"... 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. 13, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1984 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

"Hail, Abraham's God And Mine!" (3) 101
"Lord, Teach Us To Pray" 103
Further Studies From Mark's Gospel (4) 109
Life's Individualities 115
Old Testament Parentheses (12) ibc



(Names by which Abraham came to know God)

Michael Wilcock


IN our consideration of how Abraham learned more of his God and ours by means of the names by which he came to call Him we now encounter a new blessing which came to him: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High (El Elyon ), possessor of heaven and earth" (Genesis 14:19).

Genesis 14 is a unique chapter in this book; there is nothing quite like it anywhere else. It is the first time in which Biblical history and secular history coincide and it deals with the affairs of the people of God and also the affairs of the world outside. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, is found in a long list of difficult names which is very different from the lists of names in chapters 5 and 10. If we could sit down with an atlas of the Middle East, reading this list and knowing where to look for the places, we would find that they all fall into position and constitute a map of international affairs somewhere, we presume, about the year 1800 B.C.

We began the story of Abram in Chapter 12, finding that there and in Chapter 13 we are given the story of his spiritual history in his life of relationship with God. Now in Chapter 14 something quite different begins. For the first eleven verses we are dealing with things from a secular viewpoint, and Abram has no place in it. But if he could have looked at that atlas, he would have been faced with something unavoidable and as we look at it now in imagination, we will find the same thing.

Here we are, some three thousand years later, with our newspapers and television, and often we look at maps with arrows on them, as well as many other items and statistics and realise that this is the world in which we have to live. May I do something which I rarely do and give an extract from this chapter from the Living Bible.

"Now war filled the land -- Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goiim, fought against: Bera, king of Sodom, Birsha, king of Gomorrah, Shinar, king of Admah, Shemeber, king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (later called Zoar). These kings (of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela) mobilized their armies in Siddim Valley (that is, the valley of the Salt Sea). For twelve years they had all been subject to King Chedorlaomer, but now, in the thirteenth year, they rebelled.

"One year later, Chedorlaomer and his allies arrived and the slaughter began. For they were victorious over the following tribes at the places indicated: The Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim; the Zumim in Ham, the Emim in the plain of Kiriathaim; the Horites in Mount Seir, as far as Elparan at the edge of the desert. Then they swung around to Enmishpat (later called Kadesh) and destroyed the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazan-tamar.

"But now the other army, that of the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboiim and Bela, unsuccessfully attacked Chedorlaomer and his allies as they were in the Salt Sea Valley (four kings against five). As it happened, the valley was full of asphalt pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some slipped into the pits, and the remainder fled to the mountains ...".

This is a long passage for me to quote and I do not know if it has any mistranslations, but I give it to bring it to our notice in a vivid way. It all comes alive, doesn't it? We then read, as he was on the march with his armies, Chedorlaomer captured Lot, the nephew of Abram. It is at this point (verse 12) that Abram the Hebrew became involved in the story. And there was no avoiding the involvement; it was the world in which he had to live. As the Lord Jesus said in John 17, we are not "of this world" but we are in it, and whatever be the temperament or the life style of the man of God, sooner or later he cannot avoid some sort of confrontation with his contemporary world, with the Chedorlaomer of this world and his allies. Abram was a man of God and therefore, as this story makes very clear to us, he was independent of the kings of this [101/102] world because his citizenship was in heaven, but he found that independence is by no means the same thing as immunity; he could not opt out of contemporary life.

From time to time there are some of the people of God who try to do this. To them the world is such an evil place and politics such a dirty game, that they would like to ignore Chedorlaomer and Co. But it cannot be done. It is true that they refuse to dabble in politics, but perhaps they vote. Even if not, when they are ill, they are usually glad enough to use the National Health Service. And if, to avoid dabbling with the world, they refuse that, they are still obliged to make use of the Electricity Board and its services. Every time they turn on their taps, they are indebted to the Water Board. However much such folk may desire to have nothing to do with the world and to adopt a 'back to nature' sort of set-up, they cannot avoid being caught up in the economic life of the world around them. It is true that the world is bad, but even the most pious cannot entirely opt out of it.

Sooner or later, the armies of Chedorlaomer will catch up with us or come our way. In the thirties there was a very wealthy man who, seeing the way in which world affairs were going, decided to get right away from it all. He looked around the globe to discover the best sort of place to go to, and finally sank all his savings in the purchase of a remote South Sea island. But the name of that island was Guadacanal! That was the least peaceful spot on earth! The story may be apocryphal -- but it makes a good point!

"The kings of the earth arise, and their rulers take counsel together ..." but whether they like it or not, Abram's nephew is caught up in the affairs of this world by the advances of the armies of Elam, and Abram becomes involved, willy-nilly. What we are to notice, though, is that Abram made no attempt to opt out of responsibilities. He found himself in a difficult situation, but he faced it positively and actively. He mobilised his limited forces and set out to rescue his nephew; by a clever manoeuvre and the right use of his forces, he achieved his aim and returned victoriously. Lot was rescued from the hands of the king of Elam and his allies.

It was on his return from the conflict against one king that Abram met a king on the other side. This was Bera, the king of Sodom. Bera emerged from his hiding, perhaps he crawled out of the pits of slime into which he had fallen, but he was ready with his offer of patronage. So Abram found himself in a very peculiar situation. The two kings had been on opposite sides in this war; Abram had just been fighting again Chedorlaomer of Elam and thus, in a very undesirable way, found himself on the same side as Bera of Sodom. Now there was little to choose between the two, and one imagines that probably Bera was the worse of the two, yet it was as though Abram had been forced to a kind of alliance with him, whether he liked it or not.

There was no help for it. Lot had been captured. Lot had got to be rescued. Abram could not delay in order to screen his allies or assure himself of the purity of his associates. The job had to be done, and to do it he seemed to be on the same side as Bera of Sodom. It is thus that life sometimes plays strange tricks on us so that the people of God can find themselves associated with those whom Francis Schaeffer calls, 'not allies but co-belligerents' which are two very different things. On gospel grounds they may find themselves rubbing shoulders with undesirable people, but that is the way that Christians may have to take in their contemporary world. They will be right if they follow in the path of faithful Abraham, not opting out of responsibilities because of the peculiar people they meet in pursuance of them, but prepared to be called of God to stand for the right and to make such a stand their prior claim.

So Abram found himself on the same side as Bera, the king of Sodom, not because he agreed with him (heaven forbid!) nor because he liked being associated with him, but simply because for the time being they were going in the same direction. Abram was true to his God and to his ideals and he kept going on down the straight path and it brought him into a very tricky situation. A challenge came to him, for the king of Sodom welcomed him and tried to make him an offer. Our great interest must centre on how Abram responded to this apparently friendly offer. Just as the meeting was going to happen, another king appeared in the form of that strange figure, Melchizedek, the king of Salem.

Who was Melchizedek? Was he merely a local Canaanite ruler? We might have thought so but for the wonderful aura about him in the light of what the rest of the Scriptures tell us. We are [102/103] able to look at him with hindsight, both because of Psalm 110 and the fact that that psalm is quoted no less than seventeen times in the New Testament. Who is this strange man who figures so largely in Christian thinking? Who is this king who emerges from his city and comes down into the Valley of Shaveh to meet Abram before he has to face the king of Sodom? One commentator points out that in a story so full of kings, Melchizedek was the only king to whom Abram would bow. He was the man who put the story of Abram's encounter with the world in its right perspective.

Melchizedek was the one who helped to preserve Abram's principles in his confrontation with the world, and he did so in the name of El Elyon , God Most High. Recognising his greatness, Abram gave him tithes of all -- "see how great this man is" (Hebrews 7:4); and in return Melchizedek, king and priest of El Elyon, gave Abram bread and wine in the name of God who is God Most High. Fortified with these provisions from the priest-king of Salem, Abram was able to meet the challenge, saying to the king of Sodom: "I have lifted my hand and have sworn to the LORD, whom I now know to be also God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that the world can never say that it has made Abram rich." My association is limited to that short distance of my pilgrimage when you happened to be going my way, but I care nothing for you and I will not have it said that I have received anything from you. I may go along with you, but I don't need you. My sole confidence is in El Elyon, God Most High.

We may have to live alongside and work alongside of strange people. We may have to help and sympathise with a whole collection of those to whom we do not belong; we may have to endure rising prices and enjoy rising wages along with some very bad people. We may find ourselves deeply involved in some of the happenings in the world, but we do not belong to that world. We will not be beholden to any of them and neither will we be afraid of any of them or their opinions. Our citizenship is in heaven.

