|Vol. 15, No. 3, May - June 1986
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE QUIET IN THE LAND
THE BOOK OF RUTH
THE significance of the story of Ruth lies in the fact that it tells
of happenings during those distressing days when the Judges ruled. From
time to time during that era God brought help to His people through these
individuals who did their specific tasks by faith but who mostly proved
faulty characters whose work was limited in its duration.
Apart from the inspiring and admirable Deborah, I do not find among the
great judges those qualities of character that I could wish to see. In certain
points I can look up to them. They were brave when the Lord sent them. They
were active in the tasks committed to them. But as regards holiness and likeness
to the Lord, they seem to me to have proved sadly lacking. We are told that
it was by faith that they accomplished their great deeds, but we feel that
their personal relationship to the Lord tended to remain superficial.
We turn from the book of Judges to this little book and here we encounter
three unheroic characters, Boaz, Naomi and Ruth, who came to no prominence
but were "the quiet in the land" (Psalm 35:20). Their story is recorded in
the Holy Scriptures because, in the long run, theirs was the most significant
and lasting service to God and to His people. From their lineage came the
king David and later great David's greater Son. Their story gives us the
other side of the book of Judges and it shows how God answered the cry of
Israel not only by giving them those who became public figures by their acts
of deliverance, but by sending them -- even from Moab -- those who could be
described as the quiet in the land.
These very ordinary people were not great figures in their own lifetime,
but God has kept their record for posterity: they were hidden from the eyes
of men but they counted much for Him. And so it is today. I am sure that
there are modest saints here in Denmark who count more for the Lord than some
of us who are on the platform and in the public eye. I think of some farmers
or business men who resemble Boaz in that nobody publicises them, but their
names and their godly behaviour arc recorded in the heavenly books. There
are unrecognised devoted women who will be found to have meant much to God's
purposes when the final story is told.
What did Ruth really do? She just told her mother-in-law that she would
always be faithful to her and to her God. Nobody except Naomi took note of
that decision. It could not be regarded as an exploit of any significance
in Israel, yet it was of the utmost importance to Israel's history. In such
unadvertised decisive choices, great spiritual purposes can sometimes be
realised. Ruth must have fought with herself when she took the path to Bethlehem
with Naomi for she literally forsook her own interests to go to a land where
-- as a Moabitess -- she had no right of entry and no future. She could not
have known then that this path would lead to her becoming a famous Israelite.
Having arrived at Bethlehem she faithfully helped her old mother-in-law
by going out to glean in the fields, so engaging in the lowest task which
the destitute were allowed to perform. We know that this proved to be the
key to the whole future destiny of those concerned, but for her it only represented
a humble willingness to serve. Such hidden service is far more difficult
than to be given a conspicuous position in the harvest field of the world
where everyone notices what you are doing. Spirituality, however, is best
expressed in the hidden choices of daily life when the conscience hears and
obeys God's call and chooses to follow in faith and serve in humility, as
Ruth did. [41/42]
Naomi is rather a tragic figure who began in sorrow but who was able
at the end to rejoice in God's faithfulness to her. Her only contribution
was trust -- but that is a most vital contribution to God's plans for His
people. And what shall we say of the godly Boaz whose character was revealed
in his treatment of his workers on the farm and especially in that extra
touch of kindness when he ordered bundles on purpose to be provided for
the forlorn stranger? These would hardly seem to be matters for reports
to be made in the accounts of what happened in Israel. In the history of
God's kingdom, however, they are important in quite a different way from
what might be reflected by publicity and statistics. They are mighty because
of their spiritual content and not because of their sensational character.
They are effective, though they have been done in quietness and purity and
humility, without any kind of publicity.
There are differences between the equipment of the Spirit with some gift
and the spirituality of character which is all important. It is possible
to be fully extended in what we are doing for the Lord and yet not growing
in a personal knowledge of Him, as I know to my cost. There is nothing greater
than to learn to know the Lord. This knowledge, however, is only gained slowly
and often painfully by those whose secret choices, known only to Him, are
directed towards a deep sense of what is His will.
The greatest gift which the Spirit can give us is faithfulness. To maintain
a life near to God, to spend time in the prayer chamber, to spread the spirit
of goodness, purity and gentleness, love and helpfulness, these are the unadvertised
virtues of the "quiet in the land" which can mean so much for the great
purposes of God. Such people do not seek their own, even as Christ did not
seek His own, but let nobody question their true importance in the kingdom
of God. I suggest that one of the purposes of this little book of Ruth is
to remind us that in the midst of circumstances as unpromising as those
described in the book of Judges, and in contrast to the public figures who
may have their part to play, God looks for simple and devoted souls -- the
quiet in the land.
THE SPIRIT IN ROMANS 8
3. THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE SPIRIT (Verses 18-25)
"WE ourselves also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit" (v.23). The
firstfruits are the foretaste, the sample of what is to come, the guarantee
that the rest is on its way. In the Old Testament they represent the beginning
of the harvest, the first sheaf and the first bunch of grapes. The word
speaks of a guarantee of good things yet to come in abundance, as if saying,
This is only a small part of the whole, but the rest will surely come. That
wonderful future is summed up in the one word 'glory'.
At the end of verse 17 we have read: "If so be that we suffer with him,
that we may be also glorified with him." The suffering is one way of looking
at our present life: the glory is something which is still in the future.
This was the pattern that our Lord went through, as He explained to the two
disciples on their way to Emmaus; first suffering and then entering the
glory. The lesson was not lost on the early Church. Paul preached this truth:
"Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts
14:22). [42/43] Occasionally we may get a glimpse
of the glory, as the three disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration,
but for the vast majority of us there may be no such vision until the reality
of the inheritance is fulfilled in eternity.
This passage begins with the word 'For' and it continues to use the same
word to express a sequence (vv.19, 20, 22 & 24). In my first article
I spoke about a building of various storeys with a view from the top storey.
Then we were thinking about verses 1 and 2 and the way up in the experience
of deliverance from the bondage of sin. It may help us to use a similar illustration
here. There is the top floor which enables me to say that incomparable glory
still awaits us. Now what is that based upon? Let me take you one floor
further down, "FOR the creation ...". And so on. Paul starts at the top
storey, and each level is based upon something below it. We will start at
the top floor and work downwards. There are eight verses but there are six
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory which is to be revealed in us" (v.18). Many
versions speak of the glory which is to be revealed to us but we are
not just going to be spectators, sitting back and watching God do something.
The meaning is more like the glory being revealed into us. We are
not to be mere onlookers; glory is what God will actually do in us.
What is glory? It cannot mean luminosity, as though the great aim an object
of the Christian life were that we should end up as immortal electric light
bulbs. It must mean something more than mere light. It may perhaps help us
if we change from the noun to the adjective and speak of that which is glorious.
When that day comes what God is going to do for us and in us will be simply
glorious. We will say, 'What a glorious place to be in! What a glorious
experience this is! I couldn't have described it in words, anyway down there
on the earth, but now I am here I realise how glorious it is.'
We know that it is that which altogether outweighs the sufferings of
this world and life here below:
O day for which creation
And all its tribes were made!
O joy, for all its former woes
A thousandfold repaid!
What we shall have on that last day is something which we cannot explain,
we cannot begin to understand. It will be a glory which is so outstanding
that it will outweigh and compensate a million times for everything that
there has been in this life.
2. The Creation
"For the creation awaits with eager longing the revealing of the sons
of God" (v.19). Maybe it is worth remembering that the great and glorious
future is first and foremost the future of the people of God; they are at
the heart of this whole scheme. What God is aiming for is not just a general
renovation of all things; He is aiming at our renovation. The glory
that is to be revealed is to be the glory of Christ in His people.
Having said that, however, we note that the whole creation is to affected
by what happens to us. Man is very good at spoiling God's creation. It must
be over twenty years ago now that the whole ecological conservationist movement,
then in its infancy, received a great boost from a writer called Rachel Carson,
who wrote a book called Silent Spring. In this book she high-lighted
certain things which were going on in the world, caused by man's misuse of
some of his abilities which basically had the best of intentions. His actions
are having spin-offs for which he had not bargained. For instance, he used
DDT to poison pests, but those pests were eaten by other creatures so that
the DDT passed into them, and the process continued in a chain right up
into his own food. The thing had got out of control; all kinds of things
were being poisoned because of the original pesticide. Man, without necessarily
intending to do so, can spoil his environment doing things that have incalculable
The glorious thing about this present verse is that it speaks of a day
when the very opposite will be true; man will be redeemed to God and the
whole of God's creation will receive the benefits of the glory which God
bestows on His [43/44] people. The whole of creation
is waiting on tip-toe for the revealing of the sons of God, as if knowing
that its destiny is bound up with the destiny of redeemed mankind. Maybe
we do not think of this as often as we might. We read, for example, of the
day when the world as we know it will be rolled up and done away with, to
be replaced by new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness reigns.
