"... 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. 15, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1986 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

The Church's Destiny 1
The Spirit In Romans 8 (1b) 7
Creativity In Prayer 9
Truth And Life (2) 11
Life In The Heavenlies (1) 15
Old Testament Parentheses (19) ibc



Harry Foster

"Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb " Revelation 21:9

THE book of the Revelation has been the subject of innumerable expositions and explanations. For my present purposes I simply point out that it beings with many local churches, as scrutinised by their Lord, with varying verdicts as to their conditions and advice for their help, but the book ends with the presentation of one radiant Church, wholly satisfying to her glorious Head. It has a message for us all.

I ask myself what the elderly exile John felt after he had written the final 'Amen' to his astonishing document. I imagine that he was quite overwhelmed by it all. The very language testifies to that. Later, and in a more composed state of mind, he must have pondered the whole colourful experience and been left with some outstanding impressions of his visions. What was it all about?

Unquestionably the two supreme -- and highly relevant -- subjects are the Lamb and the Lamb's Bride. The 'revelation' committed to John gave him a drawing aside of heaven's curtain to disclose to him his beloved Saviour who is here described so many times as The Lamb. Whatever mysteries in this book may be obscure, one Figure is gloriously, and sometimes awesomely, made clear beyond any question. The Lamb, unspotted in His character, beautiful in His humility and wholly selfless in His loving sacrifice, is the centre not only of this book but of the whole universe. Every enlightened believer's heart must be captivated by this presentation of the centrality and supremacy of this One who is now designated 'The Lamb'. He is here seen as the reigning Redeemer, the Master of world events, the Overcomer of all evils and the rejoicing Bridegroom. I want to concentrate on this last feature of His final achievement of obtaining His Bride. As I understand it, to be His Bride represents the Church's glorious destiny.

The book begins with those seven churches of Asia which, as representatives of all local assemblies, were marked by virtues, disfigured by blemishes and rebuked for failures, and yet were the objects of the Lord's concern and love. I want to ignore the detailed lessons of their various experiences and simply record that they remind us, vividly and sometimes painfully, of the present conditions which obtain among the churches today. At this point we might well ask, How can those faulty churches be blended into the one faultless Bride? How can the ideal ever become a reality?

The first thing to note is that all earthly affairs are in the hands of the Lamb who is described as the only one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth who is qualified to open the divine document of events (5:5). What is happening or going to happen is entirely under His control. John saw Him take the scroll and begin to break its seals and promptly embarked upon a bewildering sequence of events, in heaven and on earth, in which unspeakable wickedness and oppression attacked, and sometimes seemed to overcome, the people cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and with their names in His book of life. Relief comes by divine intervention until at last -- we may say, at long last -- we are permitted to view the end product of all the Lamb's activities: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:2). So the purpose always in view and wonderfully realised at the end is the love-union of Christ and His Church.

This is what it is all about. Those various figures and numbers which either fascinate or distract us are, in a sense, only incidental. The real goal of all the Lamb's activities and the meaning of the long drawn-out period between [1/2] the enthronement of the crucified and risen Lord and the ultimate glory, is associated with the "marriage supper of the Lamb". This gospel period is referred to as a delay: "there shall be delay no longer; but in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets" (10:6-7). "There will be no more delay!" (NIV). Surely this delay refers to the whole gospel period; its finishing will usher in the Day of the Lord's appearing and the marriage supper of the Lamb.

If we forget all else that is in this book, let us try to focus on this issue, for it is of personal concern to every believer. This is the glorious eternal destiny set before the struggling churches. It is striking that, with Spirit-given insight, John the Baptist referred to this when, having announced Jesus as The Lamb of God (John 1:36) he went on to describe Him as the Bridegroom of the Church (John 3:29).

If we contemplate the believers in those seven Asian churches we might well despair of God's purpose for them ever being realised. But what shall we say of ourselves? How can we ever fit into John's vision of what God plans for us? In both cases we have to fall back on Him "who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think ..." (Ephesians 3:20). In this connection what was the apostle thinking of? Surely it was the great mystery of the fruit of Christ's sacrifice being "that he might present the church to himself ..." as a spotless bride (5:27). Concerning this great task, Paul was able to affirm, 'He is able'. In this matter we see one more example of the fact that it is the rest of the New Testament which provides doctrine, while this book of the Revelation confirms those doctrines by graphic illustrations. It is, however, not a merely visionary book but one which calls for practical obedience, so we must ask ourselves what are the implications to us of John's visions. I can only suggest four. They are:

1. The Church's Unity of Love

Make no mistake about it, there is only one bride. The end of the story shows a people whose differences of locality, of culture or of understanding are blended together in one entity. Whatever the Bible has to say of wedding guests or of bridesmaids at this heavenly feast, there can only be one bride. In the Spirit we are not only united to Christ but also to one another.

There is, of course, another king of 'unity' and that is to be found in the corrupt 'harlot' whose downfall seems to coincide with the manifestation of the pure bride, but that is a unity of outward form, of intolerant oppression and of basic antagonism to the Lamb. The Bride's unity is something quite different. It is not built up on the earth but descends from heaven; its boast is not: "I sit as queen ..." (18:7) but rather that Christ is King. The harlot is described as the great city of Babylon. The Bride is also depicted as a city, the heavenly Jerusalem. The central feature of this city is its basic and intrinsic unity -- it is even spoken of as having one street with one river running through it.

That the Bride is one is so obvious that it needs no explanation, but it constitutes a direct challenge to us all. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he expressed a godly jealousy lest those Christians who were engaged to be Christ's Bride should be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Him by reason of a divisive spirit in their fellowship (2 Corinthians 11:2). What, oh what, would he have to say to the churches today?

It is easy to pontificate about local church unity and about the larger issue of unity among Christians, but it is not always easy to know how to express it in practical ways. In his urgent appeal for unity on the basis of the cross, Paul made some most emphatic statements about the impossibility of unity outside of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). These are strong words and we remember that they were written by the same man who had written so sublimely about love in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to this same church. How, then, can we rightly express the bridal spirit in this realm of Christian unity?

Clearly the crux of it is unqualified submission to the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Within this sphere there can be many permissible differences. Nowadays we hear often of "the right hand of fellowship" but seldom take the trouble to trace its Scriptural use. The phrase occurs in Galatians 2:9 and is used to describe an occasion on which two groups agreed to differ because each perceived the evidence of the grace of God [2/3] in the other. This, to me, defines the spirit in which we should always treat one another in the larger realm of the work of the gospel; metaphorically, if not actually, we should lovingly extend to the others the right hand of fellowship.

I would like to think that when the Ephesian and the Laodicean Christians received John's Revelation, they immediately set to work to pray for their suffering brothers and sisters in Smyrna, and that the saints in Smyrna found time, even in their severe trials, to pray lovingly for their friends who in Pergamum had to live where Satan's throne was. I wonder! Perhaps the latter is more likely than the former. That is how it should be, though. I thank the Lord sincerely that I have lived to see the day when denominational and non-denominational barriers are being ignored or transcended. There has been a big change in my lifetime; may it continue more and more as we see the Day approaching!

So much for the larger issue. In some ways the matter of unity in a local assembly can be more complex. Perhaps the best comment on this issue comes from John himself who was instructed about the redeemed community which sang the new song and enjoyed the reality of Mount Zion that "these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (Revelation 14:4). How much more glorifying to Christ would His churches here on earth be if their members determined to be lamblike rather than lionlike. Only Christ Himself can be both!

2. The Church's Beauty of Holiness

There is something movingly simple in what is said about the Bride's wedding dress, even more so when it is contrasted with the ostentatious luxury of the harlot: "The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls ..." (17:4). The Bride, however, is described with simple dignity: "It was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure" (19:8).

We are naturally struck by the seeming paradox of her having made herself ready and yet having received this lovely bridal garment as a gift. This may be explained by the following note that "fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints." Whether or not the plural of righteousness can rightly be rendered as 'righteous acts', I am not qualified to say, but I am certain that there can be no place on that Day for self-righteousness. May I suggest that to our familiar doctrine of imputed righteousness and the further truth of imparted righteousness we can perhaps add the further aspect of appropriated righteousness? For me, a righteous act occurs when I receive from God's grace a new impartation of His Spirit to live out the righteousness of Christ. It becomes mine, and yet it can truly be said that I have it as a free gift.

