"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 4, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1975 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Angus I. Kinnear

Reading: John 12:20-33

A GLANCE at the verses leading up to this passage will remind us that it immediately follows the triumphant entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem. That occasion was one of tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the crowd, some of whom had come out to meet Him because they had heard how He had raised Lazarus from the tomb. The religious leaders, on the other hand, had merely become more hostile to Jesus by reason of the raising of Lazarus. Their comment on the excited crowd following Him is thus very interesting: "You see, you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after Him" (12:19).

Looking back to the other three Gospels we find that the order of events is enlarged upon, for they show us that very quickly after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem there followed the incident of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus went in first of all to look around and sum up the situation, and then the next morning he came back to take action about it by turning over the tables of the money-changers and hounding out the merchants selling animals, all of them presumably employed there for their own advantage. No doubt they could argue that theirs was an essential job, assisting people to pay the temple tax and provide ritual animals for sacrifice, but in their greed they had encroached upon an area designed for universal worship. In rebuking them Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations". Clearly He applied the words to the court of the Gentiles which in those days was the nearest that non-Jews could approach to Israel's God. He resented the occupation of this area by people whose self-interest had made them so indifferent to the world's need.

John himself does not, of course, mention the cleansing of the temple here in chapter 12. (He has instead the record of such a cleansing in chapter 2 of his Gospel, possibly because for spiritual reasons he wished already to introduce there the subject of Jesus' death and resurrection.) Nevertheless with Jesus' coming into Jerusalem God had in view not only the Jews but all nations, for as the Pharisees exclaimed despairingly, the world had gone after Him. This is a highly significant remark leading straight into the encounter that follows; for what John tells us is that at this point a group of Greeks came to the disciples saying: 'We want to see Jesus'. They came first of all to Philip who had a Greek name and who, for all we know, may himself have been half Greek. Eventually they were brought to Jesus who responded with the words, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified". As Son of man He defined Himself, not as Israel's Messiah but as humanity's representative, the unique Man who fulfils all God's purposes because He is utterly free from the shortcomings and failures which had hitherto characterised the human race. The Lord Jesus had come among mankind to provide in Himself a completely new humanity, and one which was not just to be admired but to be shared. How would this be possible? Jesus proceeds to tell them. "Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit". This allusion to death must have come as a shock to the men who sought to see Jesus, for they would approach this unique Man in the same way that pagans the world over love to see and wonder at a living 'holy man'. No doubt they were prepared to admire and respect Him, to learn from Him and even to imitate Him, but they had to be told that it was not as simple as that. For the present Jesus must hold them at a distance, for it is fruit, not imitation, that Jesus is looking for, and to bear fruit a grain of wheat must first fall into the ground.

THIS idea was in fact not unfamiliar to the Greek world, this principle that the seed must vanish from sight and yield up its identity as seed having life in itself for the sake of the continuation of the species. But what to them may have been a simple truth on a natural level, Jesus now applied as a spiritual parable. 'Here am I, the Son of man, unique and without parallel in the world. I have within Me something that nobody else possesses: the eternal life of [1/2] God. Nevertheless I tell you truly that it remains alone and unfruitful unless I hand it over to death so that it can emerge in the enlargement of resurrection.' And thus, if we read the parable aright, Jesus must cease to be the one true embodiment of mankind that God originally intended and be ready to forego that individuality in order to share it with redeemed sinners. Of course He keeps the eternal life; by giving it up He has preserved it and ensured that it shall be prolonged for ever.

Having stated this principle Jesus did not stop there. He then went on to say that this is what His followers also must do. "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal." Now we ourselves are coming very close to the challenge of this Scripture. It is not enough for us to consider the tremendous statement of God's plan and the wonderful way in which the Lord Jesus was ready to carry it out; we must face too the challenge which He Himself passes over to us. Whoever we are, Jews or Greeks or anybody else, if we are disciples of Jesus we are told that to love our life is to forfeit it and to hate our life in this world is to preserve it for life eternal.

Let us try to clarify the ideas behind these words. We find in this passage the contrasts of loving and hating, of losing and keeping, and of one kind of life and another -- all opposites or differents. First of all we must realise that John uses two different words for 'life'. They are different in the Greek, but without knowing that language we can readily recognise that Jesus was talking about two different things when He spoke of a man's life-in-this-world, and alternatively of eternal life. Now he who loves his life-in-this-world will find that in the end he loses it or, as J. B. Phillips renders it, 'will destroy it'. The Bible uses 'love' and 'hate', as the Lord does here, in a kind of exaggerated way which expresses great emphasis. We need to understand this. We need to realise that it does not literally mean that we must hate life or not enjoy it. It is good to be alive; we are meant to enjoy being here, and especially being here for God. It is a wonderful thing to be alive in this world and we are meant to rejoice in this life, however sorry we may feel about much that goes on around us. Our life in this world is not wrong, and we are to enjoy living here as Christians. Nevertheless it is true that he who just concentrates his love upon his life-in-this-world will find that he destroys it. I think it is probably a question of being self-occupied. If a man is full of concern about himself, thinking only of what he can get out of life, of his own joys and self-fulfilment, then he will fail abjectly. Self-preoccupation is self-destruction. He who is always thinking about himself, turning in upon himself, pitying himself because things have not gone the way he had hoped they would, he is the man who loses his life. There is also the peril of having an exaggerated self-esteem. To be balanced personalities we must have self-respect, but if this becomes magnified into conceit and self-aggrandisement (which is possible even for Christians), then what should be hate is wrongly turned into love: the love of self.

NOW you should notice that in Mark's account of the cleansing of the temple it says that the Lord Jesus would not let people carry anything through its court. He not only turned away the people who wrongly occupied space there with their sheep-pens and their money tables. He closed it too as a right of way for merchandise. That is to say He would let no one, for his own advantage, use the house of God as a short cut to something else. It is all too easy for us to try and make the Church a short cut to our own promotion. Jesus would not have this. He insists that we are not to love our own life-in-this-world in such a way as to push others aside so that we can get on. The nations of the world were suffering then because the Jews by one means and another were crowding them out of God's house of prayer.

He who hates his life-in-this-world will be different. He will efface himself, standing aside to consider the needs of others. With Christ, he will give his life away for the sake of the eternal fruit, and in doing so he will keep it unto life eternal. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lists some of the true Christian characteristics: "compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience". Compassion is caring for other people; kindness is self-effacing thoughtfulness and consideration for their needs; lowliness is standing back so that others can come forward; meekness is the ability to be rebuked and not to retaliate; and patience is willingness to wait for the other man who is so slow, instead of walking on ahead and leaving him to find his own way. This concern for others is what is meant by hating one's [2/3] own life. Jesus stands out above all as the one Man who always cared for others. He gave up being the lone Son of man in this world, marvelled at in Galilee and everywhere else, to become the Man for others, set there in the glory that all of us might benefit and share His life. He went on to say: "If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also". My servant must be no different from Me. He must see where I go and follow Me there. If it is the humble place then he must take that place. That way lies fruitfulness.

PERHAPS we should go back and make sure that there is no misunderstanding about this matter of disregarding this life and thinking only of the life that is to come. We are not to hate our life-in-this-world in the sense of neglecting or despising it by thinking only in terms of the future, for in this way we shall become quite detached from reality. As we read the passage we find that it says: "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal". In other words he does in fact retain his life in this world, though it is now integrated into eternal life. So we go back from the glory and we still find that we have our present bit of history as integral to the life eternal. The Lord Jesus carries His wounds with Him into the glory, for He is seen there as the Lamb which has been newly slain. And our life for Him here, if, following Him, we integrate it into eternal life, is kept; we do not lose it. We do not give it up, for it has become the kind of life that is worth keeping, a life for others. "He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal." The eternal life reaches back and gathers into itself the 'it' that we would have lost. The life-in-this-world which would otherwise have been forfeit because valueless, is now kept. Did Jesus, in fact, lose anything by becoming the 'corn of wheat'? Did He lose anything by abandoning His aloneness as the Son of man to become the representative Man, the Man who is now Head over all things to His people? Did He lose? The answer must be, Certainly not! "The time has come," He said, "for the Son of man to be glorified", meaning that by self-sacrifice He was to find His full realisation, the consummation of His life in the completest sense.