But that will be the result of God's people having been glorified. We read
in Matthew 19:28 of our Lord's promises of the renewal of all things. The
Greek word is paliggenesia which means that God will do Genesis
all over again, but that re-making of the whole universe depends upon the
re-making of God's people. It is their day of glory which will fill the rest
of God's creation with glory, doing away with the creation as we know it
and replacing it with a brand new one. God plans to bring glory to His people,
and through them to make all things new.
"For the creation was subjected to futility ..." (v.20). We are still
considering the building and noting what the previous storey was based upon.
Why does the creation long for the great Day? Because it has been made subject
to futility. Some translations render this 'fallacy' and 'emptiness', and
perhaps the best way to render it is 'frustration'. Nothing ever gets permanently
fulfilled; all the great achievements of mankind sooner or later crumble to
dust. Sooner or later it all wears out and runs down. It disintegrates because
it cannot be permanent. Paul tells us that this is no accident and ultimately
it is not, in a sense, man's fault, though Genesis 3 gives a very interesting
background to what is said here. It is God who has subjected, and He has
done so 'in hope'.
After the first sin in the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam: "Cursed
is the ground because of you ... thorns and thistles it shall bring forth
to you ... In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return
to the ground." This tells us that man himself is going to run down and wear
out and return to the dust. By dint of a great deal of sweat in a world which
naturally produces its thorns and thistles, he will be able to keep down
the weeds and grow wheat, but the creation is going against him, and it is
his own fault. The whole thing is a struggle against something which is actually
working in the opposite direction. "Cursed is the ground because of you."
Paul tells us, however, that there is a deeper reason. It is not the
fault of the creation itself and not only the fault of man, for behind it
all there is the One who did the actual subjecting. It was God Himself who
decided that since man is a sinner, therefore this would be the result in
the creation around him. God decreed the futility of the whole world, allowing
it to work, more or less, with seedtime and harvest, cold and heat never
actually ceasing, making sure that it does not altogether disintegrate,
but making it unable to work as He wanted it to.
But God subjected it to futility in hope. God built something
else into the scheme. Because of Adam's sin God decreed that all through
the rest of its existence as it is now, the world will be characterised
by futility, frustration, vanity, emptiness, but at the end of it all there
will be hope. Right through until the Second Coming of Christ there will
be futility with hope.
What is beneath that? Let me take you down one more flight to the storey
which lies underneath this one. "Because the creation itself also shall be
delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the
children of God" (v.21). There used to be stories of a little American girl,
Pollyana, who played the Glad Game by always trying to find something to
be glad about in every situation. Now suppose we took anti-pollyana attitude
to life, it would not be difficult to take a thoroughly bleak, pessimistic
view of the world, looking even at the good things and finding something wrong
somewhere. The trouble is that in one sense we would be right. There is always
something wrong, some flaw, some crack, if we are cynical enough to look
Paul calls this bondage -- 'bondage to decay'. But he also speaks of
glorious liberty; the creation is to be liberated. And while it will be
glorious, [44/45] the force of his words is that
it will be "the liberty of glory". On that great Day when hope comes true
and the sons of God are revealed, glory will replace decay by a divine liberation.
And this will all be a part of the glory which is spoken of in so many places
in the Scriptures, summed up by the Lord's declaration that He will make all
things new (Revelation 21:5). In other words, the glory will reverse the
process of decay; everything which has been loss and pain and sorrow in this
world will be reversed.
The bondage will be ended; the chains will be broken; the prison will
be opened; we will all come out and those things we have lost will be replaced
by what is a million times better. None of us knows the details, but we are
assured that whatever we have enjoyed here we will enjoy far more there,
and all the pain and loss will be gone for ever. Glory, whatever it means,
is the very opposite of decay and will bring a complete reversal of all the
running down, the wearing out, the pain and tears of this present life.
"We know that the whole creation groaneth ... and not only so ... even
we groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption ..." (vv.22-23). The
key word here is 'groaning'. Paul uses the expression 'until now' not to
say that just then it would stop, but rather that it has always been groaning,
is still groaning and it will continue to groan. So here are we, he says,
even though we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groaning in these mortal
bodies which are still a part of the whole decaying creation. As the years
go by, we are less able to do what we used to be able to do, we ourselves
know frustration in some realms for we recognise that the Holy Spirit who
lives in us is only the firstfruits of what is to come. He has told us that
He will yet change our mortal bodies, but for that we will have to wait awhile
until the great Day of our full adoption.
We are already truly God's sons, but the day is coming when our actual
bodies will be redeemed. That is the Day we look forward to, the day of
glory, the day in the future when our adoption will be complete. Naturally
we groan now, because we have not yet arrived and are all too aware of the
mortality of our bodies, and as we groan, so does the whole creation, because
it is waiting on us. A Day is coming when all the groaning will stop, and
that takes us at last to the ground floor.
"It was in hope that we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope
... but if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait
for it" (vv.24-25). These are not easy verses but they do underlie all the
rest. Hope is an intrinsic part of the gospel, it is a key thought in the
New Testament. The very word implies that all things are not yet as they
should be and there is something better to come. Those who believe in the
Christian hope accept that there are lots of good things which we still have
We hope for that which we do not see. This means that we recognise that
this life is not all and present experiences are only the beginnings. We
do not expect to have the fullness here; we do not expect total healing; we
do not expect everything to go right. We accept the fact that we do not have
all we could wish for here: that is part and parcel of believing in hope.
We have to learn patience, which is another New Testament word. It does not,
however, mean only passive resignation. That is not at all what Biblical
patience is about. It rather means endurance and perseverance; it is active
and eager in its expectation, saying that it can cope with today because
it knows that good things are coming tomorrow. It will stick it; it will
go the extra mile; it can take some few more steps because it knows what
* * * * * *
Do you note once again that although in one way the Holy Spirit is the
theme of this whole chapter, at every stage He points away from Himself.
In this passage He is hardly mentioned, except for that meaningful and pregnant
phrase, 'the firstfruits of the Spirit'. What the Spirit is doing here is
to point us on ahead, telling us that what we know of Him now is only the
beginnings, the samples, the foretastes. He points on to the glorious Day
when the sons of God will come into their own. He tells us to look at that
prospect, to think of it, to let it colour all that we do here and now.
(To be continued) [45/46]
LET HIM WHO BOASTS BOAST IN THE LORD
(Studies in 1 Corinthians 1 to 4)
2. THE WISDOM OF GOD (1:18 - 2:16)
THE basic problem in the Church at Corinth was that they were boasting
in human achievement, absorbed with the importance of men, being man-centred
rather than God-centred. This man-centredness is the specific disease which
Paul deals with in the first four chapters of the Epistle. All through his
teaching on the Church Paul's great emphasis is upon God's initiative in
man's salvation, His sovereignty in all His dealings with men and, above all,
His sovereign purpose for the Church. In our present passage the apostle shows
us that the spirit of man-centredness is a gross distortion of the whole
manner in which God reveals His wisdom and displays His power.
There are four areas where God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting.
1. In the nature of the gospel (1:18-25)
Paul had introduced this section by what is a kind of bridge verse: "Christ
sent me not to baptise but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of words,
lest the cross of Christ should be made void." Now in verse 18, he proceeds
to explain to us how God has displayed His wisdom and power in the nature
of the gospel. The message of the gospel is described as "the word of the
cross" and nowhere is the glory of God more fully displayed or more jealously
guarded than in the cross of Jesus Christ.
The word, or the message, of the cross tells of God's whole method of
saving sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And
nothing so effectively humbles the natural man as the full revelation of
that gospel. I think that it may be important to add that it is possible
so to manipulate the message as to evacuate it of this essence and so rid
it of that stumbling-block to human pride, that skandalon which Paul
describes in verse 23. That is, it is possible for us so to lay emphasis
on a gospel appeal which merely invites people to Jesus to sort out their
problems and make them happy, that neither is God exalted nor man humbled.
The essence of the message of the gospel is that it does both of these things.
When, however, our concentration is upon asking people to come to Jesus because
He will be the One to sort out all their confusion and problems and troubles
and difficulties, this does not necessarily happen. 'Are you unhappy? Come
to Jesus! Are you dissatisfied, are you empty and mixed up? Then come to
Jesus! He will deal with all your problems for you.'
