|Vol. 16, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1987
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
ALL THE COUNSEL OF GOD
Thoughts for the New Year on the Use and Usefulness of the Scriptures
John H. Paterson
FOR those of us who stand in the Protestant and evangelical tradition
of the Christian faith, "the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) is contained in
the Bible. God's Word is our guide, our source-book and our authority. This
being the case, it is a little surprising that our use of it tends to be
rather selective! By this I mean not only that we all too easily ignore,
or avoid, its less comfortable passages, but also that we tend to favour
some parts of it over others; that there are whole books or sections of it
whose removal would disturb us very little, provided that our favourite parts
were left intact.
Some of this selectivity in our enthusiasm for the Word of God is easy
to explain. For the average reader, the long lists of names are something
to be avoided; so, too, are the even longer lists of sacrifices. But, at
the other extreme, "selectivity" is probably too weak a word for the taste
of a pastor whom I once knew well, and at whose 25th anniversary service
I was present. He was a man who expounded the Scriptures most faithfully,
Sunday by Sunday and word by word -- but only the New Testament! Members
of his congregation who had lived through his 25 years of ministry assured
me that, during that time, he had never been known to preach out of the Old
Now in the pulpit ministry, of course, such selectivity can be very dangerous,
for it may influence a whole congregation and its worship, by the constant
repetition of the same few themes. Indeed, those of my friends who worship
in the Church of England assure me that one of the benefits of doing so is,
precisely, that they are protected against selectivity for, in the course
of the liturgical year, the worshipper is led at one time or another to consider
every important aspect of Christian truth.
But naturally, we all have our preferences when it comes to parts of
the Bible -- I as well as you! I prefer Ephesians to Galatians or Colossians,
Peter to James or John, and Hebrews -- whoever wrote that -- to all the others.
Moses is my hero and Hosea my favourite prophet whereas, whenever a visiting
preacher announces a text out of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, I groan inwardly,
fearing that I am not going to enjoy the next twenty minutes!
At a more serious level, however, does selectivity matter? Do we actually
need all the Scriptures? Do we not all know of men and women who were
converted through the words of a single Bible verse? What of those tribes
or groups who have only a few passages translated into their native language?
And would the deletion of some of the difficult passages of the Old Testament
not save us a great deal of embarrassing explanation?
The answer to my questions is, surely, that preferences are excusable,
but neglect is not, and that while it may be true that a tiny portion
of the Word is sufficient, with the Holy Spirit's help, to bring about the
conversion of a soul, the advance of that new believer into an understanding
of "all the counsel of God" will certainly involve all His Word. As to how
particular parts of that Word contribute to our understanding may well --
and probably will -- form a lifelong challenge: what can the latter
chapters of Judges or the prophecies of Nahum do for us as Christians? But
it is a challenge, and not an impossibility!
* * * *
There is nothing very Christian about the custom of making New Year's
resolutions. All too often, they serve as no more than support for Paul's
admission, "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not,
that I do"! -- at least from January 2nd onwards. I wonder, however, whether
you will allow me, on this occasion, to propose a few New Year's resolutions
for all of us who will be studying the Word of God in 1987 -- for its use
and possible misuse? For the sake of clarity, it will be simplest to offer
the points I want to raise in the form of such resolutions. Each of them,
as you will see, is an appeal to avoid a wrong type of selectivity in our
use of the Scriptures. [1/2]
(1) On the Role of the Old Testament
Let us resolve that we shall not treat the Old Testament as either
irrelevant now that we have the New or having purely symbolic
or "spiritual" meaning. To recall my pastor friend, I think that the reason
why he made no use of the Old Testament was because he believed that the old
covenant had been superseded by a new one and a better; that the narrow, difficult,
old way to God had been replaced by a new and living way. Why bother, then,
with the old? In support of this view he would probably have quoted the Epistle
to the Hebrews.
But I believe that to take this view is a mistake. It is a mistake because
the one thing we must never forget about that old system -- and which Hebrews
readily concedes -- is that it worked. It produced real contact between
God and His people -- restricted, admittedly, but real. The argument of Hebrews
is, to be sure, that the new way is better than the old but that old way,
the old covenant, were in themselves a marvellous provision of God's, and
they produced a real history of God's dealings with Israel. To say "We need
none of that now", as if we had simply bought a new, improved refrigerator
and were taking the old one to the town dump, leaves us, does it not, in
the position of arguing that all God's Old Testament dealings with man were
merely time-wasting; that He was simply playing out a kind of charade with
Israel until the time came to start the real business of the New Testament;
that before the coming of the Lord Jesus, therefore, He was fobbing people
-- His people -- off with what He knew to be no true solution at all for
No: we must take the Old Testament seriously, as it is evident that God
Himself did. And that means (to come to my second alternative) that we must
beware of treating the Old Testament simply as a parable. Once again, we
may use the Epistle to the Hebrews to argue from a false position, by generalising
from one particular item to the whole. For Hebrews describes the Tabernacle
in the wilderness and its contents as a parable of spiritual realities (Hebrews
9:9). And so we are apt to take this as our authorisation for interpreting
the whole testament in spiritual terms -- for regarding the real history
of God's people as "only" a parable.
I love, as I am sure you do, to read or listen to such interpretations:
Joseph as a type of Christ, or the spiritual significance of crossing the
River Jordan. They can be fascinating! But at the end of it all let us not
forget that what we have is a record of God's great moral declarations
about Himself and His standards: that then as now He "commands all men everywhere
to repent" (Acts 17:30) -- and that is no parable; that is reality!
Christians often describe the Old Testament as God's picture book, and
so it is. But it is not just a picture book. Old Testament or New,
the character and purposes of God are unchanged: only the means are
(2) On the Role of Prophecy
Let us resolve that the fascination with biblical prophecy which many
Christians possess shall not blind us to the fact that most of the
prophecy is not predictions about a future which we have yet to penetrate:
it is about the inevitable consequences of displeasing God in particular
ways. We often speak about "interpreting" prophecy, by which we generally
mean that we search for clues in the Scriptures that will enable us to link
prophetic references with people or events in our own day. But while there
may be references in Daniel, Zechariah, or the visions of Revelation which
can be treated in that way, most of the prophets were only too anxious to
see to it that their prophecies needed no interpreting. Generally,
their message was as plain as a pikestaff; "If you do this, God will
do that." The only element of "prediction" necessary was provided
by the prophet's knowledge of the unchanging nature of God; by his realising
that, with God, His reactions are indeed entirely predictable, inevitable.
As a matter of fact, these prophets would probably have been quite disconcerted
if they had thought that their message would have to wait two or three thousand
years for its point to emerge. What they wanted was to impress their message
on people then and there!
And that message was, as you know, first and foremost a moral
message. It was a timeless call to righteousness. By far the most urgent
words, [2/3] the most resounding calls in the Bible
came from the prophets. Of all the scriptural authors they were the least
academic, the most involved in their own ministry. In this they stood in
sharp contrast to today's horoscope merchants, who risk nothing except a
little ridicule if they are proved wrong: in sharp contrast, too, it must
be said, to some readers of the Bible who find, in the study of prophecy,
a form of escapism from the real and present world, or else just a kind
of substitute for crossword puzzles.
There are, of course, encouragement and hope to be found in the words
of the prophets, though always following upon repentance and return. Not
for a moment should we deprive a believer of those. But I cannot help noticing
that the prophet Jeremiah himself forestalled any light-heartedness on that
account, and saw the basic business of the prophet as severe, admonitory
and moral. The Living Bible has an interesting paraphrase of Jeremiah
"The ancient prophets who preceded you and me spoke against many nations,
always warning of war, famine and plague. So a prophet
who foretells peace has the burden of proof on him to prove that God
has really sent him."
(3) On the Role of the Gospels
Let us resolve never to neglect the reading of the Gospels, especially
the first three Gospels. I say the first three because you may find, as
I do, the Gospel of John much easier to deal with than the others! I suspect
that the reason is this: that John has given us less a narrative of the
life of Jesus than a philosophical commentary, long extracts from His teaching
and only a small choice of actual events, and those avowedly chosen as examples
or, to use his own word, "signs". It is much more difficult to follow the
Lord Jesus through the kaleidoscope of events and words presented by the
other writers: through the practical details and challenges of His earthly
life. I fund myself falling further and further behind in my understanding
of this Life: hopelessly stumbled by the deceptive simplicities of the Sermon
on the Mount: bewildered by the parables of the Kingdom. Certainly, it will
take me a lifetime to grasp all this: so there is work to be done in 1987!
(4) On the Role of The Acts
Let us resolve, those of us who have a special interest in the Acts of
the Apostles, that we shall always remember that it is a book of actions
and not of doctrine. I suppose that, in the 20th century, more misleading
ideas about the Church of God have been derived from Acts than from any other
part of the Scriptures! Its readers have taken a single incident in the early
days of the faith, and on it built a whole doctrine, if not a whole denomination.