Scripture says that the Bride both made herself ready (19:7) and was 'made ready' (21:2). God's grace plays its part by the gift. We too must play our part by continually putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14). The imminence of the Second Advent of Christ is everywhere used as a call and incentive to holy living. This, then is one more case of New Testament doctrines being illustrated by this book.

God's holiness is not only pure; it is beautiful and attractive. We find John showing us the Bride, "coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; her brilliance was like unto a stone most precious, clear as crystal" (21:10-11). She not only wears the whiteness of the Lord's spotless purity but also the warm and sparkling colours of His goodness. There are Scriptures which speak of this as an inward quality. The Old Testament says: "The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is inwrought with gold. She shall be led unto the king in broidered work" (Psalm 45:13-14). Her glory is not just outward but inward. The original does not carry any word about a palace. Knox gives a striking rendering of this verse: "All her splendour is the splendour of a princess through and through." In the New Testament Peter writes to wives about having in their inner self the adornment of "the unfading beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:4). This constitutes a tremendous challenge to all of us who reckon to have a part in the marriage feast of the Lamb. The Lord Jesus Himself urges us to make ourselves ready for that great Day.

3. The Church's Freshness of Life

Now if you expect a millennial period (as I certainly do) you will be faced with the problem [3/4] of how God's people could be described in bridal terms before it (19:7) and then again be called the Bride when that period had ended. We might comment that after so long a time she might well be described as a much-loved and established wife, she could hardly be spoken of as a bride. This is where the earthly analogy breaks down. In the spiritual realm there can be no time element to lessen the glorious rapture of the marriage. Like the banquet to the prodigal son, this feast has a beginning but no termination. Perhaps I may be allowed to point out that John himself had to report two separate experiences through which he passed. Filled with delirious rejoicing he foolishly tried to worship an angel both before and after his report about the thousand years (19:10 & 22:8). In both cases his action was consequent upon the revelation of the Lamb's Bride.

It is one of the wonders of union with the heavenly Bridegroom that it is eternally fresh. The symbols of the city reinforce this truth for the picture is given of its main street being characterised by a great sparkling river proceeding from the throne (22:1-2). Earlier the comment had been made that there would be no more sea (21:1). It seems to me that the difference between sea and river is not only that the former is salt and the latter fresh in its sweetness but that the river consists of constantly renewed water whereas the sea is composed of the same water, flowing backwards and forwards with the changing tides and even bearing back articles which it had first carried out. Stand in a river and the water which passes over your feet has never been there before and will never return again. The flow is constant but the actual water is always coming to you for the first time; it is fresh and original.

The simple moral of this is that Christians need -- and can have- - constant renewal. Think of Ephesus, so active and yet with its love gone stale (2:4); think of Sardis, with a name to live, but only a dead name (3:1); and, worst of all, think of the lukewarm Laodiceans (3:15). What deep needs those epistles reveal, and all needs of renewal.

But the Word of God is living and powerful. Even if the Christians in Ephesus were not immediately affected by the Spirit's individual message to them can we not hope that by the time they reached this great climax of the Revelation, their hearts had aroused to a revival of love for Christ. Years before Paul had written to them of the length and breadth, the height and depth of Christ's surpassing love (Ephesians 3:18) and had set before them the promise of being presented to Him without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27) but now perhaps the very momentum of their activities and their zeal for correct doctrine had led them to think more of their church than of their Lord. They needed to be delivered from stale orthodoxy and filled with fresh love to Christ. The Lord on the throne who promised to make all things new (21:5) could do this for them.

What shall we say of the church in Sardis which was living on a dead reputation (3:1)? Was there really any danger of having their names blotted out of the book of life? Could it be possible that the Lord Jesus would not wish to confess their names before His Father and before His angels? We would hope not. It might be, though, that John's visions shook them as mere words could not do and brought victorious renewal to those who seemed ready to die. And need we exclude Laodicea? Their words had been perilously near to the boasts of the corrupt Babylon which said, "I sit a queen, and am no widow and shall in no wise see mourning" (18:7) for they boasted, "I am rich ... and in need of nothing" (3:17). We would like to think that this whole church might have been revived from its greed and self-satisfaction, but at least we may believe that some of its members opened their hearts to the cleansing and renewal offered by their patient and gracious Lord.

No doubt things of this kind could be said about most of the churches: they needed the miracle of spiritual renewal. We too need constantly to be renewed if we are to measure up to our destiny as the Bride. In that day the Lord who sits on the throne will declare: "Behold, I make all things new" (21:5) but since He is already on the throne He is able right now to renew us in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:23). This will never happen automatically; we have got to work at it.

4. The Church's Privilege of Service

The closing vision stresses that what awaits us in eternity is that which our natures rightly [4/5] crave for, and that is to be useful and to be needed. The idea of burning ourselves out now in exhausting service with the prospect of enjoying later an eternal vacation in heaven is quite misguided; service is not only our privilege now but also our prospect for eternity.

Once again we may refer to the Corinthians for it was to them that Paul announced that the vocation of the saints is to judge the world and to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). This is a most astonishing idea in its Corinthians context, for their church hardly seemed to provide promising material for such a high vocation. Nevertheless the truth that the redeemed are destined to reign with Christ is repeatedly referred to in the Revelation.

The Lord Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world. While that is true, it is equally true that the world is largely unable or unwilling to appreciate that light, even when it shines. The day will come, however, when the Lamb-illuminated Church will provide help and guidance to the nations (21:24). In this aspect of things we see the Bride as the Queen-Consort of the Lamb, sharing His rule of loving service. In the divine concept, to rule is to serve.

It is quite impossible for us dwellers on earth and in time to visualise how eternal ages of untiring service provide for the fulfilment of Christ's destiny and the fulfilment of our own. Whom will we rule? Whom will we serve? There is much that we do not understand in this connection but that does not lessen the thrust of this final vision which speaks of "the healing of the nations" (22:2) and the ministration of blessing to them (21:24). The Bride's destiny is intimately linked with that of her divine Bridegroom; the Church will always be at His side, not just for personal enjoyment but for universal ministry.

This should not lessen our devotion to the service of the gospel now -- far from it. Service in God's eyes arises not from some outward obligation but from an inward attitude of heart which is in fact the Spirit of the Master (John 13:15). Not that we should wait for eternity in the hope of a place of honour there, but rather that because of eternal prospects we should be the more devoted to the task of serving others and seeking to win men for Christ. If service is to be our future vocation, then we must stick at it now. It may prove that our present activities form a kind of apprenticeship. When we think compassionately of needy men we must always remember that when we least expect it, the cry may ring out, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh."

Whatever else Revelation 11 may mean, it does give us some indications of the life of witnessing which characterises those who in due course are raised up and hear the great voice saying unto them, Come up hither" (v.12). What is the exact interpretation of the two witnesses described in this chapter? Who were they, who are they, or who will they be? The churches in Asia might be forgiven if they found it difficult to identify them, and we do not seem to be any better off than they in this respect. Like them, however, we are surely meant to find enlightenment and encouragement for our own witness for Christ.

The first point to note is that there are Christ's minimum of two. The Church's testimony in the world involves individuals but should never be individualistic. We need one another. The next is that although their testimony is on earth, their origin and source of supply is in heaven: they are "the two olive trees and the two lampstands, standing before the Lord of the earth." Every believer needs to be in intimate relationship with the Lord and to know the constant supply of the Spirit, but especially if men are to stand true to God in a world which is spiritually Sodom and Egypt and where their Lord was crucified.

Is this Jerusalem in apostasy? Or is it rather a reminder to all witnesses that although the Church may have its moments of relative tolerance or even popularity, the world in which it witnesses is essentially deeply hostile to the Lord of whom it testifies. Revelation 11 may sound too dramatic for the relatively peaceful life which many of us live, but there are those in some lands who will readily identify with some of the more painful aspects of living for Christ here described. For them -- and for us all -- there is the comfort of knowing that that great Testimony, the Ark of the Covenant, though hidden in heaven, is the unfailing assurance of God's faithfulness to His [5/6] people here in the battle on earth (v.19). Though hated and attacked we will only be overtaken by death when our task here is completed (v.7) and in God's good time His witnesses will be vindicated in a striking way. The manner of their going up into heaven in a cloud gives at least a hint of that great conclusion to this Dispensation which is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which we call the Rapture.