That is a great truth and for Abram it was put into words by Melchizedek who disclosed to him this new name by which he called his God, Yahweh , the new name of El Elyon, God Most High. We believe that this world was made by Him; we believe that everything in it is sustained by God Most High who is maker of heaven and earth. We believe that the welfare of His people is in the hands of this God Most High. The kings of the earth may arise and their rulers take counsel together, so that we feel scared and have a sinking feeling within at what is happening in our contemporary world and what threatens to come near to us and our families, but by God's grace we will not be afraid of the world around us nor will we be dependent upon that world. We are those who lift up our hand to El Elyon, God Most High. He who is our Melchizedek, our Priest-King, the Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us by introducing us to the God who is supreme. He it is who is far greater than all the kings of the earth, and He is the only one to whom we will bow. We will not be afraid of Chedorlaomer nor will we be beholden to Bera, because we trust in the Lord who is God Most High. In the strength of that knowledge we will watch this evening's news and read tomorrow's newspaper.

(To be continued)


Harry Foster

Reading: Matthew 6:9-13

OF the two prayers of the Lord Jesus recorded verbatim, one was His prayer for the Church given in John 17 and the other -- usually described as "The Lord's Prayer" -- was the pattern prayer which the Church should pray for itself. Neither of these two prayers deals directly with world needs, but concentrates on God's people. This is for two reasons: firstly, because the Church is of prime importance to God and secondly, because He plans to use His Church to reach out to the world around.

So we have this prayer, not quoted in full in Luke's Gospel but manifestly important. Some [103/104] repeat it too often and so are in danger of using it as a mere routine, others prefer to use it more occasionally and some may feel that it is not altogether suitable. We all agree that it has the nature of a pattern prayer. It contains six definite petitions and six is a number usually associated with man. We consider it, then, as the prayer that redeemed people should prayer for their own assembly and also for the Church as a whole.

Before I proceed to elaborate, though, I must stress the fact that it involves personal committal by those who pray it. Prayer calls for God's action; it is offered to God, our heavenly Father, since He alone can bring about what is being asked. Nevertheless this prayer calls for the action or co-operation of the praying Church. It can only rightly be spoken by those who are wholly committed to its outworking in their own experience. This is clearly shown by the fact that the request for forgiveness is made dependent on our willingness to forgive. We are to pray then:

1. That the Church's priority should be the honour of God's name

"Hallowed be thy name." We live in a world where God's name is not held in reverence. Faith tells us that this is a situation with which the Almighty is well able to cope, so our prayer is something much more positive than feeble well-wishing. The fact is, however, that He has placed that name upon us, His people, entrusting us with the privilege of bearing that name before the world, even at great cost to ourselves (Acts 9:15-16).

"Hallowed by Thy name." This may perhaps be better understood if we consider its opposite, namely dishonour for that name. Paul charged unfaithful Israel with bringing dishonour to God's name among the Gentiles (Romans 2:24). The Church must be saved from this. We might use a common phrase if we described it as 'letting the Lord down'. It would not then be altering the sense of this petition if we prayed, 'Please Father, help us not to let You down today'.

Where the Lord's name is hallowed, His presence is made real. The first church in Jerusalem was by no means composed of mature Christians; even its leaders still had much to learn. Nevertheless it was outstanding for its honouring of the name, and for the presence of the Lord among them. Some were won over, some were afraid to come too close and some were violently enraged; but none could remain indifferent to this reality. Those who hallow the name of the Lord live in close awareness of His presence and have their acts and attitudes governed by that holy nearness.

His name is holy in heaven; it must be hallowed here among us. This is the very first sentence in the prayer. It is the primary request which the Church must make. Above all else we are a community entrusted with the honour of the Lord's name, called to make the visible beings of this world and the invisible beings of the other world know what our Lord is really like.

Two Old Testament prophets give us a picture of what the Church should be like. At the close of his messages and visions concerning God's spiritual house, the prophet Zechariah spoke of a glorious climax when His people would have HOLY UNTO THE LORD inscribed everywhere, even on their transport and their home furniture. That is surely a picture of how the Church should live. The transcending feature of that glorious city is given by another prophet, Ezekiel: "The name of the city from that day shall be JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH -- The LORD is there" (Ezekiel 48:35). This must surely be our first prayer for the Church today.

2. That the Church should apply the effective power of God's kingdom to present events and circumstances

It is, of course, right for the Church to pray for the glorious Return of the Saviour from heaven. I am not sure, though, that this was what was meant by the second petition: "Thy kingdom come". The Lord Jesus once said: "If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you" (Matthew 12:28). This applies not only to demon-possession but to every situation which Satan creates in this world of ours. It is possible for the power of God's kingdom to check or change it, and that is to be done by means of the believing prayer of God's people.

There are so many instances of how the Church's prayer has moved God's hand of intervention and deliverance that perhaps our wisest approach is to look again at a most striking example described for us in the book of the Acts. [104/105] In Chapter 12 we read of a critical event in the story of the early Christians. Peter, Christ's chosen servant, was isolated in Herod's prison and seemingly doomed to an early death. In those days there were no possibilities of appeals or protest marches, nothing at all could be done in the realm of human activities, but there was -- as there still is -- a means by which superior power from a greater kingdom than Herod's could be brought to bear upon his situation. The Church could pray! And it did just that!

"Thy kingdom come!" It did come there in Jerusalem in an astounding way. Whoever heard of chains falling off a man's hands? However could a great iron gate open of its own accord? And what shall we say of the disastrous collapse of Herod himself down in Caesarea? It was the power of God's kingdom which produced the deliverances and it all stemmed from the simple prayers of saints who could hardly believe it when the answer came. Corporate prayer is not just a luxury, and not only a means by which benefits are obtained from heaven; it is the effective power by which the kingdom of God is brought to bear upon events and circumstances so that God's will is indeed done on earth. This leads on to our third petition:

3. That the Church's obedience should be according to heavenly standards

The Church is meant to be a community of those who both approve the will of God and practise it. So much has been said and written about doing God's will that it hardly seems appropriate to go again over all that ground. It may perhaps be profitable if we take note of the feature of obedience to the divine will which is here specified by the Lord Jesus, namely that it should be, "As in heaven, so on earth". We readily agree that what helps to make heaven so wonderful is that there no other will than the will of God ever operates. We do not know a lot about heaven, but I think that a few comments may be helpful:

i. Obedience in heaven is ordered and not impulsive

It is amazing how many differences of opinion there can be among Christians as to what is God's will in certain given circumstances. It is even more surprising how readily we can speak or act impulsively, erroneously imagining that this is what God wants. In heaven there is no such disharmony and no well-intentioned blunders. Somehow or other the heavenly beings know how to register what it is that God wants and in this way the fulfilling of that will is completely orderly and marked by heavenly harmony. Now Christians are not angels. For us it is often a problem to know just what is God's will on a given occasion. However we have advantages, for we have His Word in our hands and His Holy Spirit in our hearts. There may be matters about which we are uncertain and at times we can only venture tentatively forward in some enterprise, trusting that the Lord will either confirm or check us, according to His will, but we have clear principles as to how we should proceed and as to how we should behave ourselves in the church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15).

In heaven they know God's will and they obediently do it. This part of our prayer asks that in a world of indifference or rebellion, the Church should provide a community where God's will can be made known and worked out in daily life.

ii. Obedience in heaven is constant and not spasmodic

In heaven things run smoothly; there is none of the start-stop life-style which is all too often a feature of things here on earth, even among the truly consecrated. All too often ours is a patchy story of alternating success and failure. Can we not improve on this? Well, it is clear that of ourselves we cannot -- and that explains our need for making it a matter of prayer. I used to think that this was largely a repetition of the previous request and asked for the sovereign will of God to be imposed upon earthly affairs. That is a right way to pray, but this mention of heaven indicates that we are not now thinking of an imposition of the sovereign will of God on all and sundry but rather of the heavenly regime where that will is constantly being accepted and put into practice. If, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, "we are a colony of heaven" (3:20), then we should not only enjoy heavenly status but also render heavenly obedience.