We read on. How did Jesus face the costliness of this course? "Now is my soul troubled," He confesses, "and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." He is quoting from Psalm 42:5 where the writer uses these very words: "My soul is cast down," but goes on to exclaim, "I shall yet praise him, for he is the health of my countenance and my God." For the present he could not praise, but he would do so in anticipation, looking through the troubles to the day when he would once again give thanks to God.

Therein lies the significance of Jesus' words: 'What shall I say? Shall I abandon it all? Shall I give up and go back? Shall I ask to be delivered from this hour, to remain the unspoiled, the unsown corn of wheat secure in the granary?' He Himself gave the answer 'No!' He kept in mind the purpose of God in His coming to that hour, and asked only that the Father's name might be glorified. It was then that a voice came from heaven saying: "I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again". We may paraphrase these words as follows: 'I did so both at Cana and in the raising of Lazarus (John 2 and John 11) and I will do so once more in terms of new life from the dead -- the way which you have just chosen.'

JESUS' next statement, when we think about it, is an amazing one: "Now is the judgment of this world; now is the ruler of this world cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." John comments: "He said this to show by what death he was to die." But how, we ask ourselves, could His crucifixion prove to be an attractive force?

In John's Gospel the expression 'lifted up' has, we find, a double meaning. It points first to the act of carnal men in raising Jesus high on the cross, but there is also, superimposed upon this, the idea of God exalting Him to the throne of glory. John does not separate these two things, as though the death of the Lord Jesus and His burial in the ground were a final disastrous episode that God must act afresh to remedy by taking Him out of the grave and lifting Him up to the glory. No, John saw them both as a single thing, identifying the passion of Jesus, the falling into the ground, with His exaltation as Lord of all. There is a sense in which these represent one divine activity. If, then, men are drawn to the Lord Jesus it will be not only because He [3/4] is in the glory but because of the manner in which He went there. They will see Him enthroned through suffering, and so they will be drawn to Him.

Because Jesus lived His life in this world for others and, in the will of God, fell into the ground and died, therefore this world's ruler has no claim on Him, and He, being lifted up from the earth, will draw mankind to Himself. The prince whose evil authority over the world worked for man's enslavement has been robbed of his power by the cross of Christ, and men -- "all men" -- are free to respond as He beckons them. It is this kind of love and this kind of self-effacing life that draws men. And that is why we may never coerce men to come to the Lord Jesus. We never force them: we try to win them. And we can only win them in just the same way as He did, the self-denial that is prepared to fall and to die. I can assure you that to let go to God is all gain. To lose sight of your own prominence, to cease worrying about your own promotion, to 'hate' -- if you can accept that word -- to hate your life-in-this-world for the sake of others, this is the way of increase. And if for the moment it seems hard, we can borrow the psalmist's words as Jesus did and declare: "I shall yet praise Him!" for it is certain that the way of the cross turns all loss to infinite gain -- His gain and ours.

'May His beauty rest upon me

  As I seek the lost to win;

And may they forget the channel,

  Seeing only Him.'




John H. Paterson

(This article is an introduction to a series in which Professor John Paterson
will seek to lead us into new discoveries of the character of God
from the inspired messages of the twelve Minor Prophets.

ONE of the implications of believing that the Bible as we have it is the inspired Word of God is that our belief should extend to all the 66 books which make it up; we must assume that everyone of them has a purpose, a use and a message for us today. In practice it is a good deal easier to accept this in relation to some of the books than to others; easier to believe it about the New Testament than the Old, about Ephesians than Philemon, or about the Psalms than the Chronicles. And for most Christians, one of the hardest tasks is to believe it in relation to the twelve books we know as the Minor Prophets.

It is not that they are lacking in great thoughts or 'quotable quotes', far from it. It is rather that, as we read them, questions keep arising in our minds such as these: What possible benefit can we derive, today, from the single brief message of a Nahum or an Obadiah, spoken all those centuries ago to a particular group of people -- in some cases heathen people, of whom little or nothing else is known? And why should there be twelve prophets when the whole content of their prophecies amounts to less than one 'major' prophet like Isaiah? Does the fact that they are 'minor' mean that they are less important or less inspired?

In one respect, at least, there is nothing 'minor' about them -- in the heat of their denunciation of unrighteousness and ethical decline. They contain the strongest passages in the whole Bible against both idolatry and social evils. And in a sense that merely increases our problem in dealing with them: why put something so important and so fiery in such an out of the way part of the Bible, and so tie it to local circumstances and the sins of people long passed from the stage of history?

*    *    *    *

It was questions like these, arising over a period of years, which led me to a study of the Minor Prophets and which provoked me into [4/5] making two assumptions about them that proved basic in my investigations. The first assumption was that they did have something important to say, independent of particular times and places, otherwise their prophecies would not have been preserved for us in the Scriptures. The second was that their grouping together in this way probably meant that they presented either twelve aspects of one very large subject or twelve ways of looking at the same thing. There was no way of telling in advance whether these assumptions would prove to be correct, but they seemed to provide a reasonable working hypothesis to test. And so I started with Hosea.

*    *    *    *

What would be a 'very large subject', which might require the combined efforts of twelve inspired men to present or depict to us? For the Christian the most likely answer would be: the character of God. It may be recalled that Paul, in Ephesians 3:10, describes how the Church in the purpose of God is called upon to put on display, or exhibit, the manifold -- the many-sided -- wisdom of God. Nothing less than the whole Church would be adequate for that task. And nothing less than twelve prophets could do justice to the character of God, even by concentrating only on the major features!

So I began by assuming that the twelve prophets would be presenting twelve aspects of the character of God, and looked for evidence to support this view. It may be true that if you go looking for evidence of something which you hope in advance is true, then you can always find it, and I did. But when one considers how much scientific progress is, in reality, made by just this kind of guesswork, the method may be a little less alarming than it at first appears. At any rate, as these studies in the coming months will show, the method does offer one means of analysis, at least, which is in keeping with the text of these messages of the Minor Prophets.

*    *    *    *

To make this assumption, that the Minor Prophets were raised up by God to recall to people who were either ignorant or forgetful what God is like, helps to solve another problem connected not only with these twelve books but with all prophecy -- the problem of deciding what a prophet is and does. It must be obvious to any reader that very little of the text of these books is taken up with foretelling future events -- with prophecy in the sense of prediction. Zechariah made predictions, and those of Joel were applied by Peter to the events of the Day of Pentecost. But these are exceptions; they are not typical of the books as a whole. In any case, what strikes us about these prophets, and what was doubtless intended to strike their hearers, is the immediacy of the message. The whole point of what they were saying would have been lost if they had felt obliged to add: 'And the confirmation of this message will be an event or events taking place in 500 -- or 5,000 -- years' time, and that will prove we are speaking the word of the Lord.' The prophets were primarily concerned with now and tomorrow.

In what sense, then, can they be described as prophets? The term does not, of course, only cover the prediction of future events; most of our basic definitions identify the prophet simply as a man who proclaims the Word of God. This the Minor Prophets certainly did. And yet in another sense they were predicting, for what each of them, in effect, was saying was: 'You have failed to realise the character of God is of this kind; it has this feature. If you continue to behave as you are doing then, from my personal knowledge of this God, I predict that disaster will follow.'

What sets the prophet apart from his fellow-men is, therefore, his knowledge of God and his perception of the consequences of actions and attitudes, not only in the religious but also in the political and social spheres. It is his ability to argue, on the basis of the known character of God, what the result of particular actions will be. His task is therefore to warn his people of these consequences. His assurance, his vehemence, his fervour are based on the assumed, unchanging nature of God, so that he can say with complete confidence: 'He will never let you get away with that!

*    *    *    *

I have therefore approached each of the twelve prophecies with the same question in mind: What feature of the character of God is this prophet charged by Him with the task of emphasising? In a surprising number of instances, I found that a clue was supplied by concentrating on the few [5/6] verses in each book which are well known and often quoted. Probably the only words in Obadiah's short prophecy which most Christians could recall from memory would be: "the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions". These words are indeed, as we shall later see, the key to the book. Micah we know as the man who prophesied of Bethlehem: "out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel", and that, too, is significant. In other prophecies the theme is more difficult to grasp. But in each case our question will be the same: What does this prophet have to tell us of the character of God? And first in the series comes Hosea, with his clear, dramatic reminder that God is a God of love.