5. The Church's Rapture

I like J. B. Phillips' use of the word denouement (Titus 2:13) for what our New Testament calls Christ's Appearing; it somehow emphasises the dramatic glory of the Church's great hope. There are many ominous signs of this coming event in the world around us, but we must remember that concerning these omens Jesus declared: "but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6). The only certain time factor in this matter which I know of is that which He himself indicated when He told us all: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the I nations; AND THEN SHALL THE END COME" (Matthew 24:14). That was the incentive of my contemporaries in our Missionary Training Colony days soon after the end of the First War, days when all Evangelical Christians were agog at the happenings in Palestine and the prospects provided by prophetical students. For our part we had little time or inclination to get involved in the suggested prophetic timetables. Like the Thessalonians we found in the Second Coming an inspiration to gospel witness and an incentive to holy living. On the whole I think that we were right, though I imagine that most of us would have been surprised and incredulous at the idea of another sixty years elapsing and no Second Advent.

Well, the Thessalonians had as their one problem the fate of their believing friends who had died -- or 'fallen asleep' -- and seemingly missed the great Hope which had buoyed them up in their new life of having turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven. For them Paul had a special message from the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15) and it was to the effect that far from having missed anything, their departed believing brothers and sisters would actually have priority in the great event of the Rapture. Not that the priority would amount to anything, for the whole operation would take place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" once the trump of God had sounded. For my part I equate this trump with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 10:7: "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants, the prophets." We look for an end which is not just a termination but a fulfilment, and this accords with Christ's words about the worldwide testimony of the gospel. The moment when it will be deemed that the Church's witness to the nations is completed is known only to the Father and will never be known to us until the shout of the archangel and the trump of God.

Personally I feel some sympathy with those Thessalonian Christians, for almost all of my contemporaries in the gospel are now asleep in Jesus, but like them I am greatly comforted to know that the HOPE which we shared is still as valid as ever. I am waiting here and they are waiting in that happy timeless realm where they enjoy the immediate presence of Christ. They are going to have new bodies and, if we are still alive, we will both need and receive entirely new bodies also. Is the Lord coming for His saints or coming with them? Both! Once God begins to act, everything can happen at once.

This, then, is the Church's destiny. I have no means of knowing how many of the expectations about Israel and the nations after that are valid and how many may be mistaken. One thing I do know, and it is most important to me, and that is that once together we meet the Lord in the air, we will never be parted from Him again: "and so shall we ever be with the Lord". We conclude with the last prayer in the Bible: "Amen; come, Lord Jesus." [6/7]



Michael Wilcock

1. THE SPIRIT OF LIFE [(Verses 1-11)] (Continued)

We have spoken of the great division of being in the flesh or being in the Spirit and will consider more of this basic division in our next study concerning sonship. We should say that so far as Romans 8 is concerned fleshly Christians, carnal Christians are a contradiction in terms. I would like to point out that in this chapter the apostle does not use the term in the way in which he uses it in 1 Corinthians where he is discussing a real possibility, namely, that Christian people who are born again can be fleshly. Here he uses the word in a different sense, seeking to bring before us the clear division between those in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells and those in whom He does not dwell. What he has done for us is to put us into a different category, and of us the apostle writes: 'you are not in the flesh, and you do not walk according to the flesh.'

Every unbeliever has the mind of the flesh and, although he may sometimes do good and nice things and may sometimes appear to obey the law of God, he obeys not because he really wants to, but because in that particular point his mind happens to coincide with the will of God. The whole set of his mind, however, and the direction of his life are against God, in spite of the good things he sometimes does. Whereas every believer has the mind of the Spirit; that is the set of his mind and the direction of his life, in spite of the sins he at times commits. In spite of the fleshly things he sometimes does, he is not in the flesh but in the Spirit.

Is this not a tremendous assurance and a hope? If you know that the Spirit of Christ is in you then do not let what is said here worry you. It is not meant to make you waver and wonder as to whether you are sometimes on your way to hell and sometimes on your way to heaven, but simply asks if the Spirit is truly in you. What is the set of your heart and mind? What do you really want? Is the Spirit in you? If so, then you are infallibly on the road to heaven and you always will be.

We are considering distinctiveness here, and that is a lesson we must learn. We have to say, 'Yes Lord, I did sin yesterday and today too, and I am not nearly so distinctive as I ought to be, not nearly as different from unbelievers as I should be, and pray for the Spirit's help.' That is the aim of distinctiveness, but underneath it Paul urges us not to forget that the fact of the matter is that we are already distinctive, with the Spirit in our hearts creating a desire to obey the law of God and leading us on towards heaven. The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and of death.

4. The Life of Eternity

"And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (verses 10 & 11).

We see how delightfully Paul proceeds with his argument, linking it all together in one piece. "And if ..." He is saying, 'Let me tell you the next stage, which is that the Spirit will also give life to your mortal body'. This new life is the life of eternity. He is not just talking about the length it will last, not just saying that after death it will go on forever, but affirming the quality of this life -- it is the divine life of eternity. There are two 'ifs' -- "if Christ is in you" and "if the Spirit ... is in you" We take them in turn:

i. If Christ is in you, it is true that the body is dead because of sin, but it is equally true that your spirit is life because of righteousness. If Christ is in you, then the Spirit of God who is in you gives you life in your spirit. If you ask, 'Why is that?', the answer comes that it is because of righteousness. Righteousness means the way things ought to be. One of these days God will see to it that everything is the way it ought to be, but meanwhile that is what we should be working for now. Righteousness is the way everything will be when we get to heaven; it is the permanent characteristic of the life of heaven. The Spirit in you is the Spirit of righteousness and will therefore endure for ever. It is indestructible. By the Spirit within, you have that one cardinal quality which is essential for heaven, righteousness. [7/8] In a sense nothing else matters. It is as if the Lord stands at the gate of heaven and asks, 'Why should I let you in?' And of course there are all sorts of ways of expressing the theological answer to this question, such as 'Because I am converted', 'because I have been born again', etc., but the basic answer is a simple one. The fundamental question God will ask is 'Do you fit in here?' The life of heaven is righteous, and if we can say, 'I am righteous', then we fit there -- we belong, we have the right characteristics. If Christ is in us, then the Spirit in us is the Spirit of eternal life because He is the Spirit of righteousness.

Although it is true that the body that we have is a mortal body, affected by man's sin, the spirit is life because of Christ's salvation. The body is dead; it will continue to be affected by death and God is not going to reverse that process but rather let the infection run its course. But God is to start anew with a new body. He gives us the Spirit of life which is eternal, but our bodies have too much wrong with them for Him to change them at the moment. The body is dead, it is mortal; it has been going to die ever since it was born, being from that moment on the way to the grave. If Christ is in us, however, death will be overcome by His new life.

[ii.] 'Now before I close the paragraph' says Paul, 'let me tell you one more thing. I have just said that if Christ is in you the spirit is life but there is one more thing to say, and that is that He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also one day bring you life for your mortal body.' Isn't this amazing! We are to know the reality of literal resurrection.

Since I minister in Durham, people tend to ask me questions about the Bishop there. It was a great thrill to have had a personal opportunity to witness recently in a T.V. programme which concerned the Bishop of Durham, for I had the great privilege of setting the record straight over his strange ideas. The programme coincided with a baptism which in any case we had already arranged when I had the joy of baptising three young men of our congregation in the River Wear. Now what better opportunity to speak of the hope of a physical resurrection than the act of baptism by immersion? "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Now what happened when Christ was raised from the dead? His body came out of the tomb and ever since He has had a spiritual body alive in the heavens. If the Spirit is in us, then, let me say it again: "He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies ...".

