities of His Son, which He sees and
approves; that the greatness of Christ is what makes everything else possible,
and that anything which diminishes our appreciation of Him is a direct threat
to our own standing with God. But Paul is reassuring: "In him dwelleth all
the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him."
HEALTHY CHURCH LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
"Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding
in the sight of the peoples, which shall hear all these statutes, and say,
Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great
nation is there, that hath God so near unto them as the Lord our God is whensoever
we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and
judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
" (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, that
whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state, that you
stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel;
and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries." (Philippians 1:27-28)
"I know thy works. Behold I have set before thee a door opened which
none can shut. I know that thou hast a little power and didst keep my word,
and didst not deny my name. Behold I give of the synagogue of Satan ... I
will make them to come and worship before thy feet and to know that I have
loved thee." (Revelation 3:8-9)
CHURCH life needs constant renewal. God wants families, not monuments!
All over the country we are burdened with ecclesiastical buildings for which
no man has any longer use, but which are preserved just because of their
age. In the ordinary providence of God that which is old should be expected
to die. It is only the world which seeks at all costs to preserve the antique.
To avoid such a worldly way of thinking we must not struggle merely to perpetuate
any fellowship because it has had a long history, but rather lay hold on
God's promise of its youth being renewed like the eagles. How can we be fresh
for God? How can we so lay hold on new life that the testimony which God in
mercy has preserved will go on and continue to flower because He has invigorated
it? It is with this question in mind that we consider the three separate
Scriptures cited above. They give us three aspects of the true nature of Church
1. The Magnetic Church
The first feature which emerges from Deuteronomy 4:6 is that God's people
should have an attractive effect. What is a church meant to be? It is meant
to be a magnet to the world around. In this passage we see the distinctiveness
of the people of God in front of the watching world which marvels at what
it sees. Moses had it in mind of this people that in their life together
they should provide a magnetic Church. They were going in to possess the land,
and there they would be surrounded by nations who worshipped other gods.
What Moses envisaged was that those watching nations would be amazed at the
sight of people who lived so near to God and had such ready access to Him.
"What a great nation this is," they would exclaim. "Why they are in constant
close touch with God Himself. He gives them wise counsel and they follow
it. Whenever they have need of His help, they just ask, and receive the answer.
This is wonderful! How we envy them, and wish that we could have this nearness
and access to God!"
We apply this to our church. This is a wisdom which should be found in
us, wisdom to keep God's statutes in the sight of the onlooking world, and
understanding to make full use of the accessibility of the Lord Jesus. Do
you remember blind Bartimaeus, whose question about what was happening received
the answer: "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by"? That man did not have constant
access to Jesus. All he had was a split-second opportunity. What sanctified
wisdom he displayed in crying out to the Lord for mercy! The people around
told him to be quiet, but years of begging had taught him that you get nothing
by being quiet, so he cried out all the more. And the passing Christ stopped.
That moment became one of remarkable blessing, as Bartimaeus found Jesus
so near when he called upon Him. For us, however, Jesus does not have to stop.
He is not passing by. He is always near to be called upon. How wise was Bartimaeus
to [77/78] profit from that moment of accessibility!
And how foolish are we not to take full advantage of the privilege of prayer!
The Church has the Lord always very near and ready to respond to its appeals.
As the nations watch the Church they should see it fleeing to God in every
emergency, and proving the reality of God as He hears and answers prayer.
The Church is in the midst of communities which live according to the ways
and resources of men, being governed by the laws of economics and bank balances,
and it stands in contrast to this world as being composed of a people that
live in terms of the resources of God. If the Church will only live near
to God and be exercised as a praying Church, then the effect will be magnetic,
making men wistful to have the same privilege and power.