Alan L. Barrow

"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
" 1 Timothy 6:11

WE have already considered the positive exhortations of this verse, with its list of virtues at which the man of God should aim, and now we return to its negative injunctions to flee from or shun (RV) other things. At first sight we may recoil from the whole idea of running away. It seems a cowardly thing to do. Nevertheless the man of God is commanded to do just this on certain occasions. He is here on this earth to seek God's will and to do God's work. He is not just a man from God but a man of God, a man who is the embodiment of his message. We have already seen that towards the end of his life Paul seemed to place special value on the matter of godliness, stressing the fact that the man of God must take a sure aim if he is to attain to it. It may be good for us now to reconsider this verse, reminding ourselves that we can only concentrate on the right direction by shunning other wrong ones.

In practical matters we find that if we are to take proper aim we need to consider our own position. It is where we are and the stance we adopt which governs the direction we can take. When I was in the army and went for instruction to the rifle range, I found that before I was allowed to consider the target, 200 yards away, I first had to pay attention to my own position. It was not just a matter of aiming but primarily a question of the placing of my arms and the arrangement of my legs and the rest of my body. Before I could think of actually aiming, all this had to be seen to, and only when the necessary corrections had been made and my body properly aligned could I being to think about aiming. There was quite a bit of adjusting to be done before I could hope to get my sights on the target with any stability.

The actual word which Paul used in urging Timothy to flee is the same as that employed to describe the flight into Egypt of Joseph and the baby Jesus. It is also used to tell us how the disciples fled at the time of the arrest of the Lord. John the Baptist also made a graphical use of it when he asked: "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?", giving a picture of reptiles scurrying away from the spreading forest fire. It carries with it a sense of urgency, of swift movement, and calls for a quick getaway with no questioning or dawdling.

We may find it difficult to adjust to this concept of fleeing, for it is not something which comes very naturally to us nor is it an activity which we particularly like. It is true to say that most of us despise those who run away. We judge them to be failures, people who have proved to be inadequate; whereas we admire the man who stands and faces the foe, even if he dies as a result. Yet there are times and places where we are instructed to flee, not even to try to pass it off with some euphemistic phrase like 'a tactical withdrawal' but quite frankly to beat a hasty retreat. When God tells us to run away we may wish to argue that we can cope, even bringing in promises from the Scriptures to support us. 'I am not a child,' we may insist, 'I am strong enough with God's help to stay on in this situation and triumph.' Well, it still remains that there are occasions when God Himself tells us [6/7] to do no such thing, but to shun the encounter and run away from it. It is a mistake to imagine that on such occasions God will overrule and support us. Normally this is true, but if we get involved where God has told us to keep our distance, this so-called faith may contain a real element of presumption and conceit. God will not support us if we are in the wrong position. We cannot aim until we have first learned to flee. Are we ready to be humbled? Are we ready to be exposed as being weak and unable to cope? If we are, then we can look more closely at the four occasions on which we are told by Paul that we ought to run away.

1. "Flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18)

Run away from any impure relationship. Don't imagine that you are big enough for it or that you are different from those who have succumbed to such temptations. The R. V. renders this: 'Shun immorality' which is striking when we realise that the Greek word for immorality has 'porn' as its root. A contemporary rendering might well be: 'Shun porn'! Do we obey this command? Do we get as far away as we can from such impurity? The dictionary explanation of the word 'pornography' is: 'writing concerning prostitutes and their patrons'. We are to avoid this like the plague. Can we assume that everything in our daily papers -- even in the most respectable of them -- is fit reading for a man of God? I suggest that this is an assumption which cannot stand up to this definite command of the Word. Such subjects may be considered commonplace as topics for conversation in our staffroom, office or workshop, but it is better for the Christian to obey God's injunction to shun such matters and to show that he is not interested and does not wish to consider them. Can we assume that every programme on television is acceptable for viewing? I hope not. Of course it needs courage and a certain amount of moral spine to run away from it or to switch it off. To do so implies that we are vulnerable, that there are things which can corrupt us, and we do not like to admit our weakness.

There is a very strong temptation to want to be knowledgeable, or to think that it is our duty to keep au fait with things, and even to show our superiority in this way. We want to assume that we can cope: we hate to be charged with running away. There is the question of books. We are told that if we wish to be educated and informed we must read current literature, to be aware of what is being written. Schoolmasters, so it is said, ought to be aware of what their pupils are reading: I must say that such arguments completely fail to impress me, nor do I think that I am any worse a teacher because I have not made myself familiar with certain items of reading matter which interest my pupils. With me there is no sense of deprivation by reason of my ignorance of this kind of 'literature'. Then there is a question of the theatre. I may wonder if that play is really as bad as it is made out to be. I may decide that it is only right to see for myself, and may feel that such an action is most reasonable. The hollowness of such an argument can be exposed by these two words from God: "Flee immorality". The truth is that we tend to cover our curiosity and conceit with specious arguments about the value of personal experience, being unwilling to admit that we ourselves may be vulnerable. God does His best to make it clear and simple for us. He tells us that we do not have to worry and we do not have to argue -- all we have to do is to run away.

2. "... flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14)

We are to shun the worship of idols. Here again no room is left for discussion. We have the plain command: "Flee"! We do not have to seek a fuller definition of idolatry than the simple one of something or someone being given the absolutely first place in our lives. If there is something which is the object of our worship; if there is something which is the primary object of our desires; if there is something which, if all else were lost, we would wish to hold on to at all costs, and that something is not the will of God; then I am quite certain that God's command is that this should be shunned. It is idolatry, and it is sure that we can never take a straight aim for godliness until we have fled from it. This passage from 1 Corinthians 10 contains the famous verse 13 which was one of the early verses in the Billy Graham memory exercise which some of us learned by heart. When I memorised it I don't think that I understood that an important part of the promise that God would make a way of escape was so closely connected with the command to run away. God's way of escape in certain situations is to help us to run away from them. Sometimes we are surprised [7/8] at the way in which fellow Christians feel so strongly that they must give up a hobby or a sport which seems to us quite harmless. We think it strange that they abandon activities which do not to us seem bad. What we may have failed to realise is that the particular activity involved had begun to exercise a fatal fascination for them and that the Spirit of God had to urge them to flee from it. So far as they were concerned it had to stop. We may pity them or feel superior to them, but the point is that the matter under consideration was no temptation to us. It is not that the thing itself is wrong, but the relationship with it can be. Anything which supplants God's place in the life must be fled from just as the snakes flee from the fiery peril or the disciples fled from the garden. There should be a wholeheartedness in the running away.

3. "... flee these things ..." (1 Timothy 6:11)

The third reference comes in the verse directed to the man of God, and deals with a composite group of things to be shunned. One of the main points in this letter is the matter of questionings and arguments (1:4). There were those whose chief preoccupation was "disputes of words" (6:4). They were gluttons for controversy; they had a morbid craving for disputes. Fortunately we do not now suffer from the kind of quibbling which Paul refers to in which, for instance, complicated and interminable discussions circled around such a matter as how does one dispose of a date-stone on the Sabbath. Do you spit it out; do you actually handle it; what do you do? We are mercifully spared such nonsense, and yet many of the controversies which rage among Christians are almost as petty. It may be necessary to consider the finer points of doctrine but doctrine must accord with godliness. If it precipitates personal clashes, heat of the flesh, bad feeling and attempts to score off the other man, then shun it, flee from it. To revel in controversy just for the sake of it is really to seek a means of gaining a position of importance, to establish oneself as an authority on the subject. Paul's words show that what starts as a sin of conceit spawns into a whole brood, as described in verse 4. There is envy, the sense of having been worsted; slander, the exaggeration which tries to even up the score; and base suspicion of the other's motives. I know of a situation where a group of Christians virtually destroyed itself by constant controversy. They felt that every possible situation which arose must be freely discussed, though their groupings were such that divisions were predetermined before ever the arguments got going. The man of God is to run right away from that kind of free-for-all. It never leads to godliness.