Since it is in the nature of these incidents sometimes to contradict each
other, this inevitably leads to Christians falling out among themselves.
But as I have tried to point out in these pages before, the Acts of the
Apostles is a book full of surprises engineered by the Holy Spirit. The early
Church had little idea where it was going: it lived in an almost permanent
state of astonishment! In a wonderful way it was enabled to accept, and adapt
to, the Spirit's surprising acts. But for us now to take one of those particular
surprises -- whether at Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesarea or Ephesus -- and make
it the basis of a permanent position is to deny the very essence of the
Church's experience. It required hindsight, and a measure of detachment among
the apostolic writers, to turn these varied experiences into principles; to
separate the once-only from the permanent. That brings us to the epistles.
(5) On the Role of the Epistles
Let us resolve that, in reading the epistles, we shall read them through
to the end. However obvious, even unnecessary, that may sound, the point
I am making here is, I think, an important one.
We tend to regard the epistles as our main source of Christian doctrine
(which they are), and their more practical sections as simply tacked on to
deal with local, domestic and transitory details; in other words, we infer
that their main reason for existence lies in doctrine rather than in practice.
In some cases this may be so. But shall we for once, in 1987, try reversing
that train of thought? We should then be saying that the apostles were concerned,
first and foremost, with the way in which believers live, and that
in order to bring home to them how important is a worthy walk (to use Paul's
phrase in Ephesians), they filled in the doctrinal background; that is, they
[3/4] were explaining why the believer's quality
of life is so vital to his witness. They were answering the question: "Why
go to all that trouble?" On this reading of the epistles, the practical sections
are not tacked on as an afterthought: they contain the very purpose of the
At least this reversal in thinking may encourage us to take a fresh look
at these few, so familiar pages of our Bible!
Knowledge and Experience
Those are my New Year's resolutions. It may be that they merely betray
my own prejudices, and you are welcome to draw up a list of your own. All
that I should insist upon is that we take unlimited pains over "rightly
dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
But at the same time I am very much aware that what I have said so far
is only one side of a two-sided matter. Because the Word of God only becomes
"truth" to me in the full sense when the Holy Spirit teaches me (John 16:13),
it is all too possible to spend a lifetime of study -- indeed, to know the
Word by heart, as the Pharisees did in their day -- and still miss the real
We are most likely to "get the point" of the Word, of course, if and
when the Holy Spirit leads us into circumstances that match those of the
original writer or Bible character. To take only the most obvious example,
my appreciation of the Book of Job is limited by the fact that, in the goodness
of God, I have never been placed in the kind of trouble that Job had to
suffer -- no great losses, no painful tests. That naturally restricts my
ability to feel for him: it limits my appreciation of the Word of God through
When I was young, and read the biographies of pioneer missionaries, I
remember being struck, even then, by the fact that the Scriptures which,
in times of trouble, most often brought them comfort seemed always to be drawn
from parts of the Bible which meant little or nothing to me: Lamentations,
for example, or Ezekiel! I used to wonder why the Lord did not console them
-- for they were always either suffering from disease or being captured by
bandits! -- by means of quotations from the more obvious parts the His Word.
I think that I now understand a little better what was happening -- or
what may happen. I think that the Lord, in giving us His Word, has
kept some parts of it in reserve, so to speak, for teaching special lessons,
on special occasions. How wonderful, then, if one day I find Lamentations
sparkling with the same light as Ephesians! I cannot imagine the circumstances
that might bring that about, but how good to know that the reserve is there;
that there is, in this sense also, "more light and truth to break forth
from His Word."
That thought necessarily leads me on to a further and final one. I shall
put it, if I may, in the form of a question, and leave it with you, if only
because I do not know how to answer it myself.
Here it is: If you were offered a choice of either coming to a
fuller understanding of the Word of God in the Book of Job, with the necessary
condition of being led into circumstances like his, or, on the other
hand, living in peace and prosperity with only a limited appreciation of
what that book contains, and eventually being "... carried to the skies on
flowery beds of ease" -- which would you choose?
THE GOSPEL OF THE HUMANITY OF JESUS
J. Alec Motyer
THIS is not to be a detailed study of Luke's Gospel but rather an attempt
to gather from it some impressions of the Lord Jesus. There is so much material
about Him that John assures us the world could not contain the books which
might be written. In the event, however, the four Evangelists have only left
us four slim volumes, of which Luke's is one. This shows how selective he
was, not foolishly or unthinkingly but quite deliberately, just as an artist,
in his portrait painting, highlights the important features of his subject.
In his preface, Luke clearly states what he had in mind: "Since I myself
have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good
also to me to write an orderly account ... so that you might know the certainty
of the things you have been taught" (1:3-4). The verb 'know' has a built-in
plus of emphasis, so that Luke's purpose is shown to be that we might absolutely
know the absolute certainty of gospel truth. If, then, we are passing through
a wobbly patch in our Christian life, we will find in Luke a Rock under our
This is not only a Gospel of certainty but also of gentleness. Witness
Luke's account of Christ's attitude to women, to the Samaritans and indeed
to many of life's rejects, people whom we might all despise. Whoever, for
instance, would want to spend a day in the home of Zacchaeus? Luke tells
us that the Lord did just that. These things are also features of the other
three Gospels, but Luke highlights them in his beautiful portrait of Christ.
People often say that Luke's is the Gospel of the human nature of Jesus,
but I am not certain that I would put it in that way. Certainly it is the
Gospel of the Man Christ Jesus. We note that incident at the cross when Jesus
died. The three synoptics record the reaction of the centurion who was in
charge of the execution, but while Matthew and Mark report him as saying,
"Truly this was the Son of God", Luke has something else to add. As he enquired
of eye-witnesses and was told of the saying, he must have asked, Did be
say anything else?, and been told, 'Oh yes, he said, "Surely this was a
righteous man!"' 'That's it', Luke would respond; 'that's what I want for
my Gospel. He is a righteous MAN.'
I am not altogether easy in my mind that Luke's should be called the
Gospel of Christ the man. I would much prefer to say that his is the Gospel
of the humanity of Jesus. It is not just setting out to prove that He was
true man as well as true God in a doctrinal way or in abstract terms, but
what it shows is a living Person who is full of humanity -- that is why it
tells us of His gentleness and His love of life's rejects.
I want to share with you three main emphases that run through Luke's
Gospel; each of them stems from this idea of the essential humanity of the
Lord Jesus. This Gospel shows us, as it were, the vision of Jesus growing
in wisdom and stature. Does this seem a dangerous thing to say? Jesus growing?
Well, He was a true human being and as such He did grow; Luke uses the expression
(2:52) concerning the boy growing into full manhood. The Hebrew Letter tells
us that He learned obedience from what He suffered, (5:8). So the Lord experienced
actual growth, though in His case it was from perfection to perfection, always
growing until He became the completely mature and perfectly human Being
that He is. In his portrait of the Lord Jesus, Luke highlights three aspects
of this humanity; they are prayer, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
Luke points clearly to prayer as a factor in our Lord's own spiritual
experience. May I give you an inadequate illustration? When we lived in London,
a neighbour, the local Communist, called to see if he could hire our church
hall for a meeting on the communist cause in S. Africa. We agreed that it
wouldn't be suitable for him to have our hall for that purpose and, in the
course of the discussion that followed, the great difference between his
position and mine became clear. Put in my own words, it was that while we
were both out for human amelioration there existed one great difference. That
was what it was all about. The Communist was out to make people's lot better
and that was his definition also of my position as a Christian. In this common
concern that we both held, he was strong enough to get on with the task
by his own efforts, whereas I was so feeble that I needed the inner reinforcement
of prayer. That is all the difference in the world.
Prayer is like that. It does things for other people, but it is also
an inner reinforcement for the person who prays. So it is that Luke shows
Jesus exercising prayer for His own inner reinforcement. Of course He prayed
outwardly, as we all must, but Luke shows us much more, namely, that for
Jesus Himself the place of prayer was the place of inner spiritual reinforcement.
i. At His Baptism
Only Luke tells us that Jesus was praying at that time, "Jesus also having
been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened ..." (3:21). The Lord turned
the place of baptism into a place of prayer, and found this to be the place
of inner spiritual reinforcement. At that moment the Holy Spirit came upon
Him in some particular way [5/6] which had not been
so before, and then the voice from heaven spoke: "Thou art my beloved Son,
in thee I am well pleased."