Now can we see what happens by that manipulation of the gospel? What
happens is that man is left at the centre. In a sense it makes God man's
servant. There is something really important here for we are not thereby
dealing with the real problem of man, nor are we dealing with the real essence
of the gospel of the cross of Christ, because the message of the cross does
not just deal with the symptoms of man's condition. Those troubles are all
symptoms of man's basic problem, but the message of the cross goes to the
root of the disease. It exposes what is at the very heart of the human dilemma,
and the heart of that dilemma is not what sin does to me --- though in God's
name that is drastic enough -- nor what sin does to other people -- although
you cannot be in the pastoral ministry for very long without finding how the
lives of men and women are wrecked by the reality of sin as it touches them
-- but the ultimate dilemma which the gospel comes to deal with is what it
does to God. [46/47]
When Paul begins his exposition of the gospel, he tells us, "I am not
ashamed of the gospel ... for therein is the righteousness of God revealed
... for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness
..." (Romans 1:16-18). Sin draws down upon it the wrath of a holy God. And
the cross of Jesus, the heart of the gospel, is dealing ultimately with this
problem, and it exposes man's pride, his worship and service of self rather
than of God. It shows the desperate seriousness of that condition in the
light of God's holiness and wrath, and man's utter inability to do anything
about his plight. At the same time it exalts God as the only Saviour. Nowhere
is the glory of God more fully displayed than in the cross of Christ. His
holiness, love, justice and truth, His compassion and grace, His wisdom and
power are displayed above all other places in the cross of Jesus.
It is precisely because God has on the cross so displayed His own glory
that every opportunity for human pride has been excluded. The cross is an
offence to the natural man, and we must never seek to remove that offence
which lies the very core of the gospel. Whether to the Greek pride of intellect
or the Jewish pride or religion, the message of the cross is unacceptable.
It is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.
You will notice that here two groups are described. There are those who
are perishing and those who are being saved, with present participles which
speak of an incomplete process. The first group are those who are moving
towards a day of final destruction. The second group are those who are moving
towards the final day of full salvation. It is their relation to the message
of the cross which puts them in these categories. Those who are perishing,
perish because the message of the cross is offensive to them; it is foolishness.
Now the word for 'foolishness' is a close relation to the word which we have
taken into our English language, the word moron. They regard this
as moronic! For us who are being saved, however, it is not only the power
but also the wisdom of God.
It is in the cross of Christ that God's power is supremely revealed.
Have you grasped that, dear friends? The place where God's power is supremely
revealed is not in the astonishing feats of God's creation or preservation
of the universe, but in the redemption of sinners through the blood of His
Son. It is in the gospel that the arm of the Lord is made bare. He has set
forth that power and wisdom so that human power and wisdom are excluded. Paul
supports this principle in three ways.
i. It is true Biblically
It is written: "I will frustrate the wisdom of the wise" (1:19). Paul
wants to demonstrate that what he is saying is neither novel nor peculiar
to himself, but Biblical. Throughout these chapters there are frequent quotations
with the formula, "As it is written" (1:31, 2:9, 3:19). To the apostle this
is the fundamental issue; he is tied to the truth of the Scriptures. He quotes
God as saying that He will set aside or reject the intelligence of the intelligent,
pointing back to the words of Isaiah 29:14. It is clear that salvation for
Israel was never a matter of human ingenuity. They had to learn to stand
still and see the salvation of God.
Isaiah's reference concerns the occasion when Sennacherib, king of Assyria,
was planning to conquer Judah. God told the prophet not to worry or fear
because the king's plans would most certainly fail. The reason that the plans
of God's enemies would fail had nothing to do with the strength of Judah's
army, the strategy of Judah's king or the subtlety of the king's advisers.
Jerusalem would be saved solely by God's power without any human help. God
was so eager to display this that He took up the wisdom of men, set it aside,
and rejected it.
Now this is the God whose gospel we are preaching, says Paul. The commentator
adds something which is very much to the point. The wisdom of Hezekiah's
advisers was very much like that which was trying to magnify itself in Corinth;
it emanated not from God but from godless thinking. The only way in which
we deliver ourselves by God's grace from being infected by worldly thinking
and a worldly cast of mind even in relation to the gospel, is by soaking ourselves
in Holy Scripture, as the apostle did at all times and here displays and
supports his principle Biblically. [47/48]
ii. It is true Contemporarily
Paul also supports his principle contemporarily (v.20). He asks these
rhetorical questions. Now I believe that the apostle is generally referring
to his modern contemporary world, although the quotations that he seems to
be using come from places like Isaiah 19:12, which of course is Biblical
too. He asks what are the important things: "Where is the wise man?" he asks
rhetorically. "Where is the scholar, where is the philosopher of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The expected answer, of
course, is that He has done just that.
You see when it comes to the real issues man has no answer. The apostle
is pointing to the contemporary world, asking us to observe what has happened
to the wisdom of men. People are driven to ask the ultimate questions. Where
are the great thinkers and the great philosophers; where is the wisdom of
this world in which we put such reliance? Of course it is not that we decry
what man has done; the Scriptures have no interest in detracting from human
achievements, but the question is: Where has it got us? We need to confront
this modern world with the question, Where has the wisdom of men got us?
Our technology has advanced to the point which would have seemed ludicrous
day-dreaming to our forefathers. Now we can control so much and accomplish
such astonishing things. We can take a man to the moon, bring him back again
and land him within a square mile of the area where we had intended, but when
we are facing the real issues of life and the real agonizing crisis of man's
world, we have no answer. Statesmen are trembling as they take these problems
into their hands, leaving us all to confess that while we can control a man's
journey to the moon, we cannot control his behaviour here on earth. So we
can have men on the moon and hell on earth at one and the same time, and
we are not able to do anything about it.
We hold conferences, and we gather together the think-tanks and brains
of all different kinds. That is where the modern world places its confidence.
The apostle validly challenges this. Where is the wise man? Where is the
scholar of this age? Has not God made foolish this world's wisdom? Of course
He has. He has done so by accomplishing what the world has failed to accomplish,
and in doing so He has dismissed the world's wisdom as folly.
That is why it is so important for us to have our confidence in God and
the gospel and why in God's name we dare not betray a sick and needy world
by allowing our confidence to drift anywhere else -- even marginally. We
must be firm in our belief that it is only in the gospel of God that hope
is to be found for the modern world.
iii. It is true Theologically
"Seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not
God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the thing preached to save
them that believed" (v.21). Why is it that in the gospel human pride is brought
to nothing and human wisdom shown up in its poverty? Paul tells us that
it is a matter of the sovereign pleasure of God. There is a kind of threefold
divine decree expressed in this verse, negatively and positively. Negatively
that God has decreed in His wisdom that the world will never come to know
Him by its wisdom and positively that God has been pleased through the foolishness
of what was preached to save those who believe.
We notice the verbs employed: Jews demand signs, and Greeks
look for wisdom, but we preach and God calls. We do
not respond to the demands for signs or attempt to provide the arguments
in terms of wisdom. We do not tailor our ministry or message to the demands
or requirements of men. The Jews may 'demand' and the Greeks may 'seek after',
but the verbs we stress are that we 'preach' and God 'calls'.
There is always a great temptation, in desiring to be up-to-date and
relevant in our modern world, to tailor our methods and our message to the
demands and requirements of men. God knows we need to know the world; it
is important to do that, for irrelevance is a sin and not a quality. But
the nature of our message must never be merely a response to what Jews demand
or Greeks require. It is a proclamation of unchanging truth in a given gospel.
That is a vital principle for us to grasp. As we preach Christ and Him crucified,
the man who worships human reason will undoubtedly dismiss it as folly, but
the [48/49] mysterious and glorious thing is that
as we do so preach Him, the sovereign God who calls men to Himself will draw
both the self-righteous Jew and the proud Greek to experience the power and
wisdom of God in the profound simplicity of the gospel.
May I apply this a little to our contemporary world? It seems to me that
we are experiencing a crisis of confidence in these areas. A crisis of confidence
in the gospel itself, in God's power of salvation. Am I absolutely clear
who it is and what it is that saves men? It is neither human gift, wisdom,
new methodology nor intellectual skill: it is the power of the gospel.
The other crisis of confidence is related to preaching as the primary
method which God has ordained for proclaiming Christ crucified in the revealing
of His power and His wisdom. You will notice that the power of God is not
revealed in miraculous signs, the signs that the Jews demanded. There is a
remarkable illustration of this in Luke 16, in the story which Jesus told
of the rich man and Lazarus. Both died and in hell the rich man cried out
that since there was a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, someone should
be sent to warn his brothers, arguing that they would believe if somebody
went to them from the dead. He suggested that a miraculous sign would convince
and convict and save them. Jesus put into the lips of Abraham that it was
enough that they had Moses. The reply was, 'No, father Abraham, you are wrong.