In this prayer we pray for ourselves but we also pray for another. There are prominent servants of God in His Church whose names are well known. Any book with their name on is bound to sell well; any meeting which they are [105/106] billed to address is sure to be well attended. We thank God for them and must remember them in our prayers. But for everyone of them, there are thousands of unrecognized servants of Christ, some of whom see little success for their labours and get no publicity at all. Yet in their hidden sphere or their tough assignment they are devoted to the will of God. For them it is harder just to keep plodding on in steady faithfulness yet, if they do so, they reflect the kind of selfless service rendered by most of the angels. We know of the great Michael and the privileged Gabriel, but for the most part those heavenly beings are anonymous and quite content just to be "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14). Heaven is full of them: they do the will of God continually. May the Church be just as full of them and may we be among them: "Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth".

iii. Obedience in heaven is joyful and never grudging or complaining

Heaven is a happy place. No-one there resents the prominence of others and no-one indulges in self-pity. Any church whose members serve Christ together in such a spirit approximates to that house of God which is the gate of heaven. It may be argued that there is no evidence of any suffering being involved up there; we have no grounds for imagining that the angels find it costly to give the Lord their constant devotion to His will. Here on earth, though, the circumstances are very different; those who have best served the will of God have always been people who were prepared to suffer for the sake of His name. Perhaps, then, it is too much to ask that the most obedient Christians should be the happiest and least complaining ones. Our obedience may be as ready and as constant as that which obtains in heaven, but is it possible that it should always be accompanied by heavenly joy?

Well, let us consider the facts. Even the enemies of the first martyr, Stephen, had to confess that in his hour of trial he had a heavenly radiance: "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). I do not know what angel-faces look like, but I feel confident that they express serene joy. Doing God's will had that effect on Stephen; in his case it was certainly a case of "as in heaven, so on earth". As the stories unfold in the book of the Acts, we see the same evidence of heaven's joy filling the hearts of those who were devoted to doing the will of God, and this spurs us on to continue in prayer that the Church in our day may be delivered from all complaint and self-pity and continue rejoicing, even in the midst of tribulation.

After all, who is the central Figure in heaven? Is it not our Lord who not only bore the greatest pain in His obedience to the Father's will, but did so rejoicingly? The angels may know little or nothing of the cost of obedience, but their Lord and ours knows more than us all. We may be sure that when He told His disciples to include this petition in their prayer, He had no light or superficial concept of what was involved. Yet He told them to pray it, and He did so knowing that heaven's joy always accompanies heavenly obedience.

4. That the Church's sufficiency should be in God alone

"Give us this day our daily bread." The word 'bread' is surely a comprehensive one, referring to all the needs of our life here on earth. I personally have had to make this request when I literally had to rely on the Lord for food to eat, but this is not the normal experience of Christians, though the very words serve to remind us that we depend on God's providence even in this matter of literal food. Any individual Christian may make this a daily prayer, and especially so as it surely includes the spiritual 'daily bread' which we seek from God's Word. Our souls need feeding as well as our bodies. It is therefore quite in order for the believer to use this petition as part of his daily exercise in prayer. If, however, we are considering the whole prayer in the suggested context of the manner in which the Church should pray for itself, the implication is much wider than the personal, for it asks that the Church should always have an up-to-date experience of God's provision for all its needs.

i. Material needs

Thousands of years ago, Abram was returning from a strenuous expedition, doubtless tired and hungry, when he was met by Melchizedek, God's king-priest, who not only pronounced a blessing on him but provided him with bread and wine (Genesis 14:18). It was after this that the king of Sodom came out to meet him and made him the seemingly generous offer of goods. Abram's reply was a most emphatic negative: "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker of heaven [106/107] and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, I have made Abram rich" (Genesis 14:23).

Whether or not Abram might have fallen to the subtle temptation if he had not received Melchizedek's timely reminder of God's sufficiency, we do not know. From the fact that he took up the new title of "God Most High" from the priest it looks as though the encounter had been of great significance. In any case the principle is clear: the man of faith never allows himself to be beholden to the world as though his God were not sufficient to meet all his needs.

The New Testament frequently warns us that we must be prepared for the world's enmity, but nowhere does it suggest that we should seek the world's patronage. 'What shall we do, then?' asks the needy Church, 'when our own resources are not sufficient for the occasion?' This prayer gives the answer. We must turn our eyes up again to our Father in heaven and pray, "Give us this day our daily bread". It is reasonable that the world should scoff at us for our faith, but it is quite unacceptable that it should have to take pity on us for our lack of it.

There are many ways in which different churches express their faith in God as they obtain financial provision for their work. It is not for us to criticise others because they adopt methods which we have not been used to, but we can join in the united prayer that the Church of Christ should always be a testimony to God's sufficiency.

Early on in our married life, my wife and I were greatly helped and challenged by some advice which Watchman Nee had given to his Chinese fellow-workers. It so happened that I was working on a MS of his messages on finance at the time and we shared together his advice to those whose support came entirely from unsolicited gifts. He said:

"Our attitude, our words and our actions must all declare that He alone is our source of supply. As God's servants we must show forth the abundant resources of our God. We must not be afraid to appear wealthy before people. We must never be untrue, but let us keep our financial needs secret, even if our secrecy should lead people to conclude that we are well off when we have nothing at all ...".

We took this to heart and in the years that followed encouraged each other to live by this rule. It is not easy but I gladly testify that all our needs were met, not in stinted measure, but "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus". Watchman Nee went on to say:

"I feel repelled when I hear God's servants emphasise the fact that they are living by faith. ... Even should people conclude from our mode of living that we have a private income, and in consequence withhold their gifts, we do not mind. I would counsel my younger brethren in the ministry not to talk of their personal needs, or of their faith in God. ... The more faith there is, the less talk there will be about it."

ii. Spiritual needs

"Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer is valid for spiritual as well as for material needs -- perhaps even more valid. As the editor of this magazine I find a phrase 'spiritual food' often used by correspondents. Many of them are engaged in ministry, often in distant lands, so I can appreciate their spiritual hunger and am humbly grateful for any contribution we can make for their need of 'daily bread'. At times, however, readers express their gratitude for the articles because they find a great lack of spiritual food in their own local fellowship. This does not necessarily mean that the Bible is belittled but rather that what they have does not seem to minister Christ to them in a living way.

This ought not to be. It is not due to lack of natural abilities but to some deeper deficiency in the spiritual realm or to a mistaken idea of what preaching should be. The Lord Jesus is not only the light of the world; He is also the bread of life. He not only commissioned Peter to be "a fisher of men" but also commanded him to feed the lambs and the sheep (John 21:15 and 17). If the Good Shepherd leads His sheep into green pastures , those who are His under-shepherds ought surely to do the same.

Why is it, I wonder, that the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels is that of feeding the hungry? If there are some choice souls who have special gifts of healing in the churches, by all means let them exercise their gift, but let us not lose sight of the fact that the most Christlike miracle of all is that of feeding hungry souls and perhaps the most Christlike gift in the Church is that of 'pastor'. [107/108]

"Take heed to yourselves," Paul urged the Ephesian elders, "to feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). "The elders among you I exhort," wrote Peter, "Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:1-2). In the light of all this, we find new depth in the Church's petition that it never lack ministries by which its members may feed on Christ in their hearts by faith.

5. That the Church's communion should be unclouded

I suggest that this covers the clause on forgiveness which deals with our relatedness to one another and also to the Lord Himself. When God's people gather together they should not do so as miserable sinners pleading for forgiveness but as forgiven sinners, praising God for His great grace. At first sight this may render our present petition unnecessary, and indeed many have regarded it as such and been unwilling to use the prayer. We dare not do that, for Matthew records that Jesus immediately followed this pattern prayer with some very strong words about our forgiveness of one another. What, then, does it mean?

Probably a consideration of 1 John 1 will help us to grasp the point at issue. The apostle's concern is for fellowship, our fellowship with the Father and the Son and also our fellowship with one another. Although we are forgiven sinners who already possess eternal life, there is always the possibility of some shadow coming between us and our Lord as well as between each of us with the other. This shadow, when it is caused by some fault on our part, must be dealt with if fellowship is to be freely enjoyed. So again and again we need to confess our sins and humbly claim fresh cleansing from them if the flow of loving fellowship is to be maintained. It is in this context of forgiveness that the statement is made: "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

Those who want the channels of communication with God to be kept open must be careful to keep them open between themselves as well. It is true that our first committal to Christ brings total and lasting forgiveness: "In whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Nothing can alter this. God has nothing against us. He has "blotted out as a thick cloud" our transgressions, and "as a cloud" our sins (Isaiah 44:22). It is impossible, then, that this prayer for forgiveness should question the validity of our redemption or suggest that we need to come again to Christ as if we were those who were without eternal salvation.

What it does show is that we must not minimise the day-to-day seriousness of unforgiven sin. We cannot blithely offend the Lord and then take it for granted that nothing really matters because some time ago we met Christ at the Cross and received pardon for all our sins. Nor can we claim to be forgiven sinners and then ourselves be unforgiving. Just as the previous petition spoke of the need for bread as a daily one, so in a sense this prayer can remind us of a daily -- or even hourly -- exercise about forgiveness.

It might be suggested that the epistles put this matter in the reverse order, for there we are enjoined to forgive each other "even as God also in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). In fact the order is unimportant; what matters is the double issue concerning forgiveness. Perhaps it was because the Lord Jesus knew well how prone His Church might be to receive forgiveness without exercising it, that He inserted this necessary petition.