Of course Jesus knew that He was the Son of God. We have the story of
Him at the age of twelve -- a story told only by Luke -- in which He said
to Mary and Joseph, "Did you not know that I must be about the affairs of
My Father?" The consciousness of a special sonship was with Jesus from the
early days, but this narrative of His baptism gives confirmation of it and
shows the Lord Jesus as being enhanced in His experience of the Holy Spirit
and His assurance that He was indeed the unique Son of God.
ii. At The Transfiguration
Here again we find that Luke has his own little touch -- "As he was praying,
the fashion of his countenance was altered ..." (9:29). Only Luke tells us
that. Matthew and Mark simply say that He went up into the mountain and took
His three apostles with Him. We assume, rightly, that He took them up knowing
that He was to be transfigured, but Luke says that He went up first of all
to pray, and what followed happened because He was praying. Luke was concerned
that we should not imagine that the praying was incidental. No, it was in
the place of prayer that the inner reality of the glory of God shone out
as the expression of the Lord's true divine nature. For Jesus, the place
of prayer was the place of transformation.
iii. In Gethsemane
The others also tell of Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane, but
Luke puts it this way: "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and
his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground"
(22:44). Here we tread on very holy ground and we do our best to tread sensitively
and carefully. All the Gospels record that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, that
is common ground, but it is Luke who informs us that in His agony He prayed
the more earnestly. That is not easy. When we are in an agony we tend to
retire into a corner and tell ourselves (or our friends) how hard our lot
is. His agony only made Him pray the more earnestly. The deeper the trouble,
the deeper the prayer. That is the way of Jesus. As for us, the deeper the
trouble, the deeper the discontent and sometimes the less the prayer. Luke
is also the one who tells us about the angel who came from heaven to strengthen
Him. The place of prayer became the place of strength. From then on, the
Lord Jesus marvellously marched straight out of Gethsemane to the cross.
He never trembled again because He had been strengthened in the place of
iv. In His Ministry
There is a particularly striking reference to Christ's praying in the
verse, "But he withdrew himself in the deserts, and prayed" (5:16). The Lord,
as we should know, was anxious not to be regarded as a miracle worker. He
was not at all anxious to be known as a Healer. I do feel that this is a
relevant reminder to the Church of our day. Over and over again when He healed
someone, He said, 'Not a word!' He charged men like this leper to tell no
man. Of course, some of them could not keep quiet. It was all so wonderful
and seemed to offer marvellous opportunities to the Lord to have this publicity.
There were opportunities to teach -- "a great multitude came together to
hear". There were opportunities to cure -- "... and to be healed of their
infirmities." How did the Lord react? "But he withdrew himself ... and prayed".
This was typical of the Lord. We make busyness in God's service an excuse
for not praying; the Lord turned His back on merely being busy that He might
pray. He chose the right priority.
v. In Choosing the Apostles
Before choosing the Twelve, He spent the whole night in prayer (6:12).
He faced particular needs in the place of prayer. This was indeed a special
occasion and needed the session in the mountain before He selected those
twelve from the rest of His disciples. This was a turning point in the whole
programme of God, a reconstituting of the twelve tribes of Israel. We note
that Jesus soaked the whole situation in earnest prayer.
vi. In Self Revelation
"As he was praying alone, the disciples were with him: and he asked them,
Who do the multitudes say that I am?" (9:18). This marks one more very significant
moment for Jesus was about to impart in their hearts the faith that believes
Him to be the Christ. As they were about to come to that great experience
of eye-opening, the Lord [6/7] soaked it in prayer.
We may call this anticipatory prayer. He saw the need and covered it in prayer
beforehand so that it should be carried through according to the will of
So, in this way, Luke gives us this aspect of the perfect humanity of
the Lord Jesus who is our exemplar in the matter of prayer.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
In Luke's Gospel there are 17 references to the Holy Spirit -- one more
than in the Gospel of John. This marks the very beginning of the Gospel,
for Luke begins with what are typical Old Testament references to the Spirit.
It is quite foolish to try to divide the Testaments, for in Malachi we have
the promise of the forerunner and in Matthew the announcement of this forerunner.
We need to remind ourselves that if we had gone to the Lord Jesus and asked
Him why He was quoting from the Old Testament, He would have replied, 'Quoting
from what?' and then gone on to say that what He was doing was quoting from
the Scriptures, the Word of God. We make these distinctions, but in what
we call the Old Testament there are very many references to the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of Luke we have what we would call typical Old Testament
references. Look at John the Baptist, endued with the Holy Spirit for the
doing of great things, announcing Christ (1:15). Look at Elizabeth, filled
with the Holy Spirit (1:41). Luke starts with these Old Testament style workings
of the Spirit to endow people for particular tasks, and then ends with what
we might call a typical New Testament reference: "Behold, I send forth the
promise of my Father unto you; but tarry in the city, until you be clothed
with power from on high" (24:49). So the whole Gospel is bracketed around
with references to the Holy Spirit. In between we have the story of Jesus,
the Man of the Holy Spirit. This is a feature of His perfect humanity, and
I want to say that He is not only perfect in this respect but also normative,
so that we can test ourselves by Him. We can confidently ask Him for what
He Himself enjoyed. Luke, then, gives us a review of the Holy Spirit in the
life of Jesus.
i. His Birth
Mary was naturally puzzled as to how this birth could come about, and
was told, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most
High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that which is to be born shall
be called holy, the Son of God" (1:35). We see then that the Lord Jesus owed
His human birth to the Holy Spirit.
ii. His Baptism
The reference which helps us to look back into that baptism is found
in 4:1: "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan ...".
He was filled. The context of that filling with the Holy Spirit was His
perfect obedience to the will of God. John the Baptist questioned why Jesus
should come to be baptised. He did not yet know that Jesus was the Son of
God, but he had been watching His life and knew a great deal about Him, so
he asked, 'Whatever need have You to come to me for baptism? If anybody here
ought to be baptised it is surely that You should baptise me.' What a testimony
that was to the sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus!
In effect what the Lord replied to John amounted to, 'Please get on with
it. This is the only way to fulfil God's perfect will.' When He used the
phrase 'All righteousness' He referred to everything that is right with God.
It was right in God's sight that His perfect Son, His Christ, should be numbered
with the transgressors, so that the Lord stepped into a water that He had
no need of, a water where He had no right to be, since it was a baptism of
repentance for the remission of sins and He had no sin. But He went into
that water and was numbered with the transgressors, so that the Father cried
out in approval as if He could not hold back His joy when He saw His Son willingly
identifying Himself with sinners. The Father acclaimed the Lord Jesus and
the holy Spirit filled Him.
This provides a key to the whole vexed matter of the fullness of the
Spirit. Peter confirmed it when, himself full of the Spirit, he made the
assertion that the Holy Spirit was He "whom God has given to them that obey
him" (Acts 5:32). We should write it on our hearts that the Holy Spirit
is married to obedience. In His baptism, the Lord Jesus proved this.
iii. His Empowerment
"Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee" (4:14). If we
follow the story which Luke gives of the headlong conflict with Satan which
Jesus had in the wilderness, we note that it was the Holy Spirit who led
Him into that situation (4:1). Led by the Spirit to be tempted! When we fall
into a furious warfare of temptation we feel that we must have stepped outside
of the will of God. 'Look at all the trouble in my life' we say, 'I have
not been led by the Spirit.' Of course this is not true. Paul tells us that
wherever the Spirit is, there is conflict. When the Spirit comes in, the Christian
becomes an arena of warfare. So it was with Jesus, and so it must be with
us if we are to be modelled according to the Spirit of Christ.
When He had triumphed in the temptation, then He returned in the power
of the Spirit. We so often want things the other way round. We say, 'Give
me the power and then I'll be victorious', but the Lord tells us to be victorious
in what we know and then He will give us more power.
iv. His Anointing
Next we read of the Lord going into the synagogue at Nazareth, receiving
the Bible, opening it and coming to this passage: "The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me, because he anointed me ..." (4:18). So we have Him born, endued,
empowered and now anointed. What for? "To preach good tidings to the poor
... to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Jesus was anointed that He
could show men by word and work that they can come back to God because this
is the time of the acceptance of the Lord.
The Word of God
Luke opens his Gospel by introducing us to people whom the psalmist would
call, 'The quiet in the land', who were walking in simple obedience. They
were not people who were making a great fuss but humbly obeying Him. There
were Zacharias and Elizabeth, "walking in all the commandments and ordinances
of the Lord blameless." When God wanted to send a forerunner ahead of His
Son, He set aside Herod and the rest and brought these two right into the
centre of His purposes because they had this great mark on their lives that
they loved, honoured and obeyed the Word of God.
The Lord Jesus Himself was born into a family where, from His birth,
He was saturated with the Word of God. He was named "when eight days were
fulfilled" (2:21), because that was the divine command. He was brought to
Jerusalem "when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses
were fulfilled" (2:22), everything being "As it is written in the law of
the Lord" and "according to that which is said in the law of the Lord" (vv.23-24).
After Simeon had been led by the Spirit to receive them and old Anna had
given her message, we are told that they returned into Galilee "when they
had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord"
(v.39). And this was no flash in the pan prompted by the birth of a baby.