If somebody from the dead goes to them, they will repent', only to be contradicted
with the words, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they
be persuaded, even if one rise from the dead."
Men are to listen to the Word of God. There are some notable exceptions,
but this is the God-ordained method of the revelation of the saving power
of the gospel. It is a burden on my spirit that the general picture of the
Church of Jesus Christ today is one of a decline in Biblical preaching. Such
a decline is always historically the mark of a weakening and declining Church.
We have dialogue and discussion, well thought out and well prepared; we
have fellowship and sharing, often full of real Christian love; we have music
and singing, most of it excellent; but there is such a dearth of Biblical
preaching that needy Christians cry out, 'Will nobody feed my soul?'
In the days of Amos they staggered to and fro, from East to West and
North to South and from coast to coast, searching for the Word of God and
could not find it. We need to plead with God most earnestly for a new visitation
of His grace in which He will raise up gifted godly pastors who will feed
the flock of God by expounding and teaching His Word. They must assess their
priorities so that they can take time to dig into the Word of God, pore over
it, pray over it and then preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. In the constitution of the Church (1:26-31)
God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting in the membership of
His Church. 'Look around you' says Paul, 'Who are the people whom God has
called and brought into His Church in Corinth? According to worldly standards
there are not many who are wise or powerful. On the contrary, God seems to
have chosen those who by human reckoning are foolish, low and despised. He
seems to have gone out of His way to select those who are nonentities in
men's eyes.' If we ask why God does this, the answer is "That no flesh should
glory before God" (v.29).
God's choosing of a people in Corinth was done with the specific design
of showing that salvation is by His power alone. You will notice how Paul
hammers home the truth that salvation is God's work and not man's by the
stress on the divine call (v.26). The saving event is God's calling me, not
my calling upon Him. Twice in verse 27 and once in verse 28, Paul emphasises
this fact, and then in verse 30 affirms that it is by God's action that men
are in Christ Jesus, and for no other reason. Verse 31 tells us that His wisdom
is revealed producing righteousness to justify us, holiness to sanctify us
and the redemption of our bodies to glorify us.
Christ has become for us wisdom from God. It is very clear that in calling
His people in Corinth He had avoided the very possibility of self-glorification.
He designed the gospel and called the Church is such a way as to exclude
it. Notice that the reverse of self-glorification is not a kind of man-centred
and negative obsequiousness: it is a positive glorying in the Lord. The opposite
of self-glorying is not a kind of self-conscious denigration, pretending
that we are [49/50] something different from what we
really are. That is not a Biblical picture of humility. True Biblical humility
is a positive thing; it glories in the Lord.
3. In the ministry of the preacher (2:1-5)
God exalts His glory and excludes human boasting in the ministry of His
servant. Here again, Paul quite deliberately contrasts human weakness and
divine power. As John Stott so rightly says, 'Neither the flesh of
the sinner seeking salvation nor the flesh of the preacher seeking the salvation
of others has any value. If the sinner must humble himself to receive God's
word, the preacher must humble himself to proclaim it.' That principle is
illustrated both in the message which Paul preached, and the manner in which
he preached it. His resolve to preach only Christ crucified (v.2) is of course
a use of that term to express a comprehensive summary of the entire gospel.
It embraces Jesus in His perfect humanity, in His Messianic dignity, in
His willing obedience to the Father even to the death of the cross, His perfect
offering of Himself as a substitute for sinners, the power of His death
to breach the strongholds of Satan and the reign of sin, and our union With
Him in that death and His subsequent resurrection and the guarantee by His
atonement of His ultimate enthronement and ours with Him. All of that is
the fulfilment of what God has spoken of in the Scriptures. To preach Jesus
Christ and Him crucified is to preach the whole counsel of God. It does not
allow for just a fragment of the gospel. Paul did not say that he had decided
just to concentrate on one aspect of the gospel. "Jesus Christ and him crucified"
involves the exploration of the riches of the glory of the cross and the
whole panorama of the gospel. The trouble is that we do not explore it enough.
However not only the message which Paul preached but the manner in which
he preached it bore witness to the fact that the power and the glory belonged
to the gospel and not to Paul. These verses show the zeal that burned in
the apostle's heart, a zeal that nothing whatsoever should distract the people's
attention from the centrality of the Lord and the message of Christ crucified.
So he eschewed all reliance on human gifts, capacities and powers. He exercised
them but he did not rely on them. It is probable that the weakness of which
he speaks was bodily weakness with which God had entrusted him. It seems
that the apostle did not, as we say, enjoy good health. Like many of God's
choice servants, he was plagued by bodily sickness, exacerbated and compounded
by the exhausting experiences in Greece before he came to Corinth and then
the effect of preaching in this notoriously wicked city. He had learned in
a sensible way that God's strength is made perfect in human weakness, so he
was able to glory in his infirmity.
The lesson is that Paul's methodology was controlled by the same principle
which controlled his message, namely the centrality of God instead of man
and confidence in God which excluded confidence in men. It is vital that
our methodology should be subjected to that kind of scrutiny. We must refuse
to employ methods which betray confidence in men rather than in God and draw
attention to man rather than to God. Paul's great concern was that through
his message and the methods by which he proclaimed it, there should be a
demonstration of the power of God. His concern was that their faith might
not rest on man's wisdom but on the power of God. At the end of the day that
is what matters.
4. In the revelation of the truth (2:6-16)
All that the apostle has been saying so far has a kind of negative emphasis,
calculated to minimise human wisdom and worldly power. He now turns more
positively to the way in which God reveals His wisdom: "Howbeit we speak wisdom
among the mature ..." (v.6). Paul says that this is not like the wisdom of
men. We note the contrast in verses 6 and 7. The point about the wisdom of
this age and of the princes of this age is that it is passing away. Divine
wisdom, however, is unchanging and eternal, having been destined before the
world began. Human wisdom is doomed to come to nothing and bring its devotees
with it. God's wisdom is hidden; it has unfathomable depths. The apostle is
eager that we shall not come to the end of Chapter 2 without making us know
that there are depths in the wisdom of God which will take us all eternity
God's plan of salvation was made before time began. It is hidden and
secret in the sense that natural skills do not enable us to grasp it. Brilliant
intelligence may be baffled by it. The wisdom of God is not known by human
research but only [50/51] by divine revelation, and
that revelation is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit as Paul is now about
to expound to us. Will you follow me as I trace the stages by which Paul shows
the process of revelation:
Stage I. God the Father decrees and prepares His wisdom before
time begins, with the purpose of the glorification of His people. Here is
God working out the details of His perfect wisdom in the plan for our full
redemption before time was. It begins in the secret mind and purpose of God.
Stage II. The Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God. You
will notice that no human mind can do this; "Things which eye saw not, and
ear heard not ..." (v.9) have been revealed to us through the Spirit. Here
is a ministry of the Spirit that we seldom think of. He ransacks the deep
things of God in order to bring them to us. This is an astonishing thought,
that the Spirit plumbs the depths of God's wisdom in order to bring that
wisdom to us.
Stage III. What the Spirit searches He reveals to the apostle:
"... unto us God revealed them" (v.10). The tense of this verb is aorist
and the words "to us" emphatic, so that we accept the comment that it refers
to the original apostles.
Stage IV. What God has revealed by His Spirit to the apostles,
He enables and equips them to understand, and through them inspires and enables
us also to understand it (v.12).
Stage V. "He that is spiritual judges all things" (v.15). "We
have the mind of Christ" (v.16). In His grace God gives us the Spirit of
understanding. What a glorious picture of how eager God is to teach us His
wisdom. Correspondingly how jealous He is in guarding His glory in the whole
process of revelation. If we really believed this there is one place in
which it would make a world of difference, and that is the place of prayer.
If only the Holy Spirit can illumine our darkened minds, we will be much
more diligent in our prayers concerning the revelation of the truth of God
to ourselves and to others.
(To be continued)
TRUTH AND LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
4. CONTENDING FOR THE TRUTH -- THE EPISTLE OF JUDE
Jude tells us that we are to contend earnestly for the truth since it
is so possible to seem to hold it and yet to deny it by one's manner of living.
I don't know if Jude was one of those people who keep on his desk a motto
card which says 'Do it NOW', but he certainly acted in this spirit. He had
intended to write of our common salvation but found himself under the necessity
of dealing at once with the threat posed by certain men who had wormed their
way in among God's people though their lives were a denial of the Lord Jesus
Christ. They did not do this by a denial of the true doctrine of the Incarnation,
as we saw in John's Second Letter; theirs was not a doctrinal or credal
denial, but a vicious and plain practical denial, brought about by unholy
living. This threat forms the main contention of the Letter of Jude.