It is not a matter of redemption but of communion. It is noteworthy that this prayer makes no mention of the Holy Spirit, a somewhat surprising omission. Could it be that somewhere in this request there is a hidden reference to Him, for it is certain that no spiritual fellowship is possible without Him? I wonder if we might paraphrase this part of the prayer thus: 'Please Father, help us to live in the good of the cleansing blood of Thy Son that we may in no way grieve Thy Holy Spirit who alone maintains our fellowship with Thee and with one another". That seems to me to make sense.

6. That the Church's conflicts should result in victory

This final petition is not easy to understand or explain. The Lord Jesus was led out by the Spirit to be tempted, so we must expect to be tested. In His case, however, the result of Satan's attacks was always victory for Christ, so we reasonably make this prayer that the Church too may be given the victory through Him. [108/109]

I have not been able to find any explanation which satisfies me, but I venture to suggest a possibility which is not altogether an exposition but is, I feel, true to experience. Can this prayer be a plea to be saved from giving any advantage to Satan by our foolish behaviour, with an additional request that if and when we fail in this respect, God will still give us deliverance from the Evil One? I offer two examples from God's Word:

i. David at Ziklag. 1 Samuel 29 and 30

There can be no doubt about the calamity at Ziklag being the result of David's falling into the temptation of escaping into the land of the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:1). With a complete lapse of faith and after many experiences of deliverance, he argued with himself: "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should escape into the land of the Philistines ...". Nothing better?! There could be nothing worse. It was by that attempt to infiltrate into the ranks of Saul's enemies that David opened the door for Satan to attack him. He had been led into temptation. Nevertheless, the Lord is merciful and in the end David was complete)y delivered from the Evil One, with the final triumphant result that "David recovered all" (1 Samuel 30:18), and was able to record that "the Lord ... has preserved and delivered ..." (v.23).

ii. Peter at Antioch. Galatians 2:11-21

Here is a New Testament example of the same principle. There can be no question but that Peter and Barnabas and the others opened a door for Satan into the church situation at Antioch when they led a separatist movement within the group of believers. It was so serious that Paul had no option but to rebuke Peter publicly. He had indeed been led into temptation.

Happily Satan was defeated. The Lord delivered His people from the Evil One. We are given no details, but feel justified in presuming that the challenge of the cross brought by Paul (v.20) melted the hearts and humbled the misled minds of Peter and the others so that fellowship was restored and the truth of the gospel maintained. It was a narrow thing! But it was a spiritual victory. Even when we can be blamed for drifting into temptation, we can still prove God's grace to rescue and restore us.

This, I suggest, is really what lies behind this sixth petition in the prayer. And if men like David and Peter needed to pray it, how much more do the rest of us! That is perhaps why the Lord Jesus made sure that it formed part of the suggested prayer for His Church.

*    *    *

My Bible ends the prayer at this point. The margin, however, informs me that "Many authorities, some ancient, add For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen". I am so glad that the do. I like an Amen at the end of my prayers. And what is more, I would hate that the last words in my prayer should be 'the Evil One'. I must certainly pray to be delivered from him, but I do not like the idea of finishing my prayer on this note. It seems so much better for all of us if we retain the customary form and finish with this majestic three-fold attribute to our Triune God.

Incidentally that adds a seventh clause to the prayer. Following the six petitions we have this seventh triumphant affirmation of faith. To me that makes the prayer perfect.



J. Alec Motyer

4. Mark 10:1-31

THERE are three stories in this section, and they are grouped together in that particular way that Mark assembles his material in this stage of his Gospel. As we have already seen, the Lord Jesus was quietly making His way to Jerusalem. The destination had not yet been declared but the journey was in progress, and Mark notes for us the stages of the journey. He had been in Galilee and Capernaum and now He made His way South and at some point crossed [109/110] over the river: "He arose from thence and cometh into the borders of Judea and beyond Jordan" (v.1). In verse 32 we are told that "they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem". This, then, marks the limits of the present section, so that we can confidently take verses 1 to 31 as a portion divided off by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working through Mark the writer.

Three Linked Stories

In this section there are three stories. This is the only place where Mark employs the plural, 'multitudes', and it is possible that he means us to see Jesus as being approached by one group of people after another as He approached the Trans-jordan area. Out of a mass of material, the Evangelist calls our attention to three things which happened, first the Pharisees came, then they brought children to Jesus and then, in the context of these multitudes, there was a single individual, the one whom we call "the rich young ruler". The rest of the section, right up to verse 31, is concerned with the conversation that the Lord had with this wealthy young man and then with His disciples on the same subject. So there are these three incidents: the Pharisees and divorce; the bringing of the children and the touch of Jesus upon them; and the young man with his question about eternal life.

There is one little link that runs right through these stories, and it is the incomprehension of the disciples. They were not quite 'with it'. So we find that "in the house the disciples began to ask him again of this matter" (v.10). They could not readily grasp what Jesus was saying but were in continuing need of his special, personal instruction. Again this note of unawareness of the mind of their Master is introduced by the fact that they rebuked those who brought young children to Jesus (v.13) and "when Jesus saw it he was moved with indignation". Finally "the disciples were amazed at his words" (v.24) when the Lord informed them that it was hard for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is good for us to notice how Mark continues to underline this factor, so that we should be reminded that always in this pilgrimage we are in need of the illuminating teaching of Christ and must bring our own spontaneous reactions under His judgment.

In the first section about the Pharisees and divorce, we need to bring our minds under the teaching of Jesus. In the second, the incident of the children, we need to bring our hearts under the heart of Christ, so that we react to things as He did. In the third section, we need to see the whole issue of kingdom membership and to bring our lives under the direction of Christ. We are in constant need of the instructive, directive, and exemplary care of our Saviour. We have to recognise ourselves in this matter. As the disciples walked on, we walk on with them, and we see ourselves over and over again, often in their stupidity and in their failures.

If we take the first story, that of the Pharisees with their query about divorce and the answer of Jesus, and the third one, that of the rich young man and his question about entering the kingdom, and the answer of Jesus, we find that these two are linked together by the idea of the costliness of living for the Lord. There is a high demand to be fulfilled as far as the Pharisees and divorce are concerned; the children of God are to live by a higher ideal than the one current among the children of the world. So far as the young man is concerned, he was faced with this costliness with the demand that he must give away all he had to fall in behind the Lord Jesus and follow Him. The Spirit emphasises to us the costliness of discipleship. The second and third stories are linked together by the theme of entering the kingdom. The children who were brought were, in the words of the Lord Jesus, normative kingdom candidates, whereas the young man who seemed to have everything in his favour did not in fact enter the kingdom at all. It is a matter of entering the kingdom and living within the kingdom. The way in is marked with simplicity, but the life within the kingdom is most costly. This has been stated thus: 'Salvation is free, but it costs everything you have!'

1. Jesus and Marriage

We take the stories one by one. The first concerns the Pharisees, and from this we note how seriously Jesus takes the high standards of the Scriptures. He takes them seriously, as something that His people are to live by. It is clear that the Pharisees could not be beaten for subtlety. Their test question was "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" (v.2). What a crafty question to be asked in that particular locality! Where was Jesus? He was across Jordan (v.1). That was the realm of Herod, the Herod who married his brother's wife. John the Baptist had lost his head because he denounced that [110/111] marriage, so it must have seemed a very cunning means of testing Jesus. If He sided with Herod, they had a handle to use against Him and if He went along with John, then they could leave Herod to settle Him.

But how marvellously straight the Lord Jesus was for, when He replied to this question of marriage, divorce and re-marriage, He did it not only in terms of husbands but also in terms of wives, not only having a word for Herod but -- an even more risky thing -- He had a word for the ear of Herodias: "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another commits adultery against her, and if she herself shall put away her husband ..." (v.11). What an example of integrity this sets for us. Well, let us quietly make our way through this most important but terribly sensitive passage. God forbid that we should claim to exhaust it or to make clear all the ramifications of a dreadfully tangled subject, but we will seek to follow along with the Lord Jesus as His teaching emerged.

He speaks of divorce as a Scriptural permission.

First of all Jesus speaks of divorce. "What did Moses command?" He asked (v.3) and they replied that Moses permitted to write a certificate of divorce and put her away. To this Jesus commented: "For the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment". He spoke of divorce as a Scriptural permission: "Moses commanded ...". In the mouth of the Lord Jesus, as in the mouth of the Pharisees, and indeed in the mouth of every Biblically-instructed believer, what Moses commanded, God commanded. The word of Moses is the Word of God. So the Lord Jesus took note, along with the Pharisees, that divorce is a permission granted by God. He distinguishes, of course, what God permitted as compared with what God ideally or absolutely wills. There is a marriage ideal, but within that God has something to say.