So many people get a touch of religion when their first baby is born, but
they forget just as quickly afterwards. But no, "His parents used to go
every year to Jerusalem ..." (v.41). The Lord Jesus was born into a family
where, from the moment of His arrival, He was surrounded by the Word of God.
That was the setting that God chose for His Son. And isn't it the setting
that we should choose for our children? When Paul asked what advantage had
a Jew, his own reply was, "Much in every way; first of all they were entrusted
with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). That was God's chosen environment
for Jesus from birth. No wonder, then, that later He placed such emphasis
on the Word of God!
All three Gospels tell us how when Mary and her family wanted to see
Him, He countered by describing His true spiritual family. Matthew tells
us that Jesus said, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in
heaven, he is my brother, and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50). Mark uses
similar words, but Luke records the Lord as saying, "My mother and my brothers
are those which hear the Word of God, and do it" (8:21). We can imagine
how this arose in the conversational atmosphere of the occasion. The Lord
had His disciples immediately near Him and then there was the wider crowd
round about, so that Mary and the family were right in the far fringes of
that crowd and only able to pass the [8/9] word through
to Him. The immediate reply of Jesus was that His true family consists of
those who do the will of God. Surprised at this giving precedence over His
natural half-brothers, they could well have asked what He meant by talking
of doing the will of the Father in heaven. To this His reply would be, 'To
do God's will means to hear His Word and do it.' Thus the opportunity for
Luke to seize on the emphasis given him for highlighting Christ's devotion
to God's Word. He stresses this feature of the Lord Jesus and shares it with
us throughout the Gospel, notably in 11:28, 16:31, 10:26 and other references.
In particular Luke selects two incidents related to the Word of God,
one at the beginning of the Lord's ministry and the other at the end. He
starts his story of the public ministry by saying nothing about the many
things that the Lord had been doing and simply noting that "a fame went out
concerning him throughout all the region round about." Luke says nothing
about what Christ had been doing or saying, but takes us to the point which
will highlight what he desires us to know by reporting, "He came to Nazareth
... there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Isaiah." Having read
the passage, Jesus closed the book, sat down and began to say to them, "Today
has this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears" (4:16-21). So Luke's first
splash of colour in his portrait of the adult, mature Christ, is to show
that He is the One in whom the Scriptures are fulfilled.
The Gospel ends with the familiar story of the two on the way to Emmaus.
They were anxious and puzzled, having that hopeless sense that there was
now nothing to look forward to -- it was all in the past and all lost. When
Jesus questioned them they replied that He must be the only person in Jerusalem
who didn't know about it all. He asked them, "What things?", to draw them
out but not because He needed any information. "Their eyes were holden that
they should not know him" (24:16). He would not allow them to see Him until
they had seen Him in the Scriptures. In effect He said once again, Today
has this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears, but this time it was said
in His risen majesty. Having taken them through the Scriptures about Himself,
He then opened their eyes. Now it was safe for them to know Him, because
they had seen Him in the book of God.
They returned to Jerusalem, found the Church there with the news that
Peter had seen Christ and said, 'You haven't heard anything yet! Listen to
what happened to us!' As they were telling their story, the risen Lord Jesus
was suddenly standing among them and, according to Luke, He then opened their
mind that they might understand the scriptures (v.45). He went on
to say that it was so written that it might be preached.
Jesus expects us to find Him in the Scriptures. We are foolish and slow
of heart to believe if we fail to discern Him there. But having found Him,
we have to go out and tell the world. "Thus it is written ... that repentance
and remission of sins should be preached in his name ...". He still lifts
up His hands and still blesses us, this One Jesus, all the way through from
His mature manhood in the synagogue at Galilee, through His cross, His resurrection
and His ascension to the eternal glory. He is the MAN of prayer, the MAN
of the Holy Spirit and the MAN of the Word of God.
THE PRAYER OF JOHN 17
THERE are striking contrasts between this prayer and the one that followed
so very shortly afterwards in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a long, balanced
and laid out prayer. It has a pattern. The N. I. Version puts headings to
its three paragraphs and our Lord Himself divided His prayer into three parts,
addressing God as Father, Holy Father and Righteous Father. It is a patterned
There is plenty of room for that in Christian praying. Of course if we
only had patterned [9/10] prayers we might run into
vain repetition, but that does not mean that we should not prepare our prayers.
They can be thought out. The prophet says, "Take with you words, and return
unto the Lord; say unto him ..." (Hosea 14:2). We often need to think before
we speak. What we call 'The Lord's Prayer' is a planned and arranged series
of petitions, perfectly planned and thought out. Of course that is not the
only kind of prayer. We have to pray 'off the cuff' because we are dealing
with a Friend who walks beside us and to whom we can talk freely and spontaneously.
Now in this prayer our Lord prays for Himself, then for His immediate disciples
and then for the whole of the Church.
Jesus Prays for Himself
You will notice that He says that the hour has come. Our Lord's life
was much more exact in its programme than ours is. We often miss God's will,
not by an hour but perhaps by a day or a week or a year, and sometimes by
half a lifetime. But He knew the precise moment. At the beginning of His ministry
He could ask Mary, 'What have I to do with you? Mine hour is not yet come'.
We won't probe for His precise meaning but just note that our Lord knew clearly
when He ought to act.
Here, at the end of His ministry, time has run its full circle and the
hour has certainly come. The Lord was aware of God's plan. He lived under
an opened heaven and could see what the Father was doing and act accordingly.
He could hear what His Father was saying and only spoke what He heard. This,
then, was the great moment of His earthly life. How perfect the timing of
His life was, and how scrambled and broken ours can be as we vainly try
to recover lost time and catch up on things we have missed, or even try
to run ahead of God's schedule in our impatience.
The Lord Jesus asks for glory. He prays, 'Glorify Thy Son'. We may be
surprised and regard this as uncharacteristic since He deliberately accepted
humiliation by coming down here to earth. He chose the loneliness of Bethlehem,
the scruffiness of Nazareth, the twelve men who were no credit to Him but
rather the reverse. He passed years of His life in a carpenter's shop in
the despised Nazareth. And now He asks to be glorified. But you see the glory
was part of the divine programme as well as the humiliation. Once He had
reached the point at which the humiliation was completed, the next item
on God's agenda was to be glory.
Jesus had been promised this glory and knew perfectly well what the divine
programme was, so He asked for glory as the proper consequence of His death
on the cross. But notice the qualification -- "so that your Son may glorify
You". The Lord Jesus did not seek glory for Himself but accepted that the
next part for Him in the divine schedule was glory, just as the first part
had been the virgin's womb. He did not ignore the one and had deliberately
chosen the other. Glorified to the right hand of God He would be in a position
to carry out the further will of the Father and that He is doing at this
moment and will continue to do.
May I use the phrase that He is 'in charge'? Just as we see Him in the
Revelation, taking the book, the last pages of which describe the final
history of this world, so here He accepts the glory on the ground that by
it He may accomplish the further will of God. While He was down here, His
area was Israel but, as He Himself disclosed, He had other sheep which were
not of that fold. They were not going to be reached by Him before His death,
but they are now to be reached by Him in His exaltation as the Lord of glory.
Having waited for this, He then told His disciples to start at Jerusalem
and Judea, and then to go out through Samaria to the uttermost parts of the
The programme that we are involved in is based not only on the death
of Christ but also on His resurrection and glorification. We are to go out
into all the world and preach the gospel because all power has been given
to Him in heaven and on earth. We go out on the authority of the exalted
Christ so whether we preach to millions like Billy Graham or whether we walk
down the road to talk to a neighbour about Christ, we do it in the name of
Jesus, that is, under His authority. Nothing can stop us from achieving the
will of God if we go in the name of Jesus. So He says that the authority entrusted
to Him was in order that He might give eternal life to those whom God had
given to Him. That embraced the whole world and it entailed such a programme
as we have when we go out in the [10/11] name of
Jesus who is Saviour and Lord.
Next the Lord Jesus explains what eternal life really is, that men might
know the only true God and Jesus Christ who was sent by Him. We tend to think
of eternal life as if it were a nicely bound up package handed over to us
by God in some transaction which leaves us in possession of it. But eternal
life is not an 'it': it is a 'Him'. It is not something that God has created
and gives to us, but it is that which He is Himself. Eternal life is the
knowledge of God. Peter said, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our
Lord Jesus Christ", while Paul said, "That I may know Him ...". He had in
fact known the Lord for years but, just as infinity will never be traced
to its last detail, neither will He, so we go on wanting to know Him. That
is life. Life is not just having sins forgiven and the hope of heaven. It
is that. But the real issue of eternal life is to know God and be known by
Him. It is the relationship which matters.