The central part of the Letter is taken up with the description of these
men. Five times over Jude circles round them, pointing out how they deny
our only Sovereign Lord Jesus. They are mentioned in verse 4, "ungodly men,
turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" and with the
[51/52] connecting link, "In like manner these also", he begins
in verse 8 to give five marks of them and carries this right through to verse
Marks of Denial
i. Their Imaginations
"Yet in like manner these also in their dreamings defile the flesh, and
set at nought dominion, and rail at dignities" (v.8). There are three positive
thoughts here. There is the defiling of the flesh, that is, the taking of
fleshly appetites, built by the Creator, and using them as means of defilement.
They set at nought lordship or dominion; that is to say, they resist all
thoughts of restraint being imposed upon them and -- as the literal Greek
is -- they insult glories. Now I honestly don't know what that means and having
spent time with the commentators, I am persuaded that they don't either, but
I do know that there are some verses in the New Testament where the word 'glory'
represents what we would call a true sense of values, that awareness of a
glorious life which ought to be the point of comparison with the actual life
we live. I suggest, therefore, that alongside the denial and refusal of limitations
and restraints, these men denigrate the thought of a proper sense of values
governing life, and this in all their imaginations and dreamings. The Greek
says, 'living out the life of dreamers'. In their imaginations they deny
the lordship of Jesus.
ii. Their Understanding
"These rail at whatsoever things they know not; and what they understand
naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things they are destroyed"
(v.10). Here Jude indicates that it is [in] the life of the mind that Jesus
is denied, "they understand in purely natural terms." In their thinking they
are governed by nothing more than that which comes naturally to the mind
of fallen man. Jude helps us to grasp this by the use of three Biblical characters:
"They went in the way of Cain ... they ran riot in the error of Balaam ...
and they perished in the argumentativeness of Korah" (v.11).
What does this mean? Cain tells us of man's religion. When God revealed
the way in which He wanted to be worshipped, Cain said, 'Oh no! This is the
way in which you are going to be worshipped!' In the religious thinking of
these men, they are entirely governed by what the mind of man can produce.
Balaam speaks to us of man's riches. He was the man who did his utmost to
make God change His mind so that he himself could fill his house with silver
and gold. Korah portrays man's determination to be the master. He was the
one who would not have Moses to rule over God's people, the one who resented
authority. Jude suggests that these are matters which are according to the
human mind. 'God ought to be grateful that I worship Him at all!' 'I am out
after the wealth of this world!' 'I will not have anybody imposing restraint
upon me!' In these things, says Jude, they are going to be destroyed.
iii. The Life of the Soul
Verse 12 brings us back again to the subject of "These", as though Jude
is obsessed with these men and the peril which they constitute to the Church.
To put it mildly, Jude was indignant about this life of the soul. He pictures
those concerned as they are found in the love-feasts of the believers, at
the Lord's Table, at the high point of spiritual solemnity and joy. In that
situation they are looking for religious privilege without religious restraint
or religious awareness of judgment. They want a religion that has no thought
in it of the holiness of God and, even at worship, they are denying Jesus
by the life of the soul.
iv. Their Emotions
"These are murmurers and faultfinders, walking after their desires" (v.16).
They deny Jesus in the life of emotions. Please don't allow that word to
be anything necessarily wrong. The Revised Version has 'lusts' and the N.I.V.
'evil desires', but the Greek just says, 'desires' -- walking after their
desires. If we amplify it in any way we can perhaps say, 'after their own
desires'. They want emotional satisfaction. It appeals to them, and because
they are so intent on their own emotional fulfilment, their natural stance
in regard to other people is to be murmurers. At the end of the verse we
are told that they show favouritism when there is anything to be gained from
it. Such an insistent determination to find satisfaction in one's own desires,
says Jude, is a denial of Jesus. [52/53]
v. Their Divisiveness
Finally, "These are they who make separations (or cause divisions), sensual,
having not the Spirit" (v.19). They deny Jesus by acting out the life that
is natural to the human spirit. The word translated 'sensual' in the Greek
is 'soulish'. They have a human soul, and they live out all that divisiveness
which a sinner cannot help living out because, sundered from God, we cannot
have meaningful relationships with anybody, being sundered from each other.
As these men inevitably make separations, they show that they are untouched
by the Spirit of God, and so deny the only Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ.
How does God react to all this? Here we touch another pulse in the Letter
of Jude, namely a deep awareness of the judgment of God. He does not actually
use the expression that God is not mocked, but the God he believes in is
certainly One who will not be mocked. Before Jude tells his readers of those
men described in verse 4, he tells them what is God's attitude towards such
men: "Now I wish to put you in remembrance, though you know all these things
once for all ..." (v.5), that God is a God of judgment. These people with
the life of the imagination, the mind and the emotions etc. are not just an
interesting phenomenon, they are those who come under the eye of God for judgment.
Jude spells this [out] three times over in verses 5, 6 and 7. You know all
1. That the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards
2. That the angels which kept not their own sphere of influence, but
left their proper sphere, He kept in everlasting bonds under darkness and
3. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, having in like
manner given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh,
are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.
Jude stresses that it is no light thing to live as these people do, because
the Lord is a God of judgment, and in that judgment there is nothing that
can save them. There were people (v.5) who were saved out of the land of
Egypt; they had the experience of knowing about the redemptive work of God,
but they did not experience it. There were the angels (v.6) who had the privilege
of an exalted position, but they stepped out of it, so it did not save them.
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah (v.7) had either the privilege of conscience
or the privilege of the testimony of the righteous man, Lot, who came and
lived among them, but who nevertheless remained under the judgment of God.
According to verse 5, the judgment of God is because of unbelief. He
brought a people out of the land of Egypt, but when they came to the borders
of the land of Canaan, they knew that God could bring them out but they
did not believe that He could bring them in. They would not believe the promises
of God, and therefore they failed of the inheritance and perished in the wilderness.
Verse 6 tells of the angels who stepped out of their proper sphere and acted
contrary to their own nature. Verse 7 gives a clue to these angels, linking
them with Sodom and Gomorrah and so with the 'sons of God' who lusted after
the daughters of men (Genesis 6:2), stepping out of their own proper place
and of the nature which God had given them, and becoming involved and entangled
with the human sphere of things, and on the wrong level at that. So God does
not only judge unbelief, He judges people who corrupt the creation ordinances,
who act contrary to the nature and place He has given them, who step out
of His creation line. The lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah is that He punishes
sexual grossness. In using the phrase "given themselves over to fornication",
the unusual Greek word implies that they have allowed fornication to become
their pre-occupation, those who have ruled everything else out of their lives
but lustful practices, to whom sex has become a way of life. "Who have gone
after strange flesh" is also a strange expression, not found anywhere else
but plain in its meaning that they have gone into areas forbidden by the
Bible in homosexuality and bestiality. The judgment of God is upon these
things. They are not interesting social phenomena, not brave souls pushing
out the frontiers, but people defying God and therefore under His judgment.
What the Saints Should Do
Having told us what people are like and what God thinks about it, he
goes on to say what God's people should do in these circumstances. We should
contend for the truth (v.3); we should guard ourselves (v.20) and we should
be pitiful and seek the salvation of those in need (vv.22-23).
i. The Christian and the Truth
The Church possesses the truth: "I was constrained to write, exhorting
you to contend earnestly for the faith once for all deposited." As we read
these last little Letters of the New Testament, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 and
3 John and Jude, we find that they have one thing in common, namely, that
the Church possesses the Truth. It has already been deposited and is possessed.
Later Jude writes: "Remember the words which have been spoken before by
the apostles of our Lord Jesus" (v.17). Nowhere -- I repeat NOWHERE -- do
these final Letters of the New Testament point on forward to truth; they
always point us back to truth. When Paul was bequeathing the Church to the
care of the rather weak Timothy, he pointed him back to a truth already established.
Here Jude does just the same thing: the faith had been once for all delivered
unto the saints (v.3) and they were to remember what they knew once for all
(v.5). That is a very challenging thought, to know all things once for all.
Would to God that I had such a totality of grasp of Holy Scripture that
the truth was as though it had been once for all deposited in my mind and
I was master of divine revelation. Do you not feel like that about the Word
of God? Jude only had to remind these believers of what they already knew
of Scriptural truth, the truth of the finished Word of God.
ii. The Christian and Personal Security
Before you try to do anything for anybody else, make sure of yourself.