He speaks of divorce as a merciful concession.

Within that marriage ideal, our merciful God made a concession. It was not that the concession matched His will, but it was required by the human heart. So the Lord Jesus goes on from speaking of divorce as a Biblical permission, to speaking of it as a concession -- a concession to the hardness of the heart. Divorce is nowhere commanded in Scripture, but mercifully and graciously, the door is left on the swing. The Bible leaves us in no doubt that this is not the highest way; it is not the best way; it is not the God-honouring way; it does not match the perfect will of God. There is, however, a situation of hardness of heart which means that for divorce there is a permission granted and a concession made.

He speaks of divorce as a declension from the will of God.

"But" says the Lord Jesus, "from the beginning of the creation, male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (vv.6-8). Jesus then amplifies in His own authoritative way that statement of Genesis, adding, "So that they are no more two but one". We have seen, then, that the verses show us that Jesus speaks of divorce, first as a permission, then as a concession to the incurable sinfulness and hardness of the human heart, but thirdly as a declension from the will of God. Divorce is not what God proposed; it is a declension from His will.

He speaks of the possibility of divorce.

We must remember that the Lord Jesus speaks of the Old Testament, the Scriptures as He had them. In verse 11 He therefore goes on to speak of the possibility of a man putting away his wife and here, as always, He speaks as one who can bring the Scriptures of the old Covenant to their fulfilment, bringing out the fullness of their meaning.

Now there is only one passage in the Law which deals with this question of divorce and it is Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The differences of opinion among the Jewish leaders were partly due to the fact that the information and legislation regarding divorce was so scanty. This is the only place in the Law where divorce is dealt with and even then it concerns one narrow statement of the situation. Nevertheless this passage contains a most significant expression which the Lord Jesus now proposes to amplify.

The whole matter should be read rather like one sentence, though our Bibles provide some dividing punctuation: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, if she find no favour in his eyes because he has found some unseemly thing in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and gives it into her hand and sends her out of [111/112] the house, and she goes out of his house and becomes another man's wife, and the second husband hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and gives it into her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the second husband die who took her to be his wife, her former husband may not take her back again to be his wife, after that she is defiled." That is the one very narrow segment of the situation for which Moses legislates.

If we want to follow up the concessionary element which marks the departure from the ideal, we have only to consider the prophet Hosea to see the godly, Scriptural, God-honouring way in which he bore the cost of his broken marriage. Here, however, the Word of God speaks of divorce as a possibility, something that may happen, though it does not state the grounds for divorce, the "unseemly thing" which caused the certificate to be given. What it does affirm is that when that has been done and the wife goes and marries somebody else and then for some reason or other that marriage comes to an end, the first marriage cannot be reconstituted after she has been defiled.

As we read this Scripture attentively, we ask, 'What do the words "after she has been defiled" signify?' It seems to us that the second marriage has been a defiling thing. But it is not amplified for us; it is just made as a statement. The Lord Jesus takes this up. He is not going to contradict the Word of God, so He takes it up and amplifies it, bringing out what is in the Old Testament to the fullness of its meaning: "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her". That is the defilement. It is the defilement of an adulterous relationship.

In verses 11 and 12 there are two things which we notice. Jesus speaks of a second marriage. He says that such a marriage terminates the first marriage by the fact that it is an adultery. This links on with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:9, where He says that there is an exceptive clause, namely that a marriage can be terminated on the ground of fornication. In that case, the course of re-marriage is open. We pursue the matter in the light of what the Lord said and if we do so, we can reason in this way. Under the old Covenant, if the marriage laws were fully invoked, then the adulterous wife would suffer the death penalty, which would consequently terminate the marriage. It would be the death penalty that would free her partner.

The Lord Jesus was speaking, however, in His own day, the days of the New Covenant, and the people of God to whom He is speaking no longer have any capacity to exact the legal death penalty. That, therefore, is not under consideration, but it provides a basis for what the Lord Jesus has to say. The meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures was that death was the due penalty of adultery, but this death was not natural but the result or consequence of adultery. This, then, shows why the Lord excepted fornication (Matthew 19:9). If the marriage fractures on the ground of sexual immorality and infidelity, then that is quite a different matter: that marriage can be treated as finished, annulled, cancelled, just as if one partner had died.

As I have already pointed out, Hosea showed us that there is a more excellent way that matches the high ideal of God. Nevertheless it remains true that in the teaching of Jesus death terminates a marriage, leaving the surviving partner free to contract another marriage. There is no doubt that the question of marriage, divorce and re-marriage is one of the most complicated, tangled pastoral issues that any Christian leader may have to face. There is no simplicity in this matter of pastoral care and advice to be given.

He speaks of the Scriptural ideal of marriage.

I take verses 6 to 8 under a different heading, so that we can treat them positively, not by comparing them with the sad situation of divorce, but by noting what they say positively about that divine institution of marriage. The Lord Jesus reaffirms the Scriptural ideal which was in the mind of the Creator God. He reminds us, therefore, that marriage is a creation ordinance. I have spent most of my life as a minister taking marriages and in the introduction have used one of the most beautiful expressions about marriage which perfectly sums up the situation in Genesis 1 and 2, saying that "marriage was instituted by God in the time of man's innocency".

Marriage was instituted by God. It was He who said that it was not good for man to be alone. Adam perhaps did not at that moment recognise that he was alone in the whole of creation, but God saw the gap. It is interesting that in the creation sequence of Genesis 1, when God noted over and over again that things were good and even very good, that we find Him in Chapter 2 saying, "It is not good ..." (v.18). We then read how, in pursuance of this divine recognition, God [112/113] brought to him the perfect provision for his loneliness, the woman who matched his total nature in every point to be his helper. My paraphrase of the expression, 'an help meet for him' would be, 'the helper who is his match at every point of his nature'.

Marriage is not a concession to our sinfulness: marriage is a provision for our holiness. It is a creation ordinance, a provision of God so that we may live perfectly in His image, as is the true definition of our nature. Marriage is also a distinct way of life (Mark 10:7). "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." There must be a leaving before there can be a true cleaving according to the will of God. Marriage is also a real union, so Jesus said, "the twain shall become one flesh" (v.8). This is the decree of Genesis 2:24, but the Lord Jesus underlined it with His own comment, "They are no more two, but one".

If I had but one thing to leave in your mind, it would be to urge you to ponder the ideal of marriage as the Lord Jesus has set it out. In these days of easy divorce, there is a far too facile giving up of marriage responsibility, so we do well to pray for our own marriage and for all married Christians. It is quite clear that whether or not I have got the teaching right or complete, the truth behind this section of the chapter is the determination of Jesus that the high ideals of Scripture should be taken seriously by all His people.

2. Jesus and the Children

At verse 13 we pass to an extraordinarily different situation, for we find ourselves looking at Jesus with the little children, a sight full of the beauty which was so obscured by the tangle and hard-heartedness of the previous passage. The children were brought together to receive His touch and were welcomed as the normative members of the kingdom. The 'of' is the possessive; theirs is the possession of the kingdom -- they are normative kingdom members.

Children are typical in their position of the whole matter of receiving the kingdom of God: "Verily I say to you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God like a little child ..." (v.15). The key idea, of course, is the idea of gift. I have known commentators [to] go into all manner of detail as to what characteristic of children the Lord Jesus might have been isolating when He spoke of them as typical in entering the kingdom. I do not myself think that they are right when they speak of receptiveness, or humility, of imaginativeness or trustfulness. All those things may be true of some children, but they are by no means true of all children. I agree with those who say that what is being spoken of is just littleness and helplessness -- the thing that is manifestly true of all children. They have no claim or cause; the gift of His kingdom to them is altogether a matter of His choice. He alone can give, and He alone will give. We notice how the heart of Jesus is engaged in these verses. It is engaged indignantly. "He was moved with indignation" (v.14) and it was engaged beautifully, "He took them in his arms and began blessing them fervently, laying his hands upon them" (v.16).

This is the explanation which Mark gives of that little episode. The words used are the same as those we had when the Lord Jesus folded His arms around the one little child (9:36); "He took them in his arms". I suppose that Peter may have known Jesus in his own home and with his own children so, having his eye trained to a characteristic action, he passed the information on to Mark, as if saying, 'He did for those children what I saw Him do in my own home, He just put His arms around them and folded them in those arms'. In speaking of the Lord laying His hands on them, Mark uses a verb that is intensive in its meaning, "fervently blessing them". How moved the Lord's heart was in this blessing.