So the Lord goes on and prays, 'I have brought You glory on earth, completing
the work You gave me to do.' Yes, indeed! I suppose that the Jews thought
that He had brought shame to God. They even brought Scripture to support
this idea, 'cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree'. We, however, know that
there has been nothing more God-glorifying in the history of the world than
the death accomplished on the cross. All that Jesus was, all that He had been,
was summed up and offered as a perfect sacrifice to God. He was pre-figured
by the lambs of old which had to be opened up and examined to be proved as
perfect internally as they were externally and then offered totally on the
altar for God.
So He says, 'I completed the work that You gave me to do and now, Father,
glorify me.' He is well aware of the change in the dispensation. One era
has passed; it is finished. In His mind the sacrifice is now complete, so
He prepares for the next era saying, 'Glorify me in Your presence with the
glory I had with You before the world began'. We see, then, that the Son of
God is to return to the same glory, but with a difference since He is now
the Son of Man. He has lifted up manhood to the throne. There is a Man
sitting in the throne of God. Think of the astonishment that must fill
the angels. They see that Jesus did not discard His humanity when He returned
to the glory that He had enjoyed without it. After all, He had only had that
humanity for some thirty-three years, but it is His for ever. The Man of
the virgin's womb, the Man of Galilee, now sits at the right hand of the
Father. God came down that man might be lifted up. The angels must be astounded
at this. How base we are! How defiled! There is no creature so low, for the
rest of the creation carry out the will of God in response to their instincts.
Yet we who have been given something of God's own freedom, can go through
life without even thinking of Him.
Yet God has designed that such a creature should be glorified through
Christ. He, of course, is no creature, but He became Man and died as Man
so that our manhood might be received into glory. He has gone before. He is
there that we might be there. When our Lord came into this world, His life
was His to lay down if He would, and to take up again if He would. He received
this authority from the Father (John 10:18). The amazing thing is that it
was this manhood which He did take up again. It was not perhaps essential
for our forgiveness. We could have been delivered from hell by His death without
necessarily sharing in the glory of His resurrection. But our Lord was committed
to a full programme of our salvation -- not just to atone for our sins but
to carry us through until we were with Him and like Him. God was planning
a lot more for us than just saving us from the pit; His design was to pick
man up, to change him and to give him a place in the glory. So the Lord Jesus
resumed His Manhood, entered again into that body which had been preserved
intact till the third day, and rose to bring redeemed manhood right up to
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
After this, the Lord turned to pray for those disciples of His. He put
His own prayer first. Sometimes it is important to pray for ourselves first,
since we may not be in a position to pray for others until we have done that.
He began by saying, 'I revealed Your name to the men whom You gave me out
of the world.' The word 'name' means reputation. The Lord's name is a strong
tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe. It is His reputation that
is a strong tower; we may shelter in it and know that it will never fail
or change. Notice how Christ describes His disciples, they are those whom
God has given Him out of [11/12] the world. What a
strange present, this group of very ordinary types. If they had not been His
disciples they would have been quite unknown, for they were nobodies. Nevertheless
the Lord describes them as the Father's present to Him. The Lord's ideas
of treasure must be very different from ours. Our estimation of values is
all queer. He valued people. Poor people! Insignificant people! But He treasures
them as the Father's gift.
Notice the implication that they came to Christ because they already
belonged to God. When Christ called them they had to make the decision of
discipleship, but already God had claimed them as His own. We must, of course,
realise that some Scriptural statements had specific allusions. When, for
instance, Jesus said, 'You did not choose me, but I chose you' He was referring
to the fact that of all the disciples who were with Him at that time, He
chose twelve to be apostles. In this phrase He was referring not to their
conversion, nor even to the time when they became His disciples, but to that
special choice which He made concerning their being apostles. We must not
go further than the context, though the principle may be much wider.
The Lord Jesus continued His prayer by saying, 'They have obeyed Your
word'. That was their response. When Christ said 'Follow me' to Matthew,
he put down his pen, rose up and followed Jesus. That is the kind of obedience
which God loves. They accepted the God-given words which Christ gave them.
We must remember that the Lord's ministry to His disciples was more than what
He spoke in a general way to the public. He explained to them. They came
to Him with their questions and He unfolded the mind of God to them. When
others were offended, Peter said, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have got
the words of eternal life'. Subsequently he spoke in such a way that shows
he still had his doubts. John the Baptist also had doubts on one occasion.
They were up and down, right to the very end. At the end of the previous chapter
they had said, 'Now we know that thou knowest all things ... by this we believe
that thou camest forth from God', only to receive the reply, 'You believe
at last. But a time is coming and has come when you will be scattered, each
to his own house, and will leave Me alone'. Still He prayed for them, and
did not say a word about their shortcomings. He did not say that they had
let Him down and constantly doubted Him, but only that they had accepted Him
and believed His words.
Really they were in a poor state and couldn't at first believe that He
had risen from the dead. Jesus honored all that; He looked at the whole
of their lives and deliberately picked the best that He could find. That
is the way in which He loves us. In this prayer He described them as though
they were quite perfect, because that is how He chooses to regard us. We
stand in His name and His virtue. We are pretty poor and we know it, but
He thinks the best of us. He knows the worst but He thinks the best of us.
He does this because of His grace. He favours us. He does not attack us.
He knows the worst about us -- and we ought to know it too -- but that is
not what He looks at and not what He prays about. That is what the love of
Christ is like, and that is the status given to us by His finished work.
Christ goes on to declare, 'I am glorified in them'. The love of Christ
is unfathomable. He might have cried, 'Shame' since they had let Him down
so much and so often, but no, He says that glory has come to Him through
them. And as He is about to leave the world and be in it no longer, He thinks
lovingly of those who are to be left in the world as He goes to the Father.
There are people who have climbed the ladder and left us behind and they do
not want to know us now. We can be conveniently shed. Jesus could most conveniently
have shed His disciples. He could have retreated to the right hand of the
Majesty on high, receiving the homage of holy principalities and powers,
with a feeling of relief that He did not need to bother any more with the
men who had often been a nuisance to Him. He could forget them. But that
is not His way. They were still to be in the world and He was thinking of
them, so He prayed the Father to protect them by the power of His name.
'Keep' is the word in the old version -- 'Keep them!' The Lord records
that while He was with them, He protected them and kept them safe by the
name given to Him, apart from the son of perdition who was lost because he
had never really been Christ's. He had previously said, 'I know whom I have
chosen', but He had done His utmost, even for Judas. He is interested in
protecting [12/13] His own. He protected them from
the authorities. He protected them from disease and death. He even protected
them from their stupidities. It seems to me that Peter told a lie when he
was asked if his master paid the temple tax, for he replied that He did,
though that was not then the case. Perhaps he wanted to avoid being questioned
about his own position. When he returned home, Jesus confronted him about
the matter and suggested that as kings don't tax their own sons, He Himself
was under no obligation to pay the half-shekel. He clearly knew what had
taken place, but He did not blame Peter but just told him how he could catch
a fish which would pay the tax for them both.
He covered Peter and provided for him in one of the sweetest little miracles
of the New Testament. In fact it was a series of miracles from the first
loss of the coin to the catching of the fish. The Lord is in charge, even
of coins that are carelessly lost. He is in charge of fish so that the right
kind took the coin, swam round to where Peter was and became the first to
grab his hook and disclose the needed shekel. See how graciously the Lord
Jesus works. He could have told Peter that by his own fault he had got into
a quandary and had better get out of it. He did not say that He had never
intended to pay the tax Himself and regretted Peter's untruth or impulsiveness.
He undertook for Peter, and He will always undertake for us. His great concern
is that we should be kept by the power of God.
The Lord prayed that they might be protected from the Evil One. That
is our greatest need. He it is that gets us into trouble and we need to
be sheltered from him. The Lord would not pray that they might be taken
out of the world but that even while they were in it they might be sanctified
by the truth. He wants to make us holy. He does not propose just to put a
white cloak over us to make us look nice, but wants that when the cloak is
taken off we are seen to have been changed into His own image. Lots of Christians
think that sanctification comes from some emotional experience or finalising
crisis, but it isn't like that. Real holiness comes through obedience to
the truth. The Word of God is that which purifies.
The Lord Jesus had already said to these men, 'You are clean' (13:10)
but He also drew their attention to the fact that they needed the constant
purifying work of the Word to cleanse and sanctify them. Holiness comes to
us through walking step by step in the will of God as His Word enables us
to do so. The Word not only throws light upon the pathway, telling us the
next step to take, but it gives us the power to enable us to take that step.
If we let the Word abide in our hearts, we will find that it changes us from
within. If we take the Scripture, think and pray about it, and have it written
on our hearts we will find that it can galvanize us into the known will
The Lord prayed, 'For their sakes I sanctify myself that they themselves
also may be sanctified in truth'. In other words true holiness comes through
the Lord Jesus. He made Himself holy. He kept Himself holy. Total holiness
was worked out in the life of the Lord Jesus and is conveyed to us by the
Holy Spirit in our hearts as He reproduces the holiness of Christ in us.