That is a great Biblical truth -- the right kind of self-centredness of
the saints of God. But you, beloved, says Jude, make yourselves strong,
for only so can you strengthen anybody else. "Take heed to thyself and to
thy ministry" (1 Timothy 4:16). The main verb of Jude's exhortation is that
the beloved brethren should keep themselves (v.21). Although it may not
be too clear in the translations, this is the main verb which carries three
participles: building, praying, and looking. The main idea therefore is "Keep
yourselves in the love of God." We are to keep ourselves in an unclouded
relationship with God so that all the benefits of the fact that He loves
us will flow into our lives. The three participles will tell us how to do
1. By building ourselves on our most holy faith (v.20); by growing in
our awareness of the truth. In this verse the word 'faith' looks back to
what was said at the beginning, namely that the faith was once deposited
with the saints. We are to keep edifying ourselves in that truth which God
has deposited with His Church, a truth to be believed and lived out.
2. By praying in the Holy Spirit. This is the basic gift of the Holy
Spirit. There are other gifts which God in His sovereignty may or may not
bestow, but the basic gift for all is the ability to cry 'Abba, Father'.
We are to come into the place of prayer, for that is distinctively the place
of the Spirit's operation.
3. By looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to keep
our eyes constantly skyward for a sign of the Son of Man, for there is nothing
that will keep us in the love of God more than a fresh expectation of the
iii. The Christian and Evangelism
"On some have mercy who are in doubt, some save, snatching them out of
the fire, and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garments spotted
with the flesh" (vv.22-23). The Christian must face up to the requirements
of evangelism. Keeping himself in the love of God, he must go out in pity
for the salvation of others. For this exercise there are three specific requirements:
Firstly, there is the mental requirement which can deal with the people
who are in doubt. The evangelist must know his material so that he can persuade
Secondly, there is the spiritual requirement. The evangelist must be
persuaded of the eternal distinction between heaven and hell; otherwise
he will not be urgent in his task because he will not be aware of the desperate
need of the unsaved. [54/55]
Thirdly, there is the moral requirement, "on some have mercy with fear".
Tremble to go near them. Why? Because you hate even the garment spotted with
the flesh; you are so sensitive about sin and about defilement that it becomes
hurtful to your own spirit to run the risk of the contagion of sin in your
own life. This is a moral requirement of sensitivity towards sin and evil.
So the Christian possesses the truth, establishes himself in the truth;
and then goes out to contend for the truth amongst those who are denying
The Letter begins and ends with the reality of God's keeping power: "Kept
for Jesus Christ" (v.1) and, "Unto him that is able to keep you ..." (v.24).
The central verses of Jude are occupied with the world under judgment. Around
that dire reality there is the Church which possesses saving truth. And around
that Church there is the God who keeps His people safe. The whole thing
is bound together.
TIMES OF REFRESHING (1)
John H. Paterson
"When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the
Lord ... until the times of restitution of all things" Acts 3:19-21
THE words "times of refreshing" strike a curiously modern note in the
text of a Bible translated in that way in the seventeenth century. A little
research into the original text, however, shows that the translation is valid
and that it could, in fact, be rendered in an even more up-to-date way, as
"time to get your breath back." The thought is of what we nowadays call "a
breather" after a period of stress or busyness.
The only other place in the King James Version where the word "refreshing"
occurs is in Isaiah 28:12, and there the original suggests, even more vividly,
the calm of the sea after a period of storm. Evidently, then, God's message
on these two occasions was a promise to His people of periodic relief in
hard times and a chance to gather new strength for the next stage.
That this pattern has been borne out in the history of Israel and of
the Church in various parts of the world can readily be shown. Much of the
prayer of God's people for a revival in their spiritual lives is a plea
for just such a "time of refreshing". For the moment, however, I should
like to concentrate your attention on the way in which this pattern of stress
and calm can be seen in the lifetime and ministry of the very man who used
this expression in Acts 3 -- Peter, the leader and spokesman of the Church
in its earliest days.
Stress and Calm in the Early Church
If you read the early chapters of Acts you cannot help being struck by
the way in which progress or development went by fits and starts -- rapid
growth followed by setbacks: mass conversions followed by mass persecutions.
And if you examine the text in a little more detail, you will find, I think,
that the stages in this early history are indeed marked off for us by "times
of refreshing" -- periods of growth, joy and even approval by outsiders:
all the marks, in fact, of what we might describe as success.
Let me suggest to you that there are at least eight references in Acts
to such intervals of calm. There may well be more -- that is for every Bible
student to discover! But the ones I have found are in 2:46-47; 4:32-34; 5:12-13;
5:42; 6:7; 8:8; 9:31, and 11:24-26.
To cite only one or two of these references in detail: the first of them,
Acts 2:46-47, describes the state of the Church after its first great burst
of excitement and activity at Pentecost. We see here a Church in unity, "gladness
and singleness of heart", and "having favour with all the people." Then
again, in 9:31, after many ups and downs and much persecution, we find the
Church, several phrases later, at peace, being built up, and enjoying both
"the comfort of the Holy Ghost" and numerical growth.
Now there are two ways of looking at this record, with its sequence of
stress -- calm -- stress. One is to say, 'How good of God to grant these
[55/56] "times of refreshing"' (and that is quite
true). The other is to ask, 'But if this was the work of God, why was it
not continuously successful? Why did they need "times of
refreshing"?' After all, this beginning of the Church was made in uniquely
favourable circumstances. There can never again be such a situation, with
the memory of the Lord Jesus only a few weeks old, and a population which
had heard and seen Him; which, moreover, had heard and seen the apostles
both before and after Pentecost, and could judge how they had been transformed.
We might have expected that, once they began their ministry, they would
have carried all before them!
So, instead of concentrating on the times of rest and refreshment, we
may do well to ask ourselves an opposite question: what disturbed
the calm? What happened in the intervals between those references which
I cited earlier, to put the believers under stress?
If we do so, we can at once distinguish between two types of pressure
or stress -- that from outside and that from inside. On several of these
occasions the growth and the joy of the Church were impaired by hostility
from those outside its ranks, while on four occasions the trouble, the brake
on growth, came from within.
Trouble From Outside
Opposition to the spread of the Gospel of Christ had, of course, begun
in His own lifetime and had culminated in His death. So far as His enemies
were concerned, no doubt, there was every expectation that, once the Lord
Jesus was removed from the scene, the whole movement which He had started
would quickly collapse. After all, that had happened any number of times
before to the followers of other rebel leaders. The disciples during Jesus'
lifetime had been an unimpressive lot, and it must have seemed inconceivable
to the Jewish leaders that, without Him, they could cause any trouble.
The realisation that trouble was indeed what the disciples were going
to cause seems to have dawned only slowly upon the high priest and his colleagues.
To begin with, they seem to have contented themselves with a warning, "not
to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18), and even this
they issued only after a careful discussion (4:13-17). No doubt they were
hoping that the whole business would die down and allow them to forget about
Jesus. The disciples, for their part, made light of the whole matter, and
returned to their fellow-believers full of joy and confidence for another
time of refreshing (4:32-34), and we read that "great grace was upon them
The next act of opposition, however, was more serious -- and the next,
and the next. In Acts 5:17, the apostles were put in prison and, although
they were almost immediately released by "an angel of the Lord", it is evident
that the attitude of the Jewish council was hardening. This time, the apostles
were brought back and beaten (5:40) as well as warned. But once again calm
followed the storm, and another period of rest and refreshment evidently
Now we move ahead to Acts 6:8 and the story of Stephen. At this point,
obviously, the scale of hostility changed and the Church had its first martyr.
It was evident from Stephen's speech in his own defence (Acts 7) that the
trouble caused by the followers of Jesus just was not going to die down,
as had that caused by other agitators in the past (Acts 5:35-39). It was
now clear, on the contrary, that the apostles and their message were irreconcilable
with the Jewish position. Opposition to the preaching of the Gospel was
going to develop into a full-scale campaign, headed by Saul of Tarsus, to
stamp out the whole movement -- "a great persecution", as it is called in
All this must seem to us, looking back, as quite predictable. If there
is any surprise about it, that must surely be that it took as long as it
did for the full opposition to the Gospel to develop. The Jewish leaders
would not have known of the experiences of the disciples after the resurrection,
or of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it took them time to adjust to the
idea that the message or movement of Jesus was going to cause them just as
much trouble in His absence as it had when He was there, living and preaching
So the calm and joy of the Church were disturbed by opposition and persecution,
just as they have been at intervals ever since. What we can notice, from
Acts and from the history of God's people, is how brief the disturbances have
been and with what resilience His true Church has shrugged off such opposition;
how, in fact, it has grown in spite of the opposition. While I do
not wish for one moment to minimise either the sufferings or the heroism
of God's saints over the years, I have to suggest that, in the context of
this [56/57] story, the pressures from outside the
Church are the easy ones to identify and resist. If somebody tells us, as
the apostles were told, not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, the answer
is clear, simple and straightforward: "We must obey God rather than men"
(Acts 5:29). For getting that answer wrong, there is no excuse whatsoever:
would that all the issues of life could be so clear, so unequivocal!