Here we have an object lesson in how to come into the kingdom of God -- it is to lie in the arms of Jesus and look to Him as the sole and sufficient source of blessing. That is our side. His side is to give a total welcome to all such, being moved in His heart to make us His own, and give us a place in His kingdom of love. This action clearly shows that the task of bringing us into the kingdom is His and not ours.

At this point I would like, with great hesitation but with sincere sensitivity, to say a few words about this matter of children in relation to the kingdom of God. We are called to live in love in the light of the authority of the Word of God and not expected to be so confident, so insistent or to register such claims for the way we understand it as to fall out and divide from other believers who may have other interpretations of Scripture. We are to live under the dominion of the Word of God. Having said that, I want now to say that though we may disagree as to the way in which this passage reaches out into other [113/114] Scriptures, there is one most comforting scriptural truth which none of us dare miss, and that is the way in which the eye of God is set upon our children. However we may feel it right to apply this in the actuality of church life and quite apart from any rite or ceremony, there is in the Word of God a distinct doctrine as to the children of believers. In this case the Lord's blessing was sought and the blessing was given.

With all my heart and perhaps an unusual passion, I want to encourage you concerning your children about whom, for all I know, you may at this moment be anxious. I want you to see your children placed within the embrace of a covenant God. I connect this action of the Lord Jesus with the clear statement that was made right at the beginning of things when, in the context of that covenant, God said to Abraham: "I am God to you and to your children after you". Let us not confuse ourselves with questions as to how we will express that in our church procedure, but let us seize upon the truth that our children, because they are ours, are precious in the sight of God and He will lay His hands upon them and bless them.

3. Jesus and the Young Ruler

We now come to the third of the stories and consider the case of the rich young man who came to the Lord Jesus. The previous two stories have emphasised the high standards of Scripture, to be taken seriously as the norm of kingdom membership and the basic simplicity of coming into the kingdom by falling into the arms of Jesus and receiving His blessing. Now in this third case we learn the costliness of living in the kingdom. The Lord Jesus does not conceal the commitment that He expects.

In this story of the young man, there are three things which only Mark tells us. Clearly these are things which he expects us to perceive and learn from his narrative. First of all, Mark alone tells us that "Jesus looking upon him, loved him" (v.21). The relationship between Jesus and the young man was a relationship of love. Peter evidently noted that and Mark records it. Secondly, it is Mark alone who tells us that "the disciples were amazed at his words" (v.24). Once again dear old Peter, not at all unwilling to let his deficiencies be seen all over the face of the Gospel narrative, confesses that they were all astonished and could not make head or tail of it. Thirdly, there is the final little reminder from Mark which is not in the other Gospels, when he notes that all the blessings and rewards of the kingdom are to be had "with persecution" (v.30). That is to say that although the rewards are abundant, the element of cost is continuous. Salvation is free, but it costs everything you have got.

The amazement of the disciples.

Of these three points which are peculiar to Mark, we take up first the matter of the astonished disciples. Let me put it to you in this way: the Lord Jesus is Himself the way into the kingdom; there may be people like this rich, pious ruler who seem to have everything in the world going for them, but that does not provide an entry into the kingdom. So the disciples stand back in amazement and ask, 'Well, if he can't get in, who can?' The answer is that the Lord Jesus is Himself the sole and sufficient way into the kingdom, and nothing else is to be taken into account. The Lord told His disciples that although they could not understand it or see the human possibility of it, salvation is all of God (v.27).

It is a basic truth that with men it is impossible, but not with God, for with Him all things are possible. Salvation is all of God and salvation is all in Jesus. For this the Lord told the young man of the one thing that he lacked and He did so in the words, "Follow Me". The young man opened up the matter by addressing Jesus as "Good Teacher ...". The Lord Jesus, who saw directly into his heart, decided that He must put this man straight about this idea of goodness, not goodness in the sense of beauty but goodness in the sense of moral perfection. The Lord indicated to the young man that he was in confusion concerning goodness, if he failed to understand that it can only be found in God. Moreover he exposed his confusion by asking what he should do in order to inherit it, when of course one can do nothing to inherit, since inheritance comes by the goodwill of someone else. To press home this point the Lord introduced the subject of the law, only to reveal that the man who felt that he could truly say that he had kept it all was completely without assurance. Law-keeping does not bring assurance and as a matter of fact, law-keeping at the human end is never as complete as the one concerned imagines. Here, though, was a man who claimed to have a good conscience but did not know if he had eternal life.

The Lord did not mention the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet". The tenth [114/115] commandment is the commandment of the heart. In the balance of the Decalogue, the first and the tenth commandments internalise all the commands of the law. The Lord therefore raised this matter of giving away his possessions to challenge the young man as to his heart attitude in order to expose to him that his law-keeping was not as complete as he might think. Even so, He did not tell him to go away and do better, as though he had kept nine of the commands and must now go and keep the tenth. That was not His purpose in asking the ruler to give away his possessions. The one thing needed was to follow Christ: "Come and follow me" (v.21).

What Jesus said to that young man was not a pattern for every conversion but it was peculiar to his personal need. For him it was part and parcel of his simple coming to Christ that he had to forsake all that he had. That was said as a special demand on him; the same demand is not put to us but Jesus never speaks to anyone who comes to Him without speaking also of the cost. There is the simplicity of kingdom membership, but there is also the costliness of living within the kingdom.

Christ's love for the young ruler.

The second thing which Mark alone records is the love of Jesus for the rich man: "Jesus, looking upon him, loved him" (v.21). The verb 'looking' implies 'looking right into him'. As the Lord Jesus looked through and through this young man, He was filled with love for him. For me this stresses the fact that it is love that dictates the costly life. The way of cost is also the way of love. Just as in this case it was the love of Jesus that offered to this young man the costliness of kingdom membership, so it is His love which calls us all to embrace the costliness of living in His kingdom. Under the old covenant it was because God loved His people that He gave them the law, and now under the new covenant, it is because He loves us that He opens up to us this way of cost and self denial and living for Him.

Once again, then, the two facts are presented side by side, not to be confused but also not to be ignored. The first is the fact and the simplicity of a personal attachment to the Lord Jesus, kingdom membership being simply a matter of falling into His arms. To us all He says, "Come after Me, put your steps in behind My steps". The second is the determined costly way in which that commitment to Christ is to express itself in daily life.

The cost of discipleship.

Once again Peter got it all wrong. It was he who impulsively broke in upon what Jesus was saying about the cost by saying: "Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee". He must have blushed when he instructed Mark to put that down. He never concealed anything wrong that he ever did or said, dear man. He was beautifully frank about his own faults. But though he got it all wrong, it was a direct question and it received a lovely answer. Jesus said: "Verily I say unto you, There is no man ..." (v.29). See how He generalised. The words about selling all he had was for that man alone, but now there is a word for everyone. The cost for everybody is to leave all for His sake and for the gospel's sake. The clear message of this incident to us all is that a true simple commitment to Jesus is in fact a commitment of everything we have; to be His means that our goods and our homes are all at His disposal and devoted to the gospel.

Happily the rest is also true. The Lord Jesus tells us that the return far outweighs the cost. Supremely there is "treasure in heaven", but there are also present rewards even though, as we have already seen, these come "with persecutions" for "There is no man that hath left ... but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time ..." (vv.29-30). Never mind the eternal returns, there are immediate rich rewards for those who respond to the call to follow the Lord.

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen

Reading: John 1:29-51

GOD is a God of repetitions, as we saw in a previous article [Life's Repetitions, Vol. 13, No. 4]; but He is not a God of uniformity. He has created millions of human beings, and all of them have two feet, two hands, a nose between two eyes, and two ears. That is repetition on a huge scale. Yet each of those [115/116] beings is unique: none of them is exactly like the others. This, then, is what our God is like; He is the God of repetition who hates uniformity.

Satan is just the opposite. He insists on uniformity, and he often seems to have his way. All the big political powers are built on uniformity. Sometimes this principle seems to enter into the Church, so that people in a particular church seem just like one another. They are without originality; they have become copies; they do the same things, speak the same language and use the same phrases. This is quite boring, and it is certainly not what is meant by being holy. Such sameness, far from being of God is very, very human and lacks vitality. True life demands individualities.


John's account of the first calling of the disciples speaks of two men without giving any names. From 1:40, however, he goes on to give us the names of four of them. The first is Andrew: "One of them that heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother". He is identified in this way, that he was the brother of Simon Peter, and with one exception this is always the case (Matthew 10:2; Luke 6:14; John 6:8). Almost the only place where he is not so described is in Mark's Gospel which, of course, was written under Peter's guidance; there he is just called Andrew (Mark 3:18).