We have no holiness of our own. Holiness is not that which provides us with
any self-aggrandisement. It is the practical expression of Christ in us.
Jesus Prays for His Church
The final part of the prayer is said to be 'for them also that believe
on me through their word' (v.20). That includes us. It is wonderful that
at that time the Lord Jesus was praying for us, and because of His infinite
greatness we are permitted to believe that He was thinking of each one of
us when He prayed so earnestly. There is a further factor in His prayer.
He had been praying about His disciples' protection and about their holiness,
now He prays about their oneness. He wants His Church to be one. This is
extremely important for He prays that it may be just as He and the Father
are one: 'Even as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may
be in us'. There are two purposes stated in this prayer, the first being that
the world might believe in Christ and the second that 'the world may know
that thou didst send me'. Today the world can be convinced and come to faith
by the witness of the true unity of believers. This has nothing to do with
a visible organisation but an obvious oneness between each believer and the
other. This will help men to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
Then there is the look forward to the future, the time when we are all
perfected into one, an event by which they will know that the Father
[13/14] sent the Son and loves the Church even as He loves Him.
The world does not all believe now, though men may be brought to believe
as they witness present unity. But when the unity is complete, when the revelation
of the sons of God takes place at the Coming of the Lord Jesus, they will
see the Church as the bride of Christ and then they will know . But
of course that knowledge will be too late for salvation. It will inevitably
happen, but meanwhile unity in the Church is our business.
Salvation comes by faith, and I believe that one of the most important
factors in the salvation of lost men is the kind of life that Christians
live in their relationships with one another. Christians may live in the
same house and belong to the same family and yet fail to manifest the love
of Christ. Squabbles and quarrels are all too common, with separation and
divorce taking place among those who are professing believers, giving the
world every reason for doubting. Men look on us and conclude that we are
just exactly like the rest of the world. We must be different. This does
not necessarily mean different clothes or a different language. Jesus used
the common language and wore the usual clothes. In outward things the Lord
Jesus was exactly like the people around; He had just the five articles of
clothing and He spoke so that the simplest could understand. It was His divine
love and His total holiness that was so different.
We are meant to be like Him. It will show. The people outside our home
or our church may not know of our differences, but they will sense the atmosphere.
Who is at ease? Who is a comfort? Who is at one with God? Who is happy in
their heart and clear in their mind? These things cannot be hidden.
With a final use of the title Father, the Lord made request that we who
have been given Him by the Father may be with Him in the glory. Fancy His
wanting such a destiny for us. He might have said that since the glory contains
the thousands and thousands of beings who have never sinned, it might be
better to put these saints who were once great sinners in a corner apart.
But that is not His way. The angels must be staggered that to share His throne
He wants to bring in not holy angels but saved sinners like you and me. It
is incredible. But then of course the love of God is always that. 'O righteous
Father' He prayed, 'I will continue to make Thy name known to them, that
the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them'.
He wants us to experience that total love of God. That is why He continues
to work in and upon us. We might have thought that He is going on with His
work so that we might be better servants of His and become more useful. It
is, of course, true that He wants to make us good servants, but that is
almost incidental. His great objective is that the love He has from the Father
shall fill and flood our hearts. What an objective! If He can continue to
minister to us and teach us, we will never be complaining or embittered.
We will never hold things in our hearts against people. We will never tolerate
This is His final petition, that He may have His home in us. He who came
to live in this world now wants nothing more than to live in human hearts.
God said this in the Old Testament and this is Christ's final request. Shall
we not open our hearts anew to Him? He wants to be close to us; can we do
less than draw closer to Him?
A SPIRIT OF HARMONY
Reading: Romans 15:1-7
IN the N.I.V. we read: "May the God who gives comfort and encouragement
give you a spirit of unity ..." (v.5), while the R.S.V. renders the passage:
"live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus ..."
and adds: "Welcome therefore one another, just as Christ welcomed you, to
the glory of God" (v.7). Harmony is a crucial theme in our day, so it is good
for us to examine this passage to see what God has to say to us about harmony.
The Epistle to the Romans is a massive work and we may find it rather
demanding, but it may help if we follow the word 'therefore' to discover
the basis upon which this exhortation is given. When the apostle says, 'welcome
one another therefore' he is using the word for the fifth time in this Letter.
There is the Therefore of Condemnation: "So that every mouth may be silenced
and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore ..." (3:19-20). There
is the Therefore of Salvation: "Therefore being justified by faith we have
peace with God ..." (5:1). In Chapter 8 we find the third main 'therefore',
the Therefore of Assurance (8:1) and if I who was under condemnation, know
salvation and enjoy assurance, then the next logical step is the Therefore
of Consecration: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, ... to offer your bodies
as living sacrifices ..." (12:1).
Now in Chapter 15 we have this fifth occurrence of the word: "Accept
one another therefore as Christ has accepted you' (v.7). And this is in
order to bring glory to God. Things change, as they always do, and the Church
comes under pressures and tensions which are new, but the Word of God calls
upon us not to let these things destroy our essential unity. We must concentrate
on harmony on the basis of the gospel.
Harmony among believers is essential at all times. Sometimes it is absolutely
crucial and I feel that at this historical moment of the Church's history
we really must battle through on this matter and I propose to seek help in
the consideration of harmony by some parallels with the world of music. The
apostle Paul speaks in Romans 12 of the Church being a body: I propose to
think of it in terms of an orchestra. It really doesn't matter about people's
taste in music, for the common factor in every orchestra is that it comprises
various instruments. They are all sorts of shapes and sizes, and an unenlightened
onlooker might wonder how there could be any sort of harmony with such disparate
looking things and the different activities of the instrumentalists, some
bowing, some blowing, some plucking and some banging. What possible fellowship
could there be between a huge double bass and a tiny piccolo? Yet remarkably,
this variety is what makes the orchestra operational. In the context of
an orchestra, harmony is not only possible, it is positively essential.
In the spiritual counterpart this constitutes a challenge. God's Word insists
that we should harmonise with one another. Some of us may be like piccolos
-- able to trip gaily through life -- while others may more resemble great
big bass drums whose beat is slow and heavy. Yet with all our personal differences
and the different manifestations of the Spirit, we are commanded to work
together in spiritual harmony.
How is this possible? Well the first principle which we find in this
passage of Scripture is that we are not to please ourselves (v.1). This
is basic. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good. This does
not mean that life doesn't offer pleasure to believers. Far from that, the
Lord has created us for enjoyment and lavishes His pleasures upon us. But
pleasing ourselves is something quite different. As an example may I suggest
that if a bass trombone played any note it pleased, as long as it pleased
and as loud as it pleased, then the rest of the orchestra might as well go
home. Indeed the audience might as well go home and would be unlikely to
come again. In that connection is it possible that the audience of the world
is not coming in to hear the sound of our gospel music because of our dissensions?
It could be! Pleasing ourselves just does not work. Among those who truly
know and love the Lord, this problem of discord and lack of harmony is all
too common up and down our land.
When, however, we do not please ourselves but learn to relate to others,
we make for richer living both in our homes and in our churches. This involves
discipline, and that must be based first on our relating humbly to the Lord.
It is as if we practised our instrument before Him first and then learned
to cooperate with the others. When I was a lad at school in South Wales I
started to play the viola in the school orchestra. It was not very long before
I got bored with this and began to be absent from practice. I can always
remember the day when I was caught with no escape as I met the music master
in the corridor. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Fielder, if every
boy in the school was like you there would be no orchestra'. We have to remember
that spiritually that can be true of us. Each must play his part loyally
if spiritual harmony is to be maintained. [15/16]
If someone asks if there really was anybody who did not please himself,
the answer is given in verse 3, 'For even Christ pleased not himself ...'.
The harmony to which we are called is said to be in accord with the Lord
Jesus Christ. He is our example. In fact this is the first time in the whole
of the Epistle to the Romans that Christ is put before us as an example. Previously
everything said about Him relates to His work as Saviour and sin-bearer but
here, in the matter of self-pleasing, He is presented to us as the ultimate
and supreme example of the One who never pleased Himself. Rather than doing
that, He came to please His Father and to bring us into the harmony of God.
We have to work and even to fight for unity, finding out on the basis of
biblical principles to what extent we are prone to please ourselves and how
we can come to a common mind in the Word. For this we must put aside our traditions
when they are man-made, while holding fast to Bible principles which we never
can and never will let go.
Our next question concerns motivation and the apostle goes on to deal
with this by reminding us that everything that was written in the past, was
written to each us 'so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope' (v.4). We find these two words, 'endurance and encouragement'
in the next verse which reads, 'May the God who gives endurance and encouragement
give you a spirit of harmony among yourselves.' In other words, the same
things are said to come from Scriptures and from God. The two work together.
God and His Word. He Himself, the living God, meets us in His Word.