It is not therefore in any kind of despair or misery that we recognise that these physical bodies of ours are mortal because of sin. None of us knows for how many months or years we may be going downhill to the grave but what we do know is that when our mortal bodies have died, He who raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies. So there will be a living spirit for all eternity with a living body for all eternity. Obviously the kind of body that lives in heaven will not be the kind of body which we have here. It will be a body with no limitations, which will never grow old; a body which will have all the faculties which we have now and some! Amazing! It is the life of eternity which the Spirit of life gives to the child of God.

This double gift, to spirit and body, is referred to in numerous other places in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus spoke of the spirit when He declared: "The hour cometh and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live" and then went on to say: "The hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice and shall come forth ..." (John 5:25 & 29). The hour is coming and now is , when dead souls will hear the voice of Christ and come to life, and the hour is yet to come when all who are in the tombs will come to the resurrection to life if they are believers in Him. So it is in 2 Corinthians 5 where Paul talks about the tent which will be folded up and the permanent house which will replace it. But there he also says that we already have the eternal life: "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have eternal life now and we look for the Day when this body in which we live now will be replaced by another one which will house the new creation.

All this is done for us by the Spirit. We must go back to the beginning of our chapter, though, and remind ourselves that all this is for those who are "In Christ". If we belong to Him it is then, and only then, that all these gifts of the Spirit, operations of the Spirit and promises of the Spirit are truly for us.

(To be continued) [8/9]


John H. Paterson

ONCE upon a time I was asked to give a talk on the subject Creativity in Prayer. Frankly, I was taken aback: I had never thought of putting those two words together in quite that way! Moreover, the request for the talk came from a group of Christians involved in the arts, which gave to the title the suggestion that prayer was something to be composed, like music by Mozart, or created out of word-pictures, after the style of a novelist. I felt very uneasy about the whole project, and wondered who had been responsible for conceiving it.

But then, as I thought about the matter, the title began to suggest to me all kinds of ideas which were both useful and more importantly Scriptural. Perhaps, after all, the concept of creative prayer was not so outrageous! Perhaps prayer can be creative, provided that we are clear about what is being created. So, after thought and prayer, I gave the talk, and I was glad that I had done so, for the interest of the audience was aroused, and I was invited to repeat it elsewhere.

Let me begin, then, with the fundamental question: What does prayer create ? To that, so far as I can see, there is one clear answer: prayer creates the conditions in which God can act. We have all encountered at some time the problem, either in our own thinking or in the challenge of someone else's, "Does prayer really change God's mind? Surely He knows already what He is going to do: do you expect to alter His will?" Clearly prayer cannot, in that sense, be said to create God's will, to make up His mind for Him; otherwise He is no longer sovereign.

But that God should wait for, should expect, from His people, a reaction before doing His will: that is quite in keeping with His nature and His ways. So we can say, can we not, that He knows what He will do but He wants people -- His creatures -- to will it too? What is more (we are guessing here, but I think the guess can be justified), He wants these people to desire whatever He wills for the same reason as He wants it. Rather than act sovereignly, God evidently desires to involve us, His people, in His decisions and reactions.

Let me at once authenticate that statement, if only in a negative sense, by referring to the Scriptures, in Isaiah 59:15-16. Here is the prophet's picture:

"... the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgement. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his own arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness, it upheld him ...".

Here is God, says Isaiah, asking, 'Surely there is someone who sees the point, who realizes the danger, and who will react? Nobody at all? Then, alas, I'll have to see to it Myself.' Yet the danger was so great, the lack of righteousness so blatant, that you would have thought that someone would have acted!

Even more dramatic are the words of the Lord reported by Ezekiel (22:30):

"I sought for a man among them, that should make up the fence, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore I poured out my indignation upon them ...".

It is one of the mysteries of God's working that what He has decided to do, what he is able at once to do, He will not do without first seeking the participation of His people.

What is more, He seems to do this not in the grim spirit of an officer or manager who says to an underling, "You are taking responsibility for this. I'm not having you trying to shift the blame on to me if it doesn't work out right!" Rather, God acts out of love and of a desire to share His thoughts with His people. No-one has ever captured this aspect of prayer better in words than S. D. Gordon in his Quiet Talks on Prayer. Here, in some old-fashioned words which I long ago [9/10] committed to memory, he describes the situation which God desires to create through prayer:

"God up yonder, His Victor-Son by His side, and a man down here, in such sympathetic touch that God can think His thoughts over in this man's mind, and have His desires repeated on the earth as this man's prayer."

The Sympathetic Touch

In those remarkable words about prayer the key phrase, as you will have noticed, is 'sympathetic touch'. The creation of conditions in which God can act is dependent on sympathetic (and that, of course, carries the idea of thinking together) understanding by the man or woman involved of what God will be planning to do. I deliberately use the rather clumsy phrase "will be planning" because it is necessary for the human response to come from someone who can penetrate beneath the surface appearance of God's actions and reactions to his real intention -- who knows where His real interest lies.

As so often, the very best example comes from the life of Moses! You will remember that, at the time when Israel, in Moses' absence, made the golden calf (Exodus 32), God said to him, "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them" (v.10). Now, you would have thought that that announcement should have been enough for anybody, however sympathetic to the wretched Israelites! After all, Moses might have argued, everything we know about God, including His own express First Commandment, tells us that He will never tolerate behaviour like this: it will be His will to destroy the idolators.

But Moses boldly stepped in, as Psalm 106:23 tells us: this time there was someone to "stand in the breach", the very thing that in Isaiah's and Ezekiel's day, no one could be found to do. In stepping forward in this way, Moses said to God, in effect, "No, you cannot do that; because that is not where Your real interest lies. I know that there is something more immediately important to You than Your reaction against sin, and that is the fulfilment of Your purpose."

It was that shared concern for the purpose of God and its achievement that gave Moses the 'sympathetic touch'! Moses' concern was not at all for himself (Exodus 32:32 makes that abundantly clear), and only secondarily for the children of Israel. His primary concern was for the interests and purposes of God.

It is clear, then, that this 'sympathetic touch' on the part of the believer implies two things: firstly, a heart for God and for His interests rather than our own, and secondly, a working knowledge of what those interests are. The emphasis in prayer, then, should be on what God is doing and not on what we want. Such prayer creates the conditions in which God can go ahead with the fulfilment of His purpose. By the same token, misdirected prayer or, worse, no prayer at all, may delay His purpose.

What Prayer Can Create

What sort of thing or situation may prayer create? If we consider the best-known prayers of the Bible, we shall be struck by the variety of answers to that question. Let me take a few examples. Think, if you will, of Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 1. That prayer created a man for God's purpose, and what a man! Samuel knew God in an age of otherwise total ignorance; he understood His purpose, and devoted himself to God's interests. Or go back to Exodus 32 and note the creative effect of that prayer of Moses which created a situation where a whole people were preserved for God's purpose, and eventually reached the land of promise.

Think, too, of Elijah at Mount Carmel. His prayer created not only one of history's most dramatic, fiery interventions but a way back to God for a sadly erring nation. Think of Abraham, by his prayer creating, single-handedly, a way of escape for Lot and his family from Sodom. That was certainly creative prayer!

But it is right that, of all the Bible prayers, perhaps the most 'creative' was that of the Lord Jesus Himself in John 17, when He prayed for His disciples. It was that prayer, and its answer, which brought the Church into being -- not as something to be taken for granted, in the sense that, when Jesus went away, God would naturally want to replace Him, by somebody or something else, but rather that Jesus prayed into being that replacement, stating His reasons for asking, and calling on the Father to respond. It is not too much to say that the Church as it figures in God's purpose, is the creation of that one prayer. [10/11]

Alignment With The Purpose of God

In all these cases notice how the person praying is consciously aligning in himself or herself with the known ways of God. Each one is using a knowledge of God to present in prayer grounds of asking to which they know God will respond. And because they are able to do so, God's apparent change of mind (what Exodus 32 calls God's repentance) is very striking; the apparent audacity of the petitioner is rewarded.

Such knowledge of God's way is not, of course, come by lightly. Let me set this in the context of our own experience and ask, "How will this work out in our prayer-lives?" If your experience is like mine, it probably unfolds in stages:

(1) A need for prayer, for ourselves or others, is brought to our notice. We start to pray.