Paul also charged Timothy to flee from the love of money. Now money is always a problem. Those who have it are in a position of being virtually independent, which can be a good thing but can also be very dangerous. Those who lack it may tend to be envious and even covetous. In either case it is money which seems to warp men's judgment, and we know that at times it can lead to a destruction of personal relationships. It is, of course, not money but the love of it or desire for it which can lead to so many kinds of evil. Don't play with this desire for economic importance. Recognise it for what it is, admit that you cannot handle it, that you are inadequate; and then run away as fast as you can.

May I illustrate what should be our demeanour in this matter of fleeing? In my working life as a schoolmaster I often walk along corridors and know that just ahead of me are lurking some boys who should not be there. At times I hear a scuffling, a murmured caution that Barrow is coming, and then the culprits scamper away before ever I arrive. By this method of flight there is no need for a confrontation: It is the easy way. Occasionally, however, I meet a hardcore type. I tell him to get out. That is the last thing that he wants to do, but he knows that he must obey so he decides to go just as slowly as he dare. In the first case it is the kind of fleeing which we are told to practise. The other is certainly not fleeing. It is moving with false dignity, holding up one's head, pretending that there is no real need to go, but doing so as reluctantly as possible. This is no way for a Christian to behave when his Lord tells him to get moving, to run away and not to trifle over the matter.

4. "Flee also youthful lusts ..." (2 Timothy 2:22)

We are told that the man of God must flee youthful passions. I had something of a surprise when I began to investigate this verse, for I had tended to assume that this particular exhortation referred to the same sort of problem which we have already dealt with, namely immorality. But [8/9] looking more carefully I find that its context suggests again the matter of people becoming involved in godless chatter. The very next verse warns us to have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies which breed quarrels. So these youthful passions which Timothy was told to flee from do not immediately refer to impurity, though doubtless that was included, but rather to immature and rather brash tendencies to seek for prominence. It is perhaps a mark of youth to want to shine, and one means for this is to be dominant in arguments. If we ask why the description 'youthful' should be employed here, the answer may be that such controversies are characteristic of those who lack self-assurance and are therefore the more anxious to assert themselves. Those of us who are older have to confess that we also are prone to seek evidence of our own importance in this same way. Perhaps we need to grow up! So it seems that the fourth call for flight is concerned with desires to plunge into unworthy controversies which are not glorifying to God and cannot serve His will. All such features of immaturity which betray themselves in us must be recognised and repudiated if we are to make spiritual growth as men and women of God.

I am well aware that this particular study has led us into somewhat negative considerations. I would like to conclude with a positive emphasis. For this there can be no better exercise than to consider again God's perfect Servant of whom it was written: "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench ..." (Isaiah 42:2-3). There was a sense in which Christ was exempt from the need to flee, for He was already so inwardly separated unto God that there was no danger of His being corrupted. In Him we have one who is so totally adequate that He did not have to be told to flee temptation. Nevertheless the prophet speaks of His very definite repudiation of certain procedures. There were certain things that He would not do. He would shun self-advertisement; He would wisely silence unprofitable arguments; and He would gently avoid harsh confrontations. He was so adequate that He always had the answer. He had such moral strength and was so safe and pure that He was not vulnerable. So as we flee we should flee to Him. We are humbled to find how different we are from him, but we are also moved to thanksgiving that He never despairs of us nor harshly quenches us, but perseveres with His purpose of working out the will of God in us. As we accept the divine call to flee temptation and as we expose ourselves in recognition of our personal inadequacy, we find that He receives us and continues His task of making us men and women of God.


(Some thoughts on John chapters 13 to 17)


Roger T. Forster

AS we move on in this great discourse we see how the Lord Jesus was seeking to show the disciples how they were to be involved in the new realm which He was bringing in. In this chapter the analogy which He used was that of a woman bringing forth a child. He spoke of how she goes through her travailing pains and of the great joy resulting when the child is born. In using this picture the Lord made allusions which were familiar to disciples with their knowledge of the Old Testament. They would know how such travail was associated with resurrection (Isaiah 26:19). God's people lamented their failure to bring anything to the birth by saying: "We have as it were brought forth wind" (Isaiah 26:18) and yet they looked forward to the bringing in of a whole new world as if by resurrection. The disciples would also remember how that Hosea spoke of travail and of the unwise son who would not come to the [9/10] birth, and then joyfully proclaimed deliverance by way of resurrection (Hosea 13:13-14). The prophets looked forward to the time when a new realm would be born, but that it could only come by way of resurrection. These prophecies were being fulfilled as the hours of that night in the upper room wore on. In the morning Christ would be hanging on the cross, with the 'little while' of dreadful travail and then the morning joy of the birth of a whole new order in God's creation. So in this way the Lord Jesus was trying to lead His disciples into the fact that if they were to undergo travailing pains, the anguish would pass and would result in the birth of a joyous new age.

Now the word which is stressed in this part of the last great sermon is the word 'joy'. Joy was going to be the hall-mark of all that was to go on in this new world. The old world brought sorrow, unhappiness and despair; but the new world, just as when a child is born, was going to be full of joy. Moreover it was to be a "joy which no man takes from you " (v.22), that is a continuing joy. Earthly joys are not that -- they come and go -- but the joy which Christ was bringing in would be lasting. It was also going to be a complete joy -- "that your joy may be full" (v.24). Many of our earthly joys lack this fully satisfying quality just because we have the sense that they will not last. Christ, however, provides a joy which both continues and is always full. At the end of this passage the Lord Jesus told them to "be of good cheer" (v.33), which confirms that this is to be a confident joy. It is a joy which is so based on fellowship with the Lord Jesus that it makes us courageous and confident. Miserable people are not confident. They have no good cheer. The Lord was to give His disciples a joy which would release them from despair and put a spring into their step.

TO be realistic, though, we should note that the disciples were to know sorrow before they could experience the joy. They were to encounter real perplexity before they emerged into the realm where they could rejoice in answered prayer. They were going to know failure, even to the extent of forsaking their Lord, before they passed into the life of peace and good cheer which lay before them. 'You are going to forsake Me' He told them. 'My Father does not forsake Me and leave Me alone, but you will do so. Even so I am telling you this beforehand so that you can know that My peace is for you and that you will find full joy in Me.' Do these facts correspond with our Christian experience? Is there any place for us now to have the sorrow of travail, or was this only for the first disciples? Does it happen now that we suffer with questions which we cannot understand? Do we, in fact, still fail the Lord and forsake Him? If we are honest we have to admit that all these things happen to us. In introducing these things to His disciples, the Lord Jesus was not merely referring to their sorrow changing to joy, their perplexity to confidence and their forsaking to a new peace, but He also was setting out the principles of the kingdom. His is a dynamic kingdom and the process which the early disciples went through is that which will always apply. Our joy will be born out of sorrow; our sure happiness will be born out of deep experiences of our own failure; and for us too there will be times when the Lord Jesus refuses to answer any more of our questions and then leads us on through perplexity to the joy of answered prayer. The process is still going on in us.

When Jesus said: "She remembers no more her anguish ...". He used a word which He repeated only once and this time it is translated 'tribulation', "In the world you will have tribulation ..." (v.33). So the tribulation which He was speaking about, the sorrows, the anguish, the travailing pains would still continue after the resurrection and throughout the dispensation. It is not that once the pain of the cross was over there would be a carefree existence. No, the process of tribulation would continue for all His disciples through the whole Church age, right up to His coming again. We must enter the kingdom through much tribulation, as Paul told the suffering saints of his day. It is through the travail of suffering that the kingdom is being born, through sorrows that joy comes forth, through perplexity that answers to prayer come, and it may even be that through the times of our failing the Lord we enter into new peace and hear Him tell us to be of good cheer. This is the way in which the kingdom continues, and these processes are at work in us today by the Holy Spirit. [10/11]

LET us look further into this matter. Jesus did not say that sorrow would be removed and joy be given in its place but rather that the sorrow itself would be turned into joy. So the very thing which occasioned sorrow will now occasion joy; it will be the same thing and not a replacement by something else. The context shows that He was referring to resurrection. He told them: "A little while and you shall not see me" (v.16), using a Greek word which means to look at, to scrutinise, and then went on to say: "and again a little while and you shall see me", using this time a different verb which means to perceive and understand. They are almost synonymous but the Lord seems to have meant a difference since He made this distinction three times over, the further verses being 17 and 19. At the moment in which the disciples were gazing at Christ they could weigh Him up and theorise about Him. They could see Him. But in the resurrection they were going to see Him differently. It is true that they would see a literal body which had been raised from the grave, but they would be able to perceive things about Him which they had not previously been able to understand. They would have a resurrection interpretation, a spiritual understanding in the light of resurrection. They knew that He had come from God; they understood Him as the Messiah; they were able to talk and argue about this knowledge of Him. But in the day of resurrection they would no longer theorise about Him -- they would truly know and intimately understand Him.