I feel sorry for him. Nobody would wish only to be known as somebody else's brother. He was not so important as Peter, we know, but still he became just as indispensable. He became a real man in his own right, a unique personality, as the Gospels make quite clear. He first heard about Christ without the help of Peter. He heard for himself, and then he followed for himself, without the help of Peter. Indeed, it was all the other way round, for the Scriptures go on to report that "he findeth first his own brother, Simon ...".

The word 'first' indicates that he found others after Peter. It was he who found the lad with the five loaves and the two fishes (John 6:9), for that is the kind of man he was. Humanly speaking he lived under the shadow of his brother Peter, but really he lived in the light of the Lord, so he had his own personal testimony which he had not learned from Peter. He heard for himself John's words, "Behold, the Lamb of God". He heard that without Peter's help, and then he was able to exclaim: "We have found the Messiah".

It is tremendous to appreciate this that, without Peter's help, he understood that the embodiment of weakness was also power incarnate; the Lamb is the Almighty. It made his personality, to know this for himself. How had he learned it? By revelation of the Spirit through the Word of God. We know that John the Baptist and his disciples had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and rest upon Him: "John bare record saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him" (v.32). Andrew, the brother of Peter, came to the Lord himself, and the Lord gave him the words about the resting Spirit: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him" (Isaiah 11:1-2).

Andrew did not learn this from his brother Peter; he learned it from God Himself. The Spirit rested, abode, on the Lord Jesus and Andrew, the brother of Peter, understood this and was able to identify Him as the Christ. He did not say, 'We have found a man and I think that he may be the Messiah', or 'We have found one and I should not be at all surprised if he turned out to be the Messiah'. No, there were no doubts in his mind so that he was able to say: "We have found the Messiah" and in saying so he became a real man. He had found the Messiah, and in doing so he had found himself. Like Paul, he could now say, "By the grace of God I am what I am" -- I am Andrew. But he did not say, "I have found the Messiah". He was big enough to forget himself, which he did by asserting that it was "we" who had found Christ.

Andrew was now a new man and unique, even though he was still called the brother of Peter. He was an example of Biblical renewal by which common men are made unique, real personalities. In our limited understanding we think of renewal in two ways. One is by repair. When my wife repairs my shirt, I say that it is like new. But repair is not Biblical renewal. The other way is by substitution, starting with new material. I buy a shirt and of course it is a new shirt. But neither is this the Biblical way of renewal, as though we had put Andrew aside and created another man. No, it is not repair and it is not substitution; it is the miracle of renewal so that Andrew is still the same Andrew and yet is an altogether new Andrew, a real man. [116/117]

This makes man the most interesting being on earth, and shows that the Creator respects what He has created. The Lord had made Andrew a different man from all others, and then had given him a God-given personality. From the outside he had been unique, but now as an inner personality he was unique too. He had heard the wonderful message that the sin which was the self-centredness of the world had been taken away by the Lamb of God. Through that message, Andrew was liberated, delivered from self-centredness and given a new centre. His personality was no longer centred in his ego but in Christ, and so he had become the real Andrew, though he remained the brother of Peter.

This was true liberty, and now his testimony was convincing, even to his big brother Peter. Peter might be expected to doubt his statement, replying 'How can you know? You are only my brother Andrew'. But as he looked at him, he saw a new Andrew, a man quite natural, not artificial or dramatic, but a real man whose testimony was most convincing. If you want people to believe your testimony you must be truthful, and you can only be truthful when you are yourself, and you can only be yourself when you are in Christ. If you copy others, don't expect people to believe you.

People will listen when they hear such a man. Peter was, of course, much bigger than Andrew, for he was never called Peter the brother of Andrew, yet he was ready to listen to this smaller brother and be brought by him to Jesus. I wish that this spirit could be found more in our churches. The Lord does not want us to copy one another, for that leads to the fear of man. How many clouds would disappear in our assemblies if we had faith enough in God to allow our neighbours to be just what they are in Christ.


Now let us consider Peter. "When Jesus looked upon him, he said ..." (v.42). How did He look upon him? How do you think that Abraham looked on his dear old Sarah when she was ninety? I am afraid that she must have been rather wrinkled and faded as well as barren. Well, Abraham saw the wrinkles and faded beauty, and yet he called her "The mother of multitudes". He was not looking through rose-tinted spectacles but looking at her in the light of divine promises and of divine power. That was how Jesus looked on Peter. Of course He saw Peter's barrenness, and that is why He said: "Thou art Simon", but He saw more than that. He looked upon Peter in the light of His own power and intentions, and so He was able to say, "Thou shalt be called a rock". The Lord spoke the word of faith to Peter and in doing so He imparted faith to Peter. Through the word of faith and the spirit of faith that very rocklike nature which could never have been found in Peter himself was created by God.

This is a very important matter for our church life. How do we look at those who are fellow believers? You have a brother who has come to the Lord. You look upon him, seeing his barrenness and his faults and are tempted to say that nothing of value will come from him. If you adopt this attitude, you will help to produce defeat in him and you will be culpable because you have treated him without faith. The Lord Jesus is quite different. He produced faith in those men who followed Him.

How seldom do we find the Lord correcting His disciples! Certainly you will never find Him expressing despair about them as though they were hopeless. He might well have complained that He had been trying for some years to teach them but, as it was obvious that they had made no growth or progress, it might be as well to give them up altogether. Yet the very night in which they were going to betray and forsake Him, He looked upon them in faith and said: "You are they who have continued with me in my temptations, and I appoint unto you a kingdom" (Luke 22:28-29). This was not because of any virtues in them but because He dealt with them in the light of His own power. It was in this same spirit that He called Peter a rock, even when there was no reality upon which to base His words.

The Lord Jesus did not rely on any strength in Peter, but He had the grace and the power as well as the wisdom to produce a Peter out of a Simon. Now He does not expect us to be blind about one another's faults, treating everything with a blue-eyed optimism which pretends that all is well when it is not. No, it demands a life and walk with God which exercises faith in Him and so helps to reproduce that faith in others. You can never help a brother or sister by your doubts, by mere corrections nor even by setting before them a higher standard; what you need to do is encourage their faith. [117/118]

This is the basis of real fellowship, as the apostles showed. Andrew, the brother of Peter, had something to give even to Peter, and Peter, though weak in himself, was made strong by Christ to have something to give to Andrew. Andrew had no inferiority complex, even though he was always known in the secondary character as Peter's brother, and Peter had no sense of superiority even with his young brother, Andrew. They were just themselves, not trying to be like each other, and so they were able to enjoy free fellowship in Christ.

Such a life requires real faith in God, for otherwise one will impose himself on the other and try to produce fellowship on the basis of fear, whereas we can only have that fellowship in the freedom of faith and love. This does not mean that we have no standards, as if nothing mattered very much. No, far from it, but it does mean that we must learn to look on one another with faith, speak to one another in faith and encourage faith even though we may need to give some word of correction.

The list of those who follow the Lamb is a very long one and on it there is a place for us. Like Andrew, we may be connected with some other name, but we must learn to follow for ourselves. Andrew must not try to be like Peter, and Peter must not attempt to make him do so, for we must at all costs avoid artificiality or imitation. God, our Creator and Redeemer, sets great store on true individuality.


The third man brought to our notice is Philip. He may seem to have been the least important of these first three. We are never told that he had a brother; he is not called the brother of anyone. Nor is he called the son of anyone, for nothing is said of his family. The only thing that we know about him is that he came from the same city as Andrew and Peter. He had a wonderful beginning but in spite of this he seems to have been a man of slow growth. At the end of their training period with the Lord, Philip said to Him: "Show us the Father" and on this occasion the Lord Jesus felt it necessary to voice a mild rebuke, a thing which He seldom did to His disciples. "So long time I have been with you, Philip," He said, "and you do not yet know me. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Philip may have been slow but he was important. He was nobody much but the Lord would not go back to Galilee without him, so we read these wonderful words: "The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee and findeth Philip" (v.43). We are impressed that the Lord could not do without this man even though he seemed unimportant. This is typical of our Lord. Whom does He choose? Not the big ones, the important ones, the powerful ones but the weak, the foolish, the despised, the things which 'are not'. Philip belonged to this group.

I like to think of my Saviour preparing His journey back to Galilee and finding everything else in order, but no Philip. So He found Philip. He looked for him until He did find him. The same is true of you and me. He will not go any farther on His way without us, for He is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. We know that Peter was brought to the Lord by Andrew but we are not told that anyone brought Philip. May we not presume that since Andrew and Peter came from the same city that it was they who told Jesus about Philip? There are times when we ought to bring people to the Lord, and there are other times when we ought to tell the Lord about people and leave it to Him. In any case the Lord found Philip and said to him the two words which until now we have not heard from His mouth: "Follow me". Later the Lord said that the Father would honour those who followed Christ, so we may say that Philip, the nobody, received an invitation to be honoured by the Father.