(2) As we do so, we are challenged about the propriety of the request. Is it something we can legitimately ask? After all, the Lord was selective in the objects of His prayer. Do you recall that occasion when, to His listeners at least, it must have seemed as if He was 'trying out' a prayer request, and then immediately withdrawing it in favour of another (John 12:27-28)?

"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name."

I think we can properly conclude that there are some things for which we cannot pray, and there are certainly times when prayer for a particular thing is inappropriate, as Moses (Exodus 14:15) and Joshua (Joshua 7:10) discovered. It may well be that, in a period of praying, a particular request should properly be withdrawn.

(3) Supposing, however, that our prayer request passes that first test, there is still a second: is the request made on proper grounds. This, I suspect is where the longest delays in our praying occur. That we should want what He wants, and for the same reason as He wants it, is not something to be taken for granted. As we pray, we shall be challenged about our grounds for asking. How devious our motives are, even in prayer! How many layers of self-interest may need to be removed! So many, in fact, that one of Satan's favourite ways of halting our praying is by making us despair of ever getting to the bottom layer, of praying honestly.

(4) If we persevere in prayer, however, we may -- let me hope we shall -- experience the changes which the Lord can make in the most selfish prayer. With time and the Holy Spirit's repeated challenge, we shall find not only our prayers modified but ourselves also. In fact, my prayer may be so creative that it even creates a new 'me'! But it takes time, persistence and honesty.

And it takes, also, a great commitment to the fulfilment of God's purpose, in His creation and in His people. All the great prayer warriors in the Bible were concerned, overwhelmingly, for God's purpose and for His reputation (they used phrases like 'for His great name's sake', but 'reputation' is a perfectly good modern word.) They knew that these were prayers that moved God to action. And as they prayed, God not only answered the prayer, but He transformed the person who prayed it as well!



J. Alec Motyer


WHEN we considered Titus, we found there the thought of a life which accords with the truth and clearly this Second Letter of John deals with the same subject. In Titus it was the life of holiness, the concentration being on those aspects of personal character which are the public display of the secret reality of belonging to God in Christ -- being Christlike. Now the stress in this Letter of John's is that the life which accords with the truth is the life of mutual Christian love. There were, of course, many aspects of the teaching in the Letter to Titus which [11/12] bore on our relationships, yet the stress was on that personal character and lifestyle which grow out of the truth. Here the stress is on mutuality. Truth and love are the two things which are brought together and held together.

John the Elder writes to the elect lady and her children whom he claims to love in truth, meaning that he loved them with a genuine love, not a pretence or a weak imitation of the real thing, but with a real love. Verse 2 continues with the declaration that his love is "for the truth's sake." It is the truth which brings about this situation of love between Christians. The subject is contained in verses 4 and 5, first with rejoicing that he had found "children of yours walking in the truth, even as we received commandment from the Father" and then with a plea, "I beseech you, lady, not as though I wrote you a new commandment, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." A commentator remarks: 'Love divorced from duty will run riot; duty divorced from love will starve.' Love divorced from the truth of God's commandments is an undefined concept; it runs riot. Duty, even a dutiful holding of the truth, if it is loveless, is a starved and impoverished existence. Truth and love belong together.

It seems that John was living at a time of threats and oppression. I do not know how else to understand the rather obscure way in which he begins his letter: "The Elder unto the Elect Lady and her children." I have a feeling that he is writing in a deliberate code language. They knew whom he meant, though we cannot enter into their special situation. During the world war of 1939-1945 we in Ireland were neutrals but had to suffer the effects of the war. We did have the post coming in from England every now and again but it was heavily censored. I had a friend who was ordained in the Church of Ireland who used to get letters from his father who was a clergyman in the Church of England, and they devised a code by which he might know what was going on in the locality where he had grown up. One day a letter came saying, 'Cousin Agatha has suffered a stroke, and while she is out of action we are looking after things for her.' This, being interpreted, 'Agatha's church in the next parish has been hit by a German bomb, and the congregation is now worshipping with us!' I have a feeling that John had to keep secret both his own identity and the people to whom he was writing, so he developed the code, himself being the Elder and writing not to a lady friend and her children but to the members of a church.

If that were the case, it was still a relatively unimportant threat from which God's people were suffering, for threats from outside the church are always smaller and less menacing than threats from inside it. There were no code words about the threats to the people who received John's Letter, for he wrote, "Deceivers have gone forth into the world; they confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (v.7). Here was the greater menace to the church. John proceeded, "whoever goes on and abides not in the teaching of Christ, has not God; he that abides in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son" (v.9). These offenders have gone out into the world, they have departed from the fellowship of the people of God, but they still seek to introduce their pernicious false doctrine.

1. Truth and Error

The Church is ever under attack because truth and error are not matters of opinion, they are not different ways of sharing insights with one another, but error is a deadly poisonous danger to the Church of God. Their error involved abandonment of established truth: "They confess not that Jesus is Christ come in the flesh" (v.7). Truth is abandoned, tacitly perhaps or by deliberate refusal. They cut an article out of the creed, perhaps putting something else in or saying that they had found another way of saying the same thing, but the fact is that they do not confess that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh.

Then there is innovation: "Whoever goes on ...". The expression is rather comparable to our expression of being 'a very advanced thinker' -- so far out in the front that nobody else can understand what they are saying. There was one such in Scotland, a theologican called John Omer concerning whom it was said that when he went there, they couldn't understand a word he was saying, and when he left they couldn't understand anybody else! That seems to me to be a good description of the so-called 'Advanced thinker' who goes on and does not abide in the truth. It is not the going-on that matters; it is what is left behind. [12/13]

There is a true advance, an advance in the fuller knowledge of the truth. That is an advance which carries with it all that has been deposited in God's Church and learns more and more; but there is a false advance which is sheer innovation. These went on by abandoning something in their innovation, not in a progress which included the past buy by leaving established truth behind. This established truth is the serious heart beating of John's Second Letter.

This is the truth which touches on Jesus as the Christ coming in the flesh. A glance at some verses will show us that the idea of the Christ is very plainly defined in the Johannine Letters. Basically the name Christ means the One whom God has anointed. This is a clearly defined idea in John's writings. A series of references define Him as the Son of the Father (1:3; 2:22; 3:23; 5:20). The second series stresses His essential human experiences (4:2 and 2 John 7) as well as 5:6: "This is he who came by water and blood ...", stressing that this Christ is the Jesus who enjoyed a truly human experience right through His incarnation period, both in His baptism in water and in the blood of His cross.

These are two ideas which are bound together in John's presentation of the Christ. He is the One who holds together in one person the human and divine natures. On one hand He is the Son of the Father, on the other hand He is the One who came in the flesh. The New Testament never says that Jesus came into flesh, for that might involve a detached and detachable experience which might at times be His and at times not His. No, no. We are told that He came 'in flesh' and He became flesh so that sinless flesh is part of His constitution. In verse 7 there is a unique use of a present participle -- "Jesus is the Christ coming in the flesh", picking up the Old Testament Messianic title: "The Coming One". This is the great truth which was under attack.

2. Truth and Fellowship

Now we can consider our second point which concerns fellowship. Truth includes: it brings people together: "The Elder unto the Elect Lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not I only but also all they that know the truth" (v.1). All who loved the truth, loved the Elect Lady and her children, "For the truth's sake" (v.2). The truth is a binding factor in the experience of all Christians. Verse 10, however, shows us that the truth also excludes.

The beginning and ending of this little Letter hold these aspects of things in balance: "If anyone comes unto you and brings not this teaching, receive him not." The truth excludes. When at the beginning of the Letter John says that He loves the Elect Lady and her children with true love, we find that he is speaking "for the truth's sake" and including a love which is more than personal for it is not only in him but also in all that know the truth. All who know the truth love all those who know the truth. John's love was not just for exceptionally nice people with whom he found mutuality easy, but due to the fact that they were all adherents of the truth. The truth binds people together in love. Equally however, the truth divides, so that those who do not hold it are neither to be received nor supported as they go, neither to be welcomed nor encouraged with a greeting (vv.10-11). This is a fearfully sharp cutting off of relationships, yet this is what it says and our task is to find out what is in the Word of God and believe it.