The musical parallel is obvious. The Scriptures are the score, and God
is the composer. He is also the conductor. In an orchestra it is most difficult
to keep your eyes both on the score and on the conductor, but the marvellous
spiritual reality is that by means of the Scriptures we can keep both eyes
on the score and on the conductor at the same time. He is also the composer,
whose deepest meanings are known to the conductor, so that in this way the
most wonderful harmony is possible. We need both the Spirit and the Word.
The Word without the Spirit can be dry and the Spirit will not work apart
from the Word. By the Spirit the great Composer inspires us to follow the
score that He has written, and the Conductor will keep us in tune and in
The two words 'endurance' and 'encouragement' mean that we are to hold
out and that we are to hold out joyously. How can we hold to the heavenly
harmony in Christ when the world's distracting sounds seek to drown it?
The only way is by having the harmony in the heart. There is a story of
a nervous bridegroom who got muddled at the wedding ceremony and when the
minister asked him, 'Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?' replied,
'I wilt!' There is too much wilting in the church. In His grace God grants
us all the resources we need and He will minister them to us through His
The motive is made plain, it is that 'with one heart and mouth you may
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (v.6). That is the
purpose of our striving for harmony. With one heart and voice! Notice that
it does not say with one note. There will be many notes. There will be many
different instruments. Harmony involves variety. We must hold out and hold
out joyously as we proclaim the music of God's grace to sinners.
If I may go back to my early orchestral experiences at school, I should
explain that the viola is rather a humdrum instrument, a maid-of-all-work
sort of affair that seldom gets solos and just fits in with the rest. On
one occasion, though, we were due to practise a Vaughan Williams' Fantasia
on a hymn tune, and our enthusiastic music master came to me with the good
news that for this tune the violas had the melody. He said to us, 'Lads, it's
your day', and I well remember at the rehearsal his calling to us, 'Sing violas!'
And how we played! Whatever your instrument is, the Conductor calls to you
to sing your part, and to do it with enthusiasm.
The apostle draws this part of his argument to a conclusion by calling
our attention to the fact that the Lord wants the Gentiles to share in His
music. "For this reason I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing
hymns to your name" (v.9). This is repeated several times. If the Church
has the true spirit of harmony according to Christ Jesus, then the world
around will hear the song and join in the praises as the gospel does its
work. It's not just a matter of singing, but of doing so in harmony. We have
to learn to sing the new song together with other redeemed singers, even
if they are different from us in other ways and provide us with problems
and difficulties. But as we learn grace, so the harmony will swell.
LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES
(The Epistle to the Ephesians)
7. CONFLICT IN THE HEAVENLIES (6:10-20)
OUR final study brings us to the end of Paul's Letter and confronts us
with the sombre fact that life in the heavenlies involves a constant battle
with the forces of evil. Death is the last enemy and when we leave this
world there will be no more warfare. At the Coming of Christ -- and not
till then -- this earth will see the fulfilment of the Bible promises of
Christ's reign of peace. Then -- and not till then -- the nations will beat
their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and not
train for war any more (Isaiah 2:4). Meanwhile wars will go on in the seen
world. What we are concerned with, however, is the realm of the unseen and
there we find ourselves, with Daniel, in a great warfare. "The thing is
true" (Daniel 10:1).
Man's day is an evil day and in it the Christian must learn to stand
and fight. The hosts of darkness will fight on till the last, even though
for them final defeat is inevitable. Paul did not have to argue about the
reality of evil spirits. There was no need for that where the Ephesians
were concerned, for their experience in the heavenly places had brought
them into violent clashes with spiritual hosts of wickedness. We do not
need to concern ourselves with any detailed consideration of specific principalities
and powers, though no doubt they are busily opposing us. Rather does the
Word of God suggest that we concentrate our thoughts on the ruler of that
dark kingdom, even while we readily accept that it is impossible for Satan
to give each of us his personal attention. Paul draws our attention to the
embodiment of all evil, "the prince of the power of the air" (2:2), the Devil
(6:11), "the evil one" (6:16), reminding us that he is not only a cruel but
also a cunning foe who must be reckoned with at all times. We will be well
advised to think in these Scriptural terms rather than to be thinking and
talking of demons, though these are, of course, very real. Satan, however,
is the master-mind of all evil, though he has many agents.
As to his human agents, we are specifically advised that our real struggle
is not with them. As to the unseen powers, they are being permitted to exercise
their might and their cunning until Christ rises up to banish them for ever.
This is not because He cannot deal with them now, but because He can make
use of them to train His redeemed church for its eternal destiny of sharing
in Christ's reign. The verses we are considering are not merely advising
us how we can be preserved from evil, though they are that. The main thrust
of the passage, however, concerns the Church's task to overcome the devil
by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony and by not loving
their lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11).
We are to be aware of Satan's scheming. If God's will for His people
means blessings, enlightenment, power, purity, unity and humility, as the
earlier chapters of this Letter declare, then Satan's purpose will focus
itself on the negatives and opposites of these spiritual realities, minimising
them and contradicting them whenever and wherever he can. When Paul claimed
"not to be ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11) he was dealing with
the matter of love among the brethren and the advantage which Satan seeks
to gain over God's people by breakdowns in relationships. There have never
lacked differences among all of God's true people, differences often caused
by the over-stressing of some Scriptures to the detriment of others. In
some local situations, it may appear to require the wisdom of a Solomon to
resolve the problems, but many of them would be minimised or even disappear
if God's people remained more aware of Satan's wily interest in provoking
or sustaining them.
In the earlier part of this Letter we have been urged and encouraged
to walk. Now we are told that we must stand. This does not mean that we
are to lessen our activities, nor that we are now [17/18]
to go over to the defensive, but rather that we must be resolute and
unyielding in this battle for the will of God which is a further feature
of life in the heavenlies. We are to be resolute. And above all we are to
be resolute in the matter of prayer. We kneel to worship God in glad submission
to Him, but we must stand in firm opposition to whatever contests His will.
And so fierce is the assault that the command to stand is repeated four times
In our stand for God we are offered a double provision by our Lord; that
of inward strength and that of adequate weaponry, "the whole armour of God".
In this passage there are allusions to the need for constant watchfulness
and also promises of certain victory in every phase of our Christian life
and witness but, unless I am mistaken, the main thrust here concerns the
warfare of prayer. I am not thinking just of using prayer as a weapon, though
Bunyan described all prayer as the final article of God's weaponry. No. I
feel that prayer is itself the battlefield, and that the passage under consideration
is closely concerned with the truth that practical victories in the realm
of the seen are decided by spiritual prevailing in the sphere of the unseen
-- the heavenly places.
This is a principle which was laid down at the time of the first conflict
of God's redeemed people, when the issue was decided by the uplifted hands
of Moses as he stood on a mountain. I doubt very much whether Joshua, in
the heat of the battle, had much leisure to check on what Moses was doing.
He did not need to do so, for those hands were uplifted not for his encouragement,
but were reaching towards the throne in heaven in the sustained faith that
power belongs to God (Exodus 17:8-16). Joshua led the fighting, but the activities
of Moses became the effective cause of total victory.
This incident provides a partial reference to the exalted Christ in His
great work as Intercessor, but the mountain-top figure in Exodus can only
be a partial type for, unlike Moses, our ascended Lord does not tire and
certainly does not depend upon the assistance of an Aaron or a Hur. We therefore
cannot press the typology beyond its main emphasis, and that is precisely
what Ephesians 6:12 has to say to us, that is, that the earthly activities
of the Church depend for their success on the work of intercession. In this
case, the Ephesians were to intercede for the front-line soldier Paul, that
he might be made and kept bold by their prayer support.
Prayer has various features. Worship is supreme; petition is reasonably
common among Christians; the intercessory prayer which releases divine power
and resists evil in a given situation, is all too rare. A friend of his once
told me that Dr. F. B. Meyer, towards the end of his long life, had
confided to him that the greatest need among God's people is the re-discovery
of the importance of united intercessory prayer. Dr. Campbell Morgan
pointed out that Christ's declaration that the gates of Hades would not
prevail against His Church was not a promise of sure defence so much as a
promise of offensive breakthroughs by the Church into the entrenched fortifications
of evil for the release of captive souls.
In the book of the Acts we have only a few direct instances of victory
in the spiritual conflict as a result of the Church's prayer, but these
few are quite significant. The signs and wonders done by individual apostles
are outshone by these proofs of the power of prayer. The first occurrence,
described in 4:23-41 is notable for its amazing unity, its Scriptural basis
and for its remarkable effectiveness. Later on we have the story, based on
the well-known verse: "But prayer was made earnestly of the Church
unto God for him" (12:5). When chains fall off and great irons gates open
of their own accord, when tyrants are struck down in disgrace and the Word
of God grows and is multiplied (vv.23-24), then we can gauge the significance
of this wrestling with principalities and powers in the heavenlies.
It is surely legitimate to suggest that the same truth is confirmed by
what happened in the Philippian prison (16:26). We know that in the dungeon
Paul and Silas were praying, but we must presume that their prayers were
complemented -- and perhaps even provoked -- by earnest intercessory prayer
on the part of Luke and others in Lydia's house. The two apostles were hardly
in a position to note that the time of their release was at midnight, but
Luke was well able to record that fact if the earthquake came while he was
Later on in Caesarea we know that this same Luke and the local believers,
though they disagreed with Paul's proposed visit to Jerusalem, sent him off
with their united prayer, "The will of the Lord be done" (21:14). This was
no shrugging of the shoulders in pious resignation. It was, I believe, the
opening movement of a sustained appeal to heaven which cooperated with God
as He preserved His servant in the terrific hazards in Jerusalem and finally
resulted in Paul's safe return to Caesarea as a protected prisoner.
Strength for the Conflict
What a strenuous task all prayer is! This is particularly the case when
we have to battle through. Most of us know what it is to be ready to clutch
at any excuse for avoiding prayer times, and often the only saving factor
is that our church prayer meeting is on a fixed day at a fixed time, and
this helps to keep us up to it. However even when we have met for that very
purpose, we not infrequently find it hard to open our mouths and verbalise
our petitions. Furthermore, it is all too easy to set out to pray for others
and then to turn in upon ourselves so that those praying begin to ask that
'we' may be this or 'we' may do that, instead of persevering in our intended
task. This kind of self-centred praying may sound pious; it may be well-intentioned;
but it may also mean that we have been tricked into being deflected from
the real task in hand. What we need to do is to pray, not to ask that we may
be able to pray, or even more worthy to pray.
The truth is that we are no match for the Evil One in our own strength
and wisdom. That is why God's first provision for the spiritual warrior
is the inward strength of the Holy Spirit. The call to be strong does not
suggest that we are to try to feel strong but rather to move forward counting
on the Spirit's aid as we do so. In any case when we try to handle matters
in some imagined strength that we think we have, we usually fail. This conflict
is not a matter of flesh and blood, whether from one side or the other. Spiritual
foes must be met by spiritual energy.
And this is precisely what we are exhorted to make use of. The force
of the command is that we should be 'made powerful' (RV margin) and it is
based on Paul's prayer "that you may be strengthened with power through
his Spirit in the inward man" (3:16). It has been pointed out that the three
words used for power in verse 10 are the same three which the apostle had
used in 1:19, when describing the power, strength and might of Christ's
resurrection. Before or when we take up the divine armour, we must be sure
to appropriate the Spirit's energy. After all human weakness need be no handicap;
the Holy Spirit is always eager to give us His help. Human strength, however,
can be a handicap if it robs us of simple dependence on the Lord. I never
cease to marvel at Paul's confession that he did not know how to pray as
he should (Romans 8:26). If such a spiritual giant felt like that, what
hope is there for little people like us? Happily Paul's confession is followed
by one of his great 'buts' -- "But the Spirit ...". How grateful we must
be that in this matter of prayer, as also in many other activities, the
Holy Spirit gives personal and timely assistance to us in our weaknesses.
The Armour of God
So we come to the second of the two provisions made for us, namely, the
whole armour of God. I do not propose to comment here on the individual pieces
of equipment specified. So much has been written about these that I cannot
presume to add any more, only pointing out that the imagery makes reference
not just to the various parts of the soldiers' body, but also to such spiritual
realities as truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation. These matter
very much when we pray. But not only then. It is not that we must begin
to think with concern about such matters only when we pray, as if putting
on special gear to make us more efficient in prayer. We need them all the
time, for effective prayer must have the backing of holy living. It may
be, though, that drawing near to God in this way, we are made aware of our
failures and lacks, so we must deal with ourselves before we can work with
God. And please note that while we are told to put on this armour, we are
never told that we may take it off.
The form of our prayers does not matter. Phraseology is nothing. To talk
of 'pleading the blood' and any such specialised praying technique is beside
the point. What is of supreme importance is that every part of our beings,
body, heart, feet and head should be right with God, functioning according
to the gospel of salvation and covered by active faith. The sword which comes
out of the mouth must consist not of merely [19/20]
natural ideas or emotions but must be in tune with the Word of God as
prompted by the Holy Spirit.
We are to pray in the Spirit. Wrongly interpreted this rule could paralyse
our prayer life, for we could be overwhelmed by a sense of personal weakness
or unworthiness. The whole point of the armour, however, is to deliver us
from such fears, for it assures us that Christ atones for all our faults
and answers for all our deficiencies. The help of the Spirit has nothing to
do with our feelings, nor does it permit us to abdicate our personal responsibility;
it simply encourages us to get going in faith and simple reliance on Him,
living in the good of Christ's redeeming work.
* * * *
Our final word must be on the matter of love, for that is how the Letter
concludes: "Grace with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying
love." If this Letter was really addressed to the church at Ephesus, then
we are justified in comparing it with the later Letter to that same church
which the risen Christ sent through His servant John. The sad complaint of
this second Letter is that the Ephesians had forsaken their first love (Revelation
2:4). Clearly this was no trivial matter, for the Lord threatened to remove
the church altogether if it were not rectified. What had happened? Well
might we ask. It seems that after all they had failed to withstand the 'wiles'
of the Devil. Was it because they failed in the matter of prayer? With all
the armour on they were told to pray "for all saints" (6:18). To neglect
to pray at all is unthinkable and mercifully rare. To limit one's prayers
to the selective, limited sphere of our own interests is quite usual. But
it is not enough! We must pray for all. That does not mean vague, general
prayers which have no special focus, but includes earnest prayer for those
whom we do not feel deserve to be prayed for.
The Ephesians were originally commended for their love "toward all
the saints" (1:15). Their destiny was to comprehend the love of Christ
"with all the saints" (3:18). That was a feature of their first love.
It was to be expressed in persevering prayer "for all the saints".
Love is not just a matter of words. Nevertheless, the sure way of proving
the reality of our love is by constructive prayer. There are saints with
whom we cannot agree. There are saints of whom we disapprove and might even
wish to disown. Let us do a minimum of discussing and a maximum of praying
where they are concerned.
Those in the heavenly places are in a battle. And a feature of the battle
-- so I find -- is to persevere in prayer, not only for our friends but also
for those who are true Christians and yet disappoint or even offend us.
That is part of our first love and that will contribute to spiritual victory.
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (1)
Psalm 120 STIRRING UP
THERE is a series of fifteen psalms which bear the title 'Song of Ascents'
but there is no observable pattern of upward movement in them, though this
seems to be their general direction. The first of the series (120) gives
an indication of why the pilgrim moved out in the first place, while the final
one (134) seems to find him at the summit.
THIS first of the group finds the psalmist in real distress, so much
so that he appears to have reached the end of his tether. 'Woe is me!' he
cries. 'I have lived too long in this dreadful environment. I must
get out!' In this he is perhaps a representative of many spiritual pilgrims.
We turned to Christ out of sheer inability to bear the distress of life
in this world. Theologically we turned to Christ because we were called,
but experientially it was because we had to get out of a life that was intolerable
without Him. We fled from the coming wrath (Matthew 3:7): we fled to Jesus
for refuge (Hebrews 6:18).
I have therefore entitled this psalm, 'Stirring Up'. The writer only
desired to live in peace, but his surroundings made it impossible. In our
case it was not our circumstances but our own sins which robbed us of the
desired peace and stirred us up, but the result was the same.
TWO things are said about this world: it was a world of deceit and a
warring world. He could stand its ties and tensions no longer. Spiritually
that was our world: "At one time we were ... deceived ... hateful, hating
one another" (Titus 3:3). We needed to be saved from ourselves.
THE psalmist cried to God to deliver him from a world of lies and deceit.
That is our world, also. The whole of our godless society is a lie; its promises
unreliable and its judgments full of falsehood, not necessarily because
men so wish it but because it is a condemned world. Since it will not receive
the love of the truth, God has sent men a strong delusion, to make them
believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11). We live in a world of deceitful tongues,
especially in what relates to God's spiritual realities.
WHAT is more, this is a world of quarrels and conflicts, with the peace-maker
at a discount. Sadly enough, the characteristics of the world here described
are increasingly found in our fellowships. Many a tried saint finds himself
vilified, not by outsiders but by his own companions. Many a peace-loving
community is split up and divided by those who use even the holy things of
God to introduce strife and division. Woe to us, if we get personally involved
in such a spirit. We must move onwards and upward's away from any such carnality.
PERHAPS the Lord permits such things to force us on to holier ground,
to stir us up to move on spiritually into our true sphere of living, to what
Paul calls 'the heavenlies'. We have lived too long in the carnal realms
of untrue judgments and strife. What we see in others may perhaps be true
of us also. We need to be saved from ourselves. May the Lord stir us up to
a new walk in truth and peace as we sing our Song of Ascents.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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