Moses goes on to give further light on the magnetic Church with the words:
"What great nation is there that hath statutes and judgments so righteous
...?" It is the obedient Church that will prove magnetic. Deuteronomy gives
the most lovely picture of the law of God, a law expressed in God's own words,
mediated through human agents with no diminution of the divine lustre. This
law is sacred and complete; it needs neither addition nor subtraction, and
is sufficient for every aspect of life. It is a law which lays down and
establishes principles, and it is designed for obedience and faith. What
Moses says about the law of God is precisely what the Holy Scriptures testify
of themselves from one end to the other. The Church which stands true to
the Word cannot fail to be noticed and attract attention. The Church which
gives itself to prayer and the Word of God will be a magnetic Church --
drawing in admirers from the world around.
2. The Worthy Church
It must be a worthy Church, as is suggested by our quotation from the
letter to the Philippians. The situation was that Paul was uncertain about
the future; he was in prison in Rome and humanly speaking he did not know
whether this imprisonment would terminate in his death or in his release.
He had an inner conviction that because of the needs of the churches here
on earth he would be released for further ministry, "Only", he pleaded, "whatever
happens to me, only this one thing (1:27). Maybe I will come to you; maybe
I won't; but come or not come, there is one supremely important matter --
only one thing."
What is this one priority in the apostolic estimate of what a church
ought to be? It is that it should have a manner of life worthy of the gospel.
We could translate this exhortation as a call to live out their heavenly
citizenship in a worthy way. Philippi was a colony; it was composed of Roman
citizens who took great pride in being as like as possible to the capital
of their great empire. Spiritually the Church is a colony planted by its
home country: it is an outpost of the heavenly empire. Our home country is
where the Lord Jesus is, and we are called to be an outpost here on earth
of that heavenly realm, a colony of heaven. The important thing, then, is
that we live up to our calling. There is a procedure worthy of the gospel,
a Christlike manner of life. The magnetic Church must be careful to maintain
such a standard.
It can only be done if we "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving
for the faith of the gospel". A similar exhortation is made in the appeal
to Euodia and Syntyche to be "of the same mind in the Lord" (4:2). In that
passage, Paul has in mind the fact that the true Church of God will ever
be challenged by the false church. He has mentioned a sad fact which moved
him to tears, that there were abroad enemies of the cross of Christ, denying
Christianity at two cardinal points, the cross and the Coming. They look back
and deny the Christ of Calvary; they look forward and deny the idea of Jesus
coming again. In the face of this denial of vital truth, Paul cries: "Stand
fast in one mind". A divided Church cannot hold its ground when the doctrine
of Christ is challenged.
To return to chapter 1, however, we find that his appeal is made to the
Church which is an outpost of heaven in a hostile world. It is faced with
a very real threat and must be "in nothing affrighted by the adversaries"
(1:28). The word employed is exceedingly strong. It means, "stampeded", as
when a sudden onset of danger goes right through a herd of animals and they
become terror-stricken and stampede. The Church can be faced with adversaries
of such dimensions as could produce such a wave of panic, but they must not
stampede, standing firm in a united faith.
The oneness is described as being "in one spirit". I have felt that I
had to re-write the "s" in my Bible, and turn it into a capital letter, for
[78/79] I believe that only the Holy Spirit can
produce a united Church of this character. Our very unity consists of a united
flying to God to lay hold on heavenly resources for our needs here on earth.
In our capacity as a colony of the heavenly empire, we can appeal to our
home country for supplies, and the only one to bring us those needed resources
is the Holy Spirit. It is all too easy for the people of God to try to live
by the principles of the world. We must not make this mistake, but must keep
open the channel of supplies from our heavenly home country. All through
the Scriptures we perceive that it is the particular task of the Holy Spirit
to bring us supplies from God. Total resources of a full salvation are provided
in Christ and they are made ours in experience by the operation of the Spirit
This oneness is also described as being "in one soul". This comprehensive
word includes oneness of thought, of feeling, of decision and of ambition.
Beloved friends, Church membership is not a marriage of convenience, where
people live together but do not love together; it is a oneness of soul
, where we think and feel and desire as one, have one single ambition.
How deeply the world has eroded Biblical principles at this very point, so
that we tolerate cross currents and bad relationships and even an unforgiving
spirit between brothers or sisters. These things cannot be. The "Euodias"
and "Syntyches" must find the way in the Lord to be of one mind. The apostle
beseeches that they do so, for a divided Church cannot stand in the presence
of a hostile world.