What then is this truth which both binds together and separates, which includes? It is called 'the teaching of Christ' (v.9). The commentators tell me that this means the teaching which Christ brought, the teaching which He gave. This may well be so, I have no wish to deny it. I must confess, though, that to me it seems more likely, in the context of this Letter, that it means the teaching about Christ, the true awareness of who Christ is in the reality of His incarnation. We certainly say that the truth which includes and excludes is that which can be established without doubt as what Jesus taught, but the centre of that truth is the reality of the Lord Jesus Himself as the One who holds together in His one person the human and the divine natures. All those who hold that truth are to be bound together in love, and they are to establish a distinct identity over against those who reject that truth.

I don't want to pretend to you for one moment that this is easy to apply, but I do present this as Scriptural procedure. We are not [13/14] to judge those with whom we have fellowship and those to whom we refuse fellowship on the basis of an elongated itemised creed, insisting that if people do not dot all our 'i's' and cross all our 't's' we will have nothing to do with them. That is the error of all exclusivist sects who demand adherence to their own long list of doctrines and practices; but we do not want to go to the other extreme and say that creedal formulations do not matter, and that we can have fellowship with anybody and everybody who wants it. That will not do either. In this second Letter of John I find something that is precise and that is the doctrine of the incarnation. If there is just doubt on some non-essential interpretation of Scripture, we must not judge others on the basis of that, but what is unequivocal, binding all true believers and every true church together is essential. To deny that is to reach the point of severance; the point at which fellowship must be refused.

3. Truth and Life

One of the lovely things in this Letter is that truth brings life to believers. As the truth is held, and as it issues in love, it brings distinct blessing from God and fellowship with Him. "Grace, mercy, peace shall be with us, from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love".

i. A three-fold blessing

Grace declares that God acts towards us without waiting for anything from our side. God doesn't tell us that when we are better He will think about us; nor does He say that He will help us if we try harder. Grace is the unprovoked redemptive action of God. Mercy points to the fact that God consults only Himself. He doesn't ask if we are likeable; He just takes note of the fact that we are pitiable; He consults His own heart and finds Himself to be a God who is emotionally involved with those who are wretched and pitiable. And out of this grace of God whereby He does not wait for us and this mercy of God whereby He consults only what His own nature dictates to Him, there arises that redemptive, restorative action of God whereby He brings us into peace of 'wholeness'. The peace of God means A wholeness of relationship with Himself, a wholeness of relationship with other people and a wholeness of personality.

ii. A two-fold source

This three-fold blessing has a two-fold source; it comes to us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. It is very typical of this Letter that in it the persons of the Trinity are held apart. If you study parallel passages in Paul you will find that the Father and the Son are bound together in a unity of blessing by means of one preposition: "From the Father and the Son". Here, however, there are two distinct persons, because it is part of the thrust of the Letter to counteract a denial of the real deity and the real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son are spoken of in their distinct entities as they pour out their blessings of grace, mercy and peace upon the Church.

iii. A two-fold condition

Then there is the two-fold condition of enjoyment. How do these blessings come to us? They come in the context of truth and love. It is when we live this life of truth and love that we experience these blessings of God. Living the life of truth and love is a means of grace, mercy and peace; it is a means of all the redemptive activities of God finding fruition in us and bringing us to wholeness.

"This is love, that we should walk after His commandments; this is the commandment, that you should walk in love" (v.6). Notice, however, what arises from that: "Whoever goes on and abides not in the teaching of Christ has not God" (v.9). This reality of truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ is the point at which a person either enters into an experience of God or denies himself that experience. In contrast to that we have this beautiful truth: "He who abides in the teaching (that is to say, the teaching of Christ) the same has both the Father and the Son." So it is not just a matter of receiving the blessing of God, but a matter of entering into fellowship with God, having the Father and the Son. Notice the coldness and abstractness of the first part of verse 9. The person who abides not in the teaching 'has not God'. There is only one way to God, and that is through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that if Jesus is denied in the reality of His Person and also in His redemptive work as the God-Man, there is no way to God. Feel, however, the warmth of this contrasting Scripture [14/15] that if a person rejoices in this truth about Jesus, it is not just 'God' that he has but the Father and the Son, he enters into a personal relationship with the holy Trinity.

There are tremendous issues at stake in this matter of holding the truth. It is not just that which links us with others and separates us from some; it is that which is the basis of our confident assurance in God. Therefore John says: "Look to your selves that you destroy not the things which you have wrought, but receive a full reward". How vital it is to hold on to the truth! We are to guard it and to work at it, with the end of the matter being the full reward. By works which are themselves the product of grace, we enter into what grace has wrought, and advance towards that which grace will delight to give.

4. Truth and Love

We note first of all that the life of mutual love is inherent in the Christian scheme of things. It is something that nobody can by-pass: "I found certain children of yours walking in the truth, even as we received commandment of the Father." Yes, that is what God wants, but John goes on to say, "Now I beseech you, Lady, not as though I wrote you a new commandment, but that which we had from the beginning, that you love one another." It was as though he said, 'It is not just that I am suggesting, dear Lady, that it would be a good thing if we were to love one another.' Nor does he say, 'I am an apostle of Christ. By His authority vested in me, I command that you love one another.' What he does say is, 'Look, I have a request to make: I ask you something, and it is that we go right back to what has been God's commandment from the beginning. What I request is something which belongs to the very nature of things, namely, that those who walk in truth should also walk in love' (v.5). In the next verse he says that those who walk in love should walk also in truth. He turns it both ways, showing that the two are inseparable. Walking in truth requires walking in love and walking in love requires walking in truth. When John finds a people concerned with truth he tells them to walk in the way of love; when he finds those who want to know what is the way of love, he tells them to walk in the truth, to live according to God's commandments.

How right, then, was what I quoted at the beginning of this article: Love divorced from truth will run riot. Love is an undefined concept. How are we to love one another? The most loving thing we can do for each other is to keep God's commandments in our relationships.

(To be continued)


(The Epistle to the Ephesians)

Harry Foster


MOST devout students agree that Paul's Letter to the Ephesians reaches the highest height of spiritual excellence. This is the only place where the apostle uses the expression 'in the heavenlies', and he does so five times. It would be quite impossible for me to begin to expound this whole Letter, but I hope to be able to comment helpfully on the references to the heavenlies which are found in it.

In some notable ways the Letter is different from others written by Paul. Apart from the bearer, Tychicus, it makes no personal references, in spite of the fact that the apostle had spent much longer than usual in the city of Ephesus and had taken a tearful farewell of its leaders (Acts 20:37). Neither does it deal with special problems or needs as most of the other Epistles do. It is, in fact, a more general statement of [15/16] spiritual truths and is sometimes considered to have been a kind of Circular Letter, equally applicable to a number of churches. We are told that the oldest MSS do not contain a specific reference to Ephesus and there is a conjecture that it might also have been sent to the neighbouring Laodicea, especially as Paul does indicate that Tychicus carried a Letter to that city as well as to Colosse (Colossians 4:15-16). May we perhaps be permitted to think that it was written to both Ephesus and Laodicea, so that the opening verse could read: "To the saints which are at ...", leaving the names to be filled in as required.

This is only conjecture, but it is a fascinating suggestion, since Ephesus and Laodicea were the first and seventh churches to whom the risen Christ sent Letters through His servant John (Revelation 2 & 3). Both were badly at fault and threatened with repudiation by their Lord. Ephesus offended in a departure from personal love to Christ and Laodicea did so in departing from the basis of grace. Since grace and love form the great themes of this Letter, it is sad to note that in some twenty or thirty years these churches had degenerated in this serious way, yet are these not precisely the twin perils of the passage of time? Many churches and individuals still become so involved with Christian work and orthodoxy that they move away from simple devotion to the Lord Jesus and leave the first love of their original preoccupation with Him. Furthermore, many churches and individuals can become so prosperous and successful that grace is no longer to them the charming sound that it used to be and they tend so to imagine themselves superior that they make the Lord feel sick.