This was illustrated by the Emmaus road where first of all they looked at Him without really understanding, and then suddenly they saw reality and could run all the way back to Jerusalem in the energy of that discovery. Again we are told that when He appeared to the disciples they could not believe it for joy. They saw Him by the lake of Galilee but only after a while could they really perceive that it was the Lord who was there. There are the two ways of seeing. It is not that the first sort of seeing was or is unnecessary. It is still important to consider Him as we take the Bible and study the facts about Him. But the new realm of the Spirit introduces us into a perception of His person and His ways which interprets what this means in our own life. This understanding of the Lord Jesus reveals how He relates the things said in the first century to our life now. We must not be content with just the factual consideration of Him as He was here on earth, but must seek spiritual discoveries of Him as He is living now in us His people. So this new realm is one of seeing the Lord, seeing what He is saying to us and doing with us, and how He is applying the first century message to the situation of our present circumstances.

This type of meeting the Lord is born out of tribulation: we see the Lord in this way by reason of suffering. For the disciples it involved seeing the cross and then the resurrected, though still crucified Saviour who bore the nail prints in His hands. He had taken the cross, which was a sorrow for them, and made it into a joy -- it was the same cross but now it was a joy. In this same way the things which may cause us difficulty, sorrow and anguish are those by which the Lord plans to give us a new perception and understanding of Himself. We should not moan about our sorrows, but seek to come to the place where the Lord can show us what they mean. Then we shall not need commiseration but will be prepared to shout 'Hallelujah', being grateful that He has let us suffer in this profitable way.

Such sufferings also provide the realm in which fruition takes place, the experiences which result in children being born and the life of God being brought forth. It is out of difficulties and pressures that birth takes place. When we are exposed to problems which make us feel absolutely dead, then that is the moment when something will be born for God, as illustrated by the woman in travail. Jesus said that it is in this way that the kingdom fructifies and increases. Further, this is the way to the understanding of the truth of being crucified with Christ. In fact it was Jesus who was being crucified, but the sorrow was felt by the disciples. It was Jesus who rose again, but the disciples felt the joy of resurrection. So they learned that they were involved in His death (and its pain), being crucified with Christ, and they shared the joy of His resurrection, for they had risen with Him. The same is true of us. It is not mere theology but spiritual experience. By the Spirit of the same crucified Jesus, by the Spirit of the same risen Christ, we are led into the joy of union with Him. The gateway into the new realm leads into a joy which none can [11/12] take away. To know that we really were crucified with Him is to pass from sorrow into the joy of being wonderfully alive in Christ.

THIS, then, sums up the first emphasis of our chapter with its stress on the fruitfulness of travail. In a little while it is going to be like birth pangs; and again a little while and that sorrow is going to become a source of great joy. What a terrific realm we are living in, a realm in which every sorrow is an opportunity for the fructification of the life of Jesus in us. As a child being born out of travail, so every sorrow in the Christian life is an opportunity to learn triumphant and fruitful joy by the Spirit. In the second place we note that as the discourse goes on the Lord Jesus ceased to talk of 'a little while' and started saying: "In that day ..." (vv.23 & 26). Here we have another problem for first He said: "in that day you shall ask me nothing" but then He went on to say: " Ask the Father in my name and He will give it you". Does this mean that we should not pray to the Lord Jesus? Is it wrong to address our prayers to Him, as though He had said: 'Do not ask Me for anything; ask the Father'? This can hardly be, for there are places in which the Lord Jesus is definitely addressed in prayer. No, what He really said was that they would cease to ask the kind of questions which they had been putting to Him. Peter had said: 'Where are you going, Lord?'. Thomas had enquired: 'How can we know the way?'. The other Judas had been saying: 'Well, how is it that You are going to manifest Yourself to us and not to the world?' They were full of questions, largely because they lacked the illumination of the Spirit who would later come to them. What Jesus said about asking the Father was quite different, and referred to our prayer requests. Now it may be right to ask questions -- I have written a book called 'Reasonable Questions about Living Faith' -- but what the Lord meant was that the time would come when the disciples would be introduced to a new kind of asking which would be asking and receiving in His name. In this new realm they would not always be wrestling with mental problems but would be in vital touch with God even though some perplexities may have remained.

The Lord Jesus had already told them that there were many things which He would have liked to say to them, but could not do so yet for they were not ready. In fact the Christian life consists in constantly learning new lessons from the Lord. But we are not to get bogged down with our problems, but put them on the shelf for the time being and still go on asking the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus and receiving answers to these prayers. In this spiritual realm there is a new kind of asking which can always expect to receive from the Father. Whenever you receive such an answer from the Father does it not enable you to leave your perplexities for a while until God sorts them out? One answer of prayer from the Father is enough to set aside a hundred of our mental problems -- or so I have found. The Lord will certainly go on teaching us. He will answer our questions and has told us that if we lack wisdom we are to ask of God who gives freely without blaming the man who asks. But the new realm is bigger than this. It is the realm in which we can receive from the Father beyond our understanding and without the need for so many explanations. We live in a world which is obsessed with trying to get the answer to questions and yet which never finds out how to live. In this new realm of ours let us not run here and there with our questions but let us get on with the joy of living, proving the wonders of the Father's answers to our prayers. So perplexity is changed to reception. "... for the Father himself loves you ..." (v.27). Be content with that in your perplexity -- He loves you! Do you love the Lord Jesus? Then the Father loves you. Abide in that.

He was speaking to men who were soon going to forsake Him, and yet He looked beyond the agony of their failure to the new faith which would bring new joy and peace. They thought that they believed just because they accepted the facts of His incarnation and ministry. "Do you now believe?" He challenged them. 'You think that you are sure, but very soon you will all scatter to your own homes, and your theology will not help you much then. But in your tribulation you will find Me in a new way, and a new kind of faith will be brought to birth.' For those who have been through such an experience there will be no more unhelpful questions and no more scattering but a discovery in Christ of lasting and overwhelming joy. [12/13]


"Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son
from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus.
" 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.

T. Austin-Sparks

PAUL'S first letter to the Thessalonians has been divided into five short chapters which can all be read in about ten minutes. Certain things emerge even as we are reading. The first is that this was written to comparatively new converts so that we can learn something about how they started and had been progressing so far. It is a message about the beginnings of the Christian life. Then we are impressed by the exemplary character of these young Christians. The apostle had no fault to find with them, but everything to commend. He wrote that he gave thanks to God always for them all; and he went on to say that they had become an example to all that believed. Best of all we can find here some definition of the gospel which produced such Christians. Paul called it "our gospel" and recalled that it came to them in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the last two verses of the first chapter he made a few concise statements which represent an epitome of this gospel. It needed a master hand to gather such majestic truth into the compass of four simple clauses, but here they are:

1. "Ye turned unto God from idols to serve a living and true God"

That is the first stage of the Christian life. It might be argued that these had been pagans in a pagan world with its system of idol worship, so the comparison cannot fairly be made between them and people of our own 'Christian' society. My answer is that it is quite right in principle and in fact to class all unsaved people together. The principle is that the idea behind the word 'serve' is that of worship, which is really 'worth-ship'. These people had devoted themselves to other objects than God, and wrongly imagined that these were the things of real worth. What belongs to God and is not given to Him but to some other object is really idolatry. And what all men do, in many forms and in different ways is to give their lives in service to false gods.

So the first stage of a true Christian life is this -- the realisation and recognition that God is worth your giving everything to Him. He is worthy to have the worth-ship of your life, to have all that you have and are laid at His feet. So when Paul and his companions (for he wrote in the plural) came to this people, he set forth in the first place the worthiness of God to have all their lives, and to have them altogether. As he spoke of the living and true God the Holy Spirit made them realise how different they had been and how unworthy had been the course hitherto. We can only see the worthiness of God in Christ, and it is to Him that the Spirit testifies:

'Marvel not that Christ is glory

All my inmost heart has won.'