Trouble From Inside
But they are not, and we know that they are not! Those pressures or stresses
from outside, as I have already suggested, seem to have held up progress
in the Church only briefly. The more troublesome issues, and the ones which
had a more serious impact on the calm and joy and growth of the Church came
What kind of thing holds up the growth and spread of the work of God?
There were in the early Church four obstacles or setbacks interspersed between
the times of refreshing:
(1) Following upon the joyful days described in Acts 4:32-34, there comes
the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
(2) Following the calm of 5:42 there comes the trouble over "the daily
(3) Following on the joy of Acts 8:8 there comes the problem of a counterfeit
(4) Following on the peace of Acts 9:31 comes the long-continuing argument
over the admission of the Gentiles into the Church.
If we look for names for those hindrances to growth, we can call them
hypocrisy, envy, counterfeit and exclusiveness. Under those names, we all
know them all too well. And in the battles of the spiritual life, they are
(To be continued)
LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES
(The Epistle to the Ephesians)
3. ENLIGHTENMENT IN THE HEAVENLIES (1:15-23)
ALTHOUGH we are in the heavenlies we do not yet know all that there is
to be known -- far from it. The first section of this chapter called for
praise concerning that which the Father has planned in Christ; now the second
half provides a section on prayer for enlightenment, asking that we may clearly
perceive the deep range and realities of God's eternal purpose in Christ.
It would be folly to imagine that we already know these, but even greater
folly to think that the unrenewed human mind can grasp them or profit from
The apostle highlights our need of the Spirit's revelation. Centuries
before the time of Paul, the eloquent pilgrim poet who wrote Psalm 119 intermingled
in his worship of God's ways many appeals that he might be taught more of
them. In the course of that carefully constructed psalm he eleven times asked
to be taught, three times confessed that he was learning, five times prayed
to be given understanding, and anticipated Paul's prayer that his eyes might
be opened to understand the wonders of God's Word (v.18). Can we wonder,
then, that Paul, who was also a pilgrim and a worshipper, should be so earnest
in his prayers that the Ephesians might be given enlightenment: "Making mention
of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father
of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge
of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened ...".
Years ago, when we tried to stress the importance of spiritual insight
into divine truth and used the word 'revelation' in that connection, we
were accused of claiming to have special light from God which was not found
in Scripture. That was not the case. What we did affirm, and what to this
day I must maintain, is that even the Holy Scriptures need to be humbly
approached by those whose minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit and that
God always 'has more light and truth to break forth from His Word'.
The apostle had a unique experience of revelation and was commissioned
to impart it to God's people. The readers of 1 Corinthians were very proud
of their knowledge, so it may have been with something of a shock that they
read Paul's words: "Now we know in part" backed home by his personal confession
"Now I know in part ... then I shall know fully ..." (1 Corinthians
13:9 & 12). It is a bad day for any disciples when they imagine that
they have nothing more to learn. Those who belong to the heavenlies
[57/58] are constantly exercised that the Father of glory will
continue to give them a better knowledge of Himself by His Spirit of wisdom
We are grateful that so long ago Paul prayed this prayer for our enlightenment
as well as for that of his Ephesian contemporaries. We pray it for ourselves
and in doing so we understand that the answer will not only bring us a better
mental understanding of divine truth, which is most important, but will also
lead us into lives which correspond more closely to that truth. So we concentrate
on this prayer for revelation, noting that it has three parts, relating
to our future, to God's goal and to the principle of resurrection.
1. Our Hope
"That ye may know the hope of his calling" (v.18).
In a parallel passage concerning God's election, Paul wrote: "Whom he
foreknew, them he also called ...". It is a thrilling feature of our salvation
that it began with a direct call from God. We are "the called according to
his purpose", and that purpose is that we should be "conformed to the image
of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:28-30).
In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul describes this as "the upward call"
(3:14), speaking no doubt of the great climactic hope of the Christian when
our salvation will be fully accomplished. Of course there is a sense in
which we may say that all God's calls summon us on to higher ground, calls
to liberty, calls to holiness, calls to fellowship, to service and to sacrifice
-- every one of these summons us to pass from the hopelessness of the godless
into the realm of the God of Hope. Nevertheless the true sphere of the Christian
hope is not time but eternity; justified and at peace with God, we rejoice
in the hope of His glory (Romans 5:2).
Surely it is concerning this hope that we need enlightenment. To the
modern Christian, the exclamation of the old divine, 'All this -- and heaven
too' may sound authentic, since the emphasis of such preaching is on the
immediate blessings of salvation with heaven little more than a bonus given
at the end. The reverse is the truth. Theologically speaking, it would be
more correct to exclaim, 'Heaven! And all these other blessings too.' I
read that when Paul wrote to the Colossians about their outstanding faith
and love, he said that these qualities were being shown "Because
you have grasped the hope reserved for you in heaven ..." (Colossians 1:5).
Heaven is not an extra or a kind of Holiday Home for Retired Christians;
it is the fulfilment of the destiny for which we were redeemed. The best
of what we experience now is but a foretaste of what is to be, though it
is a genuine foretaste of the real thing.
For my part I did not turn to Christ because my sense of sin caused me
any immediate discomfort, but rather because I was afraid to meet a righteous
God in the future. I was not then unhappy or depressed or noticeably lacking
in peace about the present. What worried me was to have the prospect of what
lay beyond the grave. I found a full answer to all my problems at the cross
and entered on a transformed life with the certainty of ultimate glory. Later
I was privileged to go to the Red Indians in Amazonia to preach the gospel
to them. I have to admit that then I thought little of church building and
nothing at all of social or economic benefits, but only wanted them to know
of a home in heaven through Christ the Saviour. And it was just as well,
for an early convert was murdered before he had much time for the gospel
blessings of this life. I had the comfort, however, with my beloved colleague
Horace Banner, of hearing the man's dying words as he breathed out his faith
in Jesus. The gospel had brought him eternal hope, and supremely it is this
same hope which it brings to all of us. We need the eyes of our heart enlightened
to know more of its scope and implications.
This matter of knowing the hope of glory is far from being just visionary.
Later in this Epistle we shall find the apostle urging from his prison that
the Ephesians might live a life worthy of the calling which the had received
(4:1). Surely the petty ambitions, carnal rivalries and mean unkindnesses
which can be found in Christian circles would never be tolerated if the offenders
could but appreciate the nobility and dignity of their privileges and prospects
as sons of God in the glory that is to be. Life now becomes different if
it is lived in the light the hereafter. Paul himself was able cheerfully
to endure his privation in prison not only by looking back to trace his eternal
origins in the purposes of God but also by looking forward to the eternal
wonders of the future and the glory which will be revealed in us (Romans
8:18). So he kept on praying for the Ephesians -- and for us too -- that
the same vision might captivate and transform us. [58/59]
2. God's Hope
"the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (v.18).
God also has His hopes. He has settled on a Day when the glory of His
Son and Heir, Christ Jesus, will be fully expressed in a whole host of sons
and heirs, redeemed from their many faults and made holy and blameless before
Him. He alone knows when that great event will take place, but the Lord Jesus
has assured us that He has fixed it and that we can safely rely on its realisation.
When we speak of an inheritance we naturally think of what is coming
to us, and rightly so, but ought we not also to rejoice in what is coming
to our heavenly Father? "The Lord's portion is his people" sang Moses, "Jacob
is his inheritance" (Deuteronomy 32:9), a truth often repeated in the Old
Testament and amplified and confirmed in the New. We who belong to the heavenlies
need wisdom and revelation in this matter, and it will be a healthy exercise
for us to ignore for a moment our own hopes and concentrate our thoughts
on the expectations of our beloved Father. We who are creatures of time cannot
understand how the eternal God may have to await a future pleasure, but nor
can we believe that He is already fully satisfied about us. We are all too
aware of how far short we come at present from what is to be expected of
members of that family of mature sons upon whom God's heart has always been
set. He is waiting for His inheritance in us. In this connection Isaiah so
rightly said that the ploughman does not go on sowing indefinitely -- he
expects a harvest (Isaiah 28:24-29). Concerning our Lord Jesus it is written
that from His exalted throne, He is "from henceforth expecting" (Hebrews 10:13).
For Him then, there is a future and a hope.