These are the perils which the passing of time brings to all. Could it be that it was because the Lord foresaw them that He inspired Paul to put down the great facts of spiritual reality which never change and to which we must ever return? If by John's Revelation the Ephesians were shocked into reconsidering their spiritual state (and we are right to believe that perhaps they were), then where better could they find recovery to the first things than by reading again this famous apostolic Epistle? And if (as we may surely hope) the Laodiceans heeded John's warnings, whence could they obtain the refined gold of spiritual reality and the eyesalve of spiritual discernment if not by turning back to this Epistle of earlier days? Thank God for a Saviour who foresees our weaknesses and failings and provides accordingly.

Is it possible that our love for Christ and for His people has grown somewhat stale, in spite of our many praiseworthy activities? May it be that all unintentionally we have moved from the ground of grace, even though we sing and speak of it; that we imagine ourselves now to be somebodies when in fact we are still nobodies? That is a feature of deceitful legalism (Galatians 6:3). It could be! It could easily be! The Corinthian, Galatian, Colossian and Thessalonian churches needed warnings and corrections; their Epistles provide these and will warn and correct us. The Ephesian Letter has rather a different emphasis: it stresses for us the great spiritual truths of the Church of the first born ones whose names are written in heaven and, in the course of this statement, employs five times over that rather mysterious phrase, "in the heavenlies." This will surely repay closer examination.

We know from the context that the words do not refer to that timeless experience of God's glory which will be our eternal home and which we call Heaven. No, while they were 'in the heavenlies' these saints were still in Ephesus, facing life's daily challenges and wrestling with spiritual opposition. There is a "world which is to come" (1:21) and there is there [in that world] the employers' Master who will one day call us all to account (6:9), but that is a different matter. We are dealing now not with 'heaven' but with 'heavenly places', though in fact the word 'places' was never employed by Paul for he was not dealing with a locality for our future but a present experience for us now. The best description that I have been able to find is that given by John Stott who tells us that the matter under consideration is 'the unseen world of spiritual reality' (The Bible Speaks Today ).

Before we deal with this, however, we may need to be reminded that the message of the gospel does focus on future blessedness. It is not only the gospel of peace but also the gospel of hope -- "for by hope we were saved" (Romans 8:24) and we must wait for it with patience. [16/17] One of the unusual features of this Letter is that it seems to make no mention of the Second Coming of Christ which is everywhere so evident in the rest of the New Testament. A clear reference to that great event is however found in the statement that we have all been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise in the light of a day which is yet to come: "unto the redemption of God's own possession."

This sealing surely cannot represent any spiritual experience of enduement, important as it is to be endued with power from on high, for the purpose apparently indicates the seal of which Paul wrote to Timothy when he assured him that "the Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19). Again in this Letter to the Ephesians the apostle speaks of the Spirit as having sealed them "unto the day of redemption" (4:30).

I have read that in Paul's native Cilicia, logs were floated down the river to the coast and before the process started, each tree trunk was branded with its owner's mark so that there should be no question of a disputed ownership when they were assembled at their destination. Whether this was so I do not know, but I can bear witness to the fact that this was a custom in the area of N.E. Brazil where I lived many years ago. In the flood, the rafts of cedar trees were floated down to the sawmill on the coast, each trunk being clearly marked so that if the rafts broke up or when they were dismantled, no-one could question who owned them.

We are sealed now. Our possession by Christ should be clear for all to see. But although we are already His purchased possession now, the particular stress in this passage is to do with our arrival at our destination in eternity. That, says the apostle, will not be a matter for decision then, since the moment we believed, the Spirit stamped us with the name of the Lord Jesus. We were so sealed when we believed and that seal marks out our destination.


This first section, which in the original is just one sentence, is really an ecstatic hymn of praise to the Father for what He has done for us. It also reminds us that our present chorus of praise is but a prelude to the eternal future appreciation of God's great goodness to undeserving sinners. Three times over this objective is brought before us in the phrase: "To the praise of his glory" and in fact we might almost think that the arrangement of the sentence is designed to call us to praise and worship of the whole Trinity. "To the praise of the glory of his grace" (v.6) refers us back to the Father's loving choice of a glorious destiny for us. "To the praise of his glory" (v.12) closes a paragraph which stresses the Son's loving sacrifice on Calvary to redeem us to God. The final phrase of the passage, "to the praise of his glory" (v.14) is closely connected with the loving activities of the Holy Spirit in ensuring the full realisation in us of the divine purpose.

Not that there are three different sections, for as it is impossible to divide up the three Persons of the Trinity, so it would be artificial to divide this sentence into three parts. It is good, though, to realise that while we open it with a heartfelt tribute to the heavenly Father, our experiences "in the heavenlies" is altogether Trinitarian, Father, Son and Spirit combining in their purpose of love for all of us who are saints and believers (v.2).

1. Available Blessings

The opening statement is overwhelmingly wonderful. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. We are told that He has already done this. First of all, then, we note that here all God's activities are spoken of in terms of the past. When we come to the next reference to the heavenlies (vv.15-23) we will find ourselves praying for a deep understanding of these truths, but here we find stated positively what God has already done. He has blessed us (v.3) because He has chosen us (v.4), predestined us (v.5), redeemed us (v.8), enlightened us (v.9) and sealed us (v.13). [17/18]

This last action brings us up to the present, for it is associated with our first committal of faith, but the chain of events leading up to the present carries us far back into that timeless era "before the foundation of the world". From all eternity the Father desired holy sons, determined to have them, chose those in whom He could satisfy His desires and plans, and redeemed them for Himself. All this is included in the assertion that He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings. There are no adaptations, no modifications and no afterthoughts with our God. He did not need to improvise when Adam failed Him since in any case Adam was only "a figure of him that was to come" (Romans 5:14). God was not obliged by Israel's rejection of Christ to accept the crisis of the cross, since the whole matter of the slain Lamb had been decided upon before times eternal. We must never think of second causes in our appreciation of God's sovereign grace; the constitution and the destiny of the Church was conceived and decided by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from all eternity. Thus it is that we find ourselves 'in the heavenlies', with every spiritual blessing lavished upon us in Christ. One of the greatest Christian virtues is humility, and rightly to discover the vast and heavenly setting into which salvation has brought us cannot do other than humble us to the dust.

Say, while lost in holy wonder,

Why, O Lord, such love to me?

In the heavenlies we find that we are dealing with a God who is totally committed to give us every blessing and who will explain to us why this is so. We begin then with the assertion that all God's blessings are freely available to those who are in Christ.

2. Spiritual Blessings

Before we go further, however, we need to take note of the fact that the blessings being spoken of are spiritual blessings. It is true that in the Old Testament God's blessings are often described in terms of material prosperity and well-being, as may be verified in such passages as Deuteronomy 28:1-13, but even in those days people proved that God's essential and lasting blessings are always those which are spiritual. Some of the Lord's most honoured servants never experienced those outward signs of His favour which men call blessings.

Moses entered his service for God with just his shepherd's rod and, forty years later, he had seemingly accumulated nothing more in terms of earthly possessions. He had no cattle of his own and never accepted any as gifts (Numbers 16:15). His brother Aaron was clothed with beautiful garments but it seems that Moses went through to the end with the clothes he stood up in. He had no special supplies of food but presumably had to collect his daily supply of manna just like the others. In a striking scene of retirement, Aaron passed on his priestly office to his son Eleazar (Numbers 20:25-29), whereas Moses died in solitude and had no family connections with his successor Joshua. So Moses had no obvious or earthly prosperity, yet who will doubt that he was one of the most blest of all God's servants.

Elijah was certainly an outstanding representative of all the prophets, but clearly all his blessings must have been spiritual, for he had no assets here on earth and neither did he desire any. Even in those Old Testament days the greatest blessings were spiritual. And how much more is this so in the New Testament. These are what matter; they are lasting and always have eternity in view. These are what the Lord Jesus was talking about in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.

Spiritual blessings. If at first such a description appears to limit the extent of God's blessings, this is not at all the case. On the contrary, it enlarges the sphere of blessedness for those in the heavenlies for in their case everything can truly be called a divine blessing and can become spiritually profitable, even though its primary form may be material. For those who belong to the heavenlies, even daily mercies are calculated to have spiritual significance.