That is where it all begins. Anything less than that, anything other than that as a beginning will find us out sooner or later. He is One who, by reason of His self-manifestation and of the great work He has done for our redemption, is worthy to have everything that we count worthwhile in life.

As we go on in the Christian life, it is upon that very thing -- our foundational beginnings -- that we are tested again and again. It comes up repeatedly -- Is Jesus Christ worthy of this? Is God worthy of this? Is this something which is too valuable to give up to Him or for Him? What place does He have in comparison with this? And if at the beginning there is any faultiness or weakness about that, we shall find ourselves sooner or later held up until we have got through on the sheer and direct question of whether He is worthy.

These Thessalonians made such a good start, and then went on to become such exemplary Christians because they settled it very thoroughly in their hearts at the beginning that there was nothing in the world worth receiving their worship compared with Him. It indicates the deep and large place which they gave to the Lord Jesus from the very start. All along the way we have to face this test -- 'is the Lord worthy of this? Is He big enough even for this?' So it comes back to the simple question -- which often is not so simple -- as to whether He has [13/14] captured and captivated our hearts and been given first place there. You can go bounding on in your Christian life if this is settled. You will make little or no progress if you have questions and controversies in this connection. If we harbour reserves, if we want our own way, if we want to serve our personal interests, then we do not go on but are held up.

These Christians made swift progress because there was no division of heart between them and the Lord about anything. Through the Scriptures the Lord brings us the challenge as to whether this is foundational in our walk with Him. After all the Lord is not satisfied for us just to have head knowledge about Himself and His truth. He does not accept our informed minds, even though they hold orthodox views as to His cross, His church and whatever. The Lord looks right down into our hearts to enquire what place is given there to Him. He is less concerned about the spiritual information which we hold in our minds and much more desirous of being given the full worship of our hearts. From the first moment the Thessalonians determined to worship God. That matter was fully settled, and so it was possible for Paul to thank God always for them. He saw that they had no personal interests and no wishes of their own. They were devoted to the Lord without reserve and were right out for Him. Such people always provoke praise to God.

"A living and true God." That is why He is worthy of worship. If we give our lives and pour them out in any other direction than for God, we are pouring treasure into the sand. There is going to be no return. That will be an end in itself, and will produce a death from which there is no return. God, however, is living and true. Everything else will prove false and empty. If there is one thing about Christian life it is the absolute reality of God. For our flesh it is not always quite pleasant to face that reality, but it is at least reality. Far better to come up against God as reality even in a painful way, than not to know who God is and where. Far better to have a living God who checks you up, if necessary who chastens you, than to have a god who is no God at all.

2. "... to wait for his Son from heaven ..."

Many people have failed to recognise that this waiting for the return of Christ is part of the foundation of Christian life, and part of the gospel by which we are saved. To wait for His Son from heaven. What did this mean to the Thessalonians? In this brief letter Paul had much to say to them about the coming again of the Lord Jesus. Amongst a great many other things, it means that all our personal hopes and our hope for the world is bound up with the kingdom of Christ. Apart from His coming and bringing in His kingdom there is no hope at all. So it was that the Thessalonians realised that until they knew Christ they had been wearing themselves out for things which offered no solid hope. Life had been an enigma, a tragedy, until they were able to expect this eternal kingdom of God's Son.

When they came to the Lord they did so on this basis, namely that God's Son is coming again and will put everything right. The one hope for mankind is the coming kingdom. It is one of the strange enigmas that the world still has false hopes of putting itself right. Someone has said that 'all we have learned from history is that we have learned nothing from history', and that is just what is happening. Men are getting into deeper and deeper mire and perplexity, not seeing any way through, and yet all the time they are seeking for expedients to save the situation and rescue the world. But it is a counsel of despair. The Word of God makes it perfectly clear that there is no hope for humanity apart from Jesus Christ being in the place of absolute lordship in His kingdom. The Thessalonians came to believe that. They did learn something from history. What they learned was that it gets you nowhere -- except into more and more trouble, more perplexity and final despair. Then they saw that God's Son is coming from heaven to set up His kingdom and they knew that when that happened all would be well with God's redeemed humanity.

This is fundamental. Let us get it settled right at the beginning, not as a mere study of prophecy about the Second Coming, but as a fundamental conviction that our hopes do not rest on any prospect in this world, but only on the sure and certain expectation of the personal role of Christ. He is coming, and when He comes all will be well. We shall be lifted above that which now limits us. Is it not remarkable that when we Christians sing a hymn about the coming of the Lord something seems to be [14/15] released? It is not just that we have a lovely idea, sing about it and so feel better, but rather that the Holy Spirit comes to us in full measure as we concentrate on the coming Lord. After all the Spirit is working everything in the light of that day, and when He finds the people of God in harmony with Him, He gives a wonderful sense of uplift and life. How many people in sufferings and trials have been lifted clean out and up just by being reminded that Jesus is coming again?

Many years ago I used to visit an old couple who were so poor that they lived in one room. The old man had not moved out of his armchair for twenty years, and as he could not be left alone, his wife rarely went out of the house. They had nothing in this world. Were they unhappy and depressed? Not a bit of it! I used to pay them a regular visit every week and they were always a rebuke to me. They always gave me a smiling welcome and wanted to know what I had been preaching about. And their hope? The coming of the Lord. Right to the end they lived rejoicing in this expectation. Now it was no false hope in their case, even though the Lord did not return in their lifetime. The hope is valid to us all and the Holy Spirit bears witness that this is the goal to which He is leading us -- the coming kingdom. If you read on in this letter you will find that the Thessalonians knew quite a bit about adversity -- they "received the word in much affliction". They knew ostracism, they knew persecution, they knew what it was to be frustrated in their business life by reason of their faith. They knew physical suffering and inward distress, but they went on. They were examples to others. Why? Just because they were looking for God's Son from heaven. It was a basic part of their faith in Christ.

3. "... whom he raised from the dead ..."

The one they were waiting for, the one in whom they were trusting, was the one who had been raised from the dead. What did that mean for them? There is only one who can raise from the dead, and that is God. So if God raised Jesus from the dead it is a clear proof that in His opinion the work for which He came into the world had been perfectly completed. We know that Jesus had died in order to accomplish full redemption for sinful mankind. He died to deal with the whole sin question and to take away condemnation from believing men. This work had been completed to God's own satisfaction, as He attested by His act of raising Christ from the dead. The debt had been fully paid. The condemnation had been wholly taken away. This is the meaning of the resurrection.

This was a key point in Paul's preaching. It had been received by the Thessalonians who now knew that the whole sin question was for them a settled matter. Forgiveness is secured; salvation is established; God is satisfied. How important it is that we should all have this great truth built into our spiritual foundations. So many Christians suffer from a sense of accusation and condemnation which completely undermines this fundamental fact of the finished work of Christ. It is true that we still make mistakes, we blunder, we default, we err, we sin, but we must never allow satanic forces to rush in with their persistent suggestion that the work of the cross is not enough and that we can again be brought back on to the ground of condemnation. If we do give any ground to the accuser we shall never make the kind of spiritual progress which was evident in the Thessalonian believers. On the contrary we shall find ourselves living a very jerky kind of Christian life, going on for a bit, then pausing, coming up only to fall down again. Those who get into that kind of repeated condemnation become a playground for the Devil, never going on steadily in the way that makes it possible for God's servants who labour among them to say that they thank God on every remembrance of them. God raised His Son from the dead! This is a basic truth which will bring us deliverance. Moreover we are told that He "raised us up with him" (Ephesians 2:6). Therefore we have no right to be downcast. We need not reason or argue about the matter but just rejoice, as the Thessalonians did, that it has all been fully and finally settled by the resurrection from the dead of our crucified Saviour.

4. "... even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come."