This oneness is to be exerted in striving together for "the faith of
the gospel". This phrase may well include the content of the gospel, our
experience of the gospel and our activity to communicate the gospel. The
worthy Church is united in all these three; united in the facts of Christ's
atoning sacrifice, united in the experience of how that gospel is enjoyed,
and united in its ambition to share the gospel with the world. Nothing less
than this can suffice if ours is to be a worthy Church.
3. The Beloved Church
"Behold, I will make them to know that I have loved thee." The people
of God are not only living under the love of the Lord Jesus but by His sovereign
decision are on their way to the conquest of the world whereby even the bitterest
enemy will be brought to testify that He loves them. We might ask what it
is in the Church which excites the love of Jesus, but such a question would
be both dangerous and unscriptural. We have the only Biblical explanation
of God's love for His people in Deuteronomy 7:7-8: "Why did God love you?"
asks Moses, "because He loved you. That is why!" In this case there is nothing
in the object to excite love, but the whole explanation is found in the
nature of the Subject, the One who loves. The Lord loves us for reasons
which make sense inwardly within His own heart. That is why His love is
unvarying and will never fail or fade, no matter how much we fluctuate.
This love feeds on its own internal springs. So we cannot ask what the Lord
sees in His Church to make Him love her.
What we can ask, though, and be Biblical in our enquiry is: "What is
it that the Lord Jesus loves to see in His Church?" Perhaps the church in
Philadelphia can help to answer that question. Here in this beloved church
we find double commendation, first for keeping the Lord's word and secondly
for a central loyalty to His own name: "You have kept my word and you did
not deny my name" (Revelation 3:8).
"You have kept my word." This is the obedience of faith, the obedience
which springs from faith. Perhaps the statement could better be translated:
"You have only a little power, but nevertheless you have kept my word".
You didn't look inwardly and excuse yourself from obedience because of your
personal inadequacy. If you did look within and discover how little power
you had, then you looked upwardly to the Lord and affirmed in faith: "Although
I cannot do it in myself, I can through Christ". That is the obedience of
faith, namely a full recognition of the total helplessness of the human agent,
combined with complete confidence in the power of God. To such the Lord
Jesus can happily say: "You have kept my word". He loves to see a church which
obeys His Word, saying, "We will do it because He says so. We will do it
because He wants it so. We will do it, not because we can but because He
The other thing which the Lord loves to see in His beloved Church is
loyalty to His name: "You did not deny my name". That is the unique name
of Jesus. I think that as Christians we should perhaps talk less about God
and more about the Lord Jesus Christ. Conceptions of God
[79/80] can be so vague, whereas we know that the perfect manifestation
of God is only to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I find it most moving in Luke's Gospel that after many chapters in which
the Lord is described as Jesus -- just the plain name Jesus -- the writer
refers to the moment when the women came to the empty tomb in the words:
"They found not the body of the Lord Jesus" (Luke 24:3). The resurrection
declared Him to be the Son of God with power. Let the words ring out now,
He is the LORD Jesus. He is our supreme Treasure, our Lord. In Him is the
crystallisation of all that we have to say to the world. Let us make so much
of the Lord Jesus Christ that the world may again say, "Now we know why
they are called Christians".
4. The Renewed Church
In summarising what are the distinctive features of a renewed Church,
considering what are the truths which will deliver from mere tradition and
ensure the freshness of spiritual youth, may I point out that:
i. The Church is a Spiritual Body
It is spiritual as to its resources. The primary mark of church fellowship
is "fleeing to God in prayer". It is spiritual in its manner of life, deriving
the way it lives from the Word of God. Its spirituality consists in the fact
that it lives its life animated by the principle of faith in the living God
who answers prayer and who has spoken to man in His Word.
ii. The Church is a Mutual Body
That is to say that it is a body which lives in terms of self-contribution.