Since the Lord Jesus assured us that our heavenly Father would always provide food and clothing, there is a sense in which such benefits may be classified as spiritual. A car is not in itself a blessing, but it can be made so if it is used for the Lord. Finance is only 'filthy lucre' when it responds to human greed. In itself this world's currency is far from spiritual, but it is given heavenly value when it is used for God. How else can we explain the fact that Paul described the gifts sent to him by the Philippians as "an [18/19] odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (4:18), What can be more spiritual than fragrant sacrifices for God's good pleasure?

The same can be true of human relationships. Marriage, of itself, is a natural and not a spiritual matter. Yet consider the case of a certain couple called Aquila and Priscilla. Although the Scriptures give advice on marriage, they very rarely link two names together in the "Mr. and Mrs." manner of address, but these two are an exception and are never mentioned except as a couple, which seems to stress that theirs was a God-blessed union. I imagine that Aquila felt, as many other husbands have done, that his wife was indeed a gift of God's goodness to him. Call this a merely natural blessing if you like, but notice the spiritual overtones. Their natural union became a spiritual blessing, not only to them but to many others also. Paul was one of these (Acts 18:3) and Apollos was another (Acts 18:26). Their local church found blessings in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19) and eventually many churches shared in the blessings (Romans 16:4).

So much for the good things of this life, but even the seemingly bad things may yet become a blessing to those who dwell in the heavenlies. Things which seem the reverse of benefits can become spiritual blessings. We instinctively turn to that satanic 'thorn in the flesh' of Paul's. This must have seemed the very denial of blessing to the suffering apostle, yet it became an outstanding enrichment, not to him and his contemporaries only but also to the multitude of grateful believers since who have been comforted by the assurance, "My grace is sufficient for thee." In countless other cases, individuals in Christ have found that personal trials are transformed into spiritual blessings.

And what about church trouble? Paul grieved and wept over the Corinthian situation but out of his distress came 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter full of spiritual benefits if ever there was one. No doubt many modern Christians grieve and almost weep over their church situation. To such the apostle's advice would surely be that they should beware of speaking or acting in any way contrary to what befits those who belong to heavenly places. In Balaam's day God turned the curse into a blessing for His trusting people (Numbers 23:20) and can do the same for us in our day.

In this connection, however, it is important not to let genuine blessings from God become the reverse of spiritual. With his uncle Abraham, Lot enjoyed blessings of prosperity. No doubt these were God-given blessings, but they tested him -- as all temporal blessings do -- and in the end his prosperity proved his undoing. Solomon received material blessings for which he had not even asked -- unparalleled riches and honour (1 Kings 3:13) -- but his sad history shows that his wealth was what largely caused his spiritual decline. King Hezekiah enjoyed the blessing of miraculous healing from a mortal sickness, only to fail so badly that we wonder whether it would not have been better for him and his people if he had not then died. So temporal blessings do not automatically bring spiritual advantage.

3. Costly Blessings

God could bring a world into being by simply speaking the word. He could create the human race by shaping dust and bringing in life. In the matter of true blessing, however, we are told that it involved paying a ransom price (v.7) and that the price was the shed blood of His only Son. Those who belong to the heavenlies come increasingly to realise that the benefits freely given to them have been exceedingly costly to the divine Giver.

To the unenlightened it would seem natural and logical that God -- being God -- could have His desires fulfilled at minimal cost to Himself. The fact is, though, that in the very same sentence in which the apostle writes of the Father's original desires and eternal purpose and of His ability to work everything in accordance with them, he reminds us that this was only possible by redemption, and the essence of redemption is the payment of a price. Blessings are "freely bestowed on us" only because the Beloved Son shed His life's blood to purchase them. We cannot buy such blessings; the sum total of human resources would never be sufficient for the purpose; they are utterly beyond us. They are infinitely valuable. [19/20]

It is noteworthy that Ephesus was the place where Christians, delivered from bondage to Satan, made a public bonfire of their valuable belongings, so that a large sum of money, 50,000 drachmas, went up in flames (Acts 19:19). If, as the N.I.V. tells us, 'a drachma was about a day's wages', that gives us an idea of what their faith cost them. They did not sacrifice this large sum to become Christians, that would be absurd, but they gladly threw it away in their realisation of the much better treasure which had come to them in Christ.

There is no surer way of measuring the great worth of God's blessings to His children than by considering how costly they were to the Lord who obtained them for us. Our individual forgiveness and reconciliation to God are said to be by Christ's shed blood (1:7 & 2:13) and our united life in the body due to His sufferings on the cross (2:16). We are told that in sacrificially giving Himself up, He both made for us individually the relationship of dearly loved children of God (5:2) and purchased the Church for His bride (5:25). We are also reminded that the Son became dead in order that the power of His resurrection might raise us up from death (1:20) and that He descended into the depths so that we could share with Him the triumph of His resurrection (4:9). Blessings which are freely given to us cost the Saviour an infinite price.

What more can we say? Those who belong to the heavenlies growingly appreciate that their blessings, so lavishly poured out on them in Christ, are precious beyond their power of understanding and come from a love which surpasses understanding (3:19). Earth's treasures have therefore no attraction for them and this world's gains become a dead loss.

4. Moral Blessings

God has a purpose in all His activities and in this matter of our blessings we are clearly informed that His objective is that we might be "holy and blameless before him" (1:4). The Letter begins by calling us saints -- holy ones -- and then continues with this theme of working on us and working in us so that we may measure up to the supreme standard of His holiness. That is the eternal purpose of our heavenly Father in bringing us to the birth. If a baby has the blessings of indulgent parental love, that is all that can be expected at the time of his infancy, but the longer term prospect is of mature and responsible sonship. Spiritually this parallel holds good. Predestination is not so much concerned with our new birth as with our calling to be God's recognised sons, responding to His love as well as receiving it. He lavishes His blessings upon the children of His family with the prospect of their eventual experience of living "to the praise of His glory", when they attain to mature manhood, "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (4:13).

Sonship involves responsibilities. As we continue in our studies in this Letter, we will see more of what the Father expects of His favoured children in terms of Christlikeness of character. For the moment, however, we consider not the demands of our calling but its resources. Holiness is not to be a burden but a blessing; whatever the Father expects of us is already provided for us in Christ. In the heavenlies, therefore, we adore Him for the limitless abundance of His blessings. Fortified and sanctified by these, we gladly accept the challenge of learning to live to the praise of the glory of His grace.

(To be continued) [20/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(Though even unto that time I had not set up the doors in the gates )" Nehemiah 6:1

IT is when God is most prospering our labours that Satan's wiliest attacks come against us. In an incredibly short time the whole wall around Jerusalem had been restored; "there was no breach left therein." It was a period when God's servant might have relaxed and it was just at that very time when the subtle enemies of the work of God suggested the advisability of a new 'dialogue' between them and invited Nehemiah to share their hospitality in the plain of Ono for that purpose.

IT was a trick. The sole purpose was to lure Nehemiah away from the work of restoration, with the probability that he would never have been able to return to it. I know, to my sorrow, how real that temptation was. Many years ago, at a time of great blessing, several of us were lured into something of this nature. My discerning colleague, dear George Taylor, urged us to get on with the work and refuse to discuss things with our attackers, saying that this would mean, 'going down to the plain of Ono.' I am sorry to say that we ignored his counsel and found later that we had got out of the will of God.

NEHEMIAH avoided this trap, and he did so by realising the importance of what remained to be done: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." So he refused to be drawn into idle arguments by concentrating on the work which God had given him to do.

OUR parenthesis tells us what constituted that 'great work' which yet remained; there were no doors to make the various gateways effective. It was this that detained him and enabled him to reject their repeated requests for him to come down. What was the use of closing gaps and building gates if the doors were not in their place? What was the use of closing gaps and building gates if the work was left in this unfinished state? The whole city was vulnerable while those entrances were not capable of being closed against intruders.

IN Nehemiah's days the doors were needed to guard the city during the hours of darkness (7:3) and to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath (13:19). For us they emphasise the need for excluding from our lives and fellowships all that might dishonour the name of the Lord. Whether in our assemblies, our homes or our private lives, the wall of testimony must be adequately protected from defiling intrusions. The doors must be set up in the gates.


[Back cover]

Titus 2:11-12

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