This clause brings a shadow into our thinking, a shadow which we would much rather avoid, but which is nevertheless a part of the foundation of our faith. For the Word of God declares again and again that wrath is coming. It is coming. Paul's words carry no vagueness or [15/16] doubt but declare quite clearly and definitely that there is coming a day of God's wrath. If we ask why it has to be, the answer is that it was never originally appointed for man but was intended for Satan and his angels. We are back to our original words about idols. There are only two gods in this universe. One is the true God whom we serve and the other may have various forms and representations but is really the god of this world, Satan. It is true that the number of those who would actually claim to be Satan-worshippers is comparatively small, but this does not alter the fact that man is a worshipping creature and either worships the true and living God or allows His rival to take His rightful place in the life, and so gives the 'worth-ship' to the Devil. Satan's first approach to man is always the attractive one. He started as the most beautiful of all God's creatures (Ezekiel 28:12-15). "Even Satan" says the apostle Paul, "fashioneth himself into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is in this guise that he seeks to capture men's hearts and obtain their worship, and when he gets it, then he drags his followers into the same condemnation which God has prepared for him. That is the terror of the gospel. It is real but it is not for the believer, for God delivers us from it, because we accept the redemption so freely provided in the Lord Jesus.

This was the fourth element in the foundation of the exemplary Christian experience of the Thessalonians. They knew of the wrath to come, but they also knew that it was not for them. And they were able to proclaim a similar deliverance for all who would receive their testimony. God's people are free people. They do not dread the future; they do not live under the shadow of judgment. There are no dark clouds of condemnation on their horizon but only the bright Morning Star of their coming Lord. However much progress we make in the Christian life we must never forget these basic facts. Indeed it is on such a foundation that we can make the kind of progress which provoked such glad recognition by the apostle Paul in regard to the church of God in Thessalonica.


(Studies in 1 Samuel)

1. TRAVAILING PRAYER -- (1:1 - 2:21)

Harry Foster

THE key to the first book of Samuel is found in the words: "I have provided me a king" (16:1), and the whole book tells of the way in which God called out and prepared this king for His people. Two indications of the divine purpose point the way to this historical narrative: they can be found in the two preceding books of Judges and Ruth. The first is the final comment on the general history of the post-Joshua period: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). This is not only the concluding verdict of the book but represents a kind of refrain in its last depressing chapters. No king! No absolute standards! No respect for authority! The Lord's people were certainly in a bad way, and we reasonably expect God to react against such a state of affairs. He did so react -- hence this book of 1 Samuel.

But we still have the book of Ruth between Judges and 1 Samuel, and this provides our second indication of God's marvellous providence, for the brief but beautiful story leaves us with David as its last word (Ruth 4:22). "Jesse begat David" comments the writer as he lays down his pen. Perhaps this was written with hindsight, but it clearly shows that we are meant to note that even in those dark days of kinglessness, God was overruling the sufferings and joys of simple believers to produce his own answer to Israel's tragic situation. God is never inactive, and never nonplussed. There was a famine. All right, but the Lord was still in charge. There were two poverty-stricken widows in deep distress. Well, God had His eyes on them, and planned to fit their dilemma into his master-plan. There was a wedding in Bethlehem, and then a baby called Obed was born. To us it was just [16/17] a romance with a happy ending: "Boaz begat Obed". But no, that was not the ending, for "Obed begat Jesse". And then comes God's masterpiece of planning -- planning, mark you, not improvisation -- "And Jesse begat David". When we have got that name in our minds, and not till then, we are ready to open 1 Samuel and discover how God reacted to the kingless chaos of the book of Judges.

Those repeated reminders of Israel's lack surely suggested that there ought to have been a king, or that God's method of administering His rule is on the basis of kingship, by means of an anointed intermediary. Was not Adam introduced to the creation in order that he should exercise dominion? The psalmist seems to refer to this aspect of creation when he comments: "Thou madest him to have dominion ..." (Psalm 8:6). Alas! Adam's kingship was lost before ever it had begun. But kingship was God's original idea. Later, when He brought His redeemed people out of Egypt, they were saved from being a disorderly rabble by the fact that Moses was a king among them (Deuteronomy 33:5). He was never crowned, nor was he ever called King Moses, yet he was the God-appointed ruler among them. And now we are going to consider David, the king whom God had provided for Himself among the sons of Jesse, and who foreshadowed Christ, the final and perfect expression of kingship. Concerning Him it was predicted that "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David ... and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32). So David's kingship was no afterthought but a predetermined appointment. God does not seem to be particularly impressed with the idea of democracy. It may be that there is no better arrangement for a world which has rejected and crucified His chosen King, but He never instituted any such form of government for His own people. For them He provided a king. We shall read now of how His hand was forced, as it often is, by His people's impatience; but in His own good time there came to the throne the king whom He had chosen and prepared. And this is the subject of 1 Samuel.

THE book opens with the story of Hannah, showing us how her prayers were used as a part of God's secret preparation of the way for His king. God always works in secret before He shows His hand. I think that this is almost always the case. When God has some important project on hand it does not begin with the arrangements of a group of people who get together to initiate it, but rather deep down in some human heart in terms of travail. In this case the whole matter of the preparations for Israel's kingdom seems to have been born in the prayers of one suffering heart. So the book begins in a humble home, telling us of a Levite with his childless wife, Hannah. We are informed that the whole family went annually to God's house, and an apparently casual reference to the official order there mentions that "the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, priests unto the Lord, were there". Theirs will prove a sinister story, but the immediate point is that over against the travailing prayer of Hannah is set the tragic fact that there was no real prayer among the men who had been officially constituted for that very purpose. Much later, when the Lord Jesus came to the temple, He had to complain of the same thing, for men were intent on their own selfish gain instead of serving others in the place which God had intended as a house of prayer for the needy. It was true in Christ's time, and it was true in Hannah's, that in the house of God there was selfish officialdom but no ministry of intercession. Happily this did not paralyse God. He was not limited to the official priesthood. If they failed -- and they did -- He would look for someone who would not fail, and He found one in the person of Hannah. God often has to do this, to turn away from the privileged, the people with status, to those who are simple and humble enough to be His true priests.

God began, then, in this simple Ephraimite home. Not that things were as they should have been there, for Hannah was one of two wives and this was certainly not according to God's original order. We might think that in such a disorderly society and such an unsatisfactory home, God would wait until things were put right before He could bless or use those concerned. No. We may lay down conditions which to us seem necessary for a new movement of God, but we must not forget that our God is a God of grace. In fact the name Hannah means Grace. Now this does not mean that we can play fast and loose with God's Word. In this case His order was disregarded, and the result was unhappiness and strife. Poor Elkanah! He was only doing what had become customary, but he found that there was no peace of God in his home and nothing that he could do to comfort [17/18] Hannah. We must always remember that although God uses the imperfect, this does not mean that He approves of the imperfection -- far from it. It only means that He will tolerate a faulty, disorderly situation if He finds there a life which is wholly given to Him, one who will allow Him to turn its suffering into spiritual profit.

We are twice told that Hannah's childless condition was no accident. There can be no mere accidents in the life of the committed believer. God's withholding is just as important as His giving, and in Hannah's case her appeals for motherhood were not ignored but were refused at that time. Quite deliberately, and for His own wise purposes, the Lord kept saying 'No' to her request, and He did so "year by year". Possibly she knew nothing of prayer at home, so that it was only on their annual visit to the house of God that she was able to voice her petition. Year by year she prayed, and year by year God did nothing about it. If we think this an unlikely background for bringing in the kingdom we do well to realise that this is the very ground on which God chooses to work. The kingdom must be taken by violence; that is it must be brought in by those who refuse to take No for an answer. So each year she went back to God and asked again, only to meet with another refusal. But she still persisted. Her well-meaning husband urged her to give up, to stop crying and to accept his love as a substitute for sons; but when a soul is passing through this kind of heart exercise, mere human comfort is not enough. Sad though she was, Hannah had an inward sense that she should hold on to God and go on praying. This was right. It was what God was looking for. The Lord Jesus Himself set great store by this kind of persistence and once said that "he that endureth to the end shall be saved". He was not referring to salvation in the sense of forgiveness of sins. That is a free and instantaneous gift. He meant salvation in the fullest sense, salvation as the realisation of all the will of God, and this demands a people who will not just pray a little prayer and then give up, but those who come back again and again, persevering in prayer until God's answer comes. Hannah was that kind of person.