The Church loves and gives and receives. Each member depends on the others
and contributes to the others, all the supplies being received by faith from
the living Head. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to communicate these heavenly
resources, and it is His to decide what part each member shall play in the
mutuality of fellowship and service.
iii. The Church Exists for the Lord Jesus Christ
It has been called and redeemed for this one supreme purpose of displaying
the glories of the name of Jesus. It has no meaning in itself, apart from
Him. It is nothing in itself and has no other ambition than to honour and
exalt its beloved Head. It consists of people who are blood-bought, who grasp
and experience the truth of the gospel, and who are united in one increasing
love for His precious name.
Such a Church will exert a strong power upon the world around it. The
Beloved Church and the Worthy Church will surely be the Magnetic Church.
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (14)
"(For we walk by faith, not by sight)" (2 Corinthians 5:7)
THIS parenthesis is inserted between a repeated assertion that we Christians
are always "of good courage". The implication is that we have every right
to be so. No doubt we would like to be able to claim that we do not suffer
like other men, that we are not perplexed about life as they are, nor struck
down by those calamities which overtake men of the world. We would like to
be able to reason that those who are redeemed are freed from the element
of decay in the human body.
NONE of these is, of course, the case. These are not the advantages which
men of faith have over unbelievers. What they do -- or should -- have is
calm confidence of demeanour under every adverse circumstance. "We are always
of good courage." We have a serenity which is unaffected even by the dark
monster of death. We know that we are made for life. The Holy Spirit's presence
is the guarantee of a glorious future. We are buoyed up at all times by the
knowledge that if to live is Christ then to die is gain.
OUR parenthesis reminds us of the great antagonist of such holy cheerfulness.
It is "sight", or rather trying to walk according to sight. We do not walk
in this way -- "not by sight". One look around at things as they appear to
merely human reasoning and we begin to sink beneath the waves of hopelessness.
The apostle has already told us that the things seen are passing and unsubstantial;
they can be more than that, for they can be robbers of a Christian's joy,
disturbers of his peace. It is true that the Lord promised His disciples
that they should see great things, but He did not mean that they should allow
what they saw to govern their lives. We must not walk by sight. If we do,
then our "good courage" will ebb away when God hides Himself, as He sometimes
THIS parenthesis is found in the midst of a passage which speaks of past
trials and future perils. These were real enough, but Paul had found in Christ
a hidden balance which more than compensated for them. He was able to march
on triumphantly in spite of them all, and here he gives us the explanation
of how he did so: "For we walk ... not by sight". He gives it in order that
we who have similar experiences may share his good courage, for we share
his certain hope.
THE fact that the apostle refused to walk by sight does not mean that
he blundered on blindly. Far from it, he had his eyes wide open, so wide
open that he was able to see the eternal things which are not visible to
natural sight. He looked off unto Jesus; he endured as seeing the invisible.
This is what he calls walking by faith. It means that every experience in
life is subordinated to the lordship of Christ and made to yield to His absolute
sovereignty. "We know," he affirmed elsewhere, "that for us God makes everything
to work together for good." How did he know? By faith.
IN the context of this passage the apostle tells us something more that
we know. It is related not to this life, but to eternity and it is that when
this life terminates God has a heavenly home for us (5:1). This is certainly
something we cannot see. We cannot even conceive in our minds what it will
be like. Faith, however, assures us that this is the great reality of our
Christian experience and that we are pilgrims here, always looking away
from our immediate surroundings and discounting present values because we
are moving on to a rich eternal inheritance. This is surely what it means
to walk by faith and not by sight. It means that everything, even in the
Lord's work, is looked at in the light of eternity where alone true and lasting
values will be appreciated. The man who does that can always be "of good
courage", and he will make it his aim always to be well-pleasing unto the
Lord who is already there in the glory.
"GOD IS ABLE TO MAKE ALL GRACE ABOUND UNTO YOU;
THAT YE, HAVING ALWAYS ALL SUFFICIENCY IN EVERYTHING,
MAY ABOUND UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK."
2 Corinthians 9:8
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