We note the superlative terms in which His inheritance in the saints
is described: "the riches of the glory of his inheritance ...". Now when
Paul will write of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8), we shall be
able to appreciate this, for we know that the Father regards His Son as
infinitely precious, but what we cannot understand is that we can contribute
anything to that great wealth. Well, of course, we cannot. Nevertheless
when we grasp the fact that the Church takes all her character from Christ,
we are perhaps dimly aware of how the riches of Christ, imparted to us without
any diminution to Him, can bring peculiar gratification to our Redeemer
Two of Christ's parables concerning the heavenly kingdom describe God
as finding supreme satisfaction in the great worth of His Church to Himself
by likening it to a treasure hidden in a field and also to a most precious
pearl. These stories give us hints of the Father's joy. The first speaks of
Him as a merchant, finding and hiding a treasure so great that he was glad
to give everything in order to purchase and secure it (Matthew 13:44). The
second repeats the idea of His being like a merchant, this time questing for
pearls, and again stresses the fact that He gave His all for the 'one pearl
of great price' (Matthew 13:44-45).
I suggest that both of these parables give some indication of the value
which God places on His redeemed people. The first indicates that the Church's
value to God is at present hidden, while the second highlights its essential
utility as a feature of His inheritance in the saints. There was only one
such pearl and of course pearls -- unlike precious stones -- cannot be divided.
Nor can the Church. Those who long and pray for the true spiritual unity
of God's people may take heart from the fact that their hope is also God's
hope, and it will not fail.
God's heritage, then, consists of a unity of mature sons, all exhibiting
the virtues of Christ in full display, to the blessing of the universe and
the eternal glory of the Father. If we may borrow from another parable, that
will be the Day when the superior-minded elder son will accept the Father's
description of his fellow as "This brother of yours" and no longer grieve
Him by talking critically of "This son of yours" (Luke 15:30 & 32 N.I.V.).
The Father's joy will then be complete. We are never meant to lose sight
of this as the object of God's desiring, His planning, His working and His
3. The Hope of Resurrection
"that working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when
he raised him from the dead ..." (vv.19-20).
Our hope and God's demands resurrection. The main theme of this section
of Paul's prayer is concerned with the incomparably great power of God. I
hope to deal with this matter of power in the next article and therefore
limit my remarks now to the matter of resurrection. In the New Testament there
is a very close association between the ideas of hope and resurrection. This
is not surprising since man is entirely without hope apart from such a miracle.
Our whole world has been subjected to frustration by the will of the
One who subjected it in hope. That hope consists of an eager expectation
of the revealing of the sons of God which will mark its deliverance as well
as ours. This will be when Christ returns (Romans 8:19-20). I would not for
a moment question the blissful experience of our dear ones who have gone
home to be with Christ, but I find the Holy Spirit stirring my emotions in
quite a different way when I anticipate the resurrection Day and our re-union
then. That will be the Day!
If we ask about the significance of resurrection, the answer is that
there could be no hope of unholy and blameworthy sinners becoming holy and
blameless in God's sight without the sacrificial offering of Christ in death
and its confirmation in His literal resurrection. It is true that some versions
punctuate verse 4 to make it read: "holy and blameless before him in love",
as though the Father were content to look on us with indulgent affection,
overlooking our blemishes and fondly imagining us to be perfect, as human
parents might do. God has something better than that for us. Probably the
better punctuation is to end the sentence with the phrase 'before him', and
then begin a new one with the statement that it is "in love" that He foreordained
us actually to be made perfect. The Father loved us in spite of our sinfulness,
but He loved us out of it and into Christ's holiness. So it is that Paul
goes on to speak of the redemption which we have through the blood of God's
beloved Son (verse 7). It is only because of the cross that we can have
Let us make no mistake, that although Christ's death for us is the ground
of our hope, that death would be useless without the subsequent resurrection.
Paul goes so far as to say that if Jesus had not risen from the dead, then
our faith would be useless and futile. Resurrection is everything. There
is no hope apart from it. We miss the point if we limit our hope in Christ
to spiritual and physical well-being here on earth. "If in this life only
we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
In fact there are times when even now the world does pity us, but that is
because it only sees the costly side of being true to Christ, but the opposite
will be true in the future. The time is coming when they will envy us, the
time when "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament"
and that will be when the redeemed have come out of the dust of the earth
in an awakening to eternal life (Daniel 12:2-3).
These verses at the end of Daniel give an amazing preview of resurrection
glories beyond what is usually found in the Old Testament. Nevertheless the
whole basis of God's dealings with His people has always been that of resurrection.
This can clearly be traced in such experiences as that of Isaac on Mount
Moriah (Genesis 22), Moses 'drawn out' of the Nile (Exodus 2:10) and Aaron's
budding almond branch (Numbers 17). To Daniel God gave the consolatory promise:
"Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and shalt stand in
thy lot at the end of the days" (Daniel 12:13). It was as though God was
saying to His honoured servant, 'I know, Daniel, that you are disappointed
not to be among those who are returning to Jerusalem. You have prayed so
earnestly about this return, but you will not have a part in it by being
one of the favoured band of returning captives. Be at rest, though, for a
part will be reserved for you in that eternal destiny of the New Jerusalem,
at the end of the days.'
These and many other Old Testament Scriptures underline that fact that
resurrection is the hope of God's people. The most outstanding, however,
was what happened to Jonah. The Lord Jesus used Jonah's story to point as
a sign to His own much greater triumph over death which was to come on the
third day. No doubt it was these, as well as some other prophetic passages,
of which Paul was thinking when he declared that Christ had been raised on
the third day " according to the scriptures". To the Corinthians he
gave the theological argument: to the Ephesians he stressed our great need
of spiritual wisdom and understanding in connection with it.
So much as to enlightenment. We have yet to consider the practical effects
of it. Indeed I think that it is right to say that increasing enlightenment
is only consequent upon obedience to the light already given. May we not
say that to live in the heavenlies, whether in Ephesus or in our modern world,
we need ever to be learning more of the significance of the resurrection
life which we have in Christ. As we learn, we must live it out: as we live
it out we will always be learning more.
(To be continued) [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (21)
"(His visage was so marred more than any man, and
his form more than the sons of men)" Isaiah 52:14
THIS the most dreadful and the most sacred of all the Bible parentheses.
It stands between the prophecy of the world's amazement at the horror of
the cross and its startled realisation of its glorious outcome. What can we
say about this dreadful reduction of the perfect Son of Man to a being so
maltreated as to be hardly human any more?
I do not find it spiritually profitable to dwell too much on the actual
physical sufferings of the Saviour. Enough is said in the New Testament to
impress us with their reality, so that we know that Isaiah's words are not
poetical hyperbole but a sober prediction of the literal agonies which Jesus
suffered. We get little spiritual gain from trying to imagine them, for
such an exercise may harrow our emotions without transforming our character.
It may well be that the chief purpose of this parenthesis is to stress the
sheer humiliation and degradation of it all.
SEEMINGLY it had to be. Abel had shed his life's blood for God, but his
death was swift and unexpected. Stephen laid down his life for the truth
but although his was a painful death it was mercifully soon over. Christ's
death was quite different. Even when we accept that He had to die for our
sins we still cannot begin to understand why that death had to be accompanied
by such excruciating agonies. This atoning death evidently had to be in the
context of horrifying agonies, physical, mental and spiritual. And it was
my sin that made all this so necessary.
MERCIFULLY I will never see the marred condition of that holy countenance,
for in resurrection glory it is now radiantly beautiful. No word of pity
or sadness came from those who saw their risen Lord.
THE couple were not aware of anything unusual in the face of the Companion
who went with them to Emmaus. His feet were marked but not mangled, for He
walked freely on the road. They sat with Him at the table, but only recognised
Him when those nail-marked hands grasped the loaf and broke it. It seems
that while the scars of His passion remained, they left no disfigurement --
rather the reverse.
WHEN it is sanctified, suffering can impart an extra quality to a beautiful
face. The dreadful pains of Calvary have surely done this to our beloved
Saviour. All the ugliness of His brutal treatment has somehow been displaced
by an added beauty which might not have been there without the cross.
WHAT incredible joy will be ours when we are permitted to look on His
blessed face in the eternal realms of glory! "His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.
This is my Beloved and this is my Friend" (Song of Songs 5:15-16).
THE GRACE OF GOD THAT BRINGS SALVATION
HAS APPEARED TO ALL MEN. IT TEACHES US ...
TO LIVE SELF-CONTROLLED, UPRIGHT AND GODLY
LIVES IN THIS PRESENT AGE, WHILE WE WAIT FOR
THE BLESSED HOPE -- THE GLORIOUS APPEARING
OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST
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