Philip was from Bethsaida, where they did not honour Christ. He did wonderful miracles there but still they did not honour Him, and He cried, "Woe unto you, Bethsaida ...". Since Philip, Andrew and Peter came from that place, this must have meant that they lost all their honour in their home town by following the Lord. This is a most important feature of the character of a man, if he deliberately accepts the dishonour of the world to get the honour of the Father. It is also a most important thing in church life. The Lord asked, "How can you believe me, if you seek honour one from another?" (John 5:44).

"Follow Me!" To do this is to receive the honour of the Father. People will not honour you. Your fellow Christians may sometimes misunderstand you, but you do not stand before men [118/119] but before God. The Lord Jesus always sought the honour of the Father, and this gave Him tremendous power. He also enjoyed marvellous liberty for He did not have to look to the left or to the right to see what others thought of Him, but simply made sure to be governed by the will of the Father. Little, unimportant Philip was called to follow; he responded to the call and, in spite of all his weaknesses, he was delivered, made an apostle and gained the honour of the Father. Some day you will find his name in the New Jerusalem as one of the most important names there, and it was all because that morning, before He left for Galilee, the Lord Jesus found him and called him.

This was the beginning of the Church. The Lord had now called three men, Andrew the brother of Peter, Peter the son of Jonas and insignificant little Philip. In a sense they were quite adequate according to the Lord's way of counting, for He said that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there in the midst. The Lord was with them, and where the Lord is, there is fellowship, there is power, there is prayer and there is the Church. What a gift to Bethsaida, but Bethsaida ignored it. Not that they realised that they represented the local church in Bethsaida, but that is not important. The more you are occupied with the Lord the more the Church is there. The more you are occupied with the Church, the less the Lord may be there and of course, if the Lord is not there, there is no functioning Church in reality. The Church is never self-centred; it is centred on the Lord Jesus.

Andrew was Christ-centred, and so was Peter, and so was Philip. They followed the Lord, and at that time they did not know much more than just to follow Him, but after all what is there more to know? If you know how to follow Him and do so, then you are in the way of life, spontaneous life -- life in the power of first love, life in pure light. It could have been a wonderful blessing for Bethsaida, to have this group of three men following Christ in their midst, but Bethsaida would not accept it, refusing to recognise them or to honour their Lord.

If we ask what Philip did, the answer is that he did just the same as his Master had done. We read what Christ did: "He findeth Philip" (v.43) and then we read what Philip did: "he findeth Nathanael" (v.45). Then what did Philip say? He said exactly what his Master had said: "Come and see". So Philip did and said what Jesus had done and said, which is not very surprising but very natural to a man who was following his Lord. His words were the words of Jesus, and yet they were Philip's words. Jesus worked through Philip, Jesus spoke through Philip, and yet it was Philip who acted and Philip who spoke. Philip was himself, but himself as linked with Christ. One saw Jesus in Philip, for he was now a man made free to do what had not previously been possible. He is an example of true ministry.

I could, of course, paint a very different picture. I could imagine Peter going to Andrew and the two of them going to Philip, and then all three sitting down to plan the service they could do for the Lord. They might have had bright ideas as to the different tasks each would undertake and then have taken their suggestions to the Lord only to have them rejected. That is what we sometimes do. Rather than waste time and energy making plans which seem good to us and yet are bound to be set aside by the Lord, is it not better to follow Him and discover what His plans are? This is true ministry. Just look at what happened with Philip. He followed, and then he found Nathanael, and there seemed no end to the fruitful results which followed. The Father honoured Philip, his words and his work in a way which might well have astounded little Philip.

As he gave his testimony to Nathanael, he did so as a member of a body so that, although his ministry was personal, it was not detached. So he did not say, "I have found" but he said, "We have found". We may wonder if this was correct since the Gospel tells us that it was Jesus who found Philip. The truth is, of course, that although Jesus took the initiative in seeking, Philip himself was also seeking, and so he was able to affirm that now he had found. We notice that he said, "We have found Him ...". He did not try to say what he had found or how it had affected him, but gave a true testimony to Christ.

I am a lawyer by profession and can assure you that if two witnesses were brought before a judge and asked to testify and one got up and said, 'I am so happy' and the other said, 'I have been filled with joy', the judge would interrupt and tell them that their feelings were of no [119/120] interest to the court. He would tell them that they had been called as witnesses, and as such were not to speak of themselves but of what they had seen. If, in spite of this, one of the witnesses persisted in telling the judge that he was so thrilled with joy, he would probably be fined for wasting the court's time. Philip did not speak of having found peace or being happy, he said nothing about his own feelings, but focused attention on the Lord. Why draw attention to yourself when you know Him?

Philip was able to quote the great authority of the Word of God. He did not have to set himself up as an authority, for he was able to say: "We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets have written" (v.45). The remarkable thing was that he asserted that the one of whom Moses and the prophets had written was Jesus of Nazareth. This shows how completely revolutionised his life had become. The people of Bethsaida murmured, indeed people of that whole area murmured: "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22). They were offended in Him and asked themselves: "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? his brethren ... and his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?" (Matthew 13:55-57). Philip did not question and he answered Nathanael's question with the divine invitation: "Come and see".

The encounter with Nathanael is linked up with the marriage in Cana of Galilee by the words, "and the third day" (2:1). Under the Spirit's inspiration, John said nothing there about Nathanae1's home town but at the end of his Gospel, he reveals that it was this same Cana of Galilee (21:2). This gives great point to Philip's testimony and its outcome, for it seems that the Lord Jesus was planning to give His first revelation of His glory in that town, so probably required the human link represented by Nathanael.

All that Philip did was to follow the Lamb, but his following opened the way for the initial display of Christ's glory. What an honour to help provide the link for the marriage feast and the turning of the water into wine! Little Philip shows us that ministry is a marvellous mystery of co-operation with the Lord. He could have made plans for his service and missed that link with Nathanael. Happily he was content just to follow the Lamb and bear his testimony to Him. In a sense we are all little men, but we are important to the Lord provided we follow the Lamb joyfully and do not have big thoughts about ourselves. Our following may lead to a Nathanael, a Cana of Galilee and a new revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus. Every individual has his or her own name and his or her individual importance to the Lord who has called us. [120/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(For He was yet in Egypt, whither he had fled from the presence of king Solomon,
and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt, and they sent and called him;
)" 1 Kings 12:2

THE time when the world is most to be feared is when it is friendly to the Church. It is a sad comment on King Solomon, who began his reign so inspiringly, that he should become the pioneer of the inveterate tendency of the kingdom of Israel to seek aid and comfort from Egypt, the former land of their captivity.

SOLOMON had many wives, but the most favoured of them was undoubtedly Pharaoh's daughter, and it seems that this was not so much due to affection as to political expediency. The matter is introduced to us by the statement that "Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter ..." (1 Kings 3:1).

WHAT is more, Solomon deliberately disobeyed God's command that he must not go down into Egypt to buy horses (Deuteronomy 17:16). He amassed a large army of horses and chariots (2 Chronicles 1:14) and although they may not all have come from Egypt, that is the only country of origin which is actually specified (2 Chronicles 9:28). It is easy to read those glowing accounts of Solomon's prosperity without observing this part played by Egypt. We must be careful not to imagine that God had really not meant what He said when He prohibited recourse to Egypt in this way. So far as obedience and disobedience are concerned, God has no favourites.

IT must have seemed to Solomon, as it sometimes does to us, that it is quite a good thing for God's kingdom to imitate the world and even to make use of its friendship, but this parenthesis about Jeroboam helps to correct such a false assumption, for it was Egypt which gave shelter and succour to this man who was destined to split Israel asunder.

IN the sovereignty of God, Jeroboam was the human instrument for alienating the ten tribes from Judah. He served God's purposes but he soon became notorious as the man who caused Israel to sin. His name and his activities are constantly referred to in connection with God's anger against the Northern kingdom and His judgment upon it.

AND where did he come from? Where was it that Jeroboam was preserved safe until he could come and raise rebellion against Solomon's son? From the very land with which Solomon had cultivated friendly relations -- Egypt. We later read how hordes of those chariots came up from Egypt to harrass and plunder the remaining kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 12:3).

WHAT had become of Solomon's alliance with Pharaoh, and his brisk trade with the Egyptians? Nothing but disaster. And what can happen when God's people forget that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Surely this parenthesis makes the lesson plain for us all to read.


[Back cover]

Ephesians 4:3

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