A further feature of her distress was that "her adversary provoked her sore". How the devil gets at you when there is no sign of God answering your prayer! He mocks. He accuses. One of Satan's favourite weapons is discouragement, and if he can work on our sense of inadequacy or unworthiness to quench our hopes, he will always do so. There is only one answer to these attacks, and that is simple but unwavering faith. In the face of Peninnah's provocation Hannah prayed all the more. This is the best answer to the devil. The more her adversary provoked her to fret, the more he drove her to prayer. Year by year the whole family went up to the house of the Lord, and at that holy season of sacrifice and worship these attacks were multiplied as Hannah's adversary sneeringly scoffed at her barrenness and complete failure to get the ear of God. Provocation can work in two ways. It can work in a bad way by making us turn against the one concerned, or it can work in good ways by driving us back to God. The adversary succeeded in making her feel sore, but even in her bitterness of soul, perhaps even because of that bitterness, she got through to God. "It came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord ..." which really in the Hebrew reads 'she multiplied to pray' (v.12 margin). In the New Testament it says of Elijah that 'in praying he prayed' (James 5:17 margin). He, too, was provoked, but he prayed on in faith. Hannah had the same kind of faith and, like Elijah, was drawn out in prayer beyond her personal concerns to the needs and interests of the Lord. After she had been given her child she began her hymn of praise by singing about her personal enemies (2:1), but she finished by referring to "the adversaries of the Lord" (2:10). It was as though she came to realise that she was involved in God's affairs, and that the battles of her limited home circumstances were a part of the battles of the Lord. The Lord's people were without a king, but the climax of her faith was the triumphant declaration: "He shall give strength unto his king" (v.10). This had been God's objective all the time.

It is an amazing thing that the religious teachers, Eli and his sons, were so blind to spiritual issues, while this lowly housewife seems to have perceived so much. As the Lord Jesus said: "I thank thee, O Father ... because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes". This process began when Hannah, in desperate earnestness, made her vow and declared that if her prayer were answered, the fruit of all her travail would be entirely consecrated to the Lord. This was, [18/19] in fact, what happened, and later Samuel proved to be God's key man in the locating and anointing of the king. Now we can understand why the prayer had not been answered before. Had it been so answered she would have eagerly grasped and possessed the child as her very own and failed to enter into the holy compact with God. As it was she was brought to the place where she was ready to say: 'This will not be just for me, Lord. I will give him back to you. I will stay at home all alone, but never mind about me, so long as You have Your man.' That was what the Lord had been waiting for. How often it happens that when we let go of our personal interests and get immersed in a deep concern for God's glory, we find that this is the key to release. Year by year Hannah thought that she had been waiting for God when really it was He who was waiting for her.

BUT before we go further we need to consider the other side, the failure of the official priesthood. When, with the others, Hannah came to Shiloh, she found that "Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord". He could not even support himself, but needed to find a prop to lean on. In the divine economy we are told nothing of sitting priests. The high priest was there not to sit leaning back and apart as a spectator but to stand for God, to open his arms and his heart so that a needy Hannah could go and tell him her troubles and get help from his prayers. That was really why she went up to Shiloh from year to year but, instead of finding a man of God who could pray for her, she found only an unsympathetic critic. Misjudging her, the petulant priest began to accuse her of drunkenness. Well, she was in good company, for the Spirit-filled apostles had been regarded as intoxicated. Hannah, however, was learning to deal direct with God. Her adversary could not stop her from praying and nor could her faulty pastor rob her of her faith. The pitiful Eli did not even offer to share her soul exercise, contenting himself with a trite hope that "the God of Israel" -- not the LORD, you note -- would grant her request.

"So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." I do not for one moment think that Eli's feeble blessing changed her in this remarkable way, but from that moment she was a different woman. She went back to the family party with a glowing face and a hearty appetite. She was not yet pregnant. She had no grounds for her sudden transformation other than an inward conviction that her prayer was answered. What more did she need? What more do any of us need? Spiritually the matter was settled and she could rely on the faithfulness of the Lord. Things should be settled spiritually before they are settled outwardly. I believe that there is often, or should be, a turning point in our praying when we no longer agonise but praise and rejoice. This can never be artificial, as though we had completed a certain routine formula of request and then switched over to the procedure of thanksgiving. It can only come as the result of inward assurance. But there are times when just to continue praying would be unbelief. It seems that this was the case With Hannah. She smiled and trusted, and the thing was as good as done.

When the child was born, we are told that it was because "the Lord remembered her". That is wonderful. But still more notable was the fact that in due time she remembered Him and her promise. He was faithful, but so was she -- by His grace. She must have been sorely tempted to go back on her promise. It seems significant that she would no longer accompany her husband in his yearly visit to Shiloh, saying that she would never go again until the boy was able to do without her, and then she would take him and leave him there for ever. Had she taken her baby up each year and brought him back again she might never have been able to let him go. Each time she would have been tempted to argue that he was still too small to be left and that she would wait for just one more year. In that way she realised that she might easily get accustomed to taking him back again and so be in danger of postponing the issue indefinitely, as many of us do. It seems that she knew the frailty of her own heart and felt it safer not to risk getting used to bringing him home again. So she decided that she would not go until the time came for the full committal, and then it would be for good.

SO at last the great day came. They went up with Samuel and left him there in Eli's house. The behaviour of Hophni and Phinehas was so notorious that she must have known the dangers to which she was exposing her precious Samuel. [19/20] Immediately following this episode we are informed that "the sons of Eli were sons of Belial", without any knowledge of God. Moreover subsequent events confirm our earlier suspicions as to Eli's feeble ineffectiveness. How could a devoted mother leave her young son in such perilous company? It must have taken considerable faith for her to do so. But she did it, and she did it with a song. Clearly her experience of God's faithfulness had convinced her that the right thing to do was to trust Him, even over this. She had the mind of the Lord; Samuel was destined of God to be His chosen servant; and for this reason she could trust Him to look after His own. God will never thank us for worrying about things which we have committed to Him. In fact He has forbidden us to do so. Hannah trusted whole-heartedly, as we shall see when we turn to chapter 2 and listen to her song of praise.

We must notice the timing of this 'Magnificat' of hers. It was not when her prayer was answered, though doubtless that was a matter for great praise. It was not when the baby was born or when he was named, though she must have been very happy then. No, this supreme offering of thanksgiving was made when she handed over her all to the Lord and went back to an empty home. People might pity her. Peninnah would probably think her crazy. But then they did not know the wonderful joy of full surrender to the Lord. When Hannah presented Samuel to Eli she spoke of 'lending' him to the Lord, but our margin suggests that really she was only returning to the Lord what He had first given to her. And how glad she was to do it! Her song is full of appreciation of Jehovah's greatness and goodness. She had found an altogether new knowledge of Him as the fruit of her prayer travail.

Hannah is an outstanding example of the fact that nobody loses who lets go to God and puts Him first. It is true that she went back to an empty home, but not for long. One after another, children were born to her until the void left by Samuel was filled by three more sons and two daughters (2:21). Not that any of these could give her that supreme joy which came when every year she took Samuel new clothes, marvelled at his growth of body and spirit, and knew that he was not only destined for great things but even as a child was ministering to the Lord.

We hope to continue this story. Meanwhile we can take encouragement from the great values which were gained for God as a result of her deprivation, her agonising problem and her final renunciation. The work of God will prosper and the kingdom will come if only God can find one soul like this. Hannah was the kind of person whom the Lord is looking for, and her prayer travail the vital factor which enabled Him to work out His purposes. I am sure that this should encourage us who feel so small, so insignificant, perhaps so deprived and misunderstood. The Lord not only makes poor, He also makes rich. He brings low, but He also lifts up. "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among the princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." This can be our song as well as Hannah's if we learn from her example the lessons of faith and patience.

(To be continued)

RECORDED MESSAGES by the late T. Austin-Sparks

Our friend Mr. Alec Brackett has prepared cassettes with messages which Mr. Austin-Sparks gave at Honor Oak and elsewhere. He will be glad to make these cassettes available to any who wish to get the help and inspiration which they bring. Particulars of these and other tape recordings may be had on application. The address is: "THINGS THAT MATTER" 30 Western Road, URMSTON, MANCHESTER M31 3LF. Please send stamped addressed envelope for details. [20/ibc]

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Daniel 